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Or stock-doves plain amid the forest deep,
And still a coil the grasshopper did keep;
-Full in the passage of the vale, above,
And where this valley winded out, below,
knew no shrill alarming bell; where
endless pillows rose to prop the head ;
Where was inwoven many a gentle tale ;
And taught charm’d echo to resound their smart ; While flocks, woods, streams around, repose and peace impart; and
Near the pavilions where we slept, still ran
Yet the least entrance found they none at all ;
A beautiful abode well befitting the bard its tenant, aswith the exception of his own first line—delineated by a friend :
more fat than bard beseems ;
Oft moralizing sage ; his ditty sweet
He loathèd much to write, ne carèd to repeat.24 Alas! that he should have overcome his own repugnance to penmanship, and followed up sufficing Canto I with Canto II ; that it should have occurred to him to evoke his superfluous and pestilent Knight of Arts and Industry to lay waste the delightful Fairyland he had conjured into being, where he might, as in the flesh, have gone on sauntering for ever, hands in pocket, along garden-walls, eating from off the trees the sunny sides of peaches !
He was born, in truth, under an unlucky star. His lot should have been cast altogether in a period when Fancy danced as the May fly in the sun's beams on the face of the waters. He was ill suited for being harnessed by his age to theologies and moralities, for plodding instead of flying. Too indolent to struggle against the literary fashion of his period, he was tempted to lecture, preach, and propound truisms, instead of singing. Butgladly I recognize—a root of positive poetic feeling was in him. Blow away the frequent froth, like the
gentle Spring, ethereal Mildness,25 scorned of Wordsworth; and you find honest nature-love underneath ; frequently an aspiring thought ; even á vein
of romance, with a breath of Keatsian grace and melody, within the Palace of Dreams, in which, between sleep and waking, his real genius blissfully reposes.
The Poetical Works of James Thomson (Aldine Edition of the British Poets). Two vols. William Pickering, 1830. 1 Summer, vv. 365-6.
2 Ibid., vv. 1689-92. 3 Autumn, vv. 716-29.
• Ibid., vv. 860-3 and 867–8. 5 Winter, vv. 140-7.
6 Spring, v. 578. ? Ibid., vv. 721-5.
8 Winter, vv. 246-54. 9 Autumn, vv. 1173-5.
10 Ibid., vy. 401 and 384. 11 Spring, vv. 368–9.
12 Liberty, Part ii. 13 Ibid., Part iii.
14 Ibid., Part ii. 15 Ibid., Part iii.
16 Ibid., Part i and Part v. 1? Rule, Britannia. Masque of Alfred, by Thomson and Mallet. Song. 18 The Castle of Indolence, Canto i, st. 6. 19 Ibid., st. 34. 20 Ibid., st. 18.
21 Ibid., stanzas 3, 4, 5. 22 Ibid., stanzas 33 and 36. 23 Ibid., st. 43. 24 Ibid., st. 68.
GRAY, if he rose from the grave, would have no reason to complain of neglect. It is as difficult to forget his verse as for eyes not to be attracted by a diamond necklace, whatever the throat it clasps. Brilliancy, as of jewelsthis is the first impression of his poetry. Light of all colours, as from diverse stones splendidly set in precious metal, flashes from Hymn and Ode. Necessarily the primary sensation is of creations-with one supreme exception-as wholly artificial as they are extraordinarily fascinating.
In one way the feeling is well founded. The finished work is a product of art, art so high that the artist does not affect to conceal it. Gray had abundance of leisure for polishing and perfecting the minute amount of literary work which he prepared for publication—some seven hundred lines, in all, exclusive of forgotten elegancies in Latin. He used it with scrupulous and most successful diligence. Take each poem line by line to pieces ; and nothing seems simpler, even more commonplace, than the component phrases and thoughts. They are the merest pebbles, scarcely ordinary crystals. An imitator may flatter himself that he has detected the secret. Reset by him they are despised
Brighton diamonds'. As they drop back into the sockets Gray fashioned for them, it is forgotten that they had ever been despised elsewhere. They have recovered all their lustre.
Art with Gray was a necessity of his period and circumstances. In an earlier age, and with other environings, he might have been of the school of Spenser or Milton, of
Cowley or Dryden. He could not but have been a poet. As he sings, at once humbly and proudly :
Oh ! lyre divine, what daring spirit
Wakes thee now ? Tho' he inherit
That the Theban eagle bear,
Through the azure deep of air ;
Such forms as glitter in the Muse's ray
The eighteenth century, and Cambridge, however, made him the specific type of poet he was; as period and training in general make every poet what he is in manner. As the spirit moved him to write, so two counter influences acted on fashion and form. On one side an immense conversance with books was perpetually suggesting diction, and conceptions as well. On another he was always conscious of gossip, in the Covent Garden and Fleet Street taverns and coffee-houses, and the Cambridge and Oxford Commonrooms, preparing to scan and question every line. His natural genius, his inspiration, were resolved to have their own way. His shyness and his sensitiveness to opinion, on the other hand, abetted by his weight of learning, while resenting the tyranny of imposed canons of taste, were equally determined that contemporary criticism should have no fair pretext to convict him of offence.
It was indeed his own instinct to be on the watch for such inquisition; to be pleased to justify the coruscations of his fancy by their correspondence with the inspiration of earlier writers; to provide clues for the help of critics