« ForrigeFortsett »
appended the Confession of Augsburgh and other valuable documents; and, while the Rev. James R. Page has thus given to our clergy and our students in theology an edition of this work which must necessarily supersede every other, we feel he deserves well at the hands of the church of England, which he has so materially served.
Art. VII.-1. The Poetical Works of James Montgomery.
3 vols. London: Longman. 1836. 2. The Poetical Works of the Rev. Thomas Dale. London:
Tilt. 1837. 3. The Descent into Hell. By John A. HERAUD. Second
Edition. London: Fraser. 1835. 4. The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell. Moxon. 1836. 5. The Poetical Works of Samuel Rogers. Moxon. 1836.
IN delineating the Character and tracing the Progress of Religious Poetry, our researches have been confined to the works of men whose earthly pilgrimage is ended, whose harps are silent, and whose vessels, after all the buffetings and storms of life, are anchored, we may hope, within the crystal ports of a tranquil and a blessed eternity. Their names have assumed the sanctity of the past; the heart of the sternest criticism is softened by the memory of their virtues; and even the bitter spirits of envy and controversy are dispossessed by the music of their strains. There is something delightful in building up, in an affectionate, yet discriminating eulogy, the tombs of these departed singers; in protecting their intellectual remains from the ravages of time, or the wanton insults of the proud, in shrines beautified with the offerings of love and veneration. These humble rites of affection seem to possess a particular interest at the present moment. We are standing, undoubtedly, upon the threshold of a great and wonderful revolution in habit, feeling, and education. Imagination retreats before reality; fiction before truth; poetry before science. Old things are passing away; all things are becoming new. A modern giant, of whom the hundred-handed Titan of antiquity was a faint image, is putting forth its colossal strength, and compassing, as it were, the opposite poles in its embrace. The steam-engine is at once civilizing and corrupting the world.
Who shall calculate, in all its ramifications, the energies of this silent intelligence, this mightiest creature of man's creation ? The mention of it here is only incidental, as connected with that wonderful activity and speculativeness of mind for which the world is now remarkable. The Fairy Queen is abandoned for Maculloch's Dictionary. Nor is the tumult of political agitation, divested as it is of all romantic or picturesque embellishments, less injurious to the nurture or development of poetic genius. Never more will an Æschylus blaze at Salamis ; or a Cervantes gather deathless laurels at Lepanto ; or the lyré and sword of Spain be united on the plains of South America. The knighthood and the chivalry of poetry are no more ; it has taken a lower rank among the aristocracy of intellect.
The vast and agitated sea of modern innovation, if we may employ a metaphor not inappropriate, is rapidly undermining the shore of old Romance, upon which the poets of other days delighted to rear their beautiful and fantastic architecture; the little wave of each returning hour washes away fragment after fragment; and already the time seems not far distant when the billows shall sweep it into the ocean for ever. Even the volumes which we have placed at the commencement of the present article lend an ominous testimony to our assertion; some of them are the collected productions of their respective authors,—their legacies to the present and to the future. We appear to have taken leave of them, and to have received their benediction ; but unto whom have they bequeathed their mantles? Nor let it be said that we have drawn too unfavourable a picture. To what quarter of the horizon shall we look for the faintest indication of another star ? There was ingenuity as well as truth in Goldsmith's comparison of the body of the learned to a Persian army, in which are many pioneers, women, children,-but few soldiers. A poem, strictly deserving the title, is never heard of; the shower of rhymes falls without intermission,-it is the only series to which there is no limit. Day after day, hour after hour, consigns some new freight of folly or impertinence to oblivion and the trunk-makers; yet the epidemical conspiracy for the destruction of paper, as the Adventurer wittily called it, still continues. Among the swarm of insects, one may occasionally outshine its gay companions in the gilding of its wings and the brilliancy of its colouring ; but it has nothing of beauty but the paint. We turn it over in our hand, or hold it up to the sun for a moment, and then throw it into the grass again.* We have no wish to excite a crusade, nor to mar the murmuring of creatures so ill able to defend themselves; while they manifest no venomous propensities, the critic's wheel may be otherwise employed. Even Johnson thought it cruel to crush an insect which provoked him only by buzzing in his ear.
