Page images

In broom or bracken, heath or wood

Sunk brand and spear and bended bow.

In osiers pale and copses low;

It seem'd as if their mother Earth

Had swallow'd up her warlike birth!

The wind's last breath had toss'd in air,

Pennon, and plaid, and plumage fair—

The пел but swept a lone hill-side,

Where heaih and fern were waving wide;

The sun's latt élance was glinted back,

From spear and glaive, from targe and jack—

The next, all unreflected, shone

On bracken green, and cold grey atone."

pp. 202—205.

The following picture is of a very different character; but touched also with the hand of a trae poet :—

"Yet ere his onward way he took,
The Stranger cast a ling'ring look,
Where easily his eye might reach
The Harper on the islet beach,
Reclin'd against a blighted tree,
As wasted, grey, and worn as he.
To minstrel meditation given,
His rev'rend brow was rais'd to heaven,
As from the rising sun to claim
A sparkle of inspiring вале.
His hand, reclin'd upon the wire,
Seem'd watching the awak'ning fire ¡
So still he sate, as those who wait
Till judgment speak the doom of fate;
So still, as if no breeze might dare
To lift one lock of hoary hair;
So still, as life itself were fled,
In the last sound his harp had sped.
Upon a rock with lichens wild,
Beside him Ellen sate and smil'd," &c.

pp. 50, 51.

Though these extracts have already extended this article beyond all reasonable bounds, we cannot omit Ellen's introduction to the court, and the transformation of FitzJames into the King of Scotland. The unknown prince, it will be recollected, himself conducts her into the royal presence :—

"With beating heart, and bosom wrung,
As to a brother's arm she clung.
Gently he dried the falling tear,
And gently whisper'd hope and cheer;
Her lalt'ring steps half led. half siaid,
Through gallery fair and high arcade,
Till, at his touch, ils wings of pride
A portal arch unfolded wide.

"Within 'twas brilliant all and light,
A thronging scene of figure« bright;
It glow'd on Ellen's dazzled sight,
As when the setting sun has given
Ten thousand hues to summer even,
And. from their tissue fancy frames
Aerial knights and fairy dames.
Still by Fitz-James her fooling staid;
A few faint steps she forward made.
Then slow her drooping head she rais'd,
And fearful round the presence gaz'd;
For him she sought, who own'd this state,
The dreaded prince, whose will was fale!
She gaz'd on many a princely port,
Might well have rul'd a royal court;
On many a splendid garb she caz'd—
Then tr*n'd bewilder'd and amaz'd.
For all stood hare; and, in the room,
Fitz-James alone wore cap and plume!
To him each lady's look was lent.
On him each courtier's eye was bent;
Midst furs and silks and jewels sheen,
He stood, in simple Lincoln green,
The centre of the gliti'ring ring !—
And Snowdoun's Knight is Scotland's King!

"As wreath of snow on mountain breast,
Slides from the rock lhat gave it rest,
Poor Ellen elided from her stay.
A nd at ih* Monarch's feet she lay;
No word her choking voice commands-
She show'd the ring — she clasp'd her hands.
О! not a moment could he brook,

The gen'rous prince, that suppliant look! Gently he rais'd her — and the while

e gen'ro

ntly he

Cheek'd with n glance the circle's smile;
Graceful, but grave, her brow he kise'd,
And bade her terrors be dismiss'd :—
1 Yes, Fair! the wand'ring poor Fitz-James
The fealty of Scotland claims.
To him thy woes, thy wishes, bring;
He will redeem his signet ring,' " i.e.

pp.281— «64.

We cannot resist adding the graceful wind ing up of the whole story :—

"' Malcolm, come forth !' — And. and at the woii
Down kneel'd the Grame to Scotland's Lord.
'For thee, rash youth, no suppliant sues.
From thee may Vengeance claim her dues,
Who, nurtur'd underneath our smile,
Has paid our care by treach'rous wile,
And sought, amid thy faithful clan,
A refuge for an oullaw'd man,
Dishonouring thus thy loyal name. —
Fetters and warder for the Graeme!'
His chain of gold the King unstrung,
The links o'er Malcolm's neck he flung.
Then gently drew the glitt'ring band;
And laid the clasp on Ellen's hand !" — p. 2?.-.

There are no separate introductions to ih-1 cantos of this poem; but each of them begins with one or two stanzas in the mesero of Spenser, usually containing gome reiV :•• lions connected with the subject about t» !» entered on; and written, for the most p»rt, with great tenderness and beauty. The following, we think is among the most strikire .—

"Time rolls his ceaseless course! The race of Tor

Who danc'd our infancy upon their knee. And told our marvelling boyhood legends «or«,

Of their strange ventures happ'd by land or <fi How are they blotted from the things that bf!

How few, all weak and wither'd of their font, Wait, on the verge of dark eternity,

Like stranded wrecks — the tide returning hotnt. To sweep them from our sight! Time rolb be ceaseless course!

"Yet live there still whrf can remember wcD, How, when a moumain chief hi« bogle bit*," &.C.— pp. 97, 98.

There is an invocation to the Harp of tie North, prefixed to the poem; and a farewell subjoined to it in the нате measure, vnn-r and versified, it appears to us, with more th.r. Mr. Scott's usual care. We give two ot ¡he three stanzas that compose the last :—

"Harp of the North, farewell! The bill« pc« dark.

On purple peaks a deeper shade dwcendirc: In twilight copse the glow-worm lights her -p"^l

The deer, half-seen, are to ihe coven »en*' S Resume thy wizard elm! the fountain Irndmc

And the wild breeze, thv wilder mirairel'V: Thv numbers sweet wiihNnture's »espfre blfnt^z

With disiant echo from the fold and lea. And herd-boy's evening pipe, and hum oí bou* ing bee.

"Hark! as my line'ring footstep« »low retín.

Some Spirit of ihe Air has wak'd thyjtrini' 'Tie now a Seraph bold, wiih touch of firf;

'Tie now the brush of Fairy's frolic wing.

Receding now, the dying numbers ring

Fainter and fainter down ihe rugged dell! And now the mountain breezes scarcely brine

A wand'ring witch-note of the distant spell— And now,'tis silent all !—Enchantress, fare thee

well !"—pp. 289, 290.

These passages, though taken with very little selection, are favourable specimens, we think, on the whole, of the execution of the «oik before us. We had marked several of an opposite character; but, fortunately for Mr. Scott, we have already extracted so much, that we shall scarcely have room to take any notice of them; and must condense all our vituperation into a very insignificant compass. One of two things, however, we think it our doty to point out. Though great pains have evidently been taken with Brian the Hermit. we think his whole character a failure, and mere deformity—hurting the interest of the siory by its improbability, and rather heavy ami disagreeable, than sublime or terrible in its details. The quarrel between Malcolm and Roderick, in the second canto, is also ungraceful and offensive. There is something foppish, and out of character, in Malcolm's rising to lead out Ellen from her own parlour; and the sort of wrestling match that takes place between the rival chieftains on the occasion is humiliating and indecorous. The Greatest blemish in the poem, however, is the ribaldry and dull vulgarity which is put into the mouths of the soldiery in the guard-room. Mr. Scott has condescended to write a song tor them, which will be read with pain, we are persuaded, even by his warmest admirers: and his whole genius, and even his power of versification, seems to desert him when he attempts to repeat their conversation. Here i? some of the stuff which has dropped, in this inauspicious attempt, from the pen of one of the first pouts of his age or country :—

"' Old dost thou wax, and wars grow sharp;
Thou now hast glee-maiden and harp,
Get thee an ape, and trudge the land,
The leader of a juggler band.'—

"' No, comrade !—no such fortune mine.
After the fight, these sought our line.
That aged harper and the girl;
And, having audience of the Earl,
Mar bade I should purvey them steed.
And bring them hitherward with speed.
Forbear your mirth and rude alarm,
For none «ball do ihem shame or harm.'—
'Hear ye his boast !' cried John of Brent,
Ever to strife and jangling bent:
'Shall he strike doe beside our lodge,
And yet the jealous niggard grudge
To pay the forester his tee!
I'll have my share, howe'er it be.'"

pp. 250, 251.

Hie Highland freebooters, indeed, do not use a much nobler style. For example :—

"' It is, because last evening-tide
Brian an augury hath tried,
Of that dread kind which must not be
Unless in dread extremity,
The Taghairm call'd; by which, afar,
Our sires foresaw the events of war.
Duncragsan's milk-white bull they slew.'—
'Ah! well the gallant brute I knew;
The choicest ot the prey we had.
When swept our merry-men Gallangad.
Sore did be cumber our retreat;

And kept our stoutest kernes in awe,

Even at the pass of Beal 'maha.' "—pp. 146,147.

Scarcely more tolerable are euch expressions as—

"For life is Hugh of Larbert lame ;"—

Or that unhappy couplet, where the King himself is in such distress for a rhyme, as to be obliged to apply to one of the most obscure saints on the calendar.

"'Tis James of Douglas, by Saint Serle;
The uncle of the banish dEarK"

We would object, too, to such an accumulation of strange words as occurs in these three lines :—

"' Fleet foot on the correi;
Sage counsel , . Cumber;
Red hand in the foray,' " &c.

Nor can we relish such babyish verses as

"' He will return :—dear lady, trust :— With joy, return. He will—he must.'"

"' Nay, lovely Ellen! Dearest ! nay.'"

These, however, and several others that might be mentioned, are blemishes which may well be excused in a poem of more than five thousand lines, produced so soon after another still longer: and though they are blemishes which it is proper to notice, because they are evidently of a kind that may be corrected, it would be absurd, as well as unfair, to give them any considerable weight in our general estimate of the work, or of the powers of the author. Of these, we have already spoken at sufficient length; and must now take an abrupt leave of Mr. Scott, by expressing our hope, and tolerably confident expectation, of soon meeting with him again. That he may injure his popularity by the mere profusion of his publications, is no doubt possible ; though many of the most celebrated poets have been among the most voluminous: but, that the public must gain by this liberality, does not seem to admit of any question. If our poetical treasures were increased by the publication of Marmion and the Lady of the Lake, notwithstanding the existence of great faults in both those works, it is evident that we should be still richer if we possessed fifty poems of the same merit; and, therefore, it is for our interest, whatever it may be as to his, that their author's muse should continue as prolific as she has hitherto been. If Mr. Scott will only vary his subjects a little more, indeed, we think we might engage to insure his own reputation against any material injury from their rapid parturition ; and, as we entertain very great doubts whether much greater pains would enable him to write much better poetry, we would rather have two beautiful poems, with the present quantum of faults—than one, with only one-tenth part less alloy. He will always be a poet, we fear, to whom the fastidious will make great objections; but he may easily find, in his popularity, a compensation for their scruples. He has Ihe jury hollow in his favour; and though the court may think that its directions have not been sufficiently attended to, it will not quarrel with the verdie*

il, 1808.)

Poems. By the Reverend George Crabbe. 8vo. pp. 260. London, 1807.*

We receive the proofs of Mr. Crabbe'e poetical existence, which are contained in this volume, with the same sort of feeling that would be excited by tidings of an ancient friend, whom we no longer expected to hear of in this world. We rejoice in his resurrection, both for his sake and for our own: But we feel also a certain movement of self-condemnation, for having been remiss in our inquiries after him, and somewhat too negligent of the honours which ought, at any rate, to have been paid to his memory.

It is now, we are afraid, upwards of twenty years since we were first struck with the vigour, originality, and truth of description of "The Village;" and since, we regretted that an author, who could write so well, should have written so little. From that time to the present, we have heard little of Mr. Crabbe; and fear that he has been in a great measure lost sight of by the public, as well as by us. With a singular, and scarcely pardonable indifference to fame, he has remained, during this long interval, in patient or indolent repose; and, without making a single movement to maintain or advance the reputation he had acquired, has permitted others to

* I have given a larger space to Crabbe in this republicaiion than lo any of hie contemporary poets; not merely because I think more highly of him than of most of them, but also because I fancy that he has had less justice done him. The nature of his subjects was not such as to attract either imitators or admirers, from among the ambitious or fanciful lovers of poetry; or, consequently, to set him at the head of a School, or let him surround himself with the zealots of a Sect: And it must also be admitted, that his claims to distinction depend fully as much on his great powers of observation, his skill in touching the deeper sympathies of our nature, and his power of inculcating, by their means, the most impressive lessons of humanity, as on any fine play of fancy, or grace and beauty in his delineations. I have great faith, however, in the intrinsic worth and ultimate success of those more substantial attributes; and have, accordingly, the strongest impression that the citations I have here given from Crabbe will strike more, and sink deeper into the minds of readers to whom they are new ior by whom they may have been partially forgotten), than any I have been able to present from other writers. It probably is idle enough (as well os a little presumptuous) to suppose that a publication like this will afford many opportunities of testing the truth of this prediction. But, as the experiment is to be made, there can be no harm in mentioning this as one of its objects.

It is but candid, however, after all, to add, that my concern for Mr. Crnbbe's reputation would scarcely have led me to devote near one hundred page« lo the estimate of his poetical merits, had I not set some value on the speculations as to the elements of poetical excellence in general, and its moral bearings and affinities—for the introduction of which this estimate seemed to present an occa•ion, or apology.

usurp the attention which he was sure ¡\ commanding, and allowed himself to lu nearly forgotten by a public, which reckons upon being reminded of all the claims which the living have on its favour. His former publications, though of distinguished menu were perhaps too small in volume to remaní long the objects of general attention, »ad seem, by some accident, to have been jostled aside in the crowd of more clamorous competitors.

Yet, though the name of Crabbe ha? not hitherto been very common in the mouths of our poetical critics, we believe there are lew real lovers of poetry to whom some of his sentiments and descriptions are not secretly familiar. There is a truth and a force in many of his delineations of rustic life, which is calculated to sink deep into the memory; ani being confirmed by daily observation, they 'are recalled upon innumerable occasions— , when the ideal pictures of more fanciful authors have lost all their interest. For ourselves at least, we profess to be indebted ¡o Mr. Crabbe for many of these strong impressions; and have known more than one of our unpoetical acquaintances, who declared they could never pass by a parish workhouse without thinking of the description of it they bad read at school in the Poetical Extracts. The volume before us will renew, we trust, and extend many such impressions. It contains all the former productions of the author, with about double their bulk of new matter; mo«: of it in the same taste and manner of composition with the former; and some of a kind. of which we have had no previous example in this author. The whole, however, is oí no ordinary merit, and will be found, we hartlittle doubt, a sufficient warrant for Mr. Crabbe to take his place as one of the most origina). nervous, and pathetic poets of the preeeni century.

His characteristic, certainly, is force, ami truth of description, joined for the most pan to great selection and condensation of expr» ;sion ;—that kind of strength and originality j which we meet with in Cowper, and that son of diction and versification which we admin? ; in "The Deserted Village" of Goldsmith, or : " The Vanity of Human Wishes •' of Johnson. i If he can be said to have imitated the manner ¡ of any author, it is Goldsmith, indeed, who has been the object of his imitation ; and yet his general train of thinking, and his views of society, are so extremely opposite,, when "The Village" was first published it was commonly considered as an antidote of an answer to the more captivating representations of <:The Deserted Village.'r Compare^ with this celebrated author, he will be fonnfli we think, to have more vigour and less delicacy; and while he must Ъе admitted to be inferior in the fine finish and uniform beauty of his composition, we cannot help considering him as superior, both in the variety and the truth of his pictures. Instead of that uniform tint of pensive tenderness which overspreads the whole poetry of Goldsmith, we find in Mr. Crabbe many gleams of gaiety and humour. Though his habitual views of life are more gloomy than those of his rival, his poetical temperament seems far more cheerful; and when the occasions of sorrow and rebuke are gone by, he can collect himself for sarcastic pleasantry, or unbend in innocent playfulness, ms diction, though generally pure and powerful, is sometimes harsh, and sometimes quaint; and he has occasionally admitted a couplet or two in a state so unfinished, as to ïive a character of inelegance to the passages in which they occur. With a taste less disciplined and less fastidious than that of Goldsmith, he has, in our apprehension, a keener pye for observation, and a readier hand for the delineation of what he has observed. There is less poetical keeping in his whole performance: but the groups of which it consists are conceived, we think, with equal genius, and drawn with greater spirit as well a* far greater fidelity.

