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ure to win the sympathies of the reader would be very apt to discourage further acquaintance with Southey's poetry. “Roderic" is a noble heroic narrative poem, founded on a grand historical period, the downfall of the Gothic monarchy in Spain, and filled with the lofty actors in that great national drama. It is a very spirited poem, the story conducted with all the interest of a romance, and not only abounding in passages both of beauty and sublimity, but finely sustained throughout. To resort to that very inadequate mode of illustrating the character of a poem, by giving isolated quotation, how true and how beautiful a description is in such a passage as this,-one of many
“The morn had risen o'ercast,
One of the noblest passages (and it is one of true sublimity) is that in which Roderic, his royalty put off, disguised, and present in the priestly character, receives the vow pronounced by prince and people to the Lord of Hosts, upon the eve of war, and silently motions a blessing over the multitude :
“Ne'er in his happiest hours had Roderic
Towards the kneeling troop he spread his arms,
The most signal proof of the energy of Southey's imagination is the fact of his having, when a school-boy, conceived the design of exhibiting the most remarkable forms of mythology which have at any time obtained among mankind, by making each the groundwork of a narrative poem. The conception was a grand one, worthy of the strength and far-reaching vision of a mature imagination, and, if successfully executed, competent to enlarge the domains of poetry. It proved more than a dream of juvenile ambition; for he realized his plan in two important poems, founded on two of the mythologies,—that of the Arabs and of the Hindoos,—“Thalaba” and “The Curse of Kehama.” The wildest of these poems is that which has for its framework the religion of Hindostan,—the most monstrous, perhaps, of all false systems in its fables and in its rites. The highest efforts of Southey's genius were called forth by this Indian poem, “The Curse of Kehama ;” and, while the extravagant fictions of the superstition are not suffered to transcend his reach, and while the wonderfu wildness and power of the work raise a mingled feeling of admiration and amazement, I find a
perusal of the poem raises a sympathy with Charles Lamb's friendly criticism, when he said to Mr. Southey. “I confess the power of Kehama with trembling; but it puts me out of the pale of my old sympathies: my imagination goes sinking and floundering in the vast spaces of unopened-before systems and faiths."
The Arabian tale of “ Thalaba” is, in this respect, different. It is not only an admirable poem, but one that lies within the range of our sympathies,-indeed a wild and wondrous song, but full of all emotions that have their home in every human heart. It is the finest achievement of what has been well styled Southey's judicious daring in the department of supernatural poetry. The one pervading moral of the poem is as pure and precious a one as the imagination of poet has ever glorified,—the war and victory of faith, the triumph over the world and evil powers. The imaginative lesson is conveyed through the types and forms of the Mahommedan religion purified and spiritualized; and it was on this point that an apprehension was entertained by the late Mr. Wilberforce that the poem conveyed a false impression of that religion, and that the moral sublimity which he admired in it was owing to that flattering misrepresentation. In this instance-as I am inclined to believe happens very often—that good man's imagination and feelings arrived at true conclusions; but, when he came to speculate and to criticize, his understanding misled him. With the moral sublimity of the poem he was impressed; nor is it possible that such impressions could have been attended for one instant with
misdirected feeling of admiration for a false religion. If the poem had the effect of misappropriating to a super
stition that sentiment which is the rightful tribute to the faith of a true believer, an Israelite or a Christian, it would be as dangerous as delusive. But the truth takes no injury at the poet's hands. Indeed, “Thalaba" is one of the finest sacred poems in the language. It is not so much Mohammedism on which it is founded as something purified by the poet's imagination from the abominations of the false prophet,- system such as we may conceive to have been developed under the covenant of Ishmael, a remnant of the patriarchal faith preserved by the pure and the faithful in Arabia. Instead, therefore, of discovering any reason for apprehension in the groundwork of “Thalaba,” it is its glory that the poet has, by the might of imagination, spiritualized and Christianized Mohammedanism, much in the same way that Spenser hallowed the institution of chivalry, disfigured as it often was in actual life by martial and aristocratic atrocities. Southey's poem is a splendid exhibition of faith,—its spiritual birth, its might, its trials, and its victory a portraiture none but a Christian poet could
: have conceived. Let the poem be read with the belief that such is the principle of it; and, as you follow the hero along his wondrous career to its sublime and pathetic close, the only feeling your rapt imagination will return will be a deep sense of the majestic strength given to the soul of man when God breathes into it the spirit of faith. Indeed I do not doubt that the imaginative impression is better than if the narrative of the poem had been taken from Scripture history,-a consideration demanding, however, more of argument for its development than I can now attempt. Let me only say that there seems to me much force in a remark of Mr.
Southey's, in another connection, on the subject of poems, or fictions founded on themes drawn from Scripture:-that when what is true is sacred, whatever may added to it is so surely known to be false that it appears profane. A poem conceived and executed with so spiritual a purpose and so fanciful a form is, in truth, an illustration how pure a thing is the fire of genuine poetic inspiration, no matter what it touches. True to its nature, it is beyond the reach of contamination, shining like the sunlight upon the cathedral-roof or the churchspire, and not less brightly on mosque or minaret. The poem of “ Thalaba” accomplishes its lofty design of elevating and adorning the reader's idea of faith; and what matters it that it reaches his imagination through the innocent superstitions of mythology? What object is there so harmless to the sun, as it moves along his path in the skies, and indeed so gloriously attendant upon him, as a sunlit cloud ? The Christian believer will find nothing in this Arabian tale that can wound his sense of truth, and much that can fortify the spirit of faith. Let him not regret-let him rather rejoice--that poetry, Christian poetry, has shed its light, its glory, upon the harmless superstitions of the once faithful Arabia. It beams upon them like the angel's face upon the fugitive bondwoman when he bade her turn her wandering footsteps home again, or when he spoke a blessing to her and the outcast Ishmael, opening a fountain to them in the desert. Admirable skill and taste are shown in the manner in which the poet causes a Bible strain to pass occasionally over the wild fancies of his Arabian story. This scriptural character is impressed upon the poem in the beautiful opening stanzas :