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LIFE AND CORRESPONDENCE OF ROBERT SOUTHEY.*

SECOND NOTICE.

WE resume our notice of the memoir and correspondence of the late poet-laureat, which his son continues with unabated interest, leaving very little to be desired of the vivid distinctness with which Southey himself would have pictured the events of his life, had he completed the autobiography in which he had intended to leave them behind him.

He was now in his thirty-second year, an author of established reputation, having evinced, both in prose and verse, powers of a very high order, but marked by peculiarities which provoked, and gave some colourable justification to, uncandid, acrimonious, and malevolent criticism, which long retarded, although it could not finally prevail against, his rising fame. "Although these fellows," he writes, speaking of the Edinburgh reviewers (we think, in a letter to Miss Seward), "cannot blight a leaf of laurel, they can damage a field of corn."

The" Edinburgh Review" was, at that time, in the zenith of its fame. Jeffrey, its conductor, was no ordinary man; but remarkable more for the pol sh, than the power of his mind; and for a cold, keen, sarcastic wit, than for those generous susceptibilities which would have enabled him either to appreciate the excellencies, or make due allowance for the errors, of such a man as Robert Southey; and all his stores of ridicule were accordingly opened upon the poet, which, while they made the unreflecting laugh, could not but make the judicious grieve.

For these severe strictures we by no means deny that Mr. Southey's early productions afforded some excuse. There was too naked a disclosure of delicate susceptibilities, which might easily have been been mistaken for a puling sentimentality. In Canning's "Needy Knife-grinder," this is

most happily, although extravagantly, caricatured. And there was also a daring departure from established rules of composition, which, although justified by the poet's genius, it would have been prudent to repress, until time had matured his mind, and given him a command over the public sympathies which would have made even his eccentricities respected. But he had early felt his mission, and looked upon himself as one called to the office of a poetical reformer.

Nor can it be denied that, in his day, such a reformation was much needed. Of poetry, as it was understood by Chaucer and Shakspeare, by Spencer and Milton, much of the freshness and vigour was gone. These great masters looked to nature without, for their models, and derived from within their prompting inspirations. An instrument of thought, rough-hewn and unpolished, under the plastic influences of their genius, assumed form and symmetry, until it presented, to a tribe of imitators, facilities of metrical combination temptingly and dangerously delusive. Hence, much of what was poetry to the eye and to the ear; little to the soul and to the imagination. Hence, with an affluence of language, a restricted variety of metre; until the old heroic couplet, the octosyllabic verse, and one or two other kinds, constituted the whole stock of which the poet could avail himself, without a startling departure from established rules. While all this was favourable to the mere versifier, it was, in a corresponding degree, adverse to the man whose promptings were the result of genuine inspiration.

Such was the state of things when Southey became a candidate for public favour; and with such a state of things 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 of power and genius, looked with a kindly eye upon the young poet, they might have found a good excuse for this in his peculiar cast of thought, in the ardour of his temperament, in the creative facilities of his richly-gifted mind. But they were despotic sovereigns in the critical world; and besides, were not pleased with him for what they deemed his political tergiversation; and resolved to endure no departure from customs and usages which all men had hitherto regarded with a sort of traditional respect.

We are far from believing that there was any insincerity in the unsparing severity with which Jeffrey lashed what he deemed in the late laureat

eccentricity and infatuation. He was a thorough-paced disciple of the old school. Dryden and Pope were his models. Any departure from the measured grandeur of the one, or the chaste and stately elegance of the other, must have appeared to him fantastical and revolting; although the former, in his "Alexander's Feast," and the latter, in his "Ode on St. Cecilia's Day," had given evidence of the unfettered freedom with which either could fling the reins on the neck of his Pegasus, and be "a law to himself" in his careerings through the regions of imagination. Collins, also, and Gray, had dared successfully to snatch at graces beyond the reach of art; and others there were, Aikenside and Cowper, for instance, upon whom new lights had dawned, and who were the precursors of that other school which was soon to vindicate for itself both "a local habitation and a name " in our poetical annals. But these were exceptional cases, by which "the ancient solitary reign of the old heroic couplet was undisturbed. And it was not until innovations were made which threatened its ascendency, and Southey, with a poet's license, transferred to whole poems the varieties of metre which were admissible in the ode, and constructed his "wild and wondrous tale," more with reference to picturesque effect than to established usage, that the reviewers found, or feigned, an excuse for pouring out all the vials of their wrath upon him as an incorrigible poetical delinquent.

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That Jeffrey was not only under the influence of prejudices, but that he was blind of a faculty which would have enabled him rightly to appreciate such a man as Robert Southey, we believe. So far his prepossessions and deficiencies were scarcely so much faults as misfortunes. But there is, unfortunately for him, positive evidence of his dishonesty in dealing with the produc tions of the poet, which implies a moral deficiency for which the same excuse cannot be made; and he has recourse to expedients for the purpose of giving plausibility to his censure and point to his ridicule, which cannot be too severely condemned. We allude to the specimens of the metres in “Thalaba,” given in detached extracts of two or three lines each, which, to be judged of aright, should be seen, or rather read, with the context. A few bars selected here and there, in which discord had an appropriate place, might as well be called a fair specimen of a piece of music.*

But if there be some evidence that the reviewer, even if he could do justice to the poet, would not, there is abundance to prove that even if he would, he could not. Both, in their views of life and their principles of action, were essentially contradistinguished. As society advances, there are influences at work which materially modify human character, and, by exalting the innate powers, and drawing out the latent virtues, render man as different from what he was under processes of mere human culture, as these processes had rendered him different from what he had been in the savage state. And of this truth Mr. Jeffrey, and the whole materialistic school to which he belonged, seemed totally oblivious.

Hence their utter disbelief in any new sources of poetry, or new topics for the development of poetical powers, different from those which had been known from the earliest ages. "We," they say, 66 have no faith in such discoveries. The elements of poetical interest are necessarily obvious and universal: they are within and about all men; and the topics by which they are suggested are proved to have been the same in every age and country in the world. Poetry," they add, "is, in

"The Edinburgh Review," vol. i. p. 73.

this respect, very nearly upon a footing with morality. In substance it is the same everywhere." They would, therefore, limit the sources of poetry to those aspects of humanity which were presented before Christianity had dawned upon the world. This, in disbelievers in revelation, was natural enough; but Southey was not an unbeliever.

That Christianity exhibits human nature under a new phase, will now, we think, be universally conceded. That it has wrought upon the human mind and heart, to the dethronement of passions and principles which before had ruled supreme, and kept all the gentler instincts and emotions in abey ance or in bondage, will, we fancy, be admitted even by those by whom its truth, as a revelation from God, is but little regarded. It is a great fact, of which the whole state of society, and the whole condition of man, in Christendom, bears unequivocal testimony; and it presents to the poet a new field for the exercise of his genius-a virgin soil for the cultivation of his poetic powers, as distinct from any which the heathen mythology affords, as is the light of the revelation under which we live, from the darkness visible of the idolatries by which it was preceded.

It is needless to dwell upon the development of the female character, and the re-exaltation of woman to her proper place in society, as one of the many blessings for which we are indebted to the diffusion of the Gospel; and surely, not to talk of its effects upon our proper humanity, the poet will recognise in it a new element of poetry, and find fitting subjects for his muse in graces and virtues which in older times challenged but little admiration.

Is it then, or is it not, a truth, which escaped the observation of the Edinburgh reviewer, that new sources of poetry have been discovered, when new trains of religious feeling have been awakened, and the moral sense has been quickened to, and invigorated by, the apprehension of spiritual things? On the contrary, we contend that such a metempsychosis of our moral being as may, under Christian influences, be experienced even upon earth, must naturally give rise to a species of composition abounding with

new notions of grandeur and dignity, and celebrating virtues which were before considered of a most unpoetical character-such as charity, humility, patience, forgiveness of injuries, and all the corresponding sentiments which they inspire. It is not Jupiter hurling his thunder, or Achilles indulging his wrath, which can interest the Christian reader, so much as a good man suffering under adversity, and borne up by a sublime reliance upon Providence. It is not the brutal achievements of physical strength, or the clumsy interference of degraded deities, which can inspire with sentiments of delight and admiration one whose tastes have been formed upon that model of excellence which the Gospel presents to all true believers; but feelings and incidents calculated to edn. cate and exercise our moral faculties, and which are in unison with those notions of divine perfection, and of true goodness and greatness, which can only be learned from an authentic revelation.

Now, the critic's wrath was provoked, because of these new sources of poetry of which Mr. Southey had largely availed himself. He does not, indeed, make the Christian character a professed object of delineation, or aim at a sort of poetical pilgrim's progress; but, by attributing to other systems the sublime incentives to virtue which Christianity furnishes, and taking advantage of their susceptibility of poetical adornment, he contrives to insinuate, instead of formally communicating, instruction. How recreative to the moral sense are his exquisite depictments of those future stages of our being, when we shall be freed from the trammels of mortality! So refined and delicate, and yet so palpable, are the pleasures which he describes; so truly exalted and spiritual, and yet so conceivable, are the feelings which he portrays, that it is impossible to read them without cherishing every good and amiable propensity, and feeling more sensibly the loveliness of virtue, and shrinking more instinctively from the hideousness of vice. Take, for instance, the following passage from "Kehama," in which the suffering Ladurlad and his persecuted daughter are permitted, for a brief season, to visit the wife and the mother in Paradise :

"Oh, happy sire and happy daughter! Ye, on the banks of that celestial water, Your resting-place and sanctuary have found.

What! hath not then their mortal taint defiled

The sacred solitary ground?
Vain thought! the holy valley smil'd,
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 refin'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 had power to speak,
The tears were streaming down her cheek.
And when those tears her sight beguil'd,
And still her faltering accents fail'd,
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'd;
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 recurring,
As if again in every vein
Her mother's milk was stirring;
With straining neck and earnest eye
She stretch'd her hands imploringly,
As if she fain would have her nigh,
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 hath to him restor'd
The early-lost, the long deplored.
They sin who tell us love can die,
With life all other passions fly-
All others are but vanity.
In heaven ambition cannot dwell,
Nor avarice in the vaults of hell;

Earthly, these passions of the earth, They perish where they have their birth, But love is indestructible.

Its holy flame for ever burneth;
From heaven it came, to heaven returneth;
Too oft on earth a troubled guest,
At times deceiv'd, at times opprest,
It here is tried and purified,
Then hath in heaven its perfect rest;
It soweth here with toil and care,
But the harvest-time of love is there.
Oh! when a mother meets on high
The babe she lost in infancy,
Hath she not then, for pains and fears,
The day of woe, the watchful night,
For all her sorrow, all her tears,
An over-payment of delight."

Such is the characteristic of Southey's poetry. The grand maxim which he would inculcate is a belief in a graciously superintending Providence; 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 has successfully surmounted the solicitations 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 exeinplified, 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 harmony;"

while

"Transparent garments, to the greedy eye

Gave all their harlot limbs,

Which writhed, in each immodest gesture skilled.

With eager eyes the banqueters
Fed on the sight impure."

But in the heart of the youth of destiny far other feelings were awakened:

"His own Oneiza swam before his sightHis own Arabian maid.

He rose, and from the banquet-room he rushed,

And tears streamed down his burning cheek; And nature, for a moment, woke the thought,

And murmured, that, from all domestic joys
Estranged, he wandered through the world
A lonely being, far from all he loved.
Son of Hodeirah, not among thy crimes
That murmur shall be written!"

Such was the poetry of Robert Southey : a poetry which recreates the moral sense, and has for its object the development and purification of instincts and faculties which would have remained, like veins in the block of marble, had they not been evoked and brought into light by Christianity. And had his Scotch critics felt its power, far different would have been their estimate of productions which all have a reference to that new state of being to which it teaches us to aspire.

That certain kinds of poetry naturally arise out of certain stages of society, is a truth very generally acknowleged by competent judges in such matters. And, if we remember rightly, the late Mr. Preston, in an essay which was published in an early volume of "The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy," marked very clearly the distinction between the poetry of the Augustan age and that of the time of Homer. The latter, belonging to a stage of society when the physical powers of man were more necessary, and consequently in greater esteem, dwells much upon feats of strength and achievements of valour. Homer is less fond of describing the hero by what he thought or felt, than by what he did or suffered. Virgil, on the other hand, deals more in abstract passion, and

Again, when he is tried by suffering, and Mohared has him in a dungeon and in chains, his deliverance and promotion to great honour being conditional upon his compliance with the behests of the regal voluptuary, how noble is his response to the solicitations of the tempter :

"Sultan Mohared-yes! you have me here,

In chains; but not forsaken, though oppressed;
Cast down, but not destroyed; shall danger daunt-
Shall death dismay his soul whose blood is given
For God, and for his brethren of mankind?
Alike rewarded in that noble cause,

The patriot's and the martyr's wreath above
Beam with one glory; think ye that my blood
Shall quench the dreaded flame: and know ye not
That leagued against ye are the just and wise,
And all good actions, of all ages past;

Yea! your own crimes, and truth, and God in heaven."

traces the progress of the more refined and delicate affections in the soul. And with good reason does he deviate, in this respect, from the venerable Grecian. Man had become a more reflecting being; his attention had been more turned to the workings of his own mind; and he could then pursue a train of thought, or follow a course of reasoning, with as much ease as he could, in the heroic ages, attend to the details of a chase. It was therefore that poetry became more purely intellectual--that passion, and feeling, and sentiment became more immediately its object. And if we pursue the inquiry farther, and trace the change which has been made in the moral condition of man by Christianity, we shall find ample reason for admitting that a new and an interesting field of observation has been opened to the poet and the philosopher, by the disclosure of sentiments and affections, and the practice of virtues, different from those in repute in the heathen world, and proceeding from motives more truly sublime and spiritual than any with which it was acquainted.

Having thus stated our views of the light in which the poetry of this great man should have been viewed-but in which it was not viewed by the Pharisees and Saducees of literature-we

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