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Alexander Smith And Alexander Pope
by [?]

On reading this little book, {61} 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. Such is poetry in England; while in America the case is not much better. What more enormous scope for new poetic thought than that which the New World gives? Yet the American poets, even the best of them, look lingeringly and longingly back to Europe and her legends; to her models, and not to the best of them–to her criticism, and not to the best of that–and bestow but a very small portion of such genius as they have on America and her new forms of life. If they be nearer to the spring than we, they are still deep enough in the winter. A few early flowers may be budding among them, but the autumn crop is still in somewhat shabby and rain-bedrabbled bloom. And for us, where are our spring flowers? What sign of a new poetic school? Still more, what sign of the healthy resuscitation of any old one?

{61} “Poems,” by Alexander Smith. London: Bogue. 1853. Fraser’s Magazine, October, 1853.

“What matter, after all?” one says to oneself in despair, re-echoing Mr. Carlyle. “Man was not sent into the world to write poetry. What we want is truth. Of the former we have enough in all conscience just now. Let the latter 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 as little ill, as possible. In excuse of which we may quote Mr. Carlyle against himself, reminding him of a saying of Goethe once bepraised by him in print: “We must take care of the beautiful, for the useful will take care of itself.”

And never, certainly, since Pope wrote his Dunciad, did the beautiful require more taking care of, or evince less capacity for taking care of itself; and never, we must add, was less capacity for taking care of it evinced by its accredited guardians of the press than at this present time, if the reception given to Mr. Smith’s poems is to be taken as a fair expression of “the public taste.”