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“ something more that might be men“ tioned, were it not needless to go deep “ into the character of a dead man"is all the information we draw from it ; information not momentous enough to make us regret the want of more.
The manner in which the character is s made out," though in particular instances fortunate, is not without faults. The hastiness of his steps in mounting “the upland lawn,” and the purpose for which he mounts it, are circumstances more associable with the Allegro character, than with the Penseroso. So thought the great discriminator of these characters. His man of cheerfulness is eager to observe the glory of the rising sun; his pensive man's morning is not bright; but '“ kerchief'd in a comely cloud.” So also Thomson, to whose authority, on most occasions, he has not scorned to pay some regard :
As, through the falling glooms,
In Thomson these actions belong to two descriptions of character. Gray has wrought both into one. If the 6 steps” must be “ hasty," the operation of brushing the dew from the grass will not help him to mend his pace; it is an action tending rather to impede accelerated motion, than to promote it.
“ Chance,” in the twenty-fifth stanza, used adverbially, though justified by a Latin idion, is rebuting to an English ear. But the poet was in distress. The necessity of his situation called for the idea twice, within the compass of three lines. A word of two syllables brought him relief in the one case; and a word of one syllable in the other. He could not use “ haply” twice. “ Lonely contemplation,” is not well said. Who is there that goes into company to contemplate ? One is surprised to see a writer, who deals in “ trembling hope,” “ living ashes,” “ little great," put up so contentedly with “ solemn stillness,” “ lonely contemplation,” and “ flowers that blow.” Gray, speaking of water, has used “ ambient tide.” He that has dipt much in “ ambient tide,” will soon emerge to “ ambient air:" then we shall find him among “ feathered songsters ;" a set of company rarely now to be met with even in Poetry's horn-book.
“ His poring on the brook,” is characteristical. But his stretching himself at the foot of a beech, is no more than the lounging Tilyrus had done before him. Tityrus' beech is a spreading one, as what beech is not? Of Gray's beech it
is left to be supposed that it spreads ;' but we are expressly told that it nods ; and that it as wreathes its.old fantastic roots, high.” What is meant by a tree wreathing its roots high ? Vegetation seems here inverted, and age endowed with the pliancy of youth.
Theory can, in no other way, account for the strange form in which this beech appears, than by supposing it to have been an image, not of fancy, but of fact. A mind strongly irritable upon the approximation of external forms, treasures up the grotesque images both of living and still nature, as they present themselves, and brings them forth, afterwards, as the effects of inspiration. Gray had casually come in the way of some lusus nature of the beech tribe, of whose fan. tastic form the outline had continued upon his mind, and imprest his fancy with a vivid picture. Of Gray's inspirations, it is known, that many derived
their origin from casual impressions, made on the organs of sense. The sight of the Welch harper, Parry,' and the rapture he felt at his execution, animated him to the finishing his “ Bard,” after it had lain by, for two years, hopeless : and the “ loose beard” and “ hoary hair streaming to the wind,” with which he has invested his tuneful Cambrian, were derived from a representation, by Raphael, of the Supreme Being, in the vision of Ezekiel.
The beech seems literally to have been Gray's " favourite tree;" and, in the contemplation of it, in all its varieties, he seems to have passed many poetical hours. In the year 1737, he met with beeches, in grounds belonging to his uncle, of so singular a character, that I am willing to indulge the reader with