Page images
PDF
EPUB

This sounds more like Watts's hymns than a philosophical reflection modified by the spirit of poetry, the highest expression of philosophy. Although somewhat out of keeping, we cannot help here quoting a ludicrous explanation which Leigh Hunt once gave of the difference between philosophy and poetry. He said it was the difference between mutton and venison : and apostrophized “venison as the poetry of mutton !"

In the commencement of the “Hymn to the Night” there is an instance of bad taste in the selection of metaphors, which rarely happens to our author.

“ I heard the trailing garments of the night

Sweep through her marble halls;
I saw her sable skirts all fringed with light

From the celestial walls.”

He redeems this artificial imagery by the following verse :

“I felt her presence, by its spell of might,

Stoop o’er me from above;
The calm majestic presence of the night,
As of the one I love!

“O, holy night! from thee I learn to bear

What man has done before ;
Thou layest thy finger on the lips of care,

And they complain no more!"

We must, however, warn Mr. Longfellow against the indis

criminate use of “stars” and celestial machinery : it shows either a poverty of illustration, or an indolence in searching after new combinations.

In the following he copies some of the puerilities of Wordsworth's earlier poems. It should, however, be borne in mind that the English reformer of verse had an object in view when he thus violently rushed into the opposite extreme, which Longfellow has not. When Wordsworth wrote, the Rosa-Matildaish style was predominant. The moon, stars, and other natural objects were banished from decent poetry, and “luna," "stella,” “ lamps of light,” “ Apollo,” &c., were invoked by the whole regiment. The palate then was so diseased that a violent remedy was required.

“ The night is come, but not too soon,

And sinking silently,
All silently, the little moon

Drops down behind the sky.”

In the “Midnight Mass for the Dying Year,” our American poet has forgotten how completely Alfred Tennyson had anticipated him.

The same remark applies to the poem entitled, “ Woods in Winter :” it is too much like Southey's poem “On Winter." Mr. Longfellow has only to be warned of these coincidences, for we are sure he has too much poetical wealth of his own to render borrowing from another necessary.

The great fault of many of the poems before us is their elegant diffusiveness : they would have been twice as good had they been only half as long. There is, however, a want of condensation in most of his productions.

As a proof of success in the difficult department of sonnet writing, we shall quote one on

“ DANTE.

“ Tuscan, that wanderest through the realms of gloom,

With thoughtful pace, and sad majestic eyes,
Stern thoughts and awful from thy soul arise,
Like Farinata from his fiery tomb.
Thy sacred song is like the trump of doom!
Yet in thy heart what human sympathies,
What soft compassion glows, as in the skies

The tender stars their clouded lamps relume !
Methinks I see thee stand, with pallid cheeks,
By Fra Hilario, in his diocese,
As up the convent walls, in golden streaks,
The ascending sunbeams mark the day's decrease.
And as he asks what there the stranger seeks,
Thy voice along the cloister whispers, ' Peace !

Our limits will not allow us to bestow any space upon “ Kavanagh.” Although in prose, there is too much poetry in Longfellow's mind to take him into the lower region of art, without a constant return to the loftier realms. Its popularity renders quotation needless. We shall, therefore, content ourselves by stating that it displays powers of observation and skill in writing of the peculiarities of New England life, we did not give our author credit for.

We conclude this attempt to examine the works of a popular poet by the opinion that his great want is self-reliance. He is too apt to consult poetical precedents, instead of boldly chalking out a path for himself. His very studies have been against him. When a poet trusts to another for his thoughts he will soon lose his individuality. We do not say this has actually happened to Mr. Longfellow, but we see many evidences of a tendency to indulge in that fatal habit, which we think in his case springs more from indolence than want of power. Let him resolutely think and write for himself, retaining his force, elegance, and purity of diction, but throwing from him his undue elaboration and diffusiveness of execution : let him care less for what others have written, and more of what he ought and can write, and boldly throwing away his artificial supports, soar unaided into an element of his own : let him scorn another's balloon, and boldly take to his own wings, and then America will have reason to consider as one of her best poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

WILLIAM H. PRESCOTT.

MR. PRESCOTT seems to us to combine many of the qualities requisite to make a popular historian. Less philosophical than Hume, he is more graphic and interesting; and the charm of his narrative so far exceeds the cold and dispassionate style of Hallam, as to give him a decided advantage over that classical and condensed historian. We must not, however, forget that the subjects treated of by Mr. Prescott are his own selection, and the most attractive on record. The unbaring to the eyes of the old world the other half so long buried in the western waters, is undoubtedly the greatest marvel in the history of the world. It is almost tantamount to some adventurous spirit reaching the moon and leading his companions to explore its mysterious recesses. It may be doubted if curiosity is not the controlling passion of the large majority of human kind, and mystery is the greatest provocative to its exercise existing. The discovery of America roused the known world into an activity unparalleled in history. Had a new planet suddenly swung alongside our earth, and courted millions by the easiest of conveyances to land and trace its wonders, not more astonishment could have

« PreviousContinue »