Page images
PDF
EPUB

same sentence, for no other reason, apparently, than that they have been found in rather suspicious company.

The fate of Mr Bulwer's poem, (for we presume we may now lay aside the Waiter and bring forward the Knight Templar,) reminds us of the unfortunate issue of the mechanist's display (in Rasselas) of his flying apparatus, when, after summoning the prince to witness the triumph of his infallible invention, and pointing out most convincingly wherein the errors of his predecessors lay, he took his flight from the rock, and was fished up the next minute, half drowned and wholly disconcerted, from the lake. Mr Bulwer, in the same way, after discoursing scholarly and wisely of the causes which occasion the present indifference to poetry, and the erroneous views of his predecessors, and hinting intelligibly enough, that he thinks he has hit upon the right path himself, takes his flight with equal gallantry, • sheer o'er the crystal battlements, and the next intelligence which his friends receive is, that he has been picked up like Mulciber on Lemnos, much stunned by his descent, and considerably bruised by the harsh treatment he had received from the inhospitable critics among whom he fell. The attempt, in short, has been singularly unsuccessful; and yet 'the man is, notwithstanding, sufficient. In prose fiction he has unquestionably displayed powers of a high and varied order; and even in poetry, there are portions of this volume which would induce us, on a future occasion, without much hesitation, to take his bond.'

The fact is, this failure has been owing to no want of poetical ability on the part of the author, but to his selection of a subject the most intractable and inapplicable to the purpose to which it has been turned, that we can well imagine. Mr Bulwer was wrong, in the first place, in thinking either that his forte lay in humour, or that a humorous poem was likely to interest the public mind in its present state of feeling; and secondly, in thinking that the particular subject which he has selected, was well adapted to the style of poetry he had chosen.

In an imaginary thesis which he maintains in his preface against an ideal bibliopole, he states his opinion, that the present indifference to poetry arises from the propensity which exists on the part of our poets to multiply and reproduce sentiments and feelings which are no longer those of the age;-to be gloomy when the public wish rather to be gay ;-sentimental and mystical when they want to be practical and plain ;-in short, to a want of any proper or efficient representation, as it were, of the popular mind. But he holds, that by a judicious selection of a theme and manner, more analogous to the existing wants and poetical necessities of the time, Poetry, purified from her present errors, will regain her ancient interest and ascendency. And accordingly, as if with the view of avoiding as much as possible that melancholy channel in which, since the death of Byron, he is of opinion that the current of poetry has flowed too exclusively, he has sought his principle of regeneration in the introduction of the humorous, and has endeavoured to excite our interest by a poem • chiefly of a comic and lightly satiric nature,' addressing itself • rather to the humours than the passions of men.'

Now, it is quite true, that when a well-graced actor like Byron leaves the stage, the prattle of his successors is apt to be tedious. Nature is not prodigal of her great men ; and after such an event it is to be expected that the sceptre will for a time be put in commission ;-that the provinces of poetry, once united under one strong rule, must for a time be parcelled out among the successors of Alexander. Imitations, either swelling into extravagance, or sinking into utter feebleness, gradually disgust the public even with what it had once admired, till at last all poetry is viewed with a suspicious eye.

But still it is not to poetry itself that we become indifferent; once more let a true poet arise, and even now, in the midst of all the noisy interests of the day, he will find fit audience, though few, and, as when a prophet spoke of old, there will be a silence in the assembly.

But we feel perfectly satisfied, that Mr Bulwer is completely in error when he expects that such a result could be produced by a poem of a satirical kind, addressing itself chiefly to the humours of men. It is by passion, not by humour, that poetry, and particularly at the present day, must ultimately stand ; by dealing with what is permanent and universal, not what is local and variable. If we are likely to be roused from our lethargy, it must be by the voice of one speaking to us with earnestness and solemnity ;-not indeed merely repeating over again what we have heard too often before, but still appealing to the deeper feelings and more serious interests of life;- not dwelling in the regions of the fancy, and launching his quips and cranks, or his more pointed invectives, from behind the veil of a fantastic and improbable fable. Doubtless, to be influential, poetry must deal with and reflect the present; but it is with its loftier interests, its more vital opinions, its virtues, its crimes, --not with its mere follies, affectations, or petty vices, that we have to do. The poem which aspires only to the exposure of the latter, fulfils its destiny when it is read, laughed at, and forgotten; and to expect that the generation which follows should take any great interest in such productions, seems almost

as unreasonable as to suppose they should be interested by the advertisements in an old newspaper. In poetry, as in every thing else, the elevated and the serious only, can be of extensive and permanent operation.

Satire, and especially that which addresses itself to errors of taste and sentiment, to the extravagances of fashion, or of political opinion, is at the best, then, no very elevated department, and little likely to revive that worship of true poetry, which, from the numerous idolatrous imitations that have for some time past been imposed on the public, has so generally declined. But it is attended also with another evil, and, to minds of refined and kindly feelings, no trifling one ;-the necessity which it too often imposes of becoming personal, in order to be pointed, and of violating, in some degree, that neutrality, to the preservation of which society owes most of its attractions.

It is not to every one, neither, that the public will readily accord such a dispensation from the common decencies and usages of society, as to entitle him to appear as a public prosecutor of private follies ; and the satirist, who steps forth as a literary Ishmaelite, had better look well to his own crest, and examine the rivets of his own armour, before he levels his lance at another.

For many reasons, then, we wish that Mr Bulwer had come forward in a less questionable shape than that of a satirist; but the singular part of the business is, that, after all, he has not written a satirical and humorous poem, but one which contains an extraordinary mixture of the very style which he inveighs against, with that lighter and more riant vein which he professes to substitute in its room. He seems, in fact, to have seen, that without an occasional substratum of seriousness, and more powerful emotion, his poem was not likely to rouse the longslumbering public; and, in endeavouring to avoid this, he has produced a strange jumble of the tragic and the comic, the probable and the impossible. The antics of Ching, the lively brother, are opposed to the gloom of Chang, a legitimate descendant of the school of Byron; the gaieties of Almacks' are contrasted with the horrors of a necromancer's cave; and the airy gambols of Mr Hodges, in the blanket at Bancock, with scenes of love most musical, most melancholy, in London. But the misfortune is, that these varieties alternate, but do not blend with each other; like the Twins themselves, there is nothing but a slender and unnatural link between them; and the author passes from grave to gay, apparently on no more profound or satisfactory principle than that which regulated Mr Puff's transitions from the terrible to the plaintive.

VOL. LIII. NO, CV.

K

• Puff-Have ye any more cannon to fire ?
PROMPTER-No, sir.

Puff-Now then for soft music !' Thinking, then, as we do, that Mr Bulwer has been exquisitely unsuccessful in the choice of a subject, and in the contrasts of his cannon and soft music, we naturally feel little inclination to analyze the execution of what, in the hands of any one, could not be otherwise than startling and disagreeable. Even in minuter details, it would be very easy to point out instances where the humour is far from successful, and some in which the satire is applied to individuals either undeserving of the attack from any one, or, at all events, from Mr Bulwer. On the other hand, it would be still easier, and far more agreeable for us, to point out many passages, both in a serious and comic vein, in which he has been extremely successful ; but we prefer leaving this poem, and passing at once to one of the shorter pieces which are appended to it, and which, we think, have been rather unfairly included in the censure or neglect which has attended their more lengthened predecessor.

These poems are of a higher mood. Mr Bulwer may be assured that, in poetry at least, (and we confess we entertain much the same opinion also as to his prose,) it is when he lays open his heart to the gentler, deeper, and more melancholy or enthusiastie impressions, rather than to the influence of the sarcastic or the witty, that he appears to the greatest advantage. In the latter, his success is often questionable ; in the former, he is almost uniformly natural and touching. If he had only bestowed half the pains which he has expended upon these unlucky Twins, in bringing forward the other legitimate children of his fancy to advantage, he would have bad far less reason to complain of the success of his volume. There is, in particular, one poem-Milton,' which is alone sufficient to entitle Mr Bulwer to no mean rank in poetry. It is a series of fragments, founded on the old anecdote of the Italian Lady, who, finding the youthful poet asleep in the fields, and attracted by his beauty, left by his side Guarini's epigram, “Occhi stelli mortali.' Mr Bulwer has prolonged through some additional scenes this fragment of romance. Milton seeks the lady of his dreams in Italy; and brief glimpses are exhibited to us of the poet at three successive periods—in the fire of youth-the fulness of manhood— and the decline of age; the void between the successive scenes being left to be filled up by the imagination of the reader, with all the trials and sufferings, the triumphs, hopes, or patient endurance, which had chequered the lot of the lovers. There is a peculiar air of tranquil beauty, we think, in the following lines, descriptive of one of those Italian fetes that remind us of the scenes in the Decameron,' and at which Milton unexpectedly meets the object of his search.

• It was the evening—and a group were strewn
O'er such a spot as ye, I ween, might see,
When basking in the Summer's breathless noon,
With upward face beneath the murmuring tree;
While in a vague and floating sleep arise
Sweet shapes and fairy knolls to the half-conscious eyes.
It was the evening-still it lay, and fair,
Lapp'd in the quiet of the lulling air.
Still—but how happy ! like a living thing,
All love itself—all love around it seeing ;
And drinking from the earth, as from a spring,
The hush'd delight and essence of its being.
And round the spot-a wall of glossy shade-
The interlaced and bowering trees reposed;
And through the world of foliage had been made
Green lanes and vistas, which at length were closed
By fount, or fane, or statue, white and hoar,
Startling the heart with the fond dreams of

yore.
And near, half glancing through its veil of leaves,
An antique temple stood in marble grace ;
Where still, if fondly wise, the heart believes,
Lingers the pining Spirit of the Place,
Seen wandering yet perchance at earliest dawn

Or greyest eve-with Nymph or bearded Faun.' A party like that which Bocaccio has painted in the gardens of the villa Pamfili, was here assembled round a fountain in the midst; and among these, the English guest, the youthful Milton, is the cynosure of neighbouring eyes. When the festival is over, he lingers in the twilight in the gardens, and then the form which had so long haunted his fancy, suddenly makes its appearance, emerging from one of the walks. Their feelings at first meeting Mr Bulwer passes over; but their subsequent attachment is thus finely painted :

• They met again, and oft ! what time the Star
Of Hesperus hung his rosy lamp on high ;
And the Witch Night shook from her solemn car
A liquid magic o'er the breathless sky.
And Mystery o'er their lonely meeting threw
A charm earth's common ties can ne'er bestow-
Her name, her birth, her home, he never knew;
And she-his love was all she sought to know.
So worshipped he in silence and sweet wonder
The unknown Egeria of his haunted soul ;

« PreviousContinue »