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nor hear without first having some assurance, that the writer, who invites their attention, instead of relying on charms and spells, has deliberately prepared himself for one of the highest and most difficult, and, when successful, most glorious enterprises of the mind.
Mr Sprague has secured the verdict of such men in his favor, and this is no light testimony to his merit. The occasion for which his longest poem was written, is one that assembles many persons who have no particular taste for poetry, but are disposed to listen and criticize it like any other intellectual exertion. Doubtless they are disposed to be pleased with what they hear, for want of candor is not the fault of our audiences; but we think that the poet would hazard much, who should attempt to interest them by the prevailing prettiness of the day. He is obliged to address himself to a manly good sense, and to that degree of cultivation in his own department, which men of education are apt to reach in every fine and graceful art. It was evidently with such impressions of his audience, that Mr Sprague prepared the poem before us; and, as might be expected from his ability, he ensured perfect success. Many of those, who looked for no pleasure from verse, except its lulling sounds, were amazed to hear from a poet so manly and business-like a production.
We cannot help thinking, that it would be well for our poets to have some such tribunal, from whose decisions they might learn the public taste, which is generally merciful in its judgments, and almost always just. If the poet writes for himself, it is hardly worth while to publish his works, and he may choose what style he will; but if he intends to amuse or instruct the public, he must conform to their taste, unless he can prove it widely distant from truth and nature. This, we apprehend, no one could do. Our audiences are at least as enlightened as those of ancient Greece; and there can be no doubt, that such works as Campbell's Gertrude,' Moore's 'Melodies,' Southey's Roderick,' Byron's Corsair,' and Mrs Hemans's England's Dead,' would be listened to with. enthusiastic delight. We have often thought, that, in all the fine arts, as well as fine writing, the object should be to gain the favor of refined minds, which have no intimate acquaintance with the particular art; in other words, to aim at that simplicity which is universally and always pleasing. We do not believe that one of Allston's pictures could pass unnoticed VOL. XXX.-No. 67.
by any educated man, who had the least attachment for the art, however unversed in the mysteries of light, shade, and proportions. And when we have seen the exquisite weariness of audiences, listening to music which was understood by none but the performers, not to speak of the contortions of such as were lashing themselves up to rapture, common humanity has tempted us to wish, that some means could be devised to check this wanton expenditure of skill. Whoever has listened to the wailing of neglected poets, more in anger than in sorrow, over the perversion of public taste, would rejoice if a way was discovered to spare them that torture. We take the liberty to recommend to them to consult the public taste in one or two efforts; and if they deserve success, we believe they will have no reason to regret the trial. Nothing can exceed the favor shown to poets in this country. Bryant, Halleck, and others have been read and praised with enthusiasm; and if Percival had but followed their judicious. example, his fine imagination and remarkable power of language would have given him a place second to no other in the public regard.
Mr Sprague has shown great good sense in this respect, and has accordingly met with uncommon favor. Though he has succeeded so well in theatrical addresses, and where Byron failed, it is no small praise to have succeeded,-we cannot wish to see any more of them. Such a stiff and ungainly service is not worthy of his powers. Nor are we disposed to be so partial to his Shakspeare Ode,' brilliant although it is, as to some other pieces of less pretension. We prefer the following lines on Art,' which, we believe, were written for some public occasion. The circumstances are
well selected and happily combined, and would give any reader the impression of true poetical power.
When, from the sacred garden driven,
An angel left her place in heaven,
And cross'd the wanderer's sunless path.
'T was Art! sweet Art! new radiance broke,
'She led him through the trackless wild,
The thistle shrunk,-the harvest smiled,
'He rends the oak,-and bids it ride,
'He plucks the pearls that stud the deep,
He breaks the stubborn marble's sleep,
'In fields of air he writes his name,
Links realm to realm, and race to race.'
The next quotation is part of an address to two swallows, which flew into a church window during divine service. It reminds us of the mild and thoughtful beauty of Bryant's 'Lines to a Waterfowl,' perhaps the finest of that popular poet's writings. No subjects better display the talent of a man of genius; to give such interest to a trifle, and use it to suggest high and important instruction, though often attempted, is seldom so successfully done.
'Gay, guiltless pair,
What seek ye from the fields of heaven?
Ye have no sins to be forgiven.
Mr Sprague is best known by his Poem delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge, in August, 1829. The poet, on this occasion, labors under some disadvantages. He succeeds an orator, who has already engaged the attention of the audience with some high intellectual subject, for a time limited only by his own discretion; and who, whether dull or able, may be supposed to leave his hearers little disposed to listen to any other. Beside, by an absurd and unexplained arrangement, those, who would secure places for these performances, are compelled to endure an hour or two of previous declamation, of the unmeaning kind in vogue in our public institutions. All these things are certainly against him; and it is not easy to select a subject which will afford sufficient interest for the variety of hearers. Sprague, however, not only added to the high reputation which he put at stake, but made himself known as the author of a poem, the high classical merit of which has established his poetical character.
His subject is Curiosity, and we think it happily chosen ; if the subject is a matter of importance to one, who can give interest to any by rich and various illustration. The begin
ning of the poem is well imagined to awaken curiosity; but it was a bold experiment to hold the minds of his hearers so long in suspense, and but for the excellence of what succeeds, would hardly have been forgiven.
The effect of this principle, in childhood, is thus beautifully described.
In the pleased infant see its power expand,
Placed by your hearth, with what delight he pores
That he may read one little story more.' p. 5.
Mr Sprague has taken advantage of this occasion, to lash many of the vices and follies of the times. His censure on the press is timely and powerful. We may endure to hear the prints of half the country praising The Course of Time,' but their eulogies of the licentious and disgusting 'Pelham,' deserve his severest sarcasm. The fierce and brutal violence of this mighty element, for a few years past, is enough to fill a thoughtful mind with dismay, when we reflect, that millions are daily drinking from these poisonous and polluted streams; and we are glad that Mr Sprague has given us a bright side to this dark and hopeless picture, colored with his usual power.
• All are not such? O no, there are, thank Heaven,
In truth's bold cause to rouse each fearless heart;
O'er male and female quacks to shake the rod,
And scourge the unsexed thing that scorns her God.'
p. 12. We give next the character of the miser, which reminds us of the characters of Pope. It would be well if such portraits were oftener held up to detestation in this country, where the power of gain being universal as the passion, and balanced by no other restraints than conscience and religion, which have but little influence with the worshippers of Mammon, we are in some danger of mistaking avarice for a virtue, and the miser for a benefactor of mankind.
'Go, seek him out on yon dear Gotham's walk,