Imagens das páginas

More thoroughly English than any poet of our land, his prevailing mood, his staple feeling, is rich and exuberant humour. He delights in a broad, but not in a malicious grin. His mirth is always tempered with sensibility, and is of that kind, which is built not on a paucity, but upon a superabundance of feeling. But to me, I must confess, his most pleasing peculiarity is his cockneyism :-he is manifestly the inhabitant of a great city, that has a mass of fellow-creatures ever bustling around him, and hence is possessed of that store of observation and acuteness,—that air of continual society, which the poets of the fields seldom possess. I like also the freshness of feeling, with which he enjoys a green mead, his frequent reference to May and Mayscenes, and the liveliness of spirit which he always assumes the moment he enters on rural description. This to me is far more delicious and poetical than the cold and languid air, with which the dweller among fields generally enumerates in verse the beauties to which he has grown dead, and with which he has become too familiar. Compare parallel passages in Chaucer and Thomson, and the distinction will be instantly perceived. In the pictures of the former, nature brightens up, and the inanimate objects viewed by the poet, seem to catch life from the spirit. with which he regards them;-in the descriptions of the latter, every thing is faithfully, but languidly pourtrayed-nature droops with the contemplative spirit of the poet, who moralizes and philosophises over the scene, instead of enjoying it he finds no matter of excitement in the objects of his every-day life, and when he fancies himself in love with rural and picturesque beauty, he is but fond of ease and languor, and the sloth of an idle day-dream.

But this spirit of painting inanimate nature is not the only peculiarity which Chaucer owed to his town-life. His portraiture of character, and figure, and dress,—the inimitable strokes which rival the palpable power of the artist's pencil, in presenting a picture to one's imagination-all this is owing to his having spent his days in this busy haunt of men. His power in comic description is amazing-it is not like painting a picture, but unrolling it-sometimes a line or a word, aided by the quaintness of the style, flashes a whole picture at once on the view. As when he calls the Frere "a full solempné man." It seems at times as if every character had sitten for the picture, so well are not only the general traits, but is each individual mark touched off to the life:"Somwhat he lisped for his wantonnesse,

To make his English swete upon his tongue;
And in his harping, whan that he hadde songe,
His eyen twinkeled in his head aright,
As don the sterres in a frosty night."

And of the Miller,

"Upon the copright of his nose he hade

A wert, and thereon stode a tuft of heres,
Rede as the bristles of a sowes eres.

His nose-thirles blacké were and wide," &c.

Of his feelings towards the place of his birth, Chaucer has left one most affectionate record. "Also the citye of London, that is to me so dere and swete, in which I was forth growen; and more kindely love have I to that place, than to any other in yerth, as every kindly creture hath full appetite to that place of his kindely engendrure, and to wilne

reste and pece in that stede to abide." This passage in his "Testament of Love" was written in prison, where the poet was confined for having been concerned in a city quarrel, relating to the election of a Lord Mayor. The circumstance explains the plaintive wish at the end of the sentence; which, if it can be taken to mean the "reste and pece" of the grave, the poet obtained after having reached a good old age. And his being buried in the city he loved, acquired for it more honour than he could have foreseen; since it was his tomb that first originated the Poet's Corner, and drew into its company the ashes of so many of his illustrious brethren.

Chaucer's life was one from which we might expect "The Canterbury Tales,"- —a law student, a soldier, a courtier, a diplomatist, an exile, a laureat, a comptroller of the customs,

[ocr errors]

Qui nullum ferè vivendi genus
Non tetigit,"-

just fitted to leave, as he did, an epitome of the universal manners of his age. Incited in his youth to literary exertion, most likely by the public honours which at that time were bestowing on Petrarch, he applied himself first to a poetical version of the Roman de Rose, in which occupation he acquired his early taste for allegory, as well as the foreign style of language, which he ever preserved. This is evident on comparing the original with the translation, the lines of the latter being, in many places, word for word the same with those of the former, with merely an English termination to mark the difference. It is nevertheless surprising, notwithstanding his foreign travel and study, how English he is, especially in his later works. Like all men of genius, he was advanced beyond the prejudices of his age, was a follower of Wickliffe, and had adopted those principles of independence suited to the times, the power of the clergy, not that of the sovereign, being the ascendancy most to be dreaded and resisted. He is hard upon the Frere, and all the idle followers of the church; but his picture of the beneficed clergyman marks his respect for true religion. His taste was equally, though perhaps not proportionably advanced : he ridicules the old tales of romance, and tells stories with great seriousness, which are quite as ridiculous. His poetry must have been amazingly popular in its day; and would, no doubt, have given birth to a numerous and talented school of followers, if England had remained happy and prosperous, as it promised in the times of the Third Edward. But the troubles that followed put good humour, as well as foreign-fetched tales, out of season. It was an age, like the present, self-occupied,-with objects of excitement around it daily occurring, that permitted neither leisure nor inclination for bestowing interest on aught but sad reality. And when passing events possess this paramount interest and importance, Couriers and Annalists will be considered as the best, and the only poets.

One of the remarkable characteristics of Chaucer, and indeed of Langlande, and all the other early English poets, is the esteem and respect with which they regard and paint the lower orders of their countrymen. This feeling is strongly contrasted with that of the French in those days, whose bias was wholly aristocratic.*


* Ellis, in his "Specimens," speaking of our Yeomen, says, "It is very honourable to the good sense of the English nation, that our two best early poets,

though a courtier, and evidently versed in tales of chivalry and feats of knighthood, always seems to descend with pleasure to the plain, unaffected homeliness of low life and the fidelity of his pictures shews that he must have been intimately and personally acquainted with the manners of that class. He seems at home the moment his Muse gets into such company; and though the poet of Palamon and Arcite cannot be said to be out of his element in the description of tournament, and pomp, and ceremony, yet does he seem to breathe with fresher life in humbler scenes. He had sympathies for all ranks, and with true English feeling he has drawn the connexion between the high and the low. This forms the great beauty of his "Griselda:"-the tale of Chaucer strikes me as fraught with a hidden and a noble moral, which certainly it has not in the pages of Boccacio. The demand of the peasants-their lord's answer-his choice-the demeanour and pathetic obedience of Griselda—and the kind intent of her lord, veiled under the harsh exercise of his authority-all these speak more to me than is set down. "It is not in the bond," but yet I feel it: and hence hath that tale a charm for me, beyond all the other writings of the poet.

Donnington Castle, and Woodstock, share with London the memory of Chaucer; as does the Borough, where the Tabard Inn is not to be forgotten, whence the Canterbury pilgrims set out on their journey. The meaning of tabard (an old cloak) having become obsolete, the name of the inn has been for these many years changed to that of the Talbot. But it still exists, and an inscription about Geoffrey used to be seen in the inn-yard. The greater part of his life, there can be no doubt, was spent in London," the place of his kindly engendrure." And were we inclined to be gay, many comical proofs of the poet's being a cockney, might be brought from his orthography;

The olive of pece; and eke, the dronken vine;
The victor palme; the laurer, too divine,"

which can be no mistake of the print, for even Tyrwhitt adopts it. There are a hundred other instances of the same kind, that have escaped my memory. Now this, in my mind, is a compliment; but should any think otherwise, let them call to mind all the great men of Elizabeth's age, and of Anne's-the haunters of tap-rooms and taverns, of the coffee-house and the cockpit - the Johnsons, the Shakspeares, the Addisons, the Steeles-all arrant cits and metropolitans, as their writings avouch.

But London, it must be allowed, is no longer what she was--the focus of literature and taste. Like Rome, that in the increase of her grandeur was compelled to admit all Italy to the honours of citizenship, her press has spread the stock of literary riches all over the sur

Chaucer, and the author of Piers Plowman, have highly extolled this useful body of men, while the French Minstrels of the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries, universally seem to approve the supercilious contempt with which the nobles affected to treat them." Nevertheless, many of the productions of Elizabeth's reign are terribly aristocratic, especially Sackville's "Gorboduc,"

"The Gods do hear, and well allow in Kings, The things that they abhor in rascal routs." "Rascal Routs" is a favourite expression of Sackville's.

