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On the Poetry of Baron Haller

IT was once the intention of the Editor to have presented a translation of the Poetry of Baron Haller to the Public.

The Poet, whom I am now going to introduce to the reader, is better known in this country for his extensive learning, and recondite labours in physiology, than for those exquisite pieces which place him so conspicuously amongst the modern Poets of Germany.

If England has not bestowed on him the honours of a Poet, France, however, has not been backward in this respect. His Poetry has been elegantly translated, and multiplied by repeated editions. There are those who have placed him on an equality with the celebrated Gesner: and, perhaps, he is only not equal to him in not having produced a Poem of the magnitude of his Death of Abel.

If it is allowed me to give the character of Haller as a Poet, I will say, that he does not swell into that turgid eloquence, which wearies the mental eye by a cumbrous accumulation of splendour. It is the characteristic of the German Poets, that they do not know when to stop; the strength of their genius transports them into obscurity: by soaring too high, they strain the temperate eye of the Critics; judgment to them is a silken string, too feeble to chain the wing of an eagle.

I do not mean, however, to countenance or excuse certain pieces which, they inform us, are translations from the German; and which, indeed, may well disgust the world with all German Poetry. But, I believe that the bombast of these writers is rather to be attributed to themselves, than to the unfortunate German; who, certainly, had he originally written in so aukward a style would not have been thought worthy of a translation.

Haller is beautiful in his descriptions, sublime in his Odes, and tender in his Elegies. He is not less to be admired as a Satirist; and Berne once trembled at the presence of its Juvenal. His numbers are highly polished; and it is hard to render justice to the delicate language of his Muse.

The following Poem is not partially chosen, but for its convenient length. There is an elegant simplicity, added to a closeness of thought; which, if it does not always wear the fantastic air of novelty, impresses in the feeling heart that philosophical consolation worthy of the genius of Haller.

Editor’s Notes

Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777) is still better known (when remembered at all) for his ‘recondite labours in physiology,’ than for his poetry.