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able novels" of the last, hold the pastry of the present year; and others of the class, which are now extolled in language almost too high-flown for the merits of Don Quixote, will, we have no doubt, line the trunks of eighteen hundred and thirty-one. But though we have no apprehensions that puffing will ever confer permanent reputation on the undeserving, we still think its influence most pernicious. Men of real merit will, if they persevere, at last reach the station to which they are entitled, and intruders will be ejected with contempt and derision. But it is no small evil that the avenues to fame should be blocked up by a swarm of noisy, pushing, elbowing pretenders, who, though they will not ultimately be able to make good their own entrance, hinder, in the mean time, those who have a right to enter. All who will not disgrace themselves by joining in the unseemly scuffle must expect to be at first hustled and shouldered back. Some men of talents, accordingly, turn away in dejection from pursuits, in which success appears to bear no proportion to desert. Others employ in self-defence the means by which competitors, far inferior to themselves, appear for a time to obtain a decided advantage. There are few who have sufficient confidence in their own powers, and sufficient elevation of mind, to wait with secure and contemptuous patience, while dunce after dunce presses before them. Those who will not stoop to the baseness of the modern fashion are too often discouraged. Those who stoop to it are always degraded.
We have of late observed with great pleasure some symptoms which lead us to hope, that respectable literary men of all parties are beginning to be impatient of this insufferable nuisance. And we purpose to do what in us lies for the abating of it. We do not think that we can more usefully assist in this good work, than by showing our honest countrymen what that sort of poetry is which puffing can drive through eleven editions; and how easily any bellman might, if a bellman would stoop to the necessary degree of meanness, become "a master-spirit of the age. We have no enmity to Mr. Robert Montgomery. We know nothing whatever about him, except what we have learned from his books, and from the portrait prefixed to one of them, in which he appears to be doing his very best to look like a man of genius and sensibility, though with less success than his strenuous exertions deserve. We select him, because his works have received more enthusiastic praise, and have deserved more unmixed contempt, than any which, as far as our knowledge extends, have appeared within the last three or four years. His writing bears the same relation to poetry which a Turkey carpet bears to a picture. There are colours in the Turkey carpet, out of which a picture might be made. There are words in Mr. Montgomery's verses, which, when disposed in certain orders and combinations, have made, and will again make, good poetry. But, as they now stand, they seem to be put together on principle, in such a manner as to give no image of any thing in the "heavens above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth."
The poem on the Omnipresence of the Deity commences with a description of the creation, in which we can find only one thought which has the least pretension to ingenuity, and that one thought is stolen from Dryden, and marred in the stealing
"Last, softly beautiful as music's close,
Angelic woman into being rose."
The all-pervading influence of the Supreme Being is then described in a
few tolerable lines borrowed from Pope, and a great many intolerable lines of Mr. Robert Montgomery's own. The following may stand as a specimen :
"But who could trace Thine unrestricted course,
But nature owns thy plastic influence there!
To paint Thy presence, and to feel it too."
The last two lines contain an excellent specimen of Mr. Robert Montgomery's Turkey-carpet style of writing. The majestic view of earth is the mirror of God's presence; and on this mirror Mr. Robert Montgomery paints God's presence. The use of a mirror, we submit, is not to be painted upon.
A few more lines, as bad as those which we have quoted, bring us to one of the most amusing instances of literary pilfering which we remember. It might be of use to plagiarists to know, as a general rule, that what they steal is, to employ a phrase common in advertisements, of no use to any but the right owner. We never fell in, however, with any plunderer who so little understood how to turn his booty to good account as Mr. Montgomery. Lord Byron, in a passage which every body knows by heart, has said, addressing the sea—
"Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow."
Mr. Robert Montgomery very coolly appropriates the image, and reproduces the stolen goods in the following form:
"And thou, vast Ocean, on whose awful face
Time's iron feet can print no ruin-trace."
So may such ill-got gains ever prosper!
The effect which the Ocean produces on Atheists is then described in the following lofty lines:
"Oh! never did the dark-soul'd ATHEIST stand,
And, while Creation stagger'd at his nod,
Mock the dread presence of the mighty God!
We hear Him in the wind-heaved ocean's roar,
We hear Him in the riot of the blast,
And shake, while rush the raving whirlwinds past!"
If Mr. Robert Montgomery's genius were not far too free and aspiring to be shackled by the rules of syntax, we should suppose that it is at the nod of the Atheist that creation shudders, and that it is this same dark souled Atheist who hurls billowy crags upon the shore.
A few more lines bring us to another instance of unprofitable theft. Sir Walter Scott has these lines in the Lord of the Isles
"The dew that on the violet lies,
This is pretty taken separately, and, as is almost always the case with good
things of good writers, much prettier in its place than can even be conceived by those who see it only detached from the context. Now for Mr. Montgomery
"And the bright dew-bead on the bramble lies,
Like liquid rapture upon beauty's eyes."
The comparison of a violet, bright with the dew, to a woman's eyes, is as perfect as comparison can be. Sir Walter's lines are part of a song addressed to a woman, and the comparison is therefore peculiarly natural and graceful. Dew on a bramble, is no more like a woman's eyes than dew any where else. There is a very pretty Eastern tale, of which the fate of plagiarists often reminds us. The slave of a magician saw his master wave his wand, and heard him give orders to the spirits who arose at the summons. He accordingly stole the wand, and waved it himself in the air ; but he had not observed that his master used the left hand for that purpose. The spirits thus irregularly summoned, tore him to pieces instead of obeying his orders. There are very few that can safely venture to conjure with the rod of Sir Walter, and we are sure that Mr. Robert Montgomery is not one of them.
Mr. Campbell, in one of his most pleasant pieces, has this line
The sentinel stars set their watch in the sky."
The thought is good-and has a very striking propriety where Mr. Campbell has placed it-in the mouth of a soldier telling his dream. But though Shakspeare assures us that "every true man's apparel fits your thief," it is by no means the case, as we have already seen, that every true poet's similitude fits your plagiarist. Let us see how Mr. Robert Montgomery uses the image
"Ye quenchless stars! so eloquently bright,
In lambent beauty looking from the skies!"
Certainly the ideas of eloquence-of untroubled repose-of placid eyes, on the lambent beauty of which it is sweet to gaze, harmonise admirably with the idea of a sentry!
We would not be understood, however, to say, that Mr. Robert Montgomery cannot make similitudes for himself. A very few lines farther on, we find one which has every mark of originality, and on which, we will be bound, none of the poets whom he has plundered will ever think of making reprisals :
"The soul, aspiring, pants its source to mount.
As streams meander level with their fount."
We take this to be, on the whole, the worst similitude in the world. In the first place, no stream meanders, or can possibly meander, level with its fount. In the next place, if streams did meander level with their founts, no two motions can be less alike than that of meandering level, and that of mounting upwards.
We have then an apostrophe to the Deity, couched in terms which, in any writer who dealt in meanings, we should call profane, but to which, we suppose, Mr. Robert Montgomery attaches no idea whatever :
"Yes! pause and think. within one fleeting hour,
No field-preacher ever carried his irreverent familiarity so far, as to bid the Supreme Being stop and meditate on the importance of the interests which are under his care. The grotesque indecency of such an address throws into shade the subordinate absurdities of the passage, the unfurling of whirlwinds, the unrolling of thunder, and the upheaving of worlds. Then comes a curious specimen of our poet's English
"Yet not alone created realms engage
Thy faultless wisdom, grand, primeval sage!
We should be glad to know what the word "For" means here. If it is a preposition, it makes nonsense of the words, "Thy mercy tempers." is a conjunction, it makes nonsense of the words, "Thy cares provide." These beauties we have taken, almost at random, from the first part of the poem. The second part is a series of descriptions of various events,a battle a murder-an execution-a marriage-a funeral, and so forth. Mr. Robert Montgomery terminates each of these descriptions by assuring us that the Deity was present at the battle, murder, execution, marriage, or funeral, in question. And this proposition, which might be safely predicated of every event that ever happened, or ever will happen, forms the only link which connects these descriptions with the subject, or with each other.
How the descriptions are executed, our readers are probably by this time able to conjecture. The battle is made up of the battles of all ages and nations; "red-mouth'd cannons, uproaring to the clouds," and "hands grasping firm the glittering shield." The only military operations of which this part of the poem reminds us, are those which reduced the Abbey of Quedlinburgh to submission-The Templar with his cross-the Austrian and Prussian grenadiers in full uniform-and Curtius and Dentatus with their battering-ram. We ought not to pass by unnoticed the slain war-horse, who will no more
"Roll his red eye, and rally for the fight;"
or the slain warrior, who, while lying on his bleeding breast," contrives to "stare ghastly and grimly on the skies." As to this last exploit, we can only say, as Dante did on a similar occasion,—
"Forse per forza già di parlasia
The tempest is thus described
"But lo! around the marsh'lling clouds unite,
What, we should like to know, is the difference between the two operations which Mr. Robert Montgomery so accurately distinguishes from each other, the fierce sweeping of the tempest spirits through the air, and the rushing of these maniac blasts from their caverns? And why does the former operation end exactly when the latter commences?
We cannot stop over each of Mr. Robert Montgomery's descriptions. We have a shipwrecked sailor, who "visions a viewless temple in the air;"-a murderer, who stands on a heath, "with ashy lips, in cold convulsion spread;"-a pious man, to whom, as he lies in bed at night,
"The panorama of past life appears,
Warms his pure niind, and inelts it into tears"—
a traveller, who loses his way, owing to the thickness of the "cloud-battalion," and the want of "heaven-lamps, to beam their holy light." We have a description of a convicted felon, stolen from that incomparable passage in Crabbe's Borough, which has made many a rough and cynical reader cry like a child. We can, however, conscientiously declare that persons of the most excitable sensibility may safely venture upon it in Mr. Robert Montgomery's alteration. Then we have the "poor, mindless, pale-faced, maniac boy," who
"Roils his vacant eye,
To greet the glowing fancies of the sky."
What are glowing fancies of the sky? And what is the meaning of the two lines which almost immediately follow?
"A soulless thing, a spirit of the woods,
He loves to commune with the fields and floods."
How can a soulless thing be a spirit? Then comes a panegyric on the Sunday. A baptism follows;-after that a marriage;-and we then proceed, in due course, to the visitation of the sick, and the burial of the dead. Often as Death has been personified, Mr. Montgomery has found something new to say about him."
"O Death! thou dreadless vanquisher of earth,
If there be any one line in this passage about which we are more in the dark than about the rest, it is the fourth. What the difference may be between the victims and the martyrs, and why the martyrs are to lie before Death, and the victims behind him, are to us great mysteries.
We now come to the third part, of which we may say with honest Cassio, Mr. Robert MontWhy, this is a more excellent song than the other.' gomery is very severe on the infidels, and undertakes to prove, that, as he elegantly expresses it,
"One great Enchanter helm'd the harmonious whole."
What an enchanter has to do with helming, or what a helm has to do with harmony, we do not quite understand. He proceeds with his argument thus: