Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

THOMAS LOVE

PEACOCK.

[THOMAS LOVE PEACOCK was born at Weymouth, October 18, 1785. Ir 188 he was nade under-secretary to Sir Home Popham, and served at Flushing. In 820 he married the Welsh lady celebrated by Shelley as 'the Snowdonia. Antelope;' he had made the acquaintance of that poet in 2. He became a clerk to the East India Company in 1819, from which post he retired in 1856. His first novel, Headlong Hall, appeared in 1816; his last, Gryll Grange, in 1861. Peacock died at Halliford, near Shepperton, on January 23, 1866. His poetical publications were Palmyra, 1806; The Genius of the Thames, 1810; Rhododaphne, 1818; Paper Money Lyrics, 1837.]

The fame of Peacock as a prose humourist of incomparable vivacity has tended to overshadow and stunt his reputation as a poet. It is time, however, that his claims in verse should be vindicated, and a place demanded for him as an independent figure in the crowded Parnassus of his age,-a place a little below the highest, and somewhat isolated, at the extreme right of the composition. He has certain relations, not wholly accidental, with Shelley, who stands above him, and with such minor figures as Horace Smith and Thomas Haynes Bayly, who stand no less obviously below him; but in the main he is chiefly notable for his isolation. His ironical and caustic songs are unique in our literature, illuminated by too much fancy to be savage, but crackling with a kind of ghastly merriment that inspires quite as much terror as amusement. In parody he has produced at least one specimen, 'There is a fever of the spirit,' which does not possess its equal for combined sympathy and malice. When we pass to his serious and sentimental lyrics, our praise cannot be so unmeasured. Peacock possessed too much literary refinement, too little personal sensibility to write with passion or to risk a fall by flying; yet his consummate purity of style seldom fails to give a

VOL. IV.

Ee

subdued charm to the quietest of his songs. The snatches and refrains which are poured over the novel of Maid Marian, like a shower of seed pearl, are full of the very essence of spontaneous song, as opposed to deliberate lyrical writing; while the corresponding chants and ballads in The Misfortunes of Elphin show with equal distinctness Peacock's limitations as a poetical artist. Once or twice he has succeeded in writing a lyric that is almost perfect; 'I dug beneath the cypress shade' would, for instance, be worthy of Landor in Landor's best manner, but for a little stiffness in starting.

Twice in mature life Peacock attempted a long flight in poetry, and each time without attracting any serious attention from the public of his own time or from posterity. In one of these cases I hope to show that this neglect has been deeply unjust; for the other I find an excuse in the extreme languor which it has produced on myself to read once more The Genius of the Thames. This poem, written just before the general revival of poetic style, may almost be called the last production of the eighteenth century. It contains all the wintry charms and hypocritical graces of the school of Collins in its last dissolution; it proceeds with mingled pomp and elegance along the conventional path, in the usual genteel manner, until suddenly the reader, familiar with the temperament of Peacock, starts and rubs his eyes to read an invocation of

'Sun-crowned Science! child of heaven!
To wandering man by angels given!
Still, nymph divine! on mortal sight
Diffuse thy intellectual light.'

from the man to whom the whole spirit of scientific enquiry was entirely hostile.

Rhododaphne, which Peacock published eight years later, is a performance of a very different kind. While somewhat indebted to Akenside for matter, to Byron for style, to Shelley for phraseology, the essential part of this poem is as original as it is delicate and fascinating. There is little plot or action in the piece. A youth Anthemion loves a mortal maiden Calliroë, but is courted and subdued by a supernatural being named Rhododaphne, who exercises over him the poisonous spell of the rose-laurel. Calliroë dies and Rhododaphne triumphs, but in the end the doom is reversed, Calliroë returns to life, and the charms of the rose-laurel

[ocr errors]

are evaded. It is curious to compare Rhododaphne with Endymion, which was published in the same year. Peacock leaves Keats far behind in knowledge of English language and of Greek manners, in grace and learning of every kind, but Keats, as by a diviner instinct, is led by his very ignorance into a mood more truly antique than Peacock attains by such pedantries as

The rose and myrtle blend in beauty
Round Thespian Love's hypothric fane.'

Still Rhododaphne is a poem full of eminent beauties and touches of true art. It would be absolutely and not comparatively great were it not that the whole structure of the work is spoiled by a tone of Georgian sentiment which we should scarcely have expected from so genuine a Pagan as 'Greeky-Peeky.' The ethics of the poem are not merely modern, they are positively provincial. In short, Rhododaphne may be best compared to a series of charming friezes in antique story carved by some sculptor of the beginning of the present century, some craftsman less soft than Canova, less breezy than Thorwaldsen. The marble is excellently chosen, the artist's touch sharp and delicate, the design flowing and refined, but the figures have the most provoking resemblance to those in the fashion-books of the last age but one.

EDMUND W. GOSSE

[From Rhododaphne.]

THE SPELL OF THE LAUREL-ROSE.

Oh youth, beware! that laurel-rose
Around Larissa's evil walls

In tufts of rank luxuriance grows,
'Mid dreary valleys, by the falls
Of haunted streams; and magic knows
No herb or plant of deadlier might,
When impious footsteps wake by night
The echoes of those dismal dells,
What time the murky midnight dew
Trembles on many a leaf and blossom,
That draws from earth's polluted bosom
Mysterious virtue, to imbue
The chalice of unnatural spells.
Oft, those dreary rocks among,
The murmurs of unholy song,
Breathed by lips as fair as hers

By whose false hands that flower was given,
The solid earth's firm breast have riven,
And burst the silent sepulchres,

And called strange shapes of ghastly fear,
To hold, beneath the sickening moon,
Portentous parle, at night's deep noon,
With beauty skilled in mysteries drear.
Oh, youth! Larissa's maids are fair;
But the dæmons of the earth and air
Their spells obey, their councils share,
And wide o'er earth and ocean bear
Their mandates to the storms that tear
The rock-enrooted oak, and sweep
With whirlwind wings the labouring deep.

[ocr errors]

Their words of power can make the streams
Roll refluent on their mountain-springs,
Can torture sleep with direful dreams,
And on the shapes of earthly things,
Man, beast, bird, fish, with influence strange,
Breathe foul and fearful interchange,

And fix in marble bonds the form
Erewhile with natural being warm,
And give to senseless stones and stocks
Motion, and breath, and shape that mocks,

As far as nicest eye can scan,

The action and the life of man.
Beware! yet once again. heware!
Ere round thy inexperienced mind,
With voice and semblance falsely fair,
A chain Thessalian magic bind,
Which never more, oh youth! believe,
Shall either earth or heaven unweave.

THE VENGEANCE OF BACCHUS.

Bacchus by the lonely ocean
Stood in youthful semblance fair:
Summer winds, with gentle motion,
Waved his black and curling hair.
Streaming from his manly shoulders
Robes of gold and purple dye
Told of spoil to fierce beholders
In their black ship sailing by.
On the vessel's deck they placed him
Strongly bound in triple bands;
But the iron rings that braced him
Melted, wax-like from his hands.
Then the pilot spake in terror :

"Tis a god in mortal form! Seek the land; repair your error Ere his wrath invoke the storm.'

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »