« AnteriorContinuar »
KIRKE WHITE'S POEMS.
. . . . .
foregoing elegant Admonition 162 Gondoline: a Ballad . . .
To Misfortune · · ·
THE LIFE AND WRITINGS
HENRY KIRKE WHITE.
HENRY KIRKE WHITE is the first YOUNG poet we have yet encountered in the course of this edition, and we may fitly introduce him by a few remarks on poetical precocity and poetical prodigies.
All poets in a sense are for ever young. Genius has a youth involved in it constituting a treasure and a food which the world knoweth not of. What is genius but being intensely en rapport with Nature ? and Nature is everlastingly young. On the head of the poet, indeed, gray hairs will whiten, and perhaps more speedily than on that of men of less ethereal mould. The frame of the man of genius is often prematurely enfeebled by study or anxiety, and his sun sometimes goes down while it is yet day. But his soul is continually young. His heart never grows old,—nay, often in extreme age he renews his youth. New freshness seems to blow on him from the Hesperian isles as he nears the West; and you apply to him the words of the Divine Lyrist
“ In old age, when others fade,
He fruit still forth shall bring.” But there is a class of poets, who, dying early-as though a crescent moon should be snatched up by some “insatiate archer” into the infinite, ere it had filled its full sphereexcite in us a peculiar and pensive emotion, and are perhaps dearer both to the heart and the imagination than those minds which have been permitted to expand into mature and fullorbed splendour. Such were Chatterton, Michael Bruce, Keats, Kirke White, and Herbert Knowles. And such, too, although less prematurely removed, were Robert Pollok, Shelley, Byron, and Schiller; for they, too, had not fully reached middle life, and had not nearly developed the riches of their genius when they were hurried away.
It has often been said that men are apt to exaggerate the powers and achievements of these early poets, and to give them credit in advance for deeds which, had they lived, they might never have performed. And certainly some of those poets who have been prodigies in boyhood, have not afterwards fulfilled the prestige. Probably, too, prematurity of development includes in it a certain exhaustion of the intellectual, as well as of the physical energy; and some of those early victims have perhaps died as the result of having done their utmost and best. "I do not think," says Hazlitt, “ that Chatterton would have written better if he had lived. He knew this himself, else he would have lived." Yet in such cases as Keats and Shelley, where there is such evidence of steady, cumulative, and gigantic growth-ranging in the one from an Endymion, up through a Lamia and an Isabella to the almost Eschylean grandeurs of an Hyperion—and in the other, from a Wandering Jew and a Zastrozzi, up through a Queen Mab, a Revolt of Islam, and a Prometheus Unbound, to a Cenci—the best tragedy out of Shakspeare in the English language-we are impelled to believe, that had they lived, there was no height in poetry which was not within their reach. Of the subject of this present narrative, we can hardly say so much. Henry Kirke White was indeed growing to the end of his brief life, but growing rather in intellect and in knowledge than in genius, and growing rather by dint of his own indefatigable industry and dauntless purpose, than through the strong, silent propulsion of nature. Nor, as we shall see afterwards, was his genius of the highest order; and thus, even although life and the highest culture had been granted him, it was not in his power to have become a great poet.
Nevertheless, the history of letters contains the names of few