« ZurückWeiter »
obtained credit for, while, to those of the opposite party, it will suggest matter of grave consideration; and, to men of all parties, it marks out and facilitates the course for arriving at sound conclusions on the momentous questions now under discussion.
Art. VIII.-Poems. By MARY MAYNARD. London: Smith,
Elder, and Co. 1851. Fscp. 8vo.
If we were to judge of the present age by the staple of its literary productions, we should be inclined to pronounce it an essentially prosaic one. The page of a modern review, and especially a quarterly one, is so rarely shorn of its fair proportions by being broken up into verse, that an apology for the innovation might almost seem to be necessary. In our last number, however, we committed a double offence, if offence it were, by devoting two articles to a poetical subject.
poetical subject. We did not then attempt to extenuate the deed, nor do we think it is necessary to do so now that we recur to the theme ; for we stand upon the ground which we then assumed and attempted, unsuccessfully it may be, to maintain that the taste for poetry is not dead in the land. It is not dead-it cannot die; for, however meagre be the diet afforded to it in later days, it has ample food in the exhaustless granaries stored by the genius of bygone ages. And the paucity of modern supply has driven the public appetite back upon the past, and it is to this circumstance that we atttribute the success which has attended reprints of former writers. We do not speak of Shakspere, for be will be reprinted till time and type shall be no more: he is patent to every memory-to every heart-to quote him is almost an insult; for not a line that he has ever written will be forgotten by any who have read him as he ought to be read. We do not instance Milton, because, feeling the stature of our own mind unequal to measure the altitude of his genius, veiled as it is, to the ordinary human eye, by the clouds of the heaven into which it soared, we can well imagine that his is a sealed book to many whose hearts are yet not dead to the softer appealings of the muse.
back to the lyrists of a far bygone day, whom we have read in later life with a blush that we had so long neglected the pearls which are to be found in the pages even of the least popplar of their age. Italy has received, or appropriated, the distinctive epithet of “the Land of Song," The honour, if it be due to "het, was
But we go
not achieved by her classic poets, who, like her sculptors, copied largely from Greece. So even with their orators. Cicero palpably borrowed from Demosthenes; and it is possible that Shakspere, who seems almost to have known every thing by the intuition of his genius, alludes to the fact when he says in Julius Cæsar that “Cicero spoke Greek.” We are prepared for the charge of being heterodox in our opinion ; but we believe that Dante won more permanent popularity for Italian poetical literature than any one of his classic predecessors. But for all this we maintain that England is essentially, we say not exclusively, the land of song. Of the ancient bards of Britain we have little left but the name and the fame; but, from the days of Chaucer to our own, we maintain that a stream from the true Helicon has never ceased to flow through the land in greater or less volume, pure or pollute as it took the complexion of the age, but always traceable to the fountain head.
There are many sincere lovers of poetry-men who, though not themselves possessed of the golden gift, understand its value, and have a keen perception of its beauties, and yet who are too apt to content themselves with the repast set before them by the contemporary press. They regard poetry, as it really is, an intellectual luxury, as a pine-apple is a sensual one, and they enjoy it accordingly; but they can do without it-it is not essential to their intellectual existence; and, therefore, if it be not placed on their table, they do not look for it. They take for granted that the fruit is out of season and are satistied. To recur to our simile, they are content with the harvest of the year-they resort not to the storehouse in which the riches of the past are garnered. Here we have at our elbow a poet of the sixteenth century—the gallant, the gifted, the graceful, the ill-fated Raleigh. Take a distich froin his - Silent Lover:".
“ Passions are likened best to floods and streames
The shallow murmur, but the deep are dumb. What a volume of poetry and truth have we in this brief space! And yet we might ask, if we could, ninety-nine out of a hundred if they had ever read the passage; or, having read it, had been struck by its beauty, and the reply would be a negative.
We have excluded, and we think on legitimate grounds, Milton from the category of popular poets, because his genius, like that of a modern writer to whose recently published volume of poems we devoted an article in our last number, soars above the sympathies of ordinary men-that is, above the sympathies of our common nature; but there are images in both the republican and the modern poet so simple in their structure as to beconie palpable in their truth to even the least poetical mind. Take Milton's description of Satan's shield:
66 The broad circumference
Rivers, or mountains, in his spotty globe." To the craver after novelty in poetry, we would say that he will find more novelty in that which is old-albeit by him unexplored —than he will meet with in modern verse ; and we lose as much by our prejudices as by our indolence. We well remember the outcry which was raised against Keats on the appearance of his “ Endymion.” It is said that the harshness of the criticism it entailed killed him. We have reason to doubt the fact, although we can quite understand that, operating upon a nervous and consumptive constitution, it hastened the catastrophe. It was not (we confess it with much self-reproach) until Keats was in his grave that we appreciated his genius. Many have excelled him in sublimity of thought-many in richness of imagination; but no man ever surpassed him in force of language or fitness of epithet. Take an example from his poem on the - Fall of Satan":
“ His old right hand lay nerveless, listless, dead,
Unsceptred, and his realmless eyes were closed.” We took occasion to remark in our last number on the alleged indifference of the public to poetry, and denied the fact; maintaining that the deficiency lay not in the demand but the supply. If we failed to establish our point, it would be needless to retread the ground of our argument. Rather let us draw attention to a volume of poems which we hope will tend more to the confirmation of the theory we then ventured to propound than any thing we could add in support of it. We should have little doubt of such a result could we ensure the author a hearing; but the path to poetical pre-eminence is so thronged by pretenders to the art-by those who mistake the jingling of the bells in their cap for the music of the lyre—that there is little hope for the most gifted son of genius, unblessed by the prestige of a name, in his struggles for a place in the public eye. It may be, therefore, that we may be disappointed in making the little volume which heads our article available to our argument : nevertheless, we shall not readily resign our opinion.
Mary Maynard, be she wife, widow, or spinster, is an unknown name in literature. If, however, the poems now presented to the world are of recent composition, she is still a young woman
There is all the freshness, with little of the crudeness, of youth about them; and they possess withal the vigour and enthusiasm not usually found in advanced life. Indeed, we have rarely met with a volume of poems displaying so large an amount of power blended with so much delicacy of feeling and grace of expression.
The opening poem of the book is not the best, but it is so descriptive of the various feelings which would be likely to agitate the bosoms of a dissolved and dispersed sisterhood, displaying so much pathos in some parts and playful fancy in others, that we shall venture to quote the whole of it:
« THE SISTERS OF ST. MARY.
Came the bluff king's decree-
There shall no convent be.'
• I shall miss you, daughters sweet;
Or give me reverence meet.'
Now praise I God in truth!
Dark prison held my youth.'
• O day of shame and woe!
The heathen lay thee low.'
Yet the veil I still would wear ;
I shall not look so fair.'
• It most delighteth me
Your hated faces see.'
As heavily she sigh'd
As in the world outside.'
60 terrible decree !
What will become of me?"
“ Sad sister Agnes o'er the doom
Sate sorrowing apart-
Left to a broken heart!'
•Sweet Will, thy bird is free!
In forest bower with thee!'
• Too late, too late, too late !
And the world is desolate.
• Now will I surely know
And where that road doth go!'
Kept moaning o'er and o'er-
At threescore years and more.'
Full strange is liberty:
I know not what will be.'
Sweet sister Magdalene-
And true as ye have been ?'
As she knelt at the rood of grace,
But the tears ran down apace." The subject of these lines has long been obsolete in England; and, notwithstanding some ominous attempts to revive monastic establishments in this country, will, we trust, continue to be so. The burthen of the song has, however, of late been taken up in Spain, in which Church and Monastic property has been confiscated as recklessly, and with about as pure a motive, as in the days of our Henry VIII. In Spain, conventual communities are identified with the religion of the land, and should have been respected by the professors of that religion ; instead of which the Spanish Government has confiscated their revenues-plundered their churches even to the bells and gold ornaments--and turned the monks and nuns into the streets. The latter were promised a pension of six rials (about one