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that the works of Longfellow may owe their extraordinary popularity on this side of the Atlantic not to their satisfying a lower standard of classic excellence, but simply to the absence of international copyright, and to the vast multiplication of cheap editions printed in London [?]. So much the greater is our national obligation to so good an English author.
In reviewing the different series of his poetical works, our recollection goes back a quarter of a century. It is so long since we first became acquainted with a collection of short pieces, including those lyrical effusions called “Voices of the Night, two or three narrative ballads, and a score of miscellaneous compositions. Several of these were of a didactic or moralising character, like small sermons in rhyme. Their merit is unequal; and The Psalm of Life,' which has been quoted at so many congregational tea- meetings, is a bad specimen of this kind. The Ladder of St. Augustine’ is a good one, and has been cited with approving assent by Tennyson, in a strophe of 'In Memoriam'. We should say that “Excelsior' is rather pretty than sublime—an extravagant flight of sensational fancy. There is a twang of common pulpit and platform oratory in some of these earlier pieces which does not please the mature judgment of a manly mind. The trit
expression of mere truisms and ordinary precepts, with their cheap decoration of a chain of incongruous metaphors, as in The Psalm of Life,' may be all very good for religious edification, but not a good example of the highest imaginative literature.
There were better things, however, among those minor writings of Longfellow's reprinted in London about 1843, or not much later. Several had been
written by him when a youth at college, in that season of vague and undetermined longings for completeness and excellence, when one is apt to invoke the Spirit of Poesy,' and to talk in a melancholy tone about · Life.' He had soon got out of this mood; he had resolved to study the aspects of the world about him ; of Nature and Human Nature. The tendency of his
' poetry, like that of Goethe, is for the most part objective, dealing with things of real existence, or such as may be conceived to exist outside of the poet's mind; it is, therefore, healthy and cheerful. We all know The Village Blacksmith;' and the man who hears it well sung may feel himself a stronger and happier man than before. This is what the genuine poet can do for mankind—to create, and to impress for ever upon that memory of the heart, which is called imagination, some true type of our common humanity; in the recognition of which we forget and forgive each private grief, as we feel 'the whole world kin.' Who cannot sympathise with the blacksmith? We see him bravely standing at his forge, “week in, week out, from morn till night; and, with his heavy hammer, beating on the anvil, in a storm of sound and flame and flying sparks, to shape the work of his life:
“His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can;
For he owes not any man!'
We see him, again, on the Sunday morning, in the gallery at church, with his boys; "he hears the parson pray and preach,' but he also hears his little daughter in the choir, singing with her mother's voice;' and the blacksmith's hard rough hand wipes a tear of sweet sorrow from his honest eyes:
• Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each evening sees it close;.
Has earned the nights repose!' This is altogether different in kind from such a didactic composition as “Tell me not in mournful numbers. It is a piece of real, earnest life set forth bodily in our presence, and inspired with motives of affection, the experience of which we are made to share. We are thus assisted to comprehend our own experience much better than by a string of moral aphorisms to the effect that 'life is real, life is earnest, and so on; sentences fit for the copy-slips of a scholastic writingmaster.
now cite one of the most perfect of our author's purely lyrical compositions. The Bridge at Midnight,' too, has been well set to music, and is properly a song, the sustained harmonious utterance of a mood of personal feeling :
'How often, oh! how often
I had wished that the ebbing tide
To the ocean wild und wide!
And my life was full of care,
Seemed greater than I could bear.
It is buried in the sea;
And only the sorrow of others
Throws its shadow over me.
On its bridge with wooden piers,
Comes the thought of other years.
Of care-encumbered men,
Have crossed the bridge since then.
Still passing to and fro,
And the old subdued and slow.
As long as the river flows,
As long as life has woesBut we must not stay on the bridge to finish this well-known song.
It is one of those melodious expressions of pure sentiment. with affecting images, in clear and tender words, which find their way to the unconscious heart, as the arrow found its way to an oak, without the archer's aim :
I breathed a song into the air,
That it can follow the flight of song ?' There are some more recent examples of this poet's lyrical power over the emotions, which may be noticed in their turn. In his choice and treatment of subjects, from the first, a promising variety was displayed. The rural scenery of New England which seems to unite many
features of that of the British islands with
others peculiar to its own climate and continental position, is frequently set before us. We see the cultivated fields and farms; the placid rivers and the bold Atlantic seashore; the picturesque mountains; the rushing streams and waterfalls; the great half-wild woodlands, in autumn gorgeous with the brightest colours of the crimson ash, the golden maple, the silver beech-in summer green and fresh as our woodlands; the homely villages, with shady elm -rows in their rustic streets, where a retired family man may still inhabit a snug old - fashioned household and lead a tranquil life apart from the restless hurry of the striving Yankee world. We often hear the roaring wind and the pattering rain of that rather severe climate, in which the hardy manhood of the “Down-Easters' is vigorously reared. Mr. Longfellow really likes the rain, as Mr. Kingsley pretends to like the east wind. He has repeatedly sung its praises; for he knows its use and beauty. He has described a snow - shower with equal felicity. But he dearly loves the sunshine, where it is intermingled with the shadow of hanging foliage:
“Beneath some patriarchal tree
I lay upon the ground;
And all the broad leaves over me
With one exulting sound.' That is a situation which does indeed, as Emerson remarks, 6
make the pomp of emperors ridiculous.' We allow that all poets, philosophers, and other good men, should be privileged to loiter unmolested in this pleasing, contrite wood-life which the gods allow us', from dawn to evening of a fine summer day.