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we think Mr. Willis shows considerable cleverness; there is an elegance about his frivolity which lends a grace to the effort not otherwise belonging to it.
“ LOVE IN A COTTAGE.
“ You may talk of love in a cottage,
And bowers of trellised vine,
And milkmaids half divine.
By the light of a chandelier,
And nobody very near.
With a glass of pure old wine,
The small white hand in mine.
Your vine is a nest for flies,
And simplicity talks of pies.
And mightily likes his ease,
And starves beneath shady trees.
His foot's an invisible thing,
And shot from a silver string."
These verses are highly characteristic of the writer's genius. Nature is pronounced somewhat vulgar and inconvenient, and the elegances of life are considered as the pure Ideal. But we mightily object to Mr. Willis's definition of elegance; the true elegance is the ideal of human nature ; the elegance of the fop is as far removed from this as are the poles asunder. The Arcadia of our poet very much depends upon the upholsterer, the milliner, and the jeweller. His nature is artificial, and, instead of grassy meads, with heaven's dew glistening on them, they are covered with Turkey carpets ; the shady banks are removed, and velvet couches placed in their stead; the murmuring brooks are muffled, and the birds driven away to make room for an Italian Opera. This may be civilization in a very high degree, but it is not the natural elegance of man; one of the old dramatists has admirably touched upon the Ideal and the Conventional in those celebrated lines alluding to our Saviour, as,
“ The first true gentleman that e'er wore
Earth about him.”
We may mention as a singular proof of the artificiality of Mr. Willis's style, the curious fact that his bantering or mockheroic verses are scarcely distinguishable from his scriptural poems. We give part of “The Declaration” as evidence of our statement.
“'T was late, and the gay company was gone,
And light lay soft on the deserted room
Through the unshuttered window on the air,
This is very heavy trifling.
But the chief test of how far Mr. Willis is a humorous writer is to be decided by his “ Lady Jane, a Humorous Novel in Rhyme.” Here there can be no mistake in the matter. He himself avows boldly his deliberate and determined intention to be funny. It is not left in doubt, as was the intention of the farce which was performed some time since at Burton's Theatre. After a few nights it was withdrawn by the author, who declared that the actors and audience had certainly mistaken the nature of the piece : he had intended it for a farce, but they had actually considered it as a serious drama. Had the author followed Mr. Willis's advice he would have prevented the dilemma.
To return to the humorous novel in verse. The following description of the heroine is very felicitous :
“ Yet there was fire within her soft grey eye,
And room for pressure on her lips of rose;
Imagined that her feelings slept, or froze.
A thread about a bud, which never blows,
Some stanzas back we left the ladies going
At six to dress for dinner. Time to dine
That to jump over it in half a line,
Contempt we do not feel for meat and wine.
For eating, who, save Byron, ever checked a belle ?" We have read this poem through, consisting of two or three hundred verses in the Boccaccian or Don Juan stanza, but with the exception of an occasional play upon words, we do not recognise any of those strokes of humor and unexpected contrasts which render Byron so charming. Still there are a pleasant banter and gentlemanly quizzing about many of the best stanzas, which enable a reader to get through it. There are, however, few passages which will repay a second perusal.
We do not charge this upon Mr. Willis as a fault, because his forte is evidently prose, where his vivacity and polished style serve him admirably. His want of earnestness is fatal to him as a poet, but helps him in those lighter sketches where he seems quite at home.
We have no space to consider Mr. Willis as a dramatist ; we must therefore content ourselves by remarking that, as his plays have not retained possession of the stage, he adds one more to that long list of writers who have been seduced by the temptation of popular applause to over-estimate their powers. We may be permitted to add, that the total absence of dramatic power in his writings is so marked, that we should have been more astonished at success than failure : we consequently merely chronicle his attempt rather as a biographical fact than as a poetical feat.
There are few things more anomalous in the history of literature than the present position of the American stage. Out of eight theatres in the metropolis of the western world seven are owned by foreigners, the only exception being the small and somewhat inferior one called the National, in Chatham street, under the control of Mr. Chanfrau. We are informed that it is almost impossible for an American to get a play produced, however adapted it may be for popular representation. We are perfectly aware that many will allege the want of dramatic genius as a sufficient and conclusive reason for this singular state of things; but we may be allowed to observe that so long as this excluding or prohibiting system exists, there never will be any genius shown in this branch of poetry : encouragement is essentially necessary for every product, and for none more than for intellectual variety...
There is, perhaps, nothing more indicative of a healthy national state than a legitimate drama, and the greatest critics in England have thought that to this species of excellence England owes more than to her victorious fleets. It certainly reflects more of a country's glory than any other shape of mind, and a glance at the past will confirm this view.
The victories of Greece have died away. Marathon is only