Imatges de pÓgina

greater miseries, open to fewer pleasures, and yet capable of all of good or useful, that their physical organization will permit. No! wherever there is evil, there should from the hands of a just Being be reparation also; and, if this be true, all that partake of life in this world have some sort of claim to another."

CONVERSATION THE EIGHTH. I have not omitted what, in the eyes of many, will not redound much to the credit of L-'s understanding; but the general reader will not be sorry to find in that character even weakness, so long as the weakness may be amiable and endearing; and, after all, I am not drawing the portraiture of one singular only for his genius. When Johnson believed in ghosts, it may be pardonable for an obscure scholar to believe in a more kindly exertion of the Supreme Power than pride willingly allows ; and though I cannot say I share in all L-'s opinions, I am certainly at a loss to decide whether, in looking to the great attributes of God, it is more easy to believe that there is certain damnation for the Deist, or possible atonement to the poor creatures of the field and air.

And now I saw Ldaily, for his disease increased rapidly upon him, and I would not willingly have lost any rays of that sun that was so soon to set for ever. Nothing creates within us so many confused and strange sentiments as a conversation on those great and lofty topics of life or nature, which are rarely pleasing, except to Wisdom which contemplates, and Genius which imagines -a conversation on such topics with one whose lips are about to be closed for an eternity. This thought impresses even common words with a certain sanctity; what, then, must it breathe into matters which, even in ordinary times, are consecrated to our most high-wrought emotions and our profoundest hopes? It is this which gives to the Phædo of Plato such extraordinary beauty. The thoughts of the wisest of the Heathens on the immortality of the soul must always have been full of interest ; but uttered in a prison, at the eve of death,--the light of another world already reposes on them!

I saw, then, L-daily, and daily he grew more resigned to his fate; yet I cannot deny that there were moments when his old ambition would break forth-when the stir of the living world around him --when action, enterprise, and fame-spoke loudly to his heart;-moments when he wished to live on, and the deep quiet of the grave seemed to him chilling and untimely; and—reflect while we were conversing on these calm and unearthly matters, what was the great world about? Strife and agitation—the stern wrestle between things that have been and the things to come—the vast upheavings of society -the revolution of mind that was abroad—was not this felt, even to the solitary heart of that retirement in which the lamp of a bright and keen existence was wasting itself away!

“I remember," said Lone evening, when we sate conversing in his study; the sofa wheeled round; the curtains drawn; the table set, and the night's sedentary preparations made; “I remember hearing the particulars of the last hours of an old acquaintance of mine, a lawyer, rising into great eminence in his profession--a resolute, hard-minded, scheming, ambitious man. He was attacked in the prime of life with a sudden illness; mortification ensued; there was no hope ; he had some six or seven hours of life before him, and no more. He was perfectly sensible of his fate, and wholly unreconciled to it. • Come hither,' he said to the physician, holding out his arm (he was a man of remarkable physical strength); · Look at these muscles ; they are not wasted by illness ; I am still at this moment in the full vigour of manhood, and you tell me I must die!' He ground his

as he spoke. "Mark, I am not resigned; I will battle with this enemy;' and he raised himself up, called for food and wine, and died with the same dark struggles and fiery resistance that he would have offered in battle to some embodied and palpable foe. Can you not enter into his feelings? I can most thoroughly.—Yes,” Lrenewed, after a short pause, “ I ought to be deeply grateful that my mind has been filed down and conciliated to what is inevitable by the gradual decay of my physical powers; the spiritual habitant is not abruptly and violently expelled from its mansion ; but the mansion itself becomes ruinous, and the inmate has had time to prepare itself for another. Yet when I see you all about me, ng for the race and eager for the battle-when, in the dead of a long and sleepless night, images of all I might have done, had the common date of life been mine, start up before me, I feel as a man must feel who sees himself suddenly arrested in the midst of a journey, of which all the variety of scene, the glow of enterprise, the triumph of discovery were yet to come. It is like the traveller who dies in sight of the very land that he has sacrificed the ease of youth and the pleasures of manhood to reach. But these are not the reflections I ought to indulge–let me avoid them. And where can I find a better refuge for my thoughts than in talking to you of this poem, which, long ago, we said we would attempt to criticize, and which of all modern works, gloomy and monotonous as it seems to men in the flush of life, offers the calmest and most sacred consolation to those whom Life's objects should no longer interest ?”

A. You speak of “ The Night Thoughts?" Ay, we were to have examined that curious poem, which has so many purchasers, and has been honoured with so few critics. Certainly, when we remember the day in which it appeared, and the poetry by which it has been succeeded, it is worthy of a more ample criticism than, with one exception, it has received.

“ It is very remarkable,” said - willingly suffering himself to sink into a more common-place vein, “ how great a difference the spirit of poetry in the last century assumes, when breathed through the medium of blank verse, and in that of rhyme. In rhyme, the fashion of poetry was decidedly French, and artificial; polish, smoothness, point, and epigram are its prevailing characteristics ; but in blankverse, that noble metre, introduced by Surrey, and perfected by Shakspeare, the old genius of English poetry seems to have made a stubborn and resolute stand. In the same year that Pope produced • The Dunciad,' appeared the “Summer' of James Thomson. Two years prior to that, viz. 1726, the first published of the Seasons, • Winter,' had been added to the wealth of English poetry, unnoticed at first, but singled out happily by perhaps the best critic of the day, Whately, and recommended by his, to more vulgar, admiration. · The Seasons' is a thoroughly national poem, thoroughly English: not that Thomson, or that any English poet of great name, has entirely escaped the affectation of classical models; that affectation is indeed to be found not the least frequently among those poets the most purely national. Nicholas Grimoald, the second English poet in blank verse after Surrey-a translator as well as poetis a curious instance of the English spirit blended with the Latin school. Thus, in his poem on Friendship, the lines

• Of all the heavenly gifts, that mortal men commend
What trusty treasure in the world can countervail a friend !
Our health is soon decayed, goods casual, light, and vain,

Broke have we seen the force of power, and honour suffer stain!' These lines, I say, are soon afterwards followed by references to Scipio and Lælius, and Cicero and Atticus ; and, by the way, Theseus and Pirithous, or, as he is pleased to abbreviate the latter name, Pirith, are thus made the vehicle to one of those shrewd hits of quaint, odd satire which the old poets so loved to introduce

' Down Theseus went to hell,

Perith, his friend, to find;
Oh that the wives, in these our days,

Were to their mates as kind!' “So, in short, through all the long series of English poets—through those preceding Elizabeth—Vaux, Sackville—even the homely Tusser, in his · Five Hundreth poyntes of good Husbandrie,' (certainly as English and as rural a poem as possible,)—fly with peculiar avidity to ancient times for ornaments and allusions the most unseasonable and ostentatious. The grace and elegance of Elizabeth's age were no preventives to the same perversion of taste; Christianity and Mythology, knight-errantry and stoicism, Gothic qualities and Roman names, all unite together in the most exulting defiance of reason and common-sense ;—“The Arcadia,' (a poem, if Telemachus has rightly been called a poem,) of the polished Sidney, is the most arabesque of all these mixtures of poetical architecture - Shakspeare does not escape the mania ; Marlowe plunges into it; Ben Jonson, with all his deep learning, and certainly correct taste, pictures his own age most faithfully, but covers the dress with Roman jewellery. The taste continued; the sanctity of Milton's theme, and the rigidity of his religious sect, sufficed not to exclude from his venerable page

Osiris, Isis, Orus, and their train.'
The gods of old are translated to sees in the modern Hell-

• Titan, heaven's first-born,
With his enormous brood and birthright seized
By younger Saturn, he from mightier Jove
His own and Rhea's son, like measure found :
So Jove usurping reigned—these first in Crete
And Ida known, thence on the snowy top

Of cold Olympus ruled !
Even in the Hebrew Paradise-

« The universal Pan
Knit with the Graces and the Hours in dance
Leads on the eternal Spring !

The chimax of beauty in Raphael's appearance, is that

Like Maia's son he stood.' And “the Eternal" himself borrows Homer's scales, to decide upon the engagement between fiend and angel

• Golden scales yet seen

Betwixt Astræą and the Scorpion sign." We all know how much the same classic adulterations mingle with the English Helicon at a later period; how little even the wits of the time of Charles the Second escape the hereditary taint. Sedley's mistresses are all Uranias and Phillis's. Now he borrows a moral from Lycophron, and next he assures us, in one of the prettiest of his songs that

“ Love still has something of the sea

From whence his mother rose." Dryden, whose excellence never lay greatly in an accurate taste, though in his admirable prose writings he proves that he knew the theory while he neglected the practice, is less painfully classical and unseasonably mythological than might have been expected; and as from his time the school of poetry became more systematically copied from a classical model, so it became less eccentric in its classical admixtures. Pope is at once the most Roman of all our poets, and the least offensive in his Romanism. I mention all this to prove, that when we find much that is borrowed, and often awkwardly borrowed, from ancient stores, ancient names, and ancient fables, in those poets of the last century, whom I shall take the licence to call pre-eminently English, we must not suppose that they are, from that fault, the less national ; nay, that very aptitude to borrow, that very leaning to confuse their present theme with the incongruous ornaments of a country wholly opposite from our own, are almost, on the contrary, a testimony how deeply they were imbued with that spirit which belonged to the most genuine of their predecessors.

“ Among the chief characteristics of our English poetry, are great minuteness and fidelity in rural description-a deep melancholy in moral reflection, coupled with a strong and racy aptitude to enjoy the sweets of life as well as to repine at the bitters-a glowing richness, a daring courage of expression, and a curious love of abrupt change in thought and diction; so that the epigrammatic and the sublime; the humorous and the grave; the solemn and the quaint, are found in a juxta-position the most singular and startling; as much the reverse of the severe simplicity of the true ancient schools as possible, and having its resemblance, and that but occasionally, and in this point alone, in the Italian.*

“ In the middle of the last century, the three greatest of the poets in blank-verse are Akenside, Thomson, and Young. Of these three, the last I consider the most thoroughly English in his muse; but with the exception of that extreme love of blending extremes, which I have noted before, the two former are largely possessed of the great

* Critics not acquainted with our early literature have imagined this mixture of grave and gay the offspring of late years, nay, some have actually attributed its origin in England to Byron's imitations from the Italian.

features of their national tribe. Pope's pastorals were written at so early an age that it would not be fair to set them in comparison to • Thomson's Seasons' if Pope's descriptions of scenery had ever undergone any change in their spirit and conception, in proportion as he added to the correct ear of his youth—the bold turn, the exquisite taste, the incomparable epigram, and even (witness the prologue to · Cato') the noble thought and the august image, which adorn the poetry of his maturer years; but however Pope improved in all else, his idea, his notion of rural description always remained pretty nearly the same-viz. as trite as it could be. And this, an individual failing, was the failing also of his school--the eminent failing of the French school to this very day. Well then, Pope having fixed upon Autumn as the season of a short pastoral, chooses tuneful Hylas' for his songster, and telling us first, that

• Now setting Phæbus shone serenely bright,

And Heecy clouds were strewed with purple light.' 46 • Tuneful Hylas' then, thus

Taught rocks to weep and made the mountains groan.'
• Now bright Arcturus glads the teeming grain,

Now golden fruits on loaded branches shine,
And grateful clusters swell with floods of wine ;
Now blushing berries paint the yellow grove,

Just gods! shall all things yield returns but love? Now these lines are very smooth, and for the age at which they were composed, surprisingly correct. They are as good, perhaps, as any thing in • Les Jardins' of Delille, but there is not a vestige of English poetry in them --not a vestige. Thomson would not have written them at any age, and Pope would only have polished them more had he written them when he published the Dunciad, i. e. as I said before, in the same year in which Thomson published the • Summer.' But thus begins the poet of the Seasons' with his • Autumn.'

• Crowned with the sickle, and the wheaten sheaf,

While Autumn nodding o'er the yellow plain,
Comes jovial on **


broad, brown, below
Extensive harvests hang the heavy head,
Rich, silent, deep they stand! for not a gale
Rolls its light billows o'er the bending plain,

A calm of plenty?
Again, how fine what follows! Wordsworth is not more true to
Nature. He speaks of the Autumn fogs-

Expanding far
The huge dusk, gradual, swallows up the plain,
Vanish the woods—the dim seen river seems
Sullen and slow to roll the misty wave,
Even in the height of noon opprest, the su
Sheds weak

Indistinct on earth,
Seen through the turbid air, beyond the life
Objects appear; and wildered o'er the waste


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