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Art. XI. Poems, by S. Rogers. Small 8vo. pp. 276. Lon
don, Cadell. 1819. THE first poem in this collection does not fall within the pro
vivce of our criticism. It has been published many years, and has acquired that sort of popularity which is, perhaps, more decisive than any other single test of merit. It has been generally admired, and, what is not always a certain consequence of being admired, it has been generally read. The circulation of it has not been confined to the highly educated and critical part of the public, but it has received the applause which to works of the imagination is quite as flattering—of that far more numerous class, who, withcut attempting to judge by accurate and philosophical rules, read poetry only for the pleasure it affords them, and praise because they are delighted. It is to be found in all libraries, and in most parlour windows.
Not that the Pleasures of Memory' entitles its author to a place in the higher class of English poets. But it was published at a moment of great poetical dearth, when the old school (if we may so express ourselves) was drawn alınost to its lees, and before the new one had appeared :-the subject was very fortunate, and it was not too long-it abounded in pleasing, though detached pictures and it every where afforded evidence of a highly cultivated and elegant mind.
We have always been desirous to see something more from the hand of an author whose first appearance was so auspicious. But year after year rolled on, and we began to fear that indolence, the occupations of a busy life, or the dread of detracting from a reputation already so high, would for ever prevent our wishes from being gratified. We were therefore both pleased and surprised, when, upon accidentally taking up the last edition of Mr. Rogers's poems, we found that it was enriched, not only with several very elegant wooden cuts, but with an entirely new performance in eleyen cantos, called · Fragments of a Poem on the Voyage of Columbus.'
The first remark that presents itself to our minds upon reading the title of this work is, that Mr. Rogers has been far less happy than before in his choice of a subject. True it is, that in the whole history of the world we find no greater event than the discovery of America-no more illustrious name than that of the discoverer. Still, however, we have strong doubts whether either the man or the event is well calculated to become the subject of poetical composition. Columbus is a purely historical person. His virtues and actions, though they place him incontestably in the highest class of great men, are not of that sort that ever have been, or ever
can be married to immortal verse.' He was a grave, austere, thinking, scientific personage. He had courage-- true manly courage—but it was not of that shewy brilliant kind which seeks out and shines in combats and martial achievements. Interior to the Achilles, and Orlandos and Marmions, as a theme for epic and romantic song, as much as he is superior to these splendid and mischievous personages in the eye of reason and philosophy, the most brilliant imayination would seek in vain to supply a single trait that should render more striking the simplest tale that can be told of his sufferings and his glories. His severe, awful, and melancholy form, unveiled by the hand of truth, will command the gratitude and veneration of all ages: you only weaken its etfect by attempting to hang over it the drapery of fiction.
As the discoverer of America is not a poetical person, so neither is the discovery itself a circumstance capable of much poetical illustration. It is not the mere greutness of an event that renders it fit for verse. The charni of poetry consists in its pictures of external nature, and still more, in its description of the diversities of human character, and the workings of human passions. It is the misfortune of Mr. Rogers's subject that it excludes both. Poetry refuses itself to the melancholy task of detailing the disappointments and humiliations of Columbus wandering from court to court, and beseeching in vain the avaricious or short-sighted sove. reigns of Europe to become participators in that glory which he justiy and contidently anticipated. Mr. Rogers's good taste has taught him, that though such a topic may be alluded to with grace and pathos, it cannot be dwelt upon without disgust. The voyage too itself is barren of circuinstances. Nothing happens in the course of it that either accelerates or retards the catastrophe. It exhibits to our view, one man, and one event-a man who must be pourtrayed in the soberest colours of reality-- one event which sinks all the rest into absolute insignificance. The subject is still more unfavourable to description, than it is to narration. It would be idle and tedious to make the voyage of Columbus a vehicle of describing objects common to every voyage whatever; and it affords very little that is peculiar to itself. The new-found world indeed is full of grand, delightful, and curious objects; but you cannot describe them, because the interest of the poem must cease with the discovery.
These are some of the difficulties which we conceive belong to the subject. We must now consider how far Mr. Rogers has been able to overcome them.
The story is strictly confined to the voyage. It begins with the sailing of Columbus, and ends a few hours after he lands. It is supposed to be related, not by the poet, but by one of the compa
aws of Columbus himself, retired to a monastery, where, not
The idea appears to us happy—but we do not observe that much
Sea-ible that barrenness is the defect of his subject, Mr. Ropas las called in the aid of invention to supply it with a little more of variety and incident than naturally belong to it. We have, in the di Canto, an assembly of the Zemi, or evil spirits,' conFoled by their chief - Merion,' who acquaints them that the peDa prescribed by Omnipotence to their rule over this part of the gube is drawing fast to a close, and that they must prepare
* Throues to resign for lakes of living fire,
And triumph for despair.'
, however, to make a last effort to counteract the
In the sixth, he exchanges the form of a condor for that of a vam-
' -couched on Roldan's ample breast,
Supertuouis—a mere vehicle for fine writing—a contriyance to pre1 x pent the poem from ending too soon. The evil spirits do nothing os proportion to the dignity, activity, and malignant ingenuity of itsch personages. Merion holds a meeting-makes a speech ---takes het long aerial journey, and changes his masquerade dress twice, all
fixa most inadequate effect, that of giving Columbus half an hour's beasiness. Not only is he unable to prevent the discovery of America, but even to retard it a single moment
. Mr. Rogers sems to have forgot that supernatural agency, though sometimes, s not always and necessarily, the most poetical way of accomplish
is an event. In this instance, we are inclined to doubt whether to be knot was worthy of the divinity. The mutiny, undoubtedly,
was too important to be omitted, especially in such a paucity of incidents ; but we think that it would have made a better figure if it
TOL. IX. NO, XVII.
had been attributed to mere human causes, suspicion and superstitious fears operating upon ferocious and untractable minds, described as Mr. Rogers is well able to describe them.
In fact, as we have already taken occasion to remark, the strong, distinctive character of the great event which he has chosen to celebrate, is truth and reality. In these consist its interest and its greatness, and we hardly know an instance in which they so absolutely refuse to ally themselves with fable. So that when, in another place, (Canto 6, verse 5,) Mr. Rogers represents his hero as acting by inspiration, he is guilty of a great mistake as to the nature of his subject, and the means it gives him for producing effect. Inspiration tinds no more place in the poetry than it has in the history of the discovery. When Virgil guides Eneas by the voice of oracles, and the display of prodigies, through the storms and dangers raised against him by the wrath of hostile deities, he adds to the dignity of his subject; which, when stripped of its marvellous accompaniments, is nothing but the story of an adventurer of royal descent, who, driven from his native country, wanders from shore to shore with his band of companions, till at last he lands in Italy, (a known and not very distant part of the world,) where he makes unjust war upon one of the native chieftains, defeats him in battle, and robs him of bis kingdom and of the princess to whom he was betrothed. The interference and sanction of heaven were necessary, both to give dignity to these transactions and to excuse their iniquity.
The voyage to America is a subject of a completely different kind. Columbus ranks with the first of men, but it is not because he was aided directly from above. Providence interfered in this instance, as it usually interferes, through secondary causes. To make him inspired, is to make him great; but with a kind of greatness altogether different from that which really belonged to him. The discovery strikes us nuost, as being the nightiest and most astonishing of all events purely human-accomplished by human courage, human perseverance, and human sagacity, and uniting in itself by a coincidence for ever singular, the character of an heroic achievement with that of a grand, deliberate, successful experiment in natural science. Columbus dreamed no dreams, and saw no visions; but he became persuaded by reasons drawn from the true theory of the earth, that there must be other regions accessible, but still unknown, to the inhabitants of this; and the design which he had formed with the genius of a philosopher, hie executed with the magnanimity of a hero. But to talk of inspiration, is just as idle as it would be, in a philosophical poem, to say that Sir Isaac Newton dreamt the earth was tiat at the poles, or that the mathematicians who were sent to ascertain the truth of his theory, were guided by omens and prodigies to the object of their search.
dscorery of America: and it was, perhaps, a recollection of this curacies of which no example is to be found in his earlier formances. What, for instance, but extreme laste and careless
In the Sth Canto the new world is discovered, and with the discorery the great interest of the subject ends. The poem however i continued through several more cantos. In the 9th, we have the description of Cora,' an Indian girl, who was perhaps intended to become the heroine of some adventure in the 11th, which is wanting. In the 10th, an American banquet, which is a little dsturbed by the appearance of the ghost of Cazriva, an old cacique, employed during his life time, and after his death, to darm his people. In the 12th, Columbus seés a vision, in which at foretold to bim his own misfortunes, the cruelties of the SpaEnrds in Mexico and Peru, the prosperity and glory of the repubic founded by General Washington, and the ultimate conversyn of the whole continent to Christianity.
Fria this sketch of the story our readers will perhaps incline to tak, with us, that the inherent defects of the subject have not bei entirely removed by the skill of the poet, and that “the Fraga aut on the Voyage of Columbus' is deficient (as might reasonably be expected) in that variety of incident, and that display of human ekracters and feelings, which form the great charm of narrative poetry. If we are reminded that it is only a fragment, we answer, first
, that by leaving his work in that imperfect form, the author has only acknowledged, but has not at all surmounted the difbulties arising out of the topic he had chosen; in the next place, it ze utterly at a loss to conceive, and we believe he would be equally at a loss to explain, how the lacunæ could be filled up so as to render the narrative more interesting. In fact the story, such bilis
, is complete in spite of them. Cora indeed might bave made the subject of an episode. But a love-tale about this young lodian lady, however pretty and interesting in itself, would forin na tery suitable appendage to an account, in verse or prose, of the ducongruity which prevented the 11th Canto from seeing the lihtperhaps, from existing at all. We now proceed to a more importIt exhibits what we were not at all prepared to expect-esident marks of baste. After a long and profound silence, Mr. Rogers seems to have been seized with a sudden and eager desire to appear
It is to this cause we ascribe some inacIess could have occasioned the author of the Pleasures of Memory
as, “There silent sat many an unbidden guest ::--Canto X.? Or, in the very first line but one of the poem, to use ' possessed in
ant point, the execution of it.
again before the public.
to mistake for a verse such a line