Page images
PDF
EPUB

-when not

fect. Blank verse, where the meaning or out-of-door doings. And finally, Milton terminates, and the emphasis falls upon has been guilty of a low Euripidean aposthe last syllable through a long series of tasy. He has taken to a relaxed form of lines, leaves a feeling as if it were emascu- the later Greek Tragedy. He has adopted lated rhyme, a marred and tune ess at- (nefas dictu! we hardly like to mention tempt at measure, like Quasimodo's in the it) in the chorus songs the measure called "Hunchback of Notre Dame:" the poet monstrophe or apolelymenon, without reshould pretty often lift us lightly over the gard had to strophe, antistrophe, or epode; fence of the last syllable, and put us sweetly and thus has he forfeited the peculiar baon into the next line. It is this which dis- lance of mass against mass, the distinctcriminates the blank verse of our few ness and symmetry, which constitute the great masters, Milton, Shakspeare, Cow- vital force of the Greek Tragic forms. per, and Wordsworth, from that of Tennyson, Thomson, and others. Between the two managements of the measure there is a difference analogous to that between a straight Dutch canal and a stream meandering in wavy bands of silver or between the walk of a clumping hob-nailed dairy-maid and that of a graceful lady, who seems to sway, while she obeys, the modulations of the measure to which she moves. Shakspeare, in many of his happiest and most elevated passages has a beautiful knack of carrying on the thought from line to line, so that not only does each line satisfy the most rigorous exactions of the ear, but we have a number of intervolved rings of harmony. Each joint of the passage, when it is cut, quivers with melody. The alliteration is carried on from one line to the next, and wonderfully assists the effect. Here are a few specimens out of many which we have marked:

[blocks in formation]

In Merope, Mr. Matthew Arnold has ridden a hobby to death. He has written a preface in which he asserts Greek Tragedy to be the most perfect satisfaction of the most urgent demands of the human spirit. It gives variety and concentration, and we know not what. In England, Milton and Samson Agonistes are a bright spot. But alas! the story of Samson, although respectable enough in its way, has none of the perfect Greek mystery, complication, foreboding, and gloom. Moreover, in the Hebrew tale we can not have Greek manners, or chorus-dancing,

Now, if Mr. Arnold must come to closer quarters with the Greek poetical forms, why should he not carry out his purpose, as he originally intended by a translation of some play of Sophocles or Eschylus ? When the dog-days are comean ice is called for at Juppers, and no eggs are poured upon under-graduate locks at Spider's; when reading parties are in the Highlands or the Alps, in Connemara or Kamtschatka; when poetical masters are meditating sacred poems, and poetical freshmen Newdigates; let the successor of Lowth and Milman and Keble breathe the classic air which has been so long saturated with an infusion of Greek. Let him take the Agamemnon, or the Antigone. Let him have the theater prepared. Let him make him an orthodox orchestra, in the center an altar of Bacchus; and let fifteen "fast men" dance round it. We will be bound to say that a lyric burst, expressive of the feelings of these gentlemen, will express those of the world in reference to such a tragedy as the present, with force and exactness, if not with elegance.

Nor content with pointing out the laws of Greek poetry in general, and of Greek tragedy in particular, as a useful counteraction to certain morbid tendencies of the

day, Mr. Arnold makes them exclusive. Thus an able and thoughtful man writing upon the theory of poetry, has little else to give us than an abbreviated analysis of Aristotle's Poetics, of Schlegel, and some papers in Donaldson.

Why should he insist upon thrusting the silver cup of Grecian form into the sack's mouth of English literature? He forgets all the circumstances which made Greek tragedy to Greeks what it can never be to us. Our associations with the theater are of a peculiar, and, unhappily, of rather a degrading nature. We think of pits and boxes; of the gaudy wretches in the saloon; of heats, gas-light, andnoise; of rumbling carriages, oysters, and kid

neys. Even Shakspeare, acted by Macready or the younger Kean, has been tolerated chiefly for the spectacle. When Mr. Arnold can confine dramatic performances to a few days in the year; when he can give his spectators a gigantic theater, and spread over its top the blue sky of Greece, and stud its grassy floor with golden-rayed crocuses, and shadow the sward with many a "platane fair, where flows the glittering water," he may give an Englishman some of the external conditions necessary to appreciate his tragedies. But this goes a little way, indeed, to fulfill all the conditions of the problem. His theater must be also a national temple -his costumes must not be imitations, but the venerable vestments of a solemn ritual. His actors must be men like the grave preachers and bishops who hold the multitudes in thrall in Westminster Abbey; his themes must be those which have melted into the universal heart of a nation. His tragedy must have been submitted to a board, with whom it is as much a national question as the abolition of church rates. His spectators must be some thirty thousand worshipers. The antiquarian who set before his guest dormouse pie, with poppy syrup, sea-urchins, and the udder of a newly-farrowed sow, is a type of Mr. Arnold. The dishes are classical, learned, correct: we ought to like them, no doubt; but our modern stomachs will turn. And as for the writer, Mr. Arnold has himself shown why he can not do his best: "A translation is a work not only inferior to the original by the whole difference of talent between the first composer and his translator; it is even inferior to the best which the translator would do under more inspiring circumstances. No man can do his best with a subject which does not penetrate him; no man can be penetrated by a subject which he does not conceive independently." (Merope, Preface, page 10.) True; but can Mr. Arnold be "penetrated" by a subject, the story of which has been so often handled? Must he not practically feel the embarrassment of a translator?

Mr. Arnold seems to think it necessary to forbear from the poetry of reflection, and from that species of description which finds subtle points of analogy between the color of the mind and that of nature. The account of the fatal hunt by Epytus (pp. 43-55) is a grand and stirring piece of writing, as objective as Homer's list of

the ships, or description of the shield. This, of course, is quite right. There are some pretty bits in the choruses here and there.

"But the sweet-swelling myrtle,
And the pink flowered oleander,
And the green agnus castus,
To the west-winds murmurs,
Rustled round his cradle,"

and a few more. But, in Merope, Mr. Arnold is as objective as his Grecian models: this may be correct enough; but could he not have given us one song, like that lyric burst of nightingales, and winedark ivy, and green glades, and unsleeping fountains, and crocuses with golden rays, in the Edipus Coloneus of Sophocles? To the general character there is not an exception, perhaps, in Balder Dead, and not more than two or three in the whole second series; yet these two or three most emphatically proclaim their author to be a poet. Balder Dead has, indeed, great power, much taste, perfect keeping it is a Scandinavian picture of gods and heroes, where not a cloud in the sky or a wave in the sea does not tend to heighten the wild, wintry unity of effect. Mr. Arnold will suffer us to except one short passage:

"As a spray of honeysuckle flowers

Brushes across a tired traveler's face, Who shuffles through the deep dew-moistened dust,

On a May evening, in the darkened lanes, And starts him, that he thinks a ghost went by

So Hoder brushed by Helda's side."

This is thoroughly English and summerlike, and so out of place. But, as a whole, one admires rather than loves the poem.

This defect seems to arise from forgetting two results of Christianity.

First, then, Christianity has opened the sanctuary of the world within-the domain of human feeling and human thought. The religion of the God Man has recogized the world of the individual soul, human psychology. The standard topics of poetry-scenes and battles, pageants and feasts-are almost out-painted. Viewed merely as pictures, the world has plenty of them. But the effects which these things produce on the mind contemplating them; the analogies which they suggest to those who are susceptible of poetic emotion, are literally inexhaustible as the

colors of the sea, or the shadows of the | ing contemplation of nature, which is so hill. There are deep purple shadows on the mountain-tops of thought which rise, range after range, before the eyes of successive ages; into these the soul of the poet may dive, and feed itself with beauty forever. If the poet will only draw outlines we soon get tired, for the outlines have been drawn a thousand times already. But the lights and shadows, the colors and the pencilings, are fresh and eternal as the successions of morning and evening, for they flow from inexhaustible fountains of beauty in the moral and intellectual nature of man. The nuptials of the universe and the human mind, prophesied by Bacon and sung by Wordsworth, are, as it were, new every morning. In the recoil from the spasmodic, and what we may venture to call the botanico-psychological school of poets, Professor Arnold and another Professor, Mr. Aytoun, have fallen into the other extreme. Here is the war scene, for instance, of the latter gentleman, which the Times' critic held up to the admiration of the world as free from the psychologicism and insane love of nature which characterize the spasmodie school and quite above Wordsworth and Tennyson:

