« 上一頁繼續 »
is often steeped in beauty, and glows and sparkles like a bed of flowers on a fresh spring morning.
NO. VIII.-MISS CAROLINE BOWLES*. In the Quarterly Review, (in an article which has been generally attributed to Southey, and in which the internal evidence of the authorship is too strong to admit of a moment's doubt) Miss Bowles is thus alluded to-" The authoress of the · Widow's Tale,' and those sweet poems in the little volume of ' Solitary Hours,' which for truth and depth of feeling, and for tenderness and holiness of thought, are among the most beautiful that have been produced in this generation.” In the Progress and Pro pects of Society a passage is taken from one of her finest poems, and is thus acknowledged :—" These lines are quoted from a little volume, entitled Solitary Hours,' which with the Widow's Tale, &c. of the same authoress, I recommend to all admirers of that poetry which proceeds from the heart.”
One reason why the name of Miss Bowles is less familiar to the public than that of L. E. L. or Mrs. Hemans, is the retiring modesty with which she has omitted it from the title pages of her several works. Many of the lovers of poetry have some of her smaller poems by heart, though they know not to whom they are indebted for the beautiful thoughts and melodious sounds that haunt their hearts and ears.
The volume entitled Solitary Hours (which was published in 1826) is a collection of brief compositions in prose and verse; the latter far superior to the former. Miss Bowles's early prose, as is the case with most young authors in whom the imagination is the predominant faculty, exhibited a want of ease and accuracy not observable in her first verses, in which the thoughts involuntarily move harmonious numbers; and though there is often great
* Now Mrs. Southey. The Poet Laureate always admired her poetry, and personal friendship of 20 years has ended in love and wedlock.
beauty in her prose work entitled Chapters on Churchyards, it must be acknowledged that she is entitled to a higher rank as a poet than as a prose writer. In most of her poetry there is nothing requiring alteration or improvement ; but her prose, with all its beauty, is occasionally a little inflated and ostentatious, a fault of which she is never guilty when she pours out her soul in verse. In the year 1836 Miss Bowles published a blank verse poem, entitled The Birthday, which was noticed at great length and with enthusiastic praise in Blackwood's Magazine. But her smaller pieces are perhaps more truly characteristic of the best qualities of her genius. No parent can read her exquisite address To a Dying Infant without deep emotion; and indeed no man or woman with a human heart can fail to recognize its truth and tenderness.
In all the literary circles of England, Miss Bowles is well known and greatly admired, but to the public in general, her name is the name of a stranger; while the names of Felicia Hemans, and Letitia Landon, are as familiar as household words. And yet her productions are at least equal to the works of those popular writers. But the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, or Miss Bowles would have taken a far more prominent station amongst the poets of the day. Her triumph, however, is yet to come, and she will assuredly reap a rich harvest of praise and admiration, when many who have gathered an earlier crop, shall lament that their brief season of sunshine and success has passed away for ever. It is melancholy to reflect upon the vicissitudes of literature. Nothing is more changeable and uncertain than poetic fame. It depends upon so many adventitious circumstances. A poet may be born an age too soon or too late—he may be puffed into a sudden elevation, only to be hurled down again into the gulph of oblivion by the stern re-action that always follows undeserved laudation-or he may have timid or prosaic friends that check his ambition, or fierce and indefati. gable enemies that frighten him into silence, with ridicule and calumny,--or he may have a rival in his own peculiar line, whose glare of fame attracts all eyes away from lesser luminaries that might have shone proudly in his absence,-or he may have failed to procure the friendship of some leading literary journalist, who by repeated and earnest notices might have forced his merits into public notice,-or he may have entrusted his offspring to some tasteless and unfashionable publisher, without influence, energy or ambition. When a disappointed bard of the present day, conscious of some share of merit, looks over the list of the popular poets of the past generation, he may well be excused for wondering at the uncertainty of the public taste. Many a neglected and despised writer of these times, has produced verses that would have excited a sensation in the reign of the Kings and the Dukes, the Pomfrets and the Eusdens, the Walsh's and the Welsteds, the Fentons and the Sprats. This small fry played about exultingly in the sunlit stream of fame for no inconsiderable period. But it is satisfactory to reflect, that though it has often happened, that authors of little or no merit have enjoyed a tempo. rary popularity, no work of real genius that has once been fairly brought into public notice, has been suffered to fall into that entire oblivion, which has sooner or later been the fate of every truly worthless production, however much it may have been upheld and overrated for awhile.
NO. IX.-PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY.
The religious and the poetical opinions of Shelley were generally extravagant and absurd; the dreamings of a visionary. His imagination was too little under the restraint of judgment even in his poetry, but when he entered upon the plain grounds of politics and religion, it led him into mistakes of the most glaring character. Nothing but a conviction of the real warmth and sincerity of his heart, could make a generous reader forgive the gross errors of his intellect. Shelley had vast genius, but yet his mind was in some degree unsound. His faculties were not well balanced. To use the jargon of the phrenologists, his bump of reason was small indeed, compared to that of ideality. He was deficient too in taste and judgment, even as a poet. He was vastly rich in the materials of his art, but he did not know how to turn them to a good account. His muse was a fine lady over-ornamented with ill-arranged jewels. There is a want of repose and keeping in his poetry. His admirers cannot lay their hands on a single poem that is not studded with beauties as thickly as the stars in heaven, but like those stars they shine out from the dark. They are in strong contrast with deep shades of error. If his beauties are numerous, they are not more so than his defects. He is generally unhappy in his choice of subjects or in his mode of treating them. The least imperfect and most equal of his works, the tragedy of Cenci, is absolutely disgusting from the nature of the subject. It is strange that the writer could expect such a work to gain an entrance into domestic circles. Swift had an unnatural craving after filthy subjects, and Shelley had an equally unnatural leaning towards such as are morally repulsive. It is impossible, therefore, that he should ever become a popular poet, unless a very great change (and one by no means for the better) should take place in the moral tone of society. But this is not the only bar to his success. His imagination was magnificently fertile; but, as it has been already said, his faculties were not well proportioned. He was singularly defective in those powers which might have given direction, consistency and completeness to his fitful, fragmentary and dreain-like visions. His poems are all imperfect. His inspiration was convulsive—not continuous. One verse is a miracle of genius—the next is detestable. In one line we have a flash of ethereal light, in another “chaos is come again.” From no poet could there be selected single lines or brief, unconnected passages, of such startling and surpassing
beauty, but it really cannot be said that there is a single one of
which has not some strange defect in it. One of the most beautiful of his short pieces, is the “ Lines written in dejection in the Bay of Naples.” Some of the stanzas contain the most_exquisitely pathetic and melodious lines that were ever written, but others again are absolutely unintelligible. Who can explain the meaning of the last stanza*? It is something like the opening of Dyer's Grongar Hill, the meaning of which would never have been guessed at, if Scott of Amwell had not discovered an early version of the poem in the form of an ode, in which “ The silent Nymph with curious eye,” is plainly addressed as Fancy. There is no fault so injurious to the success of a poem as obscurity. The reader is soon disgusted with the labor of discovering hidden meanings. Poetry is addressed to the general heart. Its first object is pleasure (though indirect instruction ought to follow), and nothing is more calculated to injure its effect, than a want of clearness and simplicity. With all his high genius, Shelley has little chance of an immortality on earth. If he had struck out from his writings, all that was far-fetched, extravagant and obscure, and shaped them into poems of more completeness, he would have left us less than one-third of the quantity; but that small portion would have lived for ever! It is a truism that requires frequent repetition in this day, when voluminousness is mistaken for power, that the quality and not the quantity of any production is the test of its value. Too many of our living writers are cursed with a fatal facility. They cannot reduce their excrescences. It is like cutting off their flesh. But if the greatest of living poets, William Wordsworth, were judiciously to reduce his works to one half of their present extent, his loss would be a gain. The poets of the present day seem to think, that whatever is written easily must be easy reading, and
* A line is wanting in the first stanza.