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sure—to which the English language is so little adaptedrenders it very difficult to do justice in it even to the finest poetry. The hexameter is the grave of poetry. It is the crowning monotony of writing. A sort of stale prose. An author like Mr. Longfellow should not deprive himself of so much fame, by pushing to the utmost a peculiarity by which he had attained, in so many quarters, a somewhat undeserved reputation. Imitation has been charged on all poets, and we know that the indignation of Robert Green was so soured by the appropriations of Shakspeare, that he denounced him “ as a jay strutting about in our feathers, and fancying himself as the only Shakscene of the country.” This charge is always more or less true of a young author, and it is in the very nature of things : it arises from the very susceptibility of his system. The Beautiful is his idol ; his commonest thought is an anthem to her praise ; and, like a true disciple, he insensibly adopts the manner of the priest he has confessed to, till he himself becomes one of the elect. A curious volume of psychological biography is opened to our study if we trace the young poet to his progenitor. Life itself is an imitation : we are all copies of each other : the shades of difference are minute ; and as in a herd of buffaloes one is scarcely distinguishable from another, yet each is as distinct in its own individuality as though one were an animalcule and the other a mastodon. The laws of the intellectual being are as recognisable as those of the physical, and we never yet heard the right of a separate existence denied to Julius Cæsar, Wellington, or Washington, on account of their having had a parent. On the same ground we claim individuality for
poets, in despite of their having founded their nature on the inspiration of another. The real difference lies in the degree of imitation. The true poet absorbs, the versifier imitates. Every poet commences with more or less of some predominant mind, the most assimilant to his own.
Into “Evangeline” Mr. Longfellow has thrown more of his own individual poetry than into any other production, and we shall endeavor to elicit from it the most striking traits of his mind.
The opening is simple, and full of fine clear description.
“ In the Acadian land, on the shores of the Basin of Minas,
Distant, secluded, still, the little village of Grand-Pré
fields Spreading afar and unfenced o'er the plain ; and away to the
northward Blomidon rose, and the forests old, and aloft on the mountains Sea-fogs pitched their tents, and mists from the mighty Atlantic Looked on the happy valley, but ne'er from their station descended. There, in the midst of its farms, reposed the Acadian village. Strongly built were the houses, with frames of oak and chestnut, Such as the peasants of Normandy built in the reign of the
The closing line is an instance of that want of keeping which occasionally spoils the effect of a fine picture; it carries the reader away from the American scene to the feudal times.
The heroine, Evangeline, is thus introduced ; not very happily, we think :
“ Fair was she to behold, that maiden of seventeen summers. Black were her eyes as the berry that grows on the thorn by the
way-side, Black, yet how softly they gleamed beneath the brown shade of
her tresses! Sweet was her breath as the breath of kine that feed in the
meadows. When in the harvest heat she bore to the reapers at noon-tide Flagons of home-brewed ale, ah! fair in sooth was the maiden. Fairer was she when, on Sunday morn, while the bell from its
turret Sprinkled with holy sounds the ear, as the priest with his hyssop Sprinkles the congregation, and scatters blessings upon them, Down the long street she passed, with her chaplet of beads and
her missal, Wearing her Norman cap, and her kirtle of blue, and the ear-rings, Brought in the olden time from France, and since, as an heirloom, Handed down from mother to child, through long generations."
The maiden is loved and sought by all the lads in the village, but the favored one is Gabriel Lajeunesse. They had been educated together, and they had grown up as brother and sister. Her father, the old farmer, is thus graphically described in a few lines :
" Stalworth and stately in form was the man of seventy winters; Hearty and hale was he, an oak that is covered with snow-flakes ; White as the snow were his locks, and his cheeks as brown as the
Nor is the picture of Gabriel's sire unworthy to be placed by its side :
“ Thus as they sat, were footsteps heard, and, suddenly lifted, Sounded the wooden latch, and the door swung back on its hinges. Benedict knew by the hob-nailed shoes it was Basil the blacksmith, And by her beating heart Evangeline knew who was with him. •Welcome ! the farmer exclaimed, as their footsteps paused on the
threshold, *Welcome, Basil my friend ! Come, take thy place on the settle Close by the chimney-side, which is always empty without thee; Take from the shelf overhead thy pipe and the box of tobacco; Never so much thyself art thou as when through the curling Smoke of the pipe, or the forge, thy friendly and jovial face
gleams Round and red as the harvest moon through the mist of the
marshes.' Then, with a smile of content, thus answered Basil the black
smith, Taking with easy air the accustomed seat by the fireside.”
The blacksmith comes to announce the arrival of a fleet from England with hostile intentions.
The incredulity of the old farmer is admirably described.
“ Then with a pleasant smile made answer the jovial farmer :
* Safer we are unarmed, in the midst of our flocks and our corn
fields, Safer within these peaceful dikes, besieged by the ocean, Than were our fathers in forts, besieged by the enemy's cannon. Fear no evil, my friend, and to-night may no shadow of sorrow Fall on this house and hearth ; for this is the night of the contract. Built are the house and the barn. The merry lads of the village Strongly have built them and well; and, breaking the glebe round
about them, Filled the barn with hay, and the house with food for a twelve
month. René Leblanc will be here anon, with his papers and inkhorn, , Shall we not then be glad, and rejoice in the joy of our children ??
As apart by the window she stood, with her hand in her lover's, Blushing Evangeline heard the words that her father had spoken, And as they died on his lips the worthy notary entered.”
The decision of the English Government is that the inhabitants of this happy village shall be scattered. Mr. Longfellow paints with great force, beauty, and tenderness, the departure of the villagers.
“ Four times the sun had risen and set; and now on the fifth day Cheerily called the cock to the sleeping maids of the farm-house. Soon o'er the yellow fields, in silent and mournful procession, Came from the neighboring hamlets and farms the Acadian women, Driving in ponderous wains their household goods to the sea-shore, Pausing and looking back to gaze once more on their dwellings, Ere they were shut from sight by the winding road and the wood
land. Close at their sides their children ran, and urged on the oxen, Clasping still in their little hands some fragments of playthings."