Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

crows !

Thus far we have seen the poet occupied with reflections which might have occurred to him in the cupola of Boston State House quite as appropriately as on the top of Mount Wachusett. But he now proceeds to discourse on topics which might really have been suggested by the genius loci. The impressive sound of the wind rushing through a vast forest has been compared to many things; it has been said to ripple, to wash, to bowl, to whistle, and to roar ; Mr. Channing, determined to be original, goes to the barn-yard for an illustration, and for the first time in our lives we hear that the wind

“ I hear the rustling plumes of these young woods,

Like young cockerels crowing to the solitudes
While o'er the far horizon trails a mist,

A kind of autumn smoke or blaze.” If our readers think this is the most astounding comparison to be found in print, they are quite mistaken. To invert and apply the fine remark of Pascal, we may say that nature itself ceases to furnish objects of wonder, before Mr. Channing's imagination fails to supply fit images to illustrate them.

on some faint-drawn hill-sides fires are burning,
The far blue smoke their outlines soft in-urning,
And now half-seen the Peterboro' hills,

Peep out like black-fish, nothing but their gills.* Very remarkable hills those must be in the good town of Peterboro', though we are not quite sure whether they resemble the whole of the black-ish, or “nothing but their gills”; as these last four words stand in glorious grammatical isolation. The following passage shows that the poet is quite as happy in describing colors as shapes and sounds.

“ Out-bursts the sun, turns villages to gold,

Blazons the cold lake, burns the near cloud's fold,
Drops splendidly a curtain of warm tints,

And at an apple-green divinely hints." The languishing and ecstatic admiration so happily expressed in this last line reminds us of a subject on which we have the misfortune to differ from the members of that

* It inay be as well to inform our readers, that we are not responsible for the punctuation of these extracts. The printer's rule in such cases is to u follow the copy."

66

school of which Mr. Emerson and Mr. Channing are the brightest ornaments. Hard-hearted critics as

we are, we can sympathize with Cowper, in his hearty love of the sights and sounds of the external world.

He could truly say, “ Thou knowest my praise of nature most sincere,

And that my raptures are not conjured up,

To serve occasions of poetic pomp." We can walk with him under his “ favorite elms,” and enjoy his visits to “the timorous hare,"

6 Grown so familiar with her frequent guest,” and to the stock-dove unalarmed,” that “sits cooing in the pine-tree,” and stints not “his long love-ditty” at the gentle poet's near approach. We may well exclaim,

Happy who walks with him! whom what he finds
Of Aavor or of scent in fruit or flower,
Or what he views of beautiful or grand
In nature, from the broad, majestic oak,
To the green blade that twinkles in the sun,

Prompts with remembrance of a present God.” But a later race of poets have so profaned these beauties of the outward universe by their puling raptures, their indiscriminate and idolatrous worship, and their heathenish philosophy, that we almost sicken at any allusion to them in verse. One of these modern bards, hovering between mysticism and silliness in his lackadaisical ecstasies, cannot be more aptly hit off than by Dame Quickly, in her account of the fat knight's death-bed : “ After I saw him fumble with the sheets, and play with flowers, and smile upon his fingers' ends, I knew there was but one way ; for his nose was as sharp as a pen, and 'a babbled of green fields." Mr. Wordsworth has the questionable honor of leading the way to this exaggerated and fantastic manner, and of perverting the love of nature from its proper tendency to see everywhere “the unambiguous footsteps of a God” into a mere cover and pretence for some paltry dreams drawn from the old Pythagorean philosophy. He has carried the “worship ” of nature to an unreasonable and ridiculous excess, and fallen into “ dizzy raptures,” not only over what is beautiful and grand in the outward world, but over low and disgusting objects, which no poetry can elevate above their intrinsic meanness and vulgarity. Still, he often adorns his vagaries with so much magnificence of diction and splendor of imagery, - widely departing, it is true, from his own theory, by the very richness of these ornaments, that we can pardon the overstrained fancies which he renders thus gorgeous and imposing. We are content to hear him say,

“ To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.” But to the crowd of his servile imitators, who have all his rant, and none of his imagination, all his mysticism, and none of his genius, no such indulgence can be extended. It passeth human patience to see one of these Noodles get down on his knees before a pigweed, and remain there mute with admiration, or staring open-mouthed after a bumble-bee, and calling it “ Yellow-breeched philosopher.” If their disorder had not passed the use of medicine, we would counsel them to go and study Cowper's Task, and learn to be ashamed of their mystic ravings and transcendental silliness.

