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constitute the very essence of a large portion of modern verse—and allows that he has none of the spirit of Campbell, or the narrative sprightliness of Scott; and that love is merely recognised in his poems, rarely forming the staple of any composition; and that even sentiment, except that which springs from benevolence, seldom lends a glow to his pages. We remember, however, Wilson's quoting “A Song of Pitcairn's Island” with the remark, “ This is the kind of love-poetry in which we delight”—and his eulogising “ The Hunter's Serenade" as “ a sweet love-lay," and the “ Song of Marion's Men” as a spirit-stirring, beautiful ballad, instinct with the grace of Campbell and the vigour of Allan Cunningham. Nor has Mr. Bryant ever, perhaps, been more justly appraised than by the same renowned critic, when he defines the chief charm of the poet's genius to consist in a tender pensiveness, a moral melancholy, breathing over all his contemplations, dreams, and reveries, even such as in the main are glad, and giving assurance of a pure spirit, benevolent to all living creatures, and habitually pious in the felt omnipresence of the Creator. The inspiration of many of his poems is traced to “ a profound sense of the sanctity of the affections. That love, which is the support and the solace of the heart in all the duties and distresses of this life, is sometimes painted by Mr. Bryant in its purest form and brightest colours, as it beautifies and blesses the solitary wilderness. The delight that has filled his own being, from the faces of his own family, he transfuses into the hearts of the creatures of his imagination, as they wander through the woods, or sit singing in front of their forest bowers.” The tenderness and pathos which mark “ The Death of the Flowers," “ The Indian Girl's Lament,” “ The Rivulet,” and other pieces, produce in the reader a feeling not exactly, not even approximately, like that (if we may dogmatise at all on so indefinite a sensation) of
- being stirred up by the very North Pole. Bryant loves to put into simple verse some simple story of the heart, or fragment of legendary lore. For instance, the “ African Chief,” which tells how a captive prince stood in the market-place, “all stern of look and strong of limb, his dark eye on the ground,”—and there besought his elated conqueror to accept ransom, for the sake of those who were weeping their loss in the shade of the cocoa-tree; and how, when the conqueror spurned that petition, the conquered became at once broken of heart and crazed of brain, and wore not long the chain of serfdom-for at eventide “they drew him forth upon the sands, the foul hyæna's prey." Or again, “ The Hunter's Vision," -- which describes the slumber of a weary huntsman upon a rock that rose high and sheer from the mountain's breast—and how he dreamed of a shadowy region, where he beheld dead friends, dear in days of boyhood, and one fair young girl, long since housed in the churchyard, but now bounding towards him as she was wont of yore, and calling his name with a radiant smile on that sweet face which the death damps have so dishonoured—and how the dreamer started forward to greet the rapturous delusion, and, plunging from that craggy height, ended dream and life at once! Or again,—“ The Murdered Traveller”-a touchingly mournful elegy on one who died a fearful death in a narrow glen, and whose bones were found and buried there by un
weeping strangers-the fragrant birch hanging her tassels above him, and the blossoms nodding carelessly, and the redbreast warbling cheerily :*
But there was weeping far away ;
And gentle eyes for him,
Were sorrowful and dim.
The fearful death he met,
Unarmed, and hard beset ;-
The northern dawn was red,
To banquet on the dead.
Within his distant home;
For joy that he was come. These lines are a fine specimen of the condensed, pithy, chaste picturesqueness of expression in which Mr. Bryant excels. A corresponding terseness as well as delicacy distinguishes his similitudes, which if sparsely, are almost ever effectively introduced, and evidence true feeling and taste. The breeze at summer twilight he bids
- go forth, God's blessing breathed upon the fainting earth.f The intellectual prowess of man he suggests by the discoveries of the astronomer
he whose eye Unwinds the eternal dances of the sky. To a maiden sinking under a decline he says
Glide softly to thy rest then ; Death should come
Gently to one of gentle mould like thee,
Detach the delicate blossom from the tree.ş When “ frosts and shortening days portend the aged year is near his end,” then does the gentian flower's
Sweet and quiet eye
A flower from its cerulean wall.|
* The couplet,
“And fearless near the fatal spot
Her young the partridge led," is deservedly admired. + To the Evening Wind.
The Ages. | To the Fringed Gentian.
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.* The poem which concludes with these lines, “ Thanatopsis,” is slightingly said by a popular critic to have for its main thought the world as a huge sepulchre, rolling through the heavens, while its moral is to inculcate upon the death-devoted dust, which we call man, the duty of dropping into its kindred dust as quietly and gracefully as possible. So to “ sacrifice to the graces” is hardly, however, the poet's wont. And this particular poem merits a higher estimate, mingling as it does so finely, a “ mild and healing sympathy, that steals away their sharpness" with man's “darker musings” on the wormy grave, and with thoughts of the last bitter hour that " come like a blight over his spirit,” and with " sad images of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall, and breathless darkness, and the narrow house." Not a few of Mr. Bryant's admirers admire “ Thanatopsis” beyond the rest of his poems; and “ Thanatopsis " it is which Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his dreamt of a generation to come, beheld “ gleaming" over the dead and buried bard, “ like a sculptured marble sepulchre by moonlight.” And “ Thanatopsis” it is, of which we are told that Dana, and other critics to whom it was shown in MS., affirmed that it could not have been written by an American —there being, says Mr. Griswold, “ a finish and completeness about it, added to the grandeur and beauty of the ideas, to which, it was supposed, none of our own writers had attained.” America owns another guess sort of critics, now.