face of the land. And in every petty village is now to be found the pert, pretending critic, that was, of old, confined to the metropolitan pit. The mounds and banks of the intellectual pond have been broken up the streams have gone forth, and circulate through a thousand channels. It is painful for us to observe, that some who have been thus enriched, do pride themselves much upon the acquisition, and pretend to look with most undutiful contempt on the source and origin whence they derived it. "They are better theatrical judges in Dublin than in London," say some. "The purest English is spoken in Edinburgh," say_others. Various excellencies are pleaded in favour of America. From all these opinions I beg to differ--with none of them am I angry. Let each man, like Diogenes, roll his tub. But truly indignant am I with some, who most pusillanimously, and for reasons I cannot guess, are afraid to own themselves natives and citizens of the spot which produced a Chaucer, a Hampden, and a Milton.



Πῶς οὐ χρὴ τὸν ἀοιδὸν ἐν εἴαρι καλὸν ἀέιδειν ;

WELCOME, welcome, bonny May,
With thy fields so green, and thy skies so gay,
And thy sweet white flowers that hang on the tree;
Welcome, welcome, dear May, to thee!

Welcome to thy gentle moon,

And the soft blue calm of thy genial noon;
Welcome to thy lightsome eves,
And the small birds singing among the leaves.
Thy touch has waken'd the spirit of love
In earth, and in sea, and in heaven above;
The cheerful air runs o'er with balm,
'Tis too soft for joy, and too gladsome for calm.
From the heart of man thou hast taken the seal,
Thou hast taught the breast of dear woman to feel;
And cheeks are smiling, and thoughts are free,
And all is happy on earth but me.

[blocks in formation]


Thou art passing onward, and wilt not stay-
Then a kind farewell to thee, bonny May!
Bright may thy path be, and happy thy cheer,
And a kind farewell till another year!



NO. I.

WHEN I first visited Dublin (it was about three years ago), I was a frequent attendant at the Courts of Justice, or, as they are more familiarly styled, the "Four Courts." The printed speeches of Curran had just fallen into my hands; and, notwithstanding their numerous and manifest defects, whether of the reporter or the speaker, the general effect of the perusal was to impress me with a very favourable opinion of Irish forensic eloquence. Although, as an Englishman, I might not participate in the political fervour which forms one of their chief recommendations to his admirers in Ireland, or, in my severer judgment, approve of a general style that differed so essentially from the models of British taste, still there was a freshness and vitality pervading the whole-glowing imagery-a bounding phraseology-trains of argument and illustration at once vigorous and original-and incessant home pushes at the human heart, of which the attractions were entirely independent of local or party associations. Under these impressions, and the opportunity being now afforded me, I made it a kind of literary object to ascertain how far the peculiarities that struck me belonged to the man or the country. With this view I resorted almost daily for the space of two terms to the Four Courts, where I studied with some industry the manner and intellectual character of some of the most eminent pleaders. The result was a little collection of forensic sketches, accurate enough, it struck me, as far as they went; but on the whole so incomplete, that I had no design of offering them to the public :-they remained almost forgotten in my commonplace book, until his Majesty's late visit to Ireland, when I was persuaded by a friend to follow in the royal train. All that I saw and thought upon that occasion is beside my present purpose. I return to my sketches:-My friend and I remained in Ireland till the month of December. We made an excursion to the Lakes of Killarney and to the Giants' Causeway; and, during our tour, the Circuits being fortunately out, I was thus furnished with the means of correcting or confirming many observations upon some of the most prominent subjects of my sketches. The same opportunity was afforded me on my return to Dublin, where the Courts were sitting during the last month of our stay. I now, for the first time, and principally from deference to my companion's opinion that the subject would be interesting, resolved at a leisure hour to arrange my scattered memoranda into a form that might meet the public eye. I may not be enabled to execute my plan to its entire extent: for the present I offer the following remarks upon one of the leading members of the Irish bar. In the event of my fulfilling my purpose, I must premise, that I do not profess to include every member of that body who has risen to eminence in his profession : I propose to speak only of those whom I heard sufficiently often to catch the peculiarities of their mind and manner; and, with regard to these, I beg to disclaim all pretensions to adjust their comparative merits and professional importance. With the single exception of Mr. Plunket for he unquestionably stands the first, the order in which they may appear in my list is not to be taken as the measure of their.



« AnteriorContinuar »