« ПредишнаНапред »
stition may fill a limited circle with beautiful images, but it chills and confines the fancy, almost as strictly as it limits the reasoning faculties. The mythology of Greece, for example, while it peopled earth with a thousand glorious shapes, shut out the free grace of nature from poetic vision, and excluded from the ken the high beatings of the soul. All the lovelinesses of creation, and all the qualities, feelings, and passions, were invested with personal attributes. The soft evening's sigh was the breath of Zephyr-the streams were celebrated, not in their rural clearness, but as visionary nymphs and ocean, that old agitator of sublimest thoughts, gave place, in the imagination, to a trident-bearing god. The tragic muse almost “ forgot herself to stone,” in her lone contemplations of destiny. No wild excursiveness of fancy marked their lighter poems--no majestical struggle of high passions and high actions filled the sceneno genial wisdom threw a penetrating, yet lovely, light on the silent recesses of the bosom. The diffusion of a purer faith restored to poetry its glowing affections, its far-searching intelligence, and its excursive power. And not only this, but it left it free to use those exquisite figures, and to avail itself of all the chaste and delicate imagery, which the exploded superstition first called into being. In the stately regions of imagination, the wonders of Greek fable yet have place, though they no longer hide from our view the secrets of our nature, or the long visias which extend to the dim verge of the moral horizon. Well, indeed, does a great living poet assert their poetic existence, under the form of defending the science of the stars :
“ For Fable is Love's world, his home, his birth-place;
Delightedly dwells he 'mong lays and talismans,
"Tis Jupiter who brings whate'er is great,
And Venus that brings every thing that's fair!" a The poet is the inheritor of the imaginative treasures of all creeds which reason has now exploded. The dim and gigantic shadows of the north—the gentle superstitions of the Greeks——the wild and wondrous prodigies of Arabian enchantment—the dark rites of magic, more heart-stirring than all—have their places in the vast region of his soul. When we climb above the floating mists which have so long overspread humanity, to breathe a purer air, and gaze on the unclouded heavens, we do not lose our feeling of veneration for majestic errors, vor our sense of their glories. Instead of wandering in the region of cloud, we overlook it all, and behold its gorgeous varieties of arch, minaret, dome, or spire, without partaking in its delusions.
But we have no need of resort to argument, in order to show .that genius is not gradually declining. A glance at its productions, in the present age, will suffice to prove the gloomy mistake of desponding criticism. We will sketch very lightly over the principal living authors, to illustrate this position-satisfied that the mere mention of their names will awaken, within our readers, recollections of delight, far more than sufficient triumphantly to contravene the theory of those who believe in the degeneracy of genius.
And first–in the great walk of poesy—is Wordsworth, who, if he stood alone, would vindicate the immortality of his art. He has, in his works, built up a rock of defence for his species, which will resist the mightiest tides of demoralizing luxury. Setting aside the varied and majestic harmony of his verse--the freshness and the grandeur of his descriptions—the exquisite softness of his delineations of character and the high and rapturous spirit of his choral songs—we may produce his “divine philosophy” as unequalled by any preceding bard. And surely it is no small proof of the infinity of the resources of genius, that, in this late age of the world, the first of all philosophic poets should have arisen, to open a new vein of sentiment and thought, deeper and richer than yet had been laid bare to mortal eyes. His rural pictures are as fresh and as lively as those of Cowper, yet how much lovelier is the poetic light which is shed over them! His exhibition of gentle peculiarities of character, and dear immunities of heart, is as true and as genial as that of Goldsmith, yet how much is its interest heightened by its intimate connection, as by golden chords, with the noblest and most universal truths! His little pieces of tranquil beauty are as holy and as sweet as those of Collins, and yet, while
a Coleridge's translation of Schiller's Wallenstein.
we feel the calm of the elder poet gliding into our souls, we catch farther glimpses through the luxuriant boughs into the highest heaven of invention.” His soul mantles as high with love and joy, as that of Burns, but yet “ how bright, how solemn, how serene,” is the brimming and lucid stream! His poetry not only discovers, within the heart, new faculties, but awakens within, its untried powers, to comprehend and to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom.
Not less marvellously gifted, though in a far different manner, is Coleridge, who, by a strange error, has been usually regarded as belonging to the same school, partaking of the same peculiarities, and upholding the same doctrines. Instead, like Wordsworth, of seeking the sources of sublimity and of beauty in the simplest elements of humanity, he ranges through all history and science, investigating all that has really existed, and all that has had foundation only in the strangest and wildest minds, combining, condensing, developing, and multiplying the rich products of his research with marvellous facility and skill; now pondering fondly over some piece of exquisite loveliness, brought from a wild and unknown recess; now tracing out the hidden germ of the eldest and most barbaric theories; and now calling fantastic spirits from the vasty deep, where they have slept since the dawn of reason. The term, “myriad-minded,” which he has happily applied to Shakspeare, is truly descriptive of himself. He is not one, but Legion—"rich with the spoils of time,” richer in his own glorious imagination and sportive fantasy. There is nothing more wonderful than the facile majesty of his images, or rather of his worlds of imagery, which, even in his poetry or his prose, start up before us self-raised and all perfect, like the palace of Aladdin. He ascends to the sublimest truths, by a winding tract of sparkling glory, which can only be described in his own language
“the spirits' ladder,
The central sun with ever-narrowing orbit." In various beauty of versification, he has never been exceeded. Shakspeare, doubtless, has surpassed him in linked sweetness and exquisite continuity, and Milton in pure majesty and classic grace --but this is in one species of verse only—and, taking all his trials of various metres, the swelling harmony of his blank verse, the sweet breathing of his gentler odes, and the sybil-like flutter alternate with the murmuring charm of his wizard spells, we doubt if even these great masters have so fully developed the music of the Vol. II.
English tongue. He has yet completed no adequate memorials of his genius ; yet it is most unjust to assert, that he has done nothing or little. To refute this assertion, there are, his noble translation of Wallenstein—his love-poems of intensest beauty-bis Ancient Mariner, with its touches of profoundest tenderness amidst the wildest and most bewildering terrors-his holy and most sweet tale of Christabel, with its rich enchantments, and its richer humanities —the depths, the sublimities, and the pensive sweetnesses of his tragedy-the heart-dilating sentiments scattered through his “Friend" --and the stately imagery which breaks upon us at every turn of the golden paths of his metaphysical labyrinths. And, if he has a power within him mightier than that which even these glorious creations indicate, shall he be censured because he has deviated from the ordinary course of the age, in its developement; and, instead of committing his imaginative wisdom to the press, has delivered it from his living lips! He has gone about in the true spirit of an old Greek bard, with a noble carelessness of self, giving fit utterance to the divine spirit within him. Who that has heard can ever forget him—bis mild benignity—the unbounded variety of his knowledge—the fast succeeding products of his imagination—the child-like simplicity with which he rises, from the driest and commonest theme, into the widest magnificence of thought, pouring on the soul a stream of beauty and of wisdom, to mellow and enrich it for ever? The seeds of poetry, which he has thus scattered, will not perish. The records of his fame are not in books only, but on the fleshly tablets of young hearts, who will not suffer it to die even. in the general ear, however base and unfeeling criticism may deride their gratitude !
Charles Lamb is as original as either of these, within the smaller circle which he has chosen. We know not of any writer, living or dead, to whom we can fitly liken him. The exceeding delicacy of his fancy, the keenness of his perceptions of truth and beauty, the sweetness and the wisdom of bis humour, and the fine interchange and sportive combination of all these, so frequent in his works, are entirely and peculiarly his own. As it has been said of Swift, that his better genius was his spleen, it may be asserted of Lamb, that his kindliness is his inspiration. With how nice an eye does he detect the least hitherto unnoticed indication of goodness, and with how true and gentle a touch does he bring it out to do good to our natures ! How new and strange do some of his more fantastical ebullitions seem, yet how invariably do they come home to the very core, and smile at the heart! He makes the majesties of imagination seem familiar, and gives to familiar things a pathetic beauty or a venerable air. Instead of finding that every thing in his writings is made the most of, we always feel that the tide of sentiment and thought is pent in, and that the airy and va
riegated bubbles spring up from a far depth in the placid waters. The loveliness of his thought looks, in the quaintness of his style, like a modest beauty, laced in and attired in a dress of the superb fashion of the elder time. His versification is not greatly inferior to that of Coleridge, and it is, in all its best qualities, unlike that of any other poet. His heroic couplets are alternately sweet, terse, and majestical; and his octo-syllabic measures have a freeness and completeness, which mark them the pure Ionic of verse.
Barry Cornwall, with the exception of Coleridge, is the most genuine poet of love, who has, for a long period, appeared among us. There is an intense and passionate beauty, a depth of affection, in his little dramatic poems, which appear even in the affectionate triflings of his gentle characters. He sweetly illustrates that holiest of human emotions, which, while it will twine itself with the frailest twig, or dally with the most evanescent shadow of creation, wasting its excess of kindliness on all around it, is yet able to “look on tempests and be never shaken." Love is gently omnipotent in his poems; accident and death itself are but passing clouds, which scarcely vex and which cannot harm it. The lover seems to breathe out his life in the arms of his mistress, as calmly as the infant sinks into its softest slumber. The fair blossoms of his genius, though light and trembling at the breeze, spring from a wide, and deep, and robust stock, which will sustain far taller branches without being exhausted. In the vision where he sees "the famous Babylon," in his exquisite sonnets, and yet more in his Marcian Colonna, has he shown a feeling and a power for the elder venerableness of the poetic art, which we are well assured, he is destined successfully to develope.
Some of our readers will, perhaps, wonder that we have thus long delayed the mention of the most popular of the living poets. But, though we have no desire to pass them by, we must confess, that we do not rest chiefly on them our good hope for English genius. Lord Byron's fame has arisen, we suspect, almost as much from an instinctive awe of his nobility, and from a curiosity to know the secrets of his diseased soul, which he so often partially gratifies, as from the strength and turbid majesty of his productions. His mind is, however, doubtless cast in no ordinary mould. His chief poetic attributes appear, to us, to be an exceedingly quick sensibility to external beauty and grandeur, a capability and a love of violent emotion, and a singular mastery of language. He has no power over himself, which is the highest of all qualifications for a poet as it is for a man. He has no calm meditative greatness, no harmonizing spirit, no pure sense of love and of joy. He is as far beneath the calmly imaginative poets, as the region of tempests and storms is below the quiet and unclouded heavens. He excites intense feeling, by leading his readers to the brink of