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“Happy is your grace
That can translate the stubbornness of fortune
Into so quiet and so sweet a style!” He looks upon the physical world as a storehouse of moral reflection, calculated to make us wiser and better men, and considers his fellow-creatures more as creatures to be reasoned into virtue and submission, than to be roused into exertion against evil, or to be tamed into the recognition of a supreme good. In a word, he finds
“ Books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in everything !"
The author of "Fanny” possesses many qualities calculated to make him a popular poet; he also has one or two which may, as time rolls on, peril his existence as part of the enduring national literature of America.
He has fancy, versification, a keen eye for the incongruous, and a taste for the beautiful ; but against these gifts must be set off his want of earnestness. We are never certain he feels his subject; he writes about it well and wittily; and in some of his poems he displays a truthfulness and depth worthy of any poet, but the mood seems to pass away, and he becomes the Mephistophilean jester at the various passions and pursuits of the world. This is a mind which is not calculated to produce a solid impression on the public; they require a breadth and depth in the treatment of a subject which are incompatible with its nature. It requires a poet of great and varied powers, like Byron, to achieve a permanent reputation without this truthfulness of intellect; it may be said that even the author of “ Childe Harold” has not stood the critical test. Many poets have been famous in their time, and even in the generation after them, and yet have been negatived by posterity.
The secret of Byron's success in “Don Juan" lies in that love of unexpectedness which is so constituent a part of human nature. However absurd and dangerous a practical joke may be, it invariably draws forth a laugh from the majority. In this mixed style of poetry there is a kind of intellectual contradiction, which in some shape approximates to the same habit of mind.
In addition to this feature in the human character, Byron made an appeal to the beautiful and the heroic. “Don Juan" not only abounds with passages which apparently ignore the existence of all love, truth, devotion, and the better parts of our nature, but also with the finest appeals to these very elements. These are too numerous to need enumeration ; a rapid glance at the poem will convince the most sceptical. There is also another attraction in this kind of writing, and it consists in the easiness with which some piquant lines are remembered by reason of the double and generally felicitous rhymes.
We shall, however, commence with Mr. Halleck's shorter poems, and close our notice with a short analysis of his chief production called “Fanny.” As he has written very little verse, we shall try him by a more careful standard than that applied to men of more extensive productions. Nor is this unjust on other grounds. There is an evident polish about his lines ; the first glance shows the elaborate care with which every thought has been expressed ; there is not much of that “abandon” which characterizes some poets.
We are not quite sure whether Mr. Halleck intends the
verses in “Red Jacket” to be complimentary to Mr. Cooper or
First in her files her Pioneer of mind,
His love for the young land he left behind.
“ And faithful to the act of Congress quoted
As law authority—it passed “nem. con.;'
The most enlightened people ever known.
In Paris, full of song, and dance, and laugh,
There's not a bailiff or an epitaph.
And furthermore, in fifty years or sooner,
We shall export our poetry and wine,
Will sweep the seas from Zembla to the line.”
There are somewhere about half-a-dozen more verses, but they are not written with the poet's usual felicity.
This inconsistency of mood betrays itself in most of Mr. Halleck's productions. Byron had the power to check this feeling. When he wrote a Mephistophilean poem he openly worked it out; in his serious productions he never suffered this disturbing, inharmonious spirit, to appear. He was too much of an artist to do this. But his American brother in verse seems to be governed by this mood, and not to rule it.
In the verses to “ Alnwick Castle” we have an instance of this besetting sin. To be sure, the author may turn round and say that he meant it should assume this bantering tone, but there is an instinct in every reader which tells him how far such a purpose is legitimate. In “Beppo” and “Don Juan" we feel the whole work is in keeping, but in “ Alnwick Castle” we only observe the poet's infirmity of purpose. We feel pretty well convinced that Mr. Halleck intended to write a serious heroic poem, when he commenced the lines in question, but finding his impulse or inspiration dying, he resuscitated it by calling upon the Genius of Banter. Notwithstanding this centaur-like appearance, it possesses some fine stanzas.
“ Home of the Percies' high-born race,
Home of their beautiful and brave,
Their cradle and their grave.
As in his proud departed hours:
Above his princely towers.
Lovely in England's fadelesgreen,
Through this romantic scene.
While summer's winds blow soft and low,