IT is a maxim of civil law that definitions are hazardous. Whoever first asked the question, What is poetry? and waited for an answer, stimulated thought and provoked discussion, but has perhaps not earned much gratitude. For the definition of poetry has ever since been, as it still is, the ignis fatuus of criticism. A thousand definitions have been offered, all varying from one another, sometimes to the extent of not having a single element in common. Some have been given by those whose views demand close attention and deep respect: many have been brilliant, enlightening, suggestive; all are unsatisfying. In no part of the field of letters have the Baconian idols exercised greater sway, particularly the idols of the cave and of the theatre. Definitions of poetry are nearly all infected by some fallacy due to a received system or an individual predilection. They escape from these dangers, if they do escape, only to fall victims to the idols of the market-place. For the influence exercised over men by words is greatest, and most difficult alike to estimate or to disentangle, when words themselves, the art of language, are the subject- matter as well as the medium of the enquiry.
Such attempted definitions, varying infinitely as