Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

a

a kindred vein of fancy, or a bright idea of apt illustration. Pure and manly in his language, he despises not that polish to which Virgil owed so much, and, like that great master, he scrupulously avoids excess of ornament and conceits; whilst in his lyrics, and his shrewd yet never unkind hits at society and everyday life, he shows a careful appreciation of his Horace. It is not, however, to the ancients that one characteristic of his most beautiful poems, their pervading melancholy, can be traced. This, we suspect, is of indigenous growth. Who shall fathom its causes, or blame the preference given to plaintive, rather than joyous strains ?

Enough that in this melancholy there is no mawkishness, and that in the range of prose and

poetry gone over in this article there is as little of weak sentimentality as of unhealthy sensation. The mass will probably prefer a merry, to a weeping poet, even as it preferred a Democritus to an Heraclitus, for its philosophy. But there will be not a few, nor they the less weighty part in point of taste and refinement, who will recur with sympathy to the graver and sadder poems of this collection, and own the charm of autumnal tints to be no less attractive than spring foliage. There is a time to laugh, and a time to weep. We may thank the minstrel who gives us fancies harmonising with both seasons, and on both scores, as is abundantly clear, Sir E. B. Lytton deserves our gratitude. It may be that the reflective and sombre character of some of his poetry is ascribable to German influences.

No one would suspect a writer of so acknowledged genius of moulding his style on that of any contemporary ; and it is needless to say that in these poems we find no echoes of modern schools. A seeker after poetic fame, of any pretensions, must feel the god within him’ too strongly to run the risk of his offspring being stamped with likeness to a fellow-mortal. Accordingly we meet few versified thoughts in this collection which suggest a parallel in our foremost poets of the last thirty years.

But if asked to what English poets of the past the poetry of Sir Bulwer Lytton is most indebted for its form and character (we speak now chiefly of his narrative and descriptive poetry), we should point to two names entitled to very high praise in their special phases of their art-those of Gray and Goldsmith. Of the latter, as concerns his prose style, we have our author's words to prove that he is an ardent admirer.* And small blame to him for acknowledging it. No writer is more English in his prose or poetry, none possesses a style and diction more attractive to scholar and populace alike. Not seldom, in

Not seldom, in perusing graceful descriptions

[blocks in formation]

6

of rural and domestic life, both in the poems whence we have quoted, and in one, The Ideal World,' from which we have not quoted, the resemblance of Sir Edward's verse to that of Goldsmith forces itself on us with a conviction that can hardly be the result of fancy. Any one reading the following passage to himself will probably give in his adhesion to the same opinion :

On yonder green two orphan children play'd:
By yonder rill two plighted lovers stray'd.
In yonder shrine two lives were blent in one,
And joy-bells chimed beneath a summer's sun.
Poor was their lot—their bread in labour found;
No parent bless'd them, and no kindred own'd.
They smiled to hear the wise their choice condemn,
They loved—they loved—and love was wealth to them.
Hark!-one short week-again the holy bell!
Still shone the sun, but dirgelike boom'd the knell;
And when for that sweet world she knew before
Look'd forth the bride-she saw a grave the more.
Full fifty years since then have passed away,
Her cheek is furrow'd, and her hair is gray,
Yet, when she speaks of him (the times are rare),
Hear in her voice how youth still trembles there!
The very name of that young life that died,
Still heaves the bosom and recalls the bride.
Lone o'er the widow's hearth, those years have fled,
The daily toil still wins the daily bread :
No books deck sorrow with fantastic dyes,
Her fond romance her woman-heart supplies :
And to the sabbath of still moments given,
Day's task-work done, to memory, death, and heaven,
There may (let poets answer me !) belong

Thoughts of such pathos as had beggar'd song.-P. 379. In the unaffected ease and genuine tenderness of these lines one might fancy he had chanced upon a stray leaf from The Deserted Village,' and found a companion sketch to those with which the simple fancy of Oliver Goldsmith has given immortality to 'Sweet Auburn.' And this is no second-rate achievement. It is easy-sometimes fatally easy—to copy a style, and throw off happy imitations as such. But here are touches betokening no mere imitator, but rather one who, thinking and feeling for himself, clothes thoughts and feelings in that garb which his acquaintance with the range of English poetry suggests to him as fittest. Perhaps the concluding verses, indeed, contain a vein of deeper feeling and reflection than is to be discovered in * The Deserted Village' or 'The Traveller.' But the range of

“ Goldsmith's muse would, we must allow, be a rather narrow Geld for a poet of any ambition. It might be divined that Sir Edward B. Lytton would hardly confine himself to a range which takes in only the simple and the pensive, but admits not of what some deem the essentials of poetry, fire and spirit. In his * Parcæ,' or 'Six Leaves from History,' he shows that he can strike, when so minded, a grander chord, and emulate, not unskilfully, the stirring Pindarics of Gray. “The Last Days of Elizabeth,' and 'Cromwell's Dream,' are very remarkable proofs of this; and there will be found in them a similarity to the odes of the poet just mentioned, not only in structure and classical choice of ornament, but yet more in the life and spirit breathed into every stanza. The fastidious student of Peter-House and University Professor has much in his grave, and tender,

