Rabelais was a Frenchman of the old school—Voltaire of the new. The wit of the one arose from an exuberance of enjoyment—of the other, from an excess of indifference, real or assumed. Voltaire had no enthusiasm for one thing or another: he made light of every thing. In his hands all things turn to chaff and dross, as the pieces of silver money in the Arabian Nights were changed by the hands of the enchanter into little dry crumbling leaves! He is a Parisian. He never exaggerates, is never violent: he treats things with the most provoking sang froid; and expresses his contempt by the most indirect hints, and in the fewest words, as if he hardly thought them worth even his contempt. He retains complete possession of himself and of his subject. He does not effect his purpose by the eagerness of his blows, but by the delicacy of his tact. The poisoned wound he inflicted was so fine, as scarcely to be felt till it rankled and festered in its "mortal consequences." His callousness was an excellent foil for the antagonists he had mostly to deal with. He took knaves and fools on his shield well. He stole away its cloak from grave imposture. If he reduced other things below their true value, making them seem worthless and hollow, he did not degrade the pretensions of tyranny and superstition below their true value, by making them seem utterly worthless and hollow, as contemptible as they were odious. This was the service he rendered to truth and mankind! His Candide is a masterpiece of wit. It has been called "the dull product of a scoffer's pen"; it is indeed the "product of a scoffer's pen"; but after reading the Excursion, few people will think it dull. It is in the most perfect keeping, and without any appearance of effort. Every sentence tells, and the whole reads like one sentence. There is something sublime in Martin's sceptical indifference to moral good and evil. It is the repose of the grave. It is better to suffer this living death, than a living martyrdom. "Nothing can touch him further." The moral of Candide (such as it is) is the same as that of Rasselas: the execution is different. Voltaire says, "A great book is a great evil." Dr. Johnson would have laboured this short apophthegm into a voluminous common-place. Voltaire's traveller (in another work) being asked "whether he likes black or white mutton best," replies that "he is indifferent, provided it is tender." Dr. Johnson did not get at a conclusion by so short a way as this. If Voltaire's licentiousness is objected to me, I say, let it be placed to its true account, the manners of the age and court in which he lived. The lords and ladies of the bedchamber in the reign of Louis XV. found no fault with the immoral tendency of his writings. Why then should our modern purists quarrel with them?—But to return.
Young is a gloomy epigrammatist. He has abused great powers both of thought and language. His moral reflections are sometimes excellent; but he spoils their beauty by overloading them with a religious horror, and at the same time giving them all the smart turns and quaint expression of an enigma or repartee in verse. The well-known lines on Procrastination are in his best manner:
"Be wise to-day; 'tis madness to defer; Next day the fatal precedent will plead; Thus on, till wisdom is push'd out of life. Procrastination is the thief of time; Year after year it steals, till all are fled, And to the mercies of a moment leaves The vast concerns of an eternal scene.
Of man's miraculous mistakes, this bears The palm, "That all men are about to live," For ever on the brink of being born. All pay themselves the compliment to think They, one day, shall not drivel; and their pride On this reversion takes up ready praise; At least, their own; their future selves applauds; How excellent that life they ne'er will lead! Time lodg'd in their own hands is Folly's vails: That lodg'd in Fate's, to Wisdom they consign; The thing they can't but purpose, they postpone. 'Tis not in Folly, not to scorn a fool; And scarce in human Wisdom to do more. All Promise is poor dilatory man, And that through every stage. When young, indeed, In full content we, sometimes, nobly rest, Un-anxious for ourselves; and only wish, As duteous sons, our fathers were more wise. At thirty man suspects himself a fool; Knows it at forty, and reforms his plan; At fifty chides his infamous delay, Pushes his prudent purpose to Resolve; In all the magnanimity of thought Resolves, and re-resolves; then dies the same.
And why? Because he thinks himself immortal. All men think all men mortal, but themselves; Themselves, when some alarming shock of fate Strikes through their wounded hearts the sudden dread; But their hearts wounded, like the wounded air, Soon close; where past the shaft, no trace is found. As from the wing no scar the sky retains; The parted wave no furrow from the keel; So dies in human hearts the thought of death. Ev'n with the tender tear which nature sheds O'er those we love, we drop it in their grave."
His Universal Passion is a keen and powerful satire; but the effort takes from the effect, and oppresses attention by perpetual and violent demands upon it. His tragedy of the Revenge is monkish and scholastic. Zanga is a vulgar caricature of Iago. The finest lines in it are the burst of triumph at the end, when his revenge is completed:
"Let Europe and her pallid sons go weep, Let Afric on her hundred thrones rejoice," &c.
Collins is a writer of a very different stamp, who had perhaps less general power of mind than Young; but he had that true vivida vis, that genuine inspiration, which alone can give birth to the highest efforts of poetry. He leaves stings in the minds of his readers, certain traces of thought and feelings which never wear out, because nature had left them in his own mind. He is the only one of the minor poets of whom, if he had lived, it cannot be said that he might not have done the greatest things. The germ is there. He is sometimes affected, unmeaning, and obscure; but he also catches rich glimpses of the bowers of Paradise, and has lofty aspirations after the highest seats of the Muses. With a great deal of tinsel and splendid patch-work, he has not been able to hide the solid sterling ore of genius. In his best works there is an attic simplicity, a pathos, and fervour of imagination, which make us the more lament that the efforts of his mind were at first depressed by neglect and pecuniary embarrassment, and at length buried in the gloom of an unconquerable and fatal malady. How many poets have gone through all the horrors of poverty and contempt, and ended their days in moping melancholy or moody madness!
"We poets in our youth begin in gladness, But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness."
Is this the fault of themselves, of nature in tempering them of too fine a clay, or of the world, that spurner of living, and patron of dead merit? Read the account of Collins—with hopes frustrated, with faculties blighted, at last, when it was too late for himself or others, receiving the deceitful favours of relenting Fortune, which served only to throw their sunshine on his decay, and to light him to an early grave. He was found sitting with every spark of imagination extinguished, and with only the faint traces of memory and reason left —with only one book in his room, the Bible; "but that," he said, "was the best." A melancholy damp hung like an unwholesome mildew upon his faculties—a canker had consumed the flower of his life. He produced works of genius, and the public regarded them with scorn: he aimed at excellence that should be his own, and his friends treated his efforts as the wanderings of fatuity. The proofs of his capacity are, his Ode on Evening, his Ode on the Passions (particularly the fine personification of Hope), his Ode to Fear, the Dirge in Cymbeline, the Lines on Thomson's Grave, and his Eclogues, parts of which are admirable. But perhaps his Ode on the Poetical Character is the best of all. A rich distilled perfume emanates from it like the breath of genius; a golden cloud envelopes it; a honeyed paste of poetic diction encrusts it, like the candied coat of the auricula. His Ode to Evening shews equal genius in the images and versification. The sounds steal slowly over the ear, like the gradual coming on of evening itself:
"If aught of oaten stop or pastoral song May hope, chaste Eve, to soothe thy modest ear, Like thy own solemn springs, Thy springs and dying gales,
O nymph reserv'd, while now the bright-haired sun Sits on yon western tent, whose cloudy skirts With brede ethereal wove, O'erhang his wavy bed:
Now air is hush'd, save where the weak-ey'd bat, With short shrill shriek flits by on leathern wing, Or where the beetle winds His small but sullen horn,
As oft he rises midst the twilight path, Against the pilgrim borne in heedless hum. Now teach me, maid compos'd, To breathe some soften'd strain,
Whose numbers stealing through thy darkling vale May not unseemly with its stillness suit, As musing slow, I hail Thy genial, lov'd return!
For when thy folding star arising shews His paly circlet, at his warning lamp The fragrant Hours and Elves Who slept in flow'rs the day,
And many a nymph who wreathes her brows with sedge, And sheds the fresh'ning dew, and lovelier still, The pensive Pleasures sweet Prepare thy shadowy car;
Then lead, calm Votress, where some sheety lake Cheers the lone heath, or some time-hallow'd pile, Or upland fallows grey Reflect its last cool gleam.
But when chill blust'ring winds, or driving rain, Forbid my willing feet, be mine the hut, That from the mountain's side Views wilds and swelling floods,
And hamlets brown, and dim discover'd spires, And hears their simple bell, and marks o'er all Thy dewy fingers draw The gradual dusky veil.
While Spring shall pour his show'rs, as oft he wont, And bathe thy breathing tresses, meekest Eve! While Summer loves to sport Beneath thy lingering light;
While sallow Autumn fills thy lap with leaves; Or Winter yelling through the troublous air, Affrights thy shrinking train, And rudely rends thy robes;
So long, sure-found beneath the sylvan shed, Shall Fancy, Friendship, Science, rose-lipp'd Health, Thy gentlest influence own, And hymn thy favourite name."
Hammond, whose poems are bound up with Collins's, in Bell's pocket edition, was a young gentleman, who appears to have fallen in love about the year 1740, and who translated Tibullus into English verse, to let his mistress and the public know of it.
I should conceive that Collins had a much greater poetical genius than Gray: he had more of that fine madness which is inseparable from it, of its turbid effervescence, of all that pushes it to the verge of agony or rapture. Gray's Pindaric Odes are, I believe, generally given up at present: they are stately and pedantic, a kind of methodical borrowed phrenzy. But I cannot so easily give up, nor will the world be in any haste to part with his Elegy in a Country Church-yard: it is one of the most classical productions that ever was penned by a refined and thoughtful mind, moralising on human life. Mr. Coleridge (in his Literary Life) says, that his friend Mr. Wordsworth had undertaken to shew that the language of the Elegy is unintelligible: it has, however, been understood! The Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College is more mechanical and common-place; but it touches on certain strings about the heart, that vibrate in unison with it to our latest breath. No one ever passes by Windsor's "stately heights," or sees the distant spires of Eton College below, without thinking of Gray. He deserves that we should think of him; for he thought of others, and turned a trembling, ever-watchful ear to "the still sad music of humanity."—His Letters are inimitably fine. If his poems are sometimes finical and pedantic, his prose is quite free from affectation. He pours his thoughts out upon paper as they arise in his mind; and they arise in his mind without pretence, or constraint, from the pure impulse of learned leisure and contemplative indolence. He is not here on stilts or in buckram; but smiles in his easy chair, as he moralises through the loopholes of retreat, on the bustle and raree-show of the world, or on "those reverend bedlams, colleges and schools!" He had nothing to do but to read and to think, and to tell his friends what he read and thought. His life was a luxurious, thoughtful dream. "Be mine," he says in one of his Letters, "to read eternal new romances of Marivaux and Crebillon." And in another, to shew his contempt for action and the turmoils of ambition, he says to someone, "Don't you remember Lords ——— and ———, who are now great statesmen, little dirty boys playing at cricket? For my part, I do not feel a bit wiser, or bigger, or older than I did then." What an equivalent for not being wise or great, to be always young! What a happiness never to lose or gain any thing in the game of human life, by being never any thing more than a looker-on!
How different from Shenstone, who only wanted to be looked at: who withdrew from the world to be followed by the crowd, and courted popularity by affecting privacy! His Letters shew him to have lived in a continual fever of petty vanity, and to have been a finished literary coquet. He seems always to say, "You will find nothing in the world so amiable as Nature and me: come, and admire us." His poems are indifferent and tasteless, except his Pastoral Ballad, his Lines on Jemmy Dawson, and his School-mistress, which last is a perfect piece of writing.
Akenside had in him the materials of poetry, but he was hardly a great poet. He improved his Pleasures of the Imagination in the subsequent editions, by pruning away a great many redundances of style and ornament. Armstrong is better, though he has not chosen a very exhilarating subject—The Art of Preserving Health. Churchill's Satires on the Scotch, and Characters of the Players, are as good as the subjects deserved—they are strong, coarse, and full of an air of hardened assurance. I ought not to pass over without mention Green's Poem on the Spleen, or Dyer's Grongar Hill.
The principal name of the period we are now come to is that of Goldsmith, than which few names stand higher or fairer in the annals of modern literature. One should have his own pen to describe him as he ought to be described—amiable, various, and bland, with careless inimitable grace touching on every kind of excellence—with manners unstudied, but a gentle heart—performing miracles of skill from pure happiness of nature, and whose greatest fault was ignorance of his own worth. As a poet, he is the most flowing and elegant of our versifiers since Pope, with traits of artless nature which Pope had not, and with a peculiar felicity in his turns upon words, which he constantly repeated with delightful effect: such as—
"———His lot, though small, He sees that little lot, the lot of all."
* * * * *
"And turn'd and look'd, and turn'd to look again."
As a novelist, his Vicar of Wakefield has charmed all Europe. What reader is there in the civilised world, who is not the better for the story of the washes which the worthy Dr. Primrose demolished so deliberately with the poker—for the knowledge of the guinea which the Miss Primroses kept unchanged in their pockets—the adventure of the picture of the Vicar's family, which could not be got into the house— and that of the Flamborough family, all painted with oranges in their hands—or for the story of the case of shagreen spectacles and the cosmogony?
As a comic writer, his Tony Lumpkin draws forth new powers from Mr. Liston's face. That alone is praise enough for it. Poor Goldsmith! how happy he has made others! how unhappy he was in himself! He never had the pleasure of reading his own works! He had only the satisfaction of good-naturedly relieving the necessities of others, and the consolation of being harassed to death with his own! He is the most amusing and interesting person, in one of the most amusing and interesting books in the world, Boswell's Life of Johnson. His peach-coloured coat shall always bloom in Boswell's writings, and his fame survive in his own!— His genius was a mixture of originality and imitation: he could do nothing without some model before him, and he could copy nothing that he did not adorn with the graces of his own mind. Almost all the latter part of the Vicar of Wakefield, and a great deal of the former, is taken from Joseph Andrews; but the circumstances I have mentioned above are not.
The finest things he has left behind him in verse are his character of a country school-master, and that prophetic description of Burke in the Retaliation. His moral Essays in the Citizen of the World, are as agreeable chit-chat as can be conveyed in the form of didactic discourses.
Warton was a poet and a scholar, studious with ease, learned without affectation. He had a happiness which some have been prouder of than he, who deserved it less—he was poet-laureat.
"And that green wreath which decks the bard when dead, That laurel garland crown'd his living head."
But he bore his honours meekly, and performed his half-yearly task regularly. I should not have mentioned him for this distinction alone (the highest which a poet can receive from the state), but for another circumstance; I mean his being the author of some of the finest sonnets in the language—at least so they appear to me; and as this species of composition has the necessary advantage of being short (though it is also sometimes both "tedious and brief"), I will here repeat two or three of them, as treating pleasing subjects in a pleasing and philosophical way.
Written in a blank leaf of Dugdale's Monasticon
"Deem not, devoid of elegance, the sage, By Fancy's genuine feelings unbeguil'd, Of painful pedantry the poring child; Who turns of these proud domes the historic page, Now sunk by Time, and Henry's fiercer rage. Think'st thou the warbling Muses never smil'd On his lone hours? Ingenuous views engage His thoughts, on themes unclassic falsely styl'd, Intent. While cloister'd piety displays Her mouldering roll, the piercing eye explores New manners, and the pomp of elder days, Whence culls the pensive bard his pictur'd stores. Not rough nor barren are the winding ways Of hoar Antiquity, but strewn with flowers."
Sonnet. Written at Stonehenge.
"Thou noblest monument of Albion's isle, Whether, by Merlin's aid, from Scythia's shore To Amber's fatal plain Pendragon bore, Huge frame of giant hands, the mighty pile, T'entomb his Britons slain by Hengist's guile: Or Druid priests, sprinkled with human gore, Taught mid thy massy maze their mystic lore: Or Danish chiefs, enrich'd with savage spoil, To victory's idol vast, an unhewn shrine, Rear'd the rude heap, or in thy hallow'd ground Repose the kings of Brutus' genuine line; Or here those kings in solemn state were crown'd; Studious to trace thy wondrous origin, We muse on many an ancient tale renown'd."
Nothing can be more admirable than the learning here displayed, or the inference from it, that it is of no use but as it leads to interesting thought and reflection.
That written after seeing Wilton House is in the same style, but I prefer concluding with that to the river Lodon, which has a personal as well as poetical interest about it.
"Ah! what a weary race my feet have run, Since first I trod thy banks with alders crown'd, And thought my way was all through fairy ground, Beneath the azure sky and golden sun: When first my Muse to lisp her notes begun! While pensive memory traces back the round Which fills the varied interval between; Much pleasure, more of sorrow, marks the scene.— Sweet native stream! those skies and suns so pure No more return, to cheer my evening road! Yet still one joy remains, that not obscure Nor useless, all my vacant days have flow'd From youth's gay dawn to manhood's prime mature, Nor with the Muse's laurel unbestow'd."
I have thus gone through all the names of this period I could think of, but I find that there are others still waiting behind that I had never thought of. Here is a list of some of them—Pattison, Tickell, Hill, Somerville, Browne, Pitt, Wilkie, Dodsley, Shaw, Smart, Langhorne, Bruce, Greame, Glover, Lovibond, Penrose, Mickle, Jago, Scott, Whitehead, Jenyns, Logan, Cotton, Cunningham, and Blacklock.—I think it will be best to let them pass and say nothing about them. It will be hard to persuade so many respectable persons that they are dull writers, and if we give them any praise, they will send others.
But here comes one whose claims cannot be so easily set aside: they have been sanctioned by learning, hailed by genius, and hallowed by misfortune—I mean Chatterton. Yet I must say what I think of him, and that is not what is generally thought. I pass over the disputes between the learned antiquaries, Dr. Mills, Herbert Croft, and Dr. Knox, whether he was to be placed after Shakspeare and Dryden, or to come after Shakspeare alone. A living poet has borne a better testimony to him—
"I thought of Chatterton, the marvellous boy, The sleepless soul that perished in his pride; And him  who walked in glory and in joy Beside his plough along the mountain side."
I am loth to put asunder whom so great an authority has joined together; but I cannot find in Chatterton's works any thing so extraordinary as the age at which they were written. They have a facility, vigour, and knowledge, which were prodigious in a boy of sixteen, but which would not have been so in a man of twenty. He did not shew extraordinary powers of genius, but extraordinary precocity. Nor do I believe he would have written better, had he lived. He knew this himself, or he would have lived. Great geniuses, like great kings, have too much to think of to kill themselves; for their mind to them also "a kingdom is." With an unaccountable power coming over him at an unusual age, and with the youthful confidence it inspired, he performed wonders, and was willing to set a seal on his reputation by a tragic catastrophe. He had done his best; and, like another Empedocles, threw himself into AEtna, to ensure immortality. The brazen slippers alone remain!—
 Burns.—These lines are taken from the introduction to Mr. Wordsworth's poem of the LEECH-GATHERER.
LECTURE VII. ON BURNS, AND THE OLD ENGLISH BALLADS.
I am sorry that what I said in the conclusion of the last Lecture respecting Chatterton, should have given dissatisfaction to some persons, with whom I would willingly agree on all such matters. What I meant was less to call in question Chatterton's genius, than to object to the common mode of estimating its magnitude by its prematureness. The lists of fame are not filled with the dates of births or deaths; and the side-mark of the age at which they were done, wears out in works destined for immortality. Had Chatterton really done more, we should have thought less of him, for our attention would then have been fixed on the excellence of the works themselves, instead of the singularity of the circumstances in which they were produced. But because he attained to the full powers of manhood at an early age, I do not see that he would have attained to more than those powers, had he lived to be a man. He was a prodigy, because in him the ordinary march of nature was violently precipitated; and it is therefore inferred, that he would have continued to hold on his course, "unslacked of motion." On the contrary, who knows but he might have lived to be poet-laureat? It is much better to let him remain as he was. Of his actual productions, any one may think as highly as he pleases; I would only guard against adding to the account of his quantum meruit, those possible productions by which the learned rhapsodists of his time raised his gigantic pretensions to an equality with those of Homer and Shakspeare. It is amusing to read some of these exaggerated descriptions, each rising above the other in extravagance. In Anderson's Life, we find that Mr. Warton speaks of him "as a prodigy of genius," as "a singular instance of prematurity of abilities": that may be true enough, and Warton was at any rate a competent judge; but Mr. Malone "believes him to have been the greatest genius that England has produced since the days of Shakspeare." Dr. Gregory says, "he must rank, as a universal genius, above Dryden, and perhaps only second to Shakspeare." Mr. Herbert Croft is still more unqualified in his praises; he asserts, that "no such being, at any period of life, has ever been known, or possibly ever will be known." He runs a parallel between Chatterton and Milton; and asserts, that "an army of Macedonian and Swedish mad butchers fly before him," meaning, I suppose, that Alexander the Great and Charles the Twelfth were nothing to him; "nor," he adds, "does my memory supply me with any human being, who at such an age, with such advantages, has produced such compositions. Under the heathen mythology, superstition and admiration would have explained all, by bringing Apollo on earth; nor would the God ever have descended with more credit to himself."—Chatterton's physiognomy would at least have enabled him to pass incognito. It is quite different from the look of timid wonder and delight with which Annibal Caracci has painted a young Apollo listening to the first sounds he draws from a Pan's pipe, under the tutelage of the old Silenus! If Mr. Croft is sublime on the occasion, Dr. Knox is no less pathetic. "The testimony of Dr. Knox," says Dr. Anderson, (Essays, p. 144.), "does equal credit to the classical taste and amiable benevolence of the writer, and the genius and reputation of Chatterton." "When I read," says the Doctor, "the researches of those learned antiquaries who have endeavoured to prove that the poems attributed to Rowley were really written by him, I observe many ingenious remarks in confirmation of their opinion, which it would be tedious, if not difficult, to controvert."
Now this is so far from the mark, that the whole controversy might have been settled by any one but the learned antiquaries themselves, who had the smallest share of their learning, from this single circumstance, that the poems read as smooth as any modern poems, if you read them as modern compositions; and that you cannot read them, or make verse of them at all, if you pronounce or accent the words as they were spoken at the time when the poems were pretended to have been written. The whole secret of the imposture, which nothing but a deal of learned dust, raised by collecting and removing a great deal of learned rubbish, could have prevented our laborious critics from seeing through, lies on the face of it (to say nothing of the burlesque air which is scarcely disguised throughout) in the repetition of a few obsolete words, and in the mis-spelling of common ones.
"No sooner," proceeds the Doctor, "do I turn to the poems, than the labour of the antiquaries appears only waste of time; and I am involuntarily forced to join in placing that laurel, which he seems so well to have deserved, on the brow of Chatterton. The poems bear so many marks of superior genius, that they have deservedly excited the general attention of polite scholars, and are considered as the most remarkable productions in modern poetry. We have many instances of poetical eminence at an early age; but neither Cowley, Milton, nor Pope, ever produced any thing while they were boys, which can justly be compared to the poems of Chatterton. The learned antiquaries do not indeed dispute their excellence. They extol it in the highest terms of applause. They raise their favourite Rowley to a rivalry with Homer: but they make the very merits of the works an argument against their real author. Is it possible, say they, that a boy should produce compositions so beautiful and masterly? That a common boy should produce them is not possible," rejoins the Doctor; "but that they should be produced by a boy of an extraordinary genius, such as was that of Homer or Shakspeare, though a prodigy, is such a one as by no means exceeds the bounds of rational credibility."
Now it does not appear that Shakspeare or Homer were such early prodigies; so that by this reasoning he must take precedence of them too, as well as of Milton, Cowley, and Pope. The reverend and classical writer then breaks out into the following melancholy raptures:—
"Unfortunate boy! short and evil were thy days, but thy fame shall be immortal. Hadst thou been known to the munificent patrons of genius . . . "Unfortunate boy! poorly wast thou accommodated during thy short sojourning here among us;—rudely wast thou treated—sorely did thy feelings suffer from the scorn of the unworthy; and there are at last those who wish to rob thee of thy only meed, thy posthumous glory. Severe too are the censures of thy morals. In the gloomy moments of despondency, I fear thou hast uttered impious and blasphemous thoughts. But let thy more rigid censors reflect, that thou wast literally and strictly but a boy. Let many of thy bitterest enemies reflect what were their own religious principles, and whether they had any at the age of fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen. Surely it is a severe and an unjust surmise that thou wouldst probably have ended thy life as a victim to the laws, if thou hadst not ended it as thou didst."
Enough, enough, of the learned antiquaries, and of the classical and benevolent testimony of Dr. Knox. Chatterton was, indeed, badly enough off; but he was at least saved from the pain and shame of reading this woful lamentation over fallen genius, which circulates splendidly bound in the fourteenth edition, while he is a prey to worms. As to those who are really capable of admiring Chatterton's genius, or of feeling an interest in his fate, I would only say, that I never heard any one speak of any one of his works as if it were an old well-known favourite, and had become a faith and a religion in his mind. It is his name, his youth, and what he might have lived to have done, that excite our wonder and admiration. He has the same sort of posthumous fame that an actor of the last age has—an abstracted reputation which is independent of any thing we know of his works. The admirers of Collins never think of him without recalling to their minds his Ode on Evening, or on the Poetical Character. Gray's Elegy, and his poetical popularity, are identified together, and inseparable even in imagination. It is the same with respect to Burns: when you speak of him as a poet, you mean his works, his Tam o'Shanter, or his Cotter's Saturday Night. But the enthusiasts for Chatterton, if you ask for the proofs of his extraordinary genius, are obliged to turn to the volume, and perhaps find there what they seek; but it is not in their minds; and it is of that I spoke. The Minstrel's song in AElla is I think the best.
"O! synge untoe my roundelaie, O! droppe the brynie teare wythe mee, Daunce ne moe atte hallie daie, Lycke a rennynge ryver bee. Mie love ys dedde, Gonne to hys deathe-bedde, Al under the wyllowe-tree.
Black hys cryne as the wyntere nyght, Whyte hys rode as the sommer snowe, Rodde hys face as the mornynge lyghte, Cale he lyes ynne the grave belowe. Mie love ys dedde, Gonne to hys deathe-bedde, Al under the wyllowe-tree.
Swote hys tongue as the throstles note, Quycke ynne daunce as thought cann bee, Defte his taboure, codgelle stote, O! hee lys bie the wyllowe-tree. Mie love ys dedde, Gonne to hys deathe-bedde, Al under the wyllowe-tree.
Harke! the ravenne flappes hys wynge, In the briered dell belowe; Harke! the dethe-owle loude dothe synge, To the nygthe-mares as theie goe. Mie love ys dedde, Gone to hys deathe-bedde, Al under the wyllowe-tree.
See! the whyte moone sheenes onne hie; Whyterre ys mie true loves shroude; Whyterre yanne the mornynge skie, Whyterre yanne the evenynge cloude. Mie love ys dedde, Gonne to hys deathe-bedde, Al under the wyllowe-tree.
Heere, upon mie true loves grave, Schalle the baren fleurs be layde, Ne one hallie seyncte to save Al the celness of a mayde. Mie love ys dedde, Gonne to his deathe-bedde, Al under the wyllowe-tree.
Wythe mie hondes I'll dent the brieres Rounde hys hallie corse to gre, Ouphante fairies, lyghte your fyres, Heere mie boddie stille schalle bee. Mie love ys dedde, Gonne to hys deathe-bedde, Al under the wyllowe-tree.
Comme, wythe acorne-coppe and thorne, Drayne my hartys blodde awaie; Lyfe and all yttes goode I scorne, Daunce bie nete, or feaste by daie. Mie love ys dedde, Gonne to hys deathe-bedde, Al under the wyllowe-tree.
Water wytches, crownede whthe reytes, Bere mee to yer leathalle tyde. I die; I comme; mie true love waytes. Thos the damselle spake, and dyed."
To proceed to the more immediate subject of the present Lecture, the character and writings of Burns.—Shakspeare says of some one, that "he was like a man made after supper of a cheese-paring." Burns, the poet, was not such a man. He had a strong mind, and a strong body, the fellow to it. He had a real heart of flesh and blood beating in his bosom— you can almost hear it throb. Some one said, that if you had shaken hands with him, his hand would have burnt yours. The Gods, indeed, "made him poetical"; but nature had a hand in him first. His heart was in the right place. He did not "create a soul under the ribs of death," by tinkling siren sounds, or by piling up centos of poetic diction; but for the artificial flowers of poetry, he plucked the mountain-daisy under his feet; and a field-mouse, hurrying from its ruined dwelling, could inspire him with the sentiments of terror and pity. He held the plough or the pen with the same firm, manly grasp; nor did he cut out poetry as we cut out watch-papers, with finical dexterity, nor from the same flimsy materials. Burns was not like Shakspeare in the range of his genius; but there is something of the same magnanimity, directness, and unaffected character about him. He was not a sickly sentimentalist, a namby-pamby poet, a mincing metre ballad-monger, any more than Shakspeare. He would as soon hear "a brazen candlestick tuned, or a dry wheel grate on the axletree." He was as much of a man—not a twentieth part as much of a poet as Shakspeare. With but little of his imagination or inventive power, he had the same life of mind: within the narrow circle of personal feeling or domestic incidents, the pulse of his poetry flows as healthily and vigorously. He had an eye to see; a heart to feel:—no more. His pictures of good fellowship, of social glee, of quaint humour, are equal to any thing; they come up to nature, and they cannot go beyond it. The sly jest collected in his laughing eye at the sight of the grotesque and ludicrous in manners—the large tear rolled down his manly cheek at the sight of another's distress. He has made us as well acquainted with himself as it is possible to be; has let out the honest impulses of his native disposition, the unequal conflict of the passions in his breast, with the same frankness and truth of description. His strength is not greater than his weakness: his virtues were greater than his vices. His virtues belonged to his genius: his vices to his situation, which did not correspond to his genius.
It has been usual to attack Burns's moral character, and the moral tendency of his writings at the same time; and Mr. Wordsworth, in a letter to Mr. Gray, Master of the High School at Edinburgh, in attempting to defend, has only laid him open to a more serious and unheard-of responsibility. Mr. Gray might very well have sent him back, in return for his epistle, the answer of Holofernes in Love's Labour's Lost:—"Via goodman Dull, thou hast spoken no word all this while." The author of this performance, which is as weak in effect as it is pompous in pretension, shews a great dislike of Robespierre, Buonaparte, and of Mr. Jeffrey, whom he, by some unaccountable fatality, classes together as the three most formidable enemies of the human race that have appeared in his (Mr. Wordsworth's) remembrance; but he betrays very little liking to Burns. He is, indeed, anxious to get him out of the unhallowed clutches of the Edinburgh Reviewers (as a mere matter of poetical privilege), only to bring him before a graver and higher tribunal, which is his own; and after repeating and insinuating ponderous charges against him, shakes his head, and declines giving any opinion in so tremendous a case; so that though the judgment of the former critic is set aside, poor Burns remains just where he was, and nobody gains any thing by the cause but Mr. Wordsworth, in an increasing opinion of his own wisdom and purity. "Out upon this half-faced fellowship!" The author of the Lyrical Ballads has thus missed a fine opportunity of doing Burns justice and himself honour. He might have shewn himself a philosophical prose-writer, as well as a philosophical poet. He might have offered as amiable and as gallant a defence of the Muses, as my uncle Toby, in the honest simplicity of his heart, did of the army. He might have said at once, instead of making a parcel of wry faces over the matter, that Burns had written Tam o'Shanter, and that that alone was enough; that he could hardly have described the excesses of mad, hairbrained, roaring mirth and convivial indulgence, which are the soul of it, if he himself had not "drunk full ofter of the ton than of the well"—unless "the act and practique part of life had been the mistress of his theorique." Mr. Wordsworth might have quoted such lines as—
"The landlady and Tam grew gracious, Wi' favours secret, sweet, and precious";—
"Care, mad to see a man so happy, E'en drown'd himself among the nappy";—
and fairly confessed that he could not have written such lines from a want of proper habits and previous sympathy; and that till some great puritanical genius should arise to do these things equally well without any knowledge of them, the world might forgive Burns the injuries he had done his health and fortune in his poetical apprenticeship to experience, for the pleasure he had afforded them. Instead of this, Mr. Wordsworth hints, that with different personal habits and greater strength of mind, Burns would have written differently, and almost as well as he does. He might have taken that line of Gay's,
"The fly that sips treacle is lost in the sweets,"—
and applied it in all its force and pathos to the poetical character. He might have argued that poets are men of genius, and that a man of genius is not a machine; that they live in a state of intellectual intoxication, and that it is too much to expect them to be distinguished by peculiar sang froid, circumspection, and sobriety. Poets are by nature men of stronger imagination and keener sensibilities than others; and it is a contradiction to suppose them at the same time governed only by the cool, dry, calculating dictates of reason and foresight. Mr. Wordsworth might have ascertained the boundaries that part the provinces of reason and imagination:—that it is the business of the understanding to exhibit things in their relative proportions and ultimate consequences—of the imagination to insist on their immediate impressions, and to indulge their strongest impulses; but it is the poet's office to pamper the imagination of his readers and his own with the extremes of present ecstacy or agony, to snatch the swift-winged golden minutes, the torturing hour, and to banish the dull, prosaic, monotonous realities of life, both from his thoughts and from his practice. Mr. Wordsworth might have shewn how it is that all men of genius, or of originality and independence of mind, are liable to practical errors, from the very confidence their superiority inspires, which makes them fly in the face of custom and prejudice, always rashly, sometimes unjustly; for, after all, custom and prejudice are not without foundation in truth and reason, and no one individual is a match for the world in power, very few in knowledge. The world may altogether be set down as older and wiser than any single person in it.
Again, our philosophical letter-writer might have enlarged on the temptations to which Burns was exposed from his struggles with fortune and the uncertainty of his fate. He might have shewn how a poet, not born to wealth or title, was kept in a constant state of feverish anxiety with respect to his fame and the means of a precarious livelihood: that "from being chilled with poverty, steeped in contempt, he had passed into the sunshine of fortune, and was lifted to the very pinnacle of public favour"; yet even there could not count on the continuance of success, but was, "like the giddy sailor on the mast, ready with every blast to topple down into the fatal bowels of the deep!" He might have traced his habit of ale-house tippling to the last long precious draught of his favourite usquebaugh, which he took in the prospect of bidding farewel for ever to his native land; and his conjugal infidelities to his first disappointment in love, which would not have happened to him, if he had been born to a small estate in land, or bred up behind a counter!
Lastly, Mr. Wordsworth might have shewn the incompatibility between the Muses and the Excise, which never agreed well together, or met in one seat, till they were unaccountably reconciled on Rydal Mount. He must know (no man better) the distraction created by the opposite calls of business and of fancy, the torment of extents, the plague of receipts laid in order or mislaid, the disagreeableness of exacting penalties or paying the forfeiture; and how all this (together with the broaching of casks and the splashing of beer-barrels) must have preyed upon a mind like Burns, with more than his natural sensibility and none of his acquired firmness.
Mr. Coleridge, alluding to this circumstance of the promotion of the Scottish Bard to be "a gauger of ale-firkins," in a poetical epistle to his friend Charles Lamb, calls upon him in a burst of heartfelt indignation, to gather a wreath of henbane, nettles, and nightshade,
"———To twine The illustrious brow of Scotch nobility."
If, indeed, Mr. Lamb had undertaken to write a letter in defence of Burns, how different would it have been from this of Mr. Wordsworth's! How much better than I can even imagine it to have been done!
It is hardly reasonable to look for a hearty or genuine defence of Burns from the pen of Mr. Wordsworth; for there is no common link of sympathy between them. Nothing can be more different or hostile than the spirit of their poetry. Mr. Wordsworth's poetry is the poetry of mere sentiment and pensive contemplation: Burns's is a very highly sublimated essence of animal existence. With Burns, "self-love and social are the same"—
"And we'll tak a cup of kindness yet, For auld lang syne."
Mr. Wordsworth is "himself alone," a recluse philosopher, or a reluctant spectator of the scenes of many-coloured life; moralising on them, not describing, not entering into them. Robert Burns has exerted all the vigour of his mind, all the happiness of his nature, in exalting the pleasures of wine, of love, and good fellowship: but in Mr. Wordsworth there is a total disunion and divorce of the faculties of the mind from those of the body; the banns are forbid, or a separation is austerely pronounced from bed and board—a mensa et thoro. From the Lyrical Ballads, it does not appear that men eat or drink, marry or are given in marriage. If we lived by every sentiment that proceeded out of mouths, and not by bread or wine, or if the species were continued like trees (to borrow an expression from the great Sir Thomas Brown), Mr. Wordsworth's poetry would be just as good as ever. It is not so with Burns: he is "famous for the keeping of it up," and in his verse is ever fresh and gay. For this, it seems, he has fallen under the displeasure of the Edinburgh Reviewers, and the still more formidable patronage of Mr. Wordsworth's pen.
"This, this was the unkindest cut of all."
I was going to give some extracts out of this composition in support of what I have said, but I find them too tedious. Indeed (if I may be allowed to speak my whole mind, under correction) Mr. Wordsworth could not be in any way expected to tolerate or give a favourable interpretation to Burns's constitutional foibles—even his best virtues are not good enough for him. He is repelled and driven back into himself, not less by the worth than by the faults of others. His taste is as exclusive and repugnant as his genius. It is because so few things give him pleasure, that he gives pleasure to so few people. It is not every one who can perceive the sublimity of a daisy, or the pathos to be extracted from a withered thorn!
To proceed from Burns's patrons to his poetry, than which no two things can be more different. His "Twa Dogs" is a very spirited piece of description, both as it respects the animal and human creation, and conveys a very vivid idea of the manners both of high and low life. The burlesque panegyric of the first dog,
"His locked, lettered, braw brass collar Shew'd him the gentleman and scholar"—
reminds one of Launce's account of his dog Crabbe, where he is said, as an instance of his being in the way of promotion, "to have got among three or four gentleman-like dogs under the Duke's table." The "Halloween" is the most striking and picturesque description of local customs and scenery. The Brigs of Ayr, the Address to a Haggis, Scotch Drink, and innumerable others are, however, full of the same kind of characteristic and comic painting. But his master-piece in this way is his Tam o'Shanter. I shall give the beginning of it, but I am afraid I shall hardly know when to leave off.
"When chapman billies leave the street, And drouthy neebors, neebors meet, As market-days are wearing late, And folk begin to tak the gate; While we sit bousing at the nappy, And getting fou and unco happy, We think na on the lang Scots miles, The mosses, waters, slaps, and stiles, That lie between us and our hame, Whare sits our sulky, sullen dame, Gathering her brows like gathering storm, Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.
This truth fand honest Tam o'Shanter, As he frae Ayr ae night did canter; (Auld Ayr, wham ne'er a town surpasses, For honest men and bonny lasses.)
O Tam! hadst thou but been sae wise, As ta'en thy ain wife Kate's advice! She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum, A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum; That frae November till October Ae market-day thou was na sober; That ilka melder, wi' the miller, Thou sat as lang as thou had siller; That ev'ry naig was ca'd a shoe on, The smith and thee gat roaring fou on; That at the Lord's house, ev'n on Sunday, Thou drank wi' Kirton Jean till Monday— She prophesy'd, that late or soon, Thou wad be found deep drown'd in Doon; Or catch't wi' warlocks in the mirk, By Alloway's auld haunted kirk.
Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet, To think how mony counsels sweet, How mony lengthen'd, sage advices, The husband frae the wife despises!
But to our tale: Ae market night, Tam had got planted unco right Fast by an ingle, bleezing finely, Wi' reaming swats, that drank divinely; And at his elbow, Souter Johnny, His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony; Tam lo'ed him like a vera brither; They had been fou for weeks thegither. The night drave on wi' sangs an clatter, And aye the ale was growing better: The landlady and Tam grew gracious Wi' favours secret, sweet, and precious: The Souter tauld his queerest stories; The landlord's laugh was ready chorus: The storm without might rair and rustle, Tam did na mind the storm a whistle.
Care, mad to see a man sae happy, E'en drown'd himsel amang the nappy; As bees flee hame wi' lades o' treasure, The minutes wing'd their way wi' pleasure: Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious, O'er a' the ills of life victorious!
But pleasures are like poppies spread, You seize the flow'r—its bloom is shed; Or like the snow, falls in the river, A moment white—then melts for ever; Or like the Borealis race, That flit ere you can point their place; Or like the rainbow's lovely form, Evanishing amid the storm.— Nae man can tether time or tide, The hour approaches, Tam maun ride; That hour o' night's black arch the key-stane, That dreary hour he mounts his beast in, And sic a night he taks the road in, As ne'er poor sinner was abroad in.
The wind blew as 'twad blawn its last; The rattling showers rose on the blast, The speedy gleams the darkness swallow'd, Loud, deep, and lang, the thunder bellow'd: That night a child might understand, The Deil had business on his hand.
Weel mounted on his grey mare, Meg, A better never lifted leg, Tam skelpit on thro' dub and mire, Despising wind, and rain, and fire; Whiles haulding fast his gude blue bonnet; Whiles crooning o'er some auld Scots sonnet; Whiles glowring round wi' prudent cares, Lest bogles catch him unawares; Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh, Whare ghaists and houlets nightly cry.—
By this time Tam was cross the ford, Whare in the snaw, the chapman smoor'd; And past the birks and meikle stane, Whare drunken Charlie brak's neck-bane; And thro' the whins, and by the cairn, Where hunters fand the murder'd bairn; And near the thorn, aboon the well, Whare Mungo's mither hang'd hersel.— Before him Doon pours all his floods; The doubling storm roars thro' the woods; The lightnings flash from pole to pole; Near and more near the thunders roll: Whan, glimmering thro' the groaning trees, Kirk-Alloway seem'd in a bleeze; Thro' ilka bore the beams were glancing; And loud resounded mirth and dancing.
Inspiring bold John Barleycorn! What dangers thou canst make us scorn! Wi' Tippenny, we fear nae evil, Wi' Usqueba, we'll face the devil! The swats sae ream'd in Tammie's noddle, Fair play, he car'd na de'ils a boddle. But Maggie stood right sair astonish'd, Till by the heel and hand admonish'd, She ventur'd forward on the light, And, vow! Tam saw an unco sight! Warlocks and witches in a dance, Nae light cotillion new frae France, But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels, Put life and mettle in their heels. As winnock-bunker, in the east, There sat auld Nick, in shape o' beast; A touzie tyke, black, grim, and large, To gie them music was his charge; He screw'd the pipes, and gart them skirl, Till roof and rafters a' did dirl.— Coffins stood round like open presses, That shaw'd the dead in their last dresses; And, by some devilish cantrip slight, Each in its cauld hand held a light— By which heroic Tam was able To note upon the haly table, A murderer's banes in gibbet-airns; Twa span-lang, wee, unchristen'd bairns; A thief, new cutted frae a rape, Wi' his last gasp his gab did gape; Five tomahawks, wi' bluid red rusted; Five scimitars, wi' murder crusted; A garter, which a babe had strangled; A knife, a father's throat had mangled, Whom his ain son o' life bereft, The grey hairs yet stack to the heft; Wi' mair, o' horrible and awfu', Which e'en to name wad be unlawfu'.
As Tammie glowr'd amaz'd, and curious, The mirth and fun grew fast and furious: The Piper loud and louder blew; The dancers quick and quicker flew; They reel'd, they set, they cross'd, they cleekit, Till ilka Carlin swat and reekit, And coost her duddies to the wark, And linket at it in her sark!
Now Tam, O Tam! had they been queans A' plump and strapping in their teens; Their sarks, instead o' creeshie flannen, Been snaw-white seventeen hundred linen! Thir breeks o' mine, my only pair, That ance were plush, o' guid blue hair, I wad hae gi'en them aff my hurdies, For ae blink o' the bonnie burdies!
But wither'd beldams, auld and droll, Rigwoodie hags wad spean a foal, Louping and flinging on a crummock, I wonder did na turn thy stomach.
But Tam ken'd what was what fu' brawly, There was ae winsome wench and waly, That night enlisted in the core, (Lang after ken'd on Carrick shore; For mony a beast to dead she shot, And perish'd mony a bonnie boat, And shook baith meikle corn and bear, And kept the country-side in fear—) Her cutty sark o' Paisley harn, That while a lassie she had worn, In longitude tho' sorely scanty, It was her best, and she was vaunty.— Ah! little ken'd thy reverend grannie, That sark she coft for her wee Nannie, Wi' twa pund Scots ('twas a' her riches), Wad ever grac'd a dance of witches!
But here my Muse her wing maun cour; Sic flights are far beyond her power: To sing how Nannie lap and flang, (A souple jade she was, and strang) And how Tam stood like ane bewitch'd, And thought his very een enrich'd; Ev'n Satan glowr'd and fidg'd fu' fain, And hotch't, and blew wi' might and main; Till first ae caper, syne anither, Tam tint his reason a' thegither, And roars out, "Weel done, Cutty Sark!" And in an instant all was dark; And scarcely had he Maggie rallied, When out the hellish legion sallied.
As bees biz out wi' angry fyke When plundering herds assail their byke; As open pussie's mortal foes, When, pop! she starts before their nose; As eager rins the market-crowd, When "Catch the thief!" resounds aloud; So Maggie rins—the witches follow, Wi' mony an eldritch skreech and hollow,
Ah, Tam! ah, Tam! thou 'll get thy fairin'! In hell they'll roast thee like a herrin'! In vain thy Kate awaits thy comin'! Kate soon will be a waefu' woman! Now, do thy speedy utmost, Meg, And win the key-stane o' the brig; There, at them thou thy tail may toss, A running stream they dare na cross; But ere the key-stane she could make, The fient a tail she had to shake! For Nannie, far before the rest, Hard upon noble Maggie prest, And flew at Tam wi' furious ettle; But little wist she Maggie's mettle— Ae spring brought off her master hale, But left behind, her ain grey tail: The Carlin claught her by the rump, And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.
Now, wha this tale o' truth shall read, Ilk man and mother's son tak heed: Whane'er to drink you are inclin'd, Or Cutty Sarks rin in your mind, Think, ye may buy the joys owre dear; Remember Tam o' Shanter's mare."
Burns has given the extremes of licentious eccentricity and convivial enjoyment, in the story of this scape-grace, and of patriarchal simplicity and gravity in describing the old national character of the Scottish peasantry. The Cotter's Saturday Night is a noble and pathetic picture of human manners, mingled with a fine religious awe. It comes over the mind like a slow and solemn strain of music. The soul of the poet aspires from this scene of low-thoughted care, and reposes, in trembling hope, on "the bosom of its Father and its God." Hardly any thing can be more touching than the following stanzas, for instance, whether as they describe human interests, or breathe a lofty devotional spirit.
"The toil-worn Cotter frae his labour goes, This night his weekly moil is at an end, Collects his spades, his mattocks, and his hoes, Hoping the morn in ease and rest to spend, And weary, o'er the moor, his course does hameward bend.
At length his lonely cot appears in view, Beneath the shelter of an aged tree; Th' expectant wee-things, toddlin, stacher through To meet their dad, wi' flichterin noise and glee. His wee-bit ingle, blinkin bonilie, His clean hearth-stane, his thriftie wifie's smile, The lisping infant, prattling on his knee, Does a' his weary carking cares beguile, And makes him quite forget his labour and his toil.
Belyve, the elder bairns come drapping in, At service out, amang the farmers roun', Some ca' the pleugh, some herd, some tentie rin A cannie errand to a neebor town; Their eldest hope, their Jenny, woman-grown, In youthfu' bloom, love sparkling in her e'e, Comes hame, perhaps, to shew a braw new gown, Or deposit her sair-won penny-fee, To help her parents dear, if they in hardship be.
Wi' joy unfeign'd, brothers and sisters meet, An' each for other's welfare kindly spiers; The social hours, swift-winged, unnotic'd fleet; Each tells the uncos that he sees or hears: The parents, partial, eye their hopeful years; Anticipation forward points the view; The mither, wi' her needle an' her shears, Gars auld claes look amaist as weel's the new; The father mixes a' wi' admonition due.
* * * * * * *
But, hark! a rap comes gently to the door; Jenny, wha kens the meaning o' the same, Tells how a neebor lad cam o'er the moor, To do some errands, and convoy her hame. The wily mother sees the conscious flame Sparkle in Jenny's e'e, and flush her cheek; With heart-struck, anxious care, inquires his name, While Jenny hafflins is afraid to speak; Weel pleas'd the mother hears it's nae wild, worthless rake.
Wi' kindly welcome, Jenny brings him ben; A strappan youth; he taks the mother's eye; Blithe Jenny sees the visit's no ill ta'en; The father craks of horses, pleughs, and kye. The youngster's artless heart o'erflows wi' joy, But blate an' laithfu', scarce can weel behave; The mother, wi' a woman's wiles, can spy What makes the youth sae bashfu' an' sae grave; Weel-pleas'd to think her bairn's respected like the lave.
But now the supper crowns their simple board, The halesome parritch, chief o' Scotia's food: The soupe their only hawkie does afford, That 'yont the hallan snugly chows her cood: The dame brings forth, in complimental mood, To grace the lad, her weel-hain'd kebbuck, fell, An' aft he's prest, an' aft he ca's it guid; The frugal wifie, garrulous, will tell, How 'twas a towmond auld, sin' lint was i' the bell.
The cheerfu' supper done, wi' serious face, They, round the ingle, form a circle wide; The sire turns o'er, with patriarchal grace, The big ha'-Bible, ance his father's pride: His bonnet rev'rently is laid aside, His lyart haffets wearing thin an' bare; Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide, He wales a portion wi' judicious care; And "Let us worship God!" he says, with solemn air.
They chant their artless notes in simple guise; They tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim: Perhaps Dundee's wild-warbling measures rise, Or plaintive Martyrs, worthy of the name; Or noble Elgin beets the heav'n-ward flame, The sweetest far of Scotia's holy lays: Compar'd with these, Italian trills are tame; The tickled ears no heart-felt raptures raise; Nae unison hae they with our Creator's praise."—
Burns's poetical epistles to his friends are admirable, whether for the touches of satire, the painting of character, or the sincerity of friendship they display. Those to Captain Grose, and to Davie, a brother poet, are among the best:—they are "the true pathos and sublime of human life." His prose-letters are sometimes tinctured with affectation. They seem written by a man who has been admired for his wit, and is expected on all occasions to shine. Those in which he expresses his ideas of natural beauty in reference to Alison's Essay on Taste, and advocates the keeping up the remembrances of old customs and seasons, are the most powerfully written. His English serious odes and moral stanzas are, in general, failures, such as The Lament, Man was made to Mourn, &c. nor do I much admire his "Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled." In this strain of didactic or sentimental moralising, the lines to Glencairn are the most happy, and impressive. His imitations of the old humorous ballad style of Ferguson's songs are no whit inferior to the admirable originals, such as "John Anderson, my Joe," and many more. But of all his productions, the pathetic and serious love-songs which he has left behind him, in the manner of the old ballads, are perhaps those which take the deepest and most lasting hold of the mind. Such are the lines to Mary Morison, and those entitled Jessy.
"Here's a health to ane I lo'e dear— Here's a health to ane I lo'e dear— Thou art sweet as the smile when fond lovers meet, And soft as their parting tear—Jessy!
Altho' thou maun never be mine, Altho' even hope is denied; 'Tis sweeter for thee despairing, Than aught in the world beside—Jessy!"
The conclusion of the other is as follows.
"Yestreen, when to the trembling string The dance gaed through the lighted ha', To thee my fancy took its wing, I sat, but neither heard nor saw. Tho' this was fair, and that was bra', And yon the toast of a' the town, I sighed and said among them a', Ye are na' Mary Morison."
