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ESSAY

ON

THE GENIUS OF MRS. HEMANS.

SELDOM has the early possession of poetical genius been more clearly determined, than in the case of the gifted individual, whose collected works are here presented to the public. Its infantine indications, both through the affections and the intellect, were too strong to be overlooked, and too peculiar to be mistaken. The temperament of that art, which has been styled by one of its masters, “ the breath, and finer spirit of all knowledge,” revealed itself, in tremulous sensibility - in deep love of the beautiful — in lonely and intense communings with nature and in those restless aspirations, which earth can neither satisfy nor control. Passionate desires for knowledge, — rapid, almost intuitive appropriation of it, - and exceedingly strong retentive powers, were also precociously developed. The genius permitted thus vigorously to unfold, was also eminently fortunate, in the circumstances of its education, throughout the whole of life. It is pleasant to trace the influences, which both from “ heaven above, and earth beneath,” conspired to nurture, and mature it, for its high destiny. First in order, we place maternal culture. The strength of this agency, none will question, who has beheld in the illustrious, from the Gracchi to him of Mount Vernon, the hand of the mother, polishing the mental gem, or leading in paths of wisdom, the young footsteps of the Father of his Country. If such influence is so powerful, over the elements of masculine character, with how much more ease and certainty must it modify the plastic nature of woman! Still, the guides of genius have a delicate and adventurous office. Its lineaments are not easily understood, where there is no strong sympathy with its structure; and as it is not often a transmitted inheritance, the felicity of correct early training must be proportionably rare. A fine writer has said that true genius can never receive justice from the world, until it shall be tried by a jury of its peers. Such a jury is not readily empanneled ; and there is sometimes danger, in entrusting genius even to the love of her who bore it, lest its impulses should be mistaken for waywardness, or its idioms accounted a strange language. She may not, always, like Mary, the mother of our Lord,“ keep those sayings, and ponder them in her heart,” whose import she fails to understand. Unskilfully, though with the best intentions, she may lay her hand upon the Ark of God, and disarrange its mystic treasures. But in the case which we contemplate, there was no such peril. There was no transplantation of the water-lily to a dry place; no shredding away the faint shoots of the mimosa, with a pruning-knife. She who had the high honour of the first watch over the cradle of genius, enjoyed also the privilege of knowing both how to adjust its leading-strings, and to cheer it to its sport among the clouds. Her tender ministries were continued with undeviating wisdom and affection, till her own lamp of life ceased to burn. The accomplished author of the latest, and best biography of Mrs. Hemans, and who was surely well qualified to know the value of those maternal instructions which she herself shared, says, “ After the loss of an elder sister, who died young, her education became the first care of a mother, whose capability for the task, could only be equalled by her devotedness; whose acquirements were of the highest order, and whose whole character, presenting a rare union of strong sense, with primitive single-mindedness, was an exemplification of St. Paul's description of that charity, which

suffereth long, and is kind; seeketh not her own; thinketh no evil.' Her piety was sober, steadfast and cheerful, never displaying itself in high-wrought excitements, or ostentatious professions, but silently influencing every action of her life, and shedding perpetual sunshine over all that came within its sphere."

In happy combination with this hallowed influence of a mother, sustaining the enthusiasm in which herself participated, was the scenery by which the childhood of the poet was surrounded. The rushing streams and wild mountains of Wales, among which, at the age of seven years, she became a resident, hung up their strong, bold pictures, in her soul. The deep, shadowy dells, where she mused and wandered; the large, dimly-lighted hall, where she rehearsed her lessons; the echoed voice of the melancholy main,'tinted her buoyant fancy with solemn hues of thought. In the land of cloud-wrapt pinnacles and ancient minstrelsy, she imbibed that love of nature, which, entwining with every association, and clinging to her through every vicissitude, wrapped in its soft, green mantle, the “passion-coloured images of life.” Like the sea-shell, for ever hoarding the hollow murmur of its native caverns, she preserved amid the bustle and throng of cities, to the latest period of existence, unfaded memories of the mountain-rambles, the rich sunsets, and sweet flower-gatherings of childhood. It is an interesting coincidence, that amid the romantic regions of Conway, which she visited with such rapture, the lovely and accomplished Elizabeth Smith also delighted to wander; and though personally unknown to each other, it might have been on the margin of the same clear lake — in the depths of the same embosomed vale — that the “ beautiful came floating o'er their soul.”

The nature of the education of Mrs. Hemans, was favourable to the development of her genius. A wide range of classical and poetical studies, with the acquisition of several languages, supplied both pleasant aliment and needful discipline. She required not the excitement of a more public system of culture, - for the never-resting love of knowledge was her schoolmaster. Ardent research, and rapid perception, bore her, unwearied, through fields of mental labour, — while an astonishing grasp of memory, obviated the necessity of that frequent recitation, and repetition, which are among the principal advantages of instruction in classes. Such branches of knowledge as were congenial to her taste, she seemed to acquire, without

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