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To the mere versifier who possesses a ready command of rhymes and a store of poetical cominon-places, there is no form of composition that appears more easy, but which in reality is more difficult than the Sonnet. If apt rhymes and a poetical diction were all that is requisite, the task would indeed be easy after a very little practice. But the mechanical difficulties of the Sonnet have been ridiculously overrated, while its higher essentials have been almost entirely overlooked. Dr. Johnson's decision respecting what he deemed the inapplicability of the English language to the fabric of the Sonnet, has been most triumphantly disproved by several of our living writers. The sonnets of Wordsworth, in particular, may be referred to as a noble illustration of the flexibility of our language, for it is quite evident from their perfect ease and freedom that the poet found no difficulty in attending to the strictest Italian models. When Johnson remarked that the Sonnet had never succeeded in our language, he had read, or ought to have read, the sonnets of Drummond, and those of Milton were immediately before him. Shakespeare's sonnets cannot be adduced as bearing upon our present argument, because though full of fancy and feeling, they are mere quartorzians or fourteen lines divided into three stanzas of alternate rhymes, and a concluding couplet, and their sole claim to the title of Sonnets consists in their being of the required length.
But Milton's sonnets, independent of their poetical merits, are entitled to great praise for their mechanical construction, and their strict accordance to the laws and practice of the Italian poets ; and Dr. Johnson never fell into a greater error of judgment than when he pronounced these little poems of the author of Paradise Lost to be" undeserving of particular criticism.” “ Of the best," he says, “ it can only be said that they are not bad, and perhaps only the eighth and the twenty-first are entitled to this slender commendation.” The blindness or prejudice of this decision is absolutely amazing. We turn to the pages of Milton, and take almost at random, a couple of his Sonnets. These (the 18th and 19th) are amongst those excluded from the honor of Dr. Johnson's “ slender commendation.” According to him, therefore, they are positively bad !
publish them, though at the earnest entreaty of learned and tasteful friends she at last printed a few copies for private distribution. In 1836 she printed a second and larger collection, but also exclusively for her friends.
ON THE LATE MASSACRE IN PIEMONT.
ON HIS BLINDNESS.
When I consider how my light is spent
They also serve who only stand and wait.” That any man setting himself up as a critic should be utterly insensible to the poetical and impassioned spirit, the masculine tone, and the severe beauty of Milton's sonnets, is indeed surprising. Johnson's contemptuous notice of them is only equalled in absurdity and injustice by the flippant insolence of Steevens respecting those of Shakespeare, which he had the audacity to assert were " written in the highest strain of affectation, pedantry, circumlocution and nonsense.”
I shall now give a few specimens of Drummond's genius in this class of compositions. I dare say that they will be “as good as manuscript" to some of my readers ; and those who have perused them before, will assuredly have no objection to meet with them again.
The following is elegant and compact, and does not read as if it had been written about two hundred years ago.
A good that never satisfies the mind,
Are the strange ends we toil for nere below,
Almost every poet may echo the sentiment of the next sonnet.
I know that all beneath the moon decays,
I know frail beauty's like the purple flow'r
Know what I list, this all cannot me move,
The smart antithetic style of the ensuing, shews great facility and power of versification.
Fair is my yoke, though grievous be my pains,
Thus every way contentment strange I find,
The line in italics has been often imitated. Milton is amongst the imitators.
For solitude is sometimes best society.
Sleep, Silence' child, sweet father of soft rest,
With feigned solace ease a true felt woe ;
Come as thou wilt, and what thou wilt bequeath,
I long to kiss the image of my death. This sonnet seems to have been suggested by Sir Phillip Sidney's on the same subject. The third line of Drummond's sonnet is like the fourth of Sidney's.
“ Come Sleep---O Sleep, the certain knot of peace !
The baiting place of wit, the balm of woe,
Sir Philip Sidney
Mr. Cunningham's new edition of Drummond's Poems is enriched with several of his sonnets never before published, procured from the Antiquarian Society of Edinburgh, and illustrated with notes by David Laing.