Imágenes de páginas



[ocr errors]

the name of Gower* on the titlepage of a volume of modern verses ; though the name, indeed, is all that any Englishman, out of the Society of Antiquaries, pretends to know of a writer, at the mention of whom we all rise up with reverence, as to one of the traditional fathers of our poetry. It is only justice to Lord Leveson, to presume that he feels no criticism can be so affronting as that of vague unmerited compliment. Young ladies have learned to resent it as one of the worst pieces of impertinence. We will not pretend, therefore, to believe that he will preserve even the tradition of the name of a second Gower on the roll of English poets, unless he ceases to mix up poetry and politics together, and will devote himself inore exclusively to the cultivation of the art. Apollo is a jealous god, and will

. not accept“ the devil's leavings !”

The strength of our age is comparatively wasted, and the talents of many of those most justly eminent among us are frittered away, by coquetting with a hundred objects, instead of a wise preference and deliberate pursuit of one. The important truth that the liberal arts are related, and reflect light upon each other, is abused into a neglect of the still more necessary truth, that a division of labour and concentration of thought can alone enable the degree of intelligence possessed by man to produce any thing really and permanently great. As every body is now required to know

* In case it should be Chancer's epithet, “the moral Gower," which has frightened all but professed antiquarians, even from so tempting a title as the " Confessio Amantis," the following iranslation of a French ballad, written by him in his youth, will present him in a less formidable light:

“ To what shall I liken the month of May ?

I'll call it Paradise--for there
The thrush never sang a diviner lay
'Mid fields more green, or buds more fair.
Nature is queen now everywhere;
And Venus calls lovers, away! away!

And none, when Love calls them, can now answer, nay.
“ Yel I must pluck nettles from `neath the rose spray,

A chaplet meet for me to wear;
Since she who alone can pour in the bright day
On my heart, pours in despair:
That heart these disdainings no longer will bear,
Whilst so humbly beseech'd, not a word will she say,
Though nope, when Love calls them, can now answer nay,
“ Go, Ballad! plead my tender suit with care,
Fall at her feet, and gentle entrance pray;
Full well thou'st learn'd, and well thou canst declare,

None, when Love calls them, now should answer, nay.” The original is extracted, by Mr. Ellis, from about fifty MS. French ballads, attributed to him, which are now in the possession of the Marquess of Stafford. As Lord Levesou Gower takes so kindly to translation, it would be only a proper compliment to the possibility of their poetical relacionship (only a few degrees less honourable than that of Spenser or Cowper) if he were to translate for us the remainder. Mr. Ellis observes, that these juvenile productions are more poetical, and inore elegant, than any of his subsequent compositions in his native language. and exhibit“ extraordinary proficiency in a foreigner.” If Mr. Ellis could advance nothing stronger in behalf of the English language at that period, than that “it was certainly not quite unknown at court," it is not improbable that Gower may have felt himself equally at home in the nse of what was scarcely a foreign tongue, until, from political motivos, it became discountenanced by Edward the Third and his successors. Most likely, Gower learned both languages together; spoke one as often as the other ; and wrote French much more frequently, like all children born or brought up in a country where the higher ranks adopt an idiom either of conquest or of fashion, and the lower remain obstinately faithful to their ancient tongue. Accordingly, of Gower's three principal works, one is in French, and another in Latin; and it was not till lie was turned of lifiy, that

, commanded by Richard The Second to " book some new thing," he, for the first time, attempted the experiment, whether, in any other hands but those of Chaucer, the English language could be made sufficieptly tractable and harmonious for verse.

and prelly

every body, and consequently, acquaintanceship is displacing friendship out of the world, so, the ambition of being supposed to be acquainted with every thing, can only end, under the most favourable circumstances, in the knowing a little of every thing, and a great deal of nothing; whilst, in ordinary cases, it must degenerate into a washy, bold, and ephemeral facility. The gratification of personal vanity in this apparent versatility of talent, is paid for dearly by the public in the superficial performance of almost every ihing which every body so intrepidly undertakes. Probably no conlingency which could have arrived to Lord Leveson Gower subsequent to the day of his nativity, would have made him either a great statesman or a great poet. But it is almost a certainty that is he had not dabbled so continuously in rhyme, he would not have earned the reputa-{ion of being the worst Irish secretary in the memory of man, nearly the worst official speaker, even in a ministry of which Mr. Goulburn and Mr. Herries are members. On the other hand, if he had abstained from the interruption that the necessary routine of office must create, even in the imagination of the most business-like of poets, it is almost impossible that a more abundant leisure and a severer self-criticism would not have either improved many of his verses, or at least withheld him from appealing to the public for its opinion on their merit.

The fact of Lord Leveson Gower's possible existence as a poet, seems to demand a few preliminary observations. The question is of some importance, as it concerns no less a matter than existence, and involves indeed many others besides himself. The Romans, who got their taste and their rules in literature second-hand, have passed on almost as proverbs the declaration that there can be no such thing as middling poetry; with the additional axiom, that a poet must be born one, nascitur, non fit. Looking at a good deal of that which the ancients have preserved for us under the name of poetry, and which (independently of their specific approbation) may be assumed to be better than what was allowed to perish, it is impossible not to admit that the practice of antiquity fell considerably short of the absolute standard thus magnificently announced. Unless the moderns are understood, in many of their poetical verdicts, to have taken the question of law as well as of fact into their hands, it is equally clear that we have eat out the heart and substance of the rule altogether, by some most sophistical construction. But, in truth, this celebrated dictum rests on nothing more profound than the gratuilous assertion of its inventors and retailers. No reason can be assigned why the theory in this instance, as in others, should not be made to correspond with what appears to be the fact as regards the subject matter, and why the same degrees and distinctions should not be acknowledged to exist in poetry as avowedly exist in prose. It is not more true in the case of poetical talent than in that of other kinds of intellectual superiority, that occasionally it is so peculiar and determined as to discover its appropriate destination along with the earliest developement of its power. This is what is meant by having a genius for any particular art or science. Among human enthusiasts, poets must not flatter themselves that they only have a call. Horace represents it as being in his time a debated question, whether poets owed more to nature than to art. It might have been assumed, one should think, thal there can be no comparison between the poet of God's making and of man's. It is this supposed pre-eminence which really constitutes the only evidence we can possess of his divine mission. Yei il will not follow that, from

[ocr errors]



the highest conceivable excellence, there may not be a descending scale of imagination, passion, taste, down to the lowest point at which the last possible element of the poetical character shall have disappeared. Throughout every intermediate gradation, these endowments may be, in some faint degree, supplied by an assiduous contemplation of the works of genius, and by an endeavour to make up, by means of learning, elegance, and correctness, the comparative parsimony of nature. These two characters were perhaps never so strongly marked, so exclusively preserved, and so high an extreme of excellence attained respectively under each, as in those illustrious contemporaries, Shakspeare and Ben Jonson. If Shakspeare was solely the unparalleled gift of this prodigal nature, Ben Jonson was almost as solely the laborious work of indefatigable art. It is evident that he collected in his own way for his plays as Sir Hans Sloane did for his museum, and then fitted in his specimens like a worker in mosaic.

We shall never dispute the incomparable superiority of the first of these great divisions. In its highest perfection it will also frequently find an apprenticeship under the second as much of an encumbrance as an aid. Even Milton's learning is a train that often nearly throws him down. Holding Democritus's opinion, that a real poet must be a little mad, suspect that what is called a regular classical education, aster the fashion of Porson and of Blomfield, would be the greatest injury as well as torment which could befall him; and that the superintendence of a true Aristotelian critic (Bentley, for instance, as his literary keeper) must be enough to drive him mad outright. Not but that it is necessary to keep some method in this madness, and give it a right direction. Unluckily, a London saloon is not the most favourable scene for the encouragement and cultivation of that sort of aberration from the commonplaces of life and understanding, which constitutes originality of character and independent thought. A great poet is an accident which the world has so seldom seen in any period of civilisation, and in any rank of life, that he must be taken as the rarest combination of the human faculties Were he born in the higher classes, the risk would be considerably increased of his being spoiled some way or other in his bringing up. The world, it is possible, might be able to unmake that which it could have never made. Consequently, on an arrangement of successful poets into two divisions—that of natural genius, and that of accomplished taste-we should expect to find among the aristocracy fewer of the and more of the second, than their bare numerical proportion. When we come to this second descriplion of poetry, to be sure, a very little natural talent will go a long way. Il need only be taken up betimes as a gentlemanly amusement and persevered in with ordinary parts and pains. In that event, we can almost undertake to promise any young nobleman, so disposed, that he shall acquire a sufficient degree of manual dexterity to make versifying as agreeable as billiards on a rainy morning. Nay more, that he shall be enabled to keep up externally such a specious poetical appearance as cannot fail to obtain him credit for the reality, to any extent, with that portion of the public whom we are surprised to see Lord Leveson hitch into irreverent rhyme"s female cousins and maiden aunts.”

Lord Leveson began betimes, and has persevered. Here are three volumes—of which the first contains, together with a few translated from the German, some poems that were written for, but did not obtain, the prize at Oxford. Considering that successful prize poems are the most tiresome reading in our literature, the publication of unsuccessful ones is a gratuitous humiliation, which few confessors would have the barbarity to impose upon a penitent, in expiation for the errors of his youth. It must be supposed, therefore, that our author's judgment on the scale of university taste in such matters, is all one with that of the saucy academician, who justified the badness of a poem, composed for one of these occasions, on the express ground of having adapted his performance to the level of his tribunal. The second volume consists principally of a translation of Goëthe's Faust; the last, of Wallenstein's Camp. Among the original poems, that on a féle given at Boyle Farm is a favourable specimen of vers de societe'. All the other experiments at original composition unfortunately are on subjects where the expression of sentiment and of poetical imagery of a higher character is required. The choice of the measure, and the imitation of Lord Byron's manner, in the “Moravian Tale" and the “ Drachensels," are additionally injudicious by the comparison thus immediately provoked. There is a copy of verses on a soldier's funeral, which, being printed twice over, is apparently a favourite with its author. A funeral is not more the proper place for a clever saying than for a droll one; at least, if our feelings are expected to be kept in harmony with the affecting solemnity of the scene. Considerable wit, it may be admitted, is implied in the discovery of the remote resemblance which is found to exist in things at first sight so distinct as a war-horse in its funereal trappings, and an orphan proud of its new mourning. But Donne, or Cowley, or Blackmore, could scarcely have mistaken the surprise of such a comparison for a stroke of the pathetic :


