Obrázky stránek

Whitehead's is a remarkable poem, considering that it was produced during what has been not unjustly called the neap-tide of English poetry : and the reader who should be less pleased with it than offended by its faults, may have cause to suspect that his refinement has injured his feelings in a greater degree than it has improved his taste.


BEATTIE. (JAMES BEATTIE was born at Lawrencekirk, Kincardineshire, in 1735. He was the son of a small farmer; and received his early education in the village school. He entered the Marischal College, Aberdeen, in 1749; and, having passed through the humbler steps of a village schoolmaster, and usher to the Grammar School of Aberdeen, was appointed Professor of Moral Philosophy and Logic in the Marischal College in 1760. His chief work, as a metaphy, sician, is his ' Essay on Truth.' His Minstrel' will give him an enduring place amongst the best of the Minor Poets. In 1773 he received the degree of D. C. L. from the University of Oxford, and obtained a pension from the Crown. He died in 1803.]

There is a certain style of melody peculiar to each musical country, which the people of that country are apt to prefer to every other style. That they should prefer their own is not surprising; and that the melody of one people should differ from that of another is not more surprising, perhaps, than that the language of one people should differ from that of another. But there is something not unworthy of notice in the particular expression and style that characterize the music of one nation or province, and distinguish it from every other sort of music. Of this diversity Scotland supplies a striking example. The native melody of the Highlands and Western Isles is as different from that of the southern part of the kingdom as the Irish or Erse language is different from the English or Scotch. In the conclusion of a discourse on music, as it relates to the mind, it will not perhaps be impertinent to offer a conjecture on the cause of these peculiarities ; which, though it should not-and indeed I am satisfied that it will not-fully account for any one of them, may, however, incline the reader to think that they are not unaccountable, and may also throw some faint light on this part of philosophy.

Every thought that partakes of the nature of passion has a correspondent expression in the look and gesture; and so strict is the union between the passion and its outward sign, that, where the former is not in some degree felt, the latter can never be perfectly natural, but, if assumed, becomes awkward mimicry, instead of that genuine imitation of nature which draws forth the sympathy of the beholder. If therefore there be, in the circum. stances of particular nations or persons, anything that gives a peculiarity to their passions and thoughts, it seems reasonable to expect that they will also have something peculiar in the expression of their countenance and even in the form of their features. Caius Marius, Jugurtha, Tamerlane, and some other great warriors, are celebrated for a peculiar ferocity of aspect, which they had no doubt coutracted from a perpetual and unrestrained exertion of fortitude, contempt, and other violent emotions. These produced in the face their correspondent expressions, which, being often repeated, became at last as habitual to the features as the sentiments they arose from were to the heart. Savages, whose thoughts are little inured to control, have more of this significancy of look than those men who, being born and bred in civil. ized nations, are accustomed from their childhood to suppress every emotion that tends to interrupt the peace of society. And while the bloom of youth lasts, and the smoothness of feature peculiar to that period, the human face is less marked with any strong character than in old age. A peevish or surly stripling may elude the eye of the physiognomist; but a wicked old man, whose visage does not betray the evil temperature of his heart, must have more cunning than it would be prudent for him to acknowledge. Even by the trade or profession the human countenance may be characterized. They who employ themselves in the nicer mechanic arts, that require the earnest attention of the artist, do generally contract a fixedness of expression suited to that one uniform sentiment which engrosses them while at work. Whereas other artists, whose work requires less attention, and who may ply their trade and amuse themselves with conversation at the same time, have, for the most part, smoother and more unmeaning faces : their thoughts are more miscellaneous, and therefore their features are less fixed in one uniform configuration. A keen penetrating look indicates thoughtfulness and spirit: a dull torpid countenance is not often accompanied with great sagacity.

This, though there may be many an exception, is in general true of the visible signs of our passions; and it is no less true of the audible. A man habitually peevish, or passionate, or querulous, or imperious, may be known by the sound of his voice, as well as by his physiognomy. May we not go a step further, and say that if a man, under the influence of any passion, were to compose a discourse, or a poem, or a tune, his work would in some measure exhibit an image of his mind? I could not easily be persuaded that Swist and Juvenal were men of sweet tempers; or that Thomson, Arbuthnot, and Prior were ill-natured. The airs of Fenton are so uniformly mournful, that I cannot suppose him to have been a merry or even a cheerful man. If a musician, in deep afiliction, were to attempt to compose a lively air, I be. lieve he would not succeed : though I confess I do not well understand the nature of the connection that may take place between a mournful mind and a melancholy tune. It is easy to conceive how a poet or an orator should transfuse his passions into his work; for every passion suggests ideas congenial to its own nature; and the composition of the poet or the orator must necessarily consist of those ideas that occur at the time he is composing. But musical sounds are not the signs of ideas; rarely are they even the imitations of natural sounds : so that I am at a loss to conceive how it should happen that a musician, overwhelmed with sorrow, for example, should put together a series of notes whose expression is contrary to that of another series which he had put together when elevated with joy. But of the fact I am not doubtful ; though I have not sagacity or knowledge of music enough to be able to explain it. And my opinion in this matter is warranted by that of a more competent judge, who says, speaking of church voluntaries, that if the organist "do not feel in himself the divine energy of devotion, he will labor in vain to raise it in others. Nor can he hope to throw out those happy instantaneous thoughts which sometimes far exceed the best con

certed compositions, and which the enraptured performer would gladly secure to his future use and pleasure, did they not as fleetly escape as they rise.” A man who has made music the study of his life, and is well acquainted with all the best examples of style and expression that are to be found in the works of former masters, may, by memory and much practice, attain a sort of mechanical dexterity in contriving music suitable to any given passion; but such music would, I presume, be vulgar and spiritless compared to what an artist of genius throws out when under the power of any ardent emotion. It is recorded of Lulli, that once when his imagination was all on fire with some verses descriptive of terrible ideas, which he had been reading in a French tragedy, he ran to his harpsichord, and struck off such a combination of sounds, that the company felt their hair stand on end with horror.

Let us therefore suppose it proved, or, if you please, take it for granted, that different sentiments in the mind of the musician will give different and peculiar expressions to his music; and upon this principle it will not perhaps be impossible to account for some of the phenomena of a national ear.

The Highlands of Scotland are a picturesque, but in general a melancholy country. Long tracts of mountainous desert, covered with dark heath, and often obscured by misty weather; narrow valleys, thinly inhabited, and bounded by precipices resounding with the fall of torrents ; a soil so rugged and a climate so dreary as in may parts to admit neither the amusements of pasturage nor the labors of agriculture ; the mournful dashing of waves along the firths and lakes that intersect the country; the portentous noises which every change of the wind and every increase and diminution of the waters is apt to raise in a lonely region, full of echoes, and rocks, and caverns; the grotesque and ghastly appearance of such a landscape by the light of the moon. Objects like these diffuse a gloom over the fancy, which may be compatible enough with occasional and social merriment, but cannot fail Lo tincture the thoughts of a native in the hour of silence and solitude. If these people, notwithstanding their reformation in religion, and more frequent intercourse with strangers, do still retain many of their old superstitions, we need not doubt but in VOL. IV.


former times they must have been more enslaved to the horrors of imagination, when beset with the bugbears of Popery and the darkness of Paganism. Most of their superstitions are of a melancholy cast. That second sight, wherewith some of them are still supposed to be haunted, is considered by themselves as a misfortune, on account of the many dreadful images it is said to obtrude upon the fancy. I have been told that the inhabitants of some of the Alpine regions do likewise lay claim to a sort of second sight. Nor is it wonderful that persons of lively imagination, immured in deep solitude, and surrounded with the stupendous scenery of clouds, precipices, and torrents, should dream, even when they think themselves awake, of those few striking ideas with which their lonely lives are diversified ; of corpses, funeral processions, and other objects of terror; or of marriages and the arrival of strangers, and such like matters of more agreeable curiosity. Let it be observed, also, that the ancient Highlanders of Scotland had hardly any other way of supporting themselves than by hunting, fishing or war, professions that are continually exposed to fatal accidents. And hence, no doubt, additional horrors would often haunt their solitude, and a deeper gloom overshadow the imagination even of the bardiest native.

What then would it be reasonable to expect from the fanciful tribe, from the musicians and poets, of such a region ? Strains expressive of joy, tranquillity, or the softer passions ? No: their style must have been better suited to their circumstances. And so we find in fact that their music is. The wildest irregularity appears in its composition: the expression is warlike and melancholy, and approaches even to the terrible. And that their poetry is almost uniformly mournful, and their views of nature dark and dreary, will be allowed by all who admit of the authenticity of Ossian; and not doubted by any who believe those fragments of Highland poetry to be genuine, which many old people, now alive of that country, remember to have heard in their youth, and were then taught to refer to a pretty high antiquity.

Some of the southern provinces of Scotland present a very different prospect. Smooth and lofty hills covered with verdure; clear streams winding through long and beautiful valleys; trees produced without culture, bere straggling or single, and there

« PředchozíPokračovat »