« ForrigeFortsett »
tête-à tête companion at the Round Table tells us, that when this school arose, all the common-place figures of poetry,
tropes, allegories, personifications, with the whole heathen my
thology, were instantly discarded ;' and tható a classical allussion was considered as a piece of antiquated foppery."
And yet, in the greatest production of the master of this school, a passage occurs which might be suspected to have suggested this very poem of Mr. Hunt's. Whether he was indebted to it for the first thought of the Nymphs,' or not, the lines to which we allude, may challenge comparison with any passage that can be cited from the poems of his contemporaries, in respect of the elegant use the Author has made in them of the s beautiful mythology of the ancients. Although they liave been already quoted in our Journal, we must beg leave to recal them to our readers :
In that fair clime, the lonely herdsman, stretched ' On the soft grass through balf a summer's day, . With music lulled bis in dolent
repose : And, in some fit of weariness, if he
When bis own breath was silent, chanced to hear ' A distant strain, far sweeter than the sounds • Which his poor skill could make, his fancy fetched,
Even from the blazing chariot of the Sun, "A beardless youth, who touched a golden lute, . And filled the illumined groves with ravishment. • The nightly hunter, lifting up his eyes
Towards the crescent Moon, with grateful heart • Called on the lovely wanderer who bestowed "That timely light, to share bis joyous sport : * And hence a beaniny goddess with her nymphs, • Across the lawu and through the darksome grove, 6
(Not unaccompanied with tuneful notes . By echo multiplied from rock or cave)
Swept in the storin of chase, as Moon and Stars
Gliding apace, with shadows in their train,
With gentle whisper. Withered boughs grotesque, "Strippel of their leaves and twigs by hoary age, • From depth of shaggy covert peeping forti In the low vale, or on steep mountain side;
* And, sometimes, intermixed with stirring horns
Of the live deer, or goat's depending beard ; . These were the lurking Satyrs, a wild brood . Of gamesome deities ! or Pan himself • The simple shepherd's awe-inspiring god.'
No one can doubt that the author of these lines feels and appreciates all the beauties of classic fable, to which, by the power of a kindred imagination, he has imparted so picturesque a character; but still he alludes to them as the fictions of a remote superstition, not as things which could for a moment assume in his own mind the place of realities. The philosophical nature of his poem, forbade, it may be said, any other use of the ancient mythology, than that of a passing allusion. We are, however, satisfied from comparing the effect of this passage with that produced by Mr. Hunt's long poem, that Mr. Wordsworth has taken by far the best method of restoring • that beautiful mythology' to its proper estimation. The fact is, that fiction interests us only as it appears to us to be in itself credible, and so to represent truth, or otherwise as having once been believed in, it is associated with human interests and human feelings. The mythology of Greece was the matter of religious belief to the idolatrous vulgar, and its influence upon their minds was that of reality. We know these things were believed in as true, and we can by the help of imagination conceive of the effect which, so believed in, they must have had upon those ignorant idolaters, whoin nevertheless, by a further exercise of imagination, we indulge ourselves in conceiving of as beings far more elevated than the vulgar of our own times. Viewed through the medium of their own classics, those ancient nations become in themselves objects of romantic interest, and the strong sympathy by which we learn to identify ourselves with the actors of the stories of antiquity, extends to the silliest and most monstrous delusions which superstition ever palmed upon credulity. Incredible as they seem, the imagination cannot for a moment entertain the illusion, otherwise than as we for the moment personify the beings to whom that illusion was truth, and transfer to the objects of their belief, the indefinite feelings which are connected in our own minds with things that do indeed exist.
But when, neither as the matter of ancient belief, nor as philosophical allegories, but as imaginable possibilities, the demonology of Paganism is sincerely taken as a theme of highwrought invocation and description, without any intimation on the part of the poet, that he is acting a character, and we are called upon to listen to his second-hand legends as grave matters of fact, the mind resents at once the undisguised absurdity of the fiction ; we should think of surrendering ourselves to the
elegant nonsense of naiads,' and limniads,' and oreads,' and • dryads, just about as soon as we should sympathize with the reveries of a Swedenborgian. Those beautiful mythological personages, dissociated from the circumstances wbich lent them a sort of credibility, and brought out of their obscurity into broad day, suffer much the same degrading violence as the marble majesties of Greece, when torn from their climate and their pedestals, to form the unimpressive ranks of a museum. An exception may be made in favour of those very ethereal deities, the imbodied essences,' as Mr. Hunt terms them, of
all the grand and lovely qualities of nature, which resolve themselves at a touch into the elements of natural scenery : they awaken, when their names occur, ideas scarcely different from what the simple forms of expression would suggest, with which they have become familiarly convertible. A naiad and a stream mean in plain English much the same, and do equally well even in an English landscape. There is also another case in which these mythological descriptions may please, and that is, when they recal some fine painting, in which a palpable form of beauty has been given to the unsubstantial imagery. This pleasure, however, is more nearly allied to the pleasures of art, than those which are strictly proper to the imagination. Mr. Hunt has evidently copied much of his poetry, not from nature, but from Le Poussin. He describes pictures instead of suggesting ideal images. He defines to the very grouping and attitude of his figures, and seems incapable of conceiving of any thing that he has not first seen upon the
We suspect that his fancy is by no means of exuberant fertility: he can feel, but he cannot invent; he has the eye of a connoisseur, and the pencil of a colourist, but he is a mere artist. His leading poem, "The Nympbs, affords, we think, sufficient proof of this; it is, as he says of Pope's Homer, 'an elegant mistake.'
Our readers, however, may claim the right of judging for themselves : we willingly indulge them with a few extracts, Part the First opens with the following rapturous invocation :
• Spirit, who waftest me where'er I will,
Leaning about among the clumpy bays
Look at the clear Apollo while he plays ;-
Arrived ! arrived ! O shady spots of ground,
haunted of no lovelier grips
Oye whom ancient wisdom, in it's graces,
Mr. Hunt tells us he sees all this : but does he, as be ought, make his reader see it? Or is it not rather Mr. Hunt solne, looking towards the side scene, and informing his audience of the wonders which he descries, but which never come upon the stage? Is there any illusion in this rhapsody? Do the figures in the landscape move, or does not the whole smell of oil and varnish ?
Then as to the phraseology, which the Author means to partake of antique quainthess ;- we have been sometimes tempted to suspect that the printer had maliciously changed a word, here and there, to give the passage the effect of Huut travestie. The sudden laps’ of the Dryads, the back-turned phea• sant' and · handy squirrel,' the fountain's tongue' beginning to'lap,' the ' whiffling tones of rills,' or 'rounder murmur,
glib and flush, of the escaping gush,' are in truth dazzling Lovelties which we scarcely know whether to ascribe to the oet or the compositor.
We cannot pretend to follow our Author through the whole of his needle-work exhibition of nymphs. There are some passages which are very pleasing and the poem exhibits throughout the characteristics of indisputable talent. The following bears all the marks of a design for a drawing: it contains tolerably good directions for an artist, but there is no appeal to the fancy.
• There's a whole bevy, there in that recess
With unsuperfluous lift of their proud wings.' The song of the Nepheliads,' is the prettiest thing in the poem : it has more of the lyric spirit as well as ineasure, and is upou the whole less disfigured by affectation.
. Ho! we are the nepheliads, we
Do we rest our burly fountains ;