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THE POETICAL REMAINS OF THE LATE DR JOHN LEYDEN.*
WITHOUT a strong spirit of national- do not too generally entertain an unity no people could build up any thing reasonable impatience of the ascenlike a national literature. “Every re- dancy of the genius of England, and, fleeting mind, therefore, must be dis- since we must say so, a very unjust posed not to pardon only, but to ap- and illiberal determination to under. prove all manifestations of it that be value certain excellencies to which token a sense of dignity, and challenge they themselves have never yet been an appeal to reason and to truth. The able to attain. pride of intellect, so offensive in an There is little or no erudition in individual, it is delightful to see ex- Scotland, -and yet instead of acknowa hibited by a whole people and that ledging and deploring our ignorance, People does well to think loftily of it- and setting ourselves strenuously to the self
which has good works to shew, reformation of our exceedingly defece nor need Nations fear to proclaim their tive system of public education, we faith in their own exaltation. If there turn about on our English neighbours be certain virtues and faculties which with an air of most ludicrous and prohave been, in a more especial manner, voking self-assurance, and laugh at brought into action through the course them for possessing that knowledge of of their history, they are entitled to which we are so disgracefully destiappropriate them as national charac- tute. With us the epithet of Scholar teristics,-nor would that people be is an epithet of contempt—and men worthy of their own ancestral glories, of the very shallowest pretensionswho did not boldly avow their pride with but small acuteness and no reada in the moral or intellectual powers by ing--are daily heard talking with
levity which those glories were won, and and scorn of the best scholars of Engwithout the continued possession of land. In this way, we have reached which they could serve only to darken to an undisturbed contentment with the melancholy gloom of present de- our ignorance-and having discovered gradation
that book-learning is suitable to peWe are disposed to think that, up- dants only, we have become, by the on the whole, the national pride of mere force of theorizing, a nation of Scotsmen is manly and enlightened. philosophers. Within the last hundred years Scot- The effects of all this are most laland has produced more men of genius mentable. While every little townthan during all her previous history, every village in England contains its and she who was so long the barbarian accomplished scholars, Scotland is consister of civilized England has shewn tented with her men of common sense, herself but little inferior to her friendly who take the liberty of thinking for rival either in stateliness or beauty. -- themselves. A coarsenessma harda But we are greatly mistaken, if along ness—and a nakedness of mind uniwith a proper pride in the achieve versally prevails. Men of rich and ments of our own genius, Scotsmen various lore are nowhere to be found
The Poetical Remains of the late Dr John Leyden, with Memoirs of his Life, by
the Rev. James Morton. Constable, Edinburgh, 1819.
among us. A few gifted spirits have we set no bounds to our national pride raised the character of our country's in the phenomenon,-and comparing genius—but though knowledge be him, not with the learned men of spread among the lower ranks of so- learned countries, but with the ineruciety, perhaps almost to that precise dite literati around us, we hail his adextent advantageous to a state, none vent with songs of triumph, and much will be found to deny that the higher to our satisfaction, place him without orders are almost universally unac- ceremony at the head of all the schoquainted with all ancient literature lars of Europe. We then most inconand philosophy, and that, with few sistently rave about those acquirements exceptions, the Scots literati are the in him, which we have all along undere most superficial men on earth.
valued in others and in doing so, can The inferiority of Scotsmen, in ge- it be denied, that we are exhibiting a neral, to Englishmen, in all those ac- senseless and repulsive nationality ? complishments which are essential to We cannot help thinking that somea well-educated gentleman, is, we sus- thing of this sort has happened in the pect, pretty forcibly felt even by them- case of Dr John Leyden,--that his selves, when they happen to cross the countrymen have bestowed on him a Tweed. But when we are all together reputation beyond his deserts,—and in a body, as for example, here in Edin- endeavoured to raise him to an emiburgh, we can talk with a magnani- nence among scholars, from which, in mous derision of the slender clerks of process of time, he must inevitably be the south ; and a solitary Englishman, made to descend. Nothing less will surrounded by a dozen or a score of satisfy us, than to compare him with us Scotch philosophers, seems to us Sir William Jones,-nor have there to shrink into very small dimensions. been wanting persons publicly to afThe southerns are themselves not un- firm, that Leyden was the greater man frequently imposed upon by our airs of the two, and that the world susa of superiority in our own capital, - tained the greater loss in his premature and we have ourselves seen strangers death. This we conceive is carrying of genuine talent and erudition listen- Scotch nationality not to the verge, but ing, without being aware of the ab- into the very heart of folly. surdity, to the emptiest of all pretend- It would be to no purpose to shew, ers, the Editor of the Supplement, and that Sir William Jones enjoyed far his eternal,
greater advantages than Leyden; for “ 'Twas I,
the superiority of the former was
wholly independent of these-he was, Says the fly, With my little eye."
by nature, a far greater man. He was
an universal, a perfect scholar. He It is true, that we are yet poor, was not actuated by the vain desire of and perhaps our poverty may account knowing more than other men ; but for our want of erudition. But we he loved and sought knowledge purely ought to make a better use of our for its own sake. He had, therefore, philosophy, than to undervalue the no satisfaction in any acquirement materials on which alone any philoso- that was not solid and complete.phy can speculate to much purpose. Truth, and truth alone, could satisfy Our ignorance ought not to be our him; and in all his researches, he adpride, and instead of deriding that vanced not a single step without a sure knowledge, which as a nation we have footing, and never journeyed on till hitherto been prevented from acquir. he had dispersed the mist and the ing, either by the poverty of our coun- darkness. There was no quackery atry, or by the defective character of our bout him. With all his manifold acschools and universities, we ought ra- complishments, there was a simple ther to shew a generous admiration and dignity in his manners and in his a generous envy of the happier scholar mind, that spoke not only the scholar of the south, trusting, that we may but the philosopher; and no faith imbibe something of their spirit, and could have been placed in truth, had ere long to enjoy some of their mani. Sir William Jones but once in his life fold advantages.
pretended to any knowledge which he When, however, amidst this uni- did not possess. But in every departversal dearth of knowledge, a man of ment of learning he was equal to the great acquirements happens to arise, most learned ; and it has been well
observed, “ that in the course of a ness in which they still lie enveloped. short life he had acquired a degree of But Leyden never could have become knowledge which the ordinary facul- a sure guide ; for it was the radical ties of man, if they were blest with defect of his intellect, that it was saantediluvian longevity, could scarcely tisfied with glimpses of truth-with hope to surpass. His learning threw partial openings in the darkness, inlight on the laws of Greece and India stead of the cloudless lustre of the dis-on the general literature of Asia, encumbered sky-as if he had believand on the history of the family of ed that the fields of knowledge were nations."
to be taken and kept possession of by The character of Dr Leyden was, in sudden and transitory inroads. too many respects, the very reverse of We are well aware, that by these this. He had a strong passion for general observations, we may be ofknowledge ; but that passion was, un- fending the admirers of this most enluckily, too much mixed with a thusiastic and meritorious person; and fondness for display, and he could no doubt it would require more room not fully enjoy his knowledge, un- than we can now spare, to prove that less he could get all the world to our observations are just. Yet though admire it. This restless love of dis- we may be accused of under-rating tinction drove him from one study to the literary character of Leyden, in another, as if he were afraid of being denying that he was a wonderful schoreckoned ignorant of any thing; and lar at all, we are not afraid that any he had scarcely entered on one pur- competent judge will blame us for exsuit, till he darted away with feverish posing the absurd injustice which they impatience into another. He seems shew to the memory of the acute, to have prosecuted his studies on no dashing, headlong, and fearless Bora regular system-to have devoured and derer,--who are so grossly ignorant gorged every thing that came in his both of his merits and demerits-his way, without fear of indigestion. The knowledge and his ignorancemas to consequence was, that the growth of set him up in rivalry with perhaps the his mind was not in proportion to the greatest scholar that the world ever vast quantity of victuals which it con- produced. Had Leyden lived for ever, sumed.
