Page images


A REALLY good ballad is one of the easiest things in the world to read, and the hardest to write. So hard, that out of the vast numbers of dabblers in verse who attempt the various departments of the art, very few appear to deal with the ballad form; while out of the small section of adventurers who do try their 'prentice hand at it, the proportion of failures is enormous. Mr. G. W. Thornbury may, therefore, be congratulated all the more emphatically, on the signal and exceptional success he has unquestionably achieved in his Songs and Ballads. It has been said that the ballad-writer ought, when possible, to write in the unscrupulous spirit of a partisan: for, since in historical and martial ballads there must always be two sides, it is the very business of the poet to adopt one of these with as much enthusiasm and prejudice, as if his life and fortunes depended upon the issue of the cause. "For the ballad is the reflex of rapid and keen sensation, and has nothing to do with judgment or calm deliberation," but should embody, from beginning to end, "one fiery absorbing passion, such as men feel when their blood is up, and their souls thoroughly roused within them." It is Mr. Thornbury's singular faculty to be richly endowed with this impassioned sympathyand, moreover, to be dramatically capable of bringing his partisanship to bear on either side, to adapt it to conflicting forces, to enlist it with unfailing energy in the service of opposite factions, battling at sundry times and for divers causes. His verses have all the rapidity, pluck, energy, of the outriding troopers in his own "Sally from Coventry" ballad

To boot! and to horse! and away like a flood,
A fire in their eyes, and a sting in their blood;
Hurrying out with a flash and a flare

that promise, and keep the promise, to carry all before them. Out-andout his versification is the most dashing of the day. It is all alive with spirit and sprightly movement. What impetuous speed in "Wigan's Retreat," and "The Fight at the Mill-bridge," and "The Night Surprise❞—

In the drift and pother of scud and hail,

When the wind drove strong at our rain-drenched back,

I and some seventy more stout lads
Picked from Newcastle's madcap pack,
I and some seventy devil-may-cares
Rode to Bristol-and then rode back.

What rollicking freedom and exuberance of animal spirits in "The Sally from Coventry," and "The Night of the Sally," and "The Bonfire at Temple-bar," and "The Jockey's Song," and a dozen besides of the

* Songs of the Cavaliers and Roundheads, Jacobite Ballads, &c. &c. By George W. Thornbury. With Illustrations by H. S. Marks. Hurst and Blackett.


Poems by Edward Wilberforce and Edmund Forster Blanchard. Longman and Co. 1857.

more boisterous of these pieces. What a wild weird presence informs and pervades others, of a grimmer and ghastlier sort-a kind of reckless expenditure of the author's gift of making night hideous to us fools of nature, and darkening afresh the night-side of nature with a darkness that may be felt. He crowds his lines with suggestive imagery and vivid pictorial effects. Almost every single line in "The Riding to the Tournament" contains a separate picture. A Maclise would find in it a design for a large canvas ready in all its details:

Pilgrims with their hood and cowl,
Pursy burghers cheek by jowl,
Archers with the peacock's wing
Fitting to the waxen string,
Pedlars with their pack and bags,
Beggars with their coloured rags,
Silent monks, whose stony eyes
Rest in trance upon the skies,
Children sleeping at the breast,
Merchants from the distant West,
All in gay confusion went
To the royal Tournament.

Players with the painted face
And a drunken man's grimace,
Grooms who praise their rawboned steeds,
Old wives telling maple beads,-
Blackbirds from the hedges broke,
Black crows from the beeches croak,
Glossy swallows in dismay
From the mill-stream fled away,
The angry swan, with ruffled breast,
Frowned upon her osier nest,
The wren hopped restless on the brake,
The otter made the sedges shake,
The butterfly before our rout
Flew like a blossom blown about,
The coloured leaves, a globe of life,
Spun round and scattered as in strife,
Sweeping down the narrow lane
Like the slant shower of the rain,
The lark in terror, from the sod
Flew up and straight appealed to God,
As a noisy band we went
Trotting to the Tournament.

The music that strikes up as these riders approach the town, is then described in that graphic style in which Mr. Thornbury excels. He has an apt ear and a ready pen for what we may call representative versewhether imitating the "Cannon bom, boys," and "fifers tweet, tweet, Trumpeters sounding, away! away!" in the lines called "Leaving Chester;" or "The Trumpeter's"

And I blew, blew, blew,

For I liked the merry crew,

And rap, rap, the kettle-drummers played;

or the "tuneful drip, drip,'drip, of the golden leak of the cask," and the

"gurgle and rush from the long-necked tapering flask" in "The King of Champagne;" or of the dance of the leaves

Twisting, twirling, ever swirling
Round the black and matted boughs.

Keen is his discernment, too, of the kind of metre that will best suit this or that particular subject-witness his choice, for instance, in "Raising the Town," where the structure of the verse is so happily adapted to the theme it portrays; and again in "Entering Dundee," in "The King is Coming to London," in (a forcible contrast) "The Starved Poet," in "Tom of Ten Thousand" so lightsome and limber, and in that bustling bit of traditionary lore, "The Deil amang the Leslies." That Mr. Thornbury can succeed in calmer strains, descriptive, reflective, and pathetical though the contrary is his forte-may be seen at first sight (and still more on second thoughts) of "The Fountain Beaulieu," "Winter Moonlight,” and “The Whisper in the Market-place.”

POEMS BY EDWARD WILBERFORCE AND EDMUND FORSTER BLANCHARD, appear before the public as a joint-stock production, but with limited liability. Each subscriber is responsible only for the amount of his shares. The poems are kept apart; we know to whom to assign each composition; so that the partnership has none of that de-individualising character, or absorption of identity in duality, which pertains to other literary partnerships, of a kind so common in France, and popularised among ourselves in the present day (to say nothing of the wholesale system in vogue with our Elizabethan playwrights) by the dramatic successes of Messrs. Tom Taylor and Charles Reade. The notes issued by the present firm are good promissory notes. They certify, indeed, a fair existing capital; but still more they speak of better things to come. The notes-to vary the metaphor, like themselves a mixed one -vary almost capriciously in sound and setting, and appear to come from all sorts of instruments, whether cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, dulcimer, or what not. Each minstrel in his turn ranges from grave to gay, from lively to severe, and sometimes essays to merge both moods in one. Mr. Wilberforce's is the bolder and firmer hand, Mr. Blanchard's the lighter and more delicate touch. The former is akin, in certain respects, to the Byrons, Crabbes, and Aytouns of our anthology; the latter has fed onand, chameleon like, taken the colour of what he fed on-our Brownings, both of them perhaps, Robert and Elizabeth, but specially Robert. There is more of breadth and freedom, of dash and vigour, in the verses of Mr. Wilberforce; but his companion's softer measures are superior in finish, grace, and musical expression-less daring, indeed, in the venture of flighty and fitful rhymes, but more ambitious and venturesome in variety of rhythmical effects, he has evidently the lyrical tendency and faculty in a far higher degree.

Continuations are, for the most part, proverbially failures. Authors themselves break down in attempting to complete their own unfinished works. Hazardous enough, then, is it for a stranger to undertake the task. Mr. Tupper could hardly have done worse than carry on, proprio Marte, the wondrous tale of Christabel, which Coleridge himself, it may be safely affirmed, would never have brought to a satisfying conclusion. Mr.

Wilberforce might assuredly have done better than open his poetical career with a seventeenth canto of Don Juan. The conception itself was a mistake, and so is the execution. There is something forced, laboured, in the very carelessness of these stanzas, alike in matter and manner, in thought (or thoughtlessness) and expression. The rhymes are sometimes too bad, even for a bad joke. "Avon's" is made to rhyme with "ravings," which it only can do in Cockaigne; to which province must also be consigned the rhyming of "Dryden" with "hiding," and "Goethe " with "thirty," and "bid a" with "hid her," and " proper seat" with "opposite," and "viewed you" with "studio,"-all which are tolerable only in Dogberry's version of toleration. The author's freaks in this Hudibrastic department may be inferred from the following specimen :

I shall do all I'm able to afford a
Tribute of honour to the heroine

Of the French Revolution, Charlotte Corday,
Who lives in Anti-Williams Ponsard's line:
And Robespierre I must flagellate, who bored a
Good honest atheist with his étre divine.
And I must get a Walker, or I'm blessed, or
T'othered, if I shall get a rhyme to Messidor,

And Thermidor, and Pluviose, and Fructidor;

Names in themselves so tortured out of shape
That only he who from its hinges pluckt a door

Such could pronounce, nor dislocate his nape.
Yet in their art must rhymers be instructed, or

Some of our English months would make them gape;
Why even you, although a clever man you are, I
Doubt if you'll find a proper rhyme for January.

Highly questionable, too, is the quality of slang like that in a stanza on Wordsworth's estimate of Gray and the artificial school

He only aimed at giving them a hiding

For painting Nature, which they didn't ought.

More consonant with the character of the name he bears (and may, if he will, one day illustrate anew), are Mr. Wilberforce's lines to the Virgin Mary-the Protestant tone of which would have gladdened the heart of William Wilberforce himself, as would also that, in a lighter mood, of "John Bull: a Friday's Homily,"-or again, of "The English in Rome," and "Britain's Shame," and "A Peasant Woman." The pieces we have just named will be relished by anti-Romanists with a British born and bred relish for controversy. Less polemical readers will find wherewithal to occupy their thoughts and fancies, in a dreamy tale called "The Field's Secret," and that graphic monologue "The First Serpent,❞— with contributions of a picturesque kind such as "Two Lakes" and "A Gorge in the Alps"-and passages of serious and tender thought as in the lines beginning

We never know the value of a life
Save by the price we pay for losing it,

which feelingly interpret one of those common-places that never become stale as well as common, or unprofitable as a daily lesson to be learnt and re-learnt by heart.

Mr. Edmund Forster Blanchard may be his companion's inferior in robust power and versatile ease, but his lines betoken more of quiet grace, quaint fancy, and the development of a musical ear. He is stu dious of metrical changes and harmonious effects. As we have already remarked, his style bears traces of congenial commerce with Mr. Browning's works: we catch glimpses as it were, and overhear jingling echoes, of the bells and pomegranates. He appears on his guard, however, against falling into the habit of harsh construction and rugged versification somewhat too frequent with the author of Sordello. Several of his lyrics are professedly "written to music;" and most of them indicate a regard for musical laws, and consideration for the ears of the fastidious in this respect. He succeeds better in the tranquil flow of stanzas like "At First Sight," than in quasi-enigmatical verses like "Explana tion," with which his present volume closes, and with the like of which we hope his next will neither begin nor end. He will do well, too, rather to check than indulge any predilection he may feel for certain concetti such as

With that dulceting for ever
Felt in echo-but unheard;

(An Unpremeditated Love-letter) and, of the same type (wrong fount, technically speaking), She almost flickered up to God.


How well he can paint in unaffected diction the harvest of a quiet eye, and, as he sings, can moralise his song, may be seen in the following

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »