Графични страници
PDF файл

seventy years are distance enough to lend enchantment to our view of Leolin and Edith.

A second and more serious defect (for it is the business of great poets to manufacture exceptions to the rules of treatises on Poetics) is to be found in the construction of the

story itself. We are well aware that there are not many tales yet unsung so beautiful as that of the fair maid of Astolat, which the Laureate's kind fate reserved for him to clothe in English verse; and that we have no right to expect him to be always so fortunate in his subjects. But still we cannot help thinking that the incidents in 'Aylmer's Field' are somewhat trite, and its characters more than somewhat improbable. Its heroine is a model of every Christian virtue; yet she deceives her father, and carries on a clandestine correspondence with her lover. Her pastor is an excellent clergyman; yet when two of his parishioners seek the sanctuary for the first time after their daughter's death, he seizes the opportunity to preach publicly against them. An act surely unbefitting the pulpit of any period or of any country; but simply impossible in that of a decent rector in the decorous Church of England of the eighteenth century. This faulty structure somewhat mars the pleasure we receive from the musical verse and generally vigorous language in which it is clothed. Here and there, too, something overstrained in the expression, seems to sympathise with the exaggerations in the construction, of the poem. There is solemn beauty in its introductory lines:

"Dust are our frames; and, gilded dust, our pride

Looks only for a moment whole and sound; Like that long-buried body of the king, Found lying with his urns and ornaments, Which at a touch of light, an air of heaven, Slipt into ashes, and was found no more.'

[ocr errors]

But in the first line of the story Mr Tennyson's old infelicity in dealing with the higher orders surely reappears. (That, we mean, which


made his aristocratic Vivians so sadly wanting in repose; and which reached its climax in Maud's brother, the "curl'd Assyrian bull!") He calls his heroine's father "Sir Aylmer Aylmer that almighty man, The county God."

Now what do we gain by this profanation of words which immemorial usage has consecrated to one purpose only? They overweight by their exaggeration the satire they were designed to point; and seem to realise on a small scale the cele

brated definition of the crime, which contrived to be not only a crime but a blunder.

Again, nothing can be prettier than the description of Edith and Leolin's childhood, and, for our own part, we much admire the lines which tell us that in the romantic tales with which the boy amused his playmate

"A passion yet unborn perhaps Lay hidden as the music of the moon Sleeps in the plain eggs of the nightingale.” But we do not think such an equivocal expression as the "music of the moon," so inevitably suggesting the "music of the spheres," should have been employed to designate that with which Philomel salutes the goddess of the night. And we must own we are much puzzled to understand in what sense the Indian kinsman who presents Edith with the fatal dagger is called the "costly Sahib." A man who made such handsome gifts to his relatives was anything but costly to them; and large as may have been his pension, we cannot think the poet meant to allude to it as a burden on the East India Company. On the other hand, Edith among the poor forms a very fair picture :—

"So lowly-lovely and so loving, Queenly responsive when the loyal hand Rose from the clay it work'd in as she past, Not sowing hedgerow texts and passing by, Nor dealing goodly counsel from a height That makes the lowest hate it, but a voice Of comfort and an open hand of help, A splendid presence flattering the poor roofs Revered as theirs, but kindlier than them


2 Q

To ailing wife, or wailing infancy Or old bedridden palsy.'

The lovers' parting after their secret has been discovered by Edith's parents is also pretty :

"The rain of heaven, and their own bitter tears,

Tears, and the careless rain of heaven, mixt Upon their faces, as they kiss'd each other In darkness, and above them roar'd the pine."

But then comes the secret correspondence, those letters hidden in the old oak-tree, that poor cripple bribed to deceive his lord, and the aggrieved father claims some of our pity; for not all the harsh colours which paint to us his pride and his wife's insipidity can satisfy us that their only child did right to slight their wishes. Edith's father rages over the intercepted letters:

"Now chafing at his own great self defied, Now striking on huge stumbling-blocks of


In babyisms, and dear diminutives," &c.


and, as we must say, not wholly unprovoked. It is very trying even to a friendly mind to read other people's love-letters. What must it be to a hostile one? We can ourselves scarcely forgive those dear diminutives." We may hope that these unlucky epistles contained none worse than Leo, Edy, and the like; but the expression reminds us painfully of the style of certain letters (rather amusing than instructive) which get every now and then published, to the confusion of their writers. In the last century letter-writing was a stately, grave, and formal thing, even amongst near relations. And we have no doubt that a gentleman of ancient family like Leolin, and the heiress of the good-breeding, though not of the pride, of the Aylmers, could write to one another without forgetting the established proprieties of their day.

Let us pass on to Edith's death. Her parents are in some degree guilty of it, for their unkindness has broken the young spirit's elasticity, which, if happier, might have conquered that low fever, which,

"Ranging round to spy

The weakness of a people or a house, Like flies that haunt a wound, or deer, or men,

Or almost all that is, hurting the hurt— Save Christ as we believe Him-found the girl,

And flung her down upon a couch of fire,
Where, careless of the household faces near,
And crying upon the name of Leolin,
She, and with her the race of Aylmer,

A noble passage that. The simile is at once new and appropriate, and the divine beauty of the exception stands out in stronger relief from its dark background. How good. too, is the description of the day of the funeral sermon !

"Darkly that day rose: Autumn's mock sunshine of the faded

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

What day fitter for sorrow than one which derives its very brightness from decay! The sermon itself is fine; too fine in one sense; for how could the rustics who listened to it have understood its difficult constructions and involved sentences? But there is grandeur in its stern denunciations of the idola

tries of worldliness. There is burning power in the words which brand that worshipper of self, whose flesh

"Fares richly, in fine linen,

even while The deathless ruler of thy dying house Is wounded to the death that cannot die; Thee therefore with His light about thy feet, Thee with His message ringing in thine

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

Runs in a river of blood to the sick sea."

And there is mournful dignity in the sorrow, overpowering anger, which denounces the final woe upon the heartless parents:—

"Will there be children's laughter in their hall

For ever and for ever, or one stone
Left on another, or is it a light thing
That I, their guest, their host, their ancient

I made by these the last of all my race,
Must cry to these the last of theirs, as cried
Christ ere His agony to those that swore
Not by the temple but the gold, and made
Their own traditions God, and slew the

And left their memories a world's curse'Behold,

Your house is left unto you desolate?"" The bereaved mother sinks beneath the weight of these words, and is borne fainting from the church. The father, who in the earlier part of the discourse,

"When it seem'd he saw No pale sheet-lightnings from afar, but fork'd

Of the near storm, and aiming at his head, Sat anger-charmed from sorrow, soldier

like, Erect:'

[blocks in formation]

Imbecile; his one word was 'desolate;' Dead for two years before his death was he."

We are not told with what feelings the Rector read the funeral-service over the two parishioners whom he had insulted in their sorrow.

We have not quoted by any means all the passages we admire in 'Aylmer's Field.' In point of execution, the more we consider this poem, the higher it rises in our es

timation. Nevertheless we cannot help regarding its conclusion as a fresh proof that among the Laureate's many gifts, strong perceptions of dramatic fitness are not the most conspicuous. Averill's Sermon doubtless contains exactly what a man, situated as he was, could not help thinking; but no less certainly what a gentleman and a Christian would, when the mischief was done and the punishment had fallen, have scrupulously refrained from publicly expressing. Why pour the molten lead of those fierce denunciations into wounds yet deeper than his own? Why smite those afresh, whom God had smitten so terribly already? The preacher, arising from his own desolate hearth, like a Prophet of old, to denounce the crime which has laid it waste, is unquestionably a grandly tragic figure. But a deeper sense of the proprieties of character might have enabled its possessor to attain this fine effect without that perilous approach to the unreal and to the theatrical, by which, as it appears to us, it has been purchased in the present instance.

It is time to bestow a glance on the metrical experiments and precious bit of Homeric translation which form a sort of appendix to the volume. They will be a suitable introduction to our brief notice of the poem which we reserve as our favourite to the last, the place of honour.

The question whether any, and if any, which, of the Greek metres, yet unnaturalised, is capable of being permanently transplanted to the English Parnassus, has engaged

our great poets from the days of Spenser and Milton. It interests a very considerable section of the reading public at the present time. So, too, the lovers of the poets are inquiring, more and more eagerly, what is the fittest form in which to present the classical masterpieces to the modern reader? Now on both these questions Mr Tennyson has a good right to be heard. A master of the English language, there are few now living who know its capabilities as he does. Many a passage in his poems testifies to his power of entering into the spirit of Homer. His 'Enone' and his 'Lotos-Eaters' bear witness that he can suffuse the marble forms of classic song with the warm glow of modern feeling. And therefore his verdict on the best method of reproducing the beauties of the ancient poets in English, deserves our most serious attention. So it is with great pleasure that we find ourselves able to quote the Laureate as an authority against the perpetration of English hexameters. It is, we suppose, unquestionable that the translation of a poem should always be executed in the same metre as the original, provided that it is a metre which exists (or is capable of existing) in the language into which the translation is made. If, then, hexameters are a proper form of English verse, into them should Homer undoubtedly be translated. If, on the other hand, the substitution of accent for quantity in modern languages has made true English hexameters impossible, we must fall back on the metre we should conceive Homer would have most likely chosen had he written in English. Mr Tennyson imagines him using the un


"The troops exulting sat in order round, And beaming fires illumined all the ground. As when the moon, refulgent lamp of night!

rhymed Iambic, the metre of the greatest English epic. The Spenserian stanza has of late been skilfully applied to the rendering of the 'Odyssey.' To others the fire of the original seems best represented in the long ballad-metres of fourteen or fifteen syllables, which are certainly in point of length the hexameter's English equivalents. For each of these views there is a good deal to be said; and we gladly take this opportunity of wishing all success to the versatile hand which has lately given us a specimen of a translation of the 'Iliad' in the last named metre (that of Locksley Hall).* Let us also devoutly hope that similar good works may continue to employ that hand so well, that it may have no leisure for the political "mischief" which a nameless being is only too ready to find it to do when "idle!"

Certainly a complete translation of the 'Iliad' which should match that in the volume before us of the conclusion of its eighth book, would leave little to be desired. We cannot exhibit its excellence in a stronger point of view than by printing a few lines of it side by side with Pope's version of the same passage; with an assurance to the English reader that, except the omission of one epithet, paewnv (shining, radiant), applied to the moon, Mr Tennyson's is literally exact. He will thus, on comparing the two, have ocular proof of the strange liberties which Pope took with his original, and of his want of feeling for its beauties; whilst he will admire the precisely opposite qualities of the Laureate as a translator of Homer :

[blocks in formation]

*It is surprising that the writer of an otherwise able article in the Saturday Review,' should have confounded Mr Gladstone's Trochaics of fifteen syllables with Chapman's Iambics of fourteen. The effect of the two lines is of course much the same to the eye, but to the ear they differ very greatly indeed.

+We are inclined to accept the alternative offered to us of "ridge." It seems

O'er heaven's clear azure spreads her sacred light,

When not a breath disturbs the deep


And not a cloud o'ercasts the solemn


Around her throne the vivid planets roll, And stars unnumbered gild the glowing pole,

O'er the dark trees a yellower verdure shed,

And tip with silver ev'ry mountain's head; Then shine the vales, the rocks in prospect rise,

A flood of glory bursts from all the skies: The conscious swains, rejoicing in the sight,

Eye the blue vault and bless the useful light.

So many flames before proud Ilion blaze; And lighten glimmering Xanthus with their rays," &c.

It will be seen at once that Pope's theory of the duties of a translator is to improve on, Tennyson's to preserve, his original. And what shall we say of the sort of tinsel with which the former gilds the refined gold, or the somewhat coarse colours with which he paints the lily, of Homer's beautiful simplicity loading each substantive with an epithet, and piling up extraneous particulars, till Homer's nine lines have grown into sixteen; and till his night-piece (to the great loss of the reader) has been entirely replaced by Pope's? In In Pope the fires have become beaming, the heavens azure, the moon the refulgent lamp of night, without the slightest authority. Nonsense is talked about the planets, which are set rolling round the moon after a fashion strange alike to the peasant and the philosopher. The stars perform functions as unknown to Homer as to us; apparently darting yellow and silvery rays alternately, according to unknown chemical affinities with the objects on which they fall. But where is the crowning glory of the passage, the dσTeros aionp of Homer? It is shut out from our view by the hard, metallic, blue vault which Pope's conscious swains eye; conscious it

As when in heaven the stars about the


Look beautiful, when all the winds are laid,

And every height comes out, and jutting peak

And valley, and the immeasurable heavens Break open to their highest, and all the stars Shine, and the shepherd gladdens in his heart:

So many a fire between the ships and stream

Of Xanthus blazed before the towers of Troy," &c.

is hard to say of what, but perhaps of the fine stage-illumination provided for them; and having eyed, proceed to bless for the useful light it affords them. A great improvement, forsooth, on Homer's lonely shepherd, unconsciously made glad, in his rustic simpleness, by the starry heavens, without stopping to ask of what use they are to him! It is strange to see more ignorance of the aspects of nature in the writer of Sir Isaac Newton's epitaph, than in the oldest of profane authors. Assuredly the generation for whom Pope composed this fancy picture could have cared little for natural beauty. Now turn to Tennyson's version. It is just one line longer than its original : no longer at all, considering the different length of the lines. It attempts the insertion of no new beauties; but how felicitously does it preserve those which exist! How little does it spill of the noble Chian wine in the dangerous transference from goblet to goblet! There is one point we feel scarcely satisfied upon the very unusual position of the verb gladden, here turned from an active to an intransitive. It seems to us peculiarly a translator's business to employ the English which exists, and not

more really what Homer meant, and to give a grander image. In the two last lines, which our comparison does not require us to quote, we think chariots preferable to cars, but would wish the more literal "throned morn (why not fairthroned-morn?) inserted.

« ПредишнаНапред »