As for TINY TIM, there is a certain passage in the book regarding that young gentleman, about which a man should hardly venture to speak in print or in public, any more than he would of any other affections of his private heart. There is not a reader in England but that little creature will be a bond of union between the author and him; and he will say of Charles Dickens, as the woman just now, “GOD BLESS HIM!” What a feeling is this for a writer to be able to inspire, and what a reward to reap.
M. A. T.
[From Fraser’s Magazine, October, 1853]
Poems, by ALEXANDER SMITH. London, Bogue. 1853
On reading this little book, and considering all the exaggerated praise and exaggerated blame which have been lavished on it, we could not help falling into many thoughts about the history of English poetry for the last forty years, and about its future destiny. Great poets, even true poets, are becoming more and more rare among us. There are those even who say that we have none; an assertion which, as long as Mr. Tennyson lives, we shall take the liberty of denying. But, were he, which Heaven forbid, taken from us, whom have we to succeed him? And he, too, is rather a poet of the sunset than of the dawn—of the autumn than of the spring. His gorgeousness is that of the solemn and fading year; not of its youth, full of hope, freshness, gay and unconscious life. Like some stately hollyhock or dahlia of this month’s gardens, he endures while all other flowers are dying; but all around is winter—a mild one, perhaps, wherein a few annuals or pretty field weeds still linger on; but, like all mild winters, especially prolific in fungi, which, too, are not without their gaudiness, even their beauty, although bred only from the decay of higher organisms, the plagiarists of the vegetable world....
“What matter, after all?” one says to oneself in despair, re-echoing Mr. Carlyle. “Man was not sent into this world to write poetry. What we want is truth—what we want is activity. Of the latter we have enough in all conscience just now. Let the former need be provided for by honest and righteous history, and as for poets, let the dead bury their dead.” ... And yet, after all, man will write poetry, in spite of Mr. Carlyle: nay, beings who are not men, but mere forked radishes, will write it. Man is a poetry-writing animal. Perhaps he was meant to be one. At all events, he can no more be kept from it than from eating. It is better, with Mr. Carlyle’s leave, to believe that the existence of poetry indicates some universal human hunger, whether after “the beautiful,” or after “fame,” or after the means of paying butchers’ bills, and accepting it as a necessary evil which must be committed, to see that it be committed as well, or at least a little ill, as possible. In excuse of which we may quote Mr. Carlyle against himself, reminding him of a saying in Goethe once bepraised by him in print,—“we must take care of the beautiful for the useful will take care of itself.”