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ART. XII. Alfred; an Epic Poem*, in Six Books. By Henry

James Pye. 4to. Pp. 260. il. 58. Boards. . Wright. 1801. The story of Alfred has been repeatedly attempted by Bri

tish bards ti yet, with all the interest which the subject inspires, it has never been adequately celebrated in verse. To trace the causes of this failure would be a curious inquiry ; except to those malignant readers who might question, in the first instance, the genius of all the writers who have undertaken the task. It occurs to us that the nature of the Epic Poem has been misunderstood on this occasion ; and that authors have deprived their compositions of much effect, by selecting à few striking passages from the history of the hero, without rendering them subservient to some general end, or moral precept. In the work before us, Alfred is made acquainted, by the prophecy of a Druid, with many of the splendid events which have concurred to render this nation rich and powerful: but little of this information bears any peculiar reference to the Saxon monarch, though his story would supply a clue to the most brilliant æra of our arms. Alfred was the first of our kings who conceived the plan of defending this country from foreign invasion by means of a fleet; and he may be considered as the Father of our Navy. His maritime campaigns, against Denmark would have been admissible, therefore, to a principal share of the Poet's attention; their relation to the events of the late war would have proved much more impressive, than the period which has been hitherto selected ; and our naval heroes might have been displayed to the view of Alfred, with an effect similar to that of the Vision in the sixth book of the Æneid.

After having conjectured what Mr. Pye might have done, we must now apply ourselves to consider what he has done. The poem opens with the appearance of Alfred at the Court of Gregor, king of Scotland; whither he is supposed to repair after the destruction of his troops at the battle of Ashdown, or White-Horse Hill, for the purpose of denanding succours. The exordium is not, in our judgment, peculiarly happy:

* The Public have lately been presented with a sort of Series of Epic poems; and if we had made our report of them chronologically, we should have given an account of Sir James Burges's performance intitled Richard the First, before we paid our respects to Mr. Pye's Muse : but an accident has delayed our remarks on Sir James's work. We hopes to introduce it into our next Number.

+ See particularly Mr. Cottle's recent publication, Rev, vol. Xxxv. N. S. p. i. Na

• While

• While, with unequal verse, I venturous sing

The toils and perils of a patriot King ;
Struggling, through war and adverse fate, to place
Britannia's throne on Virtue's solid base :
Guardian and glory of the British isles,
Immortal Freedom! give thy favouring smiles.
As, to our northern clime, thy beam supplies
The want of brighter suns, and purer skies,
So, on my ruder lays, auspicious shine,

“ And make immortal, verse as mean as mine." It has been objected to the opening of the Paradise Lost, thas the name of the Power which Milton invokes is deferred too long: in this Poem, the same defect is more remarkable, because Mr. Pye calls on a personage merely allegorical. The first four lines are prosaic, yet rather obscure; and the 7th and 8th lines contain a very indifferent conceit, which has been sometimes seriously and sometimes ludicrously applied, on former occasions. The introduction of a borrowed line, of no remarkable merit, at the close of this passage, is also a blemish. We are aware that the example of Milton may again be produced here ; his verse,

“ Things unattempted yet in prose or rhime,” being a mere translation from the second stanza of the Orlando Furioso:

Cosa non detta in prosa mai, ne in rima :'' but in this instance the line is worthy of appropriation, and bespeaks the noble confidence of superior genius, both in the Italian author and in our great poet.

The entrance of Alfred, at the feast, will remind the classical reader of Ulysses at the court of Alcinous. A part of the Song of the Bards is well imitated from Mr. Macpherson's Ossiany

Now, mingling pity with the warlike lay,
In softer mood the strings symphoneons play,
And paint, enwrap'd in winter's midnight gloom,
The hunter, leaning by the lonesome comb,
Where rest, in Death's eternal slumber laid,
The youthful warrior, and the love-lorn maid ;
While, as the gale in sullen murmur pass'd,
The wan ghost shriek'd in the terrific blas!,-
Like scenes of years long flown, the descant stole,
Pleasant, but mournful, o'er the ruffled soul :
For, Memory! thy ei chanting light can throw
A gleam of languid joy o'er distant woe.
As the pale moon, through watery mists display'd,
Faiatly illugnes the billow's darkling shade.'

Agitares · Agitated by the progress of the Song, Alfred declares himself; and the history of his misfortunes occupies the remainder of the book.

The Second Book contains the accession of the Scottish monarch to the alliance of Alfred, who departs with the succours commanded by Donald, Prince of Scotland. Alfred is shipwrecked, and obliged to take refuge in the Isle of Athelney. A pleasing simile occurs in the opening of this Book:

As when, in summer skies, the surges sleep,
Til Zephyr gently lifts the rippling deep,
And, smoothly rolling to the silken breeze,
Murmur, with gentle swell, the placid seas;
Then as, with bolder sweep, the freshening gales
Curl the white wave, a hoarser sound prevails;
Till dash'd impetuous on the groaning shore,
Loud, and more loud, the foaming billows roar :
So, by degrees, the tale of sorrow draws
From the chafed breast, soft whispers of applause
O'er Pity's tear, till indignation rise,
And anger beam from every chieftain's eyes,
. Each voice for War's avenging thunder calls,

And shouts of battle echo round the walls.! We must object, however, to the word lift,' in the second line : this heavy action is ill attributed to Zephyr: skims, or stirs, would have been preferable.-The epithet silken is also unbappy, because it rather degrades than elevates our ideas of the agent: we might as well say, the muslin or the cambric breeze. Pope has displayed much higher fancy in the Rape of the Lock, respecting such imaginary Beings, and has enriched our language with appropriate imagery.

Book III. consists chiefly of a vision in the Isle of Athelney, with a prophecy respecting the revolutions and future greatness of England. In this part of the Poem, we observe a line apparently borrowed from Johnson, perhaps inadvertently:

· Hide, blushing Albion, hide the impious strife :' in the character of Charles XII. in the Vanity of Human Wishes, Johnson says,

“ Hide, blushing Glory, hide Pultowa's day!” . An allusion to the late Battle of Copenhagen is here intro. duced with peculiar happiness and propriety :

“ Phantoms of glory, stay !_They feet along,
Borne on the stream of visionary song.-
Hear ye yon shout!--The shout of triumph hear!
It swells, it bursts, on my enraptur'd ear.
The bour of vengeance comes ! On yon bleak height
The vulture claps his wings, and snuffs the fight.
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Sec

See o'er the ranks the crimson banners float!
Hark, the loud clarion swells the brazen note!
Denmark's dark Raven, cowering, hears the sound,

His flagging pinion droops, and sweeps the ground.”
In the fourth Book, the action proceeds to the junction of
the Scottish and Irish forces with Alfred, and the recovery of
Elsitha froin the monastery which was attacked by the Danes,

Book V. comprehends the battle of Eddington, with the episode of Ceolph and his daughter. We shall extract the prin. cipal part of Mr. Pye's description of the fight :

· Loud blows the clarion shrill !-with thundering sound
Roors the tremendous peal of battle round.
Full in the front the English archers stand,
The bent bow drawing home with sinewy hand,
Scarcely the shining barbs the tough yew clear,
The ductile nerve stretch'd to the bowman's ear.
Not from the foe by sheltering ranks conceal'd,
Boldly they dare the forward of the field;
With deadly point the levell’d arrows shine,
Pierce the cuirass, and check the close-wedged line :
Here Caledonia's hardy mountaineers
Lift the broad targe, there mark her lowland spears;
While Cambria's and lerne's warriors brave,
With lighter arms, the war's destructive wave;
Spread o'er their agile limbs the osier shield,
The shorten'd sword, and biting pole-axe wield;
Strike, with swift aim, the desultory blow,
And tire', with varied shock, the wavering foe.
Clad in rich panoply, each high-born knight
Impels his barbed courser to the fight;
The burnish'd arms a bright refulgence shed,
White waves the plumage o'er the helmed head;
· And on the ample shield, and blazon'd crest,
Shines, of each chief, the known device impress’d,
Swift as the rapid bird of Summer fies,
Cleaving, with agile wing, the tepid skies,
The warlike squadrons on the spur advance,
With seat unshaken, and protended lance.-
Ampler in numbers, Denmark's sons oppose
The dreadful onset of their rushing foes :
With lowering front the northern warriors stand,
In deep array, a firm, and fearless band :
And, as where Scandinavia’s mountains rear
The accumulated snows of many a year,
The enormous masses undissolved remain,
And summer suns roll over them in vain ;
So the unshaken squadrons, firm, defy.
The lightnings of the war that round them fly.
Loud blows the brazen tube's inspiring breath,
With shouts of triumph mix’d, and groans of death:

With

With horrid shock the infuriate hosts engage, : .

And Slaughter stalks around with fiend-like rage."
In describing the death of the Prince of Scotland, in this
action, Mr. Pye has been very fortunate in the following
simile :

• He ceased, and as along the lucid rill,
When wintry Eurus shoots his arrows chill,
The icy rigour spreads with stiffening force,
Dims its clear surface, and arrests its course ;
So through his veins Death's freezing languor steals,

And the closed eye a leaden slumber seals.'
The progress of freezing is here marked with the true spirit of
poetry.

The Sixth Book delineates the completion of Alfred's tri. umph, and concludes with another prophecy of the union and grandeur of the British Isles.

Such is the general outline of this poem, and such are the passages which have appeared to us most worthy of selection. The work will hold, if not a distinguished, certainly a respectable place in our literature. We cannot say, indeed,

“ Great are its faults, yet glorious is its fiamc." Its character is rather an exemption from gross errors than an attainment of excellence; and if Mr. Windham's celebrated phrase deserved to become an Anglicism, it might be called an instance of negative success in the Epic. After having said thus much, it would be vain to dissemble that we deem Mr. Pye's genius unequal to the arduous task which he has undertaken; and that, in our opinion, he wants the ANOUKTOV aup, without which correctness is of no avail in this department of poetry. His composition evinces the man of learning and taste, but these endowments do not con:stitute an epic poet.

We have remarked some defects of an inferior nature, in turning over this Poem ; ex. gr. 'words of kind accost ;'* which use of accost as a substantive is hardly warranted ;- nightfounder'd wanderer' is not very elegant, in a work of this nature ;-thigh is made to rhime to chivalry, and rives (an ugly word) to lives, the third person singular of the verb:

Torture no words can paint my bosom rives,

She lives, my prince ! my friend! Elsitha lives.'
Some other faults of the same kind are observable, which
may be corrected, if the Poem should attain a second edition.
The book is superbly printed.

* We shall not say, with Sir Andrew Ague-Cheek, “ Good Mrs. Mary Accost, I desire better acquaintance !" (Twelfth Night.) N4

Art.

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