he had not a mind sufficiently accuIt cannot be denied, and it ought to rate and comprehensive to master the be acknowledged, that Leyden often knowledge acquired by Sir William affected to know much more than he Jones. did; and that he sometimes commit- Of the poetical genius of Leyden, it ted such gross and ludicrous blunders, is not possible for us to speak in terms as overwhelmed with confusion every of very high praise. He wrote verses body but himself. He possessed but because it was necessary that a man of a very imperfect knowledge, indeed, of talents should be able to do every any of the languages of modern Eu- thing. It has been attempted to place rope ; and though he talked of “passa him among the poets of Scotland; but, ing muster with Dr Parr,” all who though not acknowledged, it seems to knew Leyden were aware that he was be very generally felt that he was not no Grecian. Now, people are apt to a poet. No one ever heard a line of feel some suspicion of a vain and his quoted, except perhaps by some blundering man; and they who know affectionate friend of his youth ; and how imperfect and superficial a scholar po fancy or feeling in his versifications Leyden was in those languages, with has a dwelling-place in the heart of which all men of education have some his country! he had no imaginationacquaintance, may be pardoned for and no profound feeling. He gives long withholding their full faith from that and laboured descriptions of the days almost miraculous gift of tongues of chivalry; and we feel indeed that which descended upon him in the the days of chivalry are gone, not to East. His genius for the acquisition be restored by such a minstrel. The of languages was no doubt very extra- inspiration of a poet is one thing, and ordinary;
and, as he finally relinquish- the animation of a moss-trooper is aned every thing for the study of oriental other. No doubt Leyden was a genuine literature, history, and laws, had he Borderer, and consciously proud of the lived, it is likely that he might have heroic character of old Border chiefs. thrown considerable light on the dark, But he would have handled a pike
much better than a harp, and fought “ The moon, whose silver beams are bath'd a battle better than he has ever de
in dew, scribed one. He could write a toler
“ Sleeps on her mid-way cloud of softest able ballad; for even in the olden
“ Her watery light, that trembles on the time, goodish ballads were, we sus
tree, pect, oceasionally written by very un- “ Shall safely lead thy viewless steps to me." poetical personages; but with all the As o'er my heart the sweet illusions stole, pains he took, and these were not A wilder influence charm'd and aw'd my small, John Leyden never made any near approach to the character of a Each graceful form that vernal nature wore true poet.
Rous'd keen sensations never felt before ; The Scenes of Infancy,” is one
The woodland's sombre shade that peasants of the heaviest descriptive poems in the haunted mountain-streams that mur
fear, our language, and that is saying much.
mur'd near, -It is impossible to know whether
The antique tomb-stone, and the church. the poet is on the right or left bank
yard green, of the Teviot—whether he is walking Seem'd to unite me with the world unseen. up or down the banks of that cele- Oft, when the eastern moon rose darkly red, brated stream. And then, though I heard the viewless paces of the dead, minutely local as any Minister in the
Heard on the breeze the wandering spirits Statistical History of Scotland, his
sigh, muse is ever and anon expanding
her The lyre of woe, that
oft hath sooth’d my
Or airy skirts unseen that rustled by. wings, and flying to the uttermost
pain, parts of the earth. His great object Soon learn'd to breathe a more heroic strain, seems to have been, to make the poem And bade the weeping birch her branches big enough which it would have been had it consisted of one short In mournful murmurs o'er the warrior's part instead of four long ones.
grave. We have repeatedly looked through and through this poem for one fine of fancifulness in all this passage to
There seems to us to be just enough passagebut have met with none which seem to be of that character.
destroy utterly all natural pathos and In some passages, it is not easy to say
truth, without kindling in their room
any emotions of a higher character. what is wanting-for the versification
To others it may seem beautiful. is sonorous and the imagery profuse. But certain it is, that the soul of
It is not possible to believe, that poetry is not there-and without that, any true poet would thus have written the pencil of Leyden may touch and the following cold and artificial de
of Bessy Bell and Mary Gray-yet retouch the canvass for
scription we have heard talked of with a picture being created.
unbounded admiration. descriptions there are which have been greatly admired, and these we shall
Two beauteous maids the dire infection select--happy if our readers, on per- shun, using them, shall dissent from our Where Dena's valley fronts the southern sun; critical opinions.
While friendship sweet, and love's delight. “ On such an eve as this, so mild and clear, With fern and rushes thatch'd their sumI follow'd to the grave a sister's bier.
mer-bower. As sad by Teviot I retir'd alone,
When spring invitesthe sister-friends to stray, The setting sun with silent splendour shone; One graceful youth, companion of their way, Sublime emotions reach'd my purer mind; Bars their retreat from each obtrusive eye, The fear of death, the world was left be. And bids the lonely hours unheeded fly, hind.
Leads their light steps beneath the hazel I saw the thin-spread clouds of summer lie, spray, Like shadows, on the soft cerulean sky: Where moss-lin'd boughs exclude the blaze As each its silver bosom seem'd to bend, Rapt fancy heard an angel-voice descend, And ancient rowans mix their berries red Melodious as the strain which floats on high, With nuts, that cluster brown above their To soothe the sleep of blameless infancy ;
head. While, soft and slow, aerial music flow'd, He, mid the writhing roots of elms, that lean To hail the parted spirit on its road. O'er oozy rocks of ezlar, shagg’d and green, “ To realms of purer light," it seem'd to Collects pale cowslips for the faithful pair, say,
And braids the chaplet round their flowing ** Thyself as pure, fair sufferer, come away! hair,