Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

In the following verses a grand picture is exhibited with the simplicity which becomes it :

u Yet who but He undaunted could explore

A world of waves—a sea without a shore,
Trackless, and vast, and wild, as that reveald
When round the Ark the birds of tempest wheel’d;
When all was still in the destroying hour-

No trace of man! no vestige of his power !” * The character of Columbus can scarcely be presented in a light more venerable than in the opening lines of the fifth Canto:

66 War and the Great in War let others sing,

Havoc and spoil, and tears and triumphing;
The morning-march that flashes lo the sun,
The feast of vultures when the day is done :
And the strange tale of many slain for one!
I sing a Man, amidst his sufferings here,
Who watch'd and served in humbleness and fear;
Genlle to others, to himself severe. .

Still unsubdued by Danger's varying form,
Still, as unconscious of the coming storm,
He look'd elate! His beard, his mien sublime,
Shadow'd by Age-by Age before the time,
From many a sorrow borne in many a clime,

Moved every heart."" The beauty of the verses which describe the first sight of the New World, has been universally acknowledged. But they have been somewhat hastily supposed to represent the same event as occurring at different times -in the evening, and at midnight. It is obvious, however, that the repugnance is only in the imagination of the critic. Evening is described as the hour of vespers ; and midnight, as the moment when a light is discovered on the unknown shore. Nothing is more natural, than that the evening which was to precede so important a night, should be painted by the poet :

“ Twice in the zenith blazed the orb of light;

No sbade, all sun, insufferably bright!
Then the long line found rest—in coral groves
Silent and dark, where the sea-lion roves :-
And all on deck, kindling to lise again,
Sent forth their auxious spirits o'er the main.

But whence, as wasted from Elysium, whence
These perfumes, strangers to the raptured sense?
These boughs of gold, and fruits of heavenly hue,
Tinging with vermeil light the billows blue?
And say, oh say, (how blest the eye that spied,
The band that snatch'd it sparkling in the ride)
Whose cunning carved this vegetable bowl,
Symbol of social rites, and intercourse of soul?

Such to their grateful ear the gush of springs,
Who course the ostrich, as away she wings;

* By a coincidence which must have been accidental, the same original conception presented itself to a writer of the first order of genius. “Cetle superbe mer, sur laquelle l'homme jamais ne peut imprimer sa trace. Si les vaisseaux sillonnent un moment les ondes, la vague vient effacer cette légère marque de servitude, et la mer reparait telle qu'elle fut au premier jour de sa création." --Corinne, i. 30.

In another passage of the same celebrated work is a thought which, by a coincidence equally casual, is the basis of one of the noblest stanzas of English lyric poetry. “ Et n'est-ce pas en effet l'air natal pour un Anglais qu'un vaisseau au milieu de la mer?”-Corinne, ii, 299.

Britannia needs no bulwark,
No towers along the steep ;
Her march is on the mountain wave,
Her home is on the deep.-Campbell's Mar. of Engl. .

Sons of the desert! who delight to dwell
'Mid kneeling camels round the sacred well.

The sails were furld : with many a melting close,
Solemn and slow the evening anthem rose,
Rose to the Virgin. 'Twas the hour of day,
When setting suns o'er summer seas display
A path of glory, opening in the west
To golden Climes, and islands of the blest;
And human voices, on the silent air,
Went o'er the waves in songs of gladness there!

Chosen of Men! 'twas thine, at noon of night,
First from the prow to hail the glimmering light.
· PEDRO! RODRIGO! there, methought, it shone!
There-in the west ! and now, alas, 'tis gone!
"Twas all a dream! we gaze and gaze in vain!
-But mark and speak not, there it comes again!
It moves !-what form unseen, what being there
With torch-like lustre fires the murky air?
Ais instincts, passions, say, how like our own?

Oh! when will day reveal a world unknown ?»» The whole vision which concludes the poem, is eminently beautiful. But it is needless to prolong our extracts from a volume, which must long ago have been in the hands of every reader of this Review. The extracts already given will show, that it always has consummate elegance, and often unaffected grandeur. The author is not one of those poets who is flat for a hundred lines, in order to heighten the apparent elevation of one more fortunate verse. He does not conduct his readers over a desert, to betray them into the temper in which they bestow the charms of Paradise on a few trees and a fountain in a green spot.

Perhaps there is no volume in our language of which it can be so truly said, as of the present, that it is equally exempt from the frailties of negligence and the vices of affectation. The exquisite polish of style is indeed more admired by the artist than by the people. The gentle and elegant pleasure which it imparts, can only be felt by a calm reason, an exercised taste, and a mind free from turbulent passions. But these beauties of execution can exist only in combination with much of the primary beauties of thought and feeling. Without a considerable portion of them, the works of the greatest genius must perish; and poets of the first rank depend on them for no small part of the perpetuity of their fame. They are permanent beauties. In poetry, though not in eloquence, it is less to rouse the passions of a moment, than to satisfy the taste of all ages.

In estimating the poetical rank of Mr. Rogers, it must not be forgotten that popularity never can arise from elegance alone. The vices of a poem may render it popular; and virtues of a faint character may be sufficient to preserve a languishing and cold reputation. But to be both popular poets and classical writers, is the rare lot of those few who are released from all solicitude about their literary fame. It often happens to successful writers, that the lustre of their first productions throws a temporary cloud over some of those which follow. Of all literary misfortunes, this is the most easily endured, and the most speedily repaired. It is generally no more than a momentary illusion produced by disappointed admiration, which expected more from the talents of the admired writer than any talents could perform.

Mr. Rogers has long passed that period of probation, during which it may be excusable to feel some painful solicitude about the reception of every new work. Whatever may be the rank assigned hereafter to his writings, when

22

VOL. 1.

compared to each other, the writer has most certainly taken his place among et the classical poels of his country.*

THE BEAUTIES OF SHAKSPEARE.+

Many persons are very sensible of the effect of fine poetry on their feelings, who do not well know how to refer these feelings to their causes; and it is always a delightful thing to be made to see clearly the sources from which our delight has proceeded—and to trace back the mingled stream that has flowed upon our hearts, to the remoter fountains from which it has been gathered; and when this is done with warmth as well as precision, and embodied in an eloquent description of the beauty which is explained, it forms one of the most attractive, and not the least instructive, of literary exercises. In all works of merit, however, and especially in all works of original genius, there are a thousand retiring and less obtrusive graces, which escape hasty and superficial observers, and only give out their beauties to fond and patient contemplation :-a thousand slight and harmonising touches, the merit and the effect of which are equally imperceptible to vulgar eyes; and a thousand indications of the continual presence of that poetical spirit, which can only be recognised by those who are in some measure under its influence, and have prepared themselves to receive it, by worshipping meekly at the shrines which it inhabits.

In the exposition of these is room enough for originality,--and more room than Mr. Hazlitt has yet filled. In many points, however, he has a quitted himself excellently ;-partly in the developement of the principal characters with which Shakspeare has peopled the fancies of all English readers—but principally, we ihink, in the delicate sensibility with which he has traced, and the natural eloquence with which he has pointed out their familiarity with beautiful forms and images—that eternal recurrence to what is sweet or majestic in the simple aspects of nature—that indestructible love of flowers and odours, and dews and clear walers—and soft airs and sounds, and bright skies, and woodland solitudes, and moonlight bowers, which are the material elements of poetry—and that fine sense of their undefinable relation to mental emotion, which is its essence and vivifying soul-and which, in the midst of Shakspeare's most busy and atrocious scenes, falls like gleams of sunshine on rocks and ruins-contrasting with all that is rugged and repulsive, and reminding us of the existence of purer and brighter elements—which he alone has poured out from the richness of his own mind, without effort or restraint, and contrived to intermingle with the play of all the passions and the vulgar course of this world's affairs, without deserting for an instant the proper business of the scene, or appearing to pause or digress from love of ornament or need of repose ;-he alone, who, when the object requires it, is always keen and worldly and practical —and who yet, without changing his hand, or stopping his course, scalters around him, as he goes, all sounds and shapes of sweetness—and conjures up landscapes of immortal fragrance and freshness, and peoples them with spirits of glorious aspect and attractive grace—and is a thousand times more

* See a review of Rogers's poem of Human Life, Vol. xxxi. p. 325. ! + Characters of Shakspeare's Plays. By William Hazlitt.-Vol. xxviii. p. 472. August, 1817.

full of fancy and imagery, and splendour, than those who, for the sake of such qualities, have shrunk back from the delineation of character or passion, and declined the discussion of human duties and cares. More full of wisdom and ridicule and sagacity, than all the moralists and satirists in existence—he is more wild, airy, and inventive, and more pathetic and fantaslic, than all the poels of all regions and ages of the world—and has all those elements so happily mixed up in him, and bears his high faculties so lemperately, that the most severe reader cannot complain of him for want of strength or of reason-nor the most sensitive for defect of ornament or ingenuity. Every thing in him is in unmeasured abundance, and unequalled perfection—but every thing so balanced and kept in subordination, as not to jostle or disturb, or take the place of another. The most exquisite poetical conceptions, images, and descriptions, are given with such brevity, and introduced with such skill, as merely to adorn, without loading, the sense they accompany. Although his sails are purple and perfumed, and his prow of beaten gold, they wast him on his voyage, not less but more rapidly and directly than if they had been composed of baser materials. All his excellences, like those of Nature herself, are thrown out together; and, instead of interfering with, support and recommend each other. His flowers are not tied up in garlands, nor his fruits crushed into baskets—but spring living from the soil, in all the dew and freshness of youth ; while the graceful foliage in which they lurk, and the ample branches, the rough and vigorous stem, and the wide-spreading roots on which they depend, are present along with them, and share, in their places, the equal care of their Creator.

What other poet has put all the charm of a moonlight landscape into a single line?—and that by an image so true to nature, and so simple, as to seem obvious to the most common observation ?

" See how the Moonlight sleeps on yonder bank!”Who else has expressed in three lines, all that is picturesque and lovely in a summer's dawn-first setting before our eyes, with magical precision, the visible appearances of the infant light, and then, by one graceful and glorious image, pouring on our souls all the freshness, cheerfulness, and sublimity of returning morning ?—

“ See, love! what envious streaks Do lace the severing clouds in yonder East : Night's candles * are burnt out,—and jocund Day

Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.” Where shall we find sweet sounds and odours so luxuriously blended and illustrated, as in these few words of sweetness and melody, where the author says of soft music,

“ 05, it came o'er my car, like the sweet South

That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour.”

If the advocates for the grand style object to this expression, we shall not stop to defend it; but, to us, it seems equally beautiful, as it is obvious and natural, to a person coming out of a lighted chamber into the pale dawn. The word candle, we admit, is rather homely in modern language, while lamp is sufficiently dignified for poetry. The moon bangs her silver lamp on high, is in every schoolboy's copy of verses; but she could not be called the candle of heaven without manifest absurdity. Such are the caprices of nsage. Yet we like the passage before us much better as it is, than if the caudles were changed into lamps. If we should read, “the lamps of heaven are quenched,” or “wax dim,” it appears to us that the whole charm of the expression would be

This is still finer, we think, than the noble speech on music in the Merchant of Venice, and only to be compared with the enchantments of Prospero's island ; where all the effects of sweel sounds are expressed in miraculous numbers, and traced in their operation on all the gradations of being, from the delicate Ariel to the brutish Caliban, who, savage as he is, is still touched with those supernatural harmonies, and thus exhorts his less poetical associales

“ Be not afraid, the isle is full of noises,

Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twanging ivstruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices,
That if I then had waked after long sleep,

Would make me sleep again.”Observe, too, that this and the other poetical speeches of this incarnate demon, are not mere ornaments of the poet's fancy, but explain his cha-racter, and describe his situation more briefly and effectually, ihan any other words could have done. In this play, and in the Midsummer Night's Dream, all Eden is unlocked before us, and the whole treasury of natural and supernatural beauty poured out profusely to the delight of all our faculties. We dare not trust ourselves with quotations ; but we refer to those plays generally—to the forest scenes in “ As You Like it”--the rustic parts of the Winter's Tale-several entire scenes in Cymbeline, and in Romeo and Juliet-and many passages in all the other plays--as illustrating this love of nature and natural beauty of which we have been speaking the power it had over the poet, and the power it imparted to him. Who else would have thought, on the very threshold of treason and midnight murder, of bringing in so sweet and rural an image at the portal of that blood-stained castle?

“ This guest of summer,

The temple-haunting 'marılet, does approve
By his loved masonry that heaven's breath
Smells wooingly here. No jutting frieze,
Buttress, nor coigne of vantage, but this bird

Has made his pendent bed, and procreant cradle." Nor is this brought in for the sake of an elaborate contrast between the peaceful innocence of this exterior, and the guilt and horrors that are to be enacted within. There is no hint of any such suggestion—but it is set down from the pure love of nature and reality-because the kindled mind of the poet brought the whole scene before his eyes, and he painted all that he saw in his vision. The same taste predominales in that emphatic exhortation to evil, where Lady Macbeth says,

“Look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under it.”

And in that proud boast of the bloody Richard

“But I was born so high :
Our nery buildeth in the cedar's top,
And dallies with the wind, and scorns the sun."

The same splendour of natural imagery, brought simply and directly to bear upon stern and repulsive passions, is to be found in the cynic rebukes of Apemantus to Timon :

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »