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Cornwallis, the Gepius of Cruelty, and General Greene. They "come like shadows, so depart," leaving the mind bewildered and the memory confused.
From this radical error in the general design and groundwork of the poem, beside the want of interest, other defects almost spontaneously arise. The author has heaped together such an immense, discordant mass of characters, facts, and descriptions such an Iliad of heroes is crammed into a nutshell, that the space allotted to each compartment must of necessity be very small. Hence the poet is almost necessarily compelled to an exuberant use of allegorical delineation. As his characters have no room to develop themselves by action, he is obliged to decorate his personages with emblematic badges, and to embody their passions and motives into allegorical forms. Thus his sages are presented to your view (as you may see portraits in the window of a print-shop) surrounded by air-pumps and telescopes, piles of books and heaps of chymical apparatus. With the same rage for allegorical personification, Cruelty is seated on the deck of the prison-ship, Inquisition stalks over Spain, and War attended by his whole family, his wife Discord, and his two twin daughters Famine and Pestilence, strides across the Atlantic, disgorg, ing from his mouth
Pikes, muskets, mortars, guns and globes of fire,
And lighted bombs that fusing trails expire.
A warrior, ensigned with a various crown;
His various honors, titles, feats and fame.
High on the tallest deck majestic shone
All former works of men behind him shone,
The bright star burning on his lofty breast. So too Washington, Cornwallis, Franklin--but to cite every instance that might be given, were to extract half the volume.
Having thus declared our decided disapprobation of the argument of Mr. B's poem, we do not know whether we are bound by any canon of criticism to furnish him with a better. But as it happens that one occurs at this moment, which to us appears infinitely preferable, we shall even wave our privilege, and present it to the poet. We would advise him to follow where Virgil leads the way. Why might not the whole story of Columbus, like that of Æneas, be worked up into an interesting fable? Surely the voyages and labours of the Genoese mariner would form as good a ground-work as those of the Trojan chief, for a national and historic poem.
The acuteness of the critics of the Warburtonian school can perceive the features of Augustus lurking under those of Æneas. It would require much less ingenuity to shadow forth in the po. etic Columbus, the character and actions of the great founder of the American Republic. The patient prudence of Washington, his calmness, his moderation, his various labours in camp and cabinet, might all, in this way, be vividly portrayed. The geography of our country, in the detail of which Mr. B. takes such delight, and which certainly, as we may learn from every page of the Æneid, is susceptible of the most powerful poetic effect, would fall very naturally into the narrative. While his philosophy might be happily introduced in conversations between Columbus and a learned companion, or an Indian sage. If the poet complain that this plot is too contracted for a national poem, Virgil may teach him how to enlarge it. Much may be done by similc and allusion, much by prophecy and digression, and much by means of the celestial machinery, which he might borrow from Dryden, of the guardian angels of States.
Finally, perhaps, the future glories of America might be opened in splendid vision to the hero, and that brilliant story, which is now seebly expanded through ten long looks, might hine with condensed lustre in a single canto.
We do not give this argument as the best possible, but merely as much better than that of the Columbiad. Perhaps too, as it is but a transcript of that of the Æneid, it might require a Virgil to execute it.
Thus much for the general disposition of the whole. Let us now cast a rapid glance on the execution of the parts. The first thing which strikes the cursory reader is a certain wearisome sameness and dull repetition of favourite phrases and perpetually recurring rhymes. For example, when the poct has decked one of his personages with the emblems of his character or his occupation, and placed him in some theatrical atitude, he invariably gives him an “ardent eye,” and places a crown of science or of iriumph upon his brow. The same barren lack of invention is stamped upon every part of his geographical description; in which, as we above hinted, he indulges himself beyond all bounds, to the great annoyance of the patient reader. After having travelled through many a heavy couplet,
From sultry Mobile's gulf-indented shore
When we have seen proud Maragnon and Paraguay's deep channel, broad Delaware and majestic Hudson, gay Piscataway and swift Kennebec, we begin to wish for repose. But alas! it is in vain. Our indefatigable bard continues to whirl us backward and forward, with the rapidity of a postboy, from “Penn's beauteous town,” to “imperial Mexic” and “ Cusco's shining roofs.” At length a total indifference, bordering on disgust, creeps upon us. Even the speeches and conflicts of his river-gods, fail to rouse us from our apathy, and we see,
New-York ascend o'er Hudson's seaward isles
Roll her rich treasures o'er her parent flood, with much the same feelings with which we read in Dr. Morse's Gazetteer that “ Weathersfield is a post-lown in Connecticut, five miles south-east from Hartford, adorned with an elegant brick meeting-house, and famous for the beauty of its girls and the savour of its onions."
Next after geography, philosophical declamation seems to be Mr. B.'s favourite employment for his muse. Of the many pages through which he indulges this propensity, some are filled with original and ingenious theories, many with commonplace rant (as Sir Archy M‘Sarcasm would say) “varra true and varra novel,” and more,mby far the greater part,—with the cant of the Darwinian and Parisian schools. We presume that, at this time of day, few of our readers have much further curiosity on this subject. We will, however, refer them to the disquisition on the causes of the dissimilarity of men in different climates, contained in the beginning of the second book, as exhibiting no unfavourable specimen of our author's powers of reasoning in verse.
Mr. B. appears to have but an imperfect command of the inferior and mechanical arts of poetry. His rhymes are deficient in variety and richness, and often grossly inaccurate; and his versification is sometimes disfigured by the most feeble and prosaic lines, such as these :
Mark modern Europe with her feudal codes,
But cujum pecus whose base herd they'll be.
Wide over earth his annual freshet strays,
And highland drench with lowland drains repays. Many of his most poetical passages are debased by unlucky vulgarisms, or ludicrous minuteness of description. The fiend Cruelty is introduced with very powerful effect, and the personification is supported with great ability till she displays her“ slow-poisonous drugs, and loads of putrid meat," while
Disease hangs drizzling from her slimy locks,
And hot contagion issues from her box. The simile of the archer Tell is marred by a ludicrous alliteration, the arrow flies from the hand of the patriot father, and " picks off the pippin from the smiling boy.” In another passage, the poet, in the true spirit of the bathos, makes channels to "tap the redundant lakes." All this surprises us not a little. In the present state of literature, every writer, if he has matter, is seldom deficient in style ; almost every one who rhymes, rhymes
with tolerable elegance. That a writer of Mr. Barlow's powers should fail in these minutiæ is singular indeed.
There is a strange incongruity in the versification and style of the Columbiad. Some portions of it seem to be modelled on the manner of Dryden and the fathers of English song; while the rest glitters with all the trick and prettiness of the school of Darwin. All the verses, however, whether of ancient or modern structure, move along with apparent labour and effort. The sense seems to follow the rhyme, not the rhyme the sense. Eve-' ry couplet'appears to have been separately laboured, and then the whole strung together as conveniently as might be. Hence the sense is often broken and disjointed, and we are even sometimes at a loss for the grammatical construction of the sentence. This, however, although the general, is not the universal character of our poet's verses. He occasionally bursts forth in short but vigorous flights, some of which, had they been found in Absalom and Architophel, would not have dishonoured Dryden in his noblest efforts. Take for instance the following burst of patriotic indignation in his narrative of the expedition against Quebec, headed by the traitor Arnold:
Ah! gallant troop! deprived of half the praise,
We cannot dismiss Mr. Barlow as a poet without first taking him to task for some petty offences against the purity of the English language. The first misdemeanor in this way is of NewEngland origin; we mean the using neuter verbs as actives, and vice versa. Thus “ Nature broods the mass," for broods over; Columbus “ sweats the cold earth," for sweats upon; Egyptian gardens “grow the vegetable god," and the “ lordling knave filches whom he can."* With the same latitudo nouns are trans
In this last instance the verb filch seems ased instead of plunder, certainly incorrectly.