There is a kind of writing, wherein the poet quite loses sight of nature, and entertains his reader’s imagination with the characters and actions of such persons as have many of them no existence, but what he bestows on them.
Such are fairies, witches, magicians, demons and departed spirits. This Mr Dryden calls “The fairy way of writing” which is, indeed, more difficult than any other that depends on the poet’s fancy, because he has no pattern to follow in it, and must work altogether out of his own invention.
The excellence of every Art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate. JOHN KEATS 1818
There is a very odd turn of thought required for this sort of writing, and it is impossible for a poet to succeed in it, who has not a particular cast of fancy, and an imagination naturally fruitful and superstitious.
Spirits must not be confined to speak sense, but it is certain their senses ought to be a little discoloured, that it may seem particular and proper to the person and the condition of the speaker.
We must be delighted and surprised when we are led, as it were, into a new creation, and see the persons and manners of another species.
Men of cold fancies, and philosophical dispositions, object to this kind of poetry that it has not the probability enough to affect the imagination.
I lay and watch the lonely gloom And watched the moonlight creep From wall to basin, around the room All night I could not sleep. RUPERT BROOKE 1913
To this it may be answered, that we are sure, in general, there are many intellectual beings in the world besides our selves, and several species of spirits, who are subject to different laws and economies from those of mankind; when we see, therefore, any of these represented naturally, we cannot look upon the representation as altogether impossible.
Many are prepossessed with such false opinions, as dispose them to believe these particular delusions; at least, we have all heard so many pleasing relations in favour of them, that we do not care for seeing through falsehood, and willingly give ourselves up to so agreeable an imposture.
Our forefathers looked upon nature with more reverence and horror, before the world was enlightened by learning and philosophy, and loved to astonish themselves with the apprehensions of witchcraft, prodigies, charms and enchantments.
There was not a village in England, that had not a ghost in it, the church-yards were all haunted, every large common had a circle of fairies belonging to it, and there was scarce a shepherd to be met with who had not seen a spirit.
Among the English Shakespeare has incomparably excelled all others. That noble extravagance of fancy which he had in so great perfection, thoroughly qualified him to touch this weak superstitious part of his reader’s imagination; and made him capable of succeeding, where he had nothing to support him besides the strength of his own genius.
If there are such beings in the world, it looks highly probable that they should talk and act as he has represented them.
JOSEPH ADDISON 1712
Among the shadows that pass by
Ghosts of all things that are, some shade of thee,
Some phantom, some faint image; till the breast
From which they fled recalls them, thou art there