« ForrigeFortsæt »
We are aware that, in objecting to a work like this, that it is made up of such materials, we may seem to be objecting that it is made of the elements of poetry, -since it is no doubt true, that it is by the use of these very materials that poetry is substantially distinguished from prose, and that it is to them it is indebted for all that is peculiar in the delight and the interest it inspires : and it may seem a little unreasonable to complain of a poet, that he treats us with the essence of poetry. We have already hintcd, however, that no man likes to live entirely on essences, and that our objection goes not only to the excessive strength of the emotions that are sought to be raised, but to the violence of their transitions, and the want of continuity in the train of feeling that is produced. It may not be amiss, however, to add a word or two more of explanation. In the
first place, then, if we consider how the fact stands, we shall find that all the great poets, and, in an especial manner, all the poets who chain down the attention of their readers, and maintain a growing interest through a long series of narrations, have been remarkable for the occasional familiarity, and even homeliness, of their incidents, characters and sentiments. This is the distinguishing feature in Homer, Chaucer, Ariosto, Shakespeare, Dryden, Scott--and will be found to occur, we believe, in all poetry that has been long and extensively popular, or that is capable of pleasing very strongly, or stirring very deeply, the common sensibilities of our nature. We need scarcely make an exception for the lofty Lyric, which is so far from being generally attractive, that it is not even intelligible, except to a studious few-or for those solemn and devotional strains which derive their interest from a still higher principle: But in all narrative poetry-in all long pieces made up of descriptions and adventures, it seems hitherto to have been an indispensable condition of their success, that the persons and events should bear a considerable resemblance to those which we meet with in ordinary life; and, though more animated and important than to be of daily occurrence, should not be immeasurably exalted above the common standard of human fortune and character.
It should be almost enough to settle the question, that such is the fact-and that no narrative poetry has ever excited a great interest, where the persons were too much purified from the valgar infirmities of our nature, or the incidents too thoroughly purged of all that is ordinary or familiar. But the slighiest reflection upon the feelings with which we read such poctry, must satisfy us as to the reason of our disappointment. It may be told in two words. Writings of this kind revolt by their improbability; and fatigue, by offering no points upon which our
sympathies can readily attach.—Two things are necessary to give a fictitious narrative a deep and commanding interest; first, that we should believe that such things might have happened ; and secondly, that they might have happened to ourselves, or to such persons as ourselves. But, in reading the ambitious and overwrought poetry of which we have been speaking, we feel perpetually, that there could have been no such people, and no such occurrences as we are there called upon to feel for; and that it is impossible to have much concern about beings whose principles of action are so remote from our own, and who are placed in situations to which we have never known any parallel. It is no doubt true, that the stories that interest us must represent passions of a higher pitch, and events of a more extraordinary nature than occur in ordinary life; and that it is in consequence of rising thus sensibly above its level, that they become objects of interest and attention. But, in order that this very elevation may be felt, and produce its effect, the story must itself, in other places, give us the known and ordinary level,--and, by a thousand adaptations and traits of universal nature, make us feel, that the characters which become every now and then the objects of our intense sympathy and admiration, in great emergencies, and under the influence of rare but conceivable excitements, are, after all, our fellow creatures--made of the same flesh and blood with ourselves, and acting, and acted upon, by the common principles of our nature. Without this, indeed, the effect of their sufferings and exploits would be entirely lost upon us; as we should be without any scale by which to estimate the magnitude of the temptations they had to resist, or the energies they had exerted. To make us aware of the altitude of a mountain, it is absolutely necessary to show us the plain from which it ascends. If we are allowed to see nothing but the table land at the top, the effect will be no greater than if we had remained on the hi ble level of the ore--except that it will be more lonely, bleak, and inhospitable. And thus it is, that by exaggerating the heroic qualities of heroes, they become as uninteresting as if they had no such qualities—that by striking out those weaknesses and vulgar infirmities which identify them with ordinary mortals, they not only cease to interest ordinary mortals, but even to excite their admiration or surprise ; and appear merely as strange inconceivable beings, in whom superhuman energy and refinement are no more to be wondered at, than the power of flying in an eagle, or of fasting in a snake.
The wise antient who observed, that being a man himself, he could not but take an interest in every thing that related to man-might have confirmed his character for wisdom, by add. ing, that for the same reason he could take no interest in any thing else. There is nothing, after all, that we ever truly care for, but the feelings of creatures like ourselves--and we are obliged to lend them to the flowers and the brooks of the valley, and the stars and airs of heaven, before we can take any delight in them. With sentient beings the case is more obviously the same. In whatever class we rank them, or with whatever fantastic attributes we may please to invest them, still we comprehend and concern ourselves about them, only in so far as they resemble ourselves. All the deities of the classic mythology-and all the devils and angels of later poets, are nothing but human creatures-or at least only interest us so long as they are so. Let any one try to imagine what kind of story he could make of the adventures of a set of beings who differed from our own species in any of its general attributes-who were incapable, for instance, of the debasing feelings of fear, pain or anxiety—and he will find, that instead of becoming more imposing and attractive by getting rid of those infirmities, they become utterly insignificant, and indeed in a great degree inconceivable. Or, to come a little closer to the matter before
and not to go beyond the bounds of common experience--Suppose a tale, founded on refined notions of delicate love and punctilious integrity, to be told to a race of obscene, brutal and plundering savages-or, even within the limits of the same country, if a poem, turning upon the jealousies of court intrigue, the pride of rank, and the cabals of sovereigns and statesmen, were put into the hands of village maidens or clownish labourers, is it not obvious that the remoteness of the manners, characters and feelings from their own, would first surprise, and then revolt them--and that the moral, intellectual and adventitious Superio. rity of the personages concerned, would, instead of enhancing the interest, entirely destroy it, and very speedily extinguish all sympathy with their passions, and all curiosity about their fate? -Now, what gentlemen and ladies are to a ferocious savage, or politicians and princesses to an ordinary rustic, the exaggerated persons of such poetry as we are now considering, are to the ordinary readers of poetry. They do not believe in the possibility of their existence, or their adventures. They do not comprehend the principles of their conduct, and have no thorough sympathy with the feelings that are ascribed to them.
We have carried this speculation, we believe, a little too far -and, with reference to the volume before us, it would be more correct perhaps to say, that it had suggested these observations, than that they are strictly applicable to it. For though its faults are certainly of the kind we have been endeavouring to describe, it would be quite unjust to characterize it by its faults, which are beyond all doubt less conspicuous than its beauties. There is not only a richness and brilliancy of diction and imagery spread over the whole work, that indicate the greatest activity and elegance of fancy in the author; but it is everywhere pervaded still more strikingly with a strain of tender and noble feeling, poured out with such warmth and abundance, as to steal insensibly on the heart of the reader, and gradually to overflow it with a tide of sympathetic emotion. There are passages indeed, and these neither few nor brief, over which the very Genius of poetry seems to have breathed his richest enchantment--where the melody of the verse and the beauty of the images conspire so harmoniously with the force and tenderness of the emotion, that the whole is blended into one deep and bright stream of sweetness and feeling, along which the spirit of the reader is borne passively away, through long reaches of delight. Mr Moore's poetry, indeed, where his happiest vein is opened, realizes more exactly than that of any other writer, the splendid account which is given by Comus of the song of
• His mother Circe, and the Sirens three,
Amid the flowery-kirtled Naiades,
And lap it in Elysium.' And though it is certainly to be regretted that he should so often have broken the measure with more frivolous strains, or filled up its intervals with a sort of brilliant fulsetto, it should never be forgotten, that his excellences are at least as peculiar to himself as his faults, and, on the whole, perhaps more chaTacteristic of his gepius.
The volume before us contains four separate and distinct poems-connected, however, and held together like orient pearls at random strung,' by the slender thread of a slight prose story, on which they are all suspended, and to the simple catastrophe of which they in some measure contribute. This airy and elegant legend is to the following effect. Lalla Rookh, the daughter of the great Aurengzebe, is betrothed to the young king of Bucharia ; and sets forth, with a splendid train of Indian and Bucharian attendants, to meet her enamoured bridegroom in the delightful valley of Cashmere. The progress of this gorgeous cavalcade, and the beauty of the country which it traverses, are described with great richness of colouring and picturesque effect; though in this, as well as in all the other parts of the prose narrative, a certain tone of levity, and even derision, is frequently assumed---not very much in keeping, we think, with the tender and tragic strain of the poetry of which
it is the accompaniment-certain breakings out, in short, of that mocking European wit which has made itself merry with Asiatic solennity, ever since the time of the facetious Coun: Hamilton but seems not a little out of place in a miscellany, the prevailing character of which is of so opposite a temper.
To amuse the languor, or divert the impatience of the royal bride in the noontide and night-halts of her luxurious progress, a young Cashmerian poet had been sent by the gallantry of the bridegroom ; and recites, on those occasions, the several poems that form the bulk of the volume now before us. Such is the witchery of his voice and look, and such the sympathetic effect of the tender tales which he recounts, that the poor princess, as was naturally to be expected, falls desperately in love with him before the end of the journey; and, by the time she enters the lovely Vale of Cashmere, and sees the glittering palaces and towers prepared for her reception, she feels that she would joyfully forego all this pomp and splendour, and fly to the desert with her adored Feramorz. The youthful bard, however, has now disappeared from her side; and she is supported, with fainting heart and downcast eyes, into the hated presence of her tyrant, when the voice of Feramorz himself bids her be of good cheer-and, looking up, she sees her beloved poet in the Prince himself! who had assumed this gallant disguise, and won her young affections, without deriving any aid from his rank or her engagements. The whole story is very sweetly and gaily told ; and is adorned with many tender as well as lively passages-without reckoning among the latter the cccasional criticisms of the omniscient Fadladeen, the magnificent and most infallible grand chamberlain of the Haram—whose sayings and remarks, we cannot help observing, do not agree very well with the character which is assigned him -being for the most part very smart, snappish, and acute, and by no means solemn, stupid, and pompous, as was to have been expected. Mr Moore's genius, however, we suppose, is too inveterately lively, to make it possible for him even to counterfeit dulness. We come at last, however, to the poetry.
The first piece, which is entitled the Veiled Prophet of Khorassan,' is the longest, we think, and certainly not the best, of the series. It has all the faults which we have, somewhat too sweepingly, imputed to the volume at large; and it was chiefly, indeed, with a reference to it, that we made those introductory remarks, which the author will probably think too much in the spirit of the sage Chamberlain. The story, which is not in all its parts extremely intelligible, is founded on a notice, in D'Herbelot, of a daring impostor of the early ages of Islamism, who pretended to have received a later and more authoritative