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Hushed is the busy hum of life ;
From mountains issues the gaunt wolf,
Where is the garden's beauty now?
The trees like giant skeletons,
Or stand like wrestlers, stripped and bold,
That ever this bleak world again
“I Watched the Heavens” is from the pen of the author of “ IX Poems;" a writer who aims not at costly or stout volumes, neither does he lay himself out for wire-drawn compositions. On the other hand his efforts are those of a digested plan, of careful execution, and, what is indispensable to a writer of verses, of a mind susceptible of deep impressions and accustomed to cherish independent modes of thinking. V., we are inclined to pronounce an original poet. His genius is poetical; we think he exhibits the true stamp.
“Î Watched the Heavens” are the commencing words of a poem whose theme requires a soaring imagination and sustained sentiments of great reach. The poet has been watching the Heavens, and at length finds himself transported to one of the stars, which, alas! is the abode of the condemned, a place of punishment for the doomed to woe, for their evil doings, their immoral tastes and thoughts, while on earth. Individuals of sundry classes of the departed pass before the daring visitant, who endeavours to fathom and describe their punishment, rejecting the material and the physical, and confining himself to the mental and the moral; at the same time making the punishment bear a direct relation to the particular depravity or
VOL. II. (1842. NO. I.
errings of the individual whose ghost passes before the intruder. For example, one who has been gifted with high intellectual powers, but which have been perverted, is doomed to experience an unceasing consciousness of his mind being darkened, of the ruin of his intellect. An immoral poet furnishes a striking case.
The requirements for themes of this kind are obviously great. Not only has the poet to transport himself to a sphere his descriptions of which are in danger of constantly running into absurdities, and his imagined feelings to be cold abstractions, but he has to individualize his characters, and the character of each punishment, at the same time that he ought to inculcate a touching and forcible lesson to mortals.
With more than ordinary power, judgment, and fancy has V. accomplished his task; though not with uniform success. We merely quote one example, viz. that of two guilty lovers; from which our readers will form some idea of the language, the imagery, and the manner of the author :
One was their fate; one world, one ceaseless life ;
United, earth-like, save with closer doom :
And chose, as emblem of their wish, a tomb.
Which other hands in other days had rear'd;
The hope for which they built it disappear'd.
Restless and seeking, and yet hopeless now;
Fix'd on one point beneath his gather'd brow.
As though their deathlessness on them too weigh'd ;
Here a faint insufficient twilight made.
Seem'd void of half that it had room to hold ;
Prepared for king-like pomp, but desert, worn, and cold.
To people who are anxious to ascertain whether or not Robert Montgomery has a particle of poetry in his nature, the question will become more perplexing than ever after a perusal of his “ Lu
ther,” if, indeed, there be found a person who will have the patience to perform such an arduous task. And yet, when we find that his « Woman" has reached a fifth edition, his “ Satan” a tenth, and his “ Omnipresence” a twenty-first; nay, that his “Luther” has already come out in a second edition, there must be something extraordinary about these epics. In what way are we to account for this popularity, prolonged with regard to poetry too, popularity being generally held as a true test of the merits of any production? How will any one of our readers interpret this fact, after he has made himself acquainted with the passages we are about to quote? We shall, however, only answer for ourselves, offering this solution, that there is a vast multitude of well-meaping people who mistake sound for sense, the filling of the ear for the touching of the heart; nay, provided the subject be mysterious or of a theological character, who imagine, when lines in the guise of verse are unintelligible
them, or, that suggest only some dreamy and vague ideas, that therefore the versifier has caught the sacred fire, has entered within the veil, and speaks of things unseen by ordinary men, as they ought to be spoken of. Oh! the sounds are beautiful, the cadences solemn, and the songster has a sacred air; and seeing also that he invokes the “ Sempiternal life" to lend his song its “heavenly touch," who would be so bold as to question the sacredness of the effusion, or the author's call to the performance? The class of respectable persons to whom we allude is sufficiently numerous to accept gladly of an epic having mystery and theology for its groundwork, to the amount of perhaps twenty editions more, especially when these sacred elements are encompassed with large doses of polemical sentiment, and this too having the doctrines and the events of the Reformation ever upon the tongue; ay, and at a period in Christian history, when an extreme sensitiveness exists about the allurements and seductions of the Scarlet Lady.