But we must go back and take leave of Mr. Channing, or rather allow him to take leave of us ; for in some very truculent stanzas at the close of his volume, he has bravely thrown down his gauntlet in the face of the whole critical fraternity. The lines are founded on the old myth about Keats being killed by an article in the Quarterly. We wish another hero had been chosen, as the name of this one is rather unmanageable in verse, and betrays into sad perplexities those who are not familiar with the inysteries of the plural number and the possessive case. We pass over some stanzas about critics who “pluck courage from the Bravo's knife, and stick their victims in small streets by dark," and come to the following.

• And most of all let them kill Keats alway,

Or him that can be killed, as sure as steel,
For
many
Keats's
creep

about our day,
Who would not furnish Heroes half a meal.
" Who writes by Fate the critics shall not kill,

Nor all the assassins in the great review,
Who writes by luck his blood some Hack shall spill,
Some Ghost whom a Musquito might run through.

36*

Of Keats' poetry I have small taste,
But trust soine Critics still are in the field,
Whose well-puffed Pills are not composed of paste,

Whose swords of lath with wisdom they do wield.
“For me, I trust they will not spare one line,

Or else in frozen silence may abide,
Pray may they hack like butchers at all mine,

And kill me like that Keats if it betide." Mr. Channing need not be alarmed ; we are fully satisfied that he is not a Keats, and that the utmost malice of the critics cannot harm him.

Our readers may think we have given to these two volumes of “poems” more importance than they deserve ; and we should think so, too, but for evidence that is at hand of the extravagant admiration which they have excited in certain quarters. On our table are Miss Fuller's recently published volumes, entitled “ Papers on Literature and Art," made up of articles mostly critical in their character, which had previously appeared in the magazines and newspapers of the day. One of her essays, on “ American Literature,gives a fair specimen of the taste and opinions of that school to which the fair writer belongs, and which is far from being insignificant in point of numbers. Her criticisms are very brief, but comprehensive, and uttered certainly with no lack of confidence. Of Bryant she observes, that “ his range is not great nor his genius fertile”; Halleck and Willis " are poets of society”; and Dana “ has written so little that he would hardly be seen in a more thickly garnished galaxy.”

“Longfellow is artificial and imitative. He borrows inces. santly, and mixes what he borrows, so that it does not appear to the best advantage. He is very faulty in using broken or mixed metaphors. The ethical part of his writing has a hollow, secondhand sound. He has, however, elegance, a love of the beautiful, and a fancy for what is large and manly, if not a full sympathy with it. His verse breathes at times much sweetness; and if not allowed to supersede what is better, may promote a taste for good poetry. Though imitative, he is not mechanical.

“We cannot say as much for Lowell, who, we must declare it, though to the grief of some friends, and the disgust of more, is absolutely wanting in the true spirit and tone of poesy. His interest in the moral questions of the day has supplied the want of vitality in himself; his great facility at versification has enabled him to fill the ear with a copious stream of pleasant sound. But his verse is stereotyped ; his thought sounds no depth, and posterity will not remember him.

R. W. Emerson, in melody, in subtle beauty of thought and expression, takes the highest rank upon this list. But his poems are mostly philosophical, which is not the truest kind of poetry. They want the simple force of nature and passion, and, while they charm the ear and interest the mind, fail to wake far-off echoes in the heart. The imagery wears a symbolical air, and serves rather as illustration, than to delight us by fresh and glow. ing forms of life.

We must here mention one whom the country has not yet learned to honor, perhaps never may, for he wants artistic skill to give complete form to his inspiration. This is William Ellery Channing, nephew and namesake of Dr. C., a volume of whose poems,* published three or four years ago in Boston, remains un. known, except to a few friends, nor, if known, would they probably excite sympathy, as those which have been published in the periodicals have failed to do so. Yet some of the purest tones of the lyre are his, the finest inspirations as to the feelings and pas. sions of men, deep spiritual insight, and an entire originality in the use of his means. - Vol. 11., pp. 132, 133.

The volume by the Rev. Charles T. Brooks is so unpretending in character as to be sure of a kind, if not a grateful, reception. It consists solely of translations, the writer being content to act as the herald of other men's thoughts, instead of foisting upon the public his own. His modesty appears not only in the general scheme of the publication, but in the preface, which is written with playful simplicity and frankness, and expresses only the diffident hope, “ that this little book may prove light enough for a winter holiday, and weighty enough to last through the next summer.” As most of our contemporary bards seem to consider a kind of dogfaced impudence as a necessary attendant of genius, it is pleasant to see them tacitly rebuked by the example of one of their brethren, who is too kind-hearted to inflict a direct castigation upon them. We are not sure but that Mr. Brooks has erred by excess of humility, and by too high an estimate of the merits of his rivals or predecessors. He has done sundry German bards the honor of translating their effu

* The fair critic here alludes to the First Series of Channing's poems. We have been reviewing the Second Series, which is thought to excel its predecessor.

« ZurückWeiter »