Imagens das páginas

them a passage worth quoting; and as we have already given more space to this Article than the subject perhaps deserves, we are unwilling to occupy any time in dishing up again the 'crambe recocta' of this verbose, vain and wearisome correspondence. Voltaire was a man of astonishing quickness, extent and versatility of talents; he had a great deal of wordly sense and of literary acuteness; and in individual cases, where his personal vanity (his ruling passion) was not compromised, he would sometimes be friendly and generous but his total want of all principle, moral or religious; his impudent audacity; his filthy sensuality; his persecuting envy; his base adulation; his unwearied treachery; his tyranny; his cruelty; his profligacy; his hypocrisy, will render him for ever the scorn, as his unbounded powers will the wonder of mankind.

ART. VIII--Poems, descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery. By John Clare, a Northamptonshire Peasant. Second Edition. cr. 8vo. London. 1820. pp. 213.

WE E had nearly overlooked, amidst the bulkier works which incessantly solicit our attention, this interesting little volume; which bears indubitable evidence of being composed altogether from the impulses of the writer's mind, as excited by external objects and internal sensations. Here are no tawdry and feeble paraphrases of former poets, no attempts at describing what the author might have become acquainted with in his limited reading: the woods, the vales, the brooks

'the crimson spots
I' the bottom of a cowslip,-

or the loftier phenomena of the heavens, contemplated through the alternations of hope and despondency, are the principal sources whence the youth, whose adverse circumstances and resignation under them extort our sympathy, drew the faithful and vivid pictures before us.

Examples of minds, highly gifted by nature, struggling with and breaking through the bondage of adversity, are not rare in this country; but privation is not destitution; and the instance before us is, perhaps, one of the most striking, of patient and persevering talent existing and enduring in the most forlorn and seemingly hopeless condition, that literature has at any time exhibited.

Clare, the youth of whom we speak, was born at Helpstone, a village most unpoetically situated where the easternmost point of Northamptonshire indents the Lincolnshire fens. His father and mother are parish-paupers; the former, from constant exposure to the inclemency of the seasons, being prematurely de



crepit, the latter, his cheerful companion in youth, has become, as they totter down the hill of life, his natural and constant nurse. If this condition of the parents enabled them to afford small indulgence to the son, the example of conjugal affection, we may hope, will not be lost upon a heart very susceptible of kind impressions. Our author, who is the elder of twins, was born in July, 1793;-the sister, who died immediately after the birth, was, to use his mother's figure of speech, a bouncing girl, while John might have gone into a pint pot;' indicating a delicacy of frame under which he has always laboured. His education necessarily squared with the limited means of his parents. Of the dame, who in every village wields the twa birchen twigs' to the terror of the surrounding urchins, he learnt to spell and put two syllables together; and before he was six years old, was able, his mother says, to read a chapter in the Bible. As soon, however, as he was able to lead the fore-horse of the harvest team, he was set to work, and returning one evening from the field thus occupied, had the misfortune of seeing the loader fall from the waggon, and break his neck: this fatal accident threw him into fits, from which he did not recover till after a considerable lapse of time, nor without much anxiety and expense to his parents: even at this day he is not wholly free from apprehensions of their return. At the age of twelve, he assisted in the laborious employment of thrashing; the boy, in his father's own words, was weak but willing, and the good old man made a flail for him somewhat suitable to his strength. When his share of the day's toil was over, he eagerly ran to the village school under the belfry, and in this desultory and casual manner gathered his imperfect knowledge of language, and skill in writing. At the early period of which we are speaking, Clare felt the poetic astrum. He relates, that twice or thrice in the winter weeks it was his office to fetch a bag of flour from the village of Maxey, and darkness often came on before he could return. The state of his nerves corresponded with his slender frame. The tales of terror with which his mother's memory shortened the long nights, returned freshly to his fancy the next day, and to beguile the way and dissipate his fears, he used to walk back with his eyes fixed immoveably on the ground, revolving in his mind some adventure without a ghost in it,' which he turned into verse; and thus, he adds, he reached the village of Helpstone often before he was aware of his approach.

The fate of Amy' is one of those stories with which every village, more especially every secluded village, abounds; and the pool, from her catastrophe named the haunted pool, is still shewn, while the mound at the head of it attests the place of her inter


[ocr errors]

ment. We do not propose to institute a very rigid criticism on these poems, but we must not omit to notice the delicacy with which the circumstances of this inartificial tale are suggested, rather than disclosed; indeed it may be remarked generally that, though associating necessarily with the meanest and most uneducated of society, the poet's homeliest stories have nothing of coarseness and vulgarity in their construction. Some of his ballad stanzas rival the native simplicity of Tickel or Mallett.

The flowers the sultry summer kills,
Spring's milder suns restore;
But innocence, that fickle charm,
Blooms once, and blooms no more.
The swains who loved no more admire,
Their hearts no beauty warms ;
And maidens triumph in her fall,

That envied once her charms.
Lost was that sweet simplicity,

Her eye's bright lustre fled;
And o'er her cheeks, where roses bloom'd
A sickly paleness spread.

So fades the flower before its time,
Where canker-worms assail,

So droops the bud upon the stem,
Beneath the sickly gale.'-p. 26.

For the boisterous sports and amusements which form the usual delight of village youth, Clare had neither strength nor relish; his mother found it necessary to drive him from the chimney corner to exercise and to play, whence he quickly returned, contemplative and silent. His parents-we speak from knowledgewere apprehensive for his mind as well as his health; not knowing how to interpret, or to what cause to refer these habits so opposite to those of other boys of his condition; and when, a few years later, they found him hourly employed in writing, and writing verses too,-'the gear was not mended' in their estimation. When he was fourteen or fifteen,' says Dame Clare, 'he would shew me a piece of paper, printed sometimes on one side, and scrawled all over on the other, and he would say, Mother, this is worth so much; and I used to say to him, Aye, boy, it looks as if it warr!-but I thought he was wasting his time.' Clare's history, for a few succeeding years, is composed in two words, spare diet and hard labour, cheered by visions of fancy which promised him happier days: there is an amusing mixture of earnestness and coquetry in his invocation 'to Hope,' the deceitful sustainer, time immemorial, of poets and lovers.

• Come,

Come, flattering Hope! now woes distress me,
Thy flattery I desire again;
Again rely on thee to bless me,
To find thy vainness doubly vain.
Though disappointments vex and fetter,
And jeering whisper, thou art vain,
Still must I rest on thee for better,

Still hope and be deceived again.'-p. 122.

[ocr errors]

The eccentricities of genius, as we gently phrase its most reprehensible excesses, contribute no interest to the biography of Clare. We cannot, however, regret this. Once, it seems, visions of glory' crowded on his sight, and, he enlisted at Peterboro' in the local militia. He still speaks of the short period passed in his new character, with evident satisfaction. After a while, he took the bounty for extended service, and marched to Oundle; where, at the conclusion of a bloodless campaign, his corps was disbanded, and he was constrained to return to Helspstone, to the dreary abode of poverty and sickness. His novel occupation does not appear to have excited any martial poetry; we need not therefore unsphere the spirit of Plato,' adequately to celebrate the warlike strains of the modern Tyrtæus.

The clouds which had hung so heavily over the youth of Clare, far from dispersing, grew denser and darker as he advanced towards manhood. His father, who had been the constant associate of his labours, became more and more infirm, and he was constrained to toil alone, and far beyond his strength, to obtain a mere subsistence. It was at this cheerless moment, he composed What is Life?" in which he has treated a common subject with an earnestness, a solemnity, and an originality deserving of all praise some of the lines have a terseness of expression and a nervous freedom of versification not unworthy of Drummond, or of Cowley.

And what is Life ?-An hour-glass on the run,
A mist, retreating from the morning sun,

A busy, bustling, still-repeated dream,

Its length ?-A minute's pause, a moment's thought.
And happiness?-A bubble on the stream,

That in the act of seizing shrinks to nought.
And what is Hope ?-the puffing gale of morn,

That robs each flowret of its gem,--and dies;
A cobweb, hiding disappointment's thorn,

Which stings more keenly through the thin disguise.
And what is Death ?-Is still the cause unfound?
That dark, mysterious name of horrid sound?

A long and lingering sleep, the weary crave.
And peace ?--Where can its happiness abound?
No where at all, save Heaven, and the grave.
VOL. XXIII. NO. 45.-Q. R.



Then what is Life ?--When stripp'd of its disguise,
A thing to be desir'd it cannot be ;
Since every thing that meets our foolish eyes,
Gives proof sufficient of its vanity.
"Tis but a trial all must undergo;

To teach unthankful mortal how to prize
That happiness vain man's denied to know,
Until he's call'd to claim it in the skies.'

That the author of such verses (and there are abundance of them) should have continued till the age of twenty-five unfriended and unknown, is less calculated perhaps to excite astonishment, than that devotedness to his art, which could sustain him under the pressure of such evils, and that modesty which shrunk from obtruding his writings on the world. Once, indeed, and once only, he appears to have made an effort to emerge from this cheerless obscurity, by submitting his verses to a neighbour, who, it seems, enjoyed a reputation for knowledge in such matters. Even here his ill-fortune awaited him; and his muse met not only with discouragement but rebuke. The circumstance is however valuable, since it serves to illustrate the natural gentleness of the poet's disposition. Instead of venting his spleen against this rustic Aristarch, he only cleaves to his favourite with greater fondness.

Still must my rudeness pluck the flower
That's pluck'd, alas! in evil hour;
And poor, and vain, and sunk beneath
Oppression's scorn although I be,
Still will I bind my simple wreath,

Still will I love thee, Poesy.'-p. 124.

Though need make many poets,' it was not need that excited Clare to write poetry, though its importunity finally drove him to trust his little bark to the waves.' Without a shilling in his pocket, with a father and mother aged and decrepit at home, who rather required his aid than contributed to alleviate his condition, with a frame so feeble by nature, as to sink under the toil to which he had all his life submitted, he at length-and on the impulse of the moment-bethought himself of endeavouring to obtain some small advantage from those mental labours which had at various seasons so deeply engaged his mind. 'I was working alone in the lime-pits, at Ryhall, in the dead of winter, 1818,' these are his own words, when knowing it impossible for me to pay a shoemaker's bill of more than three pounds, having only eighteen-pence to receive at night, I resolved upon pubfishing proposals for printing a little volume of poems by subscription; and at dinner-time I wrote a prospectus, with a pencil,



« AnteriorContinuar »