It is not quite fair, perhaps, thus to draw a "K'tailed parallel between a Jiving poet, and one whose reputation has been sealed by death, anil by the immutable sentence of a rarvivinj; generation. Yet there are so few of his contemporaries to whom Mr. Crabbe bears anv resr-mblance, that we can scarcely explain our opinion of his merit, without comparing him to some of his predecessors. There is one set of writers, indeed, from whose works those of Mr. Crabbe might rereive all that elucidation which results from contrast, arid from an entire opposition in all points of taste and opinion. We allude now to the Wordsworths, and the Southeys, and ColeridgeS; and all that ambitious fraternity, that, with good intentions and extraordinary talents, are labouring to bring back our poetry to the fantastical oddity and puling childishness of Withers, Quarles, or Marvel. These gentlemen write a great deal about rustic life, as well as Mr. Crabbe; and they even agree with him in dwelling much on its discomforts; but nothing can be more opposite than the views they take of the subject, or the manner in which they execute their representations of them.

Mr. Crabbe exhibits the common people of England pretty much as they are, and as they must appear to every one who will take the trouble of examining into their condition; at the same time that he renders his sketches in a very high degree interesting and beautiful —by selecting what is most fit for description—by grouping them into such forms as must catch the attention or awake the memory—and by scattering over the whole such traits of moral sensibility, of sarcasm, and of deep reflection, as every one must feel to be raturai, and own to be powerful. The gentle

men of the new school, on the other hand, scarcely ever condescend to take their sub je'cts from any description of persons at a. known to the common inhabitants of the world; but invent for themselves certain whimsical and unheard-of beings, to whom they impute some fantastical combination of feelings, and then labour to excite our sympathy for them, either by placing them in incredible situations, or by some strained and exaggerated moralieation of a vague and tragical description. Mr. Crabbe, in short, shows us something which we have all seen, or may see, in real life; and draws from it such feelings and such reflections as every human being must acknowledge that it is calculated to excite. He delights us by the truth, and vivid and picturesque beauty of his representations, and by the force and pathos of the sensations with which we feel that they are connected. Mr. Wordsworth and his associates, on the other hand, introduce us to beings whose existence was not previously suspected by the acutest observers of nature; and excite an interest for them—where they do excite any interest—more by an eloquent and refined analysis of their own capricious feelings, than by any obvious or intelligible ground of sympathy in their situation.

Those who are acquainted with the Lyrical Ballads, or the more recent publications of Mr. Wordsworth, will scarcely deny the justice of this representation; but in order to vindicate it to such as do not enjoy that advantage, we must beg leave to make a few hasty references to the former, and by far the least exceptionable of those productions.

A village schoolmaster, for instance, is a pretty common poetical character. Goldsmith has drawn him inimitably ; so has Shenstone, with the slight change of sex; and Mr. Crabbe, in two passages, has followed their footsteps. Now, Mr. Wordsworth has a village schoolmaster also—a personage who makes no email figure in three or four of his poeme. But by what traits is this worthy old gentleman delineated by the new poet1! No pedantry—no innocent vanity of learning—no mixture of indulgence with the pride of power, and of poverty with the consciousness of rare ac quirements. Every feature which belongs to the situation, or marks the character in common apprehension, is scornfully discarded by Mr. Wordsworth; who represents his greyhaired rustic pedagogue as a sort of half crazy, sentimental person, overrnn with fine feelings, constitutional merriment, and a mosi humorous melancholy. Here are the two stanzas in which this consistent and intelligible character is pourtrayed. The diction i» at least as new as the conception.

"The siehe which Matthew hcav'd were sigh»

Of one tir'd out with/u» and marines*;

The tears which rame to Matthew's eye»

Were tears of light—the oil of gladnen.

"Yet sometimes, when the secret cop

Of still and serious thought went round

He seem'd as if he drank ù яр,
He felt wiih spirit во profound.

Thou nul of God'a be«! earthly mould," be.

A frail damsel again is a character common enough in all poems; and one upon which many fine and pathetic lines have been expended. Mr. Wordsworth has written more than three hundred on the subject: but, instead of new images of tenderness, or delicate representation of intelligible feelings, he has contrived to tell us nothing whatever of the unfortunate fair one, but that her name is Martha Ray; and that she goes up to the top of a hill, in a red cloak, and cries "О misery!" All the rest of the poem is filled with a description of an old thorn and a pond, and of the silly stories which the neighbouring old women told about them.

The sports of childhood, and the untimely death of promising youth, is also a common topic of poetry. Mr. Wordsworth has made some blank verse about it; but, instead of the delightful and picturesque sketches with which so many authors of moderate talents have presented us on this inviting subject, all that he is pleased to communicate of AÎs rustic child, is, that he used to amuse himself with shouting to the owls, and hearing them answer. To make amends for this brevity, the process of his mimicry is most accurately described.

"Wiih fingers interwoven, both hands

Press'd closely palm to palm, and lo his mouth
Uplifted, he, ag through an ineirument,
Blew mimic hootings to the silent owls,
That they might answer him."—

This is all we hear of him; and for the sake of this one accomplishment, we are told, that the author has frequently stood mute, and gazed on his crave for half an hour together!

Love, and the fantasies of lovers, have afforded an ample theme to poets of all ages. Mr. Wordsworth, however, nas thought n't to compose a piece, illustrating this copious subject by one single thought. A lover trots away to see his mistress one fine evening, gazing all the way on the moon; when he comes to her door,

"О mercy! to myself I cried.
If Lucy should be dead!"

And there the poem ends!

Now, we leave it to any reader of common candour and discernment to fay, whether these representations of character and sentiment are drawn from that eternal and universal standard of truth and nature, which every one is knowing enouuh lo recognise, and no one great enough to depart from with impunity; or whether they are not formed, as we have ventured to allege, upon certain fantastic and affected peculiarities in the mind or fancy of the author, into which it is moet improbable that many of his readers will enter, and which cannot, in some cases, be comprehended without much effort and explanation. Instead of multiplying instances of these wide and wilful aberrations from ordinary nature, it may be more satisfactory to produce the author's own admission of the narrowness of the plan upon which he writes, • nd of the very extraordinary circumstances which he himself sometimes thinks it neces

sary for his readers to keep in view, 'f they would wish to understand the beauty or p.'tpriety of his delineations.

A pathetic tale of guilt or superstition mzr be told, we are apt to fancy, by the poet hir.self. in his general character of poet, with fu! i as much effect as by any other person. An old nurse, at any rate, or a monk or parish clerk, is always at hand to give grace to як-h a narration. None of these, however, \von!d satisfy Mr. Wordsworth. He has writer, л long poem of this sort, in which he thinks it indispensably necessary to apprise the that he has endeavoured to represent the language and sentiments of a particular character—of which character, he adds. ЧЬе reader will have a general notion, if he his ever known а тяи, a captain of a small t re*'.,.. vessel, for example, who being part the mi•.'••'. asc of life, has retired upon an anrwi'u.' small independent incomt, to some rtf/a^r <r country, of which he was not a naître, сг т, which he had not been accustomed to live!"

Now, we must be permitted to doubt, whether, among all the readers of Mr. Wor'«worth (few or many), there is a single Jr.ciividual who has had the happiness of krov: г a person of this very peculiar description: cr who is capable of forming any sort of conjecture of the particular disposition and turn of thinking which such a combination '.'. :'.:• tributes would be apt to produce. To vs. we will confess, the annonce appears as lu.lic^u« and absurd as it would be in the author u: :•.:. ode or an epic to say, "Of this piece the reader will necessarily form a yen- erroneous judgment, unless he is apprised, that it wa< written by a pale man in a green coat—':!' cross-lesged on an oaken stool—with a ferrai; on his nose, and a spelling dictionary on ihe table."»

* Some of our readers may have а согюк'у 'о know in what manner this old anncrant c^;' does actually express himself in the village .f h? adoption. For their gratification, we annei the i»o first stanzas of his story; in which, with all the attention we have been able to bestow, we h»ve !«r. utterly unable to detect any traits that can be repposed to characterise either a seaman, an annul!««. or n stranger in a country town. It is a style. on the contrary, which we should escribe, without hesitation, to a certain poetical fraternity in 'I* West of England; and which, we verily btl*rf. never was, and never will be, used by any ont "Л of that fraternity.

"There is a thorn — it look« so old.

In truth you'd find it hard to say.
How it could ever have been young '.

It looks so old and grey.
Not higher than a two- years' child,

II flands errcl; this aged thorn!
No leaves it has, no thorny points;
It is a mass of knotted joints:

A wretched thing forlorn,
// ttandt erect; and like a atone,
With lichens it is overgrown.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »