Obrázky na stránke

exposition rather than the justice or completeness of its reasoning, it never can be considered on any subject as a positive final instructor. Its office is to incite to reflection, and provide materials of thought; to accompany, not to direct, our progress. Variety of topic, variety of view, variety of sentiment and opinion, are indispensable for mental culture; and it is not easy to see how better the mind is to be provided with these, and roused from its natural sloth, than by a perusal of the poets, whose very task it is to give forth the various subjects of human thought in their most captivating and impressive form.

been his peculiar achievement to extend our sympathies towards the neglected and forgotten, towards the humble and the weak, who need them not the less because they have few qualities to attract them. Witness that little piece, "The Cumberland Beggar," which throws so singular a charm over a torpid slow old man, creeping along the highway with his head bent to the earth, not more by age and infirmity than with sluggish apprehension. The old man creeps along with scarce a thought-no fictitious sentiment is infused into his mind-no ideal grace is added to his figure-there is nothing in all the picOf course, the perusal of poetry is ture but the simplest reality-there is not to be urged in the same dictatorial nothing new but the poet's heart, manner in which other studies may be which, however, has circled its object advocated and enforced. No one can with so singular an interest, that it is sit down to the work of the poet as he impossible for any one who has read might to that of the mathematician, the poem, ever again to look with with great labour to understand, and perfect apathy upon one of these old with great labour to enjoy it. This children of the earth. Of such writis against the very nature of poetry; ings there will not be two opinions. it cannot be made task-work of. If But what are we to say of his conthe pages of genius laid open before temporary, Byron? His teaching exthe attentive mind will not attract, tends not our sympathies, but our will not rivet, will not delight, then contempt, over mankind, and justifies for that mind, so constituted, there must this arrogance towards others by an be other literature, other incitement. equal self-disparagement. He teaches But if it does delight, then let the his pupil to despise the homely expedicharm work. Do not think, you who ent of regulating the passions of his have the supervision of our youth, own bosom, and to preserve the tumult, that your pupil is reflecting to no and with it the wild license of infinite purpose, because he is reflecting with complaint. In his own vivid phrase, greatest ardency. He is not idle who we are "half dust, half deity." He sits apart with the slender volume in does not raise what is in us of divine, his hand, wrapt utterly and most de- but teaches us perpetually to contemliciously from the world around him, plate with bitterness that part which the vision of the poet on his eye, the is dust and clay. He teaches half the music of the poet in his ear. lesson, and there leaves his tortured mind is making more rapid growth in and disquieted reader. If every book, those hours of heartfelt passionate especially of poetry, were looked on thinking, than in days, and weeks, and as a sole instructor, who would not years of steadfast and very commend- feel compelled to denounce such able labour, where the heart, however, writings? But many books, many is unengaged. thoughts, much contradictory and perplexing and turbulent matter, go to the making up of a cultivated mind. Every mode of thinking has its place; and the very best is not the best until it has been viewed in juxtaposition with others. He who has read, and felt, and risen above the poetry of Byron, will be for life a wiser man for having once been thoroughly acquainted with the morbid sentiments which there meet with so full and powerful an expression. And so variously are we constituted, that there


It is only by understanding and keeping in view the exact office of poetry, that any fair defence can be made for such writings as those of Byron. The beneficent influence of such a poet as Wordsworth, no one will dispute. He not only leads to reflection, but reflection of the purest kind. He has taken it for his province even to correct many associations, which, other poets finding in the minds of men, have taken advantage of, without calculating their tendency. It has

some effort of reflection we are apt to perceive, to those associations of thought which imaginative writers have brought about.

are some who find themselves best roused to vigorous and sound thinking by an author with whom they have to contend. There are who can better quiet their own perturbed minds by watching the extravagances of a stronger maniac than themselves, than by listening to placid strains, however eloquent. Some there are, who seem destined to find their entrance into philosophy, and into its calmest recesses, through the avenue of moody and discontented reflection.

As to that description of poetry which is dramatical, where the writer does not advocate any distinct class of opinions or sentiments, but sets forth the various deeds and passions of men with depth but impartiality of colouring-what need be said of this, but that it is the study of the world itself in a more manageable form? It is the study of mankind, facilitated and rendered most attractive. Of all literature, it may be said that it carries us out of ourselves, and brings us acquainted with the endless diversities of our fellow-men; but this is here the very function of the writer, who gains his title and his intellectual rank by performing it with pre-eminent effect. Humanity in all its forms is crowding round the student of dramatic literature; nor is any metropolis in the world half so full of strange shapes, goodly and marvellous, as the solitary chamber of that student after the incantation of the poet has been read.

We are not inclined to prose any longer, upon a theme so easy as the praises of poetry, and where our readers would perhaps prefer to prose each one for himself. We will add only, that there are many influences of poetry which reach even those who have no personal acquaintance with it. Those who are repugnant to verse, and avoid, as much as possible, all contact with rhyme as a thing purely vexatious, are not, perhaps, aware how much they are indebted, indirectly, to the labours of the poet. Many a feeling they would not willingly relinquish, has originated or been fostered by the ideas thrown into general circulation by a succession of poetic teachers. The sentiment of beauty in all its modifications a sentiment which adds so much to the pleasure of life, so much to the refinement of character is due, far more than without

We need not enter into any discussion on the origin of this sentiment; it is on all hands admitted that it is in most instances the result of an agreeable association of ideas. These associations the poet multiplies, and his combinations, extending through all literature, become the common property of mankind. A little childhow attractive an object, and yet how small a part of the interest it excites is owing originally to its mere form! As you meet one of these round corpulent urchins, scarce balancing itself, and as yet imperfect in every movement, muttering some sad mimicry of language meaning nothing, and looking out with such charming ignorance on all things-you slacken pace, you pause, you contemplate it with a feeling of delight, which you express in the term beautiful, or some other kindred epithet. The feeling seems instantaneous, and yet it was the result of many previous reflections connected with childhood, of comparisons drawn between it and maturity, and of that play of imagination which suggests a sort of ideal happiness for infancy. All this, or the greater part, was due to the poet, unless we choose to say we should have been sufficient poets for ourselves, and refuse our acknowledgment to the long line of men of peculiar genius who have made the world familiar with their thoughts.

The beauty of the fair sex may seem to require, and to admit, of no touches from any art whatever; and it must be confessed that, without aid from poetic or other literature, and without much meditation of any kind soever, men who see beauty nowhere else, are capable of descrying it here. But that peculiar refinement attached to female charms, by which the sex acquires so mysterious, so respectful, and so tender a homage-this comes from the poet. He has been busy in all ages, in all countries, in all languages, investing, by a thousand delicate associations, the form of female beauty with every moral grace-surrounding it with every image pleasing to the fancy or dear to the affections. Nay, has he not carried that form first into the skies, to people his celestial regions with, and then brought it back again

to earth, endowed with all manner of goddess-like perfections?

To the beauty of inanimate nature, the poet has added even in a still more plain and indisputable manner. He has filled the landscape with beauties in fact invisible, save to the mind, but which have become inseparably blended with the visible object. The lake, the wood, the stream, are not only beautiful in form, and colour, and motion, they have been invested by the poet with whatever is gentle, or solemn, or attractive in human affections. Scarcely can we say it is an inanimate creation we gaze upon, so much has he infused of the life, of the soul of man-so much of peace and repose so much of passion and dignity, and of boundless aspiration. Nature and the poet now halve the work between them. Nor is it only what is extolled as exquisite scenery which echoes back to us the sentiments of the human being-nor is any voyage necessary in search of the picturesque or the

gigantic, in order to experience this power which the material world has acquired from its imaginative inhabitants. This influence is felt in the simplest landscape-in the tree, the meadow, the stream-wherever, beneath an open sky, nature shoots her green or pours her rivers. The bland and elevating influence which rural scenes exert, is a common topic of remark. They do exert this influence, but it is after the poet has been there. The rustic who, if having open eyes and living in the open air were enough, communes perpetually with nature, knows nothing of an influence which, to the educated man, seems to flow so directly from the scene.

Let such considerations as these conciliate those who do not intend, whatever we or others may say, to open again their books of poetry: though resolute not to read, they may at least be not unwilling that such a species of literature should be written and read by others.



THE fables of Yriarte are held in high estimation by his own countrymen, and have been successfully translated into most of the languages of Europe. Their reputation is well merited; for they possess, in an eminent degree, the essential qualities that characterise this class of compositions, and are scarcely inferior even to those of La Fontaine himself in sprightliness of narrative, justness of moral, and natural grace and facility of expression. But they differ from every other collection of fables in the singularity of their application, which is wholly confined to literary matters; and their interest is greatly enhanced by the variety of their versificationa circumstance to which Yriarte refers with much complacency in his preface, where he mentions that the sixty-seven fables of which his volume consists, comprise "forty different kinds of metre." In this respect I have, to a certain extent, followed his example;

for, without attempting to imitate the peculiar measures of Spanish poesy, I have studiously adopted various forms of verse, instead of restricting myself, after the common fashion of English fabulists, to the monotony of the octosyllabic.

The reader who may be acquainted with the Spanish text, will find that, with few exceptions, the following translations have been executed with perhaps as much fidelity as was compatible with the endeavour to render them poetically. In some half dozen instances, where the originals possessed little interest in their subject, and were only remarkable for elegance of style or harmony of numbers, I felt compelled to take a greater license. To translate them literally, was, literally, to traduce them. Their native delicacy seemed necessarily to evaporate in the process; and, like the pure wines of their own country, which will not bear to be exported until they

have been strongly brandied, they appeared to require that a translator should infuse a spirit of his own into them, in order to adapt them for the English palate. The critic, I fear, will decide that, in seeking to improve, I have only adulterated them.

Yriarte was a voluminous author, and attempted almost every kind of poetical composition; but his writings seldom rise above mediocrity, and are distinguished rather by judgment and good taste than by force and originality. Next to his Literary Fables, a didactic poem on Music, which, I be. lieve, has been translated into English, enjoys the highest celebrity. Liverpool.

R. R.

1. THE ELEPhant and tHE BEASTS.

An elephant, in ages far-gone,

[ocr errors]

But others, though they felt within A shrinking consciousness of sin, Express'd their anger that the elephant

Should utter charges so irrelevant.
The tiger gnash'd his teeth and

The wolf in savage concert howl'd ;
The serpent shot his venom'd fang,
And hiss'd throughout the long ha-

So foul a libel on a bird

The vulture vow'd was never heard ;
The toad refused to stay-the snail
And locust followed in his trail;
And reynard fled, as if a pack
Of dogs were yelping at his back;
The monkey, mounting at a jump
Upon the dromedary's hump,
Amused the groundlings with grimace,
And mock'd the speaker to his face ;
While gnat and hornet, wasp and

When beasts could speak a sort of Reviled him in an under-tone.


Observing with disapprobation
The vices of the brute creation,
Determined in his zeal to call
A meeting, and reform them all.
They met; when, having duly bow'd
His trunk to greet the gaping crowd,
He spouted forth, with mighty strength
Of lungs, a speech of mighty length,
A speech which, like a practised


He had composed and got memoriter,
For speakers of the greatest note
At times extemporize-by rote.
Each fault and folly, which of late
Had sapp'd the morals of the state,
Pert ignorance, destructive sloth,
Malignant envy, worse than both,
Hypocrisy and affectation,

And pride, that oversteps its station-
All these, and more than I have time
To recapitulate in rhyme,
He stigmatized with all the fire
And freedom of a preaching friar.
-The virtuous portion of the crew
(But these, alas, were very few!)
Received with open acclamation
The honest elephant's oration.
The gentle lambkin skipt with glee,
And blithely humm'd the busy bee;
The faithful dog, the patient steer,
The dove, the emmet, and the deer,
By different tokens of applause
Evinced their zeal in virtue's cause;
The meek ass, with a joyous bray,
Approved the speech, and, strange to

The horse assented by a―nay.

But high above the jarring host
The elephant maintain'd his post,
As unconcern'd as if the brutes
Had been a company of mutes;
And thus, with unabated force,
At length concluded his discourse:
"My observations, I protest,
However pointedly express'd,
Were universally address'd-
Address'd alike to every one,
But personally aimed at none.
The few whose consciences are clear,
Have nothing to resent or fear;
While such as choose to take offence
By misinterpreting my sense,
Convict themselves, and merely show
How well they merited the blow."

My fables, in their application
Refer to every age and nation;
For authors, just as dull and vain
As any who abound in Spain,
Have perpetrated prose and rhyme
In every land, in every time.
But, though I solemnly disclaim
All personality of aim,

If any scribbler, conscience-smitten,
Should wince at aught that I have

Should find, in short, the cap to fit,
The fool is welcome unto it.

II. THE SILKWORM AND the spider.

One day, as a silkworm slowly spun
Its delicate threads in the noon-tide


[blocks in formation]

Good father Joltered, who lost his brains
By overstudying of natural history-
For authors often take the greatest pains
To turn the plainest matter to a mystery-
Who wrote a score of volumes to describe
Some score of beasts that Adam never saw,
Of phoenix, unicorn, or griffin tribe,

And gave their very likeness to a claw;
In short, who rummaged continent and cape
For creatures of the strangest size and shape:
This reverend writer tells, in pond'rous prose,
A certain story, which I'll re-compose
In light and careless verse, about an ape.

According to his kind, this ape possess'd
The faculty of imitation strongly,
(A faculty that's dangerous at the best,

For apes are very apt to use it wrongly,)
And being bound apprentice-by a chain-
Unto a juggler, had contrived to gain
A smattering of a trick or two, which made
The creature think himself beyond all doubt

A perfect master of the mystic trade;

So one day, when his master had gone out,
He seized the opportunity with glee

To get up a performance of his own,

And ask'd the neighbouring beasts to come and see
How great a conjurer he had really grown.

They came-and, first a chequer'd harlequin
He moved his magic wand; and then a clown

« PredošláPokračovať »