But there is another class and to which we desire to belong, who do not altogether mistake rhetorical verbiage for poetry, sonorous fluency for massive blank verse, and nonsense for meaning; who do not welcome abortive strivings after original thoughts as we would even do the simple utterance of common-places, or the incomprehensible rhapsodies of a man whose memory is stocked with a jumbled vocabulary, to the outpourings of intense feeling, and healthy exalted thought. We desire to belong to that class of readers who test a poem by the impression which it leaves; who judge according as the effect has been distinct, forcible, and lasting:
Now, if tried in this latter way, Robert Montgomery’s “ Luther” is the feeblest, the most unmeaning, the most audacious poem we ever encountered. It is audacious and reprehensible in many ways; nor have we been able to discover redeeming qualities in the monstrously attenuated heroic, The theme is unsuited for poetry, éspecially for epic poetry, and more especially since the hand that has approached it does not represent or embody the events of Luther's life, but only vapours about them like the most turgid declaimer. Nay, more especially still will the inaptitude and the incompetency be perceived, when we copy out the titles of the series of cantos, or of the numerous parts into which the whole is divided. These are the headings:
Christ the centre and circumference of truth-The mystical body of the church-Man's need and God's supply-The divine prologue-Characteristics—Childhood-The University-Man's religion-How the Daystar rises in the heart of faith-God's ambassadors—The metropolis of the man of sin-Satan's theology-The Reformation's dawn-Its master principleThe gospel according to man, in (1) the supremacy, (2) the mystery, (3) the moral root, Inspiration of the ideal — The covenant of heartsThe unique of history-The interlude-Patmos—The crisis--Mental resurrection-The affections by the truth made free-A landscape of domestic life—The catechism-Conflict with the god of this world—The destinies of Rome–Farewell to time-A poet's retrospect and patriot's conclusion.
Yet it is not until we come to examine parts of the whole, that the rashness, the utter failure, and the destitution of the versifier become extraordinarily apparent. But before quoting portions, it is proper to inform our readers that there is an elaborated prose introduction to Luther, extending to nearly 150 pages, which, although the best thing that appears in the volume, exhibits a characteristic and ineffectual striving, that leaves one all but idealess. We quote a sample, at the same time informing the reader that the passage, as many others in the introductory and anti-popish essay, is expanded and enfeebled in the poetic form. Quoth the labouring rhetorician,
We need hardly say, that the wish to resolve the statements of the Bible concerning a personal Satan into mere orientalisms or poetical impersonations, is to be traced to the native dislike of the unrenewed heart to admit into its experience any principle that calls for “reasoning pride" to submit itself, and be dumb before God. But beyond this, no thoughtful watcher over the times can hesitate to allow, that for the last twenty years the habits, literature, science, and philosophy of this country have been gravitating with a fearful impetus towards the adoption of a sensual heresy, or towards the practical belief that the real is bounded by the visible; and that no evidence that does not thrill our materialism (in some mode or other) can be admitted by a truly philosophic mind. Thus the hands, and eyes, and ears, are lifted into a more than logical dominion over the intellect; and faith, or “ the evidence of things not seen," ceases to be retained in the canons of our world's orthodoxy. For much of this infidel carnality we are indebted to that heartless libel on all that is spiritual in taste and pure in feeling-utilitarianism, -- a system that concentrates within its grasp the elements of a most debasing grossness; adapted only to a world
peopled with bodies out of which the soul has been evaporated ; and which, if carried out in all the fearless enormity of its principle, would speedily transform the empire into a mere national shop, creation into a huge warehouse, and represent the uncreated Mind as little more than an infinite manufacturer! There is, however, one encouragement derived even from the cultivation of the physical sciences themselves, viz. that true philosophy cannot enshrine a single principle into a system without authenticating the reality of the invisible ; for, after all, what is electricity, chemical affinity, and galvanism, and gravitation, but the expression of something that is unseen, of which all the visible phenomena of matter and sensitive life are only the tokens and significances ? Physical science, therefore, if consistently faithful to the law of analogy, cannot reject the statements of Scripture with reference either to the Deity or the devil, on the simple ground of invisibility ; inasmuch as science itself cannot exist without a belief in the unseen presidency of some master-principle.
And now for samples of the precious epic. Here is the reverse of an intelligible and instructive opening :
For ever, and for ever in the deep
To echo, or the ear of man to drink." We presume that Mr. Montgomery is in the habit of raving on after the above fashion with a railroad speed; nor does he appear, after such a forced rhapsody, by any process of revision to institute an inquiry into the meaning of resounding phrases, such as “the harp of mind," and which is said to echo. Of a similar sort are the two lines we next cite :
God's Epic in the poetry of worlds,
The Incarnation hath our system made.
The solitary monk that shook the world