« PreviousContinue »
It is curious to observe what an effect this rage for antiquity produces, and how it is capable of altering our estimation of the intrinsic value of things, as if either age or scarcity ought to confer true value on things which must have been, and ought ever to be considered as trifling; yet they do so, whether it be on a cracked Roman jar, or a Queen Anne's farthing. An additional eclogue of Virgil would weigh down, in our eyes, a whole bale of common-place Herculaneum manuscripts, whether rolled or unrolled; so I suppose I have not the least chance of ever being numbered among the associates of the Antiquarian Society.
Verily, Mr North, the mind of man is a strange thing, and a heterogeneous compound. In confirmation of this particular tendency in our nature of which we are now speaking, we have almost uniformly found, that they who believe in the age and authenticity of Ossian, will award him no lower a station than among the Homers, Dantes, Miltons, and Shakespeares; whereas, such as consider him a modern fiction, will be contented with nothing less than a condemnation of the whole mass, as little better than rant, bombast, and fustian,-merely because it is written by Macpherson; as if there was no such thing as sterling merit, or as if a standard of real poetical excellence could exist only in the reader's imagination. We remember a speech of Lord Chatham's, which says, that "youth cannot be imputed to any man as a reproach;" nor can recent production, we should suppose in the same way, be considered a blemish, (as Mr Hazlitt would fain have it,) in any work. It is surely no fault in Scott, Byron, or Campbell, that they have not lived and been gathered to their fathers some thousand years ago.
The works of Ossian, in the state in which they are served up to us by Macpherson, may be considered rather as the raw materials of poetry, than as exhibiting that art, condensation, and selection of thought, which are requisite to form a finished composition. There is a thronging-a profused assemblage of lofty and magnificent imagery, seen in the distance, rapidly shifting, shadowing, and indistinct. "The glory and the splendour of a dream," united with its obscurity and
its perplexing remoteness. not converse with human flesh and blood, but with heroic spectres, "who pace about the hills continually," and that come to us from the breast of the ocean. There are neither cities, nor civilization, nor society; but the wanderings, and wars, the impulses of nature, and passion in its untamed empire. Mossy stones mark out the dwellings of the dead; the wind curls the wave, swells the sail, and agitates the forest; and the silence of night is broken by gibbering voices, and " airy tongues that syllable mens' names on sands, and shores, and desert wilder
Yet, in the narration of the adventures, and in the construction of the fables, a wonderful stretch of invention is exhibited; and a method is sible, even in the most irregular and inconsistent parts, which is not a little surprising. The Epic of Fingal contains some passages of heroic beauty, which would thrill the blood of a coward, and make him long to be a soldier; while the Songs of Selma abound in touches of the most deep and the most artless pathos.
It is strange that Wordsworth, who has studied so profoundly, and so successfully, the philosophy of the material world, should make the never-ending delineation of natural objects and appearances in these works, the theme of his scepticism as to their authenticity, and of his non-belief concerning the blind Ossian, as if blindness is not affirmed of Homer, and known of Milton. If Wordsworth has ever dipped into the poems of Blacklock—who was born blind-he may there discover that a power of describing the material world, in all the variety and vicissitude of its presentations, may be attained, either from a successful mental effort in retaining the delineations of others; or, by a kind of intuitive perception,-though, after the experiment of Locke with his blind man, who thought scarlet colour like the sound of a trumpet, we would rather imagine not.
Moore, in his Introduction to his Irish Melodies, has thrown out a needless sarcasm in saying, that if Ireland could have Burns, she would willingly give up all claim to Ossian, as if there was one point of similarity in the constitution of their genius, or as if one point of comparison could be
suggested between them. After these insulting taunts, it is but a poor setoff, that Madame de Stael could conceive the absurdity of Milton having possibly derived advantage from Ossian, in the composition of Paradise Lost; or that Buonaparte, in order to
invigorate his martial spirit, slept with
Inverness, Nov. 1, 1821.
ADDRESS TO THE MOON.
Daughter of heaven, fair art thou, &c.---Darthula.
Or dost thou dream within the shade of woe?-
TO THE SETTING SUN.
Must thou leave thy blue course in heaven, &c.
AND must thou leave thy azure course on high,
That there to rest thou shapest thy weary way
And view thy beauty, slumbering on its bed ;-
TO THE EVENING STAR.
Star of the falling night! fair is thy light, &c.
FAIR in the west thy lovely light appears;
Soft Star of Eve, thy beaming chariot steers ;-
The distant torrent now is thundering;
Hum on their drowsy course along the plain:
Daughter of Eve! thou glory of the dell,—
ALPIN'S LAMENTATION FOR MORAR.
One of the Songs of Selma.
My tears, oh Ryno! are for the dead, &c.
TEARFUL, oh, Ryno, is my joyless day;
Swift as the desert roe could Morar fly,-
No hopes, no fears, across thy bosom roam,
Oh, Morar, Morar, thou art truly low!
His hoary locks bespeak his lengthen'd years,
No dreams across the silent mansion roam,
Call on thy Morar-but he hears thee not!
Endued with all thy virtues, and thy fire!
ROUGE ET NOIR.*
THE host of tourists who have marauded on the continent within these few have made us familiar with years,
its sights, and weary of them. Paris, as the most accessible, has been the most infested; and its caveaus and caffes, its spruce theatres, and squalid churches, have been reiterated on us in every existing dialect, from Mayfair to Whitechapel. But after this cumbrous plunder, there are left rare bijour, and the eye which will look into the interior of Parisian manners, may be pronounced to have entered, as old Vestris said of the Minuet, on a study extensive enough to last him his life. The author of the present poem has applied himself to a fragment of the Palais Royal, and from this has generated a volume of verses, alternately pathetic and jocular, moral and satirical. The mention of Frescati, and the Sulon, is a mere digression; the systematic interest is gathered round the two apartments in the Palais Royal, where so many miserables of all ages and tongues are undone in the most expeditious manner every night of the year. His theme is the Rouge et Noir table, at which, he protests, that no man can win, and quotes an authority high among the mighty and undone gamblers of mankind.
""Tis said, when any told Napoleon
That such or such a man had talents, or
This is neatly expressed, and the description of the Board, probably a difficult task in poetry, our author has executed very cleverly.-P. 35-28.
The Palais Royal next comes under this pleasant pen, and its world of wicked wonders is described with unusual spirit. We are not exhausted by a toilsome and feeble recapitulation of the absurdities or allurements of a place, over which the spirit of the Regent Orleans seems still to hover; the poem strikes at once upon its characteristics, and then darts away in pursuit of the original topic.
"It forms an oblong square with a piazza, Parterres and lime tree alleys in the centre: There's not an inch, I'm sure, from Ghent to Gaza,
Where youthful blood so much requires a
Among a thousand other things, it has a
But closely wedged Boutiques and Cafés
An air, I think, much more bizarre than
"It is a focus where each principle
* 4 Poem ; in six cantos, with other Poems. London. Olliers. Pp. 215. 12mo.
Loose-trowser'd beaux, and looser-moral'd belles ;
With ancient quizzes underneath the trees Reading the daily journals, or conversing; And, here and there, a black-eyed Grisette nursing."
In the Palais Royal, the Nos. 109, and 154, have probably had a larger proportion of visitants of all nations than any other spot in Paris. Their charm is the possession of the Roulet, and Rouge et Noir tables. If there ever should be a general history of vice, the annals of those two suites of rooms may form the most pregnant and most original portion. Half the crimes, and all the suicides of Paris, are concocted within those walls. They stand in the centre of the most profligate spot in Europe, and they deserve to stand in its centre. The whole district is the classic ground of iniquity, but within those boundaries are the Campi Phlegræi.
From the Palais Royal the poet strays to Frescati, the fantastic name of a celebrated gaming-house on the Boulevards, the resort of the better dressed ruffians of Paris, and of London. Want of room prevents us from giving a number of other extracts from this clever and ingenious volume, which we understand is from the pen of a gentlemen of the name of Read, and which does equal honour to his head and heart.
The selection of the Ottava Rima was judicious, from the general facility of the measure, and perhaps from it having become popular through Beppo and Whistlecraft. But the use of any thing that has been used before, seems to sit painfully on the author's conscience, and he accordingly attempts to lighten his obligation to the moderns, by shewing that they were indebted to a remote ancestry. But Chaucer and Fairfax would, in all pro
bability, have slept unthanked, but for Lord Byron and Mr Frere. After all, this is an idle delicacy, the stanza is free to the human race, “like a wildgoose flies unclaimed of any man." Imitation is of an altogether different family. If this were the place to trouble ourselves with laying down the law on this subject, we should say, that there is no imitation except where the peculiarities of an author are transferred. Crabbe's clearness of rustic description, his vigorous seizure of the form and pressure of village habits, and his shrewd and simple pleasantry on obscure ambition and petty vanity, may attract authorship to the investigation of rural life. But the similarity of subject is not imitation, nor is the encreased acuteness of inquiry, nor is the more pointed vigour of versification, nor is the mixture of seriousness and pleasantry; for all of those may have arisen naturally in the course of the general and individual improvement of poetry. It might as well be asserted, that every man who looks through a telescope, is a degraded imitator of Galileo; or that the whole rising generation, with their unshattered faces, are nothing better than plunderers of Jenner, and the Glostershire milk-maids.
The true imitation of Crabbe would be in his pressure of trivialities into the service; in his sending out, stamped with equal labour, the unimportant and the valuable specimens of his nu mismata rustica; in the Dutch delight of his painted straws, and flies on tankards, and red-nosed Boors in extravagant frolic or maudlin repentance.
Lord Byron's strength of expression, and that decision of view by which he passes over the feebler features of the terrain, and seizes on the commanding points, are common property, neither his discovery nor that of any man living, but as old as poetry and nature. He may, like other men of talents, have assisted in leading the authorship of England back into the original track from which bad taste and evil times had turned it away, yet to which it was rapidly reverting. But he was not the earliest even of his day, who stood upon the hill and made signals to the multitude wandering through the shade and the valley. The "Lay of the Last Minstrel," if we are to distinguish a peculiar agency, was the morning star of the modern age. But the transit of