« PreviousContinue »
or lonely range of clouds, floating in purer ether!) while he had this hope, this faith in man left, he cherished it with child-like simplicity, he clung to it with the fondness of a lover, he was an enthusiast, a fanatic, a leveller, he stuck at nothing that he thought would banish all pain and misery from the world—in his impatience of the smallest error or injustice he would have sacrificed himself and the existing generation (a holocaust) to his devotion to the right cause. But when he once believed, after many staggering doubts and painful struggles, that this was no longer possible, when his chimeras and golden dreams of human perfectibility vanished from him, he turned suddenly round, and maintained that "whatever is, is right." He must either repose on actual or on imaginary good. He missed his way in Utopia, he has found it at Old Sarum
His generous ardour no cold medium knows—
his eagerness admits of no doubt or delay. He is ever in extremes, and ever in the wrong! He wooed Liberty as a youthful lover, but it was perhaps more as a mistress than a bride; and he has since wedded with an elderly and not very reputable lady, called Legitimacy. The temperament of Southey's mind is poetical, not philosophical. He is more the creature of impulse, than he is of reflection. He invents the unreal, he embellishes the false with the glosses of fancy, but pays little attention to the words of truth and soberness. Ilis impressions are accidental, immediate, personal, instead of being permanent and universal. Of all mortals he is surely the most impatient of contradiction, even when he has completely turned the tables on himself.
We must say that we relish Southey more in the reformer than in his lately acquired, but by no means natural or becoming character of poetlaureat and courtier. He may rest assured that a garland of wild flowers suits him better than the laureat-wreath. He is nothing akin to birth-daysuits and drawingroom fopperies. He is nothing, if not fantastical. In his figure, in his movements, in his sentiments, he is sharp and angular, quaint and excentric. He is not of the court. Every thing of him and about him is from the people. He is not classical, he is not legitimate. He is not a man cast in the mould of other men's opinions: he is not shaped on any model: he bows to no authority: he yields only to his own wayward peculiarities. He is wild, irregular, singular, extreme. He is no formalist, not he! All is crude and chaotic; he wants proportion, keeping, system, standard rules. He is not teres atque rotundus.
Look at Southey's larger poems, his Kehama, his Thalaba, his Madoc, his Roderic. Who will deny the spirit, the scope, the splendid imagery, the hurried and startling interest that pervades them? Who will say that they are not the daring creations of a mind curbed by no law, tamed by no fear, that they are not rather like the trances than the waking dreams of Genius, that they are not the very paradoxes of poetry? All this is very well, very intelligible and very harmless, if we regard the rank excrescences of Southey's poetry, like the red and blue flowers in corn, as the unweeded growth of a luxuriant and wandering fancy; or if we allow the yeasty workings of an ardent spirit to ferment and boil over-the variety, the boldness, the lively stimulus given to the mind may then atone for the violation of rules; but not if our poetic libertine sets up for a law-giver and judge, or an apprehender of vagrants in the regions either of taste or opinion. Perhaps the most pleasing and striking of Southey's poems are those in which,
with a mild melancholy, he seems conscious of his own infirmities of temper, and to feel a wish to correct by thought and time the precocity and sharpness of his disposition. May the quaint but affecting aspiration expressed in one of these be fulfilled, that, as he mellows into maturer age, all such asperities may wear off and he himself become
Like the high leaves upon the holly-tree.
Southey's prose-style can scarcely be too much praised. It is plain, clear, pointed, familiar, perfectly modern in its texture, but with a grave and sparkling admixture of archaisms in its ornaments and occasional phraseology. He is the best and most natural prose-writer of the modern poets.
JAMES HOGG was born in Scotland, to the humble and romantic occupation of a shepherd; and spent the better part of his life in tending his sheep in the pastoral solitudes of Ettrick. There are not many regions, however, even in that poetical land, more favorable for the development of poetical propensities, than this whole range of southern Highlands; where the seattered population-the memory of the border-wars-the clanship which they tended to perpetuate-and the pastoral life of the greater part of the inhabitants, have produced a striking resemblance to the character or genius of the Celtic tribes that occupy the wilder deserts of the north. Though he had but little erudition, therefore, and few opportunities for reading or literary discussion, our shepherd was early familiar with song,-and had his memory replenished, and his imagination warmed by the innumerable ballads and traditional legends that are still current in that simple and sequestered district, many of which he had imitated or versified at a very early age. In a mind that had fed on such aliments, and expanded under such training, the earlier publications of Walter Scott must have produced a sensation, of which other beings can scarcely form a conception. They connected the pastimes of his humble and solitary leisure with the dazzling visions of general distinction and renown, and cast a gleam of poetical glory over the themes and the persons of his mountain-bards, with which he could never have expected that they should be visited. It was not long, therefore, till the author of this exaltation became the object of his emulation, and drew forth his homage; and the mighty minstrel, with the liberality of true genius, embraced the cause of his rustic disciple, with a zeal that did honour to his heart. The reputation of James Hogg is founded upon a poem, which Walter Scott might not be ashamed to avow; the Queen's Wake. The meeting which took place on the eve before the day of the consecration of a church was formerly called a Wake. This meeting was a festival, and those who attended passed the night in various kinds of games and amusements. In Scotland, which was always a land of song and music, song and music were the principal diversions of the Wake, and often the only ones. These songs were generally religious or serious compositions, adapted to the simple melodies of Scotland. Queen's Wake is the narrative of one of those royal watches
When royal Mary, blithe of mood,
and commences with an affecting invocation to the poet's harp. It is a natural reversion to the simple pleasures of the country, and the first myste
rious commerce with his muse. It is the beautiful Mary Stuart who holds the sceptre, and adjudges the prize to the most skilful. She has just arrived at Leith, and proceeds to Holyrood-house. The hearts of all her subjects fly to meet her, and the general talk is of her beauty, her youth, and her afflictions. She has been an exile; she has lost, in one year, a father, a husband, and a kingdom, and has not yet attained her eighteenth spring. Who would not devote his life for so young, so beautiful, and so amiable a princess? As soon as Mary has established her court at Holy-rood, a proclamation announces, that during the following Christmas the queen invites to a solemn Wake all the minstrels and harpers of the kingdom." This Wake is to last three successive nights, and a richly ornamented harp is destined for the victor. The Ettrick-Shepherd then depicts the character, and records the song of each of the competitors. Rizzio is among the number; but Gardyne, a son of the native bards, obtains the prize. The critics have generally preferred to the successful piece that of the thirteenth competitor, entitled, KILMENY. It is one of those marvellous subjects in which Hogg excels, and which have earned him the title of Laureat of Fairy Land. Burns, when he treated of some supernatural history, always introduced some comic, and even grotesque, imagery. The fact is, he did not believe; but Hogg writes with the enthusiasm of faith. Nothing can be more simply pleasing than the poem of Kilmeny. The other productions of Hogg are decidedly inferior to the Queen's Wake; his poetical fairy-tale called the Pilgrims of the Sun, is chiefly remarkable for its fable, which Lord Byron in his Cain, and Shelley in his Queen Mab, have palpably imitated.
A GOOD imitation of what is excellent, is generally preferable to original mediocrity-and the author before us is a very good imitator-and unquestionably, for the most part, of very good models. Ilis style is chiefly moulded, and his versification modulated on the pattern of Shakspeare, and the other dramatists of that glorious age,-particularly 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 Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Leigh Hunt.-This may be thought, perhaps, rather a violent transition; and likely to lead to something of an incongruous mixture. But the materials really harmonize vory tolerably.
Barry 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. He does not meddle with the thunders and lightnings of the mighty poets; 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 Shakspeare's writings. The genius of Fletcher, perhaps, is more akin to Barry Cornwall's muse of imitation, 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 the Maid's tragedy. It is the youthful Milton only that he has presumed to copy-the Milton of Lycidas and Comus,-not the lofty and austere Milton of the Paradise. From Ben 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 Byron, and our other tuneful contemporaries. From what we have already said, it will be understood that Barry Cornwall 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 Haidee and Thyrza, that he aims at copying, and not the higher and more energetic tone of the Corsair, or Childe Harold, or Don Juan.-There is in Barry Cornwall's poetry a great deal of the diction of Wordsworth and Coleridge, and some imitation of their beauties: but we think the natural bent of his genius is more like that of Leigh Hunt than of any other author.-But he has better taste and better judgment—or, what perhaps is but saying the same thing, he has less affectation, and far less conceit.