Imágenes de página

not like the lovers I wished to provide her with. She has taken refuge in a cloister near Trajan's pillar, and the abbess refuses to deliver her up to me. But just mention your name at the door, and the gipsy will leap into your arms; for she can dream and think of nothing but you, so much has her silly heart been bewitched since that night on which you met her in my cottage in the forest. Indeed, I am glad to be quit of her. I have got a better sort of person to keep me company in my declining years. Farewell, young man; go to your Crescentia, and may you be happy with her."

Antonio carried with him all the letters, the child's clothes, and the other proofs of her identity. As he was leaving the house he met Bere cynth at the door. A storm passing over at the time, showed who it was that was abroad; but the young man

never perceived it, so light of heart was he as he winged his way to the parents of Crescentia.

The happy parents were soon convinced that the twin-sister of Crescentia was still alive; and on the following morning her father took her from the cloister. The maiden's joy was unspeakable in being restored to her parents, and in again finding the youth to whom she had given up her whole heart from the moment she first saw him in the forest.

Shortly after this she and Antonio were married, and went to reside with Podesta and his wife in the neighbourhood of Naples. In the happiness and repose of love, Antonio forgot the afflictions of his youth; and in their children and grandchildren the parents were recompensed for the loss of their beautiful and deeply-beloved Crescentia.*

* Pietro d'Abano, so called from his birthplace, a small village near Padua, was a real personage, and flourished during the 13th century. Like most others at that period, whose knowledge surpassed that of the vulgar, he got the credit of being a sorcerer; but in reality he was no inconsiderable philosopher, and is known in the history of philosophy under the title of the CONCILIATOR.



No composition, not even a sonnet, seems to us to concentrate within so small a bound so much delight and so much difficulty as a good song. We cannot say of it what was said, by a sweet poet, of the ribbon that encircled his mistress's waist

"A narrow compass, and yet there Dwelt all that's good, and all that's fair." Minor poetry, however pleasing or perfect, must never be exalted to the same level with the sublimer efforts of the muse-with those massive monuments of poetic genius, in which wisdom and beauty are united with majesty and power-in which the susceptibilities and destinies of the human soul are better developed than even in the loftiest attainments of pure science, and in which ordinary minds find a source at once of docile veneration and of pious pride. Yet as the epos, or the drama, abstractly, are superior to the sonnet or the song, in the same, or rather in a still greater proportion, does a good poem of the slenderest style transcend a bad epic or tragedy. There is far less difference between the Iliad and the Flowers of the Forest, than between the Flowers of the Forest and the Antediluvians. The popular lyric, however, is not a slender, though it is not a long-sustained, exertion of poetry. Within its limited extent it affords scope for very high talent, and exercises in its perfection a very powerful sway. The best feelings of our nature may and must be here addressed; the fairest, the vividest images must be evoked; the ideas must be developed in the most rapid and direct manner; the language must be eminently precise, polished, and appropriate. Every thought must go straight to the hearer's heart-every word must speak magically to the ear and the fancy. The choice of a subject for a song, is as difficult as the task of doing justice to that subject. Its essence and object imply that the theme shall be popular but not commonplace; simple and single in its conception, but stirring and striking in its progress, and in its close complete and satisfying, and producing, for the most part, a sober

and subdued surprise. Any thing flat or feeble-any thing subtle or strained-is out of the question. Homer may sometimes nod, and may almost in his slumbers approach within a measurable distance of M'Henry's snore; but Sappho and Alcæus must always be wide awake. The epic, the didactic, the Pindaric poet, may be sometimes turbid as the torrent, or dark as the sea; but the song-writer must be clear and transparent as the living fountain or the pebbled stream. His work must have the purity, the ease, the modesty, of nature; and it must have another of nature's attributes, which perfect art can alone approach, that of wearing the freshness of novelty on the hundredth repetition.



"Enough," perhaps our reader may say, after the prince in Rasselas ; you have convinced me that no man can write a song." But such a conclusion would be rash and erroneous. Innumerable lyric jewels are to be found in the treasuries of poetic genius. In all times, and in all tongues, songs have been written and sung, realizing enough of their proper attributes to delight the hearts and live in the memories of the multitude, while they were capable of pleasing the most fastidious and baffling the most critical. How many a palace, how many a cottage, how many solitary glens and crowded alleys have resounded, and at this hour resound, with vocal verse, in which the spirit of poetry is breathed around with more or less of power and loveliness, exhilarating the happy, cheering the sad, softening the sullen, and reclaiming the depraved! The themes which befit the lyric muse are not many, but they are exhaustless; they may be disfigured in their form, or perverted from their purpose, but they are in their nature noble and good. Love is the essence of them all love in all its forms and phases; whether the love of lovers, or of friends, or of kindred, or of patriots, for the dear objects which engage their hearts-love, whether exulting in the happiness of hope, and presence, and enjoyment, or endu ring the trials of absence, disappoint

ment, and despair. Years and ages roll over the world, yet the oldest forms of lyrical beauty are ever new-yet the same field is ever yielding new fruits, with all the unabating fertility which marked its golden prime.

The best songs are often produced by those who are not professed, or professional poets; by those who do not write at all except when the heart prompts them; by those whose compositions can never be successful except when their power of pleasing is their only recommendation. When art or ambition have any share in the production, nature, which is the essence of song-writing, is liable to be forgotten or displaced. The apparent slightness of the effort required for a song, creates a temptation more than in any other kind of poetry, to supply, by mechanical facility, what can only be produced by sincere enthusiasm. If a right standard of lyric poetry be adopted, it is manifest that it cannot be hurriedly or superficially composed. Moments of inspiration, we presume, are of rare occurrence among the best poets; and these must, in every department, be solicited and improved by reflection and labour. The comparative narrowness of the path, indeed, in this peculiar region of poetry, increases the necessity of care and consideration to avoid running into old ruts, and to discover any original tract of thought and feeling. We should expect, therefore, that no one man could possibly produce more than a very few of such compositions, and many of our most popular songs seem to be the unique productions of their authors. The orator of a single speech has been considered a prodigy; but experience would not lead us to say the same thing of a poet whose reputation rested on a single song.

In modern times, however, a variety of causes have combined to make fertility, at least, as remarkable a characteristic of lyric talent as perfection of execution. Not to mention in ferior names, Burns and Moore, in our own time and that of our fathers, have each produced more songs than in other ages would have distinguished any twenty writers of genius. Burns is the reputed author or emendator of about 250 lyrics, while the songs of Moore are as the sands of the sea-shore. We strongly suspect, that to the works


of the best poets who write with such fertility in a limited department, the maxim of Martial must necessarily ap ply: Sunt bona, sunt quædam mediocria, SUNT MALA PLURA. We lament and we condemn this consequence. We consider that any system is bad under which poetry of this description is hurriedly huddled up, and cast into the world with all its imperfections on its head, to the injury alike of the writer's reputation and the depression of the standard of poetical excellence. There will always be abundance of clippers and coiners to pass off counterfeit money on the unwary. But poets, like princes, should be niggardly of their name and countenance, and chary of depreciating the legal currency, of which they exercise the control, by issuing from their mint what has not been tried and tested as fine gold.

In the two examples to which we have referred, the inducements which led to this fault were not altogether the same. The Bard of Erin, we believe, has, in his day, received for his lyrical effusions no inconsiderable amount of currency of a more substantial kind: and, however much it may have come to, we sincerely wish it had been more. With regard to the case of our Scottish minstrel, we must say, that, after an attentive and repeated perusal of the Thomson Correspondence, we have arrived deliberately at the conviction, that pecuniary recompense was not the incentive, as it was certainly not the result, of his lyric labours. The sum of five pounds, forced upon him by the most solemn adjurations at the commencement of his task, and five pounds more given on his deathbed, but which, we believe, was not needed, and never used, amount to a much less remuneration per song than Mr Willison Glass was in the habit of receiving from every mason-lodge or private patron with whose name he might fill up the dedication of his poetical circulars. This calculation fully exonerates Burns from any suspicion that he wrote for money; but the result was nearly the same as if his motive had been less disinterested. He was encouraged and urged by others to write songs beyond the powers of any poet's productiveness; and the humility or blind devotion of those to whom they were furnished,


prevented them from exercising that strictness of control which was necessary to correct error and suppress me. diocrity. The idea sometimes comes across our minds, that the fortunes of our great Scottish poet might indeed have been very different, if his fate had connected him with a spirit so frank, so independent, so liberal, and so enterprising, as that which animated a dear and lamented friend of our own, of whose name it can never be necessary to make express mention in the pages of Maga. We should probably, in such a case, have reaped still richer fruits than we possess from the genius of Burns; and we might not have had the pain of seeing his more mature productions dishonoured, by an association with many rude and shapeless efforts that ought never to have seen the light.

It is our purpose, in one or two articles, to apply the flail and the fanners to the lyrical works of these two national poets, labouring, to the best of our capacity, to separate the wheat from the chaff, the solid and salubrious material of the staff of life from the husks and refuse with which it is too intimately commingled. We shall treat of these two eminent writers in connexion, not that we think them altogether equal or similar to each other; but because each has justly earned for himself the name of a national poet, as well as a wide possession of general popularity, and each has much in his writings to praise, and not a little to reprehend.

We begin with Burns; and we shall first of all notice some of those songs which we think faulty or indifferent, and which, therefore, we could have wished might have remained in the author's repositories, as conveyancers say, undelivered at the time of his death. Let it be observed, that we have not the horror that some people entertain about posthumous publication. It may sometimes be an evil when intrusted to indiscreet hands, but, if judiciously conducted, it is psychologically curious, and critically very valuable. It is of infinite importance to literary students to see the crude conceptions of a man of genius in the very bud, or only half blown, and thence to learn the degrees by which excellence may be attained. From such revelations the timid may acquire confidence, and the rash

caution. The comparison between the compositions thus found to have been delayed or suppressed, and those finished works of genius which have finally received their author's approval, must prevent any injury to public taste, and must even tend to its improvement. It is a very different thing when an author, in his own lifetime, is tempted to put out of his hands productions which have not yet received the last polish of the file, or which may, perhaps, be incapable of taking it; and we greatly deplore any system of things that tends to such a result. It is itself a flagrant violation, and its example involves a wide-spread disregard of that rule of " being perfect," which, in different though not discordant ways, ought equally to be the aim of the poet and the Christian.

Let it not be supposed that, in the review of Burns's songs which we are now to attempt, the proposal to point out his faults implies any indifference to his excellences, or any want of admiration for his high and manly genius. Much that we are here to write, will show how reverently we think of him; and a criticism upon that part of his compositions, which, on the whole, we think the most vulnerable, can neverimply that we are blind to the innumerable beauties which are scattered throughout his works. The pathos, the humour, the strong judgment, the lively fancy, the terse diction, which characterise all Burns's masterpieces, and which are to be found alike in his best songs as in other parts of his poetry, make it impossible that criticism, fairly and impartially conducted, can have any other result than that of raising the estimate of his powers while placing it upon a firmer foundation. It is because he was a man of high genius, and because he exerts over all men, and more especially over his countrymen, the dominion that genius is heir to, that we desire to point out, along with his merits, those errors from which we could have wished him to be free. Assuredly, we would willingly accept of another such man, (though, when shall we look upon his like again?) even with all the faults which we are about to condemn. But if another such should ever arise, we would desire to make him more perfect than his predecessor in care, and diligence, and taste: and we still more would labour to recommend these qualities


To equal young Jessie you seek it in vain;

Grace, beauty, and, elegance, fetter her


And maidenly modesty fixes the chain.

to the poets whom we are more likely To equal young Jessie seek Scotland all to see, and in whom the same blemishes, with an inferior portion of genius, would be far less tolerable. We consider no poet to be exempt from criticism, in the liberal sense of the word; and, whenever criticism speaks, she must speak honestly and frankly, not fearing to touch the best, and still less to touch the next best, where she sees any infringement of the immutable principles of beauty or truth.

We must further observe, by way of preface, that, in criticising the writings of a man like Burns, it is not to be supposed that we should ever have

"O fresh is the rose in the gay, dewy morning,

And sweet is the lily at evening close; But in the fair presence o' lovely young Jessie,

Unseen is the lily, unheeded the rose.

Love sits in her smile, a wizard ensnaring, Enthroned in her een he delivers his law;


Her modest demeanour 's the jewel of a'."

to find fault with a total emptiness of And still to her charms she alone is a thought or absence of elegance. It was probably as impossible for him to have written a silly or absolutely dull song, as it would have been for Burke, in any mood of negligence, to have conversed in downright drivel. The defects we shall have to detect are of a different kind, consisting either in individual blots disfiguring a form otherwise fair, or in an inferior de gree of that beauty and finish which are essential to lyric poetry. Let it be remembered, also, that Burns became latterly anxious to revise the songs which he had written-a consideration which does not dispense with the duty of observing their defects, but which exculpates him from the suspicion of over-estimating their merits.

We now commence our task by selecting some of the most conspicuous examples of songs which, in our opinion, the poet should have been advised to withhold as unworthy of his genius, at least in the state in which they appear. Our selection shall chiefly be made from Mr Thomson's Collection or Correspondence, which, from its authoritative and prominent character, as well as from the great beauty of many of the songs contained in it, ought to have excluded every thing that was not excellent.

What has the following to recommend it, except one or two smooth lines here and there ?

"True-hearted was he, the sad swain o' the Yarrow,

And fair are the maids on the banks o'

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

The versification of this song seems to us to be deadened by the absence of rhyme in the first and third lines of the quatrain, while the ideas generally are tame and the expressions prosaic. Elegance is an attribute of heroines that should not be mentioned in song, however it may be admired in reality. "Sweet is the lily at evening close,' will not scan without a mispronunciation. The images of love sitting in her smile" a wizard ensnaring," and delivering his law "enthroned in her een," have not much happiness, and are inconsistent with simplicity. "Still to her charms she alone is a stranger," has as little of poetry in it for a concluding thought, as can well be imagined.

The following song is declared by Mr Thomson to be "quite enchanting." Read it carefully, and say if you are of the same opinion.

"Blythe ha'e I been on yon hill,
As the lambs before me;
Careless ilka thought and free,

As the breeze flew o'er me:
Now nae langer sport and play,

Mirth or sang can please me;
Lesley is sae fair and coy,

Care and anguish seize me.

"Heavy, heavy, is the task,

Hopeless love declaring:
Trembling, I dow nocht but glowr,
Sighing, dumb, despairing I

If she winna ease the thraws
In my bosom swelling,
Underneath the grass-green sod
Soon maun be my dwelling."

We own we do not feel the power

« AnteriorContinuar »