Imatges de pàgina

rious narrative or didactic verse, the use of the triplet and the Alexandrine, thus:

"Full bowls of wine, of honey, milk, and blood

Were poured upon the pile of burning wood,

And hissing flames receive, and hungry lick the food.
Then thrice the mounted squadrons ride around
The fire, and Arcite's name they thrice resound:
'Hail and farewell,' they shouted thrice amain,

Thrice facing to the left, and thrice they turned again—”

and in lively colloquial verse the use, not uncommon also with the Elizabethans, of disyllabic rhymes:

"I come, kind gentlemen, strange news to tell ye;

I am the ghost of poor departed Nelly.
Sweet ladies, be not frighted; I'll be civil;
I'm what I was, a little harmless devil."

In the hands of Pope, the poetical legislator of the following century, these expedients are discarded, and the fixed and purely metrical element in the design is suffered to regulate and control the other element entirely. The sentence-structure loses its freedom, and periods and clauses, instead of being allowed to develop themselves at their ease, are compelled mechanically to coincide with and repeat the metrical divisions of the verse. To take a famous instance, and from a passage not sententious, but fanciful and discursive:

"Some in the fields of purest æther play,
And bask and whiten in the blaze of day:

Some guide the course of wand'ring orbs on high,

Or roll the planets through the boundless sky.
Some less refined, beneath the moon's pale light
Pursue the stars that shoot across the night,

Or seek the mists in grosser air below,
Or dip their pinions in the painted bow,
Or brew fierce tempests on the wintry main,
Or o'er the glebe distil the kindly rain."

Leigh Hunt's theory was that Pope, with all his skill, had spoiled instead of perfecting his instrument, and that the last true master of the heroic couplet had been Dryden, on whom the verse of Rimini is avowedly modelled. The result is an odd blending of the grave and the colloquial cadences of Dryden, without his characteristic nerve and energy in either:

"The prince, at this, would bend on her an eye
Cordial enough, and kiss her tenderly;
Nor, to say truly, was he slow in common

To accept the attentions of this lovely woman;
But the meantime he took no generous pains,
By mutual pleasing, to secure his gains;

He entered not, in turn, in her delights,

Her books, her flowers, her taste for rural sights;
Nay, scarcely her sweet singing minded he
Unless his pride was roused by company;
Or when to please him, after martial play,
She strained her lute to some old fiery lay
Of fierce Orlando, or of Ferumbras,

Or Ryan's cloak, or how by the red grass

In battle you might know where Richard was."

It is usually said that to the example thus set by Leigh Hunt in Rimini is due the rhythmical form alike of Endymion and Epipsychidion, of Keats's Epistles to his friends and Shelley's Letter to Maria Gisborne. Certainly the Epistles of Keats, both as to sentiment and rhythm, are very much in Hunt's manner. But the earliest of them, that to G. F. Mathew, is dated November, 1815, when

Rimini was not yet published, and when it appears Keats did not yet know Hunt personally. He may, indeed, have known his poem in MS. through Clarke or others; or the likeness of his work to Hunt's may have arisen indepenently as to style, from a natural affinity of feeling; and as to rhythm, from a familiarity with the disyllabic rhyme and the "overflow" as used by some of the Elizabethan writers, particularly by Spenser in Mother Hubbard's Tale, and by Browne in Britannia's Pastorals. At all events the appearance of Rimini tended unquestionably to encourage and confirm him in his practice.

As to Hunt's success with his "ideas of what is natural in style," and his "free and idiomatic cast of language" to supersede the styles alike of Pope and Wordsworth, the specimen of his which we have given is perhaps enough. The taste that guided him so well in appreciating the works of others deserted him often in original composition, but nowhere so completely as in Rimini. The piece, indeed, is not without agreeable passages of picturesque colour and description, but for the rest the pleasant creature does but exaggerate in this poem the chief foible of his prose, redoubling his vivacious airs where they are least in place, and handling the great passions of the theme with a teaparty manner and vocabulary that are intolerable. Contemporaries, welcoming as a relief any departure from the outworn poetical conventions of the eighteenth century, found, indeed, something to praise in Leigh Hunt's Rimini, and ladies are said to have wept over the sorrows of the hero and heroine; but what, one can only ask, must be the sensibilities of the human being who can endure to hear the story of Paolo and Francesca-Dante's Paolo and Francesca diluted through four cantos in a style like

"What need I tell of lovely lips and eyes,

A clipsome waist, and bosom's balmy rise?”

"How charming, would he think, to see her here,
How heightened then, and perfect would appear
The two divinest things the world has got,
A lovely woman in a rural spot."

When Keats and Shelley, with their immeasurably finer poetical gifts and instincts, successively followed Leigh Hunt in the attempt to add a familiar lenity of style to variety of movement in this metre, Shelley, it need not be said, was in no danger of falling into any such underbred strain as this; but Keats at first falls, or is near falling, into it more than once.

Next as to the influence which Leigh Hunt involuntarily exercised on his friends' fortunes, and their estimation by the world. We have seen how he found himself, in prison, and for some time after his release, a kind of political hero on the liberal side, a part for which nature had by no means fitted him. This was in itself enough to mark him out as a special butt for Tory vengeance; yet that vengeance would hardly have been so inveterate as it was but for other secondary causes. During his imprisonment Leigh Hunt had reprinted from the Reflector, with notes and additions, an airily presumptuous trifle in verse called the Feast of the Poets, which he had written about two years before. In it Apollo is represented as convoking the contemporary British poets, or pretenders to the poetical title, to a session, or rather to a supper. Some of those who present themselves the god rejects with scorn, others he cordially welcomes, others he admits with reserve and admonition. Moore and Campbell fare the best; Southey and Scott are accepted, but with reproof; Coleridge and Wordsworth chidden and dismissed. The criticisms

are not more short-sighted than those even of just and able men commonly are on their contemporaries. The bitterness of the "Lost Leader" feeling to which we have referred accounts for much of Hunt's disparagement of the Lake writers, while in common with all liberals he was prejudiced against Scott as a conspicuous high Tory and friend to kings. But he quite acknowledged the genius, while he condemned the defection, and also what he thought the poetical perversities, of Wordsworth. His treatment of Scott, on the other hand, is idly flippant and patronising. Now it so happened that of the two champions who were soon after to wield, one the bludgeon, and the other the dagger, of Tory criticism in Edinburgh, -I mean Wilson and Lockhart-Wilson was the cordial friend and admirer of Wordsworth, and Lockhart a man of many hatreds but one great devotion, and that devotion was to Scott. Hence a part at least of the peculiar and, as it might seem, paradoxical rancour with which the gentle Hunt, and Keats as his friend and supposed follower, were by-and-bye to be persecuted in Blackwood.

To go back to the point at which Hunt and Keats first became known to each other. Cowden Clarke began by carrying up to Hunt, who had now moved from the Edgeware Road to a cottage in the Vale of Health at Hampstead, a few of Keats's poems in manuscript. Horace Smith was with Hunt when the young poet's work was shown him. Both were eager in its praises, and in questions concerning the person and character of the author. Cowden Clarke at Hunt's request brought Keats to call on him soon afterwards, and has left a vivid account of their pleasant welcome and conversation. The introduction seems to have taken place early in the spring of 1816.' Keats 1 See Appendix, p. 220.

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