Some discouragements lie, we confess, in the poet's path: the most fruitful and attractive districts about Parnassus have been already appropriated; the most precious mines of thought have been diligently explored; the most delicious flowers of the soil woven into garlands for other brows. Coleridge thought the destruction of Jerusalem the only subject now remaining for an
epic poem; possessing a rare combination of grandeur and splendour. Here, he said, there would be the completion of the prophecy—the termination of the first revealed natural religion under the violent assault of Paganism ; varied and illustrated with the characters of the Roman and the Jew, in all their pride and magnificence. He himself had schemed it at twenty
He admitted, however, upon another occasion, one important defect inherent in the subject—the absolute impossibility of preventing the interest for the individual from being swallowed up and lost in the interest for the event. Undoubtedly the destruction of a city, hallowed by so many associations, would afford a foundation for a noble superstructure; but how far it would realise Mr. Coleridge's idea by enlisting the sympathies of the Christian world, like the “ Paradise Lost,"-or the Grecian world, like the Homeric war,-may fairly admit of a question. The other subject, the Mediterranean, was suggested by Johnson ; and here we think the poet would find ampler scope in having the history of the four great nations who went forth from its shores. The conquest of India by Bacchus, Coleridge also thought a subject capable of affording opportunities for a brilliant exercise of the fancy and the understanding. Southey would write it better than any living poet; but no genius could vanquish its want of national or universal interest. In this respect it is far inferior to the “ Adventures of Arthur," which are known to have occupied the youthful dreams of Milton. Mr. Coleridge asks, What have we to do with him? But the question might be demanded, with at least equal propriety, What have we to do with Bacchus ? Such a work might captivate the scholar by its learning, and the enthusiast by the richness of its pictures, and the glow and warmth of its colouring;' but it would never take hold of the public mind. This has been the fate of the laureate's eastern romances. What destiny may be reserved for the children of song we pretend not to foresee; the bees may, even while we writę, be clustering about some cradle watched over by the Graces; settling upon some lips hereafter to be touched with fire, and upon whose accents generations are to hang enamoured,- one before whom the Muse will pitch her radiant tent, breathing upon his cheek the purple light of celestial youth, and bathing his garments in the dews of fancy; another “Bower of Beauty” may even now be growing up for another Spenser ; another Pandemonium rising to the sound of dulcimers, before the eyes of another Milton; and the Magic Horn recalling into life the gorgeous mysteries of enchantment in the dreams of another Ariosto! Let us not disperse this delicious and golden vision: the sky can well bear so brief an illumination! Would that
any word of ours might take root in some generous and tender spirit, finding in poetry the language of virtue and of truth. Most ardently would we advise him to go on his way rejoicing. Poetry is, above all other intellectual gifts, its own reward; it elevates, soothes, and refines the understanding, and communicates its richness and fragrancy to the innermost thoughts.
* Table Talk
* The summer flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die." Never may the day arrive when the youthful aspirant after glory shall take his farewell of the haunts of the Muses and the springs of beauty undefiled
Νύν δ' ώ κρήναι, γλύκιόν τε πόντον,
Sophoc. Philoct. Among the poems which have recently issued from the press, Mr. Heraud's“ Descent into Hell” affords one of the most pleasing exceptions from our strictures; and we coincide with Mr. Lockhart in believing that, although essentially destitute of the elements of ephemeral popularity, it will always obtain the suffrages of those who have proved, by their ability to perform, their title to judge. The Descent is written in the terza rima of Dante, a metre attempted by no English writer of eminence, except Milton, in the “Second Psalm," and Byron, in the “ Prophecy of Dante.” Metrical experiments have never been received with much favour. Southey's attempt to revive in the “Vision of Judgment" the hexameter of Sir Philip. Sidney, proved signally unsuccessful; and the rare beauty and luxuriant fancy of " Thalaba" and the “Curse of Kehama" have not succeeded in reconciling the public ear to their unaccustomed melody. It is surprising to observe how miserably the art of versification is neglected in our day, by youthful writers in particular: the science of metre seems a thing unknown. Mr. Coleridge's advice, to Alfred Tennyson, in whom he discovered traces of genuine talent, was to write for the next two or three years only in wellknown and strictly defined metres, such as the heroic couplet, the octave stanza, or the octo-syllabic measure of the Allegro and Penseroso. The author of " Kubla Khan” possessed the most delicate ear of any modern poet; and his practice, in this instance, corresponded with his theory.
Blank verse, the heroic couplet, and the Spenserian stanza, are the noblest, the sweetest, the most flexible, and the most comprehensive forms of verse in our language. from its variety, its naturalness, and its facility, seems to be appropriated to the business and the pleasures of life; it is emphatically the dialect of the theatre. In the purity and dramatic ease of Massinger, the ever-varying richness of Shakspeare, the gorgeous declamation of Beaumont, or the grave
stateliness of Ben Jonson, its happy versatility is displayed; the smile of merriment, the sneer of ridicule, the start of passion, the gasp of sorrow, are each represented with a vivid reality. Such is the pliability of the measure, that the skill of the artist is alone wanting to construct out of it a mask which shall preserve the faintest play of feature in the face of the tragic or comic Muse. Coleridge thought the rhythm of Shakspeare so perfect, that when a line did not run well as he read it, he was convinced that its real force had escaped him. Milton, Young, Akenside, Cowper, Wordsworth, and Southey, have all furnished specimens of the same measure in narrative and didactic poems of peculiar beauty; but in the two epics of Paradise only do we find the inherent difficulties of the metre overcome; the resplendent structures of Milton's imagination seem to rise in noiseless glory at the sound of those fuli organnotes; the assembly of the powers of darkness, the unfurling of the blazing standard, the glare of unnumbered spears, the thunder of the arming legions, the tumult of angelic warfare, the roar of the living chariots, the fearful hardihood of Satan, and the mild majesty of Raphael; the loveliness and the agony of Eve, the seraphic minstrelsy and the flaming swords of Paradise--all that is terrible, combined with all that is beautiful, find a correspondent expression in the rhythm of Milton. The veins of his diction were enriched with the choicest blood of Greece and Italy, and imparted an intenser vitality to the entire frame. Exquisite specimens of energetic and mellifluous verse may be found in the Task, the Excursion, the Roderic, and Madoc, the last of which a kindred spirit has declared to be the noblest narrative poem since the “ Fairie Queen” and “ Paradise Lost;” but instances of prolixity running into feebleness continually occur; the stream overflows its banks, decreasing at once in depth and rapidity. The humorous remark which obtained the applause of Johnson, that blank verse was verse only to the eye, begins under these circumstances to lose the appearance of a paradox. The heroic couplet, on the other hand, while it retains in the works of the Elizabethian poets no inconsiderable share of the flexibility and capacity of blank verse, confines the sense with a narrower channel, and gives to the sentiments of the writer a terser vigour: hence it is especially adapted to the expression of indignation, or to the unwinding of a didactic argument; nor is it less susceptible of the delicate graces of description, the violent outbreaks of feeling, or the graceful flashes of irony. Of the three first qualities Dryden, in his Satires, and translations from Chaucer and Boccacio, has given ample proof; and the reader who desires evidence of the second, will find it in the “Rape of the Lock" and the “ Epistle to Abelard." Lastly, the Spenserian stanza demands our attention. If blank verse be appropriated to the theatre, and the loftiest