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The scouts had parted on their search,
The castle gates were barred,
The warden kept his guard,
How picturesque, yet how minute! Not even Wordsworth, devoted as he is to nature, and to visible as well as invisible truth, can compare with Scott in fidelity of description. Not even Crabbe, that least imaginative of poets, can compare with him for accuracy of touch and truth of colouring. Scott's faculties being nicely balanced, never disturbed one another; we perceive this even more distinctly in his poetry than in his prose, perhaps because less excited while reading it.
I have said that CRABBE was the least imaginative of poets. He has no imagination in the commonly received sense of the term; there is nothing of creation in his works; nay, I dare affirm, in opposition to that refined critic, Sir James Mackintosh, that there was no touch of an idealizing tendency in his mind; yet he is a poet; he is so through his calm but deep and steady sympathy with all that is human; he is so by his distinguished power of observation; he is so by his graphic skill. No litera'ture boasts an author more individual than Crabbe. He is unique. Moore described him well.
"Grand from the truth that reigns o'er all,
The unshrinking truth that lets her light
In pity of the misery."
I could never enter into the state of a mind which could support viewing life and human nature as Crabbe's did, softened by no cuol shadow, gladdened by no rose-light. I wish Sir Walter Scott, when expressing his admiration for the poetry of Crabbe, had told us more distinctly the nature of the impressions he received from it. Sir Walter, while he observes with equal accuracy, is sure to detect something comic or something lovely, some pretty dalliance of light and shade in the “ low, dark interior” of the most outwardly desolate hovel. Cowper saw the follies and vices of mankind as clearly, but his Christian love is an ever softly-murmuring under-current, which relieves the rude sounds of the upper world. Crabbe in his view of the human mind may be compared with Cowper or Scott, as the anatomist, in his view of the human form, may be compared with the painter or sculptor. Unshrinking, he tears apart that glorious fabric which has been called “ the crown of creation;" he sees its beauty and its strength with calm approval, its weaknesses, its liability to disease, with stern pity or cold indignation. His nicely dissected or undraped virtues are scarcely more attractive than vices, and, with profound knowledge of the passions, not one ray of passionate enthusiasm casts a glow over the dramatic recitative of his poems.
Crabbe has the true spirit of the man of science; he seeks truth alone, content to take all parts of God's creations as they are, if he may but get a distinct idea of the laws which govern them. He sees human nature as only a human being could see it, but he describes it like a spirit which has never known human longings; yet in no unfriendly temper-far from it; but with a strange bleak fidelity, unbiassed either by impatience or tenderness.
The poor and humble ow: him much, for he has made them known to the upper classes, not as they ought to be, but as they really are; and in so doing, in distinctly portraying the evils of their condition, he has opened the way to amelioration. He is the poet of the lower classes, though probably rather valuable to them as an interpreter than agreeable as a household friend. They like something more stimulating, they would prefer gin or rum to lemonade. Indeed, that class of readers rarely like to find themselves in print ; they want something romantic, some. thing which takes them out of their sphere ; and high sounding words, such as they are not in the habit of using, have peculiar charms for them. That is a high stage of culture in which sim. plicity is appreciated.
The same cold tints pervade Crabbe's descriptions of natural scenery. We can conceive that his eye was educated at the sea-side. An east-wind blows, his colours are sharp and de. cided, and the glitter which falls upon land and wave has no warmth.
It is difficult to do Crabbe justice, both because the subject is so large a one, and because tempted to discuss it rather in admi. , ration than in love.
I turn to one whom I love still more than I admire; the gen. tle, the gifted, the ill-fated Sheliey.
Let not prejudice deny him a place among the great ones of the day. The youth of Shelley was unfortunate. He committed many errors; what else could be expected from one so precocious ? No one begins life so early who is not at some period forced to retrace his steps, and those precepts which are learned so happily from a mother's lips, must be paid for by the heart's best blood when bought from the stern teacher, Experience. Poor Shelley! Thou wert the warmest of philanthropists, yet doomed to live at variance with thy country and thy time. Full of the spirit of genuine Christianity, yet ranking thyself among unbelievers, because in early life thou hadst been bewildered by seeing it perverted, sinking beneath those precious gifts which should have made a world thine own, intoxicated with thy lyric enthusiasm and thick-coming fancies, adoring Nature
as a goddess, yet misinterpreting her oracles, cut off from life just as thou wert beginning to read it aright; 0, most musical, most melancholy singer; who that has a soul to feel genius, a heart to grieve over misguided nobleness, can forbear watering the profuse blossoms of thy too early closed spring with tears of sympathy, of love, and (if we may dare it for one so superior in intellect) of pity ?
Although the struggles of Shelley's mind destroyed that serenity of tone which is essential to the finest poetry, and his ten. derness has not always that elevation of hope which should hallow it; although in no one of his productions is there sufficient unity of purpose and regulation of parts to entitle it to unlimited admiration, yet they all abound with passages of infinite beauty, and in two particulars, he surpasses any poet of the day.
First, in fertility of Fancy. Here his riches, from want of arrangement, sometimes fail to give pleasure, yet we cannot but perceive that they are priceless riches. In this respect parts of his “ Adonais," “ Marianne's Dream,” and “ Medusa,” are not to be excelled, except in Shakspeare.
Second, in sympathy with Nature. To her lightest tones his being gave an echo ; truly she spoke to him, and it is this which gives unequalled melody to his versification ; I say unequalled, for I do not think either Moore or Coleridge can here vie with him, though each is in his way a master of the lyre. The rush, the flow, the delicacy of vibration, in Shelley's verse, can only be paralleled by the waterfall, the rivulet, the notes of the bird and of the insect world. This is a sort of excellence not frequently to be expected now, when men listen less zealously than of old to the mystic whispers of Nature; when little is understood that is not told in set phrases, and when even poets write more frequently in curtained and carpeted rooms, than “among thickets of odoriferous blossoming trees and flowery glades," as Shelley did.
It were “a curious piece of work enough,” to run a parallel between the Skylark of Shelley and that of Wordsworth, and thus illustrate mental processes so similar in dissimilitude. The mood 'of mind, the ideas, are not unlike in the two. Hear Words. worth.
" Up with me, up with me, into the clouds," etc.
“Lift me, guide me, till I find
The spot which seems so to thy mind,
And to-day my heart is weary,
Up to thee would I fly;
In that song of thine:
And though little troubled with sloth,
Happy, happy liver,
Joy and jollity be with us both.”
Hail to thee, blithe spirit !
Bird thou never wert,
Pourest thy full heart
Higher still and higher,
From the earth thou springest,
The blue deep thou wingest,
In the golden lightning
Of the sunken sun,