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WILLIAM BLACKWOOD, NO 17, PRINCE'S STREET, EDINBURGH ;
AND T. CADELL AND W. DAVIES, STRAND, LONDON;
SOLD ALSO BY ALL THE BOOKSELLERS OF THE UNITED KINGDOM.
[OLIVER & BOYD, Printers, Edinburgh.]
It was generally felt, we think, that "Samor Lord of the Bright City," did not quite fulfil the rich promise of Mr Milman's first poem, "Fazio ;" and, if we mistake not, it was scarcely less generally suspected that the chief cause of the failure lay in the choice of the subject. The scene, indeed, was placed in Britain, but we, modern English, could not flatter ourselves that it was placed among our forefathers-and in spite of many exquisite beauties, both of conception and of language, there was nothing in the poem itself to atone for the want of that national interest which, with one exception too illustrious to require being pointed out, has formed the deepest and most lasting charm of every successful production of the epic muse. The imitation
of a certain great living master, besides, was perhaps too apparent both in the structure of the fable and in the developement of the characters, as well as in the diction, of some of the finest passages in the piece; and, on the whole, although Samor would have been more than sufficient to attract great notice, had it come forth as the first production of a young author, its effect certainly was not to increase the reputation of one that had several years before exhibited his full possession, not only of a singularly rich and splendid imagination, but of scientific skill and acquaintance with the technical principles of his art, still more extraordinary in a person of his age.
Were any retrograde movement in the author's fame to be the consequence of the present poem, no apology, most assuredly, could be sought or found for him in the general selection of his theme. In fixing, on the contrary, for the subject of poetical embellishment, on the dark and predestined overthrow of that sacred city, where alone, for long centuries, the Most High had deigned to glorify an earthly temple with the visible mystery of his peculiar presence-where alone the light of revealed truth had, during ages of heathen blackness, been concentrated and enshrined-where, in the fulness of time, the Son of the Most High himself had appeared in the form and likeness of man, to crown a life of miracles with a death above all things miraculous-the chosen seat of one dispensation, and the chosen cradle of another,-Mr Milman unquestionably, has been fortunate enough to take possession of one of the noblest and most inspiring subjects that ever lay within the reach of any Christian poet. The Fall of Jerusalem was the last terrible scene in the history of a long favoured race, every incident of whose good and evil fortune formed a necessary link in a mysterious chain of supernatural annunciation and supernatural completion. Even in the books of Moses, written at the very beginning of the national existence, and many centuries before the fulness of the national glory of
The Fall of Jerusalem, a dramatic poem: by the Rev. H. H. Milman, Vicar of St Mary's, Reading, and late Fellow of Brazenose College, Oxford. London; John Murray, 1820.
the Israelites, this, the awful catastrophe of their national drama, had been distinctly foretold. Prophet followed prophet to awaken and encourage the devotion, or to rebuke the coldness and chastise the backslidings of the chosen people, and each in his turn pointed with a mournful but a steady finger to the same final overwhelming calamity. At length the long series of prophets terminated in the Son of God, and he, more clearly and decidedly than any that had gone before him, announced to the devoted nation the now near and impending consummation of their destiny. Of the many that heard and scorned his prediction, not a few lived to witness with their own eyes, and to share in their own persons, the terrors of its fulfilment; while far different was the fate of those that had embraced the glad tidings brought by the Prince of Peace, and obeyed the distinct warning, "flee ye to the mountains;" for the page of history testifies, that not one Christian Jew was a partaker in the last miseries of the beleaguered and captured city of his fathers. A more visible-a more sublime example of the completion of prophecy has never been exhibited to the world, nor shall any such ever be exhibited, until (as the poet before us has very skilfully and powerfully suggested throughout the whole tenor of his performance) that last great day shall arrive, wherein it shall be manifested to the eyes of men and angels, that the downfall of Jerusalem was but the type and symbol of the closing catastrophe of all earthly things.
Grand and magnificent, however, as Mr Milman's subject must be admitted to be, it still remains a matter of some doubt with us, whether he judged well when he resolved to treat it in a dramatic form of composition. That a subject may be sublime and imposing, and in itself highly poetical, and yet not well adapted for the drama, has already been shown abundantly in the history of literary enterprise; and we are not prepared to say that Mr Milman has not followed many illustrious predecessors, in mistaking that for a tragic which by nature was more properly fitted to be an epic or a lyrical theme. In spite of all the genius of Eschylus the incidents properly arising out of the situation of Thebes as a besieged city, do
not affect the imagination as peculiarly adapted for dramatic representation. The passions and the situations are too general and too much diffused over multitudes to be truly dramatic; for in that species of composition, the principal element of success has always been found in the happy delineation of a fine play of thought and sentiment in individual characters. Now, in the piece before us, there is no essential train of incidents regularly engendered out of the affections and relations of individuals, and consequently there is not much of consecutive personal interest extending through the whole course of the drama. The passions of the individual characters are vigorously expressed, and their sufferings are delineated with an appalling and commanding mastery of imagination, but all these are but so many detached pictures, for they lead to nothing, and the catastrophe comes on without any dependence upon them. And these circumstances, although they had not occurred to the poet when he was laying the plan of his work, have evi dently, we think, exerted a great influence over him in the execution of it,
for although the Fall of Jerusalem be in form a dramatic piece the reader, who pauses after perusing it to consider by what passages he has been most pleased, will, we rather suppose, have little hesitation in deciding, that these, with scarcely one exception, are all specimens, not of proper tragic dialogue, but of magnificent epic description or of high lyrical inspiration, either pathetic or sublime.
We shall have enough to say hereafter on the beauties of this poem, but since we have begun with mentioning its defects, it may be as well to say here, once for all, that-granting the Fall of Jerusalem to have been an admirable subject not only for poetical embellishment, but even for dramatic embellishment-Mr Milman would still have done wrong in making, as he has done, the chief substance of his drama to consist of a delineation of the contending elements of the later Jewish fanaticism. It is not possible that we should give the fulness of our sympathy to beings stained with all human vices,-of whose character the only tolerable trait lies in their firm adherence to an outworn and supplanted system of religious belief. The three principal male characters introduced
by Mr Milman excite no deep interest-they neither fix the attention nor keep hold of it. The disputes between Simon the Pharisee and John the Sadducee are in general coldly conducted, although there is one passage in which the denier of the doctrine of resurrection expresses, with a masterly energy, his mode of thinking in regard to the pleasures of life. But, indeed, what we have said concerning the dramatic imperfection of Mr Milman's composition, must be understood with many exceptions in favour of particular passages. Throughout there are scattered many fine touches expressive of the obstinate and infatuated hopes of the Jews, that they were soon to be delivered from all their miseries by some direct interposition of heavenly aid. Their hatred-their scorn of the Roman power is depicted so as to produce a very striking effect. The last remains of long cherished faith and confidence are seen fermenting and maddening a people whom God has abandoned. Their faith, not being answered by any divine protection, produces only a wild delirium of zeal, which destroys the balance of all natural feelings, and hurries the stubborn misbelievers into every species of dark and bloody atrocity. Had these circumstances been made to come before us more distinctly in the portraiture of individual minds, and had the action of the fable been made to hinge more closely upon what goes on by means of its persons, there can be little doubt that Mr Milman might have produced a far more perfect poem than he has done. But we are criticising too much where there is so much room to admire. Our apology must be found in our respect for the genius of our young poet, and our anxiety to see him as free from faults as he is already rich in beauties.
The tragedy opens on the evening preceding the last night of the siege Titus and his Roman officers survey the beleaguered city from the Mount of Olives, as it lies before them gleaming in the rich golden light of that fatal sunset. The splendour of this antique capital is set forth in one of the speeches with prodigious luxury of diction, though, after all, the poet's enthusiasm scarcely carries him beyond the sorrowful historic majesty of the lamentation of Josephus. In that, and in some other passages we are about
to quote, the language appears to be chosen with exquisite skill, and is often put together with a fine gloss;but, as we have said already, it is in passages purely descriptive that such praise is most frequently due to Mr Milman. We shall begin with this beautiful speech.
"Tit. It must be-And yet it moves me, Romans! it confounds The counsels of my firm philosophy, That Ruin's merciless ploughshare must pass o'er,
As on our olive-crowned hill we stand,
Where Kedron at our feet its scanty waters Distils from stone to stone with gentle motion,
As through a valley sacred to sweet peace, How boldly doth it front us! how majestically!
Like a luxurious vineyard, the hill side
While over all hangs the rich purple eve,
It stands be