“ Upon the coffin's sable lid they placed

His gleaming helmet and his battle blade,
And slow behind his raven charger paced,

Reft of the hand whose rule he ouce obey'd.

“ His mien was like an orphan child's, whose mind

Is yet too young a parent's loss to know,
Yet, conscious of a change. appears to find

A strange importance in his weeds of woe.” Spenser, though not Irish secretary, has left us a valuable Report on the state of Ireland. Instead of any dry official legacy of that description, Lord Leveson has taken leave of Ireland with the poetical compliment of " Lines on a Visit to Castle Connell Rapids, near Limerick, September, 1829.” They are written upon the conceit of an analogy not quite so novel in its principle as that just noticed, but which makes up what it may want in novelty, by the minuteness of the detail into which the parallel is run. This lengthened simile consists of the resemblance which the stream of the Shannon in this part of its course, with “ a bark careering past," bears to the stream of human life, with our friends upon it. There is some comfort in the assurance given us, that if we borrow an hour for the purposes this meditation may demand, the loan is one which we shall not have lo repay with sorrow. Meanwhile, it would have been more satisfactory is the loan had been repaid us in coin more substantial and intelligible than the concluding stanza :

“ Some barks may steal the lank along.

And the inid stream decline;
But life has lent its current string

And roughest aid to mine.


[ocr errors]

The castled steep, the terraced vine,

The scenes where art aod nature vie
The weary wanderer to arrest,
To bid him linger and be blest-
From these, scarce seen, condemn’d to part,
With wistful eye and aching heart,

I still must wander by ,
And, sport of fortune's wildest wave,

Pursue the stream I cannot brave,"
What can all this gentlemanlike melancholy mean? Are we right in con-
jecturing that the Irish secretary wanted to make a tour of pleasure, but
was required by “ the rough aid” of the Duke of Wellington to make a
tour of business instead ?-that he consequently was condemned to wander
by the “ terraced vines" of many an Irish cellar, without stopping to partake
their proverbial hospitality ?—and that, lastly, nothing but the “sport of
fortune's wildest wave” could have made him secretary for Ireland The
allegorical figure of pursuing a stream which one cannot brave, may be,
perhaps, intended as a type of the conduct (system or policy it has none) of
the Irish administration. This conduct has indeed been latterly described
to us as a mere waiting on the stream of public opinion in Ireland, without
once attempting to stem or to control it by a moral influence, lo the posses-
sion or exercise of which it would in truth have been ludicrous to pretend.
“ The Rapids,” we fear in this respect, may represent in some degree, how-
ever faintly, the present prospects of society in Ireland. The eddies (how-
ever they may have been raised by agitation, yet) lie too deep in natural
causes of almost every description, to have subsided. They are, on the
contrary, hurrying on with a velocity and power that does indeed require
a resolute government to brave, and an intelligent one to guide, the torrent.
But this is a state of things far too serious for metaphors. Concessions so
long withheld—agitation so long continued, had necessarily turned Ireland
(men, women, and children) into a population of politicians. Emancipation
slaved off, and could only stave off, its own immediate crisis. The other
causes of disquietude and discontent, which must always swarm in such a
country, will soon assume a fearful magnitude, unless they are wisely,
humanely, and vigorously examined, relieved, and resisted, according as
in every case the public interest may demand. There can be no greater
sign than the election of Mr. Wyse for Tipperary, of the real moral re-
volution which has taken place there; or of the comprehensive sagacity and
personal vigilance which the government of Ireland requires.

Pope tells us, that, partly in satire and partly in good-nature, he was accustomed to advise those contemporary poets whose natural genius he mistrusted, to translate. Is translation, then, so easy a matter? Did he himself find it so? It is undoubtedly an advantage to a translator that he has the ideas found for him to his hand ready made. However, in the highest works of every kind of art, the mere thought is only the first step. It is one that is indispensable indeed; but not more so than a great deal else. The restraint of being obliged to reproduce this indentical thought, in as nearly as possible the same shape as the author had first produced it, comes often to more than it is at all in reason worth. It may be worth while shortly lo enquire what are the principal considerations which embarrass this problem. In any given case, the greater the approximation that can be obtained towards similarity of mind or fellow-feeling between an author and his translator, assuredly so much the better chance for this identity being preserved. We wish, therefore, that Dryden had undertaken Homer, and Pope, Virgil.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »