« PreviousContinue »
putting aside the impiety of the opening stanza; what shall we say to the taste displayed in the following lines, in reference to his dramatic works?
• Whose streams of liquid diamond, rolled
Their orient rill o'er sands of gold!'
• He is gone-but his memory sheds a ray
To chase Creation's tears.'
• Erect not now earth's emblematic stone,
The starry regions brighten in his fame :
Can but regenerate that deathless name ! The name of the writer of such a stanza as this, certainly needs be regenerated before it will be deathless : not to dare make a reference to any other kind of regeneration of which he may personally stand in need.
But let us present to our readers a specimen of the prose.
• What scene did not his life illumine! What circle has not his loss eclipsed! Another Burke may chain the senate—Another Shakspeare crowd the theatre-Another Curran fascinate the board - Another Moore enchant the fancy, or another Hampden vindicate the land—but where shall we behold their bright varieties again combined, concentrating as it were their several lights, in one refulgent orb that left no cloud untinged---no charm uncreated.'
This is followed by a parallel between the character and the fate of Sheridan, who is styled 'the human epitome of Ireland, and the strange and peculiar characteristics and pitiless condition of that "unhappy island.'
• But this,' exclaims our Orator, is a subject from which I must pass away I cannot write on it without danger, for, thank God, I cannot think on it without indignation.'
Our readers doubtless recollect Dr. Johnson's laconic reply to the message he received from Millar the bookseller, that he • thanked God he had done with him;'— Dr. Johnson is very 'glad Mr. Millar has grace enough to thank God for any thing?
Mr. Phillips is known to the public, through the medium of the Newspapers and of the Edinburgh Review, as the Author Vol. VI. N. S.
of a Speech in the case of Guthrie versus Sterne, and of others on the Catholic Claims. For once, the
• Judex damnatur cum nocens absolvitur,' the war-cry of the Northern Zoilus, was well applied, and the critical chastisement inflicted by him, superseded the necessity of any further exposure of the affectation, the tinsel eloquence, and the false feeling into which the ambition of the Orator had betrayed him. We purposely forbore to take any notice of the Speech on Adultery, as it is a topic on which, except for the sake of procuring heavier damages, it would appear unnecessary and incompatible with correct feelings, to expatiate. One needs not resort to argument to prove, or to oratorical description to illustrate, the criminality of theft or of forgery; and we know not, therefore, why in the case of conduct as clearly at variance with the laws of God and man, there is any occasion for a glowing appeal to the passions. But considered as matter for literary criticism, the style of eloquence into which Mr. Phillips struck oui, and of wbich the present publication furnishes us with another specimen, approximales so nearly to the burlesque, that he cannot be too strongly recommended to abandon bis careless magnificence,' for the humbler logic of plain sense.
As to poor Sheridan, although we have thought proper to bestow deserved ridicule on the courtly mockery with which his memory has been monodized, his death awakens reflections of unmingled melancholy. His talents were of the bighest order. Whatever is included in the idea of genius, a most felicitous combination of faculty, and the rarest powers of social influence and attraction, were all his own. The annals of modern fo. rensic eloquence furnish no instance of an effect equal to that produced by Mr. Sheridan's speech on the trial of Governor Hastings. It drew forth the unbounded eulogies of Fox, of Burke, and of Pitt, the latter of whoin entreated the House of Commons to adjourn, in order to give time for a calmer con
sideration of the question,' than the state of feeling produced by that oration would allow. How splendid the career that then opened to the man thus invested by acclamation with the palm of oratory! What might not Sheridan have with such powers achieved in the national council of a free country, where mind still maintains a degree of ascendency, and opinion shapes the decrees and restrains the incursions of power? His life was indeed a miserable instance of “failing wisdom;' and were the world but capable of receiving the lesson of his example, the darkened close of that life which opened with so much splendour, would furnish the most salutary instruction. But the moral is too trite to be regarded: it is like the closing conplet of a sentimental drama, completely lost upon those who care only for the spectacle and the actor.
Art. XIV. The Poetic Mirror, or the Living Bards of Britain. 12mo.
pp. 275. Price 7s. 6d. Longman and Co. 1816. THE Advertisement prefixed to this volume states, that
• A number of years have now elapsed since the Author first con. ceived the idea of procuring something original from each of the principal living Bards of Britain, and publishing those together, judging that such a work, however small, could not fail of forming a curiosity in literature On applying to them all personally, or by letter, he found that the greater part of them entered into his views with more cordiality than he had reason to expect; and, after many delays and disappointments, he is at last enabled to give this volume to the public. He regrets that there are many of the living Poets, whom he highly esteems, that have not yet complied with his request; but as he is almost certain of something from each of them being forthcoming, he hopes, at no distant period, to be able to lay before the world another volume, at least more diversified than the present."
Pp. iii. iv.
From the great gravity with which this statement is put forth, the reader would scarcely imagine that the volume is a literary hoax ; and if he did not happen to cast his eyes upon some such passage as the following in “ James Rigg,”
* * * * *“ Master," quoth he,
“Of going into Scotland, _", he might read many pages before his suspicion of the imposture would amount to a clear conviction. Indeed, the intention of the Author is so equivocal, that we cannot suppose lie bad quite made up his mind, when he began the task, what character his imitations should assume; whether that of a serious attempt to catch the manner and the spirit of the individual writers, so as; to exhibit their intellectual likeness, or that of a broad caricature parody of their more obvious peculiarities.
We presume that these Poems are by the Author of " The “ Bridal of Triermain," and of the imitations of Moore and Crabbe which first appeared*, together with the opening of that poem, in the Edinburgh Annual Register for 1809. These imitations exhibited no small degree of accuracy of observation, and versatility of talent. The principal poem was much better than a mere imitation: it rose to a more elevated style, in many passages, than usually characterizes the productions of Scott himself. The introductory lines to each Canto, evinced, however, a sad deficiency of taste, and tended considerably to moderate the estimate which might otherwise bave been formed of the independent powers of the parodist as an original writer.
* See a Review of the Bridal of Triermain, in the last volume of the Old Series of the Eclectic Review. p. 368. (Oct. 1813).
To those who have never made the experiment, it may seem much more surprising an accomplishment than it really is, to be able to strike off a free parody of whatever variety of production presented itself. That would, indeed, be a mind of vast compass, that should so comprise within itself the powers of thought, and the modes of feeling peculiar to each writer, as to be able really to give back, as in a Mirror,' the genuine refection of the intellectual characters of all. But this is out of the question. The character of a production, like the countenance of a person, is that which the minic art cannot appropriate. This “ Poetic Mirror," therefore, carries on its titlepage, an assumption quite untenable, unless it be designed to imply that the mere superficies, is all that it professes to exbibit.
The serious parodist has, it must be allowed, a much more difficult task to execute than the burlesque imitator. The latter, in order to strengthen his likeness, exaggerates the features of the original, trusting to the malignity or good bumour of his readers for his success, while dissimilarity contributes not less than resemblance to the effect. The former cannot in this manner avail himself of the force of contrast, since his aim is, to please by the means of the simple circumstance of similarity. He must therefore rely more on the class of subject, the tone of sentiment, or the manner of expression, to aid his imitation: these will continually remind the reader of the original poet, instead of exhibiting his exact resemblance; otherwise the parodist would cease to be distinguished from the plagiarist. It is by thus artfully suggesting the original, that the palpable inferiority of the copy is concealed.
But we shall make ourselves better understood by extracts.
The first poem in the volume is entitled “ The Guerilla;" and is professedly by Lord Byron. The resemblance lies in the atrocious character of the hero, the unrelieved horrors of the tale, the philosophizing strain of misanthropic sentiment with which the narrative is occasionally interrupted, and in the quaint imprecations and obsolete phrases in which Lord Byron at times indulges. The style, however, is not by any means closely modelled upon that of Childe Harolde ; and it is needless to add, that all his fire and energy are wanting. Yet it may answer the purpose of the Satirist, by shewing how easy it is to out-Byron Byron in the selection of circumstances of a purely horrible description, and in making murder itself the offspring of sentiment. Alayní is a Guerilla chieftain, whose mistress has been taken captive by the foe. At the head of the armed peasantry, he overtakes the retiring invaders, surprises them by night, and destroys the whole army. He finds the lovely Kela in the tent of Marot the leader, who is soon despatched. The following lines describe a scene just such as the imagination of Lord Byron would, judging from his poetry, have delighted to expatiate upon, as a feast to those blunted sensations which require the stimulus of horror to produce a pleasureable degree of excitement.
666 Well may'st thou wail,” he said, in deepest tone,
pp. 11, 12.
The next two Poems are, “An Epistle to Mr. R. S.” and • Wat o'the Cleuch,” in the manner of Walter Scott. The former is a pleasing piece of epistolary versification, such as Mr. Scott might have written without any effort, or such as might have been written had Mr. Scott never been known to the public.
“ Wat o' the Cleuch," is 'a rogue far below the dignity of Bertram or Marmion, but pretty nearly of the same sort of character. Mr. Scott is with rare exceptions either coarse