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toral poets are the most incomprehensible of God's crea. tures; and here is one of the best of them all, who con. fesses the Chaldee, and denies the Noctes !
The Queen's Wake is a garland of fair forest flowers, bound with a band of rushes from the moor. It is not a poem-not it-nor was it intended to be so ; you might as well call a bright bouquet of flowers a flower, which, by the by, we do in Scotland. Some of the ballads are very beautiful ; one or two even splendid ; most of them spi. rited; and the worst far better than the best that ever was written by any bard in danger of being a blockhead. “ Kilmeny” alone places our (ay, our) Shepherd among the undying ones. London soon loses all memory of lions, let them visit her in the shape of any animal they please. But the heart of the forest never forgets. It knows no such word as absence. The death of a poet there, is but the beginning of a life of fame. His songs no more perish than do flowers. There are no annuals in the forest. All are perennial ; or if they do indeed die, their fadings away are invisible in the constant succession
the sweet unbroken series of everlasting bloom. So will it be in his native haunts with the many songs of the Ettrick Shepherd. The lochs may be drained-corn may grow where once the Yarrow flowed-nor is such change much more unlikely than in the olden time would have been thought the extirpation of all the vast oak-woods, where the deer trembled to fall into the den of the wolf, and the wild boar barrowed beneath the eagle's eyrie. All extinct now! But obsolete never shall be the Shepherd's plaintive or pawky, his melancholy or merry, lays. The ghost of “ Mary Lee” will be seen in the moonlight coming down the hills; the « Witch of Fife” on the clouds will still bestride her besom; and the “ Gude Gray Cat” will mew in imagination, were even the last mouse on his last legs, and the feline species swept off by war, pestilence, and famine, and heard to purr no more!
And now, thank heaven !-you will say with us-we are brought within touch of the broad back and shoulders of ALLAN CUNNINGHAM. For a long time past we have seen them in the gloom of the vista. We knew not but that it might be a shadow-but we have come in contact
with firm flesh and blood. Honest Allan! So was the mighty minstrel pleased to call him, in spite of that wild youthful trick of his on poor Cromek. “ Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song” indeed! Some snatches of old strains there were ; and these were sufficient to inspire a kindred genius, which whispered many more “ so sweetly, completely,” in the ear of Love.
All persons—in Scotland, and they are too few in our cities-of any poetical feeling, or knowledge of poetry, who took the trouble of caring about the produce of native genius that might not have yet gained itself a name, saw in these “ Remains,"so many fine touches of nature, so many sweet glimpses of fancy, that they desired to learn something of the obscure, but manisestly no common man, who had in this strange way ventured, with doubts and fears, to try what the world might think of such verses as his, composed, perhaps, during the very hours of labour, or at gloaming, when his hand had let down the mallet, and as his heart was free. All the initiated soon saw through the harmless disguise ; and the name of Allan Cunningham soon began to be known, though a good many years elapsed before it was familiar to the public. Mark Macrabin, or the Covenanter, a prose tale of great power, which appeared in this periodical, was highly appreciated ; so were a series of tales and traditions which he published in the London Magazine, and afterwards in a separate form, in two volumes. We believe that they have not had a very wide circulation ; but nobody can read them without admiration of the author's genius.
All their scenes are laid in the south of Scotland, and almost all in his native district; an intimate knowledge, of course, is shown in them of all that is most interesting and impressive in the life and character of their inhabitants now, or of old ; and some of them, in respect of circumstance, incident, and event, as well as sentiment, passion, and character, are admirable stories too, although they are, in general, more distinguished by excellence of the latter than of the former kind. Their chief fault is, we think, too much elaboration both of imagery and passion; and included in that, a style of language not sufficiently varied, so as to suit the different characters and conditions of the
interlocutors in the dialogues, which are lavishly introduced, and which, though always very eloquent–indeed often too much so—and frequently most poetical—perhaps sometimes too much so, likewise-do, oftener than we could wish, get a little wearisome from the monotony of their manner, and a certain rich sameness which palls upon the sense of beauty, till it longs for a barer board and simpler fare. Mr. Cunningham some years ago produced a dramatic poem, Sir Marmaduke Maxwell, imbued with a fine, bold, martial spirit, and full of fresh descriptions of natural objects ; but his reputation as a poet has, perhaps, been raised higher, and more widely spread, by songs and ballads occasionally appearing in the annuals, and other periodicals, than by any of his other and more ambitious efforts ; and no wonder—for the most felicitous of them are exquisite, and a few that have been set to music, have become blended with the popular poetry of Britain.
But highly as the public had by this time estimated Allan Cunningham's talents, it was not prepared, we suspect, to receive from his hands such a work as the “ Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects.” In these volumes (five, we think, in number ?) he has shown the most searching sagacity, the finest and truest taste-the taste of genius—and wide and accurate knowledge of the works and peculiar faculties of the most eminent artists. In treating of their personal characters, which it was his duty to do, he has spoken as man should speak of man, boldly and freely, in all cases where moral qualities lie in the open light, and where there can be " no mistake.” But, at the same time, Allan is reverential; and never un. authorizedly lifts up the veil from before those frailties incident to all human virtue, and surely not to be exposed to the eyes of the world then only when to virtue it has pleased God to add the gift of genius. Allan's style, in these volumes, is wonderfully improved since the time he wrote his Tales and Traditions. It is terse, precise, and compact; but animated, too, earnest, and eloquent. Nor is it without the charm of a certain quaintness, characteristic of a man who loves to take his own way in feeling, thinking, speaking, and writing; and who, knowing that
there is no self-conceit in that, cares not though “small critics, wielding their delicate pens,” accuse him of it, and even set down to the score of affectation, mannerisms which are the growth and the genial growth too, of a strong and fearless nature. We regard the work of which we now speak, as, under all circumstances, one of the most remarkable in our literature. It is already one of the British classics.
No composition, not even a sonnet, seems to us to concentrate within so small a bound so much delight and so much difficulty as a good song. We cannot say of it what was said, by a sweet poet, of the ribbon that encircled his mistress's waist
" A narrow compass, and yet there
Dwelt all that's good, and all that's fair."
Minor poetry, however pleasing or perfect, must never be exalted to the same level with the sublimer efforts of the muse—with those massive monuments of poetic genius, in which wisdom and beauty are united with majesty and power-in which the susceptibilities and destinies of the human soul are better developed than even in the loftiest attainments of pure science, and in which ordinary minds find a source at once of docile veneration and of pious pride. Yet as the epos, or the drama, abstractly, are supe. rior to the sonnet or the song, in the same, or rather in a still greater proportion, does a good poem of the slenderest style transcend a bad epic or tragedy. There is far less difference between the Iliad and the Flowers of the Forest, than between the Flowers of the Forest and the Antediluvians. The popular lyric, however, is not slender, though it is not a long-sustained, exertion of poetry. Within its limited extent it affords scope for very high talent, and exercises in its persection a very powerful sway. The best feelings of our nature may and must be here addressed ;