Page images
PDF
EPUB

“ Critics, and critics only, can do full justice to the spirit, the deep feeling, and the energy of this work. We consider Mr. Kennedy's lovepoetry some of the finest that ever was written. He is a poet, if thought, feeling, and originality can make one.”Literary Gazette.

Let us not hasten over the peculiar triumphs of Mr. Kennedy's genius, which are here so worthily recorded. Cove-poets of all times and places, used to deem it the crown of all their toils, if they could only rouse the interest, and engage the feelings, of the tender sex. But that system is all changed: a new power has sprung up: dark eyes, and shining ringlets, have had their reign ; and we have now come to that stage in our advance to perfection, when the “finest love poetry that ever was written,” can be done justice to by “ critics, and critics only!” Another commentator, worthy of the enlightened epoch in which he lives, elucidates Mr. Kennedy's matchless endowments with a more liberal hand. The Longinus who presides over the destines of the “ Edinburgh Literary Journal,” thus uttereth an oracle to posterity :

“ He is full of strong feelings and good conceptions. Manliness and sincerity are the great characteristics of his style. "He writes like a man of good muscle ; he strikes his idea on the head at once, and then proceeds to another. He is no admirer of ornament. He uses the good old language of England—thrilling as it is, and full of home power-and his thoughts stand in it strong and sturdy, like the bristles on the back of the fretted porcupine."- Edinburgh Literary Journal.

Here is a painting indeed ! muscles and sinews, and the other living attributes of corporeal strength, seem starting from the canvas, in all the vehemence of irrepressible might. The last Christmas cattle show, we warrant, did not present such a specimen even for its most precious prize : nor did Smithfield behold, in its centuries of experience, a nobler monument of fine feeding. How grand, after all, are the victories of digestion! Sooth to say, but a plethora may become interesting. This whole picture, however, of the Edinburgh artist, is but an allegorical display: the strong feelings, the good muscle, the striking an idea on the head at once, and the proceeding afterwards of the muscular tyrant to another idea; the wielding of the English language, thrilling, and full of home brewedwe beg pardon for the slip-full of home power as it is; and the thoughts bristling up above the surface of the said language like quills—we submit more than like bristles-on the fretted porcupine, are all traits and accessories so harmonious with one another, and so suited, in their combined effect, to the character of the leading subject, that, in the intoxication of our wonder, we know not which most to praise, the artist who has done so much, or the original, who deserves it all. We must not, however, in making our determination on this point, pass over the important fact in favour of the poet, that he has, with a spirit of a churchwarden, utterly relinquished his patent privilege of trafficking in fiction, and ventures the ascent of Parnassus with a pledge of downright sincerity.

The reader, we suspect, is by this time in a sufficiently persuasive temper, to believe very readily that a modern poet is rather a peculiar sort of a formation. If, however, any misgivings in this respect should still agitate his mind, we shall transfer the merit of removing them to Mr. Kennedy himself: and if, upon a perusal of the poem before us, a reasonable man will say, that any other poet, living or dead, ever wrote such verses as these before us, we shall no longer participate of the intellectual luxuries which the present time has unfolded, but devote ourselves, in our despair, once more to Shakspeare, and his kindred disciples of the last age.

Mr. Kennedy no longer confines his aspiring muse to the desultory occupations, which are so faithfully described by him, under the title of “ Fitful Fancies :” he exalts his voice to strains paulo majora, and yields us a whole poem of very respectable dimensions. The story is worthy of an ambitious minstrel, and is intended to commemorate the love and the inconstancy of Henry of Navarre, and the dolorous fortune which overtook poor Fleurette, the gardener's daughter, who fell an early victim to the same. The work opens with a Proem, which, like the overture or symphony in music, is intended to convey some general impression of the nature and character of the forthcoming performance. We extract a few lines from this Proem, in order to shew the reader how much he is entitled to anticipate in the perusal of what is to follow.

• Of all by reckless Fortune crowned,

The arbiters of human kind,
How few by gladness compassed round

Can anxious History find !
Perhaps in the dead waste of years,
One ever-verdant name appears,
'Mid the imperial wilderness,
Given the despairing eye to bless-
One plant of nobleness which yields
Its poor dependants of the fields,
Love's honey-drops-its stem inclining
To feeble tendrils downward pining-
But, on its grave, of rampant weeds,
A noxious multitude succeeds;
Stealing the perfume from the clay,

Holy and redolent of May.'--p. 3, 4. We do not expect that the reader will derive a great deal of information, as to the future operations of the poet, from the foregoing passage; it is not intended that he should. Let him have patience, however, and all will be explained. We would venture to affirm this moment, that not one in a hundred will be able to comprehend a great deal that is in this passage. He would be

an ingenious scholar that could tell us the name of the plant which, possessing the quality of nobleness in the field, yields • love's honey drops' to its poor dependants, very condescendingly bending its stem to the feeble tendrils of its mendicant neighbours, and yet at the same time, that could allow a multitude of rampant weeds to grow upon its grave. About all this we shall be silent for the present, nor shall we utter a word to satisfy the reader that the same noxious weeds, pining downwards, albeit, do yet rob the clay of its perfume,—the clay that is so holy and so redolent of May.'

So much for the proem. And now for the business of the scene. The Poem opens with a description of the visit which Charles the Ninth and his Queen, with their train, paid at Nerac, the palace of the good lady of Navarre,' with whom was then residing her son, the Prince of Bearn, better known afterwards by the title of the illustrious Henry of France. Charles affected archery,' and a trial of skill in that ancient art was appointed for the royal amusement. The spectacle attracted the multitude from all parts, who came

To see how sceptered fingers drew

The tough string and the trusty yew.' The Prince of Bearn, a youth of sixteen, attended this feat, and by the unexpected display of his address as a marksman, attracted the exclusive applause of the spectators, to the great mortification of Charles. So disappointed was the latter, that when the young Prince braced himself for a second shot, the King desired him to give way, enforcing his command at the very same moment with rather an undignified push. The reader will be deeply interested to know the result.

• His generous cheek flushed into flame-
Trembled from head to heel his frame;
Again he had his weapon ready,

His eye concentred on the King,
With manhood's mettle burning steady,

A fearful-looking thing!
A knight, the amplest in the field,
Served the scared monarch for a shield,
Until his cousin's anger slept,
When from his portly screen he stept,
And idly strove the mark to hit,
Passing a spear's length wide of it;
Muttering a ban on bow and quiver,
He flung them both into the river;
And straight departed from the scene,

His dignity disturbed by spleen.'-p. 15, 16. The Prince concentring his eye upon the King, is not, we apprehend, to be taken in its literal sense ; it is a mere figure of speech, for the use of which there is the most undeniable autho

rity. An Irish soldier once recounting a brave exploit of his, in having taken five of the enemy by himself, was asked how he contrived to perform such an achievement. By St. Patrick, but I surrounded them,” exclaimed the veteran. To proceed. The Duke of Guise took up the bow and arrow, in order to sustain the lost honour of France, and cleft the fruit in twain. The effect upon the Prince is thus sung :

• Harry liked little to divide
The garland with Parisian pride,
And failing at the time to find
An orange suited to his mind,
Begged from a blushing country maid,
A red rose on her bosom laid.
Poor girl! it was not in her power
From such a youth to save the flower!
The prize was his-triumphantly
He fixed it on a neighbouring tree-
His bonnet doffed, and cleared his brow,
While beauty whispered “ Note him now !"-
A moment, and the sweet rose shivered,

Beneath the shaft that in it quivered.'—p. 16. The damsel proves to be Fleurette, and from that moment the Prince and she understand each other. The whole court begins to remark with alarm that Henry has taken to the occupation of a horticulturist-that he had

• Pitched upon a plot of ground
Which-truth to say—was not so good

As some he might have found,
For fostering plantage home or foreign-

Tall elm-trees shaded it, and near
The Fountain of the Rabbit-warren

Scattered its waters clear.' Hereby, the shrewd reader will quickly guess, hung an interesting tale. The fountain was often resorted to by Fleurette, who, after the primitive fashion of handmaids, carried a picturesque pitcher in her lily-white band : and the gods so ordained it, that when the damsel passed that way, the Prince was sure to pass it too. It were long, though not tedious, to follow the story of their loves; but one sweet evening, appointed for a blessed interview between the mutual adorers, cannot be passed over for the beauty of the description, and the somewhat extraordinary accidents by which it was otherwise characterized. If the reader has the command of such a luxury at this moment, let him order a stave of soft music before he begins.

• It was a peerless July even
The moon made orison in heaven,
And mildly won the pilgrim star
O'er azure seas to voyage far :

The grass-hopper had sung to rest
The sky-lark on her lowly nest :
The vagrant winds had roamed their fill,
And couched in caverns of the hill :
If aspen leaves stirred drowsily,

'Twas not the breeze their light forms fluttered ;
Upon their bough-beds lovingly,

In dreams their mutual thoughts they uttered ;
The streamlet o'er the pebbles breaking,

Seemed the sole thing on earth then waking.'--p. 28. Transcendant power of invention ! what originality! what beauty of thought! what felicity of expression! ''Twas not the breeze their light forms Auttered !' Who then was the disturber of the aspens?

? What invader of the solitude of the night broke on their innocent slumbers? Nor surfeit, nor nightmare, nor heavy tread of burglar, interrupted the sweet oblivion of the bough-beds; but . in dreams their mutual thoughts they uttered.' Spirit of Macnish! come and interpret this new revelation from the continent of sleep. All this time the Prince was waiting for his beloved ; the hours passed heavily, and not without bringing a modicum of disappointment to the impatient swain.

• What sound was that? his breathing quickened,
His soul with expectation sickened
Pshaw! 'twas the stag-hound Fleur-de-lis, -
Discovering him with ill-timed glee,
And which, to punish the intrusion,

He made withdraw in much confusion.'—p. 29. Fleurette came at last; and since we are warned by the poet to repress our curiosity at this point, we shall consider the interview as a forbidden matter of observation. The moment, however, the parties get out of their retirement and are fairly committed to the highway, we conceive that they forth with become legitimate objects of public discussion. The first glimpse of the lovers as they are restored to the atmosphere, presents us with a scene of Arcadian affection, the like of which even the ancient poets have never conceived, much less described.

• The blissful hour too soon had faded,
And parting could not be evaded.
The Prince, with gallantry sincere,
Played the obsequious cavalier.
The damsels pitcher twice he spilled,
And then, o'er-liberal, more than filled ;
Poised it upon his light-capped-head,

One arm the crystal freight sustaining-
The other to a feebler wed,

Whose yoke caused no complaining:
Thus homeward with dusk Labour's daughter,
Unmindful of the trickling water,

« PreviousContinue »