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CAMPBELL

- MAY RESCUE NAMES FROM OBLIVION.

for we should soon find it labour, and not amusement, if we were obliged to make use of them all, or even to take all upon trial. As the materials of enjoyment and instruction accumulate around us, more and more, we fear, must thus be daily rejected, and left to waste: For while our tasks lengthen, our lives remain as short as ever; and the calls on our time multiply, while our time itself is flying swiftly away. This superfluity and abundance of our treasures, therefore, necessarily renders much of them worthless; and the veriest accidents may,

, in such a case, determine what part shall be preserved, and what thrown away and neglected. When an army is decimated, the very bravest may fall; and many poets,

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, worthy of eternal remembrance, have probably been forgotten, merely because there was not room in our memories for all.

By such a work as the present, however, this injustice of fortune may be partly redressed — some small fragments of an immortal strain may still be rescued from oblivion - and a wreck of a name preserved, which time appeared to have swallowed up for ever. There is something pious we think, and endearing, in the office of thus gathering up the ashes of renown that has passed away; or rather, of calling back the departed life for a transitory glow, and enabling those great spirits which seemed to be laid for ever, still to draw a tear of pity, or a throb of admiration, from the hearts of a forgetful generation. The body of their poetry, probably, can never be revived; but some sparks of its spirit may yet be preserved, in a narrower and feebler flame.

When we look back upon the havoc which two hun. dred years have thus made in the ranks of our immortals

and, above all, when we refer their rapid disappearance to the quick succession of new competitors, and the accumulation of more good works than there is time to peruse, — we cannot help being dismayed at the prospect which lies before the writers of the present day. There never was an age so prolific of popular poetry as that in which we now live ; -- and as wealth, population, and education extend, the produce is likely to go on

GUESSES AT THE REMNANTS TO BE SAVED.

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increasing. The last ten years have produced, we think, an annual supply of about ten thousand lines of good staple poetry-poetry from the very first hands that we can boast of—that runs quickly to three or four large editions — and is as likely to be permanent as present success can make it. Now, if this goes on for a hundred years longer, what a task will await the poetical readers of 1919! Our living poets will then be nearly as old as Pope and Swift are at present — but there will stand between them and that generation nearly ten times as much fresh and fashionable poetry as is now. interposed between us and those writers: — and if Scott and Byron and Campbell have already cast Pope and Swift a good deal into the shade, in what form and dimensions are they themselves likely to be presented to the eyes of our great grandchildren? The thought, we own, is a little appaling ; — and we confess we see nothing better to imagine than that they may find a comfortable place in some new collection of specimens—the centenary of the present publication. There-- if the future editor have any thing like the indulgence and veneration for antiquity of his predecessor there shall posterity still hang with rapture on the half of Campbell — and the fourth part of Byron — and the sixth of Scott — and the scattered tythes of Crabbe--and the three per cent. of Southey, --while some good-natured critic shall sit in our mouldering chair, and more than half prefer them to those by whom they have been superseded ! — It is an hyperbole of good nature, however, we fear, to ascribe to them even those dimensions at the end of a century. After a lapse of 250 years, we are afraid to think of the space they may have shrunk into. We have no Shakespeare, alas ! to shed a never-setting light on his contemporaries ! --and if we continue to write and rhyme at the present rate for 200 years longer, there must be some new art of short-hand reading invented — or all reading will be given up in despair. We need not distress ourselves, however, with these afflictions of our posterity ;-and it is quite time that the reader should know a little of the

a

work before us.

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CAMPBELL

HIS ESSAY ON ENGLISH POETRY.

The Essay on English Poetry. is very cleverly, and, in many places, very finely written — but it is not equal, and it is not complete. There is a good deal of the poet's waywardness even in Mr. C.'s prose. His historical Muse is as disdainful of drudgery and plain work as any of her more tuneful sisters ; — and so we have things begun and abandoned — passages of great eloquence and beauty followed up by others not a little careless and disorderly—a large outline rather meagerly filled up, but with some morsels of exquisite finishing scattered irregularly up and down its expanse — little

fragments of detail and controversy — and abrupt and impatient conclusions. Altogether, however, the work is very spirited; and abounds with the indications of a powerful and fine understanding, and of a delicate and original taste. We cannot now afford to give any abstract of the information it contains - but shall make a few extracts, to show the tone and manner of the composition.

The following sketch of Chaucer, for instance, and of the long interregnum that succeeded his demise, is given with great grace and spirit.

“ His first and long-continued predilection, was attracted by the new and allegorical style of romance, which had sprung up, in France, in the thirteenth century, under William de Lorris. We find him, accordingly, during a great part of his poetical career, engaged among the dreams, emblems, flower-worshippings, and amatory parliaments, of that visionary school. This, we may say, was a gymnasium of rather too light and playful exercise for so strong a genius ; and it must be owned, that his allegorical poetry is often puerile and prolix. Yet, even in this walk of fiction, we never entirely lose sight of that peculiar grace and gaiety, which distinguish the Muse of Chaucer; and no one who remembers his productions of the House of Fame, and the Flower and the Leaf, will regret that he sported, for a season, in the field of allegory. Even his pieces of this description, the most fantastic in design, and tedious in execution, are generally interspersed with fresh and joyous descriptions of external nature.

In this new species of romance, we perceive the youthful Muse of the language, in love with mystical meanings and forms of fancy, more remote, if possible, from reality, than those of the chivalrous fable itself; and we could, sometimes, wish her back from her emblematic es, to the more solid ones of the elder fable; but still she moves in pursuit of those shadows with an impulse of novelty, and an exuberance of spirit, that is not wholly without its attraction and delight. Chaucer was,

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afterwards, happily drawn to the more natural style of Boccaccio; and from him he derived the hint of a subject, in which, besides his own original portraits of contemporary life, he could introduce stories of every description, from the most heroic to the most familiar."p. 71-73,

Wharton, with great beauty and justice, compares the appearance of Chaucer in our language, to a premature day in an English spring; after which the gloom of winter returns, and the buds and blossoms, which have been called forth by a transient sunshine, are nipped by frosts and scattered by storms. The causes of the relapse of our poetry, after Chaucer, seem but too apparent in the annals of English history; which, during five reigns of the fifteenth century, continue to display but a tissue of conspiracies, proscriptions, and bloodshed. Inferior even to France in literary progress, England displays in the fifteenth century a still more mortifying contrast with Italy. Italy, too, had her religious schisms and public distractions ; but her arts and literature had always a sheltering place. They were

even cherished by the rivalship of independent communities, and received encouragement from the opposite sources of commercial and ecclesiastical wealth. But we had no Nicholas the Fifth,' nor House of Medicis. In England, the evils of civil war agitated society as one mass. There was no refuge from them — no enclosure to fence in the field of improvement - no mound to stem the torrent of pnblic troubles. Before the death of Henry VI. it is said that one half of the nobility and gentry in the kingdom had perished in the field, or on the scaffold!"

The golden age of Elizabeth has often been extolled, and the genius of Spenser delineated, with feeling and eloquence. But all that has been written, leaves the following striking passages as original as they are eloquent.

" In the reign of Elizabeth, the English mind put forth its energies in every direction, exalted by a purer religion, and enlarged by new views of truth. This was an age of loyalty, adventure, and generous emulation. The chivalrous character was softened by intellectual pursuits, while the genius of chivalry itself still lingered, as if unwilling to depart; and paid his last homage to a Warlike and Female reign. A degree of romantic fancy remained too, in the manners and superstitions of the people ; and Allegory might be said to parade the streets in their public pageants and festivities Quaint and pedantic as those allegorical exhibitions might often be, they were nevertheless more expressive of erudition, ingenuity, and moral meaning, than they had been in former times. The philosophy of the highest minds, on the other hand, still partook of a visionary character. A poetical spirit infused itself into the practical heroism of the age; and some of the worthies of that period seem less like ordinary men, than like beings called forth out of fiction, and arrayed in the brightness of her dreams. VOL. II.

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CAMPBELL-HIS CHARACTER OF SPENSER.

They had high thoughts seated in hearts of courtesy. The life of Sir Philip Sydney was poetry put into action.

“ The result of activity and curiosity in the public mind was to complete the revival of classical literature, to increase the importation of foreign books, and to multiply translations, from which poetry supplied herself with abundant subjects and materials, and in the use of which she showed a frank and fearless energy, that criticism and satire had not yet acquired power to overawe. Romance came back to us from the southern languages, clothed in new luxury by the warm imagination of the south. The growth of poetry under such circumstances might indeed be expected to be as irregular as it was profuse. The field was open to daring absurdity, as well as to genuine inspiration; and accordingly there is no period in which the extremes of good and bad writing are so abundant,' - p. 121–122.

The mistaken opinion that Ben Jonson censured the antiquity of the diction in the · Fairy Queen,' has be corrected by Mr. Malone, who pronounces it to be exactly that of his contemporaries. His authority is weighty ; still, however, without reviving the exploded error respecting Jonson's censure, one might imagine the difference of Spenser's style from that of Shakespeare's, whom he so shortly preceded, to indicate that his Gothic subject and story made him lean towards words of the elder time. At all events, much of his expression is now become antiquated; though it is beautiful in its antiquity, and, like the moss and ivy on some majestic building, covers the fabric of his language with romantic and venerable associations.

· His command of imagery is wide, easy, and luxuriant. He threw the soul of harmony into our verse, and made it more warmly, tenderly, and magnificently descriptive than it ever was before, or, with a few exceptions, than it has ever been since. It must certainly be owned, that in description he exhibits nothing of the brief strokes and robust power which characterize the very greatest poets: But we shall nowhere find more airy and expansive images of visionary things, a sweeter tone of sentiment, or a finer flush in the colours of language, than in this Rubens of English poetry. His fancy teems exuberantly in minuteness of circumstance; like a fertile soil sending bloom and verdure through the utmost extremities of the foliage which it nourishes. On a comprehensive view of the whole work, we certainly miss the charm of strength, symmetry, and rapid or interesting progress; for, though the plan which the poet designed is not completed, it is easy to see that no additional cantos could have rendered it less perplexed. But still there is a richness in his materials, even where their coherence is loose, and their disposition confused. The clouds of his allegory may seem to spread into shapeless forms, but they are still the clouds of a glowing atmosphere. Though his story grows desultory, the sweetness and grace of his manner still abide by him.

We always rise from perusing him with melody in the mind's ear, and with pictures of romantic beanty impressed on the imagination."— p. 124—127.

In his account of the great dramatic writers of that and the succeeding reign, Mr. C.'s veneration for Shakespeare

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