Imágenes de páginas

with home-truth under a fine veil, is another allegory, 'The Pilgrim of the Desert;' the old, old story of a happy valley invaded by a stranger, who tempts its innocent and contented dweller beyond its limits, to learn too late and irretrievably

• How narrow content, and how infinite knowledge!' There is, however, a smaller poem, referable to this class, though it is also perhaps of kin to the Idyll, which must be quoted, on the score of its unique and compact grace. With the melancholy cadence of the author's best efforts in this style it joins the charm of a classical inspiration and subject. Its theme is Ganymede (p. 103):

• Upon the Phrygian hill
The shepherd sate, and on his reed he played.
Sunlight and calm: noon in the dreamy glade,

Noon on the lulling rill.

He saw not where on high
The noiseless eagle of the heavenly king
Rested—till rapt upon the rushing wing

Into the golden sky.

When the bright Nectar-Hall
And the still brows of bended gods he saw,
In the quick instinct both of shame and awe

His hand the reed let fall.

Soul! that a thought divine
Bears into heaven-thy first extent survey!
What charmed thee most on earth is cast away ;-

To soar is to resign!' So versatile is Sir E. B. Lytton's muse, that to tarry longer amongst his didactic effusions were to wrong one or two representatives of other kinds of poetry, which put in a strong claim to notice. For example, we meet with poems of the affections, such as “The Life's Record,' which those who dispute our author's power to image and interpret Nature will do well to study. There is no exaggeration in the sad picture of Love and Death, no violence to the natural and probable in the idea of Love's new-birth over the tomb of the lost.' But perhaps the secret of this poem's charm lies mostly in that part of it which is headed • The Meeting-place of old' (pp. 63-5), and which sets before our mind's vision the chosen spot for lovers' tryst,' with such minute description that it is like a bit of Birket Foster in verse. Another poem, too, of this class, · The Love of maturer years,' is full of pretty conceits and richness of imagery from various sources. Byron or Moore would not have scorned, we fancy, to own the graceful artifice with which this love effusion closes :Vol. 117.-No. 234.

2 c

• Whene'er




[ocr errors]


· Whene'er the face of Heaven appears

As kind as once it smiled on me,
I'll steal adown the mount of

And come, a youth once more, to thee !
From bitter grief and iron wrong,

When Memory sets her captive free,
When joy is in the sky-lark's song,

My blithesome steps shall bend to thee !
When Thought, the storm-bird, shrinks before

The width of Nature's clouded sea,
A voice shall charm it home on shore,

To share the halcyon's nest with thee !
Lo! how the faithful verse escapes

The varying chime that laws decree,
And, like my heart, attracted, shapes

Each wandering fancy back to thee !'-P. 84. Again, it is impossible to overlook the claims of what we should call the poetry of sentiment' strewn over this volume. Specimens of it so musically sweet as the · First Violets,' so suggestive of past youth and of tenderest reminiscence, cannot fail to become favourites when known, if the soul of poetry yet beats, and has not quitted its whilom lodging in the English breast. Here is one verse plucked from this sweet posy :

• Oft by a flower, a leaf, in some loved book,

We mark the lines that charm us most ;-retrace
Thy life ; recall its loveliest passage ;-look,

Dead violets keep the place!' We commend the scent and fragrance of this pretty piece to the reader, being loth to anticipate or divide his pleasure further by mangling quotations.

Our onward course leads us next in order to the idyllic or pastoral portions of these poems.

The idyll, Belief the Unknown Language,' may seem too deep for a pastoral, but it has a classic air about it:

• As when the swans by Moschus heard at noon,

Mourned their lost Bion on the Thracian streams,
Or when Simætha murmured to the moon

Of Myndian Delphis-old Sicilian themes.'-P. 50. It has also infinite sweetness, meetly clothing a truth lying, it is admitted, beneath the surface, but only so far so, that if there be obscurity, it is, as Coleridge said of Milton, such an obscurity as is a compliment to the reader.' Longer, and perhaps more noticeable, is the lyrical eclogue, “The Dispute of the Poets.' It may not improbably provoke criticism-as indeed what

attempt 2 c 2

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

attempt at a 'pastoral' may not? for is it not commonly the case that the mouthpiece only represents rural simplicity, while the sentiments which it utters are the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.' Did “pastoral singers in Sicilian noons' ever pour

forth such alternate strains of wisdom and research? Yet Theocritus and Virgil must stand at the same bar; as also must those of our own countrymen who have availed themselves of this form of poetry for imitation's sake, or for the advantages of its amoebean and quasi-dramatic character. Sir Edward B. Lytton, therefore, does but follow precedent in introducing us to swains far too refined to have done anything beyond playing at pastoral life-swains whose talk, as they disport themselves • Where the cool sunbeams slant through ilex-boughs,' savours rather of the schools of Athens than of Nature's teaching. Granting this, we must in fairness add, that the Eclogue has a thorough Virgilian finish in its descriptive parts, and here and there a grandeur which bespeaks capacity for the higher flights of epic poetry. Nor are the lyrics-in which Caricles maintains that the poet's mission is to delight,' and Philaster upholds the graver creed, that it is 'to improve'—a whit less worthy of praise. They are the expression of well-sustained theory, with every grace that metre, language, and fancy can lend it. While the spirit of an Anacreon animates the advocate of pleasure, we catch echoes of Sophocles and Euripides in the strains of the more serious lyre, with which it is not difficult to see that Sir E. B. Lytton sympathises, although, after the approved pastoral fashion, the honours are divided between the rivals. Here and elsewhere there are traces of the influence of Schiller, with whose poetry our author has a translator's, and not merely an admirer's, familiarity.

In the volume before us one specimen occurs of another class

poems—those that take the form of satire. A few words must be said respecting this before passing to the Narrative and Historical poems which constitute the largest half of the collection, and, as many will deem, the crowning merit of the whole. A passing weakness must be noted in the semi-satirical poem, entitled Mind and Body.' Not that we find any fault with its general conception or leading features. Never was satire less personal, never humour so free from spite and venom. Would that satirists would oftener expend their severity, not upon individuals, but upon that very assailable joint-stock, our common humanity. It is amusing enough to hear Body and Soul calling each other names in a rough, lively fashion for the space of nine or ten pages: and there is a certain grim pleasantry in the Mind's

remarks, under



remarks, after dissolution of partnership, on the misdirected honours heaped upon the senseless clay :

• Much amazed he beholds all the pains they bestow
On that Body, so long his most pitiless foe;
With the plate on the coffin, the wreaths on the bier,
And the scholar explaining in Latin severe,

That he lived for all races, and died to lie Here.'--P. 23. Small blame, too, deserves the Mind for its difficulty of accounting for this phenomenon of political life :

• That the practice of statesmen—and long may it thrive

Is to honour their foes—when no longer alive. —P. 24. Indeed the poem would have ministered unqualified amusement, but for the bad taste of barbing a shaft at the supposed phantom, • lasting renown,' with a feeble allusion to Mr. Sothern :

Of lasting renown one so soon becomes weary ;

The most lasting I know of is that of Dundreary.-P. 25. Is this a puff? or is it a sarcasm at the unreasoning crowd which never tires of seeing the same follies represented on the stage? At all events, it must surely be beneath a poet's dignity to condescend to ephemeral and contemporary illustrations of most prosaic triteness; and we are at a loss to account, except on the supposition of a partial dulness to the voice of criticism, for this resort to an illustration, the force of which will be lost in a dozen years, for the purpose of throwing ridicule on an object of desire, which we take leave to hope and think that Sir Edward himself covets as earnestly as any man. In one or two other poems, which otherwise we should note with unalloyed praise, we see the same tendency to be content with mean illustrations. Poetry ought to repudiate such questionable supernumeraries as Sir E. B. Lytton drags upon his stage to show the disinclination of age to acquiesce in retirement:* For all of us, the tritest, shrink reluctant from the cession

Of an atom-weight of power o'er the lives of fellow-men ;
Not a Dobson quits his till, not a Jobson his profession,

Not a Jones in penny journals the sceptre of his pen.'—P. 32. Having thus discharged ourselves of the sole ebullition of faultfinding which our examination of these volumes has called forth, we pass with pleasure to a range of poetry over which our author's muse moves perhaps more congenially than over any other—a range comprehending at once the most solid proofs of what he has achieved, and the fairest earnest of what he is capable of achieving in poesy. We mean the range of narrative' poetry,


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

under which may be grouped all those poems which are of the nature of romance, tale, or historical sketch. Here at least the prominence of the moral does not thrust nature into the background. Here, more than anywhere else, poetry is an ‘imitative art'-a representation, under certain rules and unities of treatment, of things and characters as they have been, ought to be, or might have been, 'within the conceived possibilities of Nature.' In his narrative poems Sir Edward B. Lytton has kept this definition well in view. In all of them there is an unobtrusive adherence to the rules of art: in his careful and life-like descriptions there is wonderful truthfulness to external nature; and, more than this, that without which the rest would be no higher achievement than accuracy and observation, a brilliancy of imagination which commingles with delineation of external features those nner thoughts and deeper secrets which can only be discerned by the poetic vision, seeing more than it describes.' This will be found true as to every subdivision of the class of narrative poetry in this volume. We might illustrate it by the only sample of “romance' narrative given us—an early work of Sir Edward Lytton, called “The Fairy Bride;' but this pretty little sketch has suffered partial eclipse owing to the overshadowing influence of King Arthur.' It has many tokens of youthful composition, and many germs of a now matured fancy; but its chief

grace is the delightful freshness belonging to the time of life that can most appreciate

The old time's divine and fresh romance !
When o'er the lone yet ever-haunted ways
Went frank-eyed knighthood with adventurous lance,
And life with wonder charmed adventurous days.'

* King Arthur,' p. 119. • The Fairy Bride' pales before the more maturely-conceived and ininutely-portrayed representation of Egle,-a creation of roinance, which, to our thinking, entitles the epic of King Arthur' to higher consideration on the part of critics, and assuredly to wider favour with the gentler sex, than it has met with hitherto.

But it is needless to go to the dim regions of fairy-land for illustrations of Sir E. B. Lytton's narrative poetry. He has given us Sample room and verge enough' both in his poetic tales, which have an historic foundation, and in those which, having their birth in fancy, are moulded in conformity with the experience and probabilities of life. What Sir Edward B. Lytton's Milton' was in its original form, when, if we recollect aright, it won many kindly auguries of success for its author thirty-three years ago,

it does not concern us to inquire. As put forth afresh, it merits, we think, a warmer appreciation than its modest parent


« AnteriorContinuar »