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A Dialogue On Poetic Morality
by [?]

God sent a poet to reform His earth.–A. MARY F. ROBINSON.

“And meanwhile, what have you written?” asked Baldwin, tickling the flies with his whip from off the horse’s head, as they slowly ascended, in the autumn afternoon, the hill of Montetramito, which with its ilex and myrtle-grown black rocks, and its crumbling mounds, where the bright green spruce pine clings to the washed-away scarlet sand, separates the green and fertile plain of Lucca from the marshes of the Pisan sea-shore. The two friends had met only an hour or so before at the foot of the Apennine pass, and would part in not much more again. “And what have you written?” repeated Baldwin.

“Nothing,” answered the younger man, drearily, leaning back languidly in the rickety little carriage. “Nothing, or rather too much; I don’t know which. Is trash too much or too little? Anyhow, there’s none of it remaining. I thrust all my manuscripts into my stove at Dresden, and the chimney took fire in consequence. That’s the tragic history of all my poetical labours of the last two years.” And Cyril, lying back in the carriage with his arms folded beneath his head, smiled half-sadly, half whimsically in the face of his friend.

But Baldwin did not laugh.

“Cyril,” he answered, “do you remember on a birthday of yours–you were a tiny boy, brought up like a girl, with curls and beautiful hands–one of your sisters dared you to throw your presents into the garden well, and you did it, before a number of admiring little girls: you felt quite a hero or a little saint, didn’t you? And then my little hero was suddenly collared by a big boy fresh from school, who was his friend Baldwin, and who pulled his ears soundly and told him to respect people’s presents a little more. Do you remember that? Well; I now see that, with all your growing up, and writing, and philosophising, and talking about duty and self-sacrifice, you are just the self-same womanish and uncontrolled poseur, the same romantic braggadoccio that you were at seven. I have no patience with you!” And Baldwin whisked the whip angrily at the flies.

“Mere conceit: effeminate heroics again!” he went on. “Oh no, we must do the very best! Be Shakespeare at least! Anything short of that would be derogatory to our kingly nature! no idea of selecting the good (because in whatever you do there must be talent), and trying to develop it; no idea of doing the best with what gifts you have! For you are not going to tell me that two years of your work was mere rubbish–contained nothing of value. But, in point of fact, you don’t care sufficiently for your art to be satisfied to be the most you can; ’tis mere vanity with you.”

Cyril became very red, but did not interrupt.

“I am sorry you think so ill of me,” he said sadly, “and I dare say I have given you good cause. I dare say I am all the things you say–vain, and womanish, and insolently dissatisfied with myself, and idiotically heroic. But not in this case, I assure you. I will explain why I thought it right to do that. You see I know myself very well now. I know my dangers; I am not like you–I am easily swayed. Had those poems remained in existence, had I taken them to England, I am sure I should not have resisted the temptation of showing them to my old encouragers, of publishing them probably; and then, after the success of my other book, and all their grand prophecies, the critics would have had to praise up this one too; and I should have been drifted back again into being a poet. Now, as I wrote you several times–only, of course, you thought it all humbug and affectation–such a poet as I could be I am determined I will not be. It was an act of self-defence–defence of whatever of good there may be in me.”