, and pathetic moods, which finds an echo in the strains of Sir Bulwer Lytton, but much, much more, in his odes. Indeed, we can conceive that had it been possible for the former to steal a glance, after prophet's fashion, at the poetry of after ages, he would have found satisfaction in the knowledge that English dithyrambics would not end with his • Bard' and his . Progress of Poetry. He would have felt a thrill of pride at the fire and energy thrown into the description of Elizabeth at Tilbury Fort (p. 341); at the grandly conceived description of the moor which is the locale of Cromwell's Dream' (p. 344); or at a passage from the latter poem, which shall be our last extract, and which we quote in the belief that the 'Cavaliers' are a theme of which English readers are never weary. We take our chance of being pronounced tedious, in the desire to present to those who have accompanied our remarks so far:

A gay and glittering band !
Apollo's love-locks in the crest of Mars--
Light-hearted valour, laughing scorn to scars-

A gay and glittering band,
Unwitting of the scythe-the tillers of the land!
Pale in the midst, that stately squadron boasts

A princely form, & mournful brow;
And still, where plumes are proudest, seen,

With sparkling eye and dauntless mien,
The young Achilles * of the hosts.

On rolls the surging war-and now
Along the closing columns ring-
“Rupert " and "Charles," –"The Lady of the Crown," +
“ Down with the Round-head Rebels, down!”

“St. George and England's King.” ?—P. 349. If we are to look for more fruit off this tree, may it be of like

[ocr errors]

* Prince Rupert.

Henrietta Maria.

flavour than downwards

flavour to this racy sample, and equally give proof of the skill, genius, and industry of Sir Bulwer Lytton's cultivation.

It were idle to disguise a consciousness that, in the foregoing estimate of the later productions of one of the finest minds among us, a view has been adopted somewhat at variance with the judgment of contemporaries, few of whom have meted large measure of praise to Sir Bulwer Lytton, while some have even forgotten justice in their stint of it. It seemed to us at the outset that, as far as might be, we ought to place ourselves in the position of dispassionate posterity, and to look with candid eyes, as if at efforts of past genius. Much that has been written re, specting the works of the author in question seems to have been influenced by a natural desire to take down' self-assertion, such as is apt to crop out in authors popular with the mass. But it should be remembered that, but for self-assertion, the world would, indeed, “know little of its greatest men.' While many cannot help regarding Sir E. B. Lytton as the author of Pelham,'

Devereux, Alice,' Ernest Maltravers,' and Lucretia,' and shrink from awarding the palm to a genius which they consider tinged with eccentricity and coxcombry, it is surely not amiss that at least one or two criticisms should proceed as from an outlook of the future, and, setting aside contemporary prejudices and antipathies, attach some weight to the truth taught by the Venusian:

• Urit enim fulgore suo, qui prægravat artes

Infra se positas : extinctus amabitur idem.' Much of Sir Bulwer Lytton, especially his “Caxtons,' and many of his collected poems, will escape Libitina.

6

ART. IV.--1. Programmes Officiels pour l'Enseignement Secon

daire Classique, et pour l'Enseignement Secondaire Professionnel,

avec les Instructions Ministérielles qui s'y rapportent. Paris. 2. Annuaire de l’Instruction Publique pour l'Année 1865, etc.

Paris. 3. Nouveau Manuel des Aspirants au Baccalauréat-ès-Lettres.

Par E. Lefranc et G. Jeannin. Paris, 1862. 4. L'École. Par Jules Simon, Paris, 1865.

. , 5. Les Souffrances du Professeur Delteil. Par Champfleury.

Paris, 1857. 6. Éducation Internationale, Documents du Concours. Paris and London, 1862. BSERVE,' says the Platonic Socrates, that wonderfuļ

• philosophic element in the character of the dog : for what can be more akin to philosophy and the love of learning

',

our own,

than to hate the unknown, and to resent every strange appearance as a provocation?'

National prejudices may on this score lay claim to a kind of philosophical classification, but it must be under the head of the canine class. But international criticism belongs to that purer and better class of philosophy which is provoked, indeed, by every new phenomenon, and is impatient of everything strange ; but it is provoked to investigate what it means, and impatient to bring it within the realm of acquired and settled knowledge. Now no subject in the world offers so many of these provocations as the character and practices of the French people do to ourselves. Of course we are not speaking of those few exceptional, and we may add exceptionable, persons, who tell us with a kind cosmopolite swagger that they understand the whole problem, that they have broken through the trammels of English narrowness, and vastly prefer all the continental institutions to

But the rest of us do certainly find partly in the acknowledged facts and partly in the traditional rumours concerning our French neighbours an abundant source of bewilderment. It is in the hope that we shall understand more about the character of our neighbour by tracing him through the various stages of formation that we offer to our reader a few details upon education in that country, which may not, perhaps, be regarded as ill-timed when our own public schools are receiving so large a share of the public attention. There will be many things in it which will at first sight try the tolerance of the determined champion of that mixed system of Latin verses and foot-ball which is the glory of our land. But if instead of barking at the unknown we act like philosophic bulldogs and set our teeth into the facts with the determination to analyse them completely, even if we learn nothing that we shall care to imitate, perhaps our better acquaintance may render us somewhat more considerate and respectful. Now the investigators of character tell us that it is a great help towards this object, if we endeavour to find some central fact to which all the various seeming anomalies may be referred. What if we endeavour to do so on the present occasion, and by way of theory start the following proposition—“That all the traditional reproaches which an Englishman has to make against a Frenchman are traceable to a single fault, and that one of temperament, viz. his excessive impetuosity ?'

The Frenchman is accused of shallowness both intellectual and moral ; in other words, he is believed to talk of more than he knows and to profess more than he feels. There is probably some truth in the first count, for many Frenchmen from Scaliger

« AnteriorContinuar »