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lor noble*.—because fortune had placed him iu that order, and because the power and distinction which belonged to it were agreeable to him, and, he thought^ would be exercised tor the good of his inferiors. When he heard that Voltaire had written a tragedy on the story of Brutus, he fell into a great passion, and exclaimed, that the subject was too lofty for "a French plebeian, who. during twenty уеагз, bail subscribed himself gentleman in ordinär}- to the King!"
This love of aristocracy, however, will not e.xpiain the defence of monarchy and the abuse of republics, which formed the substance of his Antigallican. But the truth is, that he was ant:gallican from his youth up; and would never have forgiven that nation, if they had succeeded in establishing a free government, —especially -while Italy was in bondage. The contempt which Voltaire hat! expressed for Italian literature, and the general degradation into which the national character had fallen, had sunk deep into his fierce and haughty spirit, and inspired him with an antipathy towards that people by whom his own countrymen had been subdued, ridiculed, and outshone. This paltry and vindictive feeling leads him, throughout this whole work, to speak of them in the most unjust and uncandid terms. There may be some truth in nia remarks on the mean and meagre articulation of their language, and on their "horrible u, with their thin lips drawn in to pronounce it, as if they were blowing hot soup." Nay, we could even excuse the nationality which leads him to declare, that "he would rallier be the author of ten good Italian verses, tban of volumes written in English or French, or any such harsh and unharmonious jargon,— though their cannon and their armies should continué to render these languages fashionable." But we cannot believe in the sincerity of an amorous Italian, who declares, that he never could cet through the first volume ч!" Rousseau's Heloise; or of a modern author if regular dramas, \vho professes to see nothing at all admirable in the tragedies of Racine or Voltaire. It is evident to us, that he grudged those great writers the glory that was due to them, out of a vindictive feeling of national resentment; and that, for the same reason, he gmdired the French nation the freedom, in which he would otherwise have been among the first to believe and to exult.
It only remains to say a word or two of the ütrrary productions of this extraordinary perNo :—a theme, however interesting and attractive, upon which we can scarcely pretend to enter on the present occasion. We have not yet been able to procure a complete copy of the works of Alfieri; and, even of those which have been lately transmitted to us, we will confess that a considerable portion retains to be perused. We have seen enough, however, to satisfy us that they are deserving of "л careful analysis, and that a free and enlightened estimate of their merit may be rendered both interesting and instructive to the CTeater part of our readers. We hope soon to be in a condition to attempt this task; and
shall, in the mean time, confine ourseives to a very few observations suggested by the style and character of the tragedies with which we have been for some time acquainted.
These pieces approach much nearer to the ancient Grecian model, than any other modem production with which we are acquainted ; in the simplicity of the plot, the fewness of the persons, the directness of the action, and the uniformity and elaborate gravity of the composition. Infinitely less declamatory than the French tragedies, they have less brilliancy and variety, and a deeper tone of dignity and nature. As they have not adopted the choral songs of the Greek stage, however, they are, on the whole, less poetical than those ancient compositions; although they are worked throughout with a fine and careful hand, and diligently purified from every thing ignoble or feeble in the expression. The author's anxiety to keep clear of figures of mere ostentation, and to exclude all showpieces of fine writing in a dialogue of deep interest or impetuous passion, has betrayed him, on some occasions, into too sententious and strained a diction, and given an air of labour and heaviness to many parts of his composition. He has felt, perhaps a little too constantly, that the cardinal virtue of a dramatic writer is to keep his personages to the business and the concerns that lie before them; and by no means to let them turn to moral philosophers, or rhetorical describers of their own emotions. But, in his zealous adherence to this good maxim, he seems sometimes to have forgotten, that certain passions are declamatory in nature as well as on the stage; and that, at any rate, they do not all vent themselves in concise and pithy sayings, but run occasionally into hyperbole and amplification. As it is the great excellence, so it is occasionally the chief fault of Alfieri's dialogue, that every word is honestly employed to help forward the action of the play, by serious argument, necessary narrative, or the direct expression of natural emotion. There are no excursions or digressions,—no episodical conversations,—and none but the most brief moralizings. This gives a certain air of solidity to the whole structure of the piece, that is apt to prove oppressive to an ordinary reader, and reduces the entire drama to too great uniformity.
