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DESCRIPTION OF HIS MUSE.
Me, whom no muse of heavenly birth inspires,
For apt alliteration's artful aid:
Who would, but cannot, with a master's skill,
Me, thus uncouth, thus every way unfit
For pacing poesy, and ambling wit,
TASTE with contempt beholds, nor deigns to place
CHARACTERS OF ACTORS.
[From The Rosciad.]
Havard and Davies.
Here Havard, all serene, in the same strains,
In characters of low and vulgar mould,
But when, to please himself or charm his wife,
When, blindly thwarting nature's stubborn plan,
The clown, who no one touch of breeding knows,
By turns transformed into all kind of shapes,
His eyes, in gloomy socket taught to roll,
In fancied scenes, as in life's real plan,
DESCRIPTION OF JOHNSON.
Pomposo, insolent and loud,
But makes each sentence current pass
That folly's proved when he calls 'Fool!')
Draws words six syllables in length,
His comrades' terrors to beguile,
CHARLES THE FIRST.
List'ning uxorious, whilst a woman's prate Modelled the church, and parcelled out the state:
Whilst, in the state not more than women read,
Forbid to hear a loyal nation's cries:
Made to believe (what can't a favourite do?)
Unhappy Stuart ! (harshly though that name
At their command to hear the monarch plead,
By their decrees to see that monarch bleed.
In royalty secure thy person stood,
And sacred was the fountain of thy blood.
Vile ministers, who dared abuse their trust,
Vengeance, with justice leagued, with power made strong,
Yet grieve not, Charles; nor thy hard fortunes blame,
(Sometimes the vice) hath made thy memory whole.
[JAMES BEATTIE was born at Laurencekirk in 1735, and died at Aberdeen in 1803. He published his first volume of poems in 1761, The Judgment of Paris in 1765, and Some Lines on the Proposed Monument to Churchill in 1766. The first part of The Minstrel appeared in 1770, the second in 1774.]
Beattie is perhaps the most difficult poet of the eighteenth century for a nineteenth-century reader to criticise sympathetically. His original poetical power was almost nil. But he had a delicate and sensitive taste, and was a diligent student of the works of Gray and Collins on the one hand, and of the ballads which Percy had just published on the other. His earlier poems are merely so many variations on the Elegy and the Ode on the Passions. His Judgment of Paris and his Lines on Churchill are perhaps those of his works in which he was least indebted to others, and they are almost worthless intrinsically, besides being (at least the Churchill lines) in the worst possible taste. As for The Minstrel, it is certainly a most remarkable poem. The author has shown his judgment in prefixing no argument to either book, for in truth neither admits of one. The poem has neither head nor tail, and the central figure of the youthful Edwin is a mere peg on which to hang descriptive passages, moral disquisitions, and digressions of every kind. The general effect upon the modern reader is exactly that of a sham ruin or a Gothic edifice of the Wyatt period. Yet the poem was, and long continued to be, extremely popular ; and it gave the impulse in many cases to the production of much better work than itself. In fact it exactly reflected the vague and ill-instructed craving of the age for the dismissal of artificial poetry and for a return to nature, and at the same time to the romantic style. This fact must always give it an interest which its elegant secondhand imagery, its feeble Werterisms, and above all its extraordinary incoherence, may on closer acquaintance fail to sustain.
Beattie would have been a poet if he could, and his sedulous efforts and gentle sensibility sometimes bring him within sight, though at a long distance, of the promised land. But he never reaches it, and his best work is only made up of reminiscences of others' visits and of far-off echoes of the heavenly music.