Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

THE

IRISH QUARTERLY REVIEW.

No. XXI.-MARCH, 1856.

Art. 1.-POETRY UNDER A CLOUD. 1. The Song of Hiawatha. By Henry Wadsworth Longfellowr.

Londou : David Bogue, Fleet-street. 1855. 2. The Mystic and other Poems. By Philip James Bailey,

Author of “ Festus." London : Chapman and Hall,

Piccadilly. 1855. 3. Ven and Women. By Robert Browning, in two Vols.

London: Chapman and Hall, Piccadilly. 1855.

It is with pain we feel ourselves obliged to state, that if some very great reformation does not shortly take place, in the minds of our gifted literary men, it will be found impossible to withstand the rapid and inevitable decay of poetical taste in these countries. Some years ago we were of opinion, that notwithstanding the many grave errors which disfigured the verse of our modern poets, there was still sufficient evidence therein of rational reflection, comprehensive power, and exalted beauty, to warrant us in concluding that their poetry adequately reflected the spirit of the age. Locksley Hall, The Miller's Daughter, Oriana, Lady Clara Vere de Vere, The Lotus Eaters, or indeed any of the poems which Tennyson published, in 1830, and 1842, or subsequently, The Princess, and In Memoriam, possessed qualities which redeemed their inperfections. On the other hand, though Bailey had given birth to the most extravagant absurdities, he had also produced some of the most eloquent passages which had been written since the time of Byron: Browning, who doubtless perpetrated such literary atrocities as Paracelsus, Pippa Passes, and Sordello, had made compensation by his Blot on the Scutchcon, and Colombe's Birth Day : and Longfellow, by adopting, and developing their beautiful peculiarities, had identified himself VOL. VI.-NO, XXI.

1

with our Chaucer, Spenser, Goldsmith, and Thompson. It is sad to think how every one of these poets has since undone himself. Tennyson, all are aware, has almost approached the bounds which separate reason from idiotcy, in his truly incomprehensible Maud; and we now feel bound to inform such of our readers, as do not already know the fact, that Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha, is quite unworthy of the Author of The Psalm of Life, Autumn, The Slare's Dream, or Evangeline ; that Bailey's Mystic is immeasurably inferior to Festus, or The Angel World ; and that Browning's Men and Women, must seriously injure the Author's reputation as a poet. If the love of mystification, and inane scribbling, confined itself to any one of our distinguished poets, the consequences would not be so injurious; but, unfortunately, all those whom we were wont to point to, as the shining lights of British poetry, have emulated each other in this course of folly, and would seemingly sacrifice, in the most reckless and demented manner, the pleasant vales, and sunny slopes of Parnassus, in order that they might breathe the atmosphere of Bedlam, and dash themselves, in spasmodic fury, against its iron bars.

The evil consequences resulting from their indulgence in this lamentable vice, have already exhibited themselves in no limited manner, in the effusions of our “ Minor Minstrels," as every bookshop in the three kingdoms shows, and as the pages

of every provincial journal exhibit. Where is all this to end ? Have we indeed arrived at the iron age of English poetry? Is it possible that we have already seen our last great Bard, and that the massive portals of Westminster Abbey are never more to grate upon their hinges, for the reception of another tenant in Poets' corner? Is that long line at last filled up, which sparkles with the names of Milton, Spenser, Pope, Dryden, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron ; of Shakspere, and Ben Johnson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger and Ford, Congreve, Wycherly, and Farquhar? A sad prospective indeed, but what if true? We have had already the golden age of our great Dramatist, corresponding to that of Virgil

, Horace, and Juvenal in Rome, we have had the silver age of Scott, Byron, Moore, Wordsworth, answering to that of Lucretius, Catullus, Lucan, and Propertius ; a little interval, and the deepening shadows of the iron age, the “ Sæculum ferri," must descend upon us, if its advent be not retarded by the presence of some peerless luminary, whose light, like that of the Aurora Borealis, in northern

winters, dispels the brooding darkness which hangs over the earth, and cheers the pining Laplander by the benignity of its beams. Systematic freethinking, obscurity, and utter disregard of harmony, may safely be considered, as the great impediments which prevent our present poets from achieving greatness. They use the most harsh and discordant metres, they select subjects whose uninteresting nature it is impossible to surpass, they garnish them with sprigs of infidelity, and impertinent assumptions, the silliest, and most vapid; and stretching them out as far as dulness and insipidity can extend, crown their unhallowed work, with a fog wreath, the thickest and most enduring, which quickly disperses its misty vapour over all. Voltaire, Volney, and Rousseau, were called with much reason the Philosophers of impiety; our own Thomas Paine underwent a scourging at the hands of an army of English divines and philanthropists; Schelling, Kant, and Fichte, were scouted at for their infidelity; but we doubt if it will not be found that some of our modern poets have promulgated as many dangerous doctrines, (and more imposing from their fascinating dress,) as any of those great infidel notorieties. Such habitual sinning against the doctrines of our coinmon Christianity, must be combated, “vi et armis." We all know that revolutions are not made of rose water, that desperate cases require desperate remedies, and that if a growing evil of considerable strength and magnitude, be not met and opposed by vigorous counteracting measures, “the bad may become too strong for the good.” It is for this reason therefore, we would earnestly invite the cooperation of all well regulated minds, in our stern denunciation of these fashionable evils: it is for this we would gladly behold the organization of a literary crusade, by some Peter of the intellectual world, whose energies would never flag, and whose numbers would know no diminution, until the blessed flags of virtue, taste, and judgement, should triumphantly wave above the baneful principles they had supplanted. If ever there was a time in which it were seeming we should lend the weight of our opinions, and the force of our example, to crush the snake—encircled head of the foul Erinnys of infidelity, surely it should be now, during the existence of a war, which may effect so much for the liberty of mankind.

We are all aware, how much a liealthy and vigorous contemporaneous Literature contributes to render the springs of human action, in the sacred cause of truth, and justice,

buoyant and elastic; how much it tends to ennoble our feelings, refine our understandings, and purify our impulses : how it sharpens our wits to discern insidious machinations, renders us chary of our rights, zealous in their maintenance, or recovery, intolerant of errors, conservative of all that is excellent and wise : and lastly, how it causes us to syrnpathize with the universal world, in all that should bind man to man. Surely the knowledge of all this should be sufficient to make "the heart leap awake to its voice," and lead the mind to steady and sustained action in the proper field. We can do no more than hope for this desirable result, which, convinced of the important benefits likely to arise therefrom, we, in all sincerity wish for,—and from the bottom of our hearts.

In the pursuance of our undertaking, Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha, shall be our earliest care : judging its accom. plished Author by his former poetical creations, by those philosophical beauties, which we were wont to adinire with such keen pleasure, by the purity of language, and the elevation of idea, which so universally adorned them, we naturally expected that his next work would be remarkable for a manifestation of the increasing power of that fine intellect, and if possible, for the still loftier aspirings of that noble soul. We regret to state that our expectations have not been realized; but, on the contrary, have suffered deep and grievous disappointment. Hiawatha, in our opinion, is weak, puny and insipid ; a Poem whose uninteresting pages are not redeemed by any striking beauty, utterly destitute of vigor, or manly enthusiasm, and not calculated in any way to expand the mind, or improve the understanding. Placing it side by side, with any of Longfellow's earlier volumes, for example, with that which contains The Psalm of Life, The Voices of the Night, &c., &c., we consider applicable to the former, the criticism which Fadladeen, indeed inappropriately passed on one of our sweetest poems : namely, that, “this flinsy manufacture of the brain, in comparison with the lofty and durable monuments of genius, is as the gold filagree work of Zamara, beside the eternal architecture of Egypt.” We may be informed with much speciousness, that we are not regarding Hiawatha in its proper light : that to do so, we should hold in mind that its Author, in writing this Poein, proposed to himself, the rescuing froin oblivion,

some traditions of the North American Indians, with a view to the enrichment of his country's literature; and that this laudable motive is sufficient, in itself, to ensure for the work a favorable reception from the public. Even if the first part of this proposition were true, (a fact which we must be permitted to doubt,) we cannot bring ourselves to admit the justice of a conclusion, which is so sophistically deduced. For, conceding the worthiness of the object in contemplation, we utterly deny the existence of any conformity between that object and the manner in which it is carried out. To us it would seem essential to the success of such an undertaking, that something more than the mere traditions should be followed: that ideas calculated to awaken the interest, and excite the syinpathy of an educated mind, should have been superadded to the childish narrative of the savage; and that the genius of the age should leave its salutary impress on the wild imaginings in the fable. Here was a subject to draw forth the magic pencil of description ! On such a canvass what unfading colors could not be limned, what forms of novel beauty could not be raised, what phases of the mind of primeval man might not be shadowed forth ? This indeed was a theme inviting the Poet to unfold still more widely the workings of that magnanimous heart, many of whose sublime emotions have been made familiar to us by the delightful Author of The Prairie, The Spy, The Last of the Mohicans, The Deer Slayer, and The Water Witch. The wild faith of that prinitive creature,

" Whose untutored mind Sees God in clouds, and hears him in the wind," his figurative language, passionate temperament, and romantic disposition, were all fit materials for the beautifying of the Indian Legend; and in like manner might be added, not alone with the greatest propriety, but with a certainty of conducing in no inconsiderable manner to the heightening of the general effect, pictures of that stupendous scenery, whose varied features constitute the aristocracy of nature. But Longfellow would appear to have discovered no advantage in availing himself of these resources: to our mind he has acted as if they had no existence. In form of idea, in cast of thought, and in mode of expression, his portraits of the American Indian, are as unlike what from all accounts we had supposed bim, as indeed they well could be; we had

« AnteriorContinuar »