ePub 版

charged; it is evident enough that if his biographer could have discovered more he would not have spared him. As a poet, he has treated him with severity enough, and has plucked one or two of the most beautiful feathers out of his Muse's wing, and trampled them under his great foot. He has passed sentence of condemnation upon Lycidas, and has taken occasion, from that charming poem, to expose to ridicule (what is indeed ridiculous enough) the childish prattlement of pastoral compositions, as if Lycidas was the prototype and pattern of them all. The liveliness of the description, the sweetness of the numbers, the classical spirit of antiquity, that prevails in it, go for nothing. I am convinced, by the way, that he has no ear for poetical numbers, or that it was stopped by prejudice against the harmony of Milton's. Was there ever anything so delightful as the music of the Paradise Lost? It is like that of a fine organ, has the fullest and the deepest tones of majesty, with all the softness and elegance of the Dorian flute; variety without end, and never equalled, unless perhaps by Virgil. Yet the Doctor has little or nothing to say upon this copious theme, but talks something about the unfitness of the English language for blank verse, and how apt it is, in the mouth of some readers, to degenerate into declamation. Oh! I could thrash his old jacket till I made his pension jingle in his pock


I could talk a good while longer, but I have no room. Our love attends yourself, Mrs. Unwin, and Miss Shuttleworth, not forgetting the two miniature pictures at your elbow. Yours affectionately. W. C.


compliment or expression of applause should escape me, I fear you would consider it as a mockery of your established character, and perhaps an insult to your understanding. You have nice feelings, my Lord, if we may judge from your resentments. Cautious, therefore, of giving offense where you have so little deserved it, I shall leave the illustration of your virtues to other hands. Your friends have a privilege to play upon the easiness of your temper, or possibly they are better acquainted with your good qualities than I am. You have done good by stealth. The rest is upon record. You have still left ample room for speculation, when panegyric is exhausted.

You are indeed a very considerable man. The highest rank, a splendid fortune, and a name glorious, till it was yours, were sufficient to have supported you with meaner abilities than I think you possess. From the first, you derived a constitutional claim to respect; from the second, a natural extensive authority; the last created a partial expectation of hereditary virtues. The use you have made of these uncommon advantages might have been more honourable to yourself, but could not be more instructive to mankind. We may trace it in the veneration of your country, the choice of your friends, and in the accomplishment of every sanguine hope which the public might have conceived from the illustrious name of Russell.

The eminence of your station gave you a commanding prospect of your duty. The road which led to honour was open to your view. You could not lose it by mistake, and you had no temptation to depart from it by design. Compare the natural dignity and importance of the richest peer of England, the noble in

TO HIS GRACE THE DUKE OF dependence which he might have main



September 19, 1769.

You are so little accustomed to receive any marks of respect or esteem from the public, that if, in the following lines, a

tained in Parliament, and the real interest and respect which he might have acquired, not only in Parliament, but through the whole kingdom, compare these glorious distinctions with the ambition of holding a share in government, the emoluments of a place, the sale of a

borough, or the purchase of a corporation; and, though you may not regret the virtues which create respect, you may see with anguish how much real importance and authority you have lost. Consider the character of an independent, virtuous Duke of Bedford; imagine what he might be in this country; then reflect one moment upon what you are.

If it be possible for me to withdraw my attention from the fact, I will tell you in theory what such a man might be. Conscious of his own weight and importance, his conduct in Parliament would be directed by nothing but the constitutional duty of a peer. He would consider himself as a guardian of the laws. Willing to support the just measures of government, but determined to observe the conduct of the minister with suspicion, he would oppose the violence of faction with as much firmness as the encroachments of prerogative. He would be as little capable of bargaining with the minister for places for himself or his dependents, as of descending to mix himself in the intrigues of opposition. Whenever an important question called for his opinion in Parliament, he would be heard by the most profligate minister with deference and respect. His authority would either sanctify or disgrace the measures of government. The people would look up to him as their protector, and a virtuous prince would have one honest man in his dominions, in whose integrity and judgment he might safely confide.

Your Grace may probably discover something more intelligible in the negative part of this illustrious character. The man I have described would never

prostitute his dignity in Parliament by an indecent violence, either in opposing or defending a minister. He would not at one moment rancourously persecute, at another basely cringe to, the favourite of his sovereign. After outraging the royal dignity with peremptory conditions, little short of menace and hostility, he would never descend to the humility of soliciting an interview with the favourite, and of offering to recover, at any price, the honour of his friendship. Though deceived, perhaps, in his youth, he would not, through the course of a long life, have invariably chosen his friends from among the most profligate of mankind. His own honour would have forbidden him from mixing his private pleasures or conversation with jockeys, gamesters, blasphemers, gladiators, or buffoons. He would then have never felt, much less would he have submitted to, the dishonest necessity of engaging in the interest and intrigues of his dependents, of supplying their vices, or relieving their beggary, at the expense of his country.

A great man, in the success and even in the magnitude of his crimes, finds a rescue from contempt. Your Grace is every way unfortunate. . . . It may, perhaps, be a pleasure to reflect that there is hardly a corner of any of His Majesty's dominions, except France, in which, at one time or other, your valuable life has not been in danger. Amiable man! we see and acknowledge the protection of Providence, by which you have so often escaped the personal detestation of your fellow-subjects, and are still reserved for the public justice of your country. . . .


THE first quarter of the nineteenth century witnessed an extraordinary flowering of English poetry. The men here considered differ widely from one another but they are alike in their effort to extend the domain of poetry and to increase the range of poetical expression. Childhood, humble life, nature in its homely, its exotic, even its mystical aspects, the glamour of the Middle Ages, social and moral problems, all the wonder of the world, at once terrifying and consoling, become parts of the poet's consciousness; on them he ponders, and as he feels, in suffering or in exaltation, he sings. Such a conception of poetry may be contrasted with the objective descriptive manner which characterizes the effort in our own day still further to increase the poetical domain.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) was possessed of one of the finest minds that have appeared on earth, but one partially frustrated by its own fecundity and by opium. If he impresses us as something less than the poet he might have been, he is still a great poet, and he is besides a figure of the first importance in literary criticism and in liberal theology. He is renowned as a copious talker.

Leaving Cambridge without a degree, he joined his friend Robert Southey, who charmed him with his plan to found a community on the banks of the Susquehanna, a "pantisocracy" of virtue and brotherly love. The idea was abandoned through lack of funds. The two friends married sisters. Coleridge then tried lecturing and journalism. About 1796 he associated himself with the Wordsworths, William and his only less gifted sister Dorothy. One result of this association was the little volume of Lyrical Ballads (1798), to which Coleridge's principal contribution was The Ancient Mariner. At this time Coleridge wrote also Kubla Khan and the first part of Christabel. These were not published until 1816. The Ode to France appeared in the Morning Post, April 16, 1798. In that year he made a memorable visit to Germany. Returning, he translated Schiller's Wallenstein (1800), and removing to the Lake region, he wrote the second part of Christabel.

Coleridge's poetical work was now nearly complete. In spite of his addiction to opium, he continued to experiment in drama, contributed frequently to the press, lectured, and above all, talked. Lay Sermons (1816), Sibylline Leaves (1817), Biographia Literaria (1817), Aids to Reflection (1824), Church and State (1830), together with Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit, a volume of Table Talk, and four volumes of Literary Remains, all of which were published after his death, embody only a part of the outgivings of this extraordinary mind.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) in his youth went to France and became a flaming revolutionary and, after the manner of that robust day, was something of a scatterer of wild oats. He lived to grow serenely old in "a wise passiveness"; to the young Browning his later Toryism seemed a base desertion. (See Browning's The Lost Leader.) Also Wordsworth in his youth was a poet he never intended to be and never to himself seemed anything other. If to others he grew voluminous and prosy, he regarded it all as a necessary part of the development of his poet's mind, which was his perpetual theme. The forces which he regarded as formative of his poetic mind were not the polished societies of cities, but the intercourse with simple and homely country people and a surrender of himself to the influences of hill, stream, bird, and flower which were the outer garment of that "nature" which was all in all to him. Walking reflectively amid the natural beauties of his English lakes he wrought throughout his life at his poetry

until it developed a mass and contour which, quite as much as its occasional perfections, have made of it an enlargement and a consolation to the spirit of men since. Wordsworth regarded his peasants and his "nature" with all the enthusiasm of a discoverer. He would write only in the simple diction of peasants. He would be the first consistently to describe natural scenery, as he says, "with his eye on the object." He would do away with the artificial "poetic diction" which had beset English poetry since the days of Pope. Of course Wordsworth's practice was often something quite different from his theory. He did study poetry. He did not write in the language of peasants, though he sometimes wrote lines and whole poems that were flat and very nearly silly. He adhered closely to poetical conventions in many respects. But he did write about simple things-people, trees, birds, places, some aspects of everyday human conduct - which he had known, reflected upon, felt deeply about. Upon these he looked back in the tranquillity that succeeded his emotion, and, by recreating his emotion, he invested with dignity and splendor what would otherwise have passed for commonplace.

All the faults and excellences of this method appear in the famous volume of Lyrical Ballads (1798); the faults may be exemplified by the Idiot Boy, the excellences by Tintern Abbey.

Wordsworth planned to devote his life to a long philosophical poem on "man, nature, and society," to be called the Recluse. Of this plan he completed, in 1805, the Prelude, in fourteen books (published 1850) and the Excursion (1814), which was intended to serve as the second of three parts. It was of the Excursion that the critic Jeffrey said, "This will never do." In a sense, it never has done; and yet there is in him a world of healing wisdom and beauty: the lofty reflection of his Ode to Duty, the splendors of his Ode on Intimations of Immortality, the homely and touching truth of his Michael, and the chastened imagination of his sonnets; and the shorter poems of nature and of humble folk, both in his view, presenting but different aspects of the same creative principle working through all things in dignity and beauty.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) came of a race of moss-trooping Borderers. As a little boy at his grandfather's hill-top farm of Sandy-Knowe nothing pleased him so much as the ballads and songs of the Border. Toward the end of his school days he read with delight Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. While studying and later practising law, as well as serving as Sheriff of Selkirkshire, his enormous energy and unquenchable enthusiasm found time to collect ballads, pore over manuscripts, and make friends with every sort of person in Scotland. In 1802 he published two volumes of the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, and a third volume the next year. He had already tried his hand at original ballad-writing for "Monk" Lewis's Tales of Wonder, and in attempting something more ambitious he again began with a tale of the supernatural, around which he wove incidents from his wide knowledge of the early border forays, giving unity to the whole by putting it into the mouth of the aged minstrel. The metrical form was suggested by what he had heard of Coleridge's yet unpublished Christabel; in this respect both poets are influenced by the English verse of the Middle Ages and of later popular poetry. The Lay of the Last Minstrel appeared in 1805 and met with immediate and great popularity. The public was already prepared to receive a poem which should recreate the glamour of the Middle Ages. It was the first poem in the new romantic style to win for itself a wide popular hearing.

The anticipation which had been aroused by the news that Scott had received a thousand guineas for a poem, not a line of which had been written, was fully met by Marmion (1808). The critic Jeffrey, with personal apologies to the author, dealt firmly with it in the Edinburgh Review, and Byron, also with apologies later, taunts Scott, in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, with writing for money. The truth is that Scott, with his open-handed generosity, his lordly way of life as he expanded to the full glories of

Abbotsford, and his harassing involvement in the tangled affairs of the publishing business of John Ballantyne and Co., which eventually wrought his financial ruin, stood often in need of advances on the large sums which his writings came to realize. Few men, and certainly no man of letters, however, have led so wholesome a life as he, and none has met adversity, when it came, more indomitably.

Marmion, a longer and more stately romance than the Minstrel, is a tale of a faithless English knight and the great Scottish disaster at Flodden Field (1513).

[ocr errors]

When the Lady of the Lake (1810) appeared "the post-horse duty in Scotland rose in an extraordinary degree," and the stream of visitors to the Highlands, whose scenery Scott was the first to make known to the world, has never slackened. "The Lay,' wrote Lockhart, his adoring son-in-law and biographer, "if I may venture to state the creed now established, is, I should say, generally considered the most natural and original, Marmion is the most powerful and splendid, The Lady of the Lake is the most interesting, romantic, picturesque, and graceful of his great poems." The Lady of the Lake placed Scott at the height of his poetic fame. He wrote other poems, notably Rokeby (1813) and the Lord of the Isles (1814), but Byron's eastern tales were catching the popular ear, and the success of Waverly, published anonymously in 1814, discovered to Scott an ampler means of setting forth his stores of antiquarian lore, his descriptive pov rs, and his observation of Scottish character.

George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron (1788-1824). Byron's father was a rake; his mother as uncontrolled in her expression of affection as of anger and despair, and her ruling passion was somehow to educate her son on her small income. Byron himself had every grace of person, but his right leg and foot were shrivelled and his left hardly normal: from bitterness that such a curse should be laid upon him his heart was never free. His misfortune, although it did not deny him a certain prowess in swimming, particularly qualified him to share in the mood of titanic despair and revolt which had been fashionable throughout Europe since the days of Rousseau and of Goethe's Werther. On the publication of the first two cantos of Childe Harold, in 1812, Byron awoke one morning, as he says, to find himself famous.

Plunged forthwith into a whirl of social gayety, Byron found time to pour forth a series of Eastern tales bringing to Englishmen authentic news of regions from which they had long been cut off, which placed the "Byronic hero" before the world, desolately and heroically at war with it and with himself. When in 1816, his wife, whom he had married the year before, left him, and the dissolute society of London under the Regency had, in a spasm of moral indignation, cast him out, Byron in the eyes of all Europe became more than ever, himself the personification of the "Byronic hero." Nothing that he ever did or wrote thereafter but was of interest to a large public. Even during the years of Byron's furiously discursive reading at Cambridge, he had tried his hand at poetry. Hours of Idleness (1807) contains nothing memorable. The Edinburgh Review ridiculed it, and Byron, stung to fury, published English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809). This satire, parts of which Byron afterwards repented, is in the tradition of Pope, which must be thought of as still dominating the taste of this period. It was a tradition which Byron would allow no one to attack and with which, as a great prose man himself, he had many affinities. The Hebrew Melodies (1815) were written at the request of a friend, to be set to music.

Byron left England in 1816 for Switzerland. Here he met Shelley, who stimulated him to a more thoughtful kind of poetry and interested him in the work of Wordsworth. Under these influences the third canto of Childe Harold was composed, its descriptions of natural scenery both heightened and deepened by a growing sense of man's share in nature. Here, too, he wrote The Prisoner of Chillon (1816); it is a monologue, the form which Browning later developed. Byron then went to Italy, spending a three years' carnival at Venice, but writing the fourth canto of Childe Harold (1818), and in the tales

« 上一頁繼續 »