Page images
PDF
EPUB

Shook his immortal blooms, and lilies near,
Jasmine and musk, daisies and hyacinth,
And violets, a blue profusion, sprang

Haunting the air, they lay them down and slept."

In a vision which comes over Deucalion he there sees in rapid succession the march of the world of which he is the author, and, waking, sees before him—

‹ Pyrrha, fairest of earth's visions still,

Who on his tranced slumber long had looked,
Whispering the Gods for comfort.'

The poet ends with the following passage:

'O world! now stained with crime,

Immaculate then, methinks thy perfect fame

Should live in song! Methinks some bard, whose heart
Traces its courage to Promethean veins,

Should build in lasting verse, firmer than mine,

Deucalion's story,- (upon Delphi's steep

Saved from the watery waste,) and Pyrrha's woe.'

The nature of the subject almost precludes any originality of thought, but even in this respect it is not deficient; it is full of poetry, the language is lofty and elegant, and, as a whole, the poem is highly delightful. We do not think it is too much to say, that taking, as he has obviously done, the immortal author of Paradise Lost for his model, Mr. Cornwall approaches nearer to that sublime poet in the sustained power of his diction, the purity of his thoughts, and the beauty of his images, than any other of his imitators. To point out the many instances in which he is below that majestic poet would be as invidious as it is unnecessary.

The other poems in the collection are by no means equal to that which we have just dismissed; and we are not sorry that our space compels us to despatch them shortly. The Girl of Provence is a story of a poor maiden, who, as the natives of the sister country might say, became lunatic by falling in love with Apollo. All that is good in it arises from the author's labours, but we cannot cease to wonder how he could bestow so much pains on so worthless a subject.

With The Letter of Boccaccio we have still more to quarrel. He has taken occasion in this letter, which is supposed to be addressed by the novelist to Maria of Arragon, the daughter of the King of Naples, of whom he was deeply enamoured, to give an account of Boccaccio's life. He has reduced the gay, fat, witty Messer Giovanni, who had a temper so jocund that the world and all its ills could not assail him, and who loved and was beloved by his own dark-haired Fiammetta as a sensible man should love and be beloved,—that is, with constancy and devotion, to a whining inamorata nursing a hopeless passion. The following passage, which is one of the best, is, however, in a more resolute strain:

[ocr errors][merged small]

Tho' mortal, being born and warmed to life
By light, as is the rainbow, (when the roar
Of rain hath passed) which was but cloud before.
I loved :-I tell thee thou art not the first
(Tho' fairest) of the creatures of
my love:
For early did the floods of passion burst
My veins and overwhelm me,-yet I strove
Never to tamper with my nature then,
Nor call back my desire into the den
Wherein it had reposed for twenty years;
For I had hope ('twas mixed I own with fears)
That the strong lustre of my love would lead

My thoughts unto their fountain springs, and feed
My soul with light:-'Twas then I penned some tales
Where Beauty is the bride, and her son ever
The God and master of my poor endeavour.
O mistress! thou shalt read the tales I have writ,
For love is there, and reason, and a wit
Which though it be abandoned at its birth,
And vanish for a time, shall rise again,
And in remoter places of this earth

Shall be a treasure to great men, whose fame
Shall be commingled with my lasting name,
Co-heritors of bright futurity.

O light of my Renown, I see thee on high!'

Of The Fall of Saturn we have no opinion, for, sooth to say, we cannot understand it: it is a vision, and we were never good at interpreting dreams.

Tartarus is an infernal dramatic sketch, but not so good as some preceding productions of a similar description.

Babylon, with Belshazzar's Feast, is clever, and the concluding lines particularly good. The poet addresses Babylon:

Mighty in thy own undoing,
Drawing a fresh life from ruin
And eternal prophecy:-
Thou art gone, but cannot die.
Like a splendour from the sky
Through the silent ether flung,
Like a hoar tradition hung
Glittering in the ear of Time,
Thou art,-like a lamp sublime,

Telling from thy wave-worn tower

Where the raging floods have power,

How ruin lives, and how Time flies,

And all that on the dial lies.'

Some smaller poems finish the collection. There is great inequality between the first and all the other poems in the volume ; of the latter, Boccaccio's letter, with all its faults, is the best; but, while the former would entitle the author to rank with modern poets, the others would place him in a station not above mediocrity.

[ocr errors]

108

The Popular Superstitions and Festive Amusements of the Highlanders of Scotland.

THIS is a very amusing volume, and, although there is, perhaps, little novelty in the subject, which so many writers have thought worth the trouble of treating, it brings the nature of Scottish superstitions into a substantive shape. We have been deluged for many years now past with works on the same subject; but, from the days of Ossian, (whom our neighbours on the Continent of Europe hold second to Homer, while we laugh at him as an impostor or a maniac,) down to the last rhyming novel of Sir Walter Scott, we have never yet been able to discover the reason of its popularity. The superstitions of Scotland do not differ in any important respects from those of all the other northern nations; but the remoteness of some parts of the country, which has deprived them of the advantages of civilization, has perpetuated them beyond the period they have existed elsewhere. Still, however, the intercourse, feeble as it was for a long time in the distant parts of Scotland, with those which had become more enlight ened, has at least divested those superstitions of all character of sublimity, if they ever possessed any; and all that is now left of them rather assumes the appearance of a dry national humour than of that appalling nature which some writers would have us believe.

It is because the volume we have just laid down is written in this latter spirit that we prefer it to all that has been previously published on the subject. The author thinks, with great good sense, that whatever may have formerly been the opinions of people respecting supernatural beings, they are now become only ludicrous; and, although he shows up in turn all the numerous train of ghosts, fairies, brownies, water kelpies, spectres, and witches, he makes fun of them at every step, and seems to be of opinion that his fiends are now only devils pour rire. His style, too, is of that coarse vernacular kind, which, if it is adopted for this occasion only, is a very happy effort; the book will no doubt be much more popular in Scotland than here, although, for the reasons we have given, we think it is a very meritorious work.

We proceed to give some extracts, which will at once show the author's style and the nature of his book: they are taken from that part in which he treats of fairies:

'There was once upon a time a man who lived on the northern coasts, not far from Taigh Jan Crot Callow, * and he gained his livelihood by catching and killing fish, of all sizes and denominations. He had a particular liking to the killing of those wonderful beasts, half dog half fish, called "Roane," or seals, no doubt because he got a long price for their skins, which are not less curious than they are valua ble. The truth is, that the most of these animals are neither dogs nor cods, but downright fairies, as this narration will show; and, indeed, it is easy for any man to convince himself of the fact by a simple examination of his tobacco-spluichdan, for the dead skins of those beings are never the same for four and twenty hours together. Sometimes the spluichdan will erect its bristles almost perpendicularly, while, at

* John-o-Groat's House.

