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CRITIQUE ON THE CRITICS;
THE BRITANNIA, ATHENÆUM, AND CLIQUE
WILLIAM RICHARD HARRIS,
6 NAPOLEON,” AN EPIC POEM,
IN TWELVE CANTOS.
PUBLISHED FOR THE AUTHOR BY
Sages and chiefs long since had birth,
Imitation of Horace by Pope.
In respectfully laying before the public the Preface and Suppressed Notes to my poem of “Napoleon,” I at length redeem a voluntary pledge. My original intention had been to conceal my name; neither, until the twelfth hour, was I reluctantly induced to place it on the title-page, and thus abandon myself and work to the tender mercies of the critics. A circumstance not within my control delayed the publication of the poem, which ought to have appeared at Christmas, 1844, until the 7th of January, 1845. The gentleman who for six months had most kindly dedicated a large portion of his valuable leisure to the arduous task of collating the press, by the advice of literary friends, was induced to suppress my preface and some notes, which they considered objectionable. The work had been extensively advertised for immediate delivery ; and, in the hurry of the moment, a short preface, composed chiefly from materials furnished by the suppressed preface and notes, was hastily penned and substituted. The Author was therein made to state, that "he believed no epic poem had been attempted since the age of Milton.” This supposed assertion drew down upon me a host of self-dubbed critics, some of whom politely informed me, that I was either highly presumptuous or grossly ignorant, to both which charges, in as far as that preface is concerned, I plead “not guilty.” The preface in question was none of mine. But neither on this account do I feel prepared to acquiesce in the
validity of their sapient observations; for although several poems, - written since “ Paradise Lost,” and claiming to be epic, have by
courtesy been allowed to rank as such, with the noble exception of Glover's “ Leonidas,” it might perhaps be found difficult to select one strictly deserving that title. A poem may be exquisitely beautiful, however, though not truly epic-epic, yet in nothing beautiful. “Leonidas,” at once strictly epic and replete with poetic beauty, was hailed with enthusiastic delight by a nation of freemen. In the days of Chatham it was not held a high crime and misdemeanour to have written an epic. One century has rolled away, and all indeed appears changed! This unfortunate preface, at which so many “vain carpet knights” have couched pointless lances, might easily be defended against far more chivalrous assailants ; but really the Author of “ Napoleon” does not feel himself called upon to vindicate the accuracy of an assertion which he never made, and for which, consequently, he is in no way responsible.
What as an Author I deeply lament is, that, while this preface has been so severely animadverted upon, the poem itself has hitherto experienced at the hands of the critical press little save contemptuous neglect, having been very concisely noticed by three weekly periodicals only, and a few newspapers. The critiques pro and con alluded to are subjoined, as likewise the gross and insulting comments of such as found it convenient to condemn as worthless what they either lacked sense to understand, or honesty to criticise impartially. Some of these flippant calumniators have been already briefly answered in an article addressed to the “ Lusitanian,” an Oporto periodical, the perusal of which may excite a smile at the expense of “a brace or two of as proud, violent, testy critics as any in London, whose beards deserve not so honourable a grave as to staff a botcher's cushion, or to be entombed in a donkey's packsaddle.”
Thanks, good Menenius, for thy pungent wit !
Had I selected General Tom Thumb as my hero, and written (as courteously recommended by the Editor of the “ Evening Sun”) a poem upon his exploits, such critics would probably have condescended to notice my work favourably; yet, sooth to say, I preferred Napoleon le Grand to Napoleon le Petit,—the Great Captain before the Little General;-chose rather to delineate England's immortal heroes, Nelson and Wellington, battling for the liberty of their country and the emancipation of Europe, than to relate the conquests of that infinitesimally small individual, whose recent far more brilliant career has, I am bound to confess, thrown into dim
shadow their proudest deeds of glory. Still I imagined that some few choice spirits-lovers of poetry-remained, who would delight to hear in heroic numbers in what style Nelson and his gallant associates fought and bled for the salvation of their fatherland. Hence the “ Battle of the Nile,” from which I venture two extracts :
“Meantime the “Vanguard' of Britannia's power,
With valour worthy him who knew not fear,
Red lightnings issue, and dread thunder-bolts !” Sad fate of Caza Bianca and his son ; and explosion of “L'Orient.”
“ Still from her upper decks at intervals
A heavy gun explodes, whence rushing down