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those written for special occasions, and in some degree manufactured to order; and those which commemorate events in his domestic life, and which accordingly have more of the heart's spontaneous music. Although those of the first class display to greater advantage his skill in versification, and the extent of his intellectual resources, they are not so instinct with the poetical spirit as his less ambitious efforts. His prologues are the best which have been written since the time of Pope. His “Shakspeare Ode” has hardly been exceeded by anything in the same manner, since Gray's “Progress of Poetry.” But the true power and originality of the man are manifested in his domestic pieces. “The Brothers,” “I see Thee still,” and “the Family Meeting,” are the finest consecrations of natural affection in our literature. The pathos of Bryant is so deeply tinged with the spirit of meditation, that it is rather the philosophy of grief than its direct expression. His regrets flow through his reason and imagination, but those of Sprague seem to gush directly from the heart. There is a purity, a sweetness, a true home-like feeling, in the little domestic pieces of the latter, to which none but a fribble or a roué can be insensible. They can be read again and again, with a delight which is ever renewed. The true soul of human affection is in them, and “waxes not old.” A composition which dazzles at first sight by gaudy epithets, or brilliant turns of expression, or glittering trains of imagery, may fade gradually from the mind, and leave no enduring impression; but words which flow fresh and warm from a full heart, and which are instinct with the life and breath of human feeling, pass into household memories, and partake of the immortality of the affections from which they spring.
The spiritual tone of these beautiful embodiments of sensibility is exquisitely fine and touching; and the tone of a poem is, after all, its most enduring excellence. Images, metaphors, subtle and delicate phrases, may glide away from the mind, and yet the soul by which they were animated remain. There is much confusion produced in criticism by not discriminating between the form and the essence of poetry. In “Childe Harold” there is probably displayed more of the radiant vesture of the imagination than in any poem of the present age; yet the tone of one half of that splendid apotheosis of misanthropy and egotism is unpoetical. Its effect is merely to stir and to sting. It leaves an impression on the memory which may be called almost disagreeable. We feel that the author's spiritual life was inharmonious, —that the tone of his mind was not pure. On the other hand, in many of Wordsworth's early compositions, where the versification is harsh or slovenly, and the diction mean and meagre, the tone is often fine and poetical, the “white radiance” of his soul shining through his homeliest verbal expression. To attempt to analyze the tone of a poem would be useless. It is an object of inward perception. It is
“The viewless spirit of a lovely sound,
It may be compared to the murmur of a brook as heard in a dream. When good, it is the very music of a soul which contains no jarring string. The tone of Sprague's domestic poems is, as we have already stated, very pure and harmonious. The swelling diction, the wide command of language and imagery, the deliberate and elaborated frenzy, of his long odes, will hardly bear comparison, in point of true poetic excellence, with his quiet pictures of fireside joys and sorrows. The latter illustrate the truth, that gentleness is power. There is more real strength in them than in all the clang and clatter which words can be easily made to produce, when employed by a cunning rhetorician. We extract the little poem of “The Brothers,” in illustration of our meaning. No dominion over the mere shows of poetical expression could enable a man, without a full heart, to write anything equal to it.
“We are but two, -the others sleep
“Heart leaps to heart, — the sacred flood
“We in one mother's arms were locked, –
“Our boyish sports were all the same,
“We are but two, -be that the band
In the lines on the death of M. S. C., there is much mournful beauty and tenderness.
“I knew that we must part, — day after day
We cannot resist the desire to make two more extracts from this little collection of domestic pieces.
Mr. Griswold tells the story of a compliment paid to Sprague, which is worthy of note. A British officer discovered the poem of “Curiosity” straying about, orphanlike, in Calcutta, and in the absence of its father, adopted it as his own child, and gave it the first place among the progeny of his brain. After circulating widely in the East Indies as an English production, it was reprinted in London, and received the critical honors of the British press. The poem itself is deservedly popular, and Mr. Griswold has displayed good taste in printing the whole of it among his selections. The general harmony of its numbers; its agreeable alternations of sentiment and satire; its numerous pictures of life, character, and manners; its vigorous thought and brilliant wit, and the genial spirit which animates it throughout, are qualities which universally please. Though there is much honest and hearty indignation in the production directed against the follies and crimes of society, Sprague is hardly a satirist in any unkindly sense of the word. He lashes artifice and quackery with great force, it is true; but in doing it, he rather expresses the natural contempt and dislike of a clear-headed, right-hearted man for silliness and sin, than the labored invective of a didactic denouncer of mankind, edging rebuke.with a venomous sneer, and more solicitous of antithesis than truth. He never dips his pen in scorn's “fiery poison.” The spirit of beauty and humor seems to accompany and direct the sarcasm, whenever it is launched at the lighter branches of the fooleries and errors of the day; and it rarely becomes deep and uncompromising, except when it is shot at brazen infamy or brainless pretension. No one can read “Curiosity” without perceiving that its author has a most exact sense of moral distinctions, as well as a fine