other times, it reclines them even down; one time it resembles a bristly sow, at another time a sleekit cat; and what dead skin, except itself, could perform such cantrips? Now, it happened one day, as this notable fisher had returned from the prosecution of his calling, that he was called upon by a man who seemed a great stranger, and who said, he had been despatched for him by a person who wished to contract for a quantity of seal-skins, and that it was necessary for the fisher to accompany him (the stranger) immediately to see the person who wished to contract for the skins, as it was necessary that he should be served that evening. Happy in the prospect of making a good bar. gain, and never suspecting any duplicity in the stranger, he instantly complied. They both mounted a steed belonging to the stranger, and took the road with such velocity that, although the direction of the wind was towards their backs, yet the fleetness of their movement made it appear as if it had been in their faces. On reaching a stupendous precipice which overhung the sea, his guide told him, they had now reached the point of their destination. "Where is the person you spoke of?" inquired the astonished seal-killer. "You shall see that presently," replied the guide. With that they immediately alighted, and, without allowing the seal-killer much time to indulge the frightful suspicions that began to pervade his mind, the stranger seized him with irresistible force, and plunged headlong with the sealkiller into the sea. After sinking down-down-nobody knows how far, they at length reached a door, which, being open, led them into a range of apartments, filled with inhabitants-not people, but seals, who could nevertheless speak and feel like human folk; and how much was the seal-killer surprised to find that he himself had been un.. consciously transformed into the like image. If it were not so, he would probably have died, from the want of breath. The nature of the poor fisher's thoughts may be more easily conceived than described. Looking on the nature of the quarters into which he was landed, all hopes of escape from them appeared wholly chimerical, whilst the degree of comfort, and length of life which the barren scene promised him, were far from being flattering. The "Roane," who all seemed in very low spirits, appeared to feel for him, and endeavoured to soothe the distress which he evinced, by the amplest assurances of personal safety. Involved in sad meditation on his evil fate, he was quickly roused from his stupor, by his guide's producing a huge gully or joctaleg, the object of which he supposed was to put an end to all his earthly cares. Forlorn as was his situation, however, he did not wish to be killed; and, apprehending instant destruction, he fell down, and earnestly implored for mercy. The poor generous animals did not mean him any harm, however much his former conduct de served it; and he was accordingly desired to pacify himself, and cease his cries. "Did you ever see that knife before?" says the stranger to the fisher. The latter instantly recognising his own knife, which he had that day stuck into a seal, and with which it made its escape, acknowledged it was formerly his own, for what would be the use of denying it? "Well!" rejoins the guide, the apparent seal, which made away with it, is my father, who lies dangerously ill ever since, and no means could stay his fleeting breath, without your aid. I have

been obliged to resort to the artifice I have practised to bring you hither, and I trust that my filial duty to my father will readily operate my excuse. Having said this, he led into another apartment the trembling seal-killer, who expected every minute a return of his own favour to the father; and here he found the identical seal, with which he had the encounter in the morning, suffering most grievously from a tremendous cut in its hind-quarter. The seal-killer was then desired, with his hand, to cicatrize the wound, upon doing which, it immediately healed, and the seal arose from its bed in perfect health. Upon this, the scene changed from mourning to rejoicing-all was mirth and glee. Very different, however, were the feelings of the unfortu. nate seal-catcher, expecting, no doubt, to be a seal for the remainder of his life, until his late guide accosted him as follows: "Now, Sir, you are at liberty to return to your wife and family, to whom I am about to conduct you; but it is on this express condition, to which you must bind yourself by a solemn oath, viz. that you shall never maim or kill a seal in all your lifetime hereafter." To this condition, hard as it was, he joyfully acceded; and the oath being administered in all due form, he bade his new acquaintance most heartily and sincerely a long farewell. Taking hold of his guide, they issued from the place, and swam up-up-till they regained the surface of the sea; and, landing at the said stupendous pinnacle, they found their former riding steed ready for a second canter. The guide breathed upon the fisher, and they became like men. They mounted their horse; and fleet as was their course towards the precipice or pinnacle, their return from it was doubly swift; and the honest seal-killer was laid down at his own door-cheek, where his guide made him such a present, as would have almost reconciled him to another similar expedition, and such as rendered his loss of profession, in so far as regarded the seals, a far less intolerable hardship than he had at first contemplated it.'

The following story, which will remind our readers of the famous Rip Van Winkle, is superior to it in the whimsicality of its termination. It is like a trick in a pantomime: it makes one laugh when one ought not to laugh-a rare and valuable merit. Properly worked, it would make a better story than that to which we have alluded:

"Nearly three hundred years ago, there lived in Strathspey two men, greatly celebrated for their performances on the fiddle. It happened upon a certain Christmas time, that they had formed the resolution of going to Inverness, to be employed in their musical capacities, during that festive season. Accordingly, having arrived in that great town, and secured lodgings, they sent round the newsman and his bell, to announce to the inhabitants their arrival in town, and the object of it, their great celebrity in their own country, the number of tunes they played, and their rate of charge per day, per night, or hour. Very soon after, they were called upon by a venerable looking old man, grey haired and somewhat wrinkled, of genteel deportment and liberal disposition; for, instead of grudging their charges, as they expected, he only said that he would double the demand. They cheerfully agreed to accompany him, and soon they found themselves at the door of a very curious dwelling, the appearance of which they did not at all

« PreviousContinue »