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The Golden Violet, with its Tales of Romance and Chivalry: and
other Poems. By L. E. L., Author of “ The Improvisatrice,” “ The Troubadour," &c. London: Longman, pp. 310. 1827.
That pristine and respectable doctrine,“ poeta nascitur non fit,”. has been disregarded, and by some disbelieved, of late years. The ancients were weak enough to broach it, and for many centuries the moderns did not question its veracious wisdom; it remained for the penetrating intellect of the present age to disenthral themselves from it. That it is customary for many still to exclaim, “a poet's born, not made,” is incontrovertible; but what does this amount to? Why, probably those very orators for nature, will content themselves with a perusal of poetry, manufactured by every thing except genius and talent. The universality of poetry, at once decides that more than half is mere composition. What is excellent, was, and most likely ever will be, but rarely exhibited. A poet, in the true sense, is an excellence in character; he is above the rest of mankind- not in birth, riches, or station, perhaps-but in the operations of his mind. His spirit is of a sublime nature, mingling with the elements, placid when they are calm, revelling in their convulsion, participating with their represented beauties, and drinking in inspiration from their various scenes. He does not struggle with the muse as much as the muse struggles with him; his whole soul is breathing incense to her. We could write pages on this subject, but we must indulge ourselves no further, at present, in depicting our conception of the poet.
One cause that has led to the degeneracy of poetry, is its being considered as a necessary accomplishment. A boarding school Miss is not “ finished," unless she poeticises; and every classical youth thinks himself degraded unless he is an adept rhymester. Accom. plishments, we know, sit differently on different people; sometimes the poetical accomplishment finds a congenial mind, but, as before mentioned, superior minds are rare, and, therefore, poetasters are numerous. In our opinion, poetry cannot be taught as dancing is. A copiousness of words, a knowledge of metrical laws, the regulation of the pauses, and the various mechanical departments of the poet, may be acquired by the dull and the tasteless; nay, more, it is possible, that these characters may, hy dint of extensive reading, and an acquaintance with the bards of Greece, Rome, and their own country, produce two or three hundred lines of versification, flowing with melody, containing elegant words and labored superfluities—but there will be no ideas, no sparkling fancy, original thought, or chaste and delightful imagery. A man of poetical genius is undoubtedly a man worth envying; he is of the highest rank, for genius placed him there. But, are we all to be poets? It is an honor to be one, but no disgrace not to be one. If every body thought so, we should have fewer, but far greater, poets than we now possess. Nature, not art, would appoint them.
" Nil intentatum nostri liquêre poetæ." We may safely apply this to the host of minor poets, whose
scraps and abortive volumes are for ever attracting the eye. The greater number of them are convinced that something novel will be striking; a style of their own will stand a chance of immortalityperhaps for its very ridiculousness. The ancients had their schools of philosophers, we have our schools of poets into the bargain. It would take a great deal more time and paper than we can conveniently spare, to examine the productions of half a hundred of " these “ smaller fry;" we content ourselves with averring, that fifty years hence their names and volumes will be in the fellow custody of oblivion. They write for the day, share the day's applause, and then the bubble bursts. Some, perhaps, will call us supercilious when we remark, that, in our estimation, “ The Deserted Village,” by Goldsmith, is worth all, (with a few exceptions, such as Byron, Scott, &c. &c.) that has been written for the last forty or fifty years, including even Southey's with it. Speaking of Southey, we may as well touch on the two schools—the Lakist and the Millman, alias frantic: Wordsworth is the leading spirit of the Lakists, a man whose fitful genius, mighty as it is, cannot excuse his mawkish puerilities and insensate simplicity. Coleridge is a deep thinker, and a profound metaphysician: his poetry is, at times, wildly beautiful, but mostly ridiculously obscure, and infected with the water of the Cumberland Lakes. Southey is certainly the most artificial of the“ nampy-pamby” fraternity. He has written enough, prose and poetry, to fill a library; of the former, we have nothing to say at present; of the latter, very little. Mr. Southey's poetry is rarely sublime, frequently mediocre, and sometimes very twaddling. His verse flows so easily, that he finds it difficult to preserve it from insipidity. Southey's powers have abated much. His Tale of Paraguay was little more than pathetic drivel; and yet, in Mr. Southey's opinion, Campbell, and other exalted names, are far, far beneath him ! !-Mr. 8. has written several Epics, the highest efforts of genius, if none but the author read them.
Mr. Milman, supported as he is by the Professorship, and versed in the most beautiful specimens of ancient poetry, with the advantage of much studious toil and elegant scholarship, has not yet produced any work that has outlived the bustling, spacious fame of the worth of its publication. He is pompous without grandeur, and lofty without sublimity; and wben attempting to be pathetic, he is mostly either drawling or ranting, in fact, he has endeavoured to constrain the muse. His powers are like stiff and stately buildings, abounding with external ornament, but cold and ungarnished within; they are dazzling, but wipe away the gloss, and you will find nothing. It is very evident, Mr. Milman imagines himself the founder of a new school-heaven forbid that he should have many pupils! We grant that both Milman and Southey have some splendid passages. Would it not be very lamentable if, out of some twenty thousand lives, there were not an occasional half-dozen good ones? Give a bedlamite a pen, and 'ris chance if he do not write something worth reading amid his ravings. The question is, does the poem contain
sufficient merit to counteract the faults? Milman, we are assu
sured, will himself deny this.
Superfluous praise is often more injurious than moderate contempt; it makes conscientious admirers suspicious, and increases the vigilancy of detractors. We give Mr. Jerdan every credit for the purest, most generous motives, in patronising L. E. L. Placed as he is, at the head of a critical Gazette, whose criticisms are seen every where, and believed no where (where intellect or talent preside), master of his own venal quill, and left supreme arbiter over the fates of new books, it was very laudable and courteous of him to introduce his protegée, and recommend her genius, we mean talent. There is every thing to acquire an adventitious fame for Miss Laudon. She is young-youth is always interesting-she is a lady. How could Mr. Jerdan criticize her? And lastly, she is very amiable in private life. Had Mr. Jerdan but have condescended to the level of plain sense in his praises; had he just attended to a few distinctions, and evinced a little discernment amid his ridiculousness, he might perhaps have been an important prop to Miss L. E. L.'s poetical fame. We all know the very modest specimen of eulogium he presented the public with a few weeks since!-What does Mr. Jerdan mean by asserting, that Lord Byron's poems scarcely created“ nine days sensation ?" We suspect he forgot the proper word, when he wrote this wretched piece of perversity. Lord Byron's poems, he may be assured, will create nine hundred and ninety-nine years sensation, while we are capable of enjoying poesy in all its freshness and purity. Where will Mr. Jerdan and L. E. L. be by that time? We could not refrain from alluding to Mr. Jerdan in this place; he is too important a personage to be omitted, as relates to the puffing department.
We are aware, that many inay consider our remarks on L. E. L. as invidiously intended, proceeding from a wish of severity, rather -than a just and generous opinion. This is not so : we have read L. E. L.'s poetry in the best mood for enjoying it, and with the readiest wish to admire it. In the following observation, we shall státe what we really believe to be true; and after all, the admirers of L. E. L. are at liberty to disagree with us!!
Miss Laudon rhymes with the greatest freedom; her eight syllable lines seem all extempore. It is for this reason that there is so much monotony or (to use Byron's words,) “ fatal facility.” She thinks of her subject, has several pretty ideas floating in her imagina. tion, takes her pen, and writes on while the subject is capable of being spun out:--but for fifty lines, perhaps, there will be nothing approaching to originality-nothing resembling inspiration. Her poetry is by far the least original of the day; it certainly contains no abrupt or vulgar faults; no startling inelegancies or extravagances in diction; her words flow easily and musically; the frequency of vowels and tender diminutives give an artificial sweetness to her pieces- but withall, how little is there she can claim for her owy? We do not for a moment accuse her of wilful piracy, although her poems are replete with them; we do not say she purposely borrows or imitates,
and yet most of her ideas may be seen elsewhere. Miss Laudon has all Tom Moore's trifling, without his taste and imagination; all bis fine and sparkling words, without his loftier imagery and powerful conceptions:--she writes too fast and too much to write for posterity. Her fugitive pieces are read; and some are heard (and justly too) to exclaim, “ how pretty!"-but nobody remembers a line of them next week. We know not if Miss Laudon has been disappointed in love; at any rate, her poems are quite sickening by her eternal allusions to Cupid, quivers, sighs and eyes, lips and frowns, and all the rest of the dalliant phraseology. It appears to us, that Miss Laudon has a certain peculiar vocabulary which she cannot dispense with? We do not recollect a piece of her's without some part of the body being named, and two or three dozen sighs heaving through every twenty lines:- she could scarcely write without a “blushing cheek,” a “ brow,” a glance," a “hue,” a “beauty,” a “ deliciousness of sighs," and "eyes” of all colors. This monotonous phraseology is really tiresome ; --few admire cheeks ripe with beauty, and eyes lit with love, more than ourselves; still there are times when we can dispense with them, particularly in the speciousness of description. This repetition of words, naturally occasions a repetition of metaphor. We remember in her “ Troubadour" she metaphorised the innocent “ rainbow” no less than thirty times!!--- After so much endurance, was it likely there would be much vividness left in its hues? There is the same frequent introduction of like imagery in the “ Golden Violet.” We will not assert that her imagery is Bav, but it is too light to bear such working. Another great and important fault in Miss Laudon's poetry is, the confused length of her periods; some of them are complete labyrinths; we are puzzled in a maze of words. She has always numerous sweet, harmonious, ding-dong words ready, and therefore pours them forth till they die away in absurdity. As to the feeling displayed in Miss L.'s writings, we consider it more frequently ARTIFICIAL than real; it appears to arise from every spring but the soul; whether the worn out qualities of her subjects, or the glittering tinsel of her language, cause this, we know not. In short, in every sense, Miss Laudon's poetry is built on fragile materials. We should sum up our general opinion of her as a poet thus:---she is rarely above mediocrity; abounding in sentimental nonsense, though often beautifully tender; too light and specious to make a lasting impression ; too much adorned with flowery epithets and flimsy facilities to move the heart or warm the imagination :---her poems are read with languor, praised for their prettiness, admired for glimpses of fanciful thought, laughed at for their futile tenderness, removed to the bookcase, and then forgotten!
Miss Laudon's warmest admirers ought to regret the publication of the “ Golden Violet;" it has the appearance of being written in the “ last stage of a gallopping consumption.” We take credit to ourselves for the stoicism we have displayed in perusing the volume. It is by no means equal to the “ Improvisatrice;" in that there was something like a muse presiding---and the descriptive sketches at the
end were superior to any thing she has ever written. In this last volume the only thing worth reading is “ Erinna," part of which we have extracted; this will be found to contain some good passages; though even here, if we mistake not, there are many of the best imitated from Wordsworth. We had marked many parts of the “Golden Violet,” which we intended to extract, and point out their mystic nonsense, affected perversions, and metaphoric medleys of flowing superAuities---but our review has extended beyond the usual length. The “ Golden Violet" is altogether the most faulty and superficial of all Miss L. E. Li's poems. We doubt if Jerdan's praise will save it from its proper fate. It is sincerely to be wished, 'that Miss Landon would endeavour to concentrate her talents; to apply them seriously .--think more, and write less.
“ My hand is on the lyre, which never more
And twice new birth of violets have sprung
The lute, which hitherto in Delphian shades