« AnteriorContinuar »
. And if any man knowingly takes another man's labourer • into his service, then he forfeits half a mark of silver to the « King.'
• And if a labourer undertakes to do one man's task, and ( cannot work it out, then trustwory men shall reckon how o much ought to be foreprized out of his wages.'
• If a labourer is sick or rounded, and lies thus during one • fortnight, and no longer, then no abatement shall be made • out of his wages, (provided it be ascertained by trustworthy • men, that the husbandmanath enough to maintain himself); . but if he lies longer, the loss of work is to be reckoned by • trustworth men, together with the worth of the victual he • enjoys, both which shell va deducted; or otherwise let him " leave his service and go to his relations.'
Equally minute and perspicuous are the laws which regulate the cultivation and management of the land; and they may be put in competition with the most accurate farming lease of mo. dern days. The details of cro")s and fallows, of the manure which the farmer was to beston upon the fields, of the course of cropping which he was to pursue, and of the stock which he was to leave at the expiration of his tenure, occupy many a chapter in these ancient monuments of legislation, and afford frequent prcof of the conforts which had fallen to the lot of the Northmen. Luxury was denied to them by nature, and the magnificence of art was unknown; but they had corn in the barn, and kine in the byre; and the free and opulent yeoman ploughed the stubborn soil. *
* If the Brehon laws were collected, they would outweigh and outvalue all the jurisprudence of Scandinavia. Hitherto, the authentic antiquities of Ireland have been miserably neglected; but we may now hope for better days, since the learning of an O'Connor is patronized by the munificence of a Grenville. That the ancient Irish, the world Irish, calumniated as they have been by their invaders, had attained a high degree of civilization, may be inferred from the agricultural laws included in the Fragments published by Val. lancey. The fines for trespasses are curiously detailed and graduate ed. They had common land, and also much enclosed land. Heavy penalties were imposed for breaking fences. For a gap of the width of three stakes, a young bull heifer was paid ; for five, a full grown bull heifer ; for eight, a good heifer; for twelve, five cows. Timber trees were protected against injury: the country, therefore, must have been cleared, and well cultivated. We pen this note with peculiar pleasure, when we recollect that we first derived our information from one of the fairest of the daughters of the Gael.
The safeguard of the wealth and of the liberty of the Scandinavians, was found in the popular tribunals which were the origin of our juries. These institutions have been imperfectly explained by Stiernhook, whose abridgement of the Swedish laws is the only work relating to the subject which is easily accessible to the general reader; and we would willingly enlarge upon them, were we not compelled to close our desultory observations. We now find, that we have lingered too long amongst the singularities of the Northern law, without attempting to investigate its essential basis. Contemplating the antique garb of the judges, as they are seated on the Hill of Pleas, we have neglected to listen to their wisdom; yet we are less willing to regret our negligence, when we recollect, that the principles embodied in the judicial polity of the Scandinavians, may receive a more familiar and useful illustration, by considering them in conjunction with the ancient common law of England. If we return to these investigations, it is because the details of the law are the fresh and perennial comments of history. The life of man is consumed in striving against bis own follies, his own vices, and his own crimes;—and the volumes which teach us to consider every fellow-creature as a fellow-knave, afford the most afflicting, yet the most instructive, anatomy of the human heart.
Art. X. 1. Endymion : A. Poetic Romance. By John KEATS.
8vo. pp. 207. London, 1818. 2. Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St Agnes, and other Poems.
By John KEATS, Author of Endymion. 12mo. pp. 200. London, 1820.
W e had never happened to see either of these volumes till
! very lately—and have been exceedingly struck with the genius they display, and the spirit of poetry which breathes through all their extravagance. That imitation of our older writers, and especially of our older dramatists, to which we cannot help flattering ourselves that we have somewhat contributed, has brought on, as it were, a second spring in our poetry ;-and few of its blossoms are either more profuse of sweetness or richer in promise, than this which is now before us. Mr Keats, we understand, is still a very young man; and his whole works, indeed, bear evidence enough of the fact. They are full of extravagance and irregularity, rash attempts at originality, interminable wanderings, and excessive obscurity. They manifestly require, therefore, all the indulgence that can be claimed for a first attempt :--but we think it no less plain that they deserve it; for they are flushed all over with the rich lights of fancy, and so coloured and bestrewn with the flowers of poetry, that even while perplexed and bewildered in their labyrinths, it is impossible to resist the intoxication of their sweetness, or to shut our hearts to the enchantments they so lavishly present. The models upon which he has formed himself, in the Endymion, the earliest and by much the most considerable of his poems, are obviously the Faithful Shepherdess of Fletcher, and the Sad Shepherd of Ben Jonson ;-the exquisite metres and inspired diction of which he has copied with great boldness and fidelity-and, like his great originals, has also contrived to impart to the whole piece that true rural and poetical air which breathes only in them and in Theocritus--which is at once homely and majestic, luxurious and rude, and sets before us the genuine sights and sounds and smells of the country, with all the magic and grace of Elysium. His subject has the disadvantage of being mythological; and in this respect, as well as on account of the raised and rapturous tone it consequently assumes, his poetry may be better compared perhaps to the Comus and the Arcades of Milton, of which, also, there are many traces of imitation. The great distinction, however, between him and these divine authors, is, that imagination in them is subordinate to reason and judgment, while, with him, it is paramount and supreme--that their ornaments and images are employed to embellish and recommend just sentiments, engaging incidents, and natural characters, while his are poured out without measure or restraint, and with no apparent design but to unburden the breast of the author, and give vent to the overflowing vein of his fancy. The thin and scanty tissue of his story is merely the light frame work on which his florid wreaths are suspended; and while his imaginations go rambling and entangling themselves everywhere, like wild honeysuckles, all idea of sober reason, and plan, and consistency, is utterly forgotten, and are • strangled in their waste fertility.' A great part of the work indeed, is written in the strangest and most fantastical manner that can be imagined. It seems as if the author had ventured everything that occurred to him in the shape of a glittering image or striking expression-taken the first word that presented itself to make up a rhyme, and then made that word the germ of a new cluster of imagesa hint for a new excursion of the fancy-and so wandered on, equally forgetful whence he came, and heedless whither he was going, till he had covered his pages with an interminable arabesque of connected and incongruous figures, that multiplied as they extended, and were only harmonized by the brightness of their tints, and the graces of their forms. In this rash and headlong career he has of course many lapses and failures. There is no work, accordingly, from which a malicious critic could cul] more matter for ridicule, or select more obscure, unnatural, or absurd passages. But we do not take that to be our office; and just beg leave, on the contrary, to say, that any one who, on this account, would represent the whole poem as despicable, must either have no notion of poetry, or no regard to truth.
It is, in truth, at least as full of genius as of absurdity; and he who does not find a great deal in it to admire and to give delight, cannot in his heart see much beauty in the two exquisite dramas to which we have already alluded, or find any great pleasure in some of the finest creations of Milton and Shakespeare. There are very many such persons, we verily believe, even among the reading and judicious part of the community correct scholars we have no doubt many of them, and, it may be, very classical composers in prose and in verse—but utterly ignorant of the true genius of English poetry, and incapable of estimating its appropriate and most exquisite beauties. With that spirit we have no hesitation in saying that Mr K. is deeply imbued--and of those beauties he has presented us with many -striking examples. We are very much inclined indeed to add, that we do not know any book which we would sooner employ as a test to ascertain whether any one had in him a native relish for poetry, and a genuine sensibility to its intrinsic charm, The greater and more distinguished poets of our country have so much else in them to gratify other tastes and propensities, that they are pretty sure to captivate and amuse those to whom their poetry is but an hindrance and obstruction, as well as those to whom it constitutes their chief attraction. The interest of the stories they tell—the vivacity of the characters they delineate-the weight and force of the maxims and sentiments in which they abound--the very pathos and wit and humour they display, which may all and each of them exist apart from their poetry and independent of it, are quite sufficient to account for their popularity, without referring much to that still higher gift, by which they subdue to their enchantments those whose souls are attuned to the finer impulses of poetry. It is only where those other recommendations are wanting, or exist in a weaker degree, that the true force of the attraction, exercised by the pure poetry with which they are so often combined, can be fairly appreciated-where, without much incident or many characters, and with little wit, wisdom, or arrangement, a number of bright pictures are presented to the imagination, and a fine feeling expressed of those mysterious relations by which visible external things are assimilated with inward thoughts and emotions, and become the images and exponents of all passions and affections. To an unpoetical reader such passages always appear mere raving and absurdity-and to this censure a very great part of the volume before us will certainly be exposed, with this class of readers. Even in the judgment of a fitter audience, however, it must, we fear, be admitted, that, besides the riot and extravagance of his fancy, the scope and substance of Mr K.'s poetry is rather too dreary and abstracted to excite the strongest interest, or to sustain the attention through a work of any great compass or extent. He deals too much with shadowy and incomprehensible beings, and is too constantly rapt into an extramundane Elysium, to command a lasting interest with ordinary mortals and must employ the agency of more varied and coarser emotions, if he wishes to take rank with the seducing poets of this or of former generations,
There is something very curious too, we think, in the way in which he, and Mr Barry Cornwall also, have dealt with the Pagan mythology, of which they have made so much use in their poetry. Instead of presenting its imaginary persons under the trite and vulgar traits that belong to them in the ordinary systems, little more is borrowed from these than the general conception of their conditions and relations; and an original character and distinct individuality is bestowed upon them, which has all the merit of invention, and all the grace and attraction of the fictions on which it is engrafted. The antients, though they probably did not stand in any great awe of their deities, have yet abstained very much from any minute or dramatic representation of their feelings and affections. In Hesiod and Homer, they are coarsely delineated by some of their actions and adventures, and introduced to us merely as the agents in those particular transactions; while in the Hymns, from those ascribed to Orpheus and Homer, down to those of Callimachus, we have little but pompous epithets and invocations, with a flattering commemoration of their most famous exploits and are never allowed to enter into their bosoms, or follow out the train of their feelings, with the presumption of our human sympathy. Except the love-song of the Cyclops to his Sea Nymph in Theocritus—the Lamentation of Venus for Adonis in Moschus--and the more recent Legend of Apuleius, we scarcely recollect a passage in all the writings of antiquity in which the passions of an immortal are fairly disclosed to the scrutiny and observation of men. The author before us, however, and some of his contemporaries, have dealt differently with the subject ;-and, shel