Imatges de pàgina

Oh, what is life? A phrenzy. What is life?
A fiction, an illusion, a mere shade.
The greatest happiness is little worth ;
For LIFE'S A DREAM,-and dreams are nought but

End of Act II.

THE COUNT DE FOIX.+ FROIssart, the most delightful of Chroniclers, abounds, as every body is aware, with incidents of the most curious interest. His volumes are so many rooms of a storehouse, inexhaustible in materials for the romance-writer, the dramatist, and the narrative poet. Mr. Powell has made a bold choice in the subject that he has extracted from that various treasury. The story of the Count de Foix is of a nature so profoundly tragical, and in some particulars so perplexing, that it required a master-hand to deal with the details in such a manner as to render the perasal other than intolerably painful, and to keep the reader's horror under the control of his commiseration. Froissart has effected this difficult task as if by magic, and we trembled for Mr. Powell when we found him venturing in the footsteps of the sorcerer on such dangerous ground. But “ Fortune favours the brave.” He has acquitted himself with honour. The narrative is versified with a facility quite remarkable; and the very tone and buoyancy of Froissart have been caught and preserved, not in the lighter parts only, but in those passages which required something much more subtle than mere levity of will and hardihood of spirit, to bear him up and carry him through with success. When we add, that in the amplification of Froissart's narrative, Mr. Powell has shown considerable ingenuity, that his own additions to the web are in keeping with the original tissue, and that he has enriched it with many poetical graces, we have given an opinion certainly very favourable to his pretensions—but not too much so for the talent with which he has vindicated his right to them. We shall content ourselves with few selections, for it would hardly be fair to make many from so short a work; it would be taking the heart out of the mystery; for the whole affair is comprised within sixty pages. Mr.

* It is worth while for any one to read this Play in the original Spanish, for the sake of this speech. It is in rhyme, and has a sort of hurried character, which pro. duces a magnificent effect. I cannot help transcribing the last six lines.

" Qué es la vida ? Un frenesí :

Qué es la vida ? Una illusion,
Una sombra, una ficcion,
Y el mayor bien es pequeño
Qué toda la vida es sueño,

Y los sueños sueño son." There is a mass of tedious, frigid rubbish in the Spanish Drama,-but when the flash does come, it is sometimes glorious.-J. O.

+ A Tale of the Olden Time. By Thomas Powell. Effingham Wilson, 18, Bishopsgate Street. 1842.

Powell is already known to us by former poetical publications, of which the merit was not a little damaged by what we, critically speaking, must call his own unpardonable carelessness. Not only did he leave too many screws loose in his versification, but the sense of the thoughts was often utterly disconcerted by his inattention to accuracy of construction. We wish we could say that he has in the present publication shown himself to be quite free from his besetting sin of negligence in composition. But though we cannot go so far, we can congratulate him on much improvement. Those faults of style are comparatively few--we were about to add insignificant-but a glance at one of his pages reminds us, and may prove to our readers, and perhaps to himself, how completely a false word may betray a spirited passage into the slough of bathos.

“The Minstrel took
His sounding harp, and a bright prelude shook
From quivering chords, which seemed alive with song.
Then, looking round upon the beauteous throng,
Thrice waved his hand and plunged amid the strings.
E'en as a swimmer from the tall rock springs
Into the waves, so he amid the flood
Of music, and he drew the listening crowd,
So wrapt in song they scarcely breathed aloud !
For as a wizard in some secret cell
Moulds thousands to his purpose by a spell,
So do the poet and the minstrel shower
Their spells around them, and with mighty power
Bow to the will the human heart—now brings

Tears to the eyes, with old rememberings.” Here a single letter too much spoils the whole passage, and brings it to a “ lame and impotent conclusion.” The verb should, of course, have been bring, but an additional s was convenient to make the line rhyme to the weak one that follows. Had Mr. Powell paid due reverence to Priscian, he would have avoided the solecism, and so compelled himself to the trouble of finding another rhyme; but he would no doubt have been rewarded by finding one with more reason in it, and more strength.

We need not tell Mr. Powell that “light” and “ delight” are not rhymes ; French perfect rhymes are far from perfect English ones. We need not tell him that “ trance” and “ pants” are worse than no rhymes; they are cheats that break the word of promise to the ear! He knows all that well enough, we have no doubt; and he may, for aught we know, smile with complacent indifference at such carpings, as the cavils of “word-catchers that live on syllables.” Youthful aspirants for the bays are too apt to overlook the importance of correctness of diction, without which, we will venture to say, no poet of modern times will live, for without it there is really no clearness and no justness of sense. Even the marvellous poet Spenser, who flourished in the days when the vaunted “ well of English undefiled” was current, has added nothing to his fame by making his stanza a bed of Procrustes, on which words, prisoners of rhyme, were clipped or stretched at pleasure. Pope—though it was he who ridicules" word-catchers,”

– was, of all writers, the most ambitious of correctness; and though he could “snatch a grace beyond the reach of art,” he was a true respecter, as well as an able expounder, of the "Art of Criticism." And his genius will continue to live by the vital force of its good sense, when all the clever essays that have been written to prove him no poet, are as utterly forgotten as they are already disregarded, by all but crotchetty censors and their unreasoning echoes.

But to our extracts. The wife of the Count de Foix is at Pampeluna, at the Court of her brother, the King of Navarre. She has been there eighteen years—the long period of her estrangement from her husband, whose palace is at Orthes. She has not seen her only son, Gaston, during all that time. He is now expected on a visit to her and his Uncle. Her emotion, while she is waiting for his arrival, is thus depicted :

“ The Countess rose betimes, for 'twas the day

When she would see her son ; wbom, since he lay
Sleeping within his cradle, when she took,
With a foreboding heart, her farewell look
Ere she left Orthes, she had never seen,
Although his form in many a dream had been
Looking upon her from eyes bluely cold, -
And now her boy had eighteen summers told.
Oh, these were thoughts to stir a mother's heart!
Now from her eyes a sudden joy would start;
Sometimes th' unbidden tear would gush, and waste
Itself upon her cheek : and then in haste
She went to the old turret, where she stood
Watching to see him issue from the wood.
The minutes slowly crawled; they longer were
(How ill impatience counts against despair!)
Than the sad years she had in sorrow past
Since she beheld the towers of Orthes last.
Then early hopes came o'er her, early dreams,
And youthful joys, when first the dawning gleams
Of life's unsteady day; ere, half awake,
A hazy glance on all around we take,
Nor know the sweet and bitter, until driven
To crush the cares of earth by thoughts of heaven,
Evading what we have not strength to bear.
And then she wandered to her wedded care,
Which had, like to a vulture, gnawed away

The bright side of her heart."
The meeting :-

" "Twere vain to tell the rapture and the greeting

That gushed from both their hearts at this blest meeting.
At first they had no tongue for words, but grew
Calm by degrees, and then they each went through
Their years of memory. Now she besought
Gaston to tell her all he knew; then brought
Questions to interrupt him, then was still
As night to listen : now her eyes would fill
With tears of joy, which she would wipe away.
At length she asked him if the Count was gay
Or grave, and what his message was? If he
Sent her a token of his courtesy ? -
At which poor Gaston felt inclined to lie,
Making the message kinder than was meant."

The youth, happy in the prospect of an early reconciliation between his parents, takes leave of his mother and uncle, and sets out on his return homeward.

“Loaded with gifts and jewels he departed,
The princely Gaston, young and joyous hearted.
The horses never had such noble paces,
Nor had the peasant girls such smiling faces ;
The woods had greener shades and happier throngs,
And every villager sang jocund songs,
Which told in sweet accord with sky and earth :
It was a feeling gladder far than mirth!
All had a sunny aspect.
At length the spires of Orthes rose in sight;
Then burst he out into a sweet delight,
And to his Squire, the courtly Bastinet,
Spake in his gayest mood: 'I never yet
Felt so much pleasure at those tall old spires;
They glitter bravely in the sunset's fires.
Then, spurring on his steed, he soon regained

The stately castle where his father reigned.” The moral use of ancient family trophies, when suspended in the halls of the descendants of their wearers or gainers, is pithily suggested :

-“ hear the song
Roll its inspiring harmony along
The lofty roof, graced with old armour hung
Around the walls : fit lesson to the young
To win their honours valiantly, and give

An impulse after death to those who live.The Count de Foix is of a noble but hasty and haughty disposition, though usually of affable and seemingly even cheerful demeanour to his dependents and guests ; but he is in secret the victim of a rankling sorrow.

For since the Countess left him, he had known

No human heart that he could call his own,
Save Gaston, and on him he threw the weight

Of a proud spirit,-else, how desolate !" The horrible circumstance on which the catastrophe hinges, and which we purposely omit because we will not take the edge off of the curiosity of the reader, deprives him of this solace in the most unexpected and appalling manner.

“ A thrill of horror ran through all. The Count

Felt his indignant blood in vengeance mount;
And drawing forth his dagger, sprang upon,
With maddened violence, his trembling son.-

The feast broke up in silence and dismay ;-
To his own chamber old Count Gaston went
In studied calmness ; pale despair's content;
He passed the throng of knights and dames, and bowed
His head in courteous wise, but dared not speak.

He passed to his own chamber.
This was the very chamber where his son

His fair-haired boy, first saw the light of day:
Here he had whiled the weary hours away,
And watched him as he slept.

Now let us from the father to the son,
And see him fastened in his dungeon.
He sat as though he thought it all a dream
Of the foul night, and that it did but seem,-
It could not be! Where was his chamber wide,
Hung round with all the pageantry of pride ?
The gorgeous tapestry so bravely wrought,

Where still his ancestors their battles fought?”— The lines that conclude this portion of the poem are good, but we have not room for them. We must come to the close. The youth has been more than a week in prison, when the wretched father, after a night of miserable dreams,

“ Awaking from a world of bones,
Shrouds and dark worms, with aching heart and limb
Rose from his couch, and taking up the dim
And half-expiring lamp,-

Resolved to visit Gaston.”
He descended, and quietly approached the dungeon,-

And drawing near the door with noiseless pace,

Paused for an instant; then looked round the place,
And listened with hushed breath. At length he came
Close to the iron door: throughout his frame
An icy horror ran from head to foot.
He put his ear against the door-no sound
Came to him ; and then placing on the ground
His lamp, he listened stealthily again.
All silent was as death.-Was that a chain
That clanked ? No: all is still,-as still as death.-
He pressed his ear against the rusty hole
Where he should place the key. A feeling stole
Over his throbbing heart, which sent a dew
From every pore.- At length the nerves were true
To his proud spirit, and with calm despair
He turned from off his brow the straggling hair
Wet with his anguish, took a breath, and put
The key within the lock; then placed his foot
Against the door, while slowly he withdrew
One bolt and then another: now he grew

Cold as a newt in some o'ershadowed brook."-
Having at last compelled himself to proceed, he –

_" opened the grating door,
And eyeing with forced look the dungeon floor,
Saw his unhappy Gaston lying there
With gaunt and clasped hands, as though in prayer.
• How now, thou traitor! Rise! Why dost not eat
The food I send thee ? -
No word, dumb villain ? Speak! thy father calls.'

But all was silent, save that the damp walls
Gave a dull echo, like a dying moan.
Thereat the Count de Foix grew fixed as stone;

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