Page images
PDF
EPUB

With regard to Mr. Gifford's poetical claims, which I had nearly forgotten, he seems to have thought very justly, that the Juvenal required something better than the usual monotonous versification; but in aiming at vigour and variety, he has fallen into no versification at all, and become lame and prosaical. The only approach that he ever made to the poetical character was in some pleasing and even pathetic lines in the notes to his Mæviad, beginning

I wish I was where Apna lies ;

but such lines coming in such a place, in the very thick of petty resentments and vulgar personalities contradict the better taste that is in them, and give the reader perhaps as distasteful an idea of the author at that time of life when he inserted them, as any one passage of his writings.

(10) For his host was a God what a very great thing!

And what was still greater in his eyes king!

Avaš AtomWvKing Apollo-a common title with the old Grecian poets. See the following note.

(11) Be original, man; study more, scribble less,

Nor mistake present favour for lasting success ;
And remember, if laurels are what you would find,
The crown of all triumph is freedom of mind.

Of Mr. Walter Scott's innate and trusting reverence for thrones and dominations, the reader may find specimens abundantly nauseous in the edition of Dryden. His style in prose, setting aside its Scotticisms, is very well where he affects nothing beyond a plain statement, or a brief piece of criticism; and it is not to be supposed that his critical observations are always destitute of acuteness, or even of beauty; but the moment he attempts any thing of particular ease or profundity, he only becomes slovenly in the one instance and poetically pedantic in the other. His politics may be estimated at once by the simple fact, that of all the advocates of Charles the Second, he is the least scrupulous in mentioning his crimes, because he is the least abashed. Other writers have paid decency the compliment of doubting their extent, or of keeping them in the back ground; but here we have the plainest, toothpicking acknowledgments, that Charles was a pensioner of France, a shameless debauchee, a heartless friend, and an assassinating master, and yet all the while he is little else but the “

gay monarch," the “merry monarch,” the “witty mo. narch,” the “good-natured monarch ;” and Mr. Scott really appears to think little or nothing of all that he says against him. On the other hand, let a villain be but a Whig, or let any unfortunate person, with singular, Southern notions of independence, be but an opposer of Charles's court, and he is sure to meet with a full and crying de

[ocr errors]

nunciation of his offences, with raised hands and lifted eyeballs. The execution of Charles the First Mr. Scott calls an enormity unequalled in modern history, till the present age furnished a parallel :-massacres, of course, and other trifles of that sort, particularly when kings and courtiers are the actors, fade before it ; St. Bartholomew's day deserves to be counted lucky in comparison with it; and princely villains, like Henry the VIII. Ezzelino, and Borgia, are respectable and conscientious men by the side of the President Bradshaw and his colleagues. At the same time, a king, who, by the basest means, and for the slightest cause, would assassinate a faithful servant in the very act of performing his duty, is only ungenerous-one of whom the said servant has no small reason to complain. The reader may think this representation exaggerated, but let the author speak for himself. “His political principles (the Earl of Mulgrave's) were those of a staunch Tory, which he maintained through his whole life ; and he was zealous for the royal prerogative, although he had no small reason to complain of Charles the Şecond, who, to avenge himself of Mulgrave for a supposed attachment to the Princess Anne, sent him to Tangiers, at the head of some troops, in a leaky vessel, which it was supposed must have perished in the voyage. Though Mulgrave was apprized of the danger, he scorned to shun it; and the Earl of Plymouth, a favourite son of the king, generously insisted upon sharing it along with him. This ungenerous attempt to destroy him in the very act of performing his duty, with the refusal of a regiment, made a temporary change in Mulgrave's conduct.” Notes on Absalom and Achitophel in Dryden's Works, vol. ix. p. 304.

Of Mr. Walter Scott's poetry the estimate is sufficiently easy, and will now, perhaps, after the surfeit he has given us of it, be pretty generally acknowledged. It is little more than a leap back into the dress and the diction of rude but gorgeous times, when show concealed a great want of substance, and a little thinking was conveyed in a great many words. Thus it is not invidious to call the late demand for it a fashion, for it was almost as mere a fashion as the revival of any other artificial mode, and just as likely to go out again. That Mr. Scott is a poet is not to be controverted ;-he has a lightsome fancy, pleasing circumstance, luxury of description; and, in his idea of Marmion, has shown a taste for that mixture of genuine human character with the abstractions of poetry, which is a mark of no ordinary genius for narrative. But when the novelty of a particular mode of style is gone, a poet will obtain reputation for little else than a discernment of other men's beauties, who has no natural language and no style of his own-who cannot describe what he sees and feels but in phrases previously set down for him and who must, therefore, be sus

peeted of seeing and feeling, not so much from his own perceptions as from the suggestions of those that have gone before him. Mr. Scott's ladies gay and barons bold, his full-wells and I prayyous, his drinking of “the red wine” and his “kirtles of the cramasie”-his rhymes pressed into the service, and his verses dancing away now and then out of the measure, may have been new to the town in generals but they are as ancient as recollection itself to the readers of poetry ; and a person tolerably well read in old songs and stories might exclaim, with Dr. Johnson on a similar occasion,

Wheresoe'er I turn my view,
All is old and nothing new,
Trick'd in antique ruff and bonnet,

The plea, if any such has been made, of suiting the language of the poem to the manners of the story, is a mere excuse for want of power to talk naturally: for to say nothing of the continued modern smoothness which is added to the old versification, and of the different periods of time to which the self-same language is applied, no writers, not excepting the old romancers themselves, ever did or could adapt their language to the times of their story, unless the events they described were cotemporary. The romancers, indeed, notoriously violated every species of pro

« PreviousContinue »