"By heaven! it was a glorious sight

When the sun started from the sea,
And in the vivid morning light

The long blue waves were rolling free!
But little time I had to gaze
Upon the ocean's kindling face.

I stood upon the topmost tower:
From wood and shaw, and brake, and bower,
I heard the trumpet's blithesome sound-
I heard the talk of drum;

And bearing for the castle mound,

I saw the squadron come.

Each Baron, sheathed from head to heel
In glorious panoply of steel,
Rode stalwartly before his band,
The bravest yeomen of the land—”

essentially modern, and as we would add,
so essentially Christian. Humboldt, in
one of the finest passages of the Cosmos,
has traced this peculiarity of the modern
mind to the Christian fathers. With all
respect to those great and good men, we
would trace it higher. It is our firm be-
lief that the germ of every thing beautiful
in modern culture and modern thought
may be traced to the character of our
Lord. The mould in which the most
complete, merely, human character is cast,
must be narrow and limited; all that is-
sues from the mould is tinged, as it were,
with its individuality. But there is a
comprehensive breadth and universality
in the character of Christ. It is true that
the same character may present different
shades as it is drawn by one delineator or
another. The Socrates of Plato is a no-
bler picture than the Socrates of Xeno-
phon. But the subtle and evanescent shades
which distinguish one mind from another
are comparatively soon exhausted.
our Lord there is, as it were, a concentra-
tion of all possible forms of mental and
moral beauty, which arose from His being
not a man, but the man. Now this gentle
yearning love of nature is first to be found
in him. His frequenting the garden; his
love of the mountain, and the lake; his
illustrations from the rising sun, from the

[ocr errors]

In

leaping" water, from birds and corn, are cases in point. The minute student of the Scripture will find other illustrations. Is there mere fancy in the beautiful thought of Bengel, that the blind man was led out into the country in order that his eyes might open first on God's lovely creation of trees and fields, rather than on man's broken handiwork, the town? There is a minute and picturesque accuracy in the answer to the Pharisees and Sadducees, "the sky is red and lowering” -"the face of the sky." In that passage and so forth. Now, these lines are clever, where the Saviour points to the lilies of smooth, and graceful; but why on earth the field, each word is a picture. What should they have been written at all? loving regard is there even in the "one." They contain neither nova nor novè dicta. If the robed monarch were not so gloriThey are humdrum enough for the battle ous as one, how much less so than a whole of the cabbage-garden. They touch no wreath. There seems to be some reason chord of the heart or soul. These vio- for thinking with an eminent commentalently anti-spasmodic poets must become tor, that the starry sky was above him, mere imitators, whether the cast of imita- and that he looked up to it when he said, tion be Scottish, as in Aytoun, or Home-"In my Father's house are many manric and Sophoclean, as in Arnold.

But Mr. Arnold seems bent on eschew.

sions."

On the whole, then, we should say, that ing, in the second place, that sweet yearn. the two great peculiarities of modern poe

try are, directly or indirectly, a reflex of Christianity. The minute, tender, watchful regard of nature, in especial, came direct from the great Head of renewed humanity; it was first exhibited by Him who spake of the majestic heavens and the little flower, with the intimate acquaintance and the loving admiration of one who knew them, because he had made them. And to ignore these peculiarities is to go back to heathenism.

"Thou, who dost dwell alone,

ear, and unrivaled power of rhythm, sometimes betray him into a style in which he plays with words, like a child with feathers: he takes us with surprising turns, with tricks and quirks of rhyme. Hence, such expressions as that about the snow

"The pearly parachute

Of the wond'ring air."

And as for flowers, he smothers his altar We are happy, however, to say, that under China flower-pots. He tells us of while Mr. Arnold's first series almost omits May, roses, daisies, violets, apple-blosChristianity, while Sophocles, Epictetus, soms, pearly clusters of pear-bloom, and and Emerson seem to be his " props," so forth, until we wish them pitched the second series contains one of the sweet--not into flower-pots. We have no obest and holiest hymns we know. We can jection to the fragrant things in moderaquote but a few lines. tion: far from it. We have always loved the flowery couch on which ox-eyed Juno lay. How soft and sweet the blossoms lie in the awful hands of the grand old fellow's giant hexameters! Virgil's Amarecus is dear to us, though we know not what the mischief it is, and hope we nev er shall. And when Shakspeare makes Perdita strew them upon a corpse, we water them with tears. Ben Jonson gives us all flowers in his "Pan's Anniversary," and then he is done with them:

Thou, who dost know thine own,
Thou, to whom all are known,
From the cradle to the grave-
Save, oh! save.

"From the world's temptation,
From tribulation;

From that fierce anguish,
Wherein we languish;

Save, oh! save.

"When the soul, growing clearer,
Sees God no nearer;

When the soul, mounting higher,
To God comes no nigher:
Changing the pure emotion
Of her high devotion,
To a skin-deep sense
Of her own eloquence:
Strong to deceive, strong to enslave.
Save, oh! save.

"Oh! where thy voice doth come,
Let all doubts be dumb:
Light bring no blindness,
Love no unkindness,

Knowledge no ruin,

Fear no undoing,

From the cradle to the grave,
Save, oh! save."

-P. 163.

The defect of the two elements to which we have alluded is coldness: the redundance of the first, conceit; of the second, garish embroidery. Truth compels us to say, that Mr. MacCarthy's rich fancy sometimes degenerates into the last. The first of his Under-glimpses, "The Arraying of May," has something too much of the jeweler, upholsterer, and abigail. Fancy is a very delicate thing; a touch too much disenchants a fairy to a lady's maid. Hence, Mr. MacCarthy's musical

[blocks in formation]

green

The breath thereof Panchaia may envy, The colors China, and the light the sky." But when they are stuffed into our nose, and rammed into our pockets, and make a heavy, sickly smell on our writing-table -why, we are but men, and we get a little savage or so. We commend to Tennyson, with his "pimpernels," and so forth, and to all our botanical and nursery-garden poets, this sentence of Dr. Johnson: "The heat of Milton's mind might be said to sublimate his learning, to throw off into his work the spirit of science, unmingled with its grosser parts." Flowery ladies. and gentlemen, apply this to your botany. And finally, to conclude all that we can find it in our heart to say in this tone to Mr. MacCarthy, we would point out to

[ocr errors]

him the very Irish misprint (surely) by which, in the "Search for May," will appears seven times in the refrain—

"We will find the wand'ring maiden there today."

Assuredly, we have no intention of carping at the elegant writer, whose version of Calderon is one of the noblest translations in our language: whose name is honorably connected with our own Magazine, and with Irish literature. We could quote passages of rare fancy and delicate rhyme, which would fill many pages. How glorious is this bit in the "Meeting of the Flowers!"

[blocks in formation]
[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

"Scatter snow-drops-scatter here
All the promise of the year:

"Being born to bloom and die,
They, perchance, may typify
Him who here doth sleeping lie:

"Since we love those flowers the best
That are plucked the earliest-
As it were for God's own breast."
-P. 150.

The Bell-founder is a beautiful, musical, and well-sustained poem. We do not like the Voyage of St. Brendan so well. We are not going to intrude a word of that ugly thing, controversy, into the circle of Mr. MacCarthy's loving poetry. And, therefore, we will only say, that the poetical aspect of the Roman Ritual is touched with especial grace. He must have a fiercer heart than ours who is not pleased with these:

"At noon, as he lay in the sultriness, under his broad leafy limes,

« PreviousContinue »