Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

and composed, in its loftiest and most solid parts, of the fragments of things far more lofty and solid.

The consequence, accordingly, is, that we have abundance of admirable descriptions, ingenious similitudes, and elaborate imitations—but little invention, little direct or overwhelming passion, and little natural simplicity. On the contrary, every thing almost now resolves into description,—descriptions not only of actions and external objects, but of characters, and emotions, and the signs and accompaniments of emotion-and all given at full length, ostentatious, elaborate, and highly finished, even in their counterfeit carelessness and disorder. But no sudden unconscious bursts, either of nature or of passion-no casual flashes of fancy, no slight passing intimations of deep but latent emotions, no rash darings of untutored genius, soaring proudly up into the infinite unknown! The chief fault, however, is the want of subject and of matter—the absence of real persons, intelligible interests, and conceivable incidents, to which all this splendid apparatus of rhetoric and fancy may attach itself, and thus get a purpose and a meaning, which it never can possess without them. To satisfy a rational being, even in his most sensitive mood, we require not only a just representation of passion in the abstract, but also that it shall be embodied in some individual person whom we can understand and sympathize with-and cannot long be persuaded to admire splendid images and ingenious allusions which bear upon no comprehensible object, and seem to be introduced for no other purpose than to be admired.

Without going the full length of the mathematician, who could see no beauty in poetry because it proved nothing, we cannot think it quite unreasonable to insist on knowing a little what it is about; and must be permitted to hold it a good objection to the very finest composition, that it gives us no distinct conceptions, either of character, of action, of passion, or of the author's design in laying it before us. Now this, we think, is undeniably the prevailing fault of our modern poets. What they do best is description--in a story certainly they do not excel—their pathos is too often overstrained and rhetorical, and their reflections mystical and bombastic. The great want, however, as we have already said, is the want of solid subject, and of persons who can be supposed to have existed. There is plenty of splendid drapery and magnificent localities—but nobody to put on the one, or to inhabit and vivify the other. Instead of living persons, we have commonly little else than mere puppets or academy figures—and very frequently are obliged to be contented with scenes of still life altogether-with gorgeous dresses tossed into glittering heaps, or suspended in dazzling files--and enchanted

solitudes, where we wait in vain for some beings like ourselves, to animate its beauties with their loves, or to aggravate its horrors by their contentions.

The consequence of all this is, that modern poems, with great beauty of diction, much excellent description, and very considerable displays of taste and imagination, are generally languid, obscure, and tiresome. Short pieces, however, it should be admitted, are frequently very delightful-elegant in composition, sweet and touching in sentiment, and just and felicitous in expressing the most delicate shades both of character and emotion. Where a single scene, thought, or person, is to be represented, the improved taste of the age, and its general familiarity with beautiful poetry, will generally ensure, from our better artists, not only a creditable, but a very excellent production. What used to be true of female poets only, is now true of all. We have not wings, it would seem, for a long flight-and the larger works of those who pleased us most with their small ones, scarcely ever fail of exhibiting the very defects from which we should have thought them most secure—and turn out insipid, verbose, and artificial, like their neighbours. In little poems, in short, which do not require any choice or management of subject, we succeed very well; but where a story is to be told, and an interest to be sustained, through a considerable train of incidents and variety of characters, our want of vigour and originality is but too apt to become apparent; and is only the more conspicuous from our skilful and familiar use of that inspired diction, and those poetical materials which we have derived from the mighty masters to whose vigour and originality they were subservient, and on whose genius they waited but as servile ministers.'

We are afraid we cannot make an exception from these general censures in favour of the author before us; and are constrained, indeed, to say, that we conceive their introduction on this occasion to be mainly justified by their peculiar application to his case. In saying this, however, it is but fair to add, that we think he exemplifies what is excellent in modern poetry fully more conspicuously than what is bad; and may be considered on the whole as a favourable specimen of the existing generation. He is copious, melodious, and emphatic; his style is gorgeous and flowing, his descriptions magnificent-his banquets and revelries breathe the very air of splendid voluptuousness, and his scenes of battle and council are full of solemnity and ardour. Yet, with all this, the poem palls upon us; and we are cloyed with its sweetness, satiated with its magnificence, and stunned with its energy, long before we get through the first six books,'

ented they are in the way it the iso naked tre steder

hinted, pomp and circ large books e before us;

which are all that are yet before us. This is owing partly to the very palpable excess in which the author employs all those elements of pleasing ; but chiefly, we think, to the disproportion which those ornaments of the scene bear to its actual business, to the slowness with which the story moves forward, and the difficulty we have in catching a distinct view of the characters that are presented to us, through the glare of imagery and eloquence with which they are surrounded. The author, in fact, is everywhere incumbered with the weight of his magnificence, and retarded by the long pomp by which he is continually attended. There is no rapidity of movement, no naked transparency of diction, no pregnant brevity or simple directness of statement-a single battle rages over nearly an hundred close-printed pages, and the glorious luxuries of the king are reflected on us from at least twenty brilliant passages. This long battle, indeed, and these endless luxuries, actually fill up the volume before us; and form the whole argument of the six large books of which it consists. The rest is all pomp and circumstance, and in this, as we have already hinted, the author revels with more than a poetic prodigality. We do not, indeed, recollect of any European writer who has carried the license of exaggeration so far. The subject, we suppose, must be his apology. In treating of the downfall of an Asiatic empire, he has caught something of the extravagance of the Oriental imagination. Except in the palace of Aladdin, we do not know where to look for any parallel to the splendour of Sardanapalus. The magnificence and numbers of the conflicting hosts are on a scale equally gigantic. When the battle languishes, a certain general is ordered to charge with an hundred thousand horse, while thirty thousand chariots make a diversion on the other wing; and Salamenes at last moves forward with a small reserve of three hundred thousand infantry. Then Arbaces the Mede is a full cubit taller than the tall priest who fights beside him; and each of the more considerable warriors deals more deaths than Achilles and Hector put together, and knocks down horses and shivers brazen chariots to pieces with a single blow-while the lightning blazes and the thunder volleys above the cloud of carnage, and the tide of victory fluctuates over the reeking plain, through many thousand most heroic verses, till the reader is fairly giddy with the tumult, and exhausted by the long-protracted agony.

It is but fair, however, to let Mr Atherstone speak a little for himself; and no specimen of his manner can be fairer than the following extract from his exordium.

The vision comes upon me!—To my soul
The days of old return ;-I breathe the air

Of the young world ;-I see her giant sons.
Like to a gorgeous pageant in the sky
Of summer's evening, cloud on fiery cloud
Thronging upheap'd, -before me rise the walls
Of the Titanic city,-brazen gates,
Towers,-temples, -palaces enormous piled,
Imperial Nineveh, the earthly queen!
In all her golden pomp I see her now,-
I see her halls sunbright at midnight shine,
I hear the music of her banquetings;
I hear the laugh, the whisper, and the sigh.
A sound of stately treading toward me comes,-
A silken wafting on the cedar floor :
As from Arabia's flowering groves, an air
Delicious breathes around. Tall, lofty-brow'd, -
Pale, and majestically beautiful,-
In vesture gorgeous as the clouds of morn,-

With slow, proud step, her glorious dames sweep by.' We may add the following, not perhaps as the best of the many pictures of luxury that adorn these pages, but as the first which we meet with.

• The moon is clear,—the stars are coming forth,
The evening breeze fans pleasantly. Retired
Within his gorgeous hall, Assyria's king
Sits at the banquet, and in love and wine
Revels delighted. On the gilded roof
A thousand golden lamps their lustre fing,
And on the marble walls, and on the throne
Gem-boss'd, that, high on jasper steps upraised,
Like to one solid diamond quivering stands,
Sun-splendours flashing round. In woman's garb
The sensual king is clad, and with bim sit
A crowd of beauteous concubines. They sing,
And roll the wanton eye, and laugh, and sigh,
And feed his ear with honey'd flatteries,
And laud him as a God. . . . . .

. . . Like a mountain stream,
Amid the silence of the dewy eve
Heard by the lonely traveller through the vale,
With dream-like murmuring melodious,
In diamond showers a crystal fountain falls.

.. Sylph-like girls, and blooming boys,
Flower-crown'd, and in apparel bright as spring,
Attend upon their bidding. At the sign,
From bands unseen, voluptuous music breathes,
Harp, dulcimer, and, sweetest far of all,
Woman's mellifluous voice.'

* Through all the city sounds the voice of joy,
And tipsy merriment. On the spacious walls,

That, like huge sea-cliffs, gird the city in,
Myriads of wanton feet go to and fro:
Gay garments rustle in the scented breeze,
Crimson and azure, purple, green, and gold :
Laugh, jest, and passing whisper are heard there;
Timbrel, and lute, and dulcimer, and song;
And many feet that tread the dance are seen,
And arms upflung, and swaying heads plume crown'd.

So is that city steep'd in revelry.' The next scene shows him stationed at morning on the top of that lofty mount which soared in the midst of the city over the ashes of its mighty founder, making proud signal to the glittering hosts that lay encamped by myriads beyond its walls.

• Then went the king,
Flush'd with the wine, and in his pride of power,
Glorying ; and with his own strong arm upraised
From out its rest the Assyrian banner broad,
Purple and edged with gold; and, standing then
Upon the utmost summit of the mount,-
Round, and yet round,- for two strong men a task
Sufficient deem'd,--he waved the splendid flag,
Bright as a meteor streaming.

"At that sight,
The plain was in a stir : the helms of brass
Were lifted up,--and glittering spear-points waved,
And banners shaken,-and wide trumpet mouths
Upturn’d;—and myriads of bright-harness'd steeds
Were seen uprearing-shaking their proud heads;
And brazen chariots in a moment sprang,
And clash'd together. In a moment more,
Up came the monstrous universal shout,
Like a volcano's burst. Up-up to heaven .
The multitudinous tempest tore its way,
Rocking the clouds : from all the swarming plain,
And from the city rose the mingled cry,
“ Long live Sardanapalus, king of kings !
May the king live for ever !" Thrice the flag
The monarch waved ; and thrice the shouts arose
Enormous, that the solid walls were shook,
And the firm ground made tremble.

'Amid the far-off hills,
With eye of fire, and shaggy mane uprear'd,
The sleeping lion in his den sprang up;
Listen’d awhile,-then laid his monstrous mouth
Close to the floor, and breathed hot roarings out

In fierce reply The reader, we think, may now like to see him in his chariot of war.

« AnteriorContinuar »