That beginning, "Oh gin my love were a bonny red rose," is a piece of rich and fantastic description. One would think that nothing could surpass these in beauty of expression, and in true pathos: and nothing does or can, but some of the old Scotch ballads themselves. There is in them a still more original cast of thought, a more romantic imagery— the thistle's glittering down, the gilliflower on the old garden-wall, the horseman's silver bells, the hawk on its perch—a closer intimacy with nature, a firmer reliance on it, as the only stock of wealth which the mind has to resort to, a more infantine simplicity of manners, a greater strength of affection, hopes longer cherished and longer deferred, sighs that the heart dare hardly heave, and "thoughts that often lie too deep for tears." We seem to feel that those who wrote and sung them (the early minstrels) lived in the open air, wandering on from place to place with restless feet and thoughts, and lending an ever-open ear to the fearful accidents of war or love, floating on the breath of old tradition or common fame, and moving the strings of their harp with sounds that sank into a nation's heart. How fine an illustration of this is that passage in Don Quixote, where the knight and Sancho, going in search of Dulcinea, inquire their way of the countryman, who was driving his mules to plough before break of day, "singing the ancient ballad of Roncesvalles." Sir Thomas Overbury describes his country girl as still accompanied with fragments of old songs. One of the best and most striking descriptions of the effects of this mixture of national poetry and music is to be found in one of the letters of Archbishop Herring, giving an account of a confirmation-tour in the mountains of Wales.
"That pleasure over, our work became very arduous, for we were to mount a rock, and in many places of the road, over natural stairs of stone. I submitted to this, which they told me was but a taste of the country, and to prepare me for worse things to come. However, worse things did not come that morning, for we dined soon after out of our own wallets; and though our inn stood in a place of the most frightful solitude, and the best formed for the habitation of monks (who once possessed it) in the world, yet we made a cheerful meal. The novelty of the thing gave me spirits, and the air gave me appetite much keener than the knife I ate with. We had our music too; for there came in a harper, who soon drew about us a group of figures that Hogarth would have given any price for. The harper was in his true place and attitude; a man and woman stood before him, singing to his instrument wildly, but not disagreeably; a little dirty child was playing with the bottom of the harp; a woman in a sick night-cap hanging over the stairs; a boy with crutches fixed in a staring attention, and a girl carding wool in the chimney, and rocking a cradle with her naked feet, interrupted in her business by the charms of the music; all ragged and dirty, and all silently attentive. These figures gave us a most entertaining picture, and would please you or any man of observation; and one reflection gave me a particular comfort, that the assembly before us demonstrated, that even here, the influential sun warmed poor mortals, and inspired them with love and music."
I could wish that Mr. Wilkie had been recommended to take this group as the subject of his admirable pencil; he has painted a picture of Bathsheba, instead.
In speaking of the old Scotch ballads, I need do no more than mention the name of Auld Robin Gray. The effect of reading this old ballad is as if all our hopes and fears hung upon the last fibre of the heart, and we felt that giving way. What silence, what loneliness, what leisure for grief and despair!
"My father pressed me sair, Though my mother did na' speak; But she looked in my face Till my heart was like to break."
The irksomeness of the situations, the sense of painful dependence, is excessive; and yet the sentiment of deep-rooted, patient affection triumphs over all, and is the only impression that remains. Lady Ann Bothwell's Lament is not, I think, quite equal to the lines beginning—
"O waly, waly, up the bank, And waly, waly, down the brae, And waly, waly, yon burn side, Where I and my love wont to gae. I leant my back unto an aik, I thought it was a trusty tree; But first it bow'd, and syne it brak, Sae my true-love's forsaken me.
O waly, waly, love is bonny, A little time while it is new; But when its auld, it waxeth cauld, And fades awa' like the morning dew. When cockle-shells turn siller bells, And muscles grow on every tree, Whan frost and snaw sall warm us aw, Then sall my love prove true to me.
Now Arthur seat sall be my bed, The sheets sall ne'er be fyld by me: Saint Anton's well sall be my drink, Since my true-love's forsaken me. Martinmas wind, when wilt thou blaw, And shake the green leaves aff the tree? O gentle death, whan wilt thou cum, And tak' a life that wearies me!
'Tis not the frost that freezes sae, Nor blawing snaw's inclemencie, 'Tis not sic cauld, that makes me cry, But my love's heart grown cauld to me. Whan we came in by Glasgow town, We were a comely sight to see, My love was clad in black velvet, And I myself in cramasie.
But had I wist before I kist, That love had been sae hard to win; I'd lockt my heart in case of gowd, And pinn'd it with a siller pin. And oh! if my poor babe were born, And set upon the nurse's knee, And I mysel in the cold grave! Since my true-love 's forsaken me."
The finest modern imitation of this style is the Braes of Yarrow; and perhaps the finest subject for a story of the same kind in any modern book, is that told in Turner's History of England, of a Mahometan woman, who having fallen in love with an English merchant, the father of Thomas a Becket, followed him all the way to England, knowing only the word London, and the name of her lover, Gilbert.
But to have done with this, which is rather too serious a subject.— The old English ballads are of a gayer and more lively turn. They are adventurous and romantic; but they relate chiefly to good living and good fellowship, to drinking and hunting scenes. Robin Hood is the chief of these, and he still, in imagination, haunts Sherwood Forest. The archers green glimmer under the waving branches; the print on the grass remains where they have just finished their noon-tide meal under the green-wood tree; and the echo of their bugle-horn and twanging bows resounds through the tangled mazes of the forest, as the tall slim deer glances startled by.
"The trees in Sherwood Forest are old and good; The grass beneath them now is dimly green: Are they deserted all? Is no young mien, With loose-slung bugle, met within the wood?
No arrow found—foil'd of its antler'd food— Struck in the oak's rude side?—Is there nought seen To mark the revelries which there have been, In the sweet days of merry Robin Hood?
Go there with summer, and with evening—go In the soft shadows, like some wand'ring man— And thou shalt far amid the forest know The archer-men in green, with belt and bow, Feasting on pheasant, river-fowl, and swan, With Robin at their head, and Marian." 
 Sonnet on Sherwood Forest, by J.H. Reynolds, Esq.
LECTURE VIII. ON THE LIVING POETS.
"No more of talk where God or Angel guest With man, as with his friend, familiar us'd To sit indulgent."———
Genius is the heir of fame; but the hard condition on which the bright reversion must be earned is the loss of life. Fame is the recompense not of the living, but of the dead. The temple of fame stands upon the grave: the flame that burns upon its altars is kindled from the ashes of great men. Fame itself is immortal, but it is not begot till the breath of genius is extinguished. For fame is not popularity, the shout of the multitude, the idle buzz of fashion, the venal puff, the soothing flattery of favour or of friendship; but it is the spirit of a man surviving himself in the minds and thoughts of other men, undying and imperishable. It is the power which the intellect exercises over the intellect, and the lasting homage which is paid to it, as such, independently of time and circumstances, purified from partiality and evil-speaking. Fame is the sound which the stream of high thoughts, carried down to future ages, makes as it flows—deep, distant, murmuring evermore like the waters of the mighty ocean. He who has ears truly touched to this music, is in a manner deaf to the voice of popularity.—The love of fame differs from mere vanity in this, that the one is immediate and personal, the other ideal and abstracted. It is not the direct and gross homage paid to himself, that the lover of true fame seeks or is proud of; but the indirect and pure homage paid to the eternal forms of truth and beauty as they are reflected in his mind, that gives him confidence and hope. The love of nature is the first thing in the mind of the true poet: the admiration of himself the last. A man of genius cannot well be a coxcomb; for his mind is too full of other things to be much occupied with his own person. He who is conscious of great powers in himself, has also a high standard of excellence with which to compare his efforts: he appeals also to a test and judge of merit, which is the highest, but which is too remote, grave, and impartial, to flatter his self-love extravagantly, or puff him up with intolerable and vain conceit. This, indeed, is one test of genius and of real greatness of mind, whether a man can wait patiently and calmly for the award of posterity, satisfied with the unwearied exercise of his faculties, retired within the sanctuary of his own thoughts; or whether he is eager to forestal his own immortality, and mortgage it for a newspaper puff. He who thinks much of himself, will be in danger of being forgotten by the rest of the world: he who is always trying to lay violent hands on reputation, will not secure the best and most lasting. If the restless candidate for praise takes no pleasure, no sincere and heartfelt delight in his works, but as they are admired and applauded by others, what should others see in them to admire or applaud? They cannot be expected to admire them because they are his; but for the truth and nature contained in them, which must first be inly felt and copied with severe delight, from the love of truth and nature, before it can ever appear there. Was Raphael, think you, when he painted his pictures of the Virgin and Child in all their inconceivable truth and beauty of expression, thinking most of his subject or of himself? Do you suppose that Titian, when he painted a landscape, was pluming himself on being thought the finest colourist in the world, or making himself so by looking at nature? Do you imagine that Shakspeare, when he wrote Lear or Othello, was thinking of any thing but Lear and Othello? Or that Mr. Kean, when he plays these characters, is thinking of the audience?—No: he who would be great in the eyes of others, must first learn to be nothing in his own. The love of fame, as it enters at times into his mind, is only another name for the love of excellence; or it is the ambition to attain the highest excellence, sanctioned by the highest authority—that of time.
Those minds, then, which are the most entitled to expect it, can best put up with the postponement of their claims to lasting fame. They can afford to wait. They are not afraid that truth and nature will ever wear out; will lose their gloss with novelty, or their effect with fashion. If their works have the seeds of immortality in them, they will live; if they have not, they care little about them as theirs. They do not complain of the start which others have got of them in the race of everlasting renown, or of the impossibility of attaining the honours which time alone can give, during the term of their natural lives. They know that no applause, however loud and violent, can anticipate or over-rule the judgment of posterity; that the opinion of no one individual, nor of any one generation, can have the weight, the authority (to say nothing of the force of sympathy and prejudice), which must belong to that of successive generations. The brightest living reputation cannot be equally imposing to the imagination, with that which is covered and rendered venerable with the hoar of innumerable ages. No modern production can have the same atmosphere of sentiment around it, as the remains of classical antiquity. But then our moderns may console themselves with the reflection, that they will be old in their turn, and will either be remembered with still increasing honours, or quite forgotten!
I would speak of the living poets as I have spoken of the dead (for I think highly of many of them); but I cannot speak of them with the same reverence, because I do not feel it; with the same confidence, because I cannot have the same authority to sanction my opinion. I cannot be absolutely certain that any body, twenty years hence, will think any thing about any of them; but we may be pretty sure that Milton and Shakspeare will be remembered twenty years hence. We are, therefore, not without excuse if we husband our enthusiasm a little, and do not prematurely lay out our whole stock in untried ventures, and what may turn out to be false bottoms. I have myself out-lived one generation of favourite poets, the Darwins, the Hayleys, the Sewards. Who reads them now?—If, however, I have not the verdict of posterity to bear me out in bestowing the most unqualified praises on their immediate successors, it is also to be remembered, that neither does it warrant me in condemning them. Indeed, it was not my wish to go into this ungrateful part of the subject; but something of the sort is expected from me, and I must run the gauntlet as well as I can. Another circumstance that adds to the difficulty of doing justice to all parties is, that I happen to have had a personal acquaintance with some of these jealous votaries of the Muses; and that is not the likeliest way to imbibe a high opinion of the rest. Poets do not praise one another in the language of hyperbole. I am afraid, therefore, that I labour under a degree of prejudice against some of the most popular poets of the day, from an early habit of deference to the critical opinions of some of the least popular. I cannot say that I ever learnt much about Shakspeare or Milton, Spenser or Chaucer, from these professed guides; for I never heard them say much about them. They were always talking of themselves and one another. Nor am I certain that this sort of personal intercourse with living authors, while it takes away all real relish or freedom of opinion with regard to their contemporaries, greatly enhances our respect for themselves. Poets are not ideal beings; but have their prose-sides, like the commonest of the people. We often hear persons say, What they would have given to have seen Shakspeare! For my part, I would give a great deal not to have seen him; at least, if he was at all like any body else that I have ever seen. But why should he; for his works are not! This is, doubtless, one great advantage which the dead have over the living. It is always fortunate for ourselves and others, when we are prevented from exchanging admiration for knowledge. The splendid vision that in youth haunts our idea of the poetical character, fades, upon acquaintance, into the light of common day; as the azure tints that deck the mountain's brow are lost on a nearer approach to them. It is well, according to the moral of one of the Lyrical Ballads,—"To leave Yarrow unvisited." But to leave this "face-making," and begin.—
I am a great admirer of the female writers of the present day; they appear to me like so many modern Muses. I could be in love with Mrs. Inchbald, romantic with Mrs. Radcliffe, and sarcastic with Madame D'Arblay: but they are novel-writers, and, like Audrey, may "thank the Gods for not having made them poetical." Did any one here ever read Mrs. Leicester's School? If they have not, I wish they would; there will be just time before the next three volumes of the Tales of My Landlord come out. That is not a school of affectation, but of humanity. No one can think too highly of the work, or highly enough of the author.
The first poetess I can recollect is Mrs. Barbauld, with whose works I became acquainted before those of any other author, male or female, when I was learning to spell words of one syllable in her story-books for children. I became acquainted with her poetical works long after in Enfield's Speaker; and remember being much divided in my opinion at that time, between her Ode to Spring and Collins's Ode to Evening. I wish I could repay my childish debt of gratitude in terms of appropriate praise. She is a very pretty poetess; and, to my fancy, strews the flowers of poetry most agreeably round the borders of religious controversy. She is a neat and pointed prose-writer. Her "Thoughts on the Inconsistency of Human Expectations," is one of the most ingenious and sensible essays in the language. There is the same idea in one of Barrow's Sermons.
Mrs. Hannah More is another celebrated modern poetess, and I believe still living. She has written a great deal which I have never read.
Miss Baillie must make up this trio of female poets. Her tragedies and comedies, one of each to illustrate each of the passions, separately from the rest, are heresies in the dramatic art. She is a Unitarian in poetry. With her the passions are, like the French republic, one and indivisible: they are not so in nature, or in Shakspeare. Mr. Southey has, I believe, somewhere expressed an opinion, that the Basil of Miss Baillie is superior to Romeo and Juliet. I shall not stay to contradict him. On the other hand, I prefer her De Montfort, which was condemned on the stage, to some later tragedies, which have been more fortunate—to the Remorse, Bertram, and lastly, Fazio. There is in the chief character of that play a nerve, a continued unity of interest, a setness of purpose and precision of outline which John Kemble alone was capable of giving; and there is all the grace which women have in writing. In saying that De Montfort was a character which just suited Mr. Kemble, I mean to pay a compliment to both. He was not "a man of no mark or likelihood": and what he could be supposed to do particularly well, must have a meaning in it. As to the other tragedies just mentioned, there is no reason why any common actor should not "make mouths in them at the invisible event,"—one as well as another. Having thus expressed my sense of the merits of this authoress, I must add, that her comedy of the Election, performed last summer at the Lyceum with indifferent success, appears to me the perfection of baby-house theatricals. Every thing in it has such a do-me-good air, is so insipid and amiable. Virtue seems such a pretty playing at make-believe, and vice is such a naughty word. It is a theory of some French author, that little girls ought not to be suffered to have dolls to play with, to call them pretty dears, to admire their black eyes and cherry cheeks, to lament and bewail over them if they fall down and hurt their faces, to praise them when they are good, and scold them when they are naughty. It is a school of affectation: Miss Baillie has profited of it. She treats her grown men and women as little girls treat their dolls—makes moral puppets of them, pulls the wires, and they talk virtue and act vice, according to their cue and the title prefixed to each comedy or tragedy, not from any real passions of their own, or love either of virtue or vice.
The transition from these to Mr. Rogers's Pleasures of Memory, is not far: he is a very lady-like poet. He is an elegant, but feeble writer. He wraps up obvious thoughts in a glittering cover of fine words; is full of enigmas with no meaning to them; is studiously inverted, and scrupulously far-fetched; and his verses are poetry, chiefly because no particle, line, or syllable of them reads like prose. He differs from Milton in this respect, who is accused of having inserted a number of prosaic lines in Paradise Lost. This kind of poetry, which is a more minute and inoffensive species of the Della Cruscan, is like the game of asking what one's thoughts are like. It is a tortuous, tottering, wriggling, fidgetty translation of every thing from the vulgar tongue, into all the tantalizing, teasing, tripping, lisping mimminee-pimminee of the highest brilliancy and fashion of poetical diction. You have nothing like truth of nature or simplicity of expression. The fastidious and languid reader is never shocked by meeting, from the rarest chance in the world, with a single homely phrase or intelligible idea. You cannot see the thought for the ambiguity of the language, the figure for the finery, the picture for the varnish. The whole is refined, and frittered away into an appearance of the most evanescent brilliancy and tremulous imbecility.—There is no other fault to be found with the Pleasures of Memory, than a want of taste and genius. The sentiments are amiable, and the notes at the end highly interesting, particularly the one relating to the Countess Pillar (as it is called) between Appleby and Penrith, erected (as the inscription tells the thoughtful traveller) by Anne Countess of Pembroke, in the year 1648, in memory of her last parting with her good and pious mother in the same place in the year 1616—
"To shew that power of love, how great Beyond all human estimate."
This story is also told in the poem, but with so many artful innuendos and tinsel words, that it is hardly intelligible; and still less does it reach the heart.
Campbell's Pleasures of Hope is of the same school, in which a painful attention is paid to the expression in proportion as there is little to express, and the decomposition of prose is substituted for the composition of poetry. How much the sense and keeping in the ideas are sacrificed to a jingle of words and epigrammatic turn of expression, may be seen in such lines as the following:—one of the characters, an old invalid, wishes to end his days under
"Some hamlet shade, to yield his sickly form Health in the breeze, and shelter in the storm."
Now the antithesis here totally fails: for it is the breeze, and not the tree, or as it is quaintly expressed, hamlet shade, that affords health, though it is the tree that affords shelter in or from the storm. Instances of the same sort of curiosa infelicitas are not rare in this author. His verses on the Battle of Hohenlinden have considerable spirit and animation. His Gertrude of Wyoming is his principal performance. It is a kind of historical paraphrase of Mr. Wordsworth's poem of Ruth. It shews little power, or power enervated by extreme fastidiousness. It is
"———Of outward show Elaborate; of inward less exact."
There are painters who trust more to the setting of their pictures than to the truth of the likeness. Mr. Campbell always seems to me to be thinking how his poetry will look when it comes to be hot-pressed on superfine wove paper, to have a disproportionate eye to points and commas, and dread of errors of the press. He is so afraid of doing wrong, of making the smallest mistake, that he does little or nothing. Lest he should wander irretrievably from the right path, he stands still. He writes according to established etiquette. He offers the Muses no violence. If he lights upon a good thought, he immediately drops it for fear of spoiling a good thing. When he launches a sentiment that you think will float him triumphantly for once to the bottom of the stanza, he stops short at the end of the first or second line, and stands shivering on the brink of beauty, afraid to trust himself to the fathomless abyss. Tutus nimium, timidusque procellarum. His very circumspection betrays him. The poet, as well as the woman, that deliberates, is undone. He is much like a man whose heart fails him just as he is going up in a balloon, and who breaks his neck by flinging himself out of it when it is too late. Mr. Campbell too often maims and mangles his ideas before they are full formed, to fit them to the Procustes' bed of criticism; or strangles his intellectual offspring in the birth, lest they should come to an untimely end in the Edinburgh Review. He plays the hypercritic on himself, and starves his genius to death from a needless apprehension of a plethora. No writer who thinks habitually of the critics, either to tremble at their censures or set them at defiance, can write well. It is the business of reviewers to watch poets, not of poets to watch reviewers.—There is one admirable simile in this poem, of the European child brought by the sooty Indian in his hand, "like morning brought by night." The love-scenes in Gertrude of Wyoming breathe a balmy voluptuousness of sentiment; but they are generally broken off in the middle; they are like the scent of a bank of violets, faint and rich, which the gale suddenly conveys in a different direction. Mr. Campbell is careful of his own reputation, and economical of the pleasures of his readers. He treats them as the fox in the fable treated his guest the stork; or, to use his own expression, his fine things are
"Like angels' visits, few, and far between." 
There is another fault in this poem, which is the mechanical structure of the fable. The most striking events occur in the shape of antitheses. The story is cut into the form of a parallelogram. There is the same systematic alternation of good and evil, of violence and repose, that there is of light and shade in a picture. The Indian, who is the chief agent in the interest of the poem, vanishes and returns after long intervals, like the periodical revolutions of the planets. He unexpectedly appears just in the nick of time, after years of absence, and without any known reason but the convenience of the author and the astonishment of the reader; as if nature were a machine constructed on a principle of complete contrast, to produce a theatrical effect. Nec Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus. Mr. Campbell's savage never appears but upon great occasions, and then his punctuality is preternatural and alarming. He is the most wonderful instance on record of poetical reliability. The most dreadful mischiefs happen at the most mortifying moments; and when your expectations are wound up to the highest pitch, you are sure to have them knocked on the head by a premeditated and remorseless stroke of the poet's pen. This is done so often for the convenience of the author, that in the end it ceases to be for the satisfaction of the reader.
_  There is the same idea in Blair's Grave.
"———Its visits, Like those of angels, short, and far between."
Mr. Campbell in altering the expression has spoiled it. "Few," and "far between," are the same thing. _
Tom Moore is a poet of a quite different stamp. He is as heedless, gay, and prodigal of his poetical wealth, as the other is careful, reserved, and parsimonious. The genius of both is national. Mr. Moore's Muse is another Ariel, as light, as tricksy, as indefatigable, and as humane a spirit. His fancy is for ever on the wing, flutters in the gale, glitters in the sun. Every thing lives, moves, and sparkles in his poetry, while over all love waves his purple light. His thoughts are as restless, as many, and as bright as the insects that people the sun's beam. "So work the honey-bees," extracting liquid sweets from opening buds; so the butterfly expands its wings to the idle air; so the thistle's silver down is wafted over summer seas. An airy voyager on life's stream, his mind inhales the fragrance of a thousand shores, and drinks of endless pleasures under halcyon skies. Wherever his footsteps tend over the enamelled ground of fairy fiction—
"Around him the bees in play flutter and cluster, And gaudy butterflies frolic around."
The fault of Mr. Moore is an exuberance of involuntary power. His facility of production lessens the effect of, and hangs as a dead weight upon, what he produces. His levity at last oppresses. The infinite delight he takes in such an infinite number of things, creates indifference in minds less susceptible of pleasure than his own. He exhausts attention by being inexhaustible. His variety cloys; his rapidity dazzles and distracts the sight. The graceful ease with which he lends himself to every subject, the genial spirit with which he indulges in every sentiment, prevents him from giving their full force to the masses of things, from connecting them into a whole. He wants intensity, strength, and grandeur. His mind does not brood over the great and permanent; it glances over the surfaces, the first impressions of things, instead of grappling with the deep-rooted prejudices of the mind, its inveterate habits, and that "perilous stuff that weighs upon the heart." His pen, as it is rapid and fanciful, wants momentum and passion. It requires the same principle to make us thoroughly like poetry, that makes us like ourselves so well, the feeling of continued identity. The impressions of Mr. Moore's poetry are detached, desultory, and physical. Its gorgeous colours brighten and fade like the rainbow's. Its sweetness evaporates like the effluvia exhaled from beds of flowers! His gay laughing style, which relates to the immediate pleasures of love or wine, is better than his sentimental and romantic vein. His Irish melodies are not free from affectation and a certain sickliness of pretension. His serious descriptions are apt to run into flowery tenderness. His pathos sometimes melts into a mawkish sensibility, or crystallizes into all the prettinesses of allegorical language, and glittering hardness of external imagery. But he has wit at will, and of the first quality. His satirical and burlesque poetry is his best: it is first-rate. His Twopenny Post-Bag is a perfect "nest of spicery"; where the Cayenne is not spared. The politician there sharpens the poet's pen. In this too, our bard resembles the bee—he has its honey and its sting.
Mr. Moore ought not to have written Lalla Rookh, even for three thousand guineas. His fame is worth more than that. He should have minded the advice of Fadladeen. It is not, however, a failure, so much as an evasion and a consequent disappointment of public expectation. He should have left it to others to break conventions with nations, and faith with the world. He should, at any rate, have kept his with the public. Lalla Rookh is not what people wanted to see whether Mr. Moore could do; namely, whether he could write a long epic poem. It is four short tales. The interest, however, is often high-wrought and tragic, but the execution still turns to the effeminate and voluptuous side. Fortitude of mind is the first requisite of a tragic or epic writer. Happiness of nature and felicity of genius are the pre-eminent characteristics of the bard of Erin. If he is not perfectly contented with what he is, all the world beside is. He had no temptation to risk any thing in adding to the love and admiration of his age, and more than one country.
"Therefore to be possessed with double pomp, To guard a title that was rich before, To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, To throw a perfume on the violet, To smooth the ice, or add another hue Unto the rainbow, or with taper light To seek the beauteous eye of heav'n to garnish, Is wasteful and ridiculous excess."
The same might be said of Mr. Moore's seeking to bind an epic crown, or the shadow of one, round his other laurels.
If Mr. Moore has not suffered enough personally, Lord Byron (judging from the tone of his writings) might be thought to have suffered too much to be a truly great poet. If Mr. Moore lays himself too open to all the various impulses of things, the outward shews of earth and sky, to every breath that blows, to every stray sentiment that crosses his fancy; Lord Byron shuts himself up too much in the impenetrable gloom of his own thoughts, and buries the natural light of things in "nook monastic." The Giaour, the Corsair, Childe Harold, are all the same person, and they are apparently all himself. The everlasting repetition of one subject, the same dark ground of fiction, with the darker colours of the poet's mind spread over it, the unceasing accumulation of horrors on horror's head, steels the mind against the sense of pain, as inevitably as the unwearied Siren sounds and luxurious monotony of Mr. Moore's poetry make it inaccessible to pleasure. Lord Byron's poetry is as morbid as Mr. Moore's is careless and dissipated. He has more depth of passion, more force and impetuosity, but the passion is always of the same unaccountable character, at once violent and sullen, fierce and gloomy. It is not the passion of a mind struggling with misfortune, or the hopelessness of its desires, but of a mind preying upon itself, and disgusted with, or indifferent to all other things. There is nothing less poetical than this sort of unaccommodating selfishness. There is nothing more repulsive than this sort of ideal absorption of all the interests of others, of the good and ills of life, in the ruling passion and moody abstraction of a single mind, as if it would make itself the centre of the universe, and there was nothing worth cherishing but its intellectual diseases. It is like a cancer, eating into the heart of poetry. But still there is power; and power rivets attention and forces admiration. "He hath a demon:" and that is the next thing to being full of the God. His brow collects the scattered gloom: his eye flashes livid fire that withers and consumes. But still we watch the progress of the scathing bolt with interest, and mark the ruin it leaves behind with awe. Within the contracted range of his imagination, he has great unity and truth of keeping. He chooses elements and agents congenial to his mind, the dark and glittering ocean, the frail bark hurrying before the storm, pirates and men that "house on the wild sea with wild usages." He gives the tumultuous eagerness of action, and the fixed despair of thought. In vigour of style and force of conception, he in one sense surpasses every writer of the present day. His indignant apothegms are like oracles of misanthropy. He who wishes for "a curse to kill with," may find it in Lord Byron's writings. Yet he has beauty lurking underneath his strength, tenderness sometimes joined with the phrenzy of despair. A flash of golden light sometimes follows from a stroke of his pencil, like a falling meteor. The flowers that adorn his poetry bloom over charnel-houses and the grave!
There is one subject on which Lord Byron is fond of writing, on which I wish he would not write—Buonaparte. Not that I quarrel with his writing for him, or against him, but with his writing both for him and against him. What right has he to do this? Buonaparte's character, be it what else it may, does not change every hour according to his Lordship's varying humour. He is not a pipe for Fortune's finger, or for his Lordship's Muse, to play what stop she pleases on. Why should Lord Byron now laud him to the skies in the hour of his success, and then peevishly wreak his disappointment on the God of his idolatry? The man he writes of does not rise or fall with circumstances: but "looks on tempests and is never shaken." Besides, he is a subject for history, and not for poetry.
"Great princes' favourites their fair leaves spread, But as the marigold at the sun's eye, And in themselves their pride lies buried; For at a frown they in their glory die. The painful warrior, famoused for fight, After a thousand victories once foil'd, Is from the book of honour razed quite, And all the rest forgot for which he toil'd."
If Lord Byron will write any thing more on this hazardous theme, let him take these lines of Shakspeare for his guide, and finish them in the spirit of the original—they will then be worthy of the subject.
Walter Scott is the most popular of all the poets of the present day, and deservedly so. He describes that which is most easily and generally understood with more vivacity and effect than any body else. He has no excellences, either of a lofty or recondite kind, which lie beyond the reach of the most ordinary capacity to find out; but he has all the good qualities which all the world agree to understand. His style is clear, flowing, and transparent: his sentiments, of which his style is an easy and natural medium, are common to him with his readers. He has none of Mr. Wordsworth's idiosyncracy. He differs from his readers only in a greater range of knowledge and facility of expression. His poetry belongs to the class of improvisatori poetry. It has neither depth, height, nor breadth in it; neither uncommon strength, nor uncommon refinement of thought, sentiment, or language. It has no originality. But if this author has no research, no moving power in his own breast, he relies with the greater safety and success on the force of his subject. He selects a story such as is sure to please, full of incidents, characters, peculiar manners, costume, and scenery; and he tells it in a way that can offend no one. He never wearies or disappoints you. He is communicative and garrulous; but he is not his own hero. He never obtrudes himself on your notice to prevent your seeing the subject. What passes in the poem, passes much as it would have done in reality. The author has little or nothing to do with it. Mr. Scott has great intuitive power of fancy, great vividness of pencil in placing external objects and events before the eye. The force of his mind is picturesque, rather than moral. He gives more of the features of nature than the soul of passion. He conveys the distinct outlines and visible changes in outward objects, rather than "their mortal consequences." He is very inferior to Lord Byron in intense passion, to Moore in delightful fancy, to Mr. Wordsworth in profound sentiment: but he has more picturesque power than any of them; that is, he places the objects themselves, about which they might feel and think, in a much more striking point of view, with greater variety of dress and attitude, and with more local truth of colouring. His imagery is Gothic and grotesque. The manners and actions have the interest and curiosity belonging to a wild country and a distant period of time. Few descriptions have a more complete reality, a more striking appearance of life and motion, than that of the warriors in the Lady of the Lake, who start up at the command of Rhoderic Dhu, from their concealment under the fern, and disappear again in an instant. The Lay of the Last Minstrel and Marmion are the first, and perhaps the best of his works. The Goblin Page, in the first of these, is a very interesting and inscrutable little personage. In reading these poems, I confess I am a little disconcerted, in turning over the page, to find Mr. Westall's pictures, which always seem fac-similes of the persons represented, with ancient costume and a theatrical air. This may be a compliment to Mr. Westall, but it is not one to Walter Scott. The truth is, there is a modern air in the midst of the antiquarian research of Mr. Scott's poetry. It is history or tradition in masquerade. Not only the crust of old words and images is worn off with time,—the substance is grown comparatively light and worthless. The forms are old and uncouth; but the spirit is effeminate and frivolous. This is a deduction from the praise I have given to his pencil for extreme fidelity, though it has been no obstacle to its drawing-room success. He has just hit the town between the romantic and the fashionable; and between the two, secured all classes of readers on his side. In a word, I conceive that he is to the great poet, what an excellent mimic is to a great actor. There is no determinate impression left on the mind by reading his poetry. It has no results. The reader rises up from the perusal with new images and associations, but he remains the same man that he was before. A great mind is one that moulds the minds of others. Mr. Scott has put the Border Minstrelsy and scattered traditions of the country into easy, animated verse. But the Notes to his poems are just as entertaining as the poems themselves, and his poems are only entertaining.