We make these remarks chiefly with a reference to French tragedy. For our own part, we believe that those who are duly sensible of the merits of Shakespeare, will never be much struck with any other dramatical compositions. There are no other plays, indeed, that paint human nature,—that strike off the characters of men with all the freshness and sharpness of the original,—and speak the language of all the passions, not like a mimic, but an echo—neither softer nor louder, nor differently modulated from the spontaneous utterance of the heart. In these respects he disdains all comparison with Alfieri, or with any other mortal: nor is it fair, perhaps, to suggest a comparison, where no rivalry can be imagined. Alfieri, like all the continental dramatists, considers a tragedy as a poem. In England, we look upon it rather as a representation of character and passion. With them, of course, the style and diction, and the congruity and proportions of the piece, are the main objects:—with us. the 'ruth and the force of the imitation. It is sufficient for them, if there be character and action enough to prevent the composition from languishing, and to give spirit and propriety to the polished dialogue of which it consists; —we are satisfied, if there be management enough in the story not to shock credibility entirelv: and beauty and polish enough in the diction to exclude disgust or derision. In his own way, Alfieri, we think, is excellent. His fables are all admirably contrived and completely developed; his dialogue is copious and progressive; and his characters all deliver natural sentiments with great beauty, and often with great force of expression. In our eyes, however, it is a fault that the fable is too simple, and the incidents too scanty; and that all the characters express themselves with equal felicity, and urge their opposite views and pretensions with equal skill and plausibility. We see at once, that an ingenious author lias versified the sum of a dialogue; and never, for a moment, imagine that we hear the real persons contending. There may be more eloquence and dignity in this style of dramatising;—there is infinitely more deception in ours.
With regard to the diction of these pieces, it is not for tramontane critics to presume to
1 offer any opinion. The}' ate considered, in Italy, we believe, as the purest specimens of the favella Toscana that late ages have pro! duced. To us they certainly seem to wai.t • something of that flow and sweetness to which we have been accustomed in Italian poetry. and to be formed rather upon the model u: Dante than of Petrarca. At all events, it ii obvious that the style is highly elaborate anJ artificial; and that the author is constantly striving to give it a sort of factitious force and energy, by the use of condensed and emphatic expressions, interrogatories, antitheses and short and inverted sentences. In ail these respects, as well as in the chaslistJ gravity of the sentiments, and the temperance and propriety of all the delineations of pa»sion, these pieces are exactly the reverse of what we should have expected from the fier), fickle, and impatient character of the author. From all that Alfieri has told us of him^lf. j we should have expected to find in his pla\s \ great vehemence and irregular eloquence— sublime and extravagant sentiments—nasj sions rising to frenzy—and poetry swelling 'into bombast. Instead of this, we nave a Mibdued and concise representation of energetic discourses—passions, not loud but deep—and 1 a style so severely correct and scrupulously pure, as to indicate, even to unskillul eyes, the great labour which must have been bestowed on its purification. No characters can be more different than that which we should infer from reading the tragedies of Alfieri. ami that which he has assigned to himself in these authentic memoirs.
The Life and Posthumous Writings of William Cowper, Esq. With an Introductory L<ttn to the Right Honourable Earl Cowper. By William Havlet, Esq. 2 vols. -lio. Chichester: 1803.
This book is too long; but it is composed on a plan that makes prolixity unavoidable. Instead of an account of the poet's life, and a view of his character and performances, the biographer has laid before the public a large selection from his private correspondence, and merely inserted as much narrative between each series of letters, as was necessary to preserve their connection, and make the subject of them intelligible.
This scheme of biography, which was first introduced, we believe, by Mason, in his life of Gray, has many evident advantages in point of liveliness of colouring, and fidelity of representation. It is something intermediate between the egotism of confessions, and the questionable narrative of a surviving friend, who must be partial, and may be mistaken: It enables the reader to judge for himself, from materials that were not provided for the purpose of determining his judgment; and holds up to him, instead of a flattering or unfaithful portrait, the living lineaments and
features of the person it intends to commemorate. It is a plan, however, that requires w much room for its execution, and consequently so much money and so much leisure in thns* who wish to be masters of it, that it ought to be reserved, we conceive, for those great and eminent characters that are likely to e.\c>' an interest among all orders and generation« of mankind. While the biography of Shakespeare and Bacon shrinks into the corner of an octavo, we can scarcely help wondering that the history of the sequestered life and solitary studies of Cowper should have t-.v tended into two quarto volumes.
The little Mr. Hayley writes in these то urnes is by no means well written; tlwuirf. certainly distinguished by a very amia' r gentleness of temper, and the stroiii."'st appearance of sincere veneration and 3tfrr'i"n lor the departed friend to whose memory it" consecrated. It will be very hard. loo. il the.»' do not become popular; as Mr. Hayley fet'i"" to have exerted himself to conciliate readers
of етегу description, not only by the most lavish and indiscriminate praise of every individual he has occasion to mention, but by a ¡reueral spirit of approbation and indulgence towards every practice and opinion which he has found it necessary to speak of. Among the other symptoms of book making which this publication contains, we can scarcely forbear rec-konirs the expressions of this too obsequious and unoffending philanthropy.
The constitutional shyness and diffidence of Cowper appeared in his earliest childhood, ".¡к! ms not subdued in any degree by the bustle and contention of a Westminster education; where, though he acquired a considerable portion of classical learning, he has himself declared, that "he was never able to raise his eye above the shoe-buckles of the elder boys, who tyrannized over him." From this seminary, he seems to have passed, without any academical preparation, into the Society of the Liner Temple, where he continued to reside to the age of thirty-three. Neither hia biographer nor his letters give any satisfactory account of the way in which this large and most important part of his life was spent. Althonah Lord Thurlow was one of his most Luimate associates, it is certain that he never made any proficiency in the study of the law; and the few slight pieces of composition, in which he appears to have been engagea in this interval, are but a scanty produce for fifteen years oí literary leisure. That a part of those years was very idly spent, indeed, appears from his own account of them. In a letter to his cousin, in 1786, he says,
"I did actually live three years with Mr. Chapman, a solicitor; that is to say, I slept three years ¡a his house; but I lived, that is to say, I spent my days in Southampton Row, as vou very well remember. There was I, and the future Lord Chancellor, constantly employed, from morning to night, m giggling, and making giggle, instead of studying ihe'liw."—Vol. i. p. 178.
And in a more serious letter to Mr. Rose, he makes the following just observations.
"The colour of our whole life is generally such ss the three or four first years, in which we are our own masters, make it. Then it is that we may be (aid to shnpe our own destiny, and to treasure up f-ir ourselves a series of future successes or disap[w;n:ments. Had I employed my time as wisely as you. in a situation very similar to yours, I had never Wn a poet perhaps, but I might by this time have acquired a character of more importance in society; ж situation in which my friends would hnve been better pleased to see me. But three years muipem in an attorney's office, were almost of course followed by several more equally misspent in the Temple; and the consequence has been, as ihe Italian epitaph says, " Stoqui."—The only use I ran m<ike of myself now, at least the best, is to ¿?rve in lerrorem to other», when occasion may happen to offer, that ihey may escape (so far as my' admonitions can have any weight with them) my fjlly and my fate."—Vol. i. рр.'ЗЗЗ, 334.
Neither the idleness of this period, however, nor the gaiety in which it appears to have been wasted, had corrected that radical defect iii h'.s constitution, by which he was disabled tiom making any public display of his acquisitions; and it was the excess of this diffi
dence, if we rightly understand his biographer, that was the immediate cause of the unfortunate derangement that overclouded the remainder of his life. In his thirty-first year, his friends procured for him the office of reading-clerk to the House of Lords: but the idea of reading in public, was the source of such torture and apprehension to him, that ho very soon resigned that place, and had interest enough to exchange it for that of clerk of the journals, which was supposed to require no personal attendance. An unlucky dispute in Parliament, however, made it necessary for him to appear in his place; and the consequences of this requisition are stated by Mr. Hayley. in the following, not very lucid, account.
"His terrors on this occasion arose to such an astonishing height, that they utterly overwhelmed his reason: for although he had endeavoured to prepare himself for his public duty, by attending closely al the office for several months, to examine the parliamentary journals, his application was rendered useless by that excess of diffidence, which made him conceive, that whatever knowledge he might previously acquire, it would all forsake him at the bar of the House. This distressing apprehension increased to such a degree, as the time for his appearance approached, that when the day so anxiously dreaded arrived, he was unable to make the experiment. The very friends, who called on him for the purpose of attending him to the House of Lords, acquiesced in the cruel necessity of relinquishing the prospect of a station so severely formidable to a frame of such singular sensibility."
"The conflict between the wishes of just affectionate ambition, and the terrors of diffidence, so entirely overwhelmed his health and faculties, that after two learned and benevolent divines (Mr. John Cowper, his brother, and the celebrated Mr. Martin Madan, his first cousin) had vainly endeavoured to establish a lasting tranquillity in his mind, by friendly and religious conversation, it was found necessary to remove him to St. Alban's, where he resided a considerable time, under the care of that eminent physician Dr. Cotton, a scholar and a poet, who added to many accomplishments a peculiar sweetness of manners, in very advanced life, when I had the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with him."—Vol. i. pp. 25, 26.
In this melancholy state he continued for upwards of a year, when his mind began slowly to emerge from the depression under which it had laboured, and to seek for consolation in the study of the Scriptures, and other religious occupations. In the city of Huntingdon, to which he had been removed in his illness, he now formed an acquaintance with the family of the Reverend Mr. Un win, with whose widow the greater part of his after life was passed. The series of letters, which Mr. Hayley has introduced in this place, are altogether of a devotional cast, and bear evident symptoms of continuing depression and anxiety. He talks a great deal of his conversion, of the levity and worldliness of his former life, and of the grace which had at last been vouchsafed to him ; and seems so entirely and constantly absorbed in those awful meditations, as to consider not only the occupations of his earlier days, but all temporal business or amusement, as utterly unworthy of his attention. We do not think it necessary to make any extract from this part of the publication: and perhaps Mr. Hayley might have spared some of the methodistical raptures and dissertations that are contained in those letters, without any injury either to the memory of his friend, or the reputation of hie own performance.
After the death of Mr. Unwin, he retired with his widow to the village of Olney in 1768, where he continued in the same pious and sequestered habits of life till the year 1772, when a second and more protracted visitation of the same tremendous malady obscured his faculties for a melancholy period of eight years; during which he was attended by Mrs. Unwin with a constancy and tenderness of affection, which it was the great business of his after life to repay. In 1780, he began gradually to recover; and in a letter of that year to his cousin, describes himself in this manner:
"You see me sixteen years older, at the least, than when I saw you Inst; but the effects of time seem to have taken place rather on the outside of my head than within it. What was brown is become grey, but what was foolish remains foolish still. Green fruit must rot before it ripens, if the season is such as to afford it nothing but cold winds and dark cloud«, that interrupt every ray of sunshine. My days steal away silently, and march on (as poor mad King Lear would nave made his soldiers march) as if they were shod with felt! Not so silently but that I hear them; yet were it not that I am always listening to their night, having no infirmity that I had not when I was much younger, I should deceive myself with an imagination thai I am still young."—Vol. i. pp. 96, 97.
One of the first applications of his reluming powere was to the taming and education of the three young hares, which he has since celebrated in his poetry: and, very soon after, the solicitations of his affectionate companion first induced him to prepare some moral pieces for publication, in the hope of giving a salutary employment to his mind. At the ape of fifty, therefore, and at a distance from afl the excitements that emulation and ambition usually hold out to a poet, Cowper began to write for the public, with the view of diverting his own melancholy, and doing service to the cause of morality. Whatever effect his publications had on the world, the composition of them certainly had a most beneficial one on himself. In a letter to his cousin he says,
"Dejection of spirits, which I suppose may have prevented many a man from becoming an author, made me one. I find constant employment necessary, and therefore take care to be constantly employed.—Manual occupations do not engage ihe mind sufficiently, as I know by experience, having tried many. But composition, especially of verse, absorbs it wholly. I write, therefore, generally three hours in a morning, and in an evening I transcribe. I read also, but less than I write."— Vol. i. p. 147.
There is another passage in which he talks of his performance in so light and easy a manner, and assumes so much of the pleasing, though antiquated language of Pope and Addison, that we cannot resist extracting it.
"My labours are principally the production of last winter; all indeed, except a few of ihe minor
pieces. When I can find no other occupation, think; and when I think. I am тегу apt to do h in rhyme. Hence it comes to pass, that the seaton of the year which generally pinches off the flower* of poetry, unfolds mine, such as they are. »nd crowns me with a winter garland. In th'e трест, therefore, I and my contemporary bards are by rn means upon a par. They write when the drhghitj! influence of fine weather, fine prospects, and a Ьп-'i. motion of the animal spirits, make poetry almost tht language of nature ; and I, when icicles depend front all the leaves of the Parnassian laurel, and when: reasonable man would as little expect to succeed in verse, as to hear a blackbird whistle. This mu>t be my apology to you for whatever want of fire and animation you may observe in what you will shorly have the perusal of. As to the public, if they like me not, there is no remedy."—Vol. i. pp. 106, 106.
The success of his first volume, which appeared in the end of the year 1781, was by no means such as to encourage him to proceed to a second; and, indeed, it seeme now to be admitted by every body but Mr. HayJey, that it was not well calculated for becoming popular. Too serious for the general reader, ¡t had too much satire, wit, and criticism, to t* a favourite with the devout and enthusiastic: the principal poems were also too long and desultory, and the versification throughout was more harsh and negligent, than the public bad yet been accustomed to. The book therefore was very little read, till the increasing fame of the author brought all his works into notice; and then, indeed, it was discovered, that it contained many traits of strong and original genius, and a richness of idiomatical phraseology, that has been but seldom equaiied in our language.
In the end of this year, Cowper formed an accidental acquaintance with the widow of Sir Thomas Austen, which, in spite of his insuperable shyness, ripened gradually into a mutual and cordial friendship, and was the immediate source of some of his happiest hours, and most celebrated productions.—The facetious history of "John Gilpin" arose from a игgestion of that lady, in circumstances and in a way that marks the perilous and moody state of Cowper's understanding more strikingly perhaps than any general description.
"It happened one afiernoon, in those year?, when his accomplished friend Lady Austen made a part of his little evening circle, that she observed him sinking into increasing dejection; it wae her custom, on these occasions, to try all the resources of her sprightly powers for his immediate reJiet. She told him trie story of John Gilpin (which hid been treasured in her memory from her childhood) ю dissipate the gloom of the passing hour. lie effect» on the fancy of Cowper had the air of enchantment. He informed her the next morning, that «тяги/*"**1 of laughter, brought on by his recollection of her story, had kept him waking during the greatest part of ihe night ! and lhat he had turned it into a ballad—So arose the pleasant poem of John Gilpin."" Vol. i. pp. 128, 129.
In the course of the year 1783, howeve'i Lady Austen was fortunate enough to direct the poet to a work of much greater importance; and to engage him, from a very accidental circumstance, in the composition of "The Task," by far the best and the most popula'' of all his performances. The anecdote, which is such as the introduction of that poem has probably suggested to most readers, ¡e given m this manner by Mr. Hayley.
''This Ыу happened, as an admirer of Milton, 10 be partial 10 blank verse, and often solicited her logical fnend to try his powers in that species of composition. After repeated solicitation, he promised her. if ehe would furnish the subject, to comply with her request. 'Oh!' she replied, • you can never he in want of a subject,—you can write upon any—wnte upon this sofa!' The poet obeyed her command; and, from the lively repartee of familiar conversation, arose a poem of many thousand verses, iMfiampled. perhaps, both in its origin and excellence."—Vol. i. p. 135.
This extraordinary production was finished in les« than a year, and became extremely popular from the very first month of its publication. The charm of reputation, however, could not draw Cowper from his seclusion; arid his solitude became still more dreary about this period, by the cessation of his intercourse with Lady Austen, with whom certain little jealousies on the part of Mrs. Unwin (which the biographer might as well have passed over in silence) obliged him to renounce any farther connection. Besides the Task and John Gilpin. he appears to have composed several smaller poems for this lady, which are published, for the first time, in the work now before us. We were particularly struck with a bollad on the unfortunate loss of the Royal George, of which the following stanzas may ierre as a specimen.
