« AnteriorContinuar »
–––– “Will these moist trees
No one but Shakspeare would have thought of putting this noble picture into the taunting address of a snappish misanthrope—any more than the following into the mouth of a mercenary murderer' —
“Their lips were four red roses on a stalk,
Or this delicious description of concealed love into that of a regretful and moralising parent: —
“But he, his own affections' Counsellor,
And yet all these are so far from being unnatural, that they are no sooner put where they are, than we feel their beauty and effect; and acknowledge our obligations to that exuberant genius which alone could thus throw out graces and attractions where there seemed to be neither room nor call for them. In the same spirit of prodigality he puts this rapturous and pas— sionale exaltation of the beauty of Imogen into the mouth of one who is ro' even a lover: —
—“It is her breathing that
LORD LEVESON GOWER'S POEMS AND THANSLATIONS."
The extremes of life, high and low, are more likely to comprise close resemblances in what form really the most important particulars of human character and conduct, than any other portion of the community. There is as much, and nearly the same danger in being above opinion as below it—in receiving a sugar-and-water education, as in receiving none at all— in the humours which follow from being underworked, oversed, and from false indulgences, as in the severish exhaustion that accompanies overwork, underfeeding, and neglect. One of the main evils to which these extremes are alike exposed, and from which, one way or another, they suffer almost equally, is the want of sure regular employment. The difficulty, which the great must frequently experience in finding themselves in occupation, may be conceived by the envy with which such a man as even Dr. Johnson looked on persons who were brought up to a profession. Pride, Young says, was not made for man; leisure, we fear, quite as little. Notwithstanding Fox's favourite lines—
* 1. Translations from the German; and Original Poems. By Lord Francis Leveson Gower. ?, Faust, a Drama, by Goethe' with Translations from the German. By Lord F. L. Gower. , 3. Walleustein's Camp from the German; and Original Poems. By Lord F. L. Gower.—Wol lif. r 231 October, 1830.
“How various his employments whom the world
our race is not sufficiently aerial to lead a gay uncankered life “under the blossom that hangs on the bough.” The undertaking of our fine gentlemen to make a business of pleasure, answers much worse, they may depend upon it, than the opposite experiment of the industrious classes how far a pleasure may be made of business. The misery of conjugating that verb ennuyer, through any one of its hundred moods, and the apparent im– possibility of providing the great vulgar, or the small, with respectable amusements, must dispose a reasonable person to look with much com— placency on every attempt made by members of either class to extend their sphere of innocent enjoyment. Sufficient numbers for all the waste purposes of life are sure to be left behind. There are enow whom education and civilisation will never reach, and who, consequently, must remain in the station in which it has pleased God to place them, either the mere figurante figures, or the beasts of burden for society,+the prey for its sharpers, or company for its fools. Were a taste for literature to be valued only at its chance of affording some protection against degrading or destructive pleasures (the blandishments of the gaming-table and the public-house), it could never, even whilst thus negatively appreciated, either mount too high or descend too low. The cause of letters must gain something in the end. In the mean time, a solid advantage is gained to a still better cause ; although our village minstrels should sail to give us any strain more powerful than that of Bloomfield and Clare, or although Byron's extinct volcano should find in the present generation of noble poets, no more bright and burning representative than scrawls of phosphorus rubbed into a sort of glimmer on a dark wall. It has been rumoured lately, on high bibliopolist authority, that the rage for poetry is over. If verses can no longer be made so as to yield a remunerating price, professional dealers in them will turn their intellectual capital into some other line of business, and amateurs, who can afford to print, although the gentle reader, and still more gentle purchaser, may not be forthcoming, will have Parnassus entirely to themselves. Notwithstanding any sneaking kindness we may feel for “the mob of gentlemen who write wish ease,” and who have married themselves to immortal verse for love, and not for money, it must be admitted that merely starving out one's competitors is not the most flattering species of success, if success can be predicated in a case where, by the supposition, the artists have withdrawn, and the public are become indifferent. In the mean time, it is evident that no great stream of national taste can suddenly change its channel without occasioning terrible distress. Considering what extensive manufactories of rhyme had been now, for many years, successfully established thoughout the realm, and how completely “the inspiration of the poet's dream” were become subject to the ordinary laws of trade, it is melancholy to think on the necessary consequences of this supposed caprice of fashion. What a loss to unlucky publishers, whose floors are creaking under waste editions of condemned authors!—what a mournful prospect to veteran bards, at an advanced age, and without warning, to be thus suddenly thrown out of respectable employment!—what an embarrassment, as well as disappointment, to prudent fathers, and sanguine sisters, where the hopes of a whole family may have hung on the youthful genius whom they were bringing up a poet!—especially, since most other professions are already overflowing; not to mention that the spoiled children of the Muses lie under a traditional suspicion of not being easily convertible to the drudgery of daily prose. However, the evil" is temporary only, and we must struggle through it as we can. We pity most the liberal booksellers who have speculated deeply in the three per cents. of poetry, and are large holders of a stock which will never charm “the leathern ears of stockbrokers or Jews.” For the poets thus discountenanced, posterity will perhaps have little reason to regret the strangling of our “mute inglorious Miltons,” the ebb and slow of whose imagination is duly regulated according as their golden couplets are at a discount or a premium in the London market. Let a poet arouse
us from our sleep again, as with the first stanza of Branksome Hall, and we shall not fear.
In case the above complaint of the falling off in the demand for poetry should be duly verified by appropriate returns to parliament, specifying the amount of the different sorts of verse become unsaleable, and distinguishing the cases of the supernumerary writers necessarily discharged, tender compassion for their poorer brethren may move some one of our noble versificators to propose in their behalf a mitigated form of compensation, such as putting them on a list of deputy or supplemental laureats; or employing them under a vote of credit upon a public work—as some great national poem. Should Lord Leveson Gower propose a grant of public money for this purpose, the most wasteful application hitherto recognised, of the fa–
" Locke's spirit will rejoice in this news. He seems to have got his notion of a poet from Lord Rochester, and to have dreaded the thoughts of one in a republic or private house, as much as could be ever done by either Plato or Lord Burleigh. His admiration of Sir Richard Blackmore, compared with whom, he says, “all our English poets, except. Milton, have been mere balladmakers.” does not entitle his opinion, on the point of poetry itself, to much respect: . It might also have been hoped, that his suggestion in behalf of a philosophic poem on the natural history of the universe would have inclined him to more forbearance. Wi. we think that he underrates the proficiency that pains-taking, without any genius, may give, we quite agree that the crop thus got is not worth the expenses of cultivation. It is wine made of out-of-doors grapes in England: We are equally satisfied, that a boyhood passed over a Gradus ad Parnassum, and metrical canons, is the surest way to secure having no crop at al., “If he has no genius to poetry, it is the most unreasonable thing in the world to torment a child, and waste his time about that which sever can succeed; and if he has a poetic vein, it is to me the strangest thing in the world, that the father should desire or suffer it to be cherished or improved. Methinks the parents should labour to have it stifled and suppressed as much as may be; and I know not what reason a father can have to wish his son a poet, who does not desire to have him bid defiance to all other callings and business; which is not yet the worst of the case, for if he proves a successful rhymer, and once the reputation of a wit, I desire it may be considered what company and places he is like to spend, his time in, nay, and estate too; for it is very seldom seen that any one discovers mines of gold or silver in Parnassus. It is a pleasant air, but a barren soil; and there are very few instances of those who have added to their patrimony by anything they have o: from thence. Poetry and gaining, which usually go together, are alike in this too, that they seldom bring any advantage, but to those who have nothing else to live on. Men of estates almost constantly go away losers; and it is well of they escape at a cheaper rate than their whole estates, or the greatest part of them. If ther: fore, you would not have your son the fiddle to every jovial company, without whom the sparks could not relish their wine, nor know how to pass an afternoon idly; if you would not have him to waste his time and estate to divert others, and contemn the dirty acres left him by his ancestors, I do not think you will much care he should be a poet, or that his schoolmaster should enter him in versity: ing. But yet, if any one will think poetry a desirable quality in his son, and that the study of it would raise his fancy and parts, he must needs yet confess, that, to that end, reading the excellent Greek and Roman poets is of more use than making bad verses of his own, in a language that is not his own. And he, whose design it is to excel in English poetry, would not, I guess, think the way to it were to make his first essays in Latin verses.”—Thoughts concerning Education.
(ushered in as it was by Wyatt, Surrey and Sidney), there were splendid exceptions. But, as a general rule, the least acceptable and efficient form which the gratitude or munificence of the great ever assumed towards either poets or poetry itself, was the method, to which they have occasionally had recourse, of paying them in kind. The notion, once circulated in France, that poetry was indebted, among us, for its successful cultivation, to the patronage of the nobility and gentry, and more especially to their condescension in practising the same, is a pretension quite in character with the court of Louis XIV. “Il n'est point surprenant que la poésie soit portée si loin chez cette nation. Les premiers seigneurs ne dédaignent point de la cultiver. My Lord Roscommon, le Duc de Buckingham, my Lord Dorset, et plusieurs autres personnes, nées dans le rang le plus élevé, ont fait des ouvrages, qui égalent les beaux morceaux des grands poètes." (Lettres Juives.
The * chosen as the flourishing era illustrated by such incomparable models, is decisive of the precise nature of the obligation with which our literature has in this respect, in point of fact, been burdened. It is natural enough that a Frenchman should take it for granted, that the age of our national improvement must be contemporary with the introdution of French influence into the cabinets of our authors. How Pope was betrayed to give countenance to any such absurdity, by paraphrasing Horace's prettiness of Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit, with the direct statement, that an analogous effect was produced upon English literature by French models, is perfectly incomprehensible:—
In a note, he further explains his meaning by informing the reader that about this time the Earl of Dorset, Mr. Godolphin, and others, together with Mr. Waller, translated the Pompey of Corneille, and “the more correct French poets began to be in reputation.” If there is one fact more certain in our literary history than another, it is the fact, that the courtiers of Charles the Second set an example as injurious to the genius as to the morals of the English people. The French character, and colour which they gave to their compositions, never thoroughly amalgamated with the more free principle and natural movement of our great vernacular writers under Elizabeth, James, and Charles the First. It is difficult, on any other supposition, to account for the subsequent decay of poetical invention, and the dreary waste that Dodsley's Collections, and our Miscellanies, spread over so long a period, of which they are almost the standard works. Authors, apparently aware that they were not, as Spenser says, of child “with glorious great intent,” refused to foster and present these bantlings as their own. Ashamed of a foreign and mongrel filiation, they stocked with them these repositories of careless literature, the foundling hospitals of an age when albums and annuals were yet unknown. The notion that our literature, for upwards of a century, was sterilised by these uncongenial ingredients, which we wanted the power to assimilate or displace, seems confirmed by the new burst that our national poetry has made, and the vigorous leading shoots it has thrown forth, in our own time. The resurrection of English poetry coincides, to a day, with the overthrow of the conventional system—that worship of strange gods, idols of wood and stone, which had been imported among us from the heathen, by Lord Dorset and his fashionable companions. Precisely to the extent that we have replaced the models of home growth, and of older date, in the sanctuary, and have made them once more oracles of our belief, have we also found in them the inspiration of our genius. We hope that the time is not far distant when somebody will try to give us a play of the old English school. Translations from the kindred school of Germany ought to act as introductions, as lessons, as appeals. Of all the hopeless attempts that ever entered into the wit of man, the most hope– less surely has been the attempt, in whatever hands, to naturalise the French drama on English soil. The enthusiasm of Napoleon for Corneille would have satisfied Madame de Sévigné, since he declared he would have made him his prime minister. Madame de Staël, though looked on as a heretic by orthodox French critics, speaks of Racine as the greatest of all possible poets. Voltaire's tragedies, as more dramatic, and full of bolder movement, have their peculiar admirers. The right of every people to establish at home whatever form of poetry it may deem best adapted to its taste and circumstances, belongs to it, as a sovereign and independent state. It is a question so purely national, that the lectures which foreign critics frequently indulge in on such a subject, are usually only instances of unreasonable and impertinent interference, where fortunately, however, ink alone can be spilt, not blood. As foreigners, we consider ourselves persectly incompetent to guess which way the capabilities of the French language, and the turn of their national talent, will settle among themselves the literary insurrection which has been some time in progress against their ancient classical régime. But the evidence of nearly a century and a half, a considerable portion of which we were under the harrow of the experiment, ought to be received as proof that the beauties of the French theatre will not transplant into our own. Read Voltaire's praise of Cato, and his astonishment that a nation, in possession of such a treasure, could still tolerate Shakspeare. Yet, what is Cato? Or what any one of the numerous dramas written in that sense, down to Sardanapalus? Or, take a favourite French tragedy, the one which has pleased us most in the closet, or with which we have been most affected in representation, and let us imagine it transformed into English, in the most workmanlike way that can be conceived,—such as Gray might have done, judging by his fragment, yet how utterly distinct will be the most favourable impression it can in this shape produce upon us, from that of any tolerable specimen of the regular (or, if they choose it, irregular) English drama! There is no dispute over Europe of the merit of the smaller pieces of French extraction. They keep our half-price friends alive. The impassable differences of national taste recommence, we suspect, with the highest range of French comedy. The Misanthrope, for example, would seem, to an English audience, too much like so many pages of the Caractères of Bruyère, set in verse. Instead of that sort of pleasure we expect in a comedy, it aslects us rather as a clever didactic poem, represented by the principal personages in one of Boileau's satires. However, the question, which we insist that experience has decided, by overruling the authority of the gentleman-reformers of our unpolished Saxon faith, and by affirming the impracticability of establishing any thing like a union between the theatres of Paris and London, is confined to tragedy only. Lord Leveson Gower has so far earned well of the republic, in that he has deserted the precedent of the translators of Pompey, and directed his attention to the German stage. It is pleasant to see