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“O pale, pale now those rosy lips,
I aft hae kiss'd sae fondly!
That dwelt on me sae kindly!
That heart that lo’ed me dearly!
Shall live my Highland Mary."
Throughout the whole of the foregoing stanzas we would remark the extreme simplicity of the language, the utter absence of all false colouring, of those “ roseate hues,” and “ ambrosial odours,” and“ purple mists,” that steam from the pages of our voluptuous poets, to intoxicate the weak brains of their admirers. Burns depended on the truth and tendern ess of his ideas, on that deeptoned feeling which is the very soul of poetry. To use his own admirably descriptive words,
“His rural loves'are nature's sel,
O' witchin love,
The sternest move."
But the chief fault which infests the style of the poems before us, is a passion for hyperbole, and for the glare of extravagant images and flashing phrases. This taste for gorgeous finery, and violent metaphor, prevails throughout our country, and is characteristic of the early efforts of literature. Our national songs are full of ridiculous exaggeration, and frothy rant, and commonplace bloated up into fustian. The writers seem to think that huge words, and mountainous figures, constitute the sublime. Their puny thoughts are made to sweat under loads of cumbrous imagery, and now and then they are so wrapt up in conflagrations, and blazes, and thunders and lightnings, that, like Nick Bottom's hero, they seem to have " slipt on a brimstone shirt, and are all on fire!"
We would advise these writers, if they wish to see what is really grand and forcible in patriotic minstrelsy, to read the national songs of Campbell, and the Bannock-Burn of Burns, where there is the utmost grandeur of thought conveyed in striking but perspicuous language. It is much easier to be fine than correct in writing. A rude and imperfect taste always heaps on decoration, and seeks to dazzle by a profusion of brilliant incongruities. But true taste always evinces itself in pure and noble simplicity, and a fitness and chastness of ornament. The muses of the ancients, are described as beautiful females, exquisitely proportioned, simply attired, with no ornaments but the diamond clasps that connected their garments; but were we to paint the muse of one of our popular poets, we should represent her as a pawnbroker's widow, with rings on every finger, and loaded with borrowed and heterogeneous finery.
One cause of the epidemical nature of our literary errors, is the proneness of our authors to borrow from each other, and thus to interchange faults, and give a circulation to absurdities. It is dangerous always for a writer to be very studious of cotemporary publications, which have not passed the ordeal of time and criticism. He should fix his eye on those models which have been scrutinized, and of the faults and excellencies of which he is fully apprized. We think we can trace, in the popular songs of the volume before us, proofs that the author has been very conversant with the works of Robert Treat Paine, a late American writer of very considerable merit; but who delighted in continual explosions of fancy and glitter of language. As we do not censure wantonly, or for the sake of finding fault, we shall point to one of the author's writings, on which it is probable he most values himself, as it is the one which publicly received the prize in the Bookseller's Lottery. We allude to THE PILLAR OF GLORY. We are likewise induced to notice this particularly, because we find it going the rounds of the union; strummed at pianos, sang at concerts, and roared forth lustily at public dinners. Having this universal currency, and bearing the imposing title of Prise Poem, which is undoubtedly equal to the Tower Stamp, it stands a great chance of being considered abroad as a prize production of one of our universities, and at home as a standard poem, worthy the imitation of all tyros in the art.
The first stanza is very fair, and indeed is one of those passages on which we found our good opinion of the author's genius. The last line is really noble.
"Hail to the heroes whose triumphs have brighten'd
The darkness which shrouded America's name!
Dark where the torrents flow,
And the rude tempests blow,
Long shall she mourn the day,
When in the vengeful fray,
The second stanza, however, sinks from this vigorous and perspicuous tone. We have the “halo and lustre of story” curling round the “wave of the ocean;" a mixture of ideal and tangible objects wholly inadmissible in good poetry. But the great mass of sin lies in the third stanza, where the writer rises into such a glare and confusion of figure as to be almost incomprehenBible.
“ The pillar of glory the sea that enlightens,
Shall last till eternity rocks on its base!
Wide o'er the stormy deep,
Where the rude surgès sweep,
Honour shall give it light,
Triumph shall keep it bright,
We confess that we were sadly puzzled to understand the nature of this ideal pillar, that seemed to have set the sea in a blaze, and was to last “ till eternity rocks on its base,” which we suppose is, according to a vulgar phrase, “ forever and a day after.” Our perplexity was increased by the cross light from the “ splendour of fame,” which, like a footboy with a lantern, was to jog on after the footsteps of time; who it appears was to run a race against himself on the water-and as to the other lights and gleams that followed, they threw us into complete bewilderment. It is true, after beating about for some time, we at length landed on what we suspected to be the author's meaning; but a worthy friend of ours, who read the passage with great attention,
VOL. III. New Series. 32
maintains that this pillar of glory which enlightened the sea, can be nothing more nor less than a light-house.
We do not certainly wish to indulge in improper or illiberal levity. It is not the author's fault that his poem has received a prize, and been elevated into unfortunate notoriety. Were its faults matters of concernment merely to himself, we should barely have hinted at them; but the poem has been made, in a manner, a national poem, and in attacking it, we attack generally that prevailing taste among our poetical writers for excessive ornamentfor turgid extravagance, and vapid hyperbole. We wish in some small degree to counteract the mischief that may be done to national literature by eminent booksellers crowning inferior effusions as prize poems, setting them to music, and circulating them widely through the country. We wish also, by a little goodhumoured rebuke, to stay the hurried career of a youth of talent and promise, whom we perceive lapsing into error, and liable to be precipitated forward by the injudicious applauses of his friends.
We therefore repeat our advice to Mr. Holland, that he abstain from further publication until he has cultivated his taste, and ripened his mind. We earnestly exhort him rigorously to watch over his youthful muse; who, we suspect, is very spirited and vivacious, subject to quick excitement, of great pruriency of feeling, and a most uneasy inclination to breed. Let him in the mean while diligently improve himself in classical studies, and in an intimate acquaintance with the best and simplest British poets, and the soundest British critics. We do assure him that really fine poetry is exceeding rare, and not to be written copiously nor rapidly. Middling poetry may be produced in any quantity-the press groans with it—the shelves of circulating libraries are loaded with it—but who reads merely middling poetry? Only two kinds can possibly be tolerated, the very good, or the very bad; one to be read with enthusiasm, the other to be laughed at.
We have in the course of this article quoted him rather unfavourably, but it was for the purpose of general criticism, not individual censure; before we conclude, it is but justice to give a specimen of what we consider his best manner. The following stanzas are taken from elegiac lines on the death of a young lady. The comparison of a beautiful female to a flower is obvious, and frequent in poetry, but we think it is managed here with uncommon delicacy and consistency, and great novelty of thought and manner,
There was a flow'r of beauteous birth,
Of lavish charms, and chasten'd die,
And caught the gaze of ev'ry eye.
“ T'he vernal breeze, whose step is seen
Imprinted in the early dew,
Or nurs'd a bud ot lovelier hue!
“It blossom'd not in dreary wild,
In darksome glen, or desert bow'r,
In sun-beain soft, and fragrant show'r.
“The graces lov'd with chasten'd light,
To flush its pure, celestial bloom,
It seem'd not form'd to die so soon.
Youth round the flow'ret ere it fell,
In armour bright was seen to stray,
Should keep its perfume from decay.
“The parent-stalk from which it sprung,
Transported as its halo spread,
And tears of heav'n-born rapture shed.
" Yet, fragile flow'r! thy blossom bright,
Though guarded by a magic spell,
In lonely hour of tempest fell.
“The death-blast of the winter air,
The cold frost and the night-wind came,
It shall not bloom on earth again!"
From a general view of the poems of Mr. Holland, it is evident that he has the external requisites for poetry in abundance ;