It is Wordsworth who speaks—too rhetorically, perhaps. At any rate, the prose will not compare with Sidney’s. But it is good prose, nevertheless; and the phrase I have ventured to italicise is superb.
Their high claims for Poesy.
As might be expected, the poets in this volume agree in pride of their calling. We have just listened to Wordsworth. Shelley quotes Tasso’s proud sentence—“Non c’e in mondo chi merita nome di creatore, se non Iddio ed il Poeta”: and himself says, “The jury which sits in judgment upon a poet, belonging as he does to all time, must be composed of his peers: it must be impanelled by Time from the selectest of the wise of many generations.” Sidney exalts the poet above the historian and the philosopher; and Coleridge asserts that “no man was ever yet a great poet without being at the same time a profound philosopher.” Ben Jonson puts it characteristically: “Every beggarly corporation affords the State a mayor or two bailiffs yearly; but Solus rex, aut poeta, non quotannis nascitur.” The longer one lives, the more cause one finds to rejoice that different men have different ways of saying the same thing.
Inspiration not Improvisation.
The agreement of all these poets on some other matters is more remarkable. Most of them claim inspiration for the great practitioners of their art; but wonderful is the unanimity with which they dissociate this from improvisation. They are sticklers for the rules of the game. The Poet does not pour his full heart
“In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.”
On the contrary, his rapture is the sudden result of long premeditation. The first and most conspicuous lesson of this volume seems to be that Poetry is an art, and therefore has rules. Next after this, one is struck with the carefulness with which these practitioners, when it comes to theory, stick to their Aristotle.
For instance, they are practically unanimous in accepting Aristotle’s contention that it is not the metrical form that makes the poem. “Verse,” says Sidney, “is an ornament and no cause to poetry, since there have been many most excellent poets that never versified, and now swarm many versifiers that need never answer to the name of poets.” Wordsworth apologizes for using the word “Poetry” as synonymous with metrical composition. “Much confusion,” he says, “has been introduced into criticism by this contradistinction of Poetry and Prose, instead of the more philosophical one of Poetry and Matter of Fact or Science. The only strict antithesis to Prose is Metre: nor is this,