網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

black glasses so eagerly swallowed by the odd taste of the public." But Mrs. Smith was not, like too many of her contemporaries, a tuneful hypocrite; for she really was acquainted with grief, and had no little cause for those “ melodious tears,” with which she

gave herself to fame. She suffered severely from the failure of her husband's mercantile speculations, and the brutality and fraud of lawyers and guardians, who cheated her of a provision for her large family. Her domestic sorrows are very touchingly told in the prefaces to the different editions of her poems. Aware, therefore, that her melancholy is no poetic fiction, though often rather affectedly expressed, we can read her Sonnets without that sickening sensation which is excited by the false and ridiculous sensibi. lities of the Della Cruscan School. These little poems are not constructed on the Petrarchan model, and have no right to the title of sonnets, unless every poem in fourteen lines may be said to belong to that species of composition. But fourteen lines or three quatrains, and a concluding couplet, do not make a sonnet, if Petrarch and Dante in the Italian, and Milton and Wordsworth in our own language, are to be taken as authorities. In the metri. cal construction, and in the unity of design peculiar to the sonnet, these little compositions are all deficient. But if they are not legitimate Sonnets, several of them are very pretty and pleasing poems; for, though I once thought far more highly of them than I now do, I can still see something in them to admire. They have a feminine pathos, and a delicacy and tenderness of sentiment, that ought to save them from oblivion. Though the liquid smoothness of the versification, and the languid elegance of the diction may not suit an ear accustomed to the vigour and variety of later poems, I can remember that they gratified me in my younger days, and they have still a kind of charm for me that I am almost ashamed to acknowledge. Perhaps early associations, a reference to the feminine qualities of the fair author's mind, and a sympathy for her distresses, make me willing to be pleased in defiance of an increased experience and a maturer judgment. I have no doubt that it was a perusal of these Sonnets, (for such, as a matter of courtesy or convenience, they must be called,) that suggested those of Bowles, which are written in a similar strain of feeling, and perhaps with no great superiority in point of strength and originality. The versification, however, is rather more varied, and the metrical arrangement is, in some respects, a little closer to the Italian model. They have met with much the same fate. They as speedily ran through a number of editions, and were almost as speedily neglected. A great poet too, the author of Christabel, with whose own style they are so strikingly contrasted, has praised them with the same enthusiasm as did Cowper those of Charlotte Smith. Little dependence, it seems, is to be placed on the individual judgments of poets upon

each other, whether favorable or adverse. Waller saw nothing in Milton, but an old blind school-master, who had written a dull poem remarkable for nothing but its length, Wordsworth and Coleridge think Gray's Elegy in a Country Church-yard a very meagre and common-place production; and Byron insinuated that Pope was a greater poet than Shakspeare, and spoke very contemptuously of Spenser. When doctors disagree, the general voice must decide upon disputed points, though even then we have no final judgment, for the public is often as fickle as a child. This is very perplexing to the poet, whose life is one dream of ambition. His only consolation is the hope that posterity will be more calm and constant; and that, when the varying winds of contemporary opinion shall have died away, his bark may float securely upon the smooth waters of immortality. It is melancholy, however, to reflect how many who have once enjoyed a flattering popularity, and who have looked forward with a proud confidence to such a consummation, have passed from the memories of men like summer clouds. Charlotte Smith, elegant and refined as she is, is rapidly sinking into oblivion, and in a very few years will be utterly forgotten. In the meantime, as I have just spent a pleasant half-hour over her little volume, let me show my gratitude to her gentle spirit, by such praises as I can conscientiously award her, and refresh the memory of my readers with a few favourable extracts.

The following little poem, on seeing some children at play, has been quoted both by Bowles and Leigh Hunt, (poets of very different tastes and habits,) with considerable praise :

“Sighing I see yon little troop at play,

By sorrow yet untouched, unhurt by care;
While free and sportive they enjoy to-day,
Content and careless of to-morrow's fare.
O happy age ! when hope's unclouded ray
Lights their green path, and prompts their simple mirth,
Ere yet they feel the thorns that lurking lay*
To wound the wretched pilgrims of the earth,
Making them rue the hour that gave them birth,
And threw them on a world so full of pain.
Where prosperous folly treads on patient worth,
And to deaf pride, misfortune pleads in vain !
Ah!--for their future fate how many fears
Oppress my heart and fill mine eyes with tears."

Mrs. Smith's knowledge of Botany, to which science, by the way, she has addressed a sonnet, is displayed in a very pleasing manner in several of her poems; and she rarely speaks of flowers without a minute fidelity of description, and the use of very graphic epithets. The following couplet is a specimen of the curious felicity of her botanical allusions.

“ From the mapped lichen to the plumed weed;

From threudy mosses to the veinéd flower.”

* This is a sad sacrifice of grammar to rhyme. Byron has made a similar one in his fourth Canto of Childe Harold :

“And dashest him again to earth; there let him lay."

The “Sonnet written at the close of Spring" offers further illustrations of this peculiar character of her verse.

“ The garlands fade that Spring so lately wove,

Each simple Aower, wbich she had nurs'd in dew,
Anemonies, that spangled every grove,
The primrose wan, and harebell mildly blue.
No more shall violets linger in the dell,
Or purple orchis variegate the plain,
Till Spring again shall call forth every bell,
And dress with humid hands her wreaths again.
Ah, poor humanity, so frail, so fair,
Are the fond visions of thy early day,
Till tyrant passion and corrosive care,
Bid all thy fairy colours fade away!
Another May new buds and flowers shall bring;
Ah! why has happiness-no second Spring ?"

Mrs. Smith's study of flowers led her much into the open fields, and she has shown herself to be a very minute and delicate observer of external nature. The following brief passage taken from one of her sonnets is picturesque.

“And sometimes when the sun with parting rays

Gilds the long grass that hides my silent bed,
A tear shall tremble in my Charlotte's eyes.”

It reminds me of a beautiful touch of Coleridge's pencil in the annexed lines.

“ But the dell,
Bathed by the mist, is fresh and delicate
As vernal corn-field, or the unripe flax,
When through its half-transparent stalks at even,
The level sunshine glimmers with green light.

There is an expression in the following line, which has been borrowed by a living poet.

“The night-flood rakes upon the stony shore."

Bowles, in describing a night-scene (in his Grave of the last Saxon), says:

-“ All is silent, save the tide that rakes At times the beach."

Or perhaps it was taken from Hurdis :

Raking with harsh recoil the pebbly steep.”

The following from an address to the North Star has rather more vigour than Mrs. Smith usually displays :

“Now nightly wandering 'mid the tempests drear
That howl the woods and rocky steeps among,
I love to see thy sudden light appear
Through the swift clouds-driven by the wind along ;
Or in the turbid water, rude and dark,
O'er whose wild stream the gust of Winter raves,
Thy trembling light with pleasure still I mark,
Gleam in fuint rudiunce on the foaming waves !

The following verse is tender and melodious :

“Oh! my lost love! no tomb is placed for thee

That may to stranger's eyes thy worth impart;
Thou hast no grave but in the stormy sea,
And no memorial but this breaking heart!"

I quote a part of the Sonnet to Fancy, for the sake of the neat turn of its concluding couplet :

“ Through thy false medium then no longer viewed,

May fancied pain and fancied pleasure fly;
And I, as from me all thy dreams depart,
Be to my wayward destiny subdued ;
Nor seek perfection with a poet's eye,
Nor suffer anguish with a poet's heart."

It may perhaps appear from these extracts, that though not to be placed in the first class of British Female Poets, Mrs. Smith

« 上一頁繼續 »