« ZurückWeiter »
an ample stock in trade to any young poet. Or a nearer approach to nature and the interests of every-day life might be found in the situation of Terence McHugh, buried alive at the bottom of a well, and so finding it to be the residence of at least one unquestionable verity.
Mystery, too, has become a great staple with our poets. Every thing must be accounted for by something more unaccountable. Grandgousier's simple and pious theory to explain the goodliness of Friar John's nose would hardly pass muster now. The mystery of our being" has become a favorite object of contemplation. Egoism has been erected into a system of theology. Self has been deified like the Egyptian onion,
"Nascuntur in hortis
Poets used to look before and after. Now, their eyes are turned wholly inward, and ordinarily with as useful result as was attained by the Brahmin who spent five years in the beatific inspection of his own navel. Instead of poems, we have lectures on the morbid anatomy of self. Nature herself must subscribe their platform of doctrine, and that not "for substance, scope, and aim," but without qualification. If they turn their eyes outward for a moment, they behold in the landscape only a smaller image of themselves. The mountain becomes a granite Mr. Smith, and the ocean (leaving out the salt) a watery Mr. Brown, in other words à Mr. Brown with the milky particles of his composition deducted. A new systema mundi is constructed, with the individual idosyncrasy of the poet for its base. And, to prolong the delight of swallowing all this sublime mystification, enraptured simplicity prays fervently, with the old epicure, for the neck of a crane. Fortunately, that of a goose will suffice.
Nor has our mother tongue been safe from the experimental incursions of these philosophers. They have plunged so deeply into the well of English undefiled as to bring up the mud from the bottom. This they call "Saxon," and infuse portions of it into their productions, deepening the turbid obscurity. Strange virtues have been discovered in compound words, and the greater the incongruity of the mixture, the more potent the conjuration. Phrases, simple or unmeaning enough in themselves, acquire force and become
mystical by repetition, like the three Iods of the Cabalists, or the Koys "Oμag of the Eleusinian mysteries. Straightforwardness has become a prose virtue. The poet wanders about his subject, looks for it where he knows it is not, and avoids looking where he knows it is, like a child playing at hide-andseek, who, to lengthen the pleasure of the hunt, peeps cautiously into keyholes and every other impossible place, leaving to the last the table, under which lurks, with ostrich-like obviousness, the object of his search. It had been fortunate for Columbus, could he have recruited his crews with such minstrels, whose only mutiny would have been at the finding of the expected continent. We have seen the translation of a Hindoo deed which affords an exact parallel to such poetry. It begins with a general history of India, diverges into a system of theology, exhausts all the grantor's knowledge of natural history and astronomy, relates a few fables on differen't subjects, throws in a coufused mass of compound words (one of them containing one hundred and fifty-two syllables), and finally reveals the object of this ponderous legal machine in a postscript of six lines conveying an acre or two of land.
The New Timon, if not the exact reverse of all this, is at least a resolute attempt in the opposite direction. We do not believe it possible to revive the style of Pope. It was a true mirror of its own age, but it would imperfectly reflect ours. Its very truth then would make it false now. The petere fontes points to other springs than these. Much less do we believe in confining literature to the strait channel of any one period. That is surely a very jejune kind of conservatism, which, with the Athenian Ephorus, would cut every new string added to the lyre. The critics have too often assumed the office of Ephorus in our commonwealth of letters, and have unfortunately become impressed with the notion, that this chordisection is the chief part of their official duty. As Selden said that equity was measured by the length of my Lord Chancellor's foot for the time being, so has judgment in these cases been too often meted, if not by the length, at least by the susceptibility, of my Lord Ephorus's ear. If every Phrynio had been thus dealt with, the lyre would never have lost that pristine simplicity and compactness, and that facility at making itself understood, which characterized it when it was a plain tortoise-shell, ere
idle Hermes had embarrassed and perplexed it with a single string.
The author is a professed disciple of Pope, but he is wanting in the vivid common-sense, the crystal terseness, and the epigrammatic point of his original. Moreover, he is something of a "snob." His foundling Lucy must turn out to be an earl's daughter; his Hindoo Timon must be a nabob. It is clear that he reverences those very artificial distinctions which he professes to scorn. So much contempt could not be lavished on what was insignificant. Himself the child of a highly artificial state of society, there seems to be something unfilial and against nature in his assaults upon it. His New Timon is made a Timon by the very things which he affects to despise. Pope was quite superior to so subaltern a feeling.
The plot of the story is not much to our taste. Morvale, the hero, is the son of a half-Hindoo father and an English mother. The mother, left a widow,
"Loathed the dark pledge the abhorred nuptials bore;
And two tall footmen sighed the jointured fair;
She fled the land and the abandoned child."— p. 21.
In the mean while, a rich friend of Morvale's father opportunely dies, leaving his immense wealth to the son. This self-devotion on the part of the very rich is happily universal in the Utopia of the novel and the melodrama. are thus introduced to Mr. Morvale.
"They sought and found the unsuspecting heir Couched in the shade that neared the tiger's lair, His gun beside, the jungle round him,
Lawless, and fierce as Hagar's wandering child:
To this fresh nature the sleek life deceased
Left the bright plunder of the ravaged East.
Much wealth brings want, -that hunger of the heart
Alas! the taint that sunburnt brow bespeaks
Divides the Half-Caste from the world he seeks ;
Amidst his kind, the Ishmael roved unchanged."- pp. 22, 23.
We do not profess to be in Juno's confidence, but, unless she is greatly belied, she is not in the habit of examining closely the complexion of a millionnaire. Wealth produces a marvellous change in Morvale, at least. He now travels, converses much with books and men, drinks life at once to the dregs (the favorite beverage of heroes), and becomes one of those profoundly learned men of the world, more familiar to the patrons of circulating libraries than to any other class in society. These singular beings are the antitheses of ordinary natures. They are incarnate contradictions. Fire and gunpowder in them meet on amicable terms. A liberal course of dissipation fulfils more than the functions of a university. In the society of opera-girls, they learn to be fastidious in women; in that of roués, they exhaust the arts and sciences. We do not say that Morvale is precisely one of these, but we have hints, every here and there, of something like it. We would only warn him from ground sacred to Madame Tussaud and the melodrama.
Morvale, having run round the elevated circle of the passions, subsides to a less heroic, but much more respectable, stratum of existence. His feelings as a son and brother revive. He accordingly, we are told, "searched his mother," a perilous infringement of orthoëpy, or of the rights of the subject, if done without a justice's warrant. He does not find her, however, she being probably one of those highly artificial characters who never carry themselves about with them. She avoids him
"Till Death approached, and Conscience, that sad star,
Of the Eternal Gate, laid bare the crime."
She leaves her daughter Calantha to his fraternal care. The brother and sister go to housekeeping together in the magnificent isolation of London. But though there is enough affection, there is little confidence, between them. A secret melancholy, the origin of which Morvale tries in vain to dis
cover, preys upon the spirits of Calantha, -- the old "worm i' the bud." Morvale, in one of his walks, encounters an orphan, Lucy, whom he brings home with him, and makes an inmate of his house, where, in good time, a passion springs up between them.
One of Morvale's friends and it is a little singular, that notwithstanding the barrier of his Hindoo blood, he moves in the most fashionable society — is Lord Arden, a blasé like himself, who one day, while they are riding together, relates his own history. Whatever fault we may find with our author's plot, we cannot but approve his method of unfolding it. He tells his stories admirably, and interests us in spite of ourselves. But we must be careful that this does not interfere with our judgment of him as a poet. An author may be a very good story-teller, and a very bad poet. The character of Arden is well conceived. Indeed, it is by far the best in the book. The story had been truer to nature, if he, who had been through life brought into contact with the hollownesses of society, had become the Timon instead of Morvale. A man of the world, and selfish (if we may say so) rather on æsthetic grounds than by nature, he falls in love, while yet quite young, with Mary, the daughter of a poor country curate. Arden is one of the presumptive heirs to an earldom, the present earl being his uncle, and a cunning Scot has barnacled himself to the prosperous ship of his fortunes. Through him, Arden contrives an elopement and clandestine marriage. The Scot, however, knowing that Arden's uncle, the earl, looked upon a wife as merely one round in the ladder of preferment, and would infallibly withdraw his patronage, if he discovered such a mark of unthrift in his nephew as disinterested love, has the ceremony performed by a mock priest. Mary's father, finding the marriage to be a sham, dies broken-hearted, and Mary herself, compelled to believe herself betrayed, leaves her home and wanders no one knows whither. Arden, meanwhile, ignorant of all this, has gone on a foreign embassy. On his return, he becomes aware of the deceit practised upon him in regard to the marriage, but seeks Mary in vain. After the lapse of some years, he meets a lady in Italy, to whom he becomes betrothed. The day for the wedding is already fixed, when he receives letters from England, giving a hope that Mary's hiding-place may be found. Leaving his betrothed with a