« PreviousContinue »
ants of the Goth and the Roman, and ciples indulged—what was this bat a are compounded of those elements camp-meeting? In some future age, which Rome and Palestine, and the a revival in the “Far West," or a forests of Germany, severally contri- company of Millerites expecting their buted towards the formation of what translation into heaven, will be quite we call the Middle Ages. They have as poetical as this Chapter of Mats. the same intellectual pedigree as our- For ourselves, we think that any selves. No Tintern Abbey, or War- genuine exhibition of sentiment, by wick Castle, stands on their rivers, to great numbers of our fellow-men, is a mark the lapse of time; but they must subject worthy of study, and demands ever look back upon the days of the a certain respect. Those, however, monk and of the knight, as the true who can see nothing but absurdity era of romance. Proud as they may and madness in a camp-meeting, be of their Pilgrim Fathers, one would would have walked through the five not limit them to this honourable thousand followers of St Francis with paternity. It is very little poetry they the feeling only of intolerable disgust. would get out of the Mayflower-or Yet so it is, that merely from the philosophy either.
lapse of time, or the obscurity it throws There are, it is true, subjects for over certain parts of the picture, there poetry native to America-new as- are many who find something very spects of nature and of humanity, affecting and sublime in the fanaticism the aboriginal forest, the aboriginal of the thirteenth century, who treat the man, the prairie, the settler, and the same fanaticism with pity or disdain savage. But even in these the when exhibited in the nineteenth. American poet cannot keep a mono- “Miltons and Shakspeares," says poly. Englishmen and Frenchmen an editor of one of the volumes before have visited his forests; they have us, “have not yet sprung from the stolen his Red Indian ; and have only half-tilled soil of the mighty conmade the more interesting picture of tinent; giants have not yet burst him in proportion as they knew less from its forests, with a grandeur equal of the original. Moreover, many of the to their own; but," &c. &c. Doubtpeculiar aspects of human life which less the giant will make his appearAmerica presents may require the ance in due course of time. But what mellowing effect of time, the half if he should never manifest himself in obscurity of the past, to render them the epic of twelve, or twenty-four poetic. The savage is not the only books, or in any long poem whatever? person who requires to be viewed at A number of small poems, beautiful a distance : there is much in the rude, and perfect of their kind, will constiadventurous, exciting life of the first tute as assuredly a great work, and settlers which to posterity may appear found as great a reputation. We are singularly attractive. They often far from thinking that the materials seem to share the power and the skill for poetry are exhausted or dimiof the civilised man, with the passions nished in these latter days. As a of the barbarian. What a scene general rule, in proportion as men when viewed at a distance--must be think, do they feel,-more variously, one of their revivals! A camp-meet- if not more deeply, themselves--and ing is generally described by those more habitually through sympathy who have witnessed it, in the lan- with others. Love and devotion, and guage of ridicule or reproof. But let all the more refined sentiments, are us ask ourselves this question-When heightened in the cultivated mind; St Francis assembled five thousand of and speculative thought itself becomes his followers on the plains of Assisi, a great and general source of emoand held what has been called, in the tion. As almost every man has felt, history of the Franciscan order, " the at one period of his life, the passion Chapter of Mats," because the men of love, so almost every cultivated had no other shelter than rude tents mind has felt, at one period of his made of mats-on which occasion St career, what Wordsworth describes Francis himself was obliged to mode- asrate the excesses of fanaticism and
“ The burden and the mystery fanatical penance in which his dis- Of all this unintelligible world."
We are persuaded that both the brethren in America. We find too materials and the readers of poetry much haste, far too much negligence, will increase and multiply with the and a willingness to be content with spread of education. But there is what has first presented itself. Inapparently a revolution of taste in stead of recognising that the short favour of the lyric, and at the ex- poem ought to be almost perfect, they pense of the epic poet. A long nar- seem to proceed on the quite contrary rative, in verse of any kind, is felt to idea, that because it is brief, it should be irksome and monotonous: it could therefore be hastily written, and that be told so much better in prose. We it would be a waste of time to bestow do not speak of such narrations as much revision upon it. We often The Paradise Lost, where religious meet with a poem where the sentifeeling presides over every part, and ment is natural and poetic, but where where, in fact, the narrative is ab- the effect is marred by this negligent sorbed in the sentiment. If Milton and unequal execution. A verse of were living at this day, there is no four lines shall have three that are reason why he should not choose the good, and the fourth shall limp. Or same theme for his poem. But a piece shall consist but of five verses, Tasso and Ariosto would think long and two out of the number must be before they would now select for their absolutely effaced if you would reflowing stanzas the Jerusalem De- peruse the composition with any livered, or the Orlando Furioso. Such pleasure. Meanwhile there is suffithemes, they would probably con- cient merit in what remains to make clude,' might be far more effectively us regret this haste and inequality. dealt with in prose.
To our own countrymen, as well as Fiction, told as Sir Walter Scott to the American, we would suggest tells it-history, as Macaulay nar- that the small poem may be a great rates—such examples as these put the work; but that, to become so, it reading world, we think, quite out of should not only be informed by noble patience with verse, when applied to thought, it should exhibit no baser the purpose of a lengthy narrative. metal, no glaring inequalities of style, They and others have shown that and, above all, no conflicting, obscure, prose is so much the better vehicle. or half-extricated meanings. We It may be rendered almost equally believe that it would be generally harmonious, and admits of far greater found, if we could penetrate the secret variety of cadence; it may be polished history of really beautiful composiand refined, and yet adapt itself, in tions, that, however brief, and alturns, to every topic that arises. No though they were written at first need here to omit the most curious during some happy hour of inspiraincident, or the most descriptive de- tion, they had received again and tail, because it will not comport with again new touches, and the “fortuthe dignified march of the verse, or of nate erasures" of the poet. By this the versified style. The language process only did they grow to be the here rises and falls naturally with the completely beautiful productions subject, or may be made to do so; which they are. Such exquisite nor is it ever necessary to obscure the lyrics are very rare, and we may meaning, for the sake of sustaining a depend upon it they are not produced wearisome rhythm. If you have a without much thought and labour, long story to tell, by all means tell it joined, as we say, to that happy hour in prose.
of inspiration. But the short poem-need we say Mr Longfellow occupies, and most it?-is not ephemeral because it is worthily, the first place on our list. brief. The most enduring reputation He has obtained, as well by his prose may be built upon a few lyrics. as his poetry, a certain recognised They should, however, not only con- place in that literature of the English tain some beautiful verses--they should language which is common to both be beautiful throughout. And this countries. His Hyperion has been brings us to the only real complaint for some time an established favourite which we, in our critical capacity, amongst a class of readers with whom have to allege against the tuneful to be popular implies a merit of no
vulgar description. Mr Longfellow “ Beside the master, when he spoke, has relied too much, for an inde
A youth, against an anchor leaning, pendent and permanent reputation,
Listened to catch the slightest meaning. on his German and his Spanish
Only the long waves, as they broke
In ripples on the pebbly beach, friends. An elegant and accom- Interrupted the old man's speech, plished writer, a caltivated mind-a critic would be justified in praising his
Beautiful they were in sooth, works, more than the author of them.
The old man and the fiery youth !
The old man, in whose busy brain He has studied foreign literature
Many a ship that sailed the main with somewhat too much profit. We Was modelled o'er and o'er again ;bave no critical balance so fine as The fiery youth, who was to be would enable us to weigh out the
The heir of his dexterity, two distinct portions of merit which
The heir of his house and his daughter's
hand, may be due to an author, first as an When he had built and launched from land original writer, and then as a taste- What the elder head had planned. ful and skilful artist, who has known how and where to gather and trans
• Thus,' said he, will we build this ship! plant, to translate, or to appropriate.
Lay square the blocks upon the slip, It is a distinction which, as readers,
And follow well this plan of mine :
Choose the timbers with greatest care, we should be little disposed to make, Of all that is unsound beware ; but which, as critics, we are com- For only what is sound and strong pelled to take notice of. We should To this vessel shall belong. not impute to Mr Longfellow any
Cedar of Maine and Georgia pine
Here together shall combine. flagrant want of originality ; but a
A goodly frame and a goodly fame, fine appreciation of thoughts pre- And the Union be her name! sented to him by other minds, and For the day that gives her to the sea the skill and tact of the cultivated Shall give my daughter unto thee !" artist, are qualities very conspicuous in his writings. Having once taken
Under such auspices the vessel notice of this, we have no wish to grows day by day. The mention of press it further; still less would we
the tall masts, and the slender spars, allow his successful study, and his carry the imagination of the poet to bold and felicitous imitations of the the forest where the pine-trees grew. writings of others, to detract from We cannot follow him in this excurthe merit of what is really original in sion, but here is a noble description his own.
of some part of the process of the What a noble lyric is this, “ The building of the ship :Building of the Ship!” It is full of the spirit of Schiller. A little more
“ With oaken brace and copper band of the file—something more of har
Lay the rudder on the sand,
That, like a thought, should have control mony-and it would have been quite
Over the movement of the whole ; worthy of the name of Schiller. The And near it the anchor, whose giant hand interweaving of the two subjects, the Should reach down and grapple with the building and launching of the vessel,
land, with the marriage of the shipbuilder's
And immovable, and fast
Hold the great ship against the bellowing daughter, and the launching of that
blast!" other bride on the waters of life, is very skilfully managed; whilst the At length all is finished — the name of the ship, The Union, gives vessel is built:the poet a fair opportunity of introducing a third topic in some patriotic “ There she stands, allusions to the great vessel of the With her foot upon the sands, state :
Decked with flags and streamers gay,
In honour of her marriage-day; “Build me straight, 0 worthy Master ! Her snow-white signals fluttering, blendStanch and strong, a goodly vessel,
ing, That shall laugh at all disaster,
her like a veil descending, And with wave and whirlwind wrestle !" Ready to be Such is the merchant's injunction
The bride of the grey old sea. to the master-builder, who forthwith On the deck another bride proceeds to fulfil it.
Is standing by her lover's side,
Shadows from the flags and shrouds, the Seaside.” A series of companionLike the shadows cast by clouds,
pictures bear the name of, " By the Broken by many a sunny fleck, Fall around them on the deck.
Fireside.” We may as well proceed with a few extracts from these. The
following are from some verses on Then the master
" The Lighthouse."
“ The mariner remembers when a child Loud and sudden there was heard,
On his first voyage, he saw it fade and All around them and below,
sink ; The sound of hammers, blow on blow, And, when returning from adventures wild, Knocking away the shores and spurs.
He saw it rise again on ocean's brink. And see! she stirs ! She starts-she moves-she seems to feel Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same The thrill of life along her keel,
Year after year, thro’all the silent night And spurning with her foot the ground,
Burns on for evermore that quenchless With one exulting joyous bound
flame, She leaps into the ocean's arms !
Shines on that inextinguishable light ! And lo! from the assembled crowd
The startled waves leap over it ; the storm There rose a shout prolonged and loud,
Smites it with all the scourges of the rain, That to the ocean seemed to say
And steadily against its solid form * Take her, O bridegroom old and grey,
Press the great shoulders of the hurriTake her to thy protecting arms, With all her youth and all her charms!'
This is bold and felicitous: the How beautiful she is! How fair She lies within those arms that press
following, to “ The Twilight," is in a Her form with many a soft caress
more tender strain. The first verse Of tenderness and watchful care !
we cannot quote : we suspect there is
some misprint in our copy. Mr Sail forth into the sea,
Longfellow could not have written Through wind and wave right onward
Flash the white caps of the sea."
Whether women's caps or men's
nightcaps are alluded to, the image Thy comings and thy goings be !
would be equally grotesque. The poem For gentleness, and love, and trust, continues Prevail o'er angry wave and gust.
" But in the fisherman's cottage Thou too, sail on, O ship of state !
There shines a ruddier light,
And a little face at the window
Peers out into the night.
Close, close it is pressed to the window, We know what master laid thy keel,
As if these childish eyes
Were looking into the darkness
To see some form arise.
And a woman's waving shadow
Is passing to and fro, Fear not each sudden sound and shock!
Now rising to the ceiling, 'Tis of the wave, and not the rock ;
Now bowing and bending low.
What tale do the roaring ocean,
And the night-wind, bleak and wild, In spite of false lights on the shore,
As they beat at the crazy casement,
Tell to that little child ?
And why do the roaring ocean, tears,
And the night-wind, wild and bleak, Our faith triumphant o'er our fears,
As they beat at the heart of the mother, Are all with thee--are all with thee !"
Drive the colour from her cheek?" This noble ode leads the van of a Mr Longfellow understands how to ill collection of poems called, “By leave off-how to treat a subject so
THE OLD CLOCK ON THE STAIRS,
that all is really said, yet the ear is “ Suspiria," solemn as the subject is, left listening for more. "By the the thought trembles on the verge of Fireside" is a series, of course, of the ridiculous. But, leaving these mere domestic sketches. The sub
poems, By the Seaside," and "By jects, however, do not always bear the Fireside," we shall find a better any distinct reference or relation to instance of this tendency to a certain this title. That from which we feel quaintness in another part of the most disposed to quote is written on volume before us. The * Old Clock some " Sand of the Desert in an on the Stairs" is a piece which invites Hour-Glass.” It has been always a a few critical observations. It is favourite mode of composition to let good enough to be quoted almost some present object carry the imagi- entirely, and yet affords an example nation, by links of associated thought, of those faults of haste and negligence whithersoever it pleased. This sort and incompleteness which even Mr of reverie is natural and pleasing, but Longfellow has not escaped. must not be often indulged in. It is too easy ; and we soon discover that any topic thus treated becomes endless, and will lead us, if we please,
“ L'éternité est une pendule, dont le balan
cier dit et redit sans cesse ces deux mots seuleover half the world. At length it
ment dans le silence des tombeaux : 'Toujours ! becomes indifferent where we start
Jamais !--Jamais ! Toujours !'"-JACQUES from. Without witchcraft, one may BRIDAINE, ride on any broomstick into Norway. But the present poem, we think, is a
“ Somewhat back from the village street
Stands the old-fashioned country-seat: very allowable specimen of this mode
Across its antique portico of composition. The poet surveys Tall poplar-trees their shadows throw; this sand of the desert, now confined And from its station in the hall within an hour-glass; he thinks how An ancient time-piece says to allmany centuries it may have blown
· For ever-never!
Never-for ever!' about in Arabia, what feet may have trodden on it-perhaps the feet of Half-way up the stairs it stands, Moses, perhaps of the pilgrims to
And points and beckons with its hands,
From its case of massive oak, Mecca; then he continues
Like a monk who, under his cloak,
Crosses himself, and sighs, ' Alas !! * These have passed over it, or may have With sorrowful voice to all who pass passed!
By day its voice is low and light,
But in the silent dead of night, And as I gaze, these narrow walls expand; Distinct as a passing footstep's fall, Before my dreamy eye
It echoes along the vacant hall, Stretches the desert, with its shifting sand, Along the ceiling, along the floor, Its unimpeded sky,
And seems to say at each chamber door
• For ever-never ! And, borne aloft by the sustaining blast,
In that mansion used to be
Free-hearted Hospitality ; And onward and across the setting sun, His
up the chimney roared, Across the boundless plain,
The stranger feasted at his board ; The column and its broader shadow run, But, like the skeletons at the feast, Till thought pursues in vain.
That warning timepiece never ceased
For ever--never ! The vision vanishes! These walls again
Never--for ever!' Shut out the lurid sun, Shut out the hot immeasurable plain; There groups of merry children played, The half-hour's sand is run !"
There youths and maidens dreaming strayed:
O precious hours ! O golden prime, We notice in Mr Longfellow an
And affluence of love and time! occasional fondness for what is quaint,
Even as a miser counts his gold,
Those hours the ancient timepiece told as if Quarles' Emblems, or some such
• For ever--never ! book, had been at one time a favour
Never--for ever!' ite with him. In the lines entitled