Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

His children, sprung alike from sloth and vice
Are born his slaves, and loved at market price :
Has he a soul?- With his departing breath
A form shall hail him at the gates of death,
The spectre Conscience,-shrieking through the gloom,
• Man, we shall meet again beyond the tomb!'"

There are few more pathetic passages in the English language than these, describing the labours and the extinctions of the Charib tribes.

" The conflict o'er, the valiant in their graves,

The wretched remnant dwindled into slaves;
Condemned in pestilential cells to pine,
Delving for gold amidst the gloomy mine.
The sufferer, sick of life-protracting breath,
Inhaled with joy the fire-damp blast of death;
-Condemned to fell the mountain palm on high,
That cast its shadow from the evening sky,
Ere the tree trembled to his feeble stroke,
The woodman languished, and his heart-strings broke;
-Condernned in torrid noon, with palsied hand,
To urge the slow plough o'er the obdurate land,
The labourer, smitten by the sun's fierce ray,
A corpse along the unfinished furrow lay.
O'erwhelmed at length with ignominious toil,
Mingling their barren ashes with the soil,
Down to the dust the Charib people passed,
Like autumn foliage, withering in the blast;
The whole race sunk beneath the oppressor's rod,
And left a blank among the works of God.”

When we bear in mind that these beautiful passages of poetry are pot the mere ornamental descriptions of things gone by and done with; but that, though races are extinguished, and millions of negroes, kidnapped to supply their loss, have perished in their misery, the horrors and outrages of slavery remain, spite of all we have done to put an end to them,-we cannot too highly estimate the productions of the muse which are devoted to the cause of these children of misery and sorrow, nor too often return to their perusal.

In the World before the Flood, and Greenland, the same great purpose of serving the cause of virtue is equally conspicuous. The one relates the contests and triumphs of the good over the vicious in the antediluvian ages, and is full of the evidences of a fine imagidation and a lofty piety. Many think this the greatest of Montgomery's productions. It abounds with beauties which we must not allow ourselves to particularize here. In Greenland he celebrates the missionary labours of the body to which his parents and his brother belonged. In the Pelican Island he quitted his favourite versification, the heroic, in which he displays so much force and harmony, and employed blank verse. There is less human interest in this poem, but it is, perhaps, the most philosophical of his writings, and gives great scope to his imaginative and descriptive powers. He imagines himself as a sort of spiritual existence, watching the progress of the population of the world, from its inanimate state till it was thronged with men, and the savage began to think, and to be prepared for the visitation of the Gospel messengers of peace and knowledge. It is obvious that vast opportunity is thus given for the recital of the wonders, awful and beautiful,

OO

of the various realms of nature the growth of coral islands and continents in the sea, and the varied developments of life on the land. The last scene, with a noble savage and his grandchild, in which the old man is smitten with a sense of his immortality, and of the presence of God, and praying, is followed in his act of devotion by the child, is very fine. But I must only allow myself to quote, as a specimen of the style of this poem, so different to all others by the same author, one of its opening passages already referred to.

“I was a spirit in the midst of these,

All eye, ear, thought; existence was enjoyment;
Light was an element of life, and air
The clothing of my incorporeal form,-
A form impalpable to mortal touch,
And volatile as fragrance from the flower,
Or music in the woodlands. What the soul
Can make itself at pleasure, that I was ;
A child in feeling and imagination ;
Learning new lessons still, as Nature wrought
Her wonders in my presence. All I saw,
Like Adam, when he walked in Paradise,
I knew and named by secret intuition.
Actor, spectator, sufferer, each in turn,
I ranged, explored, reflected. Now I sailed
And now I soared; anon, expanding, seemed
Diffused into immensity, yet bound
Within a space too narrow for desire.
The mind, the mind, perpetual themes must task,
Perpetual power impel and hope allure.
I and the silent sun were here alone,
But not companions; high and bright he held
His course; I gazed with admiration on him
There all communion ended; and I sighed
To feel myself a wanderer without aim,
An exile amid splendid desolation,

A prisoner with infinity surrounded." James Montgomery was born November 4, 1771, in the little town of Irvine, in Ayrshire ; a place which has also had the honour of giving birth to John Galt, and of being for about six months the abode of Robert Burns, when a youth, who was sent there to learn the art and mystery of flax-dressing, but his master's shop being burnt, be quitted Irvine and that profession at the same time. The house in which Burns resided does not seem to be now very positively known, but it was in the Glasgow Vennel. The house where Montgomery was born is well known. It is in Halfway-street, and was pointed out to me by the zealous admirer and chronicler of all that belongs to genius, Mr. Maxwell Dick, of Irvine, in whose possession are some of the most interesting of the autograph copies of Burns's Poems, especially the Cotter's Saturday Night.

The house of Montgomery, at the time of his birth and till his fifth year, was a very humble one. His father was the Moravian minister there, and probably had not a large congregation. We know how the ministers of this pious people will labour on in the most physically or morally desolate scene, if they can hope but to win one soul. The cottage is now inhabited by a common wearer, and consists of two rooms only, on the ground foor, one of which is occupied by the loom. The chapel, which used to stand opposite.

is now pulled down. This cottage is located in a narrow alley, back from the street. When sixty years of age, the poet visited his birth place, and was received there by the provost and magistrates of the town with great honour; in his own words, “the heart of all Irvine seemed to be moved on the occasion, and every soul of it,

old and young, rich and poor, to hail me to my birthplace.” AccomE panied by his townsmen, he visited the cottage of his birth, and

was surprised to find the interior marked by a memorial of his having been born there. Mr. Dick, who was present on this occasion, said, that no sooner had he entered the first room, which used to be, as it is still, the sitting-room, than the memory of his childhood came strongly back upon him, and he sat down and recounted various things which he recollected of the apartment, and of what had taken place in it.

The year after this visit to his birthplace, Montgomery received an official letter from the authorities, stating that, as the town-chest contained one of the original manuscripts of the poet Burns, it was

requested that he would enrich this depository with a similar gift. - He accordingly sent them the original copy of The World before the Flood in manuscript, which is there preserved.

In his fifth year he returned with his parents to Grace Hill, a settlement of the Moravian Brethren, near Ballymena, in the county

of Antrim, in Ireland ; and where his parents had resided previously > to the year of the poet's birth. When between six and seven he

was removed to the seminary of the Brethren at Fulneck, in Yorki shire. In the year 1783 his parents were sent out as missionaries

to the West Indies, to preach to the poor slave the consoling doctrine of another and a better world, “ where the wretched hear not the voice of the oppressor,” and “where the servant is free from his master.” There they both died. One lies in the island of Barbadoes, the other in Tobago.

"Beneath the lion-star they sleep,

Beyond the western deep,
And when the sun's noon-glory crests the waves,

He shines without a shadow on their graves." In the Fulneck academy, amongst a people remarkable for their Ardour in religion, and their industry in the pursuit of useful learuing, James Montgomery received his education. He was intended for the ministry, and his preceptors were every way competent to the task of preparing him for the important office for which he was designed. His studies were various: the French, German, Latin, and Greek languages; history, geography, and music; but a desire to distinguish himself as a poet soon interfered with the plan laid out for him. When ten years old he began to write verses, and continued to do so with unabated ardour till the period when he quitted Fulneck, in 1787 ; they were chiefly on religious subjects.

This early devotion to poetry, irresistible as it was, he was wont himself to regard as the source of many troubles. It retarded his improvement at school, he has said, and finally altered his destination in life, compelling him to exchange an almost monastic seclu

sion from society, for the hurry and bustle of a world, which, for a time, seemed disposed to repay him but ill for the sacritice. It is not to be supposed, however, that his opinion of this change remained the same. In whatever character James Montgomery had performed his allotted work in this world, I am persuaded that he would have performed it with the same conscientious steadfastness. In his heart, the spirit of his pious parents, and of that society in which he was educated, would have made him a faithful servant of that Master whom he has so sincerely served. Whether he had occupied a pulpit here, or had gone out to preach Christianity in some far-off and savage land, he would have been the same man, faithful and devout. But it may well be questioned whether in any other vocation he could have been a tenth part as successfully useful as he has been. There was need of him in the world, and he was sent thither, spite of parentage, education, and himself. There was a talent committed to him that is not committed to all. He was to be a minister of God, but it was to be from the hallowed chair of poetry, and not from the pulpit. There was a voice to be raised against slavery and vice, and that voice was to perpetuate itself on the rhythmical page, and to kindle thousands of hearts with the fire of religion and liberty long after his own was cold. There was a niche reserved for him in the temple of poetry, which no other could occupy. It was that of a bard who, freeing his most religious lays from dogmas, should diffuse the love of religion by the religion of love. He himself has shown how well he knew his appointed business, and how sacredly he had resolved to discharge it, when, in A Theme for a Poet, he asks,

" What monument of mind Shall I bequeath to deathless fame,

That after-times may love my name ?" And after detailing the characteristics of the principal poets of the age, he adds :

** Transcendent masters of the lyre!

Not to your honours I aspire ;
Humbler, yet higher views
Have touched my spirit into flame;
The pomp of fiction I disclaim:
Fair Truth! be thou my muse :
Reveal in splendour deeds obscure-

Abase the proud, exalt the poor.
" I sing the men who left their home,

Amidst barbarian hordes to roam,
Who land and ocean crossed, -
Led by a load-star, marked on high
By Faith's unseen, all-seeing eye,-
To seek and save the lost;
Where'er the curse on Adam spread,

To call his offspring from the dead,
“ Strong in the great Redeemer's name,

They bore the cross, despised the shame, And, like their Master here, Wrestled with danger, pain, distress, Hunger, and cold, and nakedness, And every form of fear; To feel his love their only joy, To tell that love their sole employ."

at thither, set it was to

to be a ministara* Ful
T of poet, sal lan

aguust see, sixteen
be rhythmicato in 1760.
of religion and was

Diebe read coun
vull acupr. bad enor

lars frw domu o sca Of lore. He tow sides and when bous Terws for a few the Mai mums itsid 9 dan 2 mos muy bore DT to

The highest ambition of James Montgomery was, then, to do that by Ey, for the duty to his pen which his brethren did by word of mouth. He had not

posed to repor abandoned that great object to which he had as an orphan beer, as mised, however, as it were, dedicated by those good men in whose hands he had been me lo whate 3 left; he had only changed the mode of attaining it. At the very his allotted For 5 time that he quitted their tranquil asylum and broke forth into the e performed it as world, he was, unknown to himself and them, following the unseen esert, the start (Les at hand of Heaven. His lot was determined, and it was not to go forth was educatiile into the wilderness of the north or south, of Labrador or South ter whom be baise se Africa, but of the active world of England. There wanted a bold pulnit bere, voice, of earnest principle, to be raised against great oppressions; a and on the way spirit of earnest duty, to be infused into the heart of poetic literaTarunt Miu ture; and a tone of heavenly faith and confidence given to the in the arcu popular harp, for which thousands of hearts were listening in vain ; hien Lepp and he was the man. That was the work of life assigned to him. He Predam was to be still of the UNITAS FRATRUM-still a missionary ;-and

ir well has he fulfilled his mission! materials Fulneck, the chief settlement of the Moravian Brethren in Engi land, at which we have seen that Montgomery continued till his sie sixteenth year, is about eight miles from Leeds. It was built about I 1760, which was near the time of the death of Count Zinzendorf. It

was then in & fine and little inhabited country. It is now in a ir country as populous as a town, full of tall chimneys vomiting out "Kos enormous masses of soot rather than smoke, and covering the land* scape as with an eternal veil of black mist. The villages are like mis towns for extent. Stone and smoke are equally abundant. Stone

houses, door-posts, window-frames, stone floors, and stone stairs, pay, and the very roofs are covered with stone slabs, and when they are new,

are the most completely drab buildings. The factories are the same.

Where windows are stopped up, it is with stone slabs. The fences Te to the fields are stone walls, and the gate-posts are stone, and the

stiles are stones reared so close to one another, that it is tight work getting through them. Not a bit of wood is to be seen except the doors, water-spouts, and huge water-butts, which are often hoisted in front of the house on the level of the second floor, on strong stone rests. The walls, as well as wooden frames in the fields, are clothed with long pieces of cloth, and women stand mending holes or smoothing off knots in them, as they hang. Troops of boys and girls come out of the factories at meal times, as blue as so many little blue devils, hands, faces, clothes, all blue from weaving the fresh dyed yarn. The older mill girls go cleaner and smarter, all with coloured handkerchiefs tied over their heads, chiefly bright red ones, and look very continental. Dirty rows of children sit on dirty stone doorsills, and there are strong scents of oat cake, and Genoa oil, and oily yarn. There is a general smut of blackness over all, even in the very soil and dust. And Methodist chapels,-Salems and Ebenezers, are seen on all hands. Who that has ever been into a cloth-weaving district, does not see the place and people ?

Well, up to the very back of Fulneck, throng these crowds and attributes of cloth manufacturing. Leaving the coach and the high

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »