Изображения страниц

fectly well-sounding, so he says the dews steal o'er the green, i.e. across the green ; and this, we venture to say, is what no man ever would say who really wished to convey a true impression of the mode in which the falling dew makes itself perceived. The next line speaks for itself. It is sheer words. Perhaps he once had present to his mind the variations of shadow, and the softening influence of growing obscurity as twilight deepens. Possibly in some former draft that idea was expressed; but now he raises utterly incongruous ideas by the words “ magic tints,” and attributes the effects to the dews. Go a little further..

“ As jars the hinge, what sullen echoes call !

O haste, unfold the hospitable hall !
That hall where once, in antiquated state,

The chair of justice held the grave debate.Can one unfold a hall ? But granting that one may, is there any sense in which a chair of justice (whatever its antiquated state) can hold a grave debate ? Either the words are used in their metaphorical sense of conducting a debate, in which they are not applicable to a chair, or else the chair must hold two parties, for with less it cannot embrace a debate. Did the squire and the poacher use to sit there together? That some nearly analogous expression once had a meaning is very likely; but we cannot find it here; and the more earnestly we look for it, the more it eludes us. Take another instance from the first page and a half:

“ Ye household deities ! whose guardian eye
(the rhyme requires they should have but one among them)

Marked each pure thought, ere registered on high,
Still, still ye walk the consecrated ground,

And breathe the soul of Inspiration round.' He means they fill the chambers with inspiration. He might very fairly have said they breathe it round, though there still remains an inherent awkwardness in the idea of exhaling inspiration round a room ; he might even have said they breathe the very essence or spirit of it round: but strain the metaphor a little further, call it soul instead of essence, and do all in your power to personify inspiration by the aid of a capital I, and you have a ludicrous image: one set of persons ‘going about exhaling the soul of another person. The man of decorative taste is pleased with the refined heightening of tone; a sensitive imagination would have shrunk instinctively from the outraged metaphor. In the same way, we have often heard of darkness shrouding, or of the shroud of darkness covering a thing; but





Mr. Rogers oversteps a limit which a real poet would have felt, when he says

“Grim darkness furls his leaden shroud." This is one of those fine things to which it is not easy to attach an idea. In one of the notes to the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers there is the following story, connected with a very similar outburst in Campbell. Mr. Rogers says, “His Pleasures of Hope is no great favourite with me." On which the editor remarks in a note :

“And it was much less so with Wordsworth, who criticised it to me nearly verbatim as follows; por could his criticism, I apprehend, be easily refuted. Campbell's Pleasures of Hope has been strangely overrated : its fine words and sounding lines please the generality of readers, who never stop to ask themselves the meaning of a passage. The lines,

Where Andes, giant of the western star,
With meteor-standard to the winds unfurld,

Looks from his throne of clouds o'er half the world," are sheer nonsense, --nothing more than a poetical indigestion. What has a giant to do with a star? What is a meteor-standard ?—but it is useless to inquire what such stuff means. Once, at my house, Professor Wilson having spoken of those lines with great admiration, a very sensible and accomplished lady who happened to be present begged him to explain to her their meaning. He was extremely indignant; and, taking down the Pleasures of Hope from a shelf, read the lines aloud, and declared that they were splendid. Well

, sir,' said the lady,

* but what do they mean ?' Dashing the book on the floor, he exclaimed in his broad Scottish accent, I'll be daumed if I can tell !?”

One simile in Mr. Rogers's Epistle to a Friend has puzzled many readers, we should think :

“Lo, here, attendant on the shadowy hour,

The closet-supper served by hands unseen,
Sheds, like an evening star, its ray serene

To hail our coming.' Now turn a closet-supper how you will, it is very hard to make any thing like an evening star of it; and what possible comestible can hail its approaching

devourers with a ray serene ? Intensely rural as Mr. Rogers is, he would hardly set a dish of glowworms before his friend from town. But there is a note –let us refer to that. Ah, our old friend the Latin quotation, who is a sort of Morrison's universal pill in literature, enabling us to digest any thing on which he can be brought to bear, however remotely:

aurea sunt juvenum simulacra per ædes,

Lampadas igniferas manibus retinentia dextris." But who on earth could have supposed that a "closet-supper” meant the golden image of a youth with a candle in his hand ?

[ocr errors]


Instances of the incorrect use of language are not uncommon :

“The illustrious line that in long order led

Of these that loved him living, mourned him dead." By led is meant advanced.

The poet says that at breakfast the Times “unfolds," meaning that some one goes through the painful task of unfolding it. He speaks of vessels going "athwart” the ocean ; and uses "inly gliding” in the sense of gliding into, &c.

Such criticism is descending to minutiæ; but it is worth while in the present case, because perhaps no author ever spent more pains in heightening and perfecting his productions than Rogers, and he thus becomes the best instance of how impossible it is for mediocrity of intellect and imagination to ascend out of its natural sphere by grasping at the forms of expression which are natural to higher genius. You cannot supply the want of imagination by any, however dexterous, a disposition over a lay figure of the garments in which the former naturally clothes itself. Imagination has a strange transfusing power over language, it moulds it almost as the passions do the countenance; it compels it to utterance ; while cold correctness, aiming at the result alone, falls into the very errors it conceives itself most secure against

Is there, then, no such thing as an art of expression ? Certainly there is, and one which every man who wishes to write should study deeply. But there is no art of writing apart from expression. Young men are told to form themselves on the “style" of Addison, or Burnet, or Pope, or Chillingworth. Before following this advice, they would do well to consider whether they wish to say the same things. Let them rather examine how great men expressed what they had to express; let them study and feel how their words convey their thoughts. Let them master language; and then, when they have any thing to say, they will be able to say it with force and exactness, and the style will be their own. They must learn to utter themselves, not to handle the utterance of others.

Rogers's two best poems appear to us to be the Human Life and the Italy. True, the latter is little more than a poetical guide-book, and has no claim to be considered a substantive poem ; but some of the fragments are not without beauty; they have a greater simplicity and directness than his other poems, bear less trace of effort, and recommend themselves by a certain airy elegance in their descriptions and narrations. The simplicity is that of art, not of nature; but there is an entire absence of affectation. Mr. Rogers is always commonplace; but he is rarely feeble, and never maudlin,- defects we are apt to associate with a high degree of refinement. But he is not weak; on the contrary, there is self-reliance, and a sort of stiff elasticity of nature shows itself. He has common, though very common sense, and writes verse as if he might be a good man of business.

The Human Life has many of the faults which belong to his early school. It is, moreover, a very incongruous whole. The life of man is described by tracing the career of an individual made up of Cincinnatus, Lord Russell, Epaminondas, and Mr. Fox; and who is represented, now at his plough, now in the senate, now breakfasting comfortably under « fragrant clouds of mocha and souchong," with his newspaper and all modern appliances, now rushing out with helmet and sword on a sudden cry of “to arms !” and dyeing a neighbouring stream with blood. But some of the detached pictures of life are full of graceful drawing, and forbid us to deny Mr. Rogers the claims of affectionate and tender, though not deep or passionate feeling. And he has this high claim to respect, that he is genuine, and never affects or strains after a deeper vein of sentiment than is natural to him. We have quoted him often for his defects, let us quote him once for his beauties :

“Nor many moons o'er hill and valley rise

Ere to the gate with nymph-like step she flies,
And their first-born holds forth, their darling boy,
With smiles how sweet, how full of love and joy,
To meet him coming; theirs through every year
Pure transports, such as each to each endear!
And laughing eyes and laughing voices fill
Their home with gladness. She, when all are still,
Comes and undraws the curtain as they lie,
In sleep how beautiful! He, when the sky
Gleams, and the wood sends up its harmony,
When, gathering round his bed, they climb to share
His kisses, and with gentle violence there
Break in upon a dream not half so fair,
Up to the hill-top leads their little feet;
Or by the forest-lodge, perchance to meet
The stag-herd on its march, perchance to hear
The otter rustling in the sedgy mere;
Or to the echo near the abbot's tree,
That gave him back his words of pleasantry-
When the house stood, no merrier man than he !
And, as they wander with a keen delight,
If but a leveret catch their quicker sight
Down a green alley, or a squirrel then
Climb the gnarled oak, and look and climb again,--
If but a moth flit by, an acorn fall,
He turns their thoughts to Him who made them all ;
These with unequal footsteps following fast,

These clinging by his cloak, unwilling to be last.” That Rogers has a charm of his own no one can deny. Yet it is not easy to define it. You seem to have it on the surface of



his poetry, and to lose it the moment you go deeper. It is the mark left by his peculiar power, which lay in a very uncommon refinement, perhaps a very rarely equalled refinement of taste and a keen exquisite sense of fitness : he had a wonderful control over all that belongs to words, except their meanings, and a marvellous art of arranging them so as to please both eye and ear, the former especially. Form is always uppermost with him, and the more so the more it is external; the traces of his power are found more in his verse and his diction than in his subject or his thoughts; and we have, as in his own Etruscan vases, wonderful grace and proportion of shape given to the commonest material. Utter poverty of thought is apparent in every page. A great poet pours wine into crystal vessels, Rogers occupies himself in staining them tastefully to hold toast-and-water. As we read him, we may stretch a point to say with Pope's father, “ These be good verses ;” but never can we say, “This is good poetry.


Catalogue of Dramatic Pieces, the property of the Members of the

Dramatic Authors' Society or their representatives, made up to

the 1st of February 1856. Arthur MURPHY (as we learn from a passage of the lately-published Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers) used to say there were four estates in England-King, Lords, Commons, and the Theatres. Nobody nowadays, except an actor, would think of classing the theatres among our estates at all. Our fourth estate is the newspaper-press. The poor theatres have no such addition of honour, either literary or social. It is much if-in books at least, and by the fashionable mind— they are still allowed a place among public amusements. They are jostled out of credit even with humbler pleasure-seekers, by crystal palaces, scientific lectures, panoramas, ascents of Mont Blanc, polytechnic halls, free libraries, concerts, oratorios, museums, and the opera. Nobody nowadays reads plays : few care to talk of seeing them. The critic's row no longer frowns tremendous with the Æacuses, Minoses, and Rhadamanthuses of the pit. The trunkmaker's knock is heard no more in the shilling-gallery. No wits gather in Strand taverns or Covent-Garden coffee-houses to decide, potent as a Vehm-gericht, the fate of play or actor. The public has abandoned even the privilege of damnation : Le théâtre est mort! And yet—"Vive le théâtre !"

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »