Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Basil feels for Victoria from Antony's for Cleopatra ! Pure, deep, high as the heaven and the sea. Yet on it we see him borne away to shame, destruction, and death. It is indeed his ruling passion. But the day before he saw her face his ruling passion was the love of glory. And the hour he died by his own hand was troubled into madness by many passions ; for are they not all mysteriously linked together, sometimes a dreadful brotherhood ?

We must really not much longer delay our long-projected panegyric on the genius of our lady-poets. Let them be assured, that the Old Man loves them all, as they would wish to be loved ; and that he would not “ let even the winds of heaven visit their faces too roughly.” Not too roughly ; but long may the winds of heaven visit them freely and boldly, for there is health and beauty in the breeze ;-and as for the sunshine and the moonshine, may they let fall their lights and their shadows unobstructed on countenances “instinct with spirit,” whether dim in pensiveness or radiant with joy-still in all expression “beautiful exceedingly,” for it alone deserves the name, the Beauty of the Soul.

Well may our land be proud of such women. None such ever before adorned her poetical annals. Glance over that most interesting volume,“ Specimens of British Poetesses,” by that amiable and ingenious man, the Reverend Alexander Dyce, and what effulgence begins to break towards the close of the eighteenth century! For hundreds of years the genius of English women had ever and anou been shining forth in song ; but faint, though fair, was the lustre, and struggling, imprisoned in clouds. Some of the sweet singers of those days bring tears to our eyes by their simple pathos,-for their poetry breathes of their own sorrows, and shows that they were but too familiar with grief. But their strains are mere melodies “ sweetly played in tune.” The deeper harmonies of poetry seem to have been beyond their reach. The range of their power was limited. Anne, Countess of Winchelsea

Catherine Phillips, known by the name of Orinda-and Mrs. Anne Killegrew, who, Dryden says, was made an angel,“ in the last promotion to the skies”-showed, as they sang on earth, that they were all worthy to sing in

heaven. But what were their hymns to those that are now warbled around us from many sister spirits, pure in their lives as they, but brighter far in their genius, and more fortunate in its nurture! Poetry from female lips was then half a wonder and half a reproach. But now ’ris no longer rare-not even the highest-yes, the highest

for innocence and purity are of the highest hierarchies; and the thoughts and the feelings they inspire, though breathed in words and tones, “ gentle and low, an excellent thing in woman,” are yet lofty as the stars, and humble too as the flowers beneath our feet.

And now we are upon the verge of another era of poetry, when the throne was occupied by Dryden, and then by Pope-searching still for a great poem. Did either of them ever write one ? No-never. Sir Walter says finely of glorious John,

“ And Dryden, in immortal strain,
Had raised the Table Round again,
But that a ribald king and court
Bade him play on to make them sport,

The world defrauded of the high design,
Profaned the God-given strength, and marr’d the lofty line."

But why, we ask, did Dryden suffer a ribald king and court to debase and degrade his immortal strain ? Because he was poor. But could he not have died of cold, thirst, and hunger-in a state of starvation ? Have not millions of men and women done so, rather than sacrifice their conscience? And shall we grant to a great poet that indulgence which many a humble hind would have flung with scorn in our teeth, and rather than have availed himself of it, faced the fagot, or the halter, or the stake set within the sea-flood ? But it is satisfactory to know that Dryden, though still glorious John, was not a great poet. His soul, we know, was insensible to the pathetic and the sublime-else had his genius held fast its integrity-been ribald to no ribald-and indignantly kicked to the devil both court and king. Pope, again, with the common frail. ties of humanity, was a pure, pompous little fellow of a poet-and played on his own harp with fine taste, and great execution. We doubt, indeed, if such a finished style has ever been heard since, from any of the King Apollo's musicians. His versification sounds monotonous only to ears of leather. That his poetry has no passion is the creed of critics 6 of Cambyses' vein;" as for imagi. nation, we shall continue till such time as that faculty has been distinguished from fancy, to see it shining in the Rape of the Lock, with a lambent lustre ; if high intellect be not dominant in his Epistles and his Essay on Man, we advise you to look for it in Keates, or Barry Corn. wall; and could a man, whose heart was not heroic, have given us another lliad, which may be read with transport, even after Homer's ?

In Johnson's Lives of the Poetasters, may be spied 6 with a microcosm, a variety of small fry, wriggling about in the waters of Helicon, which the creatures at last contrive so to muddy, that they elude observation, even through that microscopic instrument; and in Chalmers's edition of the British Poets, the productions of people are inserted, who must, when alive, have been almost too stupid for the ordinary run of social life. Some folks are born, it is proverbially said, with a silver spoon in their mouths, and others with a wooden ladle. The expression is strongly obstetrical; and of difficult delivery. But what is more perplexing still, some are born poets, whom the world persists in thinking prosers—and some are born prosers, and live and die in complete possession of all the faculties essential to the support of that character, whom the world, or the world's counsellors and guides, the critics, insist upon dubbing poets, wreathing their brows with laurels, and consigning them to immortal fame. Some of them-persons not destitute of common sensesuch as the Sprats, the Dukes, the Pomfrets, and the Yaldens-must have been themselves much astonished at such procedure on the part of the public-while others have exclaimed, like their kindred, “ See! how we apples swim !” In former ages, this fortunate and unfortunate breed flourished in England—nor are they yet extinct. The dunces are not yet dead—and occasionally the empty skull gets a leaf of laurel. But to do our poetasters justice-many of them are in a degree poetical, and really write verses very prettily indeed-in a style seldom

felicitous to shield them from a certain share of contempt from their contemporaries, but often superior to the very highest and most successful efforts of many who, in for. mer times, were asked to sup in taverns as persons of wit. A first-rate poetaster of this age would have been almost a second-rate poet of other ages we could mention-pro. vided he had written as well then as he does now ; but there comes the rub, for he owes the little power he now possesses and flourishes in, to a sort of convulsion communicated to him by the electricity of poetical genius flashing night and day all over the horizon; whereas had he lived then, when the atmosphere was not so fully charged, ten, nay, twenty to one, he had vegetated quietly like other plants, and faded away without a single struggle of inspiration.

We have not yet, it would seem, found the object of our search-a great poem. Let us extend our quest into the Elizabethan age. We are at once sucked into the theatre. With the whole drama of that age we are conversant and familiar; but whether we understand it or not, is another question. It aspires to give representations of human life in all its infinite varieties, and inconsistencies, and con. flicts, and turmoils produced by the passions. Time and space are not suffered to interpose their unities between the poet and his vast designs, who, provided he can satisfy the souls of the spectators by the pageant of their own passions moving across the stage, may exhibit there whatever he wills from life, death, or the grave. 'Tis a sublime conception, and sometimes has given rise to sublimc performance; but in our opinion, has been death to the drama -in all hands--but in those of Shakspeare. Great as was the genius of many of the dramatists of that age, not one of them has produced a great tragedy. A great tragedy indeed! What! without harmony or proportion in the plan with all puzzling perplexities, and inextri. cable entanglements in the plot--and with disgust and horror in the catastrophe? As for the characters-male and female-saw ye ever such a set of swaggerers and ran. tipoles as they often are, in one act-Methodist preachers, and demure young women at a love-feast in anotherabsolute heroes and heroines of high calibre in a third

and so on, changing and shifting name and nature, accord. ing to the laws of the romantic drama forsooth-but in hideous violation of the laws of nature till the curtain falls, over a heap of bodies huddled together without regard to age or sex, as if they had been overtaken in liquor, and were all dead-drunk! We admit that there is gross exaggeration in the picture. But there is always truth in a tolerable caricature and this is one of a tragedy of Webster, Ford, or Massinger.

It is satisfactory to know that the good sense, and good feeling, and good taste of the people of England will not submit to be belaboured by editors and critics into admi. ration of such enormities. The old English drama lies buried in the dust with all its tragedies. Never more will they disfigure the stage. Scholars read them, and often with delight, admiration, and wonder. For genius is a strange spirit, and has begotten strange children on the body of the tragic muse. In the closet it is pleasant to peruse the countenances, at once divine, human, and brutal, of the incomprehensible monsters-to scan their forms, powerful though misshapen --to watch their movements, vigorous though distorted—and to hold up one's hands in amazement on hearing them not seldom discourse most excellent music. But we should shudder to see them on the stage enacting the parts of men and women and massacre the manager. All has been done for the least deformed of the tragedies of the old English drama that humanity could do, enlightened by the Christian religion ; but Nature has risen up to vindicate herself against such misrepresentations as they afford; and sometimes finds it all she can do to stomach Shakspeare.

But the monstrosities we have mentioned are not the worst to be found in almost every scene of the said old English drama. Others there are that, till civilized Chris. tendom fall back into barbarous Heathendom, must for ever be unendurable to human ears, whether long or short

we mean the obscenities. That sin is banished for ever from our literature. The poet who might dare to commit it, would be immediately hooted out of society, and sent to roost in barns among the owls. But the old English drama is stuffed with ineffable pollutions; and full

« AnteriorContinuar »