« PreviousContinue »
terious destiny, with a thousand aimless yearnings, and a thousand haughty hopes, and vague yet delightful sympathies, mingled with degrading propensities and passionate selfishness. He displays a vast variety of scenic pomp; but, in general, it seems as if his personages were brought there for the sake of showing the prospect to his readers: just as in our pantomimes, the jokes, and life, and character, are omitted, and two or three mutes walk along the stage, while the scene displays to us a moving picture of seas and cities, triumphs and enchantments.
Our readers then understand, that we consider Mr. Southey a poet of no higher than the second order-a judgment which we have come to when estimating him by his best and not by his worst poems, by "Roderick" and "Kehama,' not by the "Vision of Judgment," or the " Tale of Paraguay." Yet, though we think his poetry inferior to that of many other English authors, it seems to us to display his mind in a more nearly perfect state than we find it in any of his other kinds of writing. As mere composition, the verse is far from being so faultless as the prose. But the feeling displayed in Thalaba is incomparably better than that of the "Quarterly Review," the "Book of the Church," or the "History of the Peninsular War." There is in his