Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

attained the highest honours of a jealous and engrossing profession, and hitherto wholly unsuspected of any serious intercourse with the Muses, suddenly presented himself in the literary arena, in the new and perilous character of a candidate for poetical honours ; and that not in the lighter walk of the playful or the humorous, in which, by all who know him, he might well be supposed capable of pleasing, but in the higher and more en. nobling field of earnest emotion and meditative reflection. It was hardly possible for those who esteemed and respected the many good qualities of the man, and the high distinction of uniform candour and straightforwardness in the bearing of the pleader, to listen to this announcement without a certain degree of anxiety; and perhaps in proportion to the nervousness with which the intelligence was at first received, is the feeling of relief and satisfaction now that the trial is successfully over.

But. before we proceed further, it is fit that we should give the brief history of a publication, of which the first mention excited this lively and varied interest.

Lord Robertson's elevation to the Bench in the Spring of 1844, gave him the disposal of the following Summer and Autumn vacation for the usual period of four months. He eagerly availed himself of this first considerable interval of exemption from the calls of professional employment to visit the Continent; and occasionally, during the progress of his rapid journey, which extended to Naples, he recorded in verse the impressions received, and the thoughts suggested by the deeply interesting scenes and objects through which he passed, or which he surveyed; and, on his return, he printed a selection from these poetical sketches, for his family and his intimate friends. The approbation bestowed upon them induced him afterwards to give them, with some additions, to the public at large; and hence the volume, called by him • Leaves from a Journal, of which we are now more particularly to speak.

The chief recommendation of these · Leaves' consists in the evident sincerity of the feelings which they embody; for there is no mistaking the genuineness of the excitement by which they have been dictated. We see that the writer has been taken by surprise by the novelty and splendour of scenes long thought of, but with which he at last has been unexpectedly brought into contact ; that he writes with all the unhesitating warmth of a first impression; and that, feeling every thing to be new to himself, he does not pause to consider whether his impressions of such scenes, when conveyed in verse, will be equally new to his readers. Probably had he been more familiar with the range of poetical literature, and known how much of his train of thought and imagery had of necessity been anticipated by his predecessors, the Leaves' would never have been put together in the shape in which we are happy to have them before us. But unembarrassed by any such disheartening foreknowledge, and deeply conscious of a real emotion and excitement under the new influences by which he was surrounded, he does not hesitate to give vent to his impressions as they arise; and thus ideas and images, in themselves sufficiently familiar and commonplace, assume a certain aspect and character of originality-simply because we see that they are no imitations at second-hand of the thoughts of others, but the genuine reflection of the things themselves, as they were stamped upon the responding heart and mind of the writer. If, indeed, any man of quick observation, and of a kindly and sympathetic spirit, will faithfully portray in verse what he feels when first emancipated from professional care and toil, and suddenly placed in circumstances where the wonders of art and nature glide by him in rapid succession, he may probably, indeed, utter many commonplaces, and give vent to some incongruous conceptions; but a groundwork of truth and nature will be found at the bottom, and it will require but little novelty of treatment, or nicety of poetical embellishment, to create a certain interest in, and secure a genial indulgence for, his verses.

Of all persons, too, we are convinced that the hard-working lawyer—if originally possessed of a spark of romance, or gifted with a natural love of beauty, as the author of these · Leaves' plainly is-remains the most impressible by the enthusiasm produced by such changes ;—the most likely to indulge in a species of amabilis insania, under circumstances that call forth the latent feelings. The very hurry and anxiety of his ordinary existence makes every pause in the whirl of life a source of positive enjoyment; and if to this be added, that his natural tastes and sympathies have not been dissipated, as in the case of the professed dilettante and littérateur, but have remained, as it were, pent up and concentrated, and indulged only at rare and stolen intervals

, we may conceive with what elasticity these feelings will spring up when the pressure of professional duties is removed, and he is left at leisure to realize his early dreams, and traverse in person scenes which he had so often longed, but scarcely expected, under the pressure of his suffocating briefs, ever to see. Many an inmate of the Temple, we doubt not, looking down on that fine quiet old garden that lies islanded, as it were, amidst the restless ocean of London life, has echoed Wordsworth's

-
· Vallombrosa ! I long in thy shadiest wood

To slumber, reclined on the moss-cover'd floor,
To listen to Arno's precipitous food,

When the stillness of evening bạs deepen’d its roar ;

lines :

• To range through the temples of Pæstum, to muse

In Pompeii, preserved by her burial in earth;
On pictures to gaze where they drank in their hues,

And murmur sweet songs on the ground of their birth!' In truth, if he wishes to enjoy the feeling of complete emancipation and immunity from professional cares, so as to leave him at leisure to enjoy, without any counteracting influences, the impressions produced by novelty, beauty, and grandeur, he must not linger at home. Mails, steamboats, and railways have annihilated, in as far as Great Britain is concerned, the relaxation of holidays. Go where he will, business follows him. It is in vain that he takes the wings of the Great Western, seeking rest in some of the green hollows or seagirt nooks of Devon: the means by which he escapes afford the same fatal facilities for pursuit. His clerk follows in the next train, duly depositing on his table the inevitable brief.

To be safe, he must, in a word, leave the Channel behind him. Once on the Continent, he may combine the sense of security with pleasurable excitement. The more rapidly he moves, the more attractive will appear the passing pageant which unrolls itself before him. He sees it only in imposing masses ; he has no time to dissect, to criticise, to get weary of details. The stately star-y-pointing' Cathedrals of France or Belgium first captivate his imagination, and lead back his thoughts into the sphere of devotional awe, by their notions of vastness, their intermixture of gloom and splendour, and that harmonious unity of proportion which suggests the idea of a spontaneous growth rather than of slow architectural combination. The fenced cities and burgal halls of the Low Countries, uniting all the fretwork of ornament with the strength of fortresses, vividly recall the stirring times and civic contests out of which the frame of modern society has grown into form. The chiefless castles breathing stern farewells' from every eminence bordering the majestic Rhine, which is bearing him onward to his destination, awaken a thousand legendary memories of ladye-love and war, romance

and knightly worth.' As these recede, he finds himself, almost by dream-like transition, among the rocks and green valleys of Switzerland: he sees the shadows of the far-distant Alps reflected in the blue lake at his feet; he climbs that Giant's staircase by which this mountain barrier is scaled. From the region of ice and snow, he passes, as if by magic, into a clime of the sun. Milan receives him with all her historical memories, her libraries, her galleries of art, her unique and dazzling cathedral. He next sails between ranks of palaces along the watery streets of the Silent City-imbibing in kindred silence the peculiar charm of its quaint and waning magnificence. Florence spreads before him her uncount

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

a

ed treasures of art; Naples courts him with her joyons and luxuriant beauty; till the long-continued and delightful strain of emotion attains its climax, as he treads-almost doubtful whether he can believe his vision realized the streets of Rome.

Such appears to have been pretty nearly the rapid course pursued by Lord Robertson ; nor is it wonderful that to one enjoying, amidst such scenes, his first complete professional leisure, with the agreeable, the triumphant consciousness, of having earned his right to it by labours performed, and distinction honourably won, every thing should present itself steeped, as it were, in a double sunshine ; and that the writer should fearlessly give vent to a strain of romance and enthusiasm, which, in our colder and more calculating latitude, and with the fear of criticism immediately before his eyes, he would probably have taken no inconsiderable care to suppress. Under this agreeable intoxication of the mind, the marvel in truth is, not that a reverend Senator became a little sentimental, but that he did not write a dithyrambic.

We have prepared our readers not to expect from these-nevertheless most pleasing-sketches much of absolute originality. The writer is contented with the first and most obvious aspects of things. Generally speaking, the reflections are such as lie on the surface, and might almost be characterised as unavoidable. But this must not be taken too literally. Some of the thoughts are novel-not a few of the turns very graceful and appropriate. There is frequently a fulness and melody in the versification that falls pleasingly on the ear; though at other times perplexingly checkered and marred by lines which, from their defective and untuneful formation, suggest an uneasy doubt whether the writer is really alive to the difference of accents, or the deficiency or excess of syllables, in the construction of verses; or whether he chooses to treat the question of number and melody as a matter of indifference. M on himself, in the most elaborate and ambitions, though we are not inclined to think the most suc cessful poem in the volume before us,* is introduced committing short and long,' to an extent of which that immortal master of melody would scarcely bave approved could the poem have been submitted to his revisal.

We have spoken of the sincerity of tone—the cheerful spiritand the warm-hearted sympathy which pervade these sketches: to which we may add a picturesque eye, and considerable power of presenting to the mind the characteristic features of the scene to be depicted. This is effected, no doubt, not by that pregnant

See the Poem entitled Milton and Galileo.'

a

condensation with which the great poet seizes in a line or two the

a spirit of the spot, and detains it, as it were, before the eye of the reader; but by a process of accumulation of details, a little heavy sometimes, but certainly producing in the aggregate a strong impression of reality. Such, for instance, is the case with the lines on Pompeii—where a number of little traits, briefly piled together, bring back a vivid and palpable picture of that "fair sepulchre ;' the sandy glare of all around; the solitude and deathlike whiteness of its wilderness of half-disinterred halls, temples, and tombs; and the solemn effect produced by the contrast of this sepulchral repose with the ever-living and active volcano in the background, to which it owed its destruction :

• Temples of Jove and Isis, from the sand
Rising in sunny cluster'd beauty, hail !
Your worshippers are fied; your priests have fallen ;
Pompeii's kindred deities are gone;
Broken their effigies, their shrines decay'd,
Hush'd the tribunal, where, to combat doom'd,
Guiltless or guilty, stood the slave forlorn.
No sound comes from the theatre of blood,
Save hum of lizard, grasshopper, or bee;
Within the senate hall the snake lies coil'da
The orator is dumb—the patriot sleeps.
In thy soft garden bowers and quiet homes,
Beauty has lost her smile, and love her power.
The forum is forsaken. Hush'd the crowd,
That in the busy mart jostled for gain.
The chariot-wheels along the well-worn stones
Move not. Empty the jars of wine and oil ;
Broken the grinding-stones; cold are the learths;
The gold within its master's grasp is seal’d.
The armourer, the smith, the labourer rests-
The slave and prisoner from his chains set free.
The sentinel keeps his post, an armed atomy!
Fountains and baths are dry. Ended the sports.
Tragic and comic theatres repose-
The actors rest—the wrestlers struggle not.
The mummer's jest is o'er. The song is hush'd.

The minstrel's harp is broke--the wine-cup fallen.' There is the same feeling of local truth, the same rendering back of the feelings awakened by the spot, in the lines descriptive of Pozzuoli, with its grass-grown amphitheatre—the silence of its vaults and arches, broken by the roll of thunder overheadthe lonely pillars of Serapis, mirrored in the deep sea-green waters that now flood the temple--the placid lakes-the farstretching coast studded with nameless ruins of Roman grandeur, and the calm Mediterranean, with its islands, bounding the horizon.

« ForrigeFortsæt »