« AnteriorContinuar »
a precipice, not a torrent, not a cliff, but is pregnant with religion and poetry. There are certain scenes that would awe an atheist into belief, without the help of other argument. One need not have a very fantastic imagination to see spirits there at noonday. You have Death perpetually before your eyes, only so far removed, as to compose the mind without frightening it.'
In turning from these exquisite fragments of description to the poetry of Gray, the difference will be found to consist chiefly in the rhyme and measure in loftiness of sentiment and vividness of expression, the prose is equal to the verse.
Hymn to Adversity.
Daughter of Jove, relentless power,
With pangs unfelt before, unpitied, and alone.
And bade to form her infant mind.
And from her own she learned to melt at others' wo.
Scared at thy frown terrific, fly
Self-pleasing Folly's idle brood,
Wild Laughter, Noise, and thoughtless Joy,
The summer friend, the flattering foe;
By vain Prosperity received,
To her they vow their truth, and are again believed.
Wisdom, in sable garb arrayed,
Immersed in rapturous thought profound,
And Melancholy, silent maid,
With leaden eye, that loves the ground,
Still on thy solemn steps attend :
Warm Charity, the general friend,
With Justice, to herself severe,
And Pity, dropping soft the sadly-pleasing tear.
Oh, gently on thy suppliant's head,
Dread goddess, lay thy chastening hand! Not in thy gorgon terrors clad,
Nor circled with the vengeful band (As by the impious thou art seen),
With thundering voice, and threatening mien,
Despair, and fell Disease, and ghastly Poverty.
Thy form benign, oh goddess! wear,
Thy philosophic train be there,
To soften, not to wound, my heart. The generous spark extinct revive; Teach me to love and to forgive; Exact my own defects to scan,
What others are, to feel, and know myself a man.
Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.
Ye distant spires, ye antique towers,
Where grateful science still adores
* King Henry VI., founder of the college.
And ye, that from the stately brow
Ilis silver-winding way!
Ah, happy hills! ah, pleasing shade!
Where once my careless childhood strayed,
I feel the gales that from ye blow
As, waving fresh their gladsome wing,
To breathe a second spring.
Say, Father Thames, for thou hast seen
The paths of pleasure trace,
To chase the rolling circle's speed,
While some on earnest business bent
'Gainst graver hours, that bring constraint
Some bold adventurers disdain
Gay hope is theirs, by fancy fed,
Less pleasing when possessed; The tear forgot as soon as shed, The sunshine of the breast. Theirs buxom health of rosy hue, Wild wit, invention ever new, And lively cheer of vigour born;
The thoughtless day, the easy night,
Alas! regardless of their doom,
No sense have they of ills to come,
Ah! show them where in ambush stand,
These shall the fury passions tear,
And shame that skulks behind;
And Envy wan, and faded Care,
And grinning Infamy.
The stings of Falsehood those shall try,
That mocks the tear it forced to flow;
Lo! in the vale of years beneath
The painful family of Death,
More hideous than their queen:
This racks the joints, this fires the veins,
That numbs the soul with icy hand,
To each his sufferings: all are men,
The unfeeling for his own.
Yet, ah! why should they know their fate, Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies?
Thought would destroy their paradise. No more; where ignorance is bliss, "Tis folly to be wise.
[The Bard.-A Pindaric Ode.]
[This ode is founded on a tradition current in Wales, that Edward I., when he completed the conquest of that country, ordered all the bards that fell into his hands to be put to death.]
Ruin seize thee, ruthless king,
Though fanned by conquest's crimson wing,
He wound with toilsome march his long array.
On a rock, whose haughty brow
Frowns o'er old Conway's foaming flood, Robed in the sable garb of wo,
With haggard eyes the poet stood (Loose his beard, and hoary hair
Streamed, like a meteor, to the troubled air);
Sighs to the torrent's awful voice beneath!
'Cold is Cadwallo's tongue,
That hushed the stormy main :
Brave Urien sleeps upon his craggy bed: Mountains, ye mourn in vain
Modred, whose magic song
Made huge Plinlimmon bow his cloud-topped head.
Smeared with gore, and ghastly pale:
Dear as the light that visits these sad eyes,
On yonder cliffs, a grisly band,
I see them sit; they linger yet,
With me in dreadful harmony they join,
And weave with bloody hands the tissue of thy line.' 'Weave the warp, and weave the woof,
The winding-sheet of Edward's race.
The shrieks of death through Berkeley's roof that ring,
She-wolf of France, with unrelenting fangs,
That tear'st the bowels of thy mangled mate, From thee be born,5 who o'er thy country hangs The scourge of Heaven! What terrors round him
Amazement in his van, with Flight combined,
Low6 on his funeral couch he lies
No pitying heart, no eye afford
A tear to grace his obsequies.
Is the sable warrior7 fled?
Thy son is gone. He rests among the dead.
Fair laughs the morn, and soft the zephyr blows,
In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes;
Youth on the prow, and Pleasure at the helm; Regardless of the sweeping whirlwind's sway, That, hushed in grim repose, expects his evening prey. Fill high the sparkling bowl,9
The rich repast prepare;
Reft of a crown, he yet may share the feast:
Fell Thirst and Famine scowl
A baleful smile upon their baffled guest.
1 The shores of Caernarvonshire, opposite to the Isle of Anglesey.
2 Camden and others observe, that eagles used annually to build their eyry among the rocks of Snowdon, which from thence (as some think) were named by the Welsh Craigianeryri, or the crags of the eagles. At this day, I am told, the highest point of Snowdon is called the eagle's nest. That bird is certainly no stranger to this island, as the Scots and the people of Cumberland, Westmoreland, &c., can testify; it has even built its nest in the Peak of Derbyshire.-(See Willoughby's Ornithology, published by Ray).
3 Edward II., cruelly butchered in Berkeley Castle. 4 Isabel of France, Edward II.'s adulterous queen.
5 Alluding to the triumphs of Edward III. in France.
6 Alluding to the death of that king, abandoned by his children, and even robbed in his last moments by his courtiers and his mistress.
7 Edward, the Black Prince, dead some time before his father. 8 Magnificence of Richard II.'s reign. See Froissart, and other contemporary writers.
9 Richard II. (as we are told by Archbishop Scroop, and the
Heard ye the din of battle bray,1
Lance to lance, and horse to horse? Long years of havoc urge their destined course, And through the kindred squadrons mow their way. Ye Towers of Julius,2 London's lasting shame,
With many a foul and midnight murder fed,
Twined with her blushing foe, we spread:
Wallows beneath the thorny shade.
Now, brothers, bending o'er the accursed loom, Stamp we our vengeance deep, and ratify his doom.
"Edward, lo! to sudden fate
(Weave we the woof. The thread is spun).
Leave me unblessed, unpitied, here to mourn:
But oh! what solemn scenes, on Snowdon's height
Ye unborn ages, crowd not on my soul! No more our long-lost Arthur we bewail.
All hail, ye genuine kings!10 Britannia's issue hail!
Girt with many a baron bold,
Sublime their starry fronts they rear;
And gorgeous dames, and statesmen old,
In the midst a form divine!
Her eye proclaims her of the Briton-line;
Her lion-port,11 her awe-commanding face,
What strings symphonious tremble in the air,
confederate lords in their manifesto, by Thomas of Walsingham, and all the older writers) was starved to death. story of his assassination by Sir Piers, of Exon, is of much later date.
1 Ruinous civil wars of York and Lancaster.
2 Henry VI., George, Duke of Clarence, Edward V., Richard, Duke of York, &c., believed to be murdered secretly in the Tower of London. The oldest part of that structure is vulgarly attributed to Julius Cæsar.
3 Margaret of Anjou, a woman of heroic spirit, who struggled hard to save her husband and her crown.
4 Henry V. 5 Henry VI., very near been canonised. The line of Lancaster had no right of inheritance to the
8 Eleanor of Castile died a few years after the conquest of Wales. The heroic proof she gave of her affection for her lord
is well-known. The monuments of his regret and sorrow for the loss of her, are still to be seen at Northampton, Geddington, Waltham, and other places.
9 It was the common belief of the Welsh nation, that King Arthur was still alive in Fairy Land, and should return again to reign over Britain.
10 Both Merlin and Taliessin had prophesied, that the Welsh should regain their sovereignty over this island, which seemed to be accomplished in the house of Tudor.
11 Speed, relating an audience given by Queen Elizabeth to Paul Dzialinski, ambassador of Poland, says, And thus she, lion-like, rising, daunted the malipert orator no less with her stately port and majestical deporture, than with the tartnesse of her princelie checkes.'
19 Taliessin, chief of the bards, flourished in the sixth cen
Bright Rapture calls, and soaring as she sings,
The verse adorn again
Fierce War, and faithful Love,
And Truth severe, by fairy Fiction dressed.
With Horror, tyrant of the throbbing breast.
And distant warblings3 lessen on my ear,
Fond, impious man, think'st thou yon sanguine cloud, Raised by thy breath, has quenched the orb of day? To-morrow he repairs the golden flood,
And warms the nations with redoubled ray. Enough for me: with joy I see
The different doom our Fates assign. Be thine Despair, and sceptred Care;
To triumph, and to die, are mine.'
He spoke, and headlong from the mountain's height, Deep in the roaring tide he plunged to endless night.
Stoke Pogeis Church, and Tomb of Gray.
tury. His works are still preserved, and his memory held in
3 The succession of poets after Milton's time.
Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade, Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap, Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep. The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed, The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.
Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke; How jocund did they drive their team a-field! How bowed the woods beneath their sturdy stroke! Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure; Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile The short and simple annals of the poor. The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave, Await alike the inevitable hour:-
The paths of glory lead but to the grave. Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,
If Memory o'er their tomb no trophies raise, Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.
Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath? Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
But knowledge to their eyes her ample page
And froze the genial current of the soul.
Full many a gem, of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.
And read their history in a nation's eyes,
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way. Yet even these bones from insult to protect, Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked, Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.
Their name, their years, spelt by the unlettered muse,
This pleasing anxious being e'er resigned,
Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,
Or crazed with care, or crossed in hopeless love. One morn I missed him on the 'customed hill, Along the heath and near his favourite tree; Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he; The next, with dirges due in sad array
Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne: Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay Graved on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.'
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth,
A Youth, to Fortune and to Fame unknown;
He gained from Heaven ('twas all he wished) a friend.
No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode, (There they alike in trembling hope repose), The bosom of his Father and his God.
The Alliance between Government and Education; a Fragment.
As sickly plants betray a niggard earth,
Of nature idly lavishes her stores,
And scatter with a free, though frugal hand,
The spacious animated scene survey,
Say, then, through ages by what fate confined, To different climes seem different souls assigned? Here measured laws and philosophic ease Fix and improve the polished arts of peace. There industry and gain their vigils keep, Command the winds, and tame the unwilling deep. Here force and hardy deeds of blood prevail; There languid pleasure sighs in every gale. Oft o'er the trembling nations from afar Has Scythia breathed the living cloud of war; And, where the deluge burst, with sweepy sway, Their arms, their kings, their gods were rolled
As oft have issued, host impelling host,
The blue-eyed myriads from the Baltic coast,
Not but the human fabric from the birth
To turn the torrent's swift-descending flood,
(As lawless force from confidence will grow),
WILLIAM MASON, the friend and literary executor of Gray, long survived the connection which did him so much honour, but he appeared early as a poet. He was the son of the Rev. Mr Mason, vicar of St. Trinity, Yorkshire, where he was born in 1725. At Pembroke college, Cambridge, he became acquainted with Gray, who assisted him in obtaining his degree of M. A. His first literary production was an attack on the Jacobitism of Oxford, to which Thomas Warton replied in his 'Triumph of Isis.' In 1753 appeared his tragedy of Elfrida, 'written,' says Southey, on an artificial model, and in a gorgeous diction, because he thought Shakspeare had precluded all hope of excellence in any other form of drama.' The model of Mason was the Greek drama, and he introduced into his play the classic accompaniment of the chorus. A second drama, Caractacus, is of a higher cast than Elfrida:' more noble and spirited in language, and of more sustained dignity in scenes, situations, and character. Mason also wrote a series of odes on Independence, Memory, Melancholy, and The Fall of Tyranny, in which his gorgeousness of diction swells into extravagance and bombast. His other poetical works are his English Garden, a long descriptive poem in blank verse, extended over four books, and an ode on the Commemoration of the British Revolution, in which he asserts those Whig principles which he steadfastly maintained during the trying period of the American war. As in his dramas Mason had made an innovation on the established taste of the times, he ventured, with equal success, to depart from the practice of English authors, in writing the life of his friend Gray. Instead of presenting a continuous narrative, in which the biographer alone is visible, he incorporated the journals and letters of the poet in chronological order, thus making the subject of the memoir in some degree his own biographer, and enabling the reader to judge more fully and correctly of his situation, thoughts, and feelings. The plan was afterwards adopted by Boswell in his Life of Johnson, and has been sanctioned by subsequent usage, in all cases where the subject is of importance enough to demand copious information and minute personal details. The circumstances of Mason's life are soon related. After his career at college, he entered into orders, and was appointed one of the royal chaplains. He held the living of Ashton, and was precentor of York cathedral. When politics ran high, he took an active part on the side of the Whigs, but was respected by all parties. He died in 1797.
Mason's poetry cannot be said to be popular, even with poetical readers. His greatest want is simplicity, yet at times his rich diction has a fine effect. In his English Garden,' though verbose and lan