Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

a

exist for the people, and have acted, in what they have done, for the good of the people. It refuses to enact a Bed of Justice against the House of Lords, after the fashion of Louis XIV. towards the Parliament of Paris, in order to effect the compulsory registration of a decree of finance, and, by destroying its independence, remove the sole existing barrier against the despotism of a single assembly. The Commons may protest that the act of the Lords shall not become a precedent; but as long disuse did not prevent it, neither will vehement protests, as often as similar circumstances shall call for its repetition. Writings and usages have little force in these matters. Wheresoever danger threatens, living bodies, whether men or societies, will seize weapons to repel it. Precedents have been searched for to justify the deed of the Lords; such authorities are the delight of pedantic constitutionalists, and are even appealed to by baffled innovators. It would have been more rational to have sought a precedent for the finance of the Commons. No man can desire the recurrence of such a step, because no man can wish that the Commons should again give just cause for such a reproof. But whatever may happen, it is an unspeakable comfort to every Englishman to know that the energy of the British Constitution is undiminished, and that it has still its old strength to raise up an effective barrier against irresponsible and despotical power, by whomsoever it may be claimed, or under the cover of whatever ancient form it may raise its head.

а

a

ART. VII.-WILLIAM CALDWELL ROSCOE'S POETRY.

Poems and Essays by the late William Caldwell Roscoe. With a

Prefatory Memoir. London: Chapman and Hall, 1860. An important part of the work now before us is no subject for us to criticise. Almost all the Essays in the second volume were contributions to this Review, and we can only give utterance to the fruitless wish that the series had not found its early close,

Tuque tuis armis, nos te poteremur, Achille!” Mr. Roscoe once said in a humorous letter which we have seen, that his critical friends would never do justice to the demerits of his poetry, and that he should like to be his own reviewer; and we must be content to bear any reflections which may be cast upon our impartiality in noticing his poetical works. We would rather do so than attempt to qualify the truthful expression of the hearty, though we trust not wholly undiscriminating, admiration which they excite in us.

These works consist of two Tragedies, and a small number of Minor Poems and Sonnets. Of the Tragedies, one, Eliduke, is an early work, now published for the first time. Of this tragedy we do not propose to speak in detail here. We believe that with certain retrenchments it would be a very effective acting play. It is full of life and movement and dramatic interest, and it contains a sufficient variety of persons to keep the attention of an audience from flagging. The characters, however, are not in reality particularly individual or well-marked. The principal personage, Eliduke, is intended for a man of high aspirations, but wanting in moral determination to resist a guilty passion. But the wavering complexity of such a character was

. perhaps not well suited to Mr. Roscoe's powers at any time, and was certainly beyond them at the early age at which the tragedy was written. Eliduke's worse and better natures speak in turn, and each of them at such length as to destroy the organic unity of the character. Eliduke too is open to an observation which has been unjustly applied to Violenzia (the other tragedy) by one of its critics,--that it is “an exercise" in the Elizabethan school. We do not believe that the forms of that school were ever perfectly adapted to Mr. Roscoe's genius. They grew up among men of redundantly fertile imagination, teeming with passion, and rooting themselves firmly in the world of outward interests. The more abrupt the alternations of vivid action, of potent passion, and of rampant humour, the more direct the reflection of the intricate contradictions of the world, the more the ideal elements were to be furnished by the spectator of the drama, as he would furnish them if it were a real and not a feigned action, the more at ease these luxuriant minds found themselves. It is not wonderful that they were Mr. Roscoe's favourite study. His was just the mind to derive sustenance from such a mass of strong intellectual food. But according to the conception which we form of his own imagination, its natural creative instincts were of a widely different class. A fastidious pursuit of ideal grace, a tendency to unity and simplicity in all things, a pleasure rather in single images and progressive actions, than in the whirl and complication of an interlaced plot and contemporaneous incidents, marked him as belonging to what used to be called the “classical” type. Indeed, it must be noted as a limitation of his power, that he was not prolific either in invention or in illustration. His imagination was not peopled with multitudinous characters, nor had his language that richness to which the public has been lately accustomed. Moreover he was wanting in a real hold on common life, and did not let its rugged ground-work show in his art. He had (not in theory, but in practical habit) what must be now called a somewhat old-fashioned disposition to confine poetic delineation within the limits of artistic beauty, and to educe an ideal rather than to reproduce nature. If the temperament to which we refer had not been mixed with other elements, his tendency in art would have been altogether severe. It was not so, principally because the spiritual and divine side of life, and both the tender and the lofty emotions of humanity, were the highest realities to him. He united in an unusual degree depth and artistic fastidiousness. This union, combined with a strict reticence wherever thought approached the confines of dimness (as deep spiritual thought must constantly do), probably helped to restrict his creative imagination. It has certainly kept his poetry somewhat off the line of the prevailing tastes of the day. It is deficient in those qualities which produce either picturesqueness or gorgeousness of effect; nor does it ever wear any appearance of enigmatic profundity, or embody any novel doctrines, or deal with any problems especially belonging to the nineteenth century. On the other hand, it is far from realistic, and appeals rather to cultivated tastes than to strong popular instincts. It has the disadvantage of being somewhat unusual, without having any eccentricity to arrest the attention.

We should be tempted to characterise Mr. Roscoe's power as more idyllic than dramatic. We wish he had written a greater number of pieces like the ballad of “Fontanlee," or the pathetic and quaintly beautiful “Ariadne,” and had added to the

2

too short series of Sonnets, among which are some that we think cannot fail to find appreciation. But we have now only to take what he has left us; and among his poetical works, the Violenzia -in some superficial respects an Elizabethan tragedy-is by far the most important.

The time and place of the tragedy are left indeterminate, but evidently belong to the middle ages and the north of Europe. It opens with the betrothal of Ethel, earl of Felborg, to Violenzia, sister to Robert, earl of Ingelwald, the king's chief general, and to Arthur of Ingelwald. This scene is a fit proem, and at once places the grave, lofty, reticent, deeply-loving Ethel, and the more vivid and passionate Violenzia, plainly before us; and its solemn sweetness affords a fine contrast to the whole remainder of the play. The song with which Violenzia begins to unwind the thread of her terrible destiny is a true lyrical inspiration:

“ Hark! the still air gives voice, and sings,

And music mounts on murmuring wings;
Grave silence, throned in upper skies,
Unfolds her silken slumbering eyes ;
No voice but jars the ear of silence,

Save tuned breath, which doth 't no violence." The scene quickly shifts to the court. The Swede is ravaging the land, and Robert receives orders from the king to march against him with Ethel as his second in command. Violenzia meanwhile is to be left at the court as in a place of safety. The King is a hot young voluptuary, with all the habits of unrestrained power and luxury, and is in the hands of an old pander-courtier, Malgodin, who is the demon of the piece. The third scene shows us a hall in the palace, the King enamoured of Violenzia's beauty, and Malgodin lyingly suggesting :

Very light! very light! Such a weathercock as all women; hath such a fire in her eye as many women, and needs such an excuse as some women. By an equal pot to be touched, but by a king.”

Violenzia in her inexperience seems to be lending too ready an ear to royal flatteries, and is visited afterwards and reproved both by her brothers and by Ethel, according to their different natures; by Robert and Arthur harshly and violently, and by Ethel with a gentle and mournful earnestness. They are followed by Malgodin, who comes with disgraceful proposals, and the first act closes with Violenzia's proud but unhappy determination to tell no one, and to stand alone, unassisted in her innocence.

The first scene of the second act gives us a glimpse of the camp, as Ethel and his friend Cornelius converse of life and duty in the early morning air; but the tragic change is close at hand. The remainder of the act (the most conventional and least successful in the play) is taken up with fruitless machinations against Violenzia by the King and Malgodin, and ends as the King moves off to the fell deed of violence which he accomplishes:

“ The flaring candle backward bends its beams;

My passion backward bends, but fiercelier burns.
I love and loathe. Proud girl—that didst invite
War and not peace, rude storm for soft surrender-
Yet, oh, forgive ine, sweet—no more- -Again
The passionate fever surges

in
my

veins.
Out, curious spy of day! And, oh, dark night,

[Extinguishing the light. Be deaf and patient, like a wicked slave,

That watches while his master fills a grave.” The third act commences with Ethel's indignant rejection of court slanders against Violenzia, with which the mind of his friend Cornelius has been poisoned; and then he shuts himself in bis tent at night, and pursues the thread of quiet reflection which is habitual to him, till he hears an unusual sound:

“What's that? Is 't true that spirits ride the wind ?

Most melancholy ones, then. Hark, again!
The sound of weeping, making awful pauses
Of the short hushes of the storm. Who sighs
Against my threshold ? My warm blood runs cold,
And gathers at my heart. What, am I mad?
Let's see what may be seen.

[Goes out, and returns.

The empty dark,
Wherein no star doth pierce the thick eclipse,
But all is shrouded in a watery veil.
Again! again! That's human! who goes there?

[Exit. Returns, carrying V10LENZIA. She throws

herself on her face before him.
Erh. Violenzia !
Vio

Oh, hide ine! Oh, my misery!
ETH. What art thou, that thus bred of sudden night
Shakest

my knees with sobbing? Stand ! stand up!
V10. Lay not thy hand upon me.
Етн.

In my breast
Strange thoughts take substance, and begin to shake
My soul's foundation. Thou-thou—art not?-speak !

V10. I am! I am!—The King !-
Етн.

Away! away!
Hell hath no words for it.
V10,

Alas! alas! alas!
Eth. By heaven, 'tis midnight, and the lunatic moon
Peeps through my tent-holes.
Art thou the thing that thou pretend'st to be,
Or some accursed midnight wandering ghost
Come to afflict me? With my bright sword's point
I'll try thy substance.
Vio.

Mercy! oh, have mercy!
Etu. Where's Mercy, since she hath forsook the heavens ?

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »