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Erratum. - Page 88, line 19, for Ninus read Nisus.
NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
Art. I. — Poems. By ALEXANDER Smith. London: Bogue.
Boston: Ticknor & Co. 1853. 2. Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems. By A. London:
Fellowes. 1852. 3. The Strayed Reveller and Other Poems. By A. London:
Fellowes. 1849. 4. The Poetical Remains of William SIDNEY Walker, form
erly Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. Edited, with a Memoir of the Author, by the Rev. J. MOULTRIE, Rector
of Rugby. London: J. W. Parker. 1852. 5. Poems. By William ALLINGHAM. London: Chapman
& Hall. 1850.
Poems by Alexander Smith, a volume recently published in London, and by this time reprinted in Boston, deserve attention. They have obtained in England a good deal more notice than is usually accorded there to first volumes of verse; nor is this by any means to be ascribed to the mere fact that the writer is, as we are told, a mechanic; though undoubtedly that does add to their external interest, and perhaps also enhances their intrinsic merit. It is to this, perhaps, that they owe a force of purpose and character which makes them a grateful contrast to the ordinary languid collectanea published by young men of literary habits ; and which, on the whole, may be accepted as more than compensation for many imperfections of style and taste. VOL. LXXVII. NO. 160.
The models, whom this young poet has followed, have been, it would appear, predominantly, if not exclusively, the writers of his own immediate time, plus Shakspeare. The antecedents of the Life-Drama, the one long poem which occupies almost the whole of his volume, are to be found in the Princess, in parts of Mrs. Browning, in the love of Keats, and the habit of Shakspeare. There is no Pope, or Dryden,* or even Milton; no Wordsworth, Scott, or even Byron to speak of. We have before us, we may say, the latest disciple of the school of Keats, who was indeed no well of English undefiled, though doubtless the fountain-head of a true poetic stream. Alexander Smith is young enough to free himself from his present manner, which does not seem his simple and natural own. He has given us, so to say, his Endymion; it is certainly as imperfect, and as mere a promise of something wholly different as was that of the master he has followed.
We are not sorry, in the mean time, that this Endymion is not upon Mount Latmos. The natural man does pant within us after flumina silvasque ; yet really, and truth to tell, is it not, upon the whole, an easy matter to sit under a green tree by a purling brook, and indite pleasing stanzas on the beauties of Nature and fresh air ? Or is it, we incline to ask, so very great an exploit to wander out into the pleasant field of Greek or Latin mythology, and reproduce, with more or less of modern adaptation,
the shadows Faded and pale, yet immortal, of Faunus, the Nymphs, and the Graces ? Studies of the literature of any distant age, or country; all the imitations and quasi-translations which help to bring together into a single focus, the scattered rays of human intelligence; poems after classical models, poems from Oriental sources, and the like, have undoubtedly a great literary value. Yet there is no question, it is plain and patent enough, that people much prefer Vanity Fair and Bleak House. Why so? Is it simply because we have grown prudent and prosaic, and should not welcome, as our fathers did, the
* The word spoom, which Dryden uses as the verb of the substantive spume, occurs also in Beaumont and Fletcher. Has Keats employed it? It seems hardly to deserve re-impatriation.
Marrions and the Rokebys, the Childe Harolds, and the Corsairs ? Or is it, that to be widely popular, to gain the ear of multitudes, to shake the hearts of men, poetry should deal more than at present it usually does, with general wants, ordinary feelings, the obvious rather than the rare facts of human nature ? Could it not attempt to convert into beauty and thankfulness, or at least into some form and shape, some feeling, at any rate, of content — the actual, palpable things with which our every-day life is concerned ; introduce into business and weary task-work a character and a soul of purpose and reality; intimate to us relations which, in our unchosen, peremptorily-appointed posts, in our grievously narrow and limited spheres of action, we still, in and through all, retain to some central, celestial fact? Could it not console us with a sense of significance, if not of dignity, in that often dirty, or at least dingy, work which it is the lot of so many of us to have to do, and which some one or other, after all, must do? Might it not divinely condescend to all infirmities; be in all points tempted as we are; exclude nothing, least of all guilt and distress, from its wide fraternization; not content itself merely with talking of what may be better elsewhere, but seek also to deal with what is here? We could each one of us, alas, be so much that somehow we find we are not; we have all of us fallen away from so much that we still long to call ours. Cannot the Divine Song in some way indicate to us our unity, though from a great way off, with those happier things; inform us, and prove to us, that though we are what we are, we may yet, in some way, even in our abasement, even by and through our daily work, be related to the purer existence.
The modern novel is preferred to the modern poem, because we do here feel an attempt to include these indispensable latest addenda — these phenomena which, if we forget on Sunday, we must remember on Monday — these positive matters of fact, which people, who are not verse-writers, are obliged to have to do with.
Et fortasse cupressum
Navibus, ære dato qui pingitur ?
and this common builder, with no notion of the orders, is more to our purpose than the student of ancient art who proposes to lodge us under an Ionic portico. We are, unhappily, not gods, nor even marble statues. While the poets, like the architects, are — a good thing enough in its way - studying ancient art, comparing, thinking, theorizing, the common novelist tells a plain tale, often trivial enough, about this, that, and the other, and obtains one reading at any rate; is thrown away indeed to-morrow, but is devoured to-day.
We do not at all mean to prepare the reader for finding the great poetic desideratum in this present Life-Drama. But it has at least the advantage, such as it is, of not showing much of the litterateur or connoisseur, or indeed the student; nor is it, as we have said, mere pastoral sweet piping from the country. These poems were not written among books and busts, nor yet
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals. They have something substantive and lifelike, immediate and first-hand, about them. There is a charm, for example, in finding, as we do, continual images drawn from the busy seats of industry ; it seems to satisfy a want that we have long been conscious of, when we see the black streams that welter out of factories, the dreary lengths of urban and suburban dustiness,
the squares and streets,
And the faces that one meets, irradiated with a gleam of divine purity. There are moods when one is prone to believe that, in these last days, no longer by “clear spring or shady grove," no more upon any Pindus or Parnassus, or by the side of any Castaly, are the true and lawful haunts of the poetic powers : but, we could believe it, if anywhere, in the blank and desolate streets, and upon the solitary bridges of the midnight city, where Guilt is, and wild Temptation, and the dire Compulsion of what has once been done — there, with these tragic sisters around him, and with Pity also, and pure Compassion, and pale Hope, that looks like Despair, and Faith in the garb of Doubt, there walks the discrowned Apollo, with unstrung lyre; nay, and