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little time, except the night, to digest the one or speculate upon the other. The night, therefore, is often dedicated to composition; and while the light of the paly planets discovers at his desk the Preacher, more wan than they, he may be heard repeating, emphatically, with Dr. Young,
“Darkness has much divinity for me.”
He is then alone, he is then at peace. No companions near but the silent volumes on his shelf; no noise abroad but the click of the village clock, or the bark of the village dog. The deacon has then smoked his sixth and last pipe, and asks not a question more concerning Josephus or the Church. Stillness aids study, and the sermon proceeds. Such being the obligations to night, it would be ungrateful not to acknowledge them. As my watchful eyes can discern its dim beauties, my warm heart shall feel, and my prompt pen shall describe, the uses and the pleasures of the nocturnal hour. Watchman, what of the night? I can with propriety imagine this question addressed to myself. I am a professed lucubrator, and who so well qualified to delineate the sable hours as
However injuriously night is treated by the sleepy moderns, the vigilance of the ancients could not overlook its benefits and joys. In as early a record as the book of Genesis, I find that Isaac, though he devoted his assiduous days to action, reserved speculation till night. “He went out to meditate in the field at the eventide.” He chose that sad, that solemn hour, to reflect upon the virtues of a beloved and departed mother. The tumult and the glare of day suited not with the sorrow of his soul. He had lost his most amiable, most genuine friend, and his unostentatious grief was eager for privacy and shade. Sincere sorrow rarely suffers its tears to be seen. It was natural for Isaac to select a season to weep in, which should resemble “the color of his fate.” The darkness, the solemnity, the stillness of the eve were favorable to his melancholy purpose. He forsook, therefore, the bustling tents of his father, the pleasant “south country,” and “well of Lahairoi;” he went out and pensively meditated at the eventide. The Grecian and Roman philosophers firmly believed that “the dead of midnight is the noon of thought.” One of them is beautifully described by the poet as soliciting knowledge from the skies, in private and nightly audience, and that neither his theme nor his nightly walks were forsaken till the sun appeared and dimmed his “nobler intellectual beam.” We undoubtedly owe to the studious nights of the ancients most of their elaborate and immortal productions. Among them it was necessary that every man of letters should trim the midnight lamp. The day might be given to the forum or the circus, but the night was the season for the statesman to project his schemes and for the poet to pour his verse. Night has likewise, with great reason, been considered in every age as the astronomer's day. Young observes, with energy, that “an undevout astronomer is mad.” The privilege of contemplating those brilliant and numerous myriads of planets which bedeck our skies is peculiar to night; and it is our duty, both as lovers of moral and natural beauty, to bless that season when we are indulged with such a gorgeous display of glittering and useful light. It must be confessed that the seclusion, calmness, and tranquillity of midnight is most friendly to serious and even airy contemplations. I think it treason to this sable power, who holds divided empire with day, constantly to shut our eyes at her approach. To long sleep I am decidedly a foe. As it is expressed by a quaint writer, we shall all have enough of that in the grave. Those who cannot break the silence of night by vocal throat or eloquent tongue, may be permitted to disturb it by a snore. But he, among my readers, who possesses the power of fancy and strong thought, should be vigilant as a watchman. Let him sleep abundantly for health, but sparingly for sloth. It is better, sometimes, to consult a page of philosophy than the pillow.—Lay Preacher.
JACK AND GILL : A CRITICISM.
Among critical writers, it is a common remark that the fashion of the times has often given a temporary reputation to performances of very little merit, and neglected those much more deserving of applause. I therefore rejoice that it has fallen to my lot to rescue from neglect this inimitable poem; for, whatever may be my diffidence, as I shall pursue the manner of the most eminent critics, it is scarcely possible to err. The fastidious reader will doubtless smile when he is informed that the work, thus highly praised, is a poem consisting only of four lines; but as there is no reason why a poet should be restricted in his number of verses, as it would be a very sad misfortune if every rhymer were obliged to write a long as well as a bad poem, and more particularly as these verses contain more beauties than we often find in a poem of four thousand, all objections to its brevity should cease. I must at the same time acknowledge that at first I doubted in what class of poetry it should be arranged. Its extreme shortness and its uncommon metre seemed to degrade it into a ballad; but its interesting subject, its unity of plan, and,
above all, its having a beginning, middle, and an end, decide its claim to the epic rank. I shall now proceed, with the candor, though not with the acuteness, of a good critic, to analyze and display its various excellencies. The opening of the poem is singularly beautiful:—
Jack and Gill.
The first duty of the poet is to introduce his subject; and there is no part of poetry more difficult. We are told by the great critic of antiquity that we should avoid beginning “ab ovo,” but go into the business at once. Here our author is very happy; for, instead of telling us, as an ..". writer would have done, who were the ancestors of Jack and Gill, that the grandfather of Jack was a respectable farmer, that his mother kept a tavern at the sign of the Blue Bear, and that Gill's father was a justice of the peace, (once of the quorum,) together with a catalogue of uncles and aunts, he introduces them to us at once in their proper persons.
The choice, too, of names is not unworthy of consideration. It would doubtless have contributed to the splendor of the poem to have endowed the heroes with long and sounding titles, which, by dazzling the eyes of the reader, might prevent an examination of the work itself. These adventitious ornaments are justly disregarded by our author, who, by giving us plain Jack and Gill, has i. to rely on extrinsic support. In the very choice of appellations he is, however, judicious. Had he, for instance, called the first character John, he might have given him more dignity; but he would not so well harmonize with his neighbor, to whom, in the course of the work, it will appear he must necessarily be joined.
The personages being now seen, their situation is next to be discovered. Of this we are immediately informed in the subsequent line, when we are told
Jack and Gill
Here the imagery is distinct, yet the description concise. We instantly figure to ourselves the two persons travelling up an ascent, which we may accommodate to our own ideas of declivity, barrenness, rockiness, sandiness, &c., all which, as they exercise the imagination, are beauties of a high order. The reader will pardon my presumption, if I here attempt to broach a new principle, which no critic with whom I am acquainted has ever mentioned. It is this, that poetic beauties may be divided into negatire and positive, the former consisting of mere absence of fault,
the latter in the presence of excellence; the first of an inferior order, but requiring considerable critical acumen to discover them, the latter of a higher rank, but obvious to the meanest capacity. To apply the principle in this case, the poet meant to inform us that two persons were going up a hill. Now, the act of going up a hill—although Locke would pronounce it a very complex idea, comprehending person, rising ground, trees, &c. &c.—is an operation so simple as to need no description. Had the poet, therefore, told us how the two heroes went up, whether in a cart or a wagon, and entered into the thousand particulars which the subject involves, they would have been tedious, because superfluous. The omission of these little incidents, and telling us simply that they went up the hill, no matter how, is a very high negative beauty.
Having ascertained the names and conditions of the parties, the reader becomes naturally inquisitive into their employment, and wishes to know whether their occupation is worthy of them. This laudable curiosity is abundantly gratified in the succeeding lines; for
Jack and Gill
Here we behold the plan gradually unfolding, a new scene opens to our view, and the description is exceedingly beautiful. We now discover their object, which we were before left to conjecture. We see the two friends, like Pylades and Orestes, assisting and cheering each other in their }. gaily ascending the hill, eager to arrive at the summit, and to-fill their bucket. Here, too, is a new elegance. Our acute author could not but observe the necessity of machinery, which has been so much commended by critics, and admired by readers. Instead, however, of introducing a host of gods and goddesses, who might have only impeded the journey of his heroes, by the intervention of the bucket,_ which is, as it ought to be, simple and conducive to the progress of the poem,--he has considerably improved on the ancient plan. In the management of it, also, he has shown much judgment, by making the influence of the machinery and the subject reciprocal : for while the utensil carries on the heroes, it is itself carried on by them. It has been objected, (for every Homer has his Zoilus,) that their employment is not sufficiently dignified for epic poetry; but, in answer to this, it must be remarked, that it was the opinion of Socrates, and many other philosophers, that beauty should be estimated by utility; and surely the purpose of the heroes must have been beneficial. They ascended the rugged mountain to draw water; and drawing water is certainly more conducive to human happiness than drawing blood, as do the boasted heroes of the Iliad, or roving on the ocean, and invading other men's property, as did the pious AEneas. Yes! they went to draw water. Interesting scene ! It might have been drawn for the purpose of culinary consumption; it might have been to quench the thirst of the harmless animals who relied on them for support; it might have been to feed a sterile soil, and to revive the drooping plants which they raised by their labors. Is not our author more judicious than Apollonius, who chooses for the heroes of his Argonautics a set of rascals undertaking to steal a sheepskin 7 And, if dignity is to be considered, is not drawing water a circumstance highly characteristic of antiquity ? Do we not find the amiable Rebecca busy at the well? Does not one of the maidens in the Odyssey delight us by her diligence in the same situation ? and has not a learned Dean proved that it was quite fashionable in Peloponnesus? Let there be an end to such frivolous remarks.
But the descriptive part is now finished, and the author hastens to the catastrophe. At what part of the mountain the well was situated, what was the reason of the sad misfortune, or how the prudence of Jack forsook him, we are not informed; but so, alas ! it happened,
Jack fell down—
Unfortunate John At the moment when he was nimbly, for aught we know, going up the hill, perhaps at the moment when his toils were to cease, and he had filled the bucket, he made an unfortunate step, his centre of gravity, as the philosophers would say, fell beyond his base, and he tumbled. The extent of his fall does not, however, appear until the next line, as the author feared to overwhelm us by too immediate a disclosure of his whole misfortune. Buoyed by hope, we suppose his affliction not quite remediless, that his fall is an accident to which the wayfarers of this life are daily liable, and we anticipate his immediate rise to resume his labors. But how are we undeceived by the heart-rending tale that
Jack fell down
Nothing now remains but to deplore the premature fate of the unhappy John. The mention of the crown has much perplexed the commentators. But my learned reader will doubtless agree with me in conjecturing that, as the crown is often used metaphorically for the head, and as that part is, or, without any disparagement to the unfortunate sufferer, might have been, the heaviest, it was really his pericranium which sustained the damage. , Having seen the fate of Jack, we are anxious to know the lot of his com. panion. Alas! And Gill came tumbling after.
Here the distress thickens on us. Unable to support the loss of