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When I first began to be interested in such matters, Gray, and Goldsmith, and Cowper had passed away,—they were of a previous generation,--but Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Byron, Scott, Campbell, Moore, and Rogers, were all in the zenith of their fame. Every year some new work, from one or other of them, issued from the
press, to excite and interest the public mind. And what an illustrious company! We shall seldom find, in any age or country, so many names of high rank as contemporary poets. But all of them have now passed away from amongst us- -all their pedestals have been vacated by them; and there have, alas! risen up no successors to fill their places. From such a height we are sadly fallen ; and except Tennyson, who still is living, we can searcely be said to retain a single name of high poetical fame, unless Macaulay's fine spirit-stirring Ballads shall remind us, that, though he is an historian and politician, he is also a poet.
With some of those persons, whose names I mentioned just now, it so happened that I was more or less personally acquainted, or with their families, and was brought, in a certain way, into connection with others; which gave me a still further interest in everything relating to them. And there is certainly always a considerable curiosity excited, and not an improper one, to see and know personally those who have, from any cause, achieved for themselves an eminent name: It is true, and especially in the case of great authors, that when our curiosity is gratified, we experience at times considerable disappointment; since those, who have won our admiration or our reverence by their writings, often fail to realize by their conversation our expectations of their talents, or of their appearance
and manners; but still we cannot but wish to see and to know the great occupants of the Temple of Fame. Now Campbell I knew very intimately from a very early age,
and we were often guests together at the same friend's house. Southey I have met quietly in private society; Rogers often in more general company. I succeeded Crabbe as Rector of the Parish of Trowbridge, in Wiltshire; and though I never saw the poet himself, I became well acquainted with his family, and entered upon all the fresh reminiscences of his daily life. Moore was living a few miles off from me in the same county, close to Lord Lansdowne's at Bo
wood, but in declining health, and scarcely ever went from home. I only once saw Scott; he was sitting below the Judges in the Court house in Edinburgh. It was in the early part of the year 1827, just when he had publicly owned the authorship of Waverley. He was, as usual while in Court, busily engaged in writing, probably, as we learn from the account given of his habits in his life, some work then preparing for the press; perhaps the Life of Napoleon," as that was the great work which he then had in hand. I have, however, been intimately acquainted of late years with several of his family, including Mr. Lockhart, his son-in-law and biographer, and his children; and on different occasions have been staying, for some weeks at a time, at Abbotsford with Scott's grandaughter and her husband, who were then the owners of the property.
There is a story told of the Caliph Omar by Gibbon, that, when he was at Alexandria, he caused all the books in the famous library there to be burned; because, he said, if they only contained what was in the Koran, they were not wanted; and, if they contained anything else, they ought to be destroyed. I need not stop to reason upon such an act, if it ever occurred, which however there is not much historical evidence to prove: but, as a matter of fact, in our day, since there is such a vast amount of literature in circulation, besides the Bible,--and since people will and ought to read, and acquire information, and strengthen and improve their understandings, surely it is most desirable that they should cultivate a taste for the higher grades of literature, and that the English Classics, so to style them, whether in prose or verse, should have their due places assigned them. And when there is such an abundance of mawkish, sentimental, wishey-washey trash, not to speak of works more positively evil sent across the Lines, to be retailed in limp covers at a few cents a volume, it is not out of place to remind you, that there is in the same language, matter more sterling at your command, and far more wholesome for your
And moreover, I believe, that, in the education of youth, it is of immense importance not to omit the cultivation of the imagination. I am inclined to agree in the opinion that all romantic fiction, whether in poetry or prose, which does not actually and purposely paint and praise vice and vicious characters, and seek to make them attractive and imitated, acts advantageously on the mind and especially on the well educated spirit, and most certainly adds to the happiness of life. Luther once said "I would not for any quantity of gold part with the wonderful tales, which I have retained from my earliest youth, or have met with in my progress through life.” And Dr. Johnson’s grand idea is universally true, " whatever can make the past, the distant, or the future, predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings ! ”
Of the above eminent poets Byron and Moore have, not without reason, been charged with injuring, by some of their writings, morality and religion. Moore was much ashamed, in later life, of some of his earlier productions of this kind, and did all he could to suppress them. He is now most generally known from his "Irish Melodies," in which all his intense love for his country is displayed; and which, when he used to sing them, though he had but a poor voice and was an indifferent musician, were always listened to with deepest interest; and the tears, of those who heard them, often testified to the combined power of the poet and the musician. His greatest work is "Lalla Rookh," an Eastern Romance, full of many beautiful passages, and exquisite and truthful pictures of Eastern scenery and imagery. I will read one passage from “Paradise and the Peri," the most pleasing of the poems; it is founded on an Eastern legend. The Peris were erring spirits, who, it was supposed, might be re-admitted into Paradise, if they brought to the eternal gate
" The gift that is most dear to heaven."
Slowly she sees a child at play,
As rosy and as wild as they ;
She saw a wearied man dismount
From his hot steed, and on the brink Of a small imaret's rustic fount
Impatient fling him down to drink. Then swift his haggard brow he turn'd
To the fair child, who fearless sat, Though never yet had day-beam burn'd
Upon a brow more fierce than that,Sullenly fierce-a mixture dire, Like thunder-clouds, of gloom and fire; In which the Peri's eye could read Dark tales of many a ruthless deed; The ruin'd maid--the shrine profan'da Oaths broken-and the threshold stain'd With blood of guests !--there written, all, Black as the damning drops that fall From the denouncing Angel's pen, Ere Mercy, weeps them out again!
Yet tranquil now that man of crime
Met that unclouded, joyous gaze,
Encounter morning's glorious rays.
But, hark! the vesper call to prayer,
As slow the orb of day-light sets,
From SYRIA'S thousand minarets!
Kneels, with bis forehead to the south,
And seeking for its home again!
And how felt he the wretched Man
When, young and baply pure as thou, "I look'd and pray'd like thee-but now" He hung his head-each nobler aim,
And hope and feeling, which had slept From boyhood's hour, that instant came
Fresh o'er him, and he wept-he wept!
Blest tears of soul-felt penitence!
In whose benign, redeeming flow Is felt the first, the only sense
Of guiltless joy that guilt can know.
And now behold him kneeling there