« PreviousContinue »
is given in the present volume-Walter Savage Landor; remarkable, it might be truly said, both for his talents and the unsuccessful employment of them, with a name extensively known and productions universally unknown; having eloquence and dignity of style which men are willing to receive upon trust, and publishing books which meet with every kind of reception except a perusal. If this observation be, in its spirit, true of the prose of Landor, it is true in the letter of his poetry. There are two passages, and two alone, in all his verses, which return upon the memory; and one is the beautiful description of the moonbeam reflected upon the wet sand of the sea-shore, and the other is the murmuring of the shell when applied to the ear: and yet we cannot say of these momentary flashes of genius, in the words of Horace, that they have forced the whole poems into admiration ; or, in the expansion of Pope, that
“One simile, that solitary shines
Has sanctified these poems for an age.” The friendly biographer in this Spirit of our Age quotes the assertion of Mr. Landor, in one of his prefaces, that ten accomplished men would be esteemed by him a sufficient audience. These, doubtless, he possesses, and more.
But why has a stream of prose composition, so remarkably sweet, and musical, and transparent, never allured any reader-footstep into the solitudes of thought which it waters and keeps green? From the Imaginary Conversations might be selected specimens of happy thought and graceful utterance, that Cowley might have written and Addison might have praised. Are none of this neglect and indifference, even of the refined and the reflective, to be traced to the vulgar audacity with which the author occasionally thrusts forward his opinions and parades his prejudices? The sweetest landscape of Claude would disgust the eye, if some wretched limner were to sketch a Westminster polling-booth into the foreground ; and the most solemn group that the pencil of Raphael ever delineated would lose its charm of sanctity, if that distinguished American officer, who has been recently representing Napoleon with so much minute sublimity in the Egyptian Hall, were to rear his threecornered hat in the distance. Certain it is, that the same indifference has been manifested to every production of Mr. Landor's pen. Even the charming " Examination of William Shakspeare before Sir Thomas Lucy, Knt.,” has not escaped the benumbing stare; and we recognize humour, not destitute of force, in
the reviewer's observation-" There is great love and reading bestowed upon Shakspeare, and much interest has been shown in all the hoaxes. Perhaps the public considered this book to be authentic."
Of a person so richly endowed by nature, and so neglected by his contemporaries, it is pleasing to receive some particulars, however slight, and a few notices are given in these pages. The sketch of his life and works opens with a picture of him when a boy at Rugby, entangling an indignant farmer in a cast net, until they had arranged between them some preliminaries of a truce, which the angling propensities of Master Savage had rendered very necessary for his peace and welfare. His early life seems, indeed, to have given no imperfect outline of his future history. His arrogance and daring followed him to Oxford, where he incurred rustication, for discharging a gun in the quadrangle of Trinity College. As he never intended to take a degree, of course he would not return to the banks of the Isis, but passed some months in London, in solitude and Italian. At this period, his godfather, General Powell, rightly perceiving the antagonistic principle of young Landor's disposition, urged him to enter the army; and when that proposal was declined, his father endeavoured to tempt him on to law and the Temple, by an annual allowance of four hundred pounds, accompanied by a threat of diminishing it very considerably in the event of a refusal. Master Landor, however, had a lively desire to pen stanzas, and none whatever to engross. He accordingly threw himself into the embrace of short metre and short allowance. He wrote Italian verses, which, if not very good, are charitably supposed to have been “not perhaps worse than Milton's.” The modern poetry of the South did not captivate his fancy; he compared it, very happily, to the juice of grapes and melons left on yesterday's plate. A subsequent study of Dante opened a new path to his mind. His martial ardour was not quenched, and at the breaking out of the Spanish war against the French he is said to have been the first Englishman who landed in Spain, where he raised some troops at his own expense.
His military labours, however, were soon over; and being resident in Paris in the beginning of the present century, he witnessed the inauguration of Napoleon into the consulship of France; and by one of those accidents which seem intended expressly to ridicule human grandeur, he “subsequently saw the dethroned and deserted emperor pass through Tours, on his way to embark for America, attended only by a single servant," and unrecognized by any person save Mr. Landor, in a city where a pointed
finger or the whisper of his name would have been inevitable destruction. The Englishman “held his breath and let him pass.” In 1815, Mr. Landor went to sojourn in Italy, occupying the Palazzo Medici, in Florence. At a later period, he “ purchased the beautiful and romantic villa of Lorenzo de Medici," where, we presume, he continues to reside. We have thus ran rapidly over a few pages of the first volume. The second bears the same impress as its predecessor; and if we might presume to compare the editor of the “ New Spirit” to that illustrious official of whom Swift speaks, and whose bosom, from the period of his arrival at years of discretion, heaved with a call to take upon him the function of a parish clerk, certainly the companions with whom he was united in his labours of parochial immortality were no inapt emblems of the author's, whose industrious acquisitions in the Bathos have enabled their leader to produce this very extraordinary compilation. And when the author of that interesting treatise, “ The Importance of a Man to Himself," informs us that it seemed to him meet and profitable to associate himself with the parish clerks of this land, such as were right worthy in their calling, men of a clear and sweet voice and becoming gravity, we almost delude ourselves into the belief—so lively is the resemblance—that we are listening to the present editor's description of his literary associates, alike worthy in their calling sweet in their voices--unquestionable in their gravity.
The second volume contains a collection even more miscellaneous and remarkable than the first. We have Alfred Tennyson and Babington Macaulay, Thomas Hood and Theodore Hook, Knowles and Macready, James and Irish novelists, Robert Montgomery and Thomas Carlyle, &c. &c. Of these names it is certainly allowable to present some as illustrations of the age, reflections of its form, and indications of its pressure. Mr. Tennyson may claim to be taken as the representative of that school of poets, small in number, and not particularly dazzling in the manifestation of their genius, who have sought to revive in our literature the style of picturesque romance of which Spenser is the acknowledged master. Of all his disciples Mr. Tennyson is the most promising, as he is the most earnest; and we look with hope to the future productions of his pen, when time and thought shall have chastened the grotesque buoyancy of his fancy and subdued the oppressive glare of colours. If he stumble in his path to reputation, his misfortune will be occasioned by the indiscretion of his friends. A few such stories as the following would overturn any chariot of imagination in its swiftest career :" His ideality is both adornative and creative, although up to this period it is ostensibly rather the former than the latter. His ideal faculty is either satisfied with an exquisitely delicate arabesque painting; or clears the ground before him, so as to melt and disperse all other objects into a suitable atmosphere or aerial perspective, while he takes horse in a passionate impulse, as in some of his ballads, which seem to have been painted through without a single pause." This passage reminds us of the satire of Addison upon the discordant imagery of his time, when the stream which was roaring along to the distant main in one stanza, bristled with a real mane of its own in the next. And like genius of a high order in all walks of art, this critic is very happy in what may be called the cumulative evidence of taste. While the eye of the reader still swims with the bewildering vision of the poet devouring the ground and keeping his seat in a passionate impulse, he overwhelms him with a second illustration of his author's faculties, scarcely less astonishing; when he presents him standing, “collected and self-contained (whatever that may mean), and rolling out, with an impressive sense of dignity, orb after orb, of that grand melancholy music of blank verse which leaves long vibrations in the reader's memory.” As we never, intentionally at least, talk of things which we do not understand, we shall say nothing of this paragraph, except that we wish the poet well enough to wish him to be released from his critic. Such a shower of nonsense would wash out the colours from any wing, and scatter the bloom from the feathers, more than the most driving hail and storm of censure. We feel a sort of academic interest in Mr. Tennyson; we only learn from the present paper that he is the son of a Lincolnshire clergyman, and has brothers and sisters living who are possessed of superior accomplishments; but we have heard of him in the shades of Trinity, and consider his prize poem on
66 Timbuctoo to be one of the few compositions which do not inflict a positive disgrace upon the University, as most assuredly they administer a painful chastisement to the cultivated ears in the senate-house.
The sketch of Tennyson is followed by one, briefer, of Macaulay, whose recent publication, “Lays of Ancient Rome,” revives that claim to the honours of song which his early ballads advanced. The prose of Mr. Macaulay is the prose of the rhetorician, and his poetry differs only from his prose in being more condensed and more decorated. We shall be offering to the author no feeble tribute of applause in expressing a conviction, that if Demosthenes had poured his indigna
tion against Philip into an ode, it would have presented a very vivid resemblance, both in manner and expression, to some of these energetic songs, which are very properly called, not an exhumation of decayed materials, but a reproduction of classical vitality.” The objection to the metres and rhythms employed, that they are not classical, but Gothic, and therefore remind us of the “ Percy Reliques," we conceive to be perfectly unfounded. That metre is the most appropriate which is the most in harmony with the train of thought and the idioms of the language adopted by the poet. Even in the translation of a poem we ought to look to the transfusion of the sentiment, not of the word; as in detailing the conversation of some eminent person we desire to be told his opinions, not his accent. We have yet to learn that even the “ Commedia” of Dante charms the reader in proportion as the translation reflects the shape of the original; and we entertain a very lively belief that the suggestion of Walter Scott, to render the Homeric battles into a ballad metre, would, if adequately carried out, render a justice to the blind minstrel which he has never received from Chapman, Pope, Cowper, or Sotheby. We can think that the torrent of impetuous warfare, rushing like the description in “ Marmion,” would stir the heart with the sound of a trumpet. “Much has been said (writes Bishop Hurd), and with great truth, of the felicity of Homer's age for poetical manners. But as Homer was a citizen of the world, when he had seen in Greece the manners he has described, could he, on the other hand, have seen in the west the manner of the feudal ages, I make no doubt but he would certainly have preferred the latter." Our subject does not lead us to investigate the bishop's opinion; we only allude to it as illustrating the advantage which these classical lays derive from the Gothic tinge that is shed over them.
And, in truth, there is something singular in the contrast offered by these two writers of verse-Tennyson and Macaulay
-thus presented side by side. For while we can think of the first, that he could love to mingle with those inspired brethren who,
“In sage and solemn tunes, have sung
Where more is meant than meets the ear ;" so we can believe of the second, that he would find his own character portrayed by the same writer, when he said
— “ Towered cities please us then,
And the busy hum of men.” The qualities that compose the vigorous declaimer, the acute