« AnteriorContinuar »
and where he once doubted, he loves to adore. Lately inspired with the ardor of renovation, he is now filled with the enthusiasm of reverence. As if to make amends for his former assaults upon old institutions, he venerates the moss and lichens with which time has covered them. So that the changes of his sentiments have arisen from no common motives, neither from the power of conviction, nor the temptations of fortune; but from the revolution of poetical feelings, the new range of visions he had opened to his fancy, and the subdued course of the affections of his heart.
Thus it is that Mr. Southey's imagination dazzles him with its own splendors, and compels to look on all objects, through the medium of its dark or golden coloring. It enters with him the region of philosophy and politics, and throws a false glare on all the objects by which it lightly skims. Directed by this fallacious though brilliant guide, he positively pronounces on the deepest subjects, as the speculations of Malthus, as if he spoke from an oracle, denouncing every thing as cruel and barbarous, which crosses his own favorite visions, or dims the ideal splendors on which he loves to gaze. Yet even his very intolerance springs from amiable and generous sources, and we must admire the filminess of the glory with which he consecrates his errors. It is impossible to avoid revering him for his honest and frank-hearted Life of Nelson, or for the affecting tributes to unhappy genius, by which he has perpetuated the odors which Chatterton and White were beginning to diffuse, when nipped in the early blossom. And if we are fatigued by the glitter of his oriental finery, it is refreshing to retire with him to the secluded spots, which his homeliest affections endear, to slip back again with him into the heart of childhood, and there to feel a thrill of that pure joy which we shall feel and recognise in heaven. · II. It will be universally admitted even by those who do not regard him as a poet that MR. CRABBE is a moral writer of great excellence. He does not indeed aspire to enforce the more obvious and striking duties—to present us with admirable examples of heroic virtue, or to display the sad effects of the daring and odious vices—but he sets forth the humbler charities, and traces out the miserable and often fatal consequences, which flow from habits and affectations which we are disposed to consider as venial. The evils that by the very mention appal us are perbaps seldom to be prevented by any serious exhortation ;--the turbulence of the passion which hurries on its victims to destruction is in general too fierce to be opposed by reasoning; for no one is so entangled with sophistry as to need to be convinced of its tendency. The lesser vices, on the other hand, are often veiled by the name of imprudence, they approach us in inviting forms; and even border closely on the vir. tues which it is most the fashion to admire. He, therefore, who will detect these in their artful disguises, and trace out the folly and the sorrows which arise from their pursuit, is a better moralist than the pompous declaimer on the cardinal virtues, or the eloquent reasoner who demonstrates with irresistible force that bloody ambition is pernicious that war destroys mankind-or that robbery and murder are sinful. The youth who has learned the consequences of procrastination, or the anguish that results from stepping out of our sphere in life, fiom such simple yet weighty productions, will have received far more practical benefit, than if he had been sympa. thizing with George Barnwell, and learning from that inimitable extract of the Newgate Calendar, that to kill an uncle is the probable course to the scaffold. In this respect, Mr. Crabbe bears a striking resemblance to Miss Edgeworth in her admirable delineations of humble life; though in his tales of sorrow he has infinitely more compassion for his victims and pity for the frailties of our species. Yet there are many who cannot deny the practical utility of his writiugs, who refuse to admit them to be poetry-because their persons are confined to the inferior classes of society because they do not elevate us with delight and rather present us with portraits of actual existence than transport us into worlds created by original genius.
The first objection will, however, have very little weight with those who are not dazzled by the glare of French criticism, The human heart--the native seat of English poetsmis ever the same in its more important varieties and may be rendered equally interesting by the magic touches of the writer. Thus, although Shakspeare has most frequently drawn the characters of kings and princes, it is one of his peculiar excellences that he has drawn them as men. There is very little of nobility or royalty in any of his heroes : his Romans have not much of the Roman in them-or of any artificial distinctions as removed from the great · leading traits which are impressed on the deep chords of the species. If they are majestic, it is the intellectual greatness of the man and not the stateliness of the prince by which we are awed into reverence. It is not in the bigher ranks of life where feeling has been frittered away by excessive refinements, where the heart has been deadened by unmeaning courtesy and variable fashion, that we should expect to find imagination running into luxuriance, or passion bursting out in terrible energy. The joys which are to be found in the affections of nature, in homely virtues which nestle among the middle class of men; in domestic tenderness and youthful love--are not felt so deeply, even when they are felt at all, in that lofty region where
life is like a calm and polished stream upon which men move in a · round of amusements and gaieties. It is in the midst of struggles
with fortune, ardent aspirings which look through long and stormy vistas to the objects of their desire; fluctuations which perpetually call for sympathy and awaken the lovelier charities-that they expand and florish. As these are the ranks which have produced the finest minds, which have raised us in the scale of being, it cannot be unnatural for genius occasionally to glance at the walks of its infancy and to celebrate the persons with whom it was then familiar. They are not only interesting to those who are acquainted with their peculiar emotions, and who enter into all their full-swoln joys and heart-rending distresses, but to them who have always occupied more exalted stations. We look on the poor without envy, their sorrows affect us more naturally than the grief of those who are surrounded with luxury even in the midst of their distresses ; and whom we feel a secret gratification in beholding reduced to participate in the common lot of humanity. A celebration of their “ short and simple annals" revives within us a thousand sensations of pity which their wues have excited—and a thousand pictures of real anguish softened by the recollection that we are often able to console and relieve it. To a good mind, these representations will be full of mysterious delight, they will convey to it a thrill of unearthly rapture by reviving the emotions produced by numberless acts of charity and kindness; while the acts themselves have faded from the memory, though duly observed and registered in heaven. • Excepting, indeed, in the excitement of these associations, Mr. Crabbe does not often affect us through the medium of delight. The sensations he produces are painful and often oppressive, from the fidelity with which his pictures are drawn and the universal dominion of the feelings which his narrative produces. But it should be remembered that men seek not only after what is commonly denominated pleasure, but after powerful sensation, or to speak more accurately, they search for pleasure not only in the sources of peace and tranquillity, but in the stormy vehemence of passion. Life itself, the first of blessings, is carried to a higher degree of vividness, in proportion as all the faculties of the spirit are called into fervid exercise. The same principle which makes us desire to live impels us to wish to feel with intenseness. Even suspense, the greatest perhaps of torments, is frequently sought with avidity, and we cling even to sorrow,'we nurse and feed melancholy, as a relief from the dull insipidity of inaction. The dangers of enterprize, the agonies "of gaming, the terrors of superstition, owe their continuance to a
strange satisfaction in the whirl and depth of the desires. So the belief even of eternal torments, with its dark and terrible sublimity, is defended by its advocates, less as a solemn truth of scripture, than as an idea producing stupendous and inconceivable terrors which has become a favorite contemplation with men who imagine themselves personally secure. All mankind too look back on past afflictions with a sacred and inconceivable pleasure, and cherish the memory of their distresses with a joy far beyond the measure of ordinary gladness. Man is not only born to trouble but fitted to endure it. By a kindly disposition of his nature he spatches his tinest enjoyments from sufferings without which even bliss would become tasteless. Those who wonder why heaven should have : permitted sorrow and evil to enter a world which it might have preserved in the purities of an immortal Eden, forget that as without the one very little virtue could have been produced, so without the other happiness, however perfect, would scarcely have been perceived by the recipient. The common breathings and actions of healthy existence are full of pleasure, but we do not perceive it because they form the usual state of our being ; but we enjoy them at every pore after they have been suspended. So heaven, with its unbroken repose, would have been comparatively joyless, had we not here become familiar with affliction, over which we shall delight to brood when we arrive at the universal haven. It is upon this principle that we are charmed with the deepest pathetic, and are more enraptured by the most melancholy tragedies than by the liveliest specimens of gaiety. And it is upon this principle too that Mr. Crabbe has outstepped the generality of writers in their natural delineations of sorrow, has stripped off the glittering tapestry and the ceremonial pomp by which the heroes of ancient story are excluded from the full weight of human sympathies. He has dared. to tear away all the obstructions to our grief-all the ornaments by which its course was diverted, and mingled with milder and less overpowering sensations. Hence it is no wonder that he should be regarded with aversion by the giddy and the worldling, all who are exclusively in love with the garishness of joy-and who cannot endure the shock of those homely and awful sensations which are the favorite food of prouder and more lofty spirits. · Nor will the last objection, that Mr. Crabbe is not an inventive poet, avail the opposers of his fame. It is true that he has not « exhausted worlds and then imagined new”-and that, in general, he has presented us with pictures which are so real and so unadorned, that we acknowledge them as the exact representations of reality rather than as the offspring of fancy. But the truth is that we err by ascribing a wrong sense to the word invention, which we use as if it imported some actual production of the mind composed of materials which are wholly new. Whereas in reality we are capable of no ideas but those which we receive through the medium of our senses, we can imagine no new worlds that we do
not build from the fragments of the old-we can paint no emotion whose scattered elements do not subsist within us, we can describe no Paradise without the forms and the colors by which we are surrounded. The whole of imaginative imagery from the dome of Olympus down to the palaces of Mr. Southey, composed of rainbow and wreathed fire, is but a various association of images with which the meanest are familiar. It is no doubt perfectly true that no beings exactly similar to Milton's devils ever existed, and that no living mortal has ever beheld a scene of such perfect loveliness as his Eden. But it is no less certain that he could draw neither of them from any other materials than those which subsisted in the mind of man and in the beauties of external creation. Shakspeare, although generally acknowledged to be a greater inventive genius, did not even go near so far as this--for his persons are such as have often lived and his descriptions are exacter copies of nature. Indeed if imagining new things was the standard of the poet's highest property, the Arabian nights entertainments and the curse of Kehama are infinitely superior to Homer, Milton, or Shakspeare. We are, therefore, to regard the faculty of invention as a power, not of creating new substances, but of discovering what already exists. It is this which developes the workings of the heart, and opens rich stores of wisdom and thought of which we were before unconscious. The accusation against Mr. Crabbe then is no more than this, that instead of blending together a variety of images collected from different parts of nature, and throwing their glory over the range of his poetry, he has ventured to confine himself to the class which he has chosen-to pour over it no external sanctity, to adorn it with no extrinsic graces, but to unfold its stores of richness and beauty as they appear to the undazzled eye of a gifted and accurate observer.
It is true that this experiment was hazardous, nor are we prepared to maintain that it has in every respect succeeded. The effort has at all events given abundant proof of a potent and original genius. His power of accurate description is quite unrivalled ; and if he has not sought to array natúre in fresh charms, to pour a brighter green over her tufted groves and luxuriant recesses, he has exhibited the rare faculty of displaying one moment the most revolting of her external
forms and, at another, of shadowing out her wildest and most strik· ing productions. He is peculiarly conversant with that amiable
satire which at once laughs at and loves, the easy good-humoured ridicule which so gently relieves the pathos of the Vicar of Wakefield and the Deserted Village, though he is destitute of the uniform sweetness and flowing versification of Goldsmith. In his softer and more delicate touches he resembles Cowper--that pure spirit whose saddest melancholy was full of kind-heartedness and relieved