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And dare men dream that dismal Chance has framed
Fire from the cloud, or phantom in a dream?” We should be sorry to stake our faith in a higher Power on Mr. Robert Montgomery's logic. Does he believe that lightning, and bubbles, and the phenomena of dreams, are designless and self-created? If he does, we cannot conceive why he may not believe that the whole universe is designless and self-created. A few lines before, he tells us that it is the Deity who bids" thunder rattle from the skiey deep." His theory is therefore this, that God made the thunder, but that the lightning made itself.
But Mr. Robert Montgomery's metaphysics are not at present our game. He proceeds to set forth the fearful effects of Atheism :
6 Allen, blood-stain's Murder, bare thg bileous arm,
And thou, Rebellion, welier in thy storm :
Burst from your bonds, and battle with the time !"
-as she did long ago, in Mr. Campbell's Pleasures of Hope. But what possible motive Rebellion can have for weltering in her storm,—what avenging crime may be, --who ils spirits may be, -why they should burst from their bonds,-what their bonds may be,-why they should battle with the time, -what the time may be, and what a battle between the time and the spirits of avenging crime would resemble, we must confess ourselves quite unable to understand.
* And here let Memory turn her learful glance
On the dark horrors of lumuliuvu, France,
And fierce Rebellion shook her savage hand." Whether Rebellion shakes her own hand, shakes the hand of Memory, or shakes the hand of France, or what any one of these metaphors would mean, we know no more than we know what is the sense of the following passage :
* Let the foul orgies of infuriate crime
Picture the raging havoc of that time.
Thy look obedience, and thy smile a law," &c. What is the distinction between the foul orgies, and the ragiog havoc which the foul orgies are to picture? Why does Fright go behind Rebellion, and Murder before ? Why should not Murder fall behind Fright? Or why should not all the three walk abreast? : We have read of a hero who had
Amazement in his van, with Flight combined,
Gray, we suspect, could have given a reason for disposing the allegorical attendants of Edward thus. But to proceed :-“Flower of Austria” is stolen from Byron. “Dropp'd” is false English. “Perish'd in the storm” means nothing at all : and “thy look obedience” means the very reverse of what Mr. Robert Montgomery intends to say.
Our poet then proceeds to demonstrate the immortality of the soul :
" And shall the soul, the fount of reason, die,
When dust and darkness round ils lemple lie?
The soul is a fountain ; and therefore it is not to die, though dusi and darkness lie round its temple, because an ethereal fire has been breathed into it, which cannot be quenched though its breath expire. Is it the fountain, or the temple, that breathes, and has fire breathed into it?
Mr. Montgomery apostrophises the
“ Immortal beacons,--spirits of the just,”—
and describes their employments in another world, which are to be, it seems, bathing in light, hearing fiery streams flow, and riding on living cars of lightning. The deathbed of the sceptic is described with what we suppose is meant for energy.
“ See how he shudders at the thought of death?
What doubt and horror hang upon his breath,
A man as stiff as marble, shuddering and gibbering violently, would certainly present so curious a spectacle, that the shades, if they came in his way, might well stare.
We then have the deathbed of a Christian made as ridiculous as false imagery and false English can make it. But this is not enough :- The Day of Judgment is to be described,—and a roaring cataract of nonsense is poured forth upon this tremendous subject. Earth, we are told, is dashed into Eternity. Furnace blazes wheel round the horizon, and burst into bright wizard phantoms. Racing hurricanes unroll and whirl quivering fire-clouds. The white waves gallop. Shadowy worlds career around. The red and raging eye of Imagination is then forbidden to pry further. But further Mr. Robert Montgomery persists in prying. The stars bound through the airy roar. The unbosomed deep yawns on the ruin. The billows of Eternity then begin to advance. The world glares in fiery slumber, A car comes forward, driven by living thunder.
“ Creation shudders with sublime dismay,
And in a blazing tempest whirls away."
And this is fine poetry! This is what ranks its writer with the master spirits of the age! This is what has been described over and over again, in terms which would require some qualification is used respecting Paradise Lost! It is too much that this patchwork, made by stitching together old odds and ends of what, when new, was, sor the most part, but tawdry frippery, is to be picked off the dunghill on which it ought to rot, and to be held up to admiration as an inestimable specimen of art. And what
must we think of a system, by means of which verses like those which we have quoted-verses fit only for the poet's corner of the Morning Post
-can produce emolument and fame? The circulation of this writer's poetry has been greater than that of Southey’s Roderic, and beyond all comparison greater than that of Cary's Dante, or of the best works of Coleridge. Thus encouraged, Mr. Robert Montgomery has favoured the public with volume after volume. We have given so much space to the examination of his first and most popular performance, that we have none to spare for his Universal Prayer, and his smaller poems, which, as the pusting journals tell us, would alone constitute a sufficient title 10 literary immortality. We shall pass at once to his last publication, entitled Satan.
This poem was ushered into the world with the usual roar of acclamation. But the thing was now past a joke. Pretensions so unfounded, so impudent, and so successful, had aroused a spirit of resistance. In several magazines and reviews, accordingly, Satan has been handled somewhat roughly, and the arts of the puffers have been exposed with good sense and spirit. We shall, therefore, be very concise.
Of the two poems, we rather prefer that on the Omnipresence of the Deily, for the same reason which induced Sir Thomas More to rank one bad book above another. “Marry, this is so somewhat. This is rhyme. But the other is neither rhyme nor reason.” Satan is a long soliloquy, which the devil pronounces in five or six thousand lines of blank verse, concerning geography, politics, newspapers, fashionable society, theatrical amusements, Sir Walter Scott's novels, Lord Byron's poetry, and Mr. Martin's pictures. The new designs for Milton have, as was natural, parlicularly altracted the attention of a personage who occupies so conspicuous a place in them. Mr. Martin must be pleased to learn, that, whatever may be thought of those performances on earth, they give full satisfaction in Pandemonium, and that he is there thought to have hit off the likenesses of the various Thrones and Dominations very happily.
The motto to the poem of Satan is taken from the Book of Job :“Whence comest thou ?-From going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it." And certainly Mr. Robert Montgomery has not failed to make bis hero go to and fro, and walk up and down. With the exception, however, of this propensity to locomotion, Satan has not one Satanic quality. Mad Tom had told us, that“ the prince of darkness is a gentleman;" but we had yet to learn that he is a respectable and pious gentleman, whose principal fault is, that he is something of a twaddle, and far too liberal of his good advice. That happy change in his character which Origen anticipated, and of which Tillotson did not despair, seems to be rapidly taking place. Bad habits are not eradicated in a moment. It is not strange, therefore, that so old an offender should now and then relapse for a short time into wrong dispositions. But to give him his due, as ihe proverb recom-mends, we must say, that he always relurns, after two or three lines of impiety, to his preaching tone. We would seriously advise Mr. Montgomery to omil, or alter, about a hundred lines in different parts of this large volume, and to republish it under the name of “ Gabriel.” The reflections of which it consists would come less absurdly, as far as there is a more and a less in extreme absurdity, from a good than from a bad angel.
We can afford room only for a single quotation. We give one taken al random-neither worse nor better, as far as we can perceive, than any
other equal number of lines in the book. The Devil goes to the play, and moralises thereon as follows :
Music and Pomp their mingling spirit shed
Methinks I hear a pitying angel cry.” Here we conclude. If our remarks give pain to Mr. Robert Montgomery, we are sorry for it. But, at whatever cost of pain to individuals, literature must be purified from this taint. And, to show that we are not actuated by any feelings of personal enmity towards him, we hereby give notice, that, as soon as any book shall, by means of pusfing, reach a second edition, our intention is to do unto the writer of it as we have done unto Mr. Robert Montgomery.
LIFE AND POETRY OF LORD BYRON. |
We have read this book with the greatest pleasure. Considered merely as a composition, it deserves to be classed among the best specimens of English prose which our age has produced. It contains, indeed, no single passage equal to two or three which we could select from the Life of Sheridan. But, as a whole, it is immeasurably superior to that work. The style is agreeable, clear, and manly; and, when it rises into eloquence, rises without effort or ostentation. Nor is the matter inferior to the manner.
It would be difficult to name a book which exhibits more of kindness, fairness, and modesty. It has evidently been written, not for the purpose of showing—what, however, it often shows—how well its author can write ; but for the purpose of vindicaling, as far as truth will permit, the memory
Want of room precludes the possibility of the following interesting articles, which I had selected, being added to the other essays on Poetry and the Drama :-A critique on Wordsworil's Excursion, said 10 be writion by Mr. Jeffrey, Vol. xxiv. p. 1 ; a dissertation on the controversy concerning the authenticity of Ossian's Poems, attributed to Sir Walier S:ot, Vol. vi p. 429.; a review of Campbell's Specimens of British Poetry, Vol. xxxi. p. 462.; Strictures on the Lays of the Minnesingers or German Troubadours of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, Vol. xlii. p. 107.; Review of the Paradise of Coquettes, Vol. xxiv. p. 397.
+ Letters and Journals of Lord Byron ;'with Notices of his life. By Thomas Moore, Esq. 2 Vols.-- Vol. lü. p. 544. June, 1831.
of a celebrated man who can no longer vindicate himself. Mr. Moore never thrusts himself between Lord Byron and the public. With the strongest temptations to egotism, he has said no more about himself than the subject absolutely required. A greater part-indeed the greater part -of these volumes consists of extracts from the Letters and Journals of Lord Byron; and it is difficult to speak too highly of the skill which has been shown in the selection and arrangement. We will not say that we have not occasionally remarked in these two large quartos an anecdole which should have been omitted, a letter which should have been suppressed, a name which should have been concealed by asterisks, or asterisks which do not answer the purpose of concealing the name.
But it is impossible, on a general survey, to deny that the task has been executed with great judgment and great humanity. When we consider the life which Lord Byron had led, his petulance, his irritability, and his communicativeness, we cannot but admire the dexterity with which Mr. Moore has contrived to exhibit so much of the character and opinions of his friend, with so little pain to the feelings of the living.
The extracts from the journals and correspondence of Lord Byron are in the highest degree valuable--not merely on account of the information which they contain respecting the distinguished man by whom they were written, but on account, also, of their rare merit as compositions. The Letters—at least those which were sent from Italy--are among the best in our language. They are less affected than those of Pope and Walpole;they have more matter in them than those of Cowper. Knowing that many of them were not written merely for the person to whom they were directed, but were general cpistles, meant to be read by a large circle, we expected to find them clever and spirited, but deficient in ease.
We looked with vigilance for instances of stiffness in the language, and awkwardness in the transitions. We have been agreeably disappointed ; and we must confess, that if the epistolary style of Lord Byron was artificial, it was a rare and admirable instance of that highest art, which cannot be distinguished from nature.
Of the deep and painful interest which this book excites, no abstract can give a just notion. So sad and dark a story is scarcely to be found in any work of fiction; and we are little disposed to envy the moralist who can read it without being softened.
The pretty fable by which the Duchess of Orleans illustrates the character of her son the Regent, might, with little change, be applied to Byron. All the fairies, save one, had been bidden to his cradle. All the gossips had been profuse of their gifts. One had bestowed nobility; another, genius; a third, beauty. The malignant elf, who had been uninvited, came last, and, unable to reverse what her sisters had done for their favourite, had mixed up a curse with every blessing. In the rank of Lord Byron, in his understanding, in his character, in his very person, there was a strange union of opposite extremes. He was born to all that men covet and admire. But in every one of those eminent advantages which he possessed over others, there was mingled something of misery and debasement. He was sprung from a house, ancient indeed and noble, but degraded and impoverished by a series of crimes and follies, which had attained a scandalous publicity. The kinsman whom he succeeded had died poor, and, but for merciful judges, would have died upon the gallows. The young peer had great intellectual powers; yet there was an unsound part in his mind. He