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LIFE AND CORRESPONDENCE OF ROBERT SOUTHEY.
We resume our notice of the me. most happily, although extravagantly, moir and correspondence of the late caricatured. And there was also a poet-laureat, which his son conti. daring departure from established nues with unabated interest, leaving rules of composition, which, although very little to be desired of the vivid justified by the poet's genius, it would distinctness with which Southey him. have been prudent to repress, until self would have pictured the events of time had matured his mind, and given his life, had he completed the auto. him a command over the public symbiography in which he had intended pathies which would have made even to leave them behind him.
his eccentricities respected. But he He was now in his thirty-second had early felt his mission, and looked year, an author of established repu- upon himself as one called to the oftation, having evinced, both in prose fice of a poetical reformer. and verse, powers of a very high or- Nor can it be denied that, in his der, but marked by peculiarities which day, such a reforination was much provoked, and gave some colourable needed. Of poetry, as it was underjustification to, uncandid, acrimonious, stood by Chaucer and Shakspeare, by and malevolent criticism, which long Spencer and Milton, much of the retarded, although it could not finally freshness and vigour gone. prevail against, his rising fame. “ Al- These great masters looked to nature though these fellows," he writes, without, for their models, and de. speaking of the Edinburgh reviewers rived from within their prompting (we think, in a letter to Miss Seward), inspirations. Aninstrumentofthought, “cannot blight a leaf of laurel, they rough-hewn and unpolished, under can damage a field of corn."
the plastic influences of their genius, The “ Edinburgh Review” was, at assumed form and symmetry, until it that time, in the zenith of its fame. presented, to a tribe of imitators, faci. Jeffrey, its conductor, was no ordinary lities of metrical combination temptman; but remarkable more for the ingly and dangerously delusive. Hence, pol sh, than the power of his mind; muck of what was poetry to the eye and for a cold, keen, sarcastic wit, and to the ear; little to the soul and than for those generous susceptibilities to the imagination. Hence, with an which would have enabled hiin either affluence of language, a restricted vato appreciate the excellencies, or make riety of metre; until the old heroic due allowance for the errors, of such couplet, the octosyllabic verse, a man as Robert Southey; and all his or two other kinds, constituted the stores of ridicule were accordingly whole stock of which the poet could opened upon the poet, which, while they avail himself, without a startling demade the unreflecting laugh, could parture from established rules. While not but make the judicious grieve. all this was favourable to the mere
For these severe strictures we by versifier, it was, in a corresponding no means deny that Mr. Southey's degree, adverse to the man whose early productions afforded some ex- promptings were the result of genuine cuse. There was too naked a disclo- inspiration. sure of delicate susceptibilities, which Such was the state of things when might easily bave been been mistaken Southey became a candidate for public for a puling sentimentality. In Cau- favour; and with such a state of things ning's "Needy Knife-grinder," this is he was resolved not to be content.
" The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey." Edited by his son, the Rev. Charles Cuthbert Southey, M.A. Volumes III. and IV. London: Longman, Brown, Greene, and Longmans. 1850.
Had the reviewers, men power That Jeffrey was not only under the and genius, looked with a kindiy eye influence of prejudices, but that he was upon the young poet, they might have blind of a faculty which would have found a good excuse for this in his enabled him rightly to appreciate such peculiar cast of thought, in the ar. a man as Robert Southey, we believe. dour of his temperament, in the crea- So far his prepossessions and deficiencies tive facilities of his richly-gifted mind. were scarcely so much faults as mis. But they were despotic sovereigns in fortunes. But there is, unfortunately the critical world; and besides, were for him, positive evidence of his disnot pleased with him for what they honesty in dealing with the produce deemed bis political tergiversation; tions of the poet, which implies a and resolved to endure no departure moral deficiency for which the same from customs and usages which all excuse cannot be made ; and he has men had hitherto regarded with a sort recourse to expedients for the purpose of traditional respect.
of giving plausibility to his censure We are far from believing that there and point to his ridicule, which canwas any insincerity, in the unspar- not be too severely condemned.
We ing severity with which Jeffrey lashed allude to the specimens of the metres what he deemed in the late laureat in “ Thalaba,” given in detached execcentricity and infatuation. He was tracts of two or three lines each, a thorough-paced disciple of the old which, to be judged of aright, should school. Dryden and Pope were his be seen, or rather read, with the colle inodels. Any departure from the text. A few bars selected here and measured grandeur of the one, or the there, in which discord had an approchaste and stately elegance of the other, priate place, might as well be called a must have appeared to him fantastical fair specimen of a piece of music.* and revolting ; although the former, But if there be some evidence that in bis “ Alexander's Feast," and the the reviewer, even if he could do jus. latter, in his “ Ode on St. Cecilia's tice to the poet, would not, there is Day,” had given evidence of the un. abundance to prove that even if he fettered freedom with which either would, he could not. Both, in their could fling the reins on the neck of his views of life and their principles of Pegasus, and be “a law to himself”
action, were essentially contradistin. in his careerings through the regions guished. As society advances, there of imagination. Collins, also, and are influences at work which mate. Gray, had dared successfully to snatch rially modify human character, and, at graces beyond the reach of art;
by exalting the innate powers, and and others there were, Aikenside and drawing out the latent virtues, render Cowper, for instance, upon whom man as different from what he was new lights had dawned, and who were under processes of mere human cul. the precursors of that other school
ture, as these processes had rendered which was soon to vindicate for itself hiin different from what he had been in both “ a local habitation and a name the savage state. And of this truth in our poetical annals. But these Mr. Jeffrey, and the whole matewere exceptional cases, by which "the rialistic school to which he belonged, ancient solitary reign of the old
seemed totally oblivious. heroic couplet was undisturbed. And Hence their utter disbelief in any it was not until innovations were made new sources of poetry, or new topics which threatened its ascendency, and for the development of poetical powers, Southey, with a poet's license, trans- different from those which had been ferred to whole poems the varieties of kuown from the earliest ages.
“ We," metre which were admissible in the they say, “have no faith in such dis. ode, and constructed his “ wild and coveries. The elements of poetical wondrous tale," more with reference
interest are necessarily obvious and to picturesque effect than to established universal : they are within and about usage, that the reviewers found, or all inen; and the topics by which they feigned, an excuse for pouring out all are suggested are proved to bave been the vials of their wrath upon him as the same in every age and country in an incorrigible poetical delinquent. the world. Poetry," they add, “is, in
* " The Edinburgh Review," vol.i. p. 73.
this respect, very nearly upon a foot. new notions of grandeur and dignity, ing with morality. In substance it is and celebrating virtues which were bethe same everywhere.” They would, fore considered of a most unpoetical therefore, limit the sources of poetry character_such as charity, humility, to those aspects of humanity which patience, forgiveness of injuries, and were presented before Christianity had all the corresponding sentiments which dawned upon the world. This, in they inspire." It is not Jupiter hurling disbelievers in revelation, was natural his thunder, or Achilles indulging his enough; but Southey was not an un- wrath, which can interest the Chrisbeliever.
tian reader, so much as a good man That Christianity exhibits human suffering under adversity, and borne nature under a new phase, will now, up by a sublime reliance upon Provi. we think, be universally conceded. dence. It is not the brutal achieve. That it has wrought upon the human ments of physical strength, or the mind and heart, to the dethronement clumsy interference of degraded deiof passions and principles which before ties, which can inspire with sentiments had ruled supreme, and kept all the of delight and admiration one whose gentler instincts and emotions in abey- tastes have been formed upon that ance or in bondage, will, we fancy, be model of excellence which the Gospel admitted even by those by whom its presents to all true believers; but feel. truth, as a revelation from God, is but ings and incidents calculated to edir. little regarded. It is a great fact, of cate and exercise our moral faculties, which the whole state of society, and and which are in unison with those no. the whole condition of man, in Chris. tions of divine perfection, and of true tendom, bears unequivocal testimony; goodness and greatness, which can and it presents to ihe poet a new field only be learned from an authentic refor the exercise of his genius-a virgin velation. soil for the cultivation of his poetic Now, the critic's wrath was provoked, powers, as distinct from any which the because of these new sources of poeheathen mythology affords, as is the try of which Mr. Southey had largely light of the revelation under which availed himself. He does not, indeed, we live, from the darkness visible of make the Christian character a prothe idolatries by which it was pre- fessed object of delineation, or aim at ceded.
a sort of poetical pilgrim's progress; It is needless to dwell upon the but, by attributing to other systems development of the female character, the sublime incentives to virtue which and the re-exaltation of woman to her Christianity furnishes, and taking proper place in society, as one of the advantage of their susceptibility of many blessings for which we are in. poetical adornment, he contrives to debted to the diffusion of the Gospel; insinuate, instead of formally commuand surely, not to talk of its effects nicating, instruction. How recreaupon our proper humanity, the poet tive to the moral sense are his exquiwill recognise in it a new element of site depictments of those future stages poetry, and find fitting subjects for his of our being, when we shall be freed mase in graces and virtues which in from the trammels of mortality! So older times challenged but little admi- refined and delicate, and yet so palration.
pable, are the pleasures which he Is it then, or is it not, a truth, describes ; so truly exalted and spiri. which escaped the observation of the tual, and yet so conceivable, are the Edinburgh reviewer, that new sources feelings which he portrays, that it is of poetry have been discovered, when impossible to read them without chenew trains of religious feeling have been rishing every good and amiable proawakened, and the moral sense has pensity, and feeling more sensibly been quickened to, and invigorated by, the loveliness of virtue, and shrinking the apprehension of spiritual things ? more instinctively from the hideousOn the contrary, we contend that ness of vice. Take, for instance, the such a metempsychosis of our moral following passage froin “ Kehama," in being as may, under Christian in- which the suffering Ladurlad and his fluences, be experienced even upon persecuted daugliter are permitted, earth, must naturally give rise to a for a brief season, to visit the wise species of composition abounding with and the mother in Paradise:
Oh, happy sire and happy daughter!
found. What! hath not then their mortal taint
defiled The sacred solitary ground ? Vain thought! the holy valley smild, Receiving such a sire and child ; Ganges, who seemed asleep to lie, Beheld them with benignant eye, And rippled round melodiously; And roll'd her little waves to meet And welcome their beloved feet. The gales of Severga thither fled, And heavenly odours there were shed About, below, and overhead; And earth rejoicing in their tread, Hath built them up a blooming bower, Where every amaranthine flower Its deathless blossom interweaves With bright and undecaying leaves. Three happy beings are there here, The sire, the maid, the Glendoveer! A fourth approaches, who is this That enters in the bower of bliss ? No form so fair might painter find Among the daughters of mankind ; For death her beauties hath retin'd, And unto her a form hath given, Fram'd of the elements of heaven; Pure dwelling-place for perfect mind. She stood and gazed on sire and child; Her tongue not yet hail power to speak, The tears were streaming down her cheek. And when those tears her sight beguild, And still her faltering accents faild, The spirit, mute and motionless, Spread out her arms for the caress, Made still and silent with excess Of love and painful happiness. The maid that lovely form survey'll; Wistful she gaz'd, and knew her not; But Nature to her heart convey'd A sudden thrill, a startling thought, A feeling many a year forgot, Now like a dream anew recuuring, As if again in every vein Her motber's milk was stirring; With straining neck and earnest eye She stretch'd her hans imploringly, As if she fain would have her nighi, Yet fear'd to meet the wish'd embrace, At once with love and awe opprest. Not so, Ladurlad: he could trace, Though brightened with angelic grace, His own Yedillian's earthly face; He ran and held her to his breast! Oh, joy above all joys of heaven, By death alone to others given, This moment bath to him restor'd The carly-lost, the long deplored. They sin who tell us love cam die, With life all other passions flyAll others are brit vanity. In heaven ambition cannot «lwell, Nor avarice in the vaults of hell;
Earthly, these passions of the earth,
Such is the characteristic of Southey's poetry. The grand maxim which he would inculcate is a belief in a graciously superintending Provi. dence ; that, whatever weal or woe betide, there is a power above by whom the righteous will never be forsaken, and by whom the wicked will full surely meet with due retribution ; the sufferings of the one being but the necessary processes by which faith is tried, and the faithful are conducted to happiness ; and the vices of the other being the snares by which they are drawn into, and involved in, irretrievable perdition. Thus it is that his poems abound, not in the fierce passions which consumed the soul of Byron, and for which he but sought a vent when he projected them from himself ; nor in the voluptuous effeminacy which has, in so many instances, polluted the pages of Moore, whose descriptions of a sensual paradise but too much betray a sympathy with the delights and endearments of the sinners against their own souls ; but in the trials of virtue which tas successfully surmounted the solieitations of impure desire, and the triumphs of principle by which all the devices of the tempter were confounded.
How beautifully is the protecting influence of a pure attachment exeinplifieil, when Thalaba is exposed to all the fascinations of the Garden of Delights in Mohared's palace, where females of surpassing beauty are threading the mazy dance" Their ankles bound with tinkling bells, Which made a modulating barmony;" while * Transparent garments, to the greedy eye
Gave all their harlot limbs,
And murmured, that, from all domestic joys Which writhed, in each immodest gesture Estranged, he wandered through the world skilled.
A lonely being, far from all he loved. With eager eyes the banqueters
Son of Hodeirah, not among thy crimes Fed on the sight impure.'
That murmur shall be written !" But in the heart of the youth of destiny far other feelings were awa- Again, when he is tried by suffering, kened :
and Mohared has bim in a dungeon
and in chains, his deliverance and “ His own Oneiza swam before his sightHis own Arabian maid.
promotion to great honour being conHe rose, and from the banquet-room he
ditional upon his compliance with the rushed,
behests of the regal voluptuary, how And tears streamed down his burning cheek; noble is his response to the solicitaAnd nature, for a moment, woke the thought, tions of the tempter :
“Sultan Mohared-yes! you have me here,
In chains; but not forsaken, though oppressed;
Yea! your own crimes, and truth, and God in heaven." Such was the poetry of Robert traces the progress of the more reSouthey: a poetry which recreates fined and delicate affections in the the moral sense, and has for its object soul. And with good reason does he the development and purification of deviate, in this respect, from the veinstincts and faculties which would nerable Grecian. Man had become a have remained, like veins in the block more reflecting being ; his attention of marble, had they not been evoked had been more turned to the workings and brought into light by Christianity. of his own mind; and he could then And had his Scotch critics felt its pursue a train of thought, or follow a power, far different would have been
course of reasoning, with as much their estimate of productions which ease as he could, in the heroic ages, all have a reference to that new state attend to the details of a chase. It of being to which it teaches us to aspire. was therefore that poetry became
That certain kinds of poetry na- more purely intellectual--that passion, turally arise out of certain stages of and feeling, and sentiment became society, is a truth very generally ac- more immediately its object. And if knowleged by competent judges in we pursue the inquiry farther, and such matters. And, if we remember trace the change which has been made rightly, the late Mr. Preston, in an in the moral condition of man by essay which was published in an early Christianity, we shall find ample reason volume of “ The Transactions of the for admitting that a new and an inteRoyal Irish Academy,” marked very resting field of observation has been clearly the distinction between the opened to the poet and the philosopoetry of the Augustan age and that pher, by the disclosure of sentiments of the time of Homer. The latter, and affections, and the practice of belonging to a stage of society when virtues, different from those in repute the physical powers of man in the heathen world, and proceeding more necessary, and consequently in from motives more truly sublime and greater esteein, dwells much upon spiritual than any with which it was feats of strength and achievements of acquainted. valour. Homer is less fond of de. Having thus stated our views of the scribing the hero by what he thought light in which the poetry of this great or felt, than by what he did or suf- man should have been viewed—but in fered. Virgil, on the other hand, which it was not viewed by the Phadeals more in abstract passion, and riseus and Saducees of literature-we