As a descriptive poet, with the pational characteristics of his country's scenery for a theme, those who are familiar with such characteristics, accord to Mr. Bryant lofty praise. Cis-Atlantic readers are apt to complain of a seeming lack of nationality in his pictures of lake and prairie, and to find them tame and colourless beside the impressive and vivid studies, from the same objects, of Fenimore Cooper. But Trans-Atlantic critics assure us, that any of our “ auld warld” selves, “ gifted with a small degree” of common imagination and sensibility, and free from a very large degree of prejudice and chronic amaurosis, may derive from Bryant's poems “the very awe and delight with which the first view of one of America's majestic forests would strike his mind.” We are to regard him with the respect due to one who, in Wordsworth's language,
Having gained the top
† See “Pi's Correspondence," in the Mosses.
He has caught, according to Tuckerman, the very spirit of American scenery, as well as faithfully pictured its details—" his best poems have anthem-like cadence, which accords with the vast scenes they celebrate"
-" his harp is strung in harmony with the wild moan of the ancient boughs”-his forest studies are not English parks formalised by art, not legendary wilds like Ravenna's pine-grove, not gloomy German forests with their phantoms and banditti— but they realise those “primal dense woodlands” of the New World (whose title of New seems a libel on their hoary eld) where “ the oak spreads its enormous branches, and the frostkindled leaves of the maple glow like flame in the sunshine; where the tap of the woodpecker and the whirring of the partridge alone break the silence that broods, like the spirit of prayer, amid the interminable aisles of the verdant sanctuary.” And Washington Irving claims for his friend's descriptive poetry, the power of transporting us at will into the “ depths of the solemn primæval forest, to the shores of the lonely lake, the banks of the wild nameless stream, or the brow of the rocky upland, rising like a promontory from amidst a wide ocean of foliage.” Nevertheless, we own to a sense of general dulness and disappointment when doing our best to catch the inspiration of the “ Forest Hymn," nor do we find in his picture of “ The Prairies," those Gardens of the Desert, those
Unshorn fields, boundless and beautiful,
For which the speech of England has no nameany such “proof impression” of the poet's art, as the subject seems capable of. Very graphic, however, are the lines—
Lo! they stretch
The sunny ridges.
* His house is at the foot of a woody hill, facing Hempstead Harbour, to which the flood tide gives the appearance of a lake, bordered to its very edge with trees. The house itself, surrounded with “ square columns and a heavy cornice,” which help to shade “a wide and ample piazza,” is described (“ Homes of American Authors,” 1852) as “one bower of greenery," July's hottest sun leaving the inner rooms “cool and comfortable at all times." The library, as the haunt of the poet and his friends, is “supplied with all that can minister to quiet and refined pleasure," in addition to books. “Here, by the great table covered with periodicals and literary novelties, with the soft, ceaseless music of rustling leaves, and the singing of birds making the silence sweeter, the summer visitor may fancy himself in the very woods, only with a deeper and more grateful shade; and when
wintry blasts are piping loud,' and the whispering trees have changed to whirling ones, a bright wood-fire lights the home scene, enhanced in comfort by the hospitable sky without, and the domestic lamp calls about it a smiling or musing circle, for whose conversation or silence the shelves around afford excellent
by the way, would appear favourable to the consecration and the poet's dream,” without excluding the “i common things that round us lie” in active practical life. But he leaves now to others the “ accomplishment of verse,” and reposes on such laurels as he has long-ago won, be they ever-greens or not.
His prose writings are numerous, but chiefly scattered among reviews, magazines, and newspapers. The “Letters of a Traveller," collected for English publication two or three years ago, form an agreeable miscellany, but without pretension to novelty in matter or any distinctive excellence in style. The subjects are trite, the treatment so-soish. The repast is a sort of soup-maigre, presented in no very lordly dish. Enthusiasm of description is as much awanting as singularity of incident. But to those who love quiet communications on quiet topics, these letters have an interest and value not to be gainsaid. The subjects range over a pretty wide surface of time and space; from 1834 to 1849, and from New England to Old, plus France and Holland, Austria and Italy. If there is a deficiency of colouring and warmth in the traveller's sketches of Italian scenery and arts-of what is picturesque in Shetland life of England's home beauties and of the swamps of Florida, and the rugged wilds of Canada, and the tropic vegetation of Cuba,—at least they are free from the showy verbiage and fustian neologisms in which some New Englanders so profusely indulge. Nevertheless, they are distinctively American ; for Mr. Griswold is right in affirming, as respects the poet's prose writings, especially the political part of them, that, whatever is in them of intrinsic truth, his views on every subject disputed internationally, are essentially American, born of and nurtured by his country's institutions, experience, and condition, “and held,” it is added, “only by ourselves and by those who look to us for instruction and example.” The Evening Post has been the main channel of the expoet's political effusions. Prose belles lettres he seems to have abjured, together with verse—though once so welcome and prominent a contributor to the North American Review, the New York Review, and other home journals. As in the case of James Montgomery, Thomas Aird, and others, in the old country, this devotement to newspaper partisanship is held a thousand pities by most who pay homage to his muse.
materials. The collection of books is not large, but widely various ; Mr. Bryant's tastes and pursuits leading him through the entire range of literature, from the Fathers to Shelley, and from Courier to Jean Paul. În German, French, and Spanish, he is a proficient, and Italian he reads with ease; so all these languages are well represented in the library. He turns naturally from the driest treatise on politics or political economy, to the wildest romance or the most tender poem --happy in a power of enjoying all that genius has created or industry achieved in literature."