"Toll for the brave!
Brave Kempenfelt is gone;
"It was not in the battle;
No tempest gave the shock;
"His sword was in its sheath;
His finger» held the pen,
Vol. i. p. 127.
The same year that saw the conclusion of The Task." found Cowper engaged in the translation of Homer. This laborious undertaking, is said, by Air. Hayley. to have been first siunjested '° him by Lady Austen also; ihouiih. there is nothing in the correspondence lw has published, that seems to countenance that idea. The work was pretty far advanced before he appears to have confided the secret of it to any one. In a letter to Mr. Hill, he fiplaing his design in this manner:
"Knowing it to have been universally the opinion л(' the literati, ever since they have allowed themИтено consider the matter coolly, that a transla!*w, properly so called, of Homer, is, notwithstand'*? what Pope has done, a desideratum in the f'[1?iii*n language, it struck me, that an attempt to ijpply the deficiency would he an honourable one; •nd having made myself, in former years, somewtat critically a master of the original, I was, hy ihn double translation, induced to make the attempt iiTself. ( urn now translating into blank verse '»« last book of the Iliad, and mean to publish by wbjcription."—Vol. i. p. 154.
Some observations that were made by Dr. Maty and others, upon a specimen of hie
translation, about this time, eeem to have drawn from him the following curious and unaffected delineation of his own thoughts and feelings.
"I am not ashamed to confess, that having commenced an author, I am most abundantly desirous to succeed as such. / have (what perhapi you little »aspect me of) in my nature, an infinite share of ambition. But with it, I have at the same time, as you well know, an equal share of diffidence. To this combination of opposite qualities it has been owing, that, till lately, I stole through life without undertaking any thing, yet always wishing to distinguish myself. At last I ventured: ventured, too, in the only path that, at so late a period, was yet open to me ; and I am determined, if God hath not determined otherwise, to work my way through the obscurity that hath been so long my portion, into notice. —Vol. i. p. 190.
As he advanced in his work, however, he seems to have become better pleased with the execution of it; and in the year 1790. addresses to his cousin the following candid and interesting observations: though we cannot but regret that we have not some specimens at least of what he calls the quaint and antiquated style of our earlier poets: and are not without our suspicions that we should have liked it better than that which he ultimately adopted.
"To say the truth, 1 have now no fears about the success of my translation, though in time pnst I have had many. I knew there was a style somewhere, could I but find it. in which Homer ought to be rendered, and which alone would suit him. Long time I blundered about it, ere I could attain to any decided judgment on the matter. At first I was betrayed, by a desire of accommodating my language to the simplicity of his, into much of tlie quaintness that belonged to our writers of the fifteenth century. In the course of many révisais, I have delivered myself from this evil, I believe, entirely: but I have done it slowly, and as a man separates himself from his mistress, when he is going to marry. I had so strong a predilection in favour of this style, at first, that I was crazed to find that others were not as much enamoured with it as myself. At every passage of that sort, which I obliterated, I groaned bitterly, and said to myself, I am spoiling my work to please those who have no taste for the simple graces of antiquity. But in measure, as I adopted a more modern phraseology, I became a convert to their opinion : and in the last révisai, which I am now making, am not sensible of having spared a single expression of the obsolete kind. I see my work so much improved by this alteration, that I am filled with wonder at my own backwardness to assent to the necessity of it; and the more, when I consider, that Milton, with whose manner I account myself inlimaiery acquainted, is never quaint, never twangs through the nose, but is every where grand and elegant, without resorting to musty antiquity for his beauties. On the contrary, he took a long stride forward, left the language of his own day far behind him, and anticipated the expressions of a century yet to come." —Vol. i. pp. 360, 361.
The translation was finished in the year 1791, and published by subscription immediately after. Several applications were made to the University of Oxford lor the honour of their subscription, but without success. Their answer was, "That they subscribed to nothing."—"It seems not a little extraordinary." says the offended poet on this occasion, "tnat