Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

first impulse ; they do not strike root and germinate in the mind, like the seeds of its native feelings; nor propagate throughout the imagination that long series of delightful movements, which is only excited when the song of the poet is the echo of our familiar feelings.

It appears to us, therefore, that by far the most powerful and enchanting poetry is that which depends for its effect upon the just representation of common feelings and common situations, and not on the strangeness of its incidents, or the novelty or exotic splendour of its scenes and characters. The difficulty is, no doubt, to give the requisite force, elegance, and dignity to these ordinary subjects, and to win a way for them to the heart, by that true and concise expression of natural emotion, which is among the rarest gifts of inspiration. To accomplish this, the poet must do much; and the reader something. The one must practice enchantment, and the other submit to it. The one must purify his conceptions from all that is low or artificial; and the other must lend himself gently to the impression, and refrain from disturbing it by any movement of worldly vanity, derision, or hardheartedness. In an advanced state of society, the expression of simple emotion is so obstructed by ceremony, or so distorted by affectation, that though the sentiment itself be still familiar to the greater part of mankind, the verbal representation of it is a task of the utmost difficulty. One set of writers, accordingly, finding the whole langnage of men and women too sophisticated for this purpose, have been obliged to go to the nursery for a more suitable phraseology; another has adopted the style of courtly Arcadians; and a third, that of mere Bedlamites.' So much more difficult is it to express natural feelings, than to narrate battles, or describe prodigies !

But even when the poet has done his part, there are many causes which may obstruct his immediate popularity. In the first place, it requires a cerlain degree of sensibility to perceive his merit. There are thousands of people who can admire a florid description, or be amused with a wonderful story, to whom a pathetic poem is quite unintelligible. In the second place, it requires a certain degree of leisure and tranquillity. A picturesque stanza may be well enough relished while the reader is getting his hair combed; but a sense of tenderness or emotion will not do for the corner of a crowded drawing-room. Finally, it requires a certain degree of courage to proclaim the merits of such a writer. Those who feel the most deeply, are most given lo disguise their feelings; and derision is never so agonising as when it pounces on the wanderings of misguided sensibility. Considering the habits of the age in which we live, therefore, and the fashion, which, though not immutable, has for some time run steadily in an opposite direction, we should not be much surprised is a poem, whose chief merit consisted in its pathos, and in the softness and exquisite tenderness of its representations of domestic life and romantic seclusion, should meet with less encouragement than it deserves. If the volume before us were the work of an unknown writer, indeed, we should feel no little apprehension about its success; but Mr. Campbell's name has power, we are persuaded, to ensure a very partial and a very general attention to whatever it accompanies, and, we would

hope, influence enough to reclaim the public taste to a juster standard of excellence. The success of his former work, indeed, goes far to remove our anxiety for the fortune of this. It contained, perhaps, more brilliant and bold passages than are to be found in the poem before us; but it was

we think, in softness and beauty; and, being necessarily of a more desultory and didactic character, had far less pathos and interest than this

14

fain

inferior,

the genius and talents of Mr. Campbell are in accordance with the septiments frequently expressen ed in the Edinburgh Review in reference to that delightful poet. (See a review of his "Specimens

very simple tale. Those who admired the Pleasures of Hope for the passage about Brama and Kosciusko, may perhaps be somewhat disappointed with the gentler tone of Gertrude; but those who loved that charming work for its pictures of infancy and of maternal and connubial love, may read on here with the assurance of a still higher gratification,

We close this volume, on the whole, with feelings of regret for its shortness, and of admiration for the genius of its author. There are but two noble sorts of poetry,—the pathetic and the sublime; and we think he has given very extraordinary proofs of his talents for both. There is something, too, we will venture to add, in the style of many of his conceptions, which irresistibly impresses us with the conviction, that he can do much greater things than he has hitherto accomplished; and leads us to regard him, even yet, as a poet of still greater promise than performance. It seems to us as if the natural force and boldness of his ideas were habitually checked by a certain fastidious timidity, and an anxiety about the minor graces of correct and chastened composition. Certain it is, at least, that his greatest and most lofty flights have been made in those smaller pieces, about which, it is natural to think, he must have felt least solicitude; and that he has succeeded most splendidly where he must have been most free from the fear of failure. We wish any praises or exhortations of ours had the power to give him confidence in his own great talents; and hope earnestly, that he will now meet with such encouragement, as may set him above all restraints that proceed from apprehension, and induce him to give free scope to that genius, of which we are persuaded that the world has hitherto seen rather the grace than the richness.

PROFESSOR WILSON. +

[ocr errors]

This is a new recruit to the company of lake poets ;-and one who, from his present bearing, promises, we ihink, not only to do them good service, and to rise to high honours in the corps; but to raise its name, and advance its interests, even among the tribes of the unbelievers. Though he wears openly the badge of their peculiarities, and professes the most humble devotion to their great captain, Mr. Wordsworth, we think he has kept clear of several of the faults that may be imputed to his preceptors; and assumed, upon the whole, a more attractive and conciliating air, than the leaders he has chosen to follow. He has the same predilection, indeed, for engrafting powerful emotions on ordinary occurrences; and the same tendency to push all his emotions a great deal too far-the same disdain of all worldly en joyments and pursuits-and the same occasional mistakes, as to energy and simplicity of 'diction, which characterise the works of his predecessors But he difers from them in this very important particular, that though he

* I have not thought it necessary to add to the above beautiful remarks on the character.com Campbell's poetry the outline which the reviewere has given of the poem of * Gertrude," is the passages he has selected to justify the decision he has pronounced. The concluding remarks on

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

of British Poetry," Vol. xxxi. and of bis “ Theodric,” Vol. xli. p. 271.)
+ Wilson's Isle of Palms, and other Poems. — Vol. xix. p. 373. February, 1812.

does generally endeavour to raise a train of lofty and pathetic sensations upon very trilling incidents and familiar objects, and frequently pursues them to a great height of extravagance and exaggeration, he is scarcely ever guilty of the offence of building them upon a foundation that is ludicrous or purely fantastic. He makes more, to be sure, of a sleeping child, or a lonely cataract-and flies into greater raptures about female purity and moonlight landscapes, and fine dreams, and flowers, and singing-birds--than most other poets permit themselves to do, though it is of the very essence of poetry to be enraptured with such things :—but he does not break out into any ecstacies about spades or sparrows' eggs—or men gathering leechesor women in duffle cloaks-or plates and porringers-or washing tubsor any of those baser themes which poetry was always permilled to disdain, without any impeachment of her affability, till Mr. Wordsworth thought fit to force her into an acquaintance with ihem.

Though Mr. Wilson may be extravagant, therefore, he is not perverse; and though the more sober part of his readers may not be able to follow him to the summit of his sublimer sympathies, they cannot be offended at the invitation, or even refuse to grant him their company to a certain distance on the journey. The objects for which he seeks to interest them are all objects of natural interest; and the emotions which he connects with them are, in some degree, associated with them in all reflecting minds. It is the great misfortune of Mr. Wordsworth, on the contrary, that he is exceedingly apt to make choice of subjects which are not only unfit in themselves to excite any serious emotion, but naturally present themselves to ordinary minds as altogether ridiculous; and, consequently, to revolt and disgust his readers by an appearance of paltry affectation, or incomprehensible conceit. We have the greatest respect for the genius of Mr. Wordsworth, and the most sincere veneration for all we have heard of his character; but it is impossible to contemplate the injury he has done to his reputation by this poor ambition of originality, without a mixed sensation of provocation and regret. We are willing to take it for granted, that the spades, and the eggs, and the tubs which he commemorates, actually suggested to him all the emotions and reflections of which he has chosen to make them the vehicles; but they surely are not the only objects which have suggested similar emotions ; and we really cannot understand why the circumstance of their being quite unfit to suggest them to any other person should have recommended them

as their best accompaniments in an address to the public. We do not want Mr.Wordsworth to write like Pope or Prior, nor to dedicate his muse lo subjects which he does not himself think interesting. We are prepared, on the contrary, to listen with a far deeper delight to the songs of his mounlain solitude, and to gaze on his mellow pictures of simple happiness and affection, and his losty sketches of human worth and energy; and we only beg, that we may have these nobler elements of his poetry, without the debasement of childish language, mean incidents, and incongruous images. We will not run the risk of offending him, by hinting at the prosperity of Scott, or Campbell, or Crabbe ; but he cannot be scandalised, we think, if we reser him to the example of the dutiful disciple and fervent admirer who is now before us ; and entreat bim to consider whether he may not conscientiously abstain from those peculiarities which even Mr. Wilson has not thought it safe to imitate.

Mr. Wilson is not free from some of the faults of diction which, we think, belong to his school. He is occasionally mystical, and not seldom

VOL. II.

16

childish; but he has less of these peculiarities than most of his associates : and there is one more important fault from which, we think, he has escaped altogether. We allude now to the offensive assumption of exclusive taste, judgment, and morality, which pervades most of the writings of this tunefully brotherhood. There is a tone of tragic, keen, and intolerant reprobation in all the censures they bestow, that is not a little alarming to ordinary sinners. Every thing they do not like is accursed, and pestilent, and inhuman; and they can scarcely differ from any body upon a point of criticism, politics, or metaphysics, without wondering what a heart he must have ; and expressing, not merely dissent, but loathing and abhorrence. Neither is it very difficult to perceive, that they think it barely possible for any one to have any just notion of poetry, any genuine warmth of affection or philanthropy, or any large views as to the true principles of happiness and virtue, who does not agree with them in most of their vagaries

, and live a life very nearly akin to that which they have elected for themselves

. The inhabitants of towns, therefore, and most of those who are engaged in the ordinary business or pleasures of society, are cast off without ceremony as demoralised and denaturalised beings; and it would evidently be a codsiderable stretch of charity in these new apostles of taste and wisdom, to believe that any one of this description could have a genuine relish for the beauties of nature-could feel any ardent or devoted attachment to another,—or even comprehend the great principles upon which private and public virtue must be founded. Mr. Wilson, however, does not seem to believe in the necessity of this extraordinary monopoly; but speaks with a tone of indulgent and open sociality, which is as engaging as the jealous and assuming manner of some of his models is offensive. The most striking characteristic, indeed, as well as the great charm of the volume before us, is the spirit of warm and unaffected philanthropy which breathes over every page of it—that delighted tenderness with which the writer dwells on the bliss of childhood, and the dignity of female innocence—and that young enthusiasm which leads him to luxuriate in the descriptions beautiful nature and the joys of a life of retirement. If our readers can contrive to combine these distinguishing features with our general reference of the author to the school of Wordsworth and Southey, they will have as exact a conception of his poetical character as can be necessary to prepare them for a more detailed account of the works that are now offered io their perusal.

of

BARRY CORNWALL.+

A good imitation of what is excellent is generally preferable to original mediocrity :-only it provokes dangerous comparisons-and makes failures more conspicuous and sometimes reminds us that excellent things are imitable by their faults-and that too diligent a study of the wonders of Art is apt to lead into some forgetfulness of the beauties of Nature. In spite of all these dangers, we must say that the author before us is a See another review of Wilson's poetry, equally complimentary, Vol. xxvi. p. 458. A Sicilian Story, and other Poems. By Barry Cornwall.– Vol. xxxiii. p. 141. January,

[ocr errors]

s very good imitator-and unquestionably, for the most part, of very good

models. His style is chiefly moulded, and his versification modulated, on the pattern of Shakspeare, and the other dramatists of that glorious ageparticularly Marlow, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Massinger. He has also copied something from Milton and Ben Jonson, and the amorous cavaliers of the Usurpation—and then passing disdainfully over all the intermediate writers, has flung himself fairly into the arms of Lord Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Leigh Hunt.--This may be thought, per

haps, rather a violent transition; and likely to lead to something of an ine congruous mixture. But the materials really harmonise very tolerably; e and the candid reader of the work will easily discover the secret of this amalgamation.

In the first place, Mr. Cornwall is himself a poet-and one of no mean rate ;-and not being a maker of parodies or centos, he does not imitate by indiscriminately caricaturing the prominent peculiarities of his models, or crowding together their external or mechanical characteristics--but merely disciplines his own genius in the school of theirs and tinges the creatures of his fancy with the colouring which glows in theirs. In the next place, and what is much more important, it is obvious that a man may imitate Shakspeare and his great compeers, without presuming to rival their variety or universality, and merely by endeavouring to copy one or two of their many styles and excellences. This is the case with Mr. C. He does not meddle with the thunders and lightnings of the mighty poet, and still less with his boundless humour and fresh-springing merriment. He has nothing to do with Falstaff or Silence; and does not venture himself in the lists with Macbeth, or Lear, or Othello. It is the tender, the sweet, and the fanciful only, that he aspires to copy-the girlish innocence and lovely sorrow of Juliet, Imogen, Perdita, or Viola-the enchanted solitude of Prospero and his daughter--the etherial loves and jealousies of Oberon and Titania, and those other magical scenes, all perfumed with love and poetry, and breathing the spirit of a celestial spring, which lie scattered in every part of his writings. -The genius of Fletcher, perhaps, is more akin to Mr. C.'s muse of imilation, than the soaring and “extravagant spirit” of Shakspeare; and we think we can trace, in more places than one, the impression which his fancy has received from the patient suffering and sweet desolation of Aspatia, in his Maid's tragedy. It is the youthful Milton only that he has presumed to copy—the Milton of Lycidas and Comus, and the Arcades, and the Seraphic Hymns--not the lofty and austere Milton of the Paradise. From Jonson, we think, he has imitated some of those exquisite songs and lyrical pieces that lie buried in the rubbish of his masks, and which continued to be the models for all such writings down to the period of the Restoration. There are no traces, we think, of Dryden, or Pope, or Young, -or of any body else, indeed, till we come down to Lord Byron, and our other tuneful contemporaries.-From what we have already said, it will be understood, that Mr. C. has not thought of imitating all Byron, any more than all Shakspeare. He leaves untouched the mockery and misanthropy, as well as much of the force and energy, of the noble Lord's poetry-and betakes himself only to its deep sense of beauty, and the grace and tenderness that are so often and so strangely interwoven with those less winning characteristics.- It is the poetry of Manfred, of Parisina, of Haidée and Thyrsa, that he aims at copying, and not

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »