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less well-considered flights of a youthful Pegasus, and should be able to satisfy itself (as, we assure it, is now possible) that in the collection now published with Sir Bulwer Lytton's latest ' imprimatur' there is not a personality, nor a flippant sentence, not a token or even a suspicion of levity or irreverence-nothing, in short, but what is calculated to raise the tone, to exercise the intellect, and to quicken the human sympathies of every reader.
But, given this high cultivation, this great and diverse learning, these kindly views of society and life, to add grace and warmth to Sir Bulwer Lytton's poetry, is there in him, it may be asked, the poetic faculty that weds rare and brilliant thoughts to melodious words and strains ? or is he only a welder of language into rhyme or rhythm, with barely enough skill to escape imputation of hazy notions as touching the boundary-line between prose and poetry? We think that a dispassionate judgment will incline to he former opinion, and that, though there may not be a very large
a number of single lines or couplets * likely to cling to the memory for purposes of quotation, it will be hard for any one to read through the volume without retaining durable impressions of many reflective, didactic, and descriptive passages, characterised alike by grace and melody of language, and by the inspiration and the poet's dream,' which we are taught to look for, over and above his outward views of things, in a genuine bard. To justify our own opinion, it will be necessary to examine some of the more striking poems in so much of a classified order as the occasional blending of two styles in one piece will admit; and it may be as well to state that from this survey we purposely omit the consideration of two or three semi-Byronic effusions (such as · Lost and Avenged,' pp. 120-3), which we cannot deem worthy to take up the room of what is far more deserving, and of which we fancy the interest cannot be great to general readers. siderable portion of the volume is occupied with what we may call the Didactic class of poetry, and consists of longer and shorter reflective poems, having a moral purpose and drift, which
, is made to appear more or less prominently in the author's treatment. With them it seems admissible to range those pieces which are of the allegorical cast, and, if this classification be adopted, the proportion of didactic poetry is still larger. In reference to this portion of the poems before us, we shall probably be met by an objection which may conceivably
* Some such there are, however, in this vol., e.g. in p. 83:
Oh, Eve, with Eden pleased to part,
Since Eden needs no comforier.' And many lines worthy to be had in remembrance will be found in “St. Stephen's.'
be urged against Sir Bulwer Lytton's pretensions to rank as a poet, on the ground that his didactic aim is too apparentthat there is too much effort and straining after a moralin fact, more tokens of the “ limæ labor' than of true inspiration. There is, as we are of course aware, a potent staff wherewith critics are wont to lay low those whom they rank in the number of the 'made' and not born' poets; to wit, 'the theory of the spontaneous. We fancy we have seen an inclination to apply it to Sir Bulwer Lytton. This theory is very fairly enunciated by Mr. Thomas Arnold, in his Manual of English Literature,' as follows:- In a poet effort is tantamount to condemnation; for it implies the absence of the true poetic gift. For whatever of great value comes from a poet is not that which he wills to say, but that which he cannot help saying ;—that which some higher power-call it Nature, or what you will—dictates through his lips, as through an oracle.'*
It need scarcely be remarked that to this dogma the intelligent writer just quoted attaches only a limited value and soundness; nor will any one be disposed to adopt it wholesale who is reminded of the masterpieces of even the most imaginative minds, which it is perfectly certain have owed much of their ultimate perfection to the dry labour of construction and polish, and which were only in their rough sketch and general conception spontaneous. In truth it might be interesting to ascertain which of our present aspirants to the poetic crown could abide the test of his qualifications, if it lay in not teaching or poetising 'till the spirit moved him,' rather than in proposing a definite theme and moral, and then dressing it out by the help of fancy, illustration, and poetic adornments. If, then, it be urged that Sir E. B. Lytton's didactic poems are cut to order, and fitted to the shape of the moral which is the particular keynote of each, we see no reason why he should not admit the impeachment, and justify a preference for a definite aim and scope, rather than for the random process of drawing a bow at a venture. Among the poems mainly didactic, although indeed it has much subordinate grace of description about it, we select for its calm strain of reflective wisdom, couched in words which admirably echo it, that entitled . Retirement, man's final choice. Its latter verses, expressing the reluctance of age to accept that secession from active pursuits to which in its chart and programme of life youth deliberately allots a place, and drawing the sound and true moral from this weakness of human will, represent a vein of philosophical poetry, which recommends itself the more at each reperusal :
* Arnold's . Manual of English Literature,' p. 213.
· Yet, oh yet, when in my young day fair dreams of moral beauty
Limned out my human future into harmony and plan,
Their own allotted spaces in the edifice of man,
Closed its length in shadow'd cloisters, sequester'd for the sage, And the fairest life must lose what is fairest in its ending,
If all without a twilight fades the sun away from age. Still I hesitate and ponder ; my will in craven shrinking
Leaves undrawn the finest lot in the muffled urn of fate, While each moment in the hourglass is sinking, swiftly sinking,
And swiftest of all moments is the one that comes too late. Well, this weakness of the will, though it humble, should uplift me,
It links me but the closer to the all-disposing Power; Despite my best endeavour, if the running current drift me,
The loadstone of eternity draws tow'rds itself the hour. Man's will is only godlike when a God himself doth seize it;
All sails that traverse ocean, Heaven sends the wind to fill. If human will be silent, heavenly wisdom so decrees it; Man! that wisdom may be speaking in the silence of thy will.'
Pp. 33-4. Not, indeed, that there is not any relief to this philosophic strain in the poem from which we are quoting. At the risk of prolixity we must cite one of its earlier stanzas, for its unartificial touch of nature conveyed in a classical dress : 'Ah! to watch on lawns remote, in the deep of Sabine valleys,
How the sunset gilds the cypress growing high beside my home, While the ring-dove's latest coo lulls the fading forest alleys,
Were sweeter for life's evening than the roar and smoke of Rome.' It would be hard if any 'penchant' for the strictly 'spontaneous' should rob us, on the score of their conscious, and, it may be, laboured moral, of the verses, 'Is it all vanity ?' (pp. 42-6); wherein, in place of the treatment which such a topic would have met from the Byronic school, the subject finds a handling that is at once healthy and elevated. By gradual realisations of the hollowness of earthly things—of the dreams of youth, of the dogmas of philosophy, and of the fretting ambitions of this mortal coilthe spirit is led to discern that work and toil are the law of its body-trammelled existence, and thought and yearning-upward its distinction from the soulless brute. The verses descriptive of the unrealities of life, as they fleet by, are full of a pathetic beauty :
• In the chill dawns of real life how soon
The beautiful ideals fade away!
Love render'd saintlike by its pure devotion;
Knowledge exulting lone on shoreless seas;
As May-leaves to the breeze:
When boyhood's heart swells up to the Sublime,
Flash from the peaks of time!' But the soul is cheered to its burden and reconciled to its present fardell of laborious care' in the concluding lines, which draw an earnest of its immortality from its dissatisfaction with all things earthly :
Rise, then, my soul, take comfort from thy sorrow;
Thou feel’st thy treasure, when thou feel'st thy load;
God on the brute bestow'd.
Flight from what is, to live in what may be,
Proves thine eternity.' Of a similarly high tone of reflection are the poems · Mind and Soul' (pp. 75-78), an aspiration for undiminished mental powers; • The Wither'd Tree in June' (p. 109); and “The Desire of Fame,' a poem which appears to have been written by Sir Edward B. Lytton at the age of thirty, and is singularly free from aught that wisdom and experience could prompt him to blot. We cull from the last mentioned a fine passage justifying a highpitched ambition, such as the poet himself has wooed :
• No! for whoever with an earnest soul
Strives for some end from this low world afar,
And strays—but towards a star.
The constant training for a glorious strife :
Gains strength, at least, for life.'--P. 113. And in the touching and personal language, meriting other destiny than oblivion for the beauty and tenderness of its cadence, with which this poem ends, we seem to discover the author's own reading of his position in reference to contemporaries, and of bis prospects at the hands of posterity :
• Eno' if haply in the after days,
When by the altar sleeps the funeral stone,
When causeless Hate can wound its prey no more,
And fawns its late repentance o'er the dead,
Pause by my narrow bed ;
Float to mine ears the evening gales along,
Of not all-perish'd song!
The student-lamp, from now-neglected fires-
What-I forgive the sires.'—Pp. 114-115. Akin to the poetry of this class must be reckoned the allegories, of which this volume contains longer and shorter specimens. The most noteworthy of the former sort is The Boatman,' a poem of a weird and mystic character, likely to find many admirers for the marvellous adaptation of metre and rhythm in it to the advancing action of the piece. It appeared first in Blackwood's Magazine,' not so very long ago. Its parable is not hard to interpret. “Time' is the boatman; life the river, widening and widening ever towards the sea of eternity; and man the wayward freight which the boatman has much ado to carry. Now he is for blaming the boatman's laggard pace; now praying him to tarry, that he
take one last look more at the home of his birth. Now he is bent on chasing a fairy phantom; now reconciled to the tranquil enjoyment of wedded love: later on engaged (unheedful of widening stream and nearer sea) in the mad lottery of worldliness and its zests. On a sudden he asks the boatman (p. 11)
• What gleams from the shore ?
Hold but one moment more,
Hurrah for the victor! But one throw more!
Muffled and dirge-like, and sternly steady!
Shall flash on the sea to thy murmur, “ Already !” The résumé of the whole in the last stanza of “The Boatman' is very effective; but extracts do scant justice to a poem, the beauty of which is inseparable from its entirety. It is in truth a fine conception, finely wrought out, and not unmeet to be set side by side with Tennyson's recently-published • Voyage,' to which it has some general resemblance. Less novel, and yet replete