« PreviousContinue »
down to the humble hawthorn, perhaps the fullest of any, of what the village boys and girls call secrets,'
No one, in short, could peruse Mrs Boddington's Continental Sketches without perceiving the writer possessed, in a high degree, pictorial talent, fancy, and sensibility; and it was therefore with some curiosity that we turned to the present volume, in order to see how far these qualities had been preserved or heightened in the more artful and ornate form of verse. We cannot say that the result has altogether fulfilled our expectations; for candour obliges us to confess, that the authoress appears to us more poetical in her prose than in her poetry; or rather, while her prose and verse display nearly the same merits and the same defects, those negligences and imperfections which were readily overlooked in the unpretending form
prose description, cannot so easily escape notice in the elaborate garb of versification. Description in prose is to description in verse what a sketch in water-colours is to a painting in oil. In the former, we are satisfied if the character of the scene be indicated by a few light and spirited touches-a few happy and truthful tints of colour; we care not though much be left unfinished; the very negligence and abandon of the manner are not without their charm. In the latter, we expect depth, finish, careful composition in all the parts; the eye is offended by any traces of haste or carelessness of execution, because we apply, and are entitled to apply to such, a more critical standard of judgment. So in poetry, we expect to have the best thoughts in the best words-condensation and selection of images, reflections novel in themselves, or rendered such by the felicity of their expression. We are far from meaning to convey the impression, that within the compass of this volume, much which well deserves the name of poetry, in its best sense, may not be found: but we are perpetually reminded how much the effect of many of its happiest specimens would have been increased, had the labour of the file been more assiduously applied, both in regard to the expression and the rhymes. Such colloquialisms as, 'It matters not about the flowers,' are the offspring of a vicious school; the constant use of the words wingéd, abuséd, embosséd, thus accented, savours of affectation; while such delusive rhymes as branches' and 'glances,' 'lonely' and comely,' are several degrees worse than no rhymes at all. Occasionally, too, as in her prose, Priscian is made to suffer; as in these lines from a little poem entitled The Pontine Marshes :'
Let us add, in order to exhaust our objections, that some of the smaller poems are absolutely trifles-mere hints, which required expansion and development to give them poetical interest, and might, with advantage we think to the rest, have been omitted.
We do not, indeed, perceive in the present volume traces of a high imagination, nor do we often meet with those reflections, instinct with a poetical wisdom and deep knowledge of the human heart, which, in the simple expressions of a great poet, touch the heart as with a spell. But the same qualities which characterised the writer's prose compositions distinguish her poems-tenderness of heart, sensibility both to material and moral beauty-the eye and the pencil of a painter-though she works with words, not colours, and paints only to the eye of the mind. How picturesque, how cheerful, how Italian, is the following evening scene at the Baths of Ischia, from the poem entitled, Excursion from Naples :'—
'A moment more, and night sails slowly on,
From the dark steel-like spread of the calm sea:
In this contrasted light, as if it throve
On the last sunbeams, deepening as it fed
Into unusual richness. The bays
Are still; and though few moments since they rang
A shrill sound from a boat, or distant bark
I scarcely thought 'twas night, so bright a day
Lay sleeping on the hills. In Italy,
The moon seems coming down on earth; elsewhere
"Tis fitted to its socket. Now the sound
Of music's heard below: the terraced roof
Of Sentinella* fills with idle groups,
Listing the tingle of the soft guitar,
Join'd with the sideway sound of squeaking fiddle:
And now the tarantella is begun,
And every foot beats time. From gallery,
Cool arch, and colonnade, heads peep:
The inn at Ischia.
And in the court below, on a stone bench,
Then would our gay nymphs try their English feet
Its merry call, soon fall into the step,
Catching its time, as if 'twere native to them:
'Delicious scene! that while Vesuvius blazed,
Breathing sweet scents, and listening to sweet sounds,
Of tripping feet, light as the giddy ones
That swift convolving danced the mystic round
Very pleasing, in the same style, is the poem, entitled,' Home Images in Italy;' particularly the following stanzas, which describe the sudden fall of an Italian night upon the landscape, with its accompaniments of sights and sounds :
But sudden, twilight's gone-and its short stay
Flush'd, deepening, lingering, that preludes the night,
No, when the red light's o'er, the abrupt pall
The foreign grashopper, with rasping throat,
In darkness to the heart, and there like moonbeams fall.
'On every spray, in every summer bower,
A thousand lamps are lighted; twinkling by,
'Or like a gossip's lantern, in the ridge
Slowly appears the moon above the mountain ledge.'
The lines on Venice somewhat disappointed us; but it must be admitted to be no easy task to say any thing on a subject which Otway, Radcliffe, Shakspeare, Schiller's art' has illustrated, and to which Byron has consecrated some of his finest stanzas, Sorrento a sketch of the meeting of Tasso and his sister at his home, after his liberation from the prison at Ferrara is interesting; and there is much tenderness in the little piece written at the Baths of Lucca, entitled, Evening in the Forest.' The following, too, are pleasing stanzas, descriptive of the Pontine Marshes:
They talk of death, of poison'd gales,
And yet the flowers are fresh and fair;
The air that through the foliage steals
Is sweet as any other air.
And herds repose, and wild-birds fly,
As though life's healthy flush were there;
And nothing talks of danger near.
And there is beauty in the spell,
(And thought-how much a dearer charm!)
Of those wild Volscian hills, that tell
Of warlike woman's potent arm.
The fleet Camilla sprang to war
From these rude mountain depths; and she
Who sang men to their doom, afar
Is still seen watching o'er the sea.t
* ، Belle de nuit-the convolvulus, that uncloses its blossom at night. †The promontory of Circe.
VOL. LXXI. NO. CXLIII.
But false the sky and false the flowers,
And lurks within the budding wreath.'
The difficulty of writing a good song is proverbial; nor perhaps, in the whole compass of English literature is there any department in which it is poorer. In fact, no species of lyric poetry involves so much of difficulty. Essentially popular in its character, it requires that the idea to be developed shall be simple, natural, and obvious, without being commonplace; while its brevity renders it essential that every thing strained, rugged, or weak, either in the expression or the rhymes, shall be most carefully eliminated. It implies, therefore, the most subtle combination of nature and art-of those universal feelings to which the humblest heart is sensitive, with those mechanical aids and refinements of composition which are the result of study and practice. And accordingly, the combination is of extreme rarity. Not a few of the finest of Burns's lyrics, so far as regards the natural and touching expression of a sentiment, natural without being hackneyed, lose half their effect by the occasional introduction of an ill-chosen epithet, a vulgar turn of expression, or a careless rhyme; while some of those of Moore, on the other hand, elaborate as they are in choice of diction and smoothness of rhythm, betray, by their overstrained ingenuity and glitter of fancy, the absence of that deep and genuine feeling which forms the true inspiration of the song. Mrs Boddington's volume contains several attempts in which the manner of Moore is certainly more apparent than that of Burns. In that entitled Irish Air,' the imitation of Moore is very obvious, while another, Where are the lilies that blew in the morning?' seems to have been evidently suggested by Mrs Cockburn's touching lines adapted to the air of the Flowers of the Forest,' and in none of which can we consider her as very successful.
On the whole, we think the present volume will not diminish, though it is not likely to increase, the reputation which the authoress had acquired by her lively and feeling sketches in prose. It is unequal, and in some parts careless; but it is pervaded by a redeeming tone of sweet and feminine feeling, and characterised by an absence of pretension and affectation, peculiarly acceptable at the present moment, when so much even of the best of our poetry is deformed by strained sentiment and an 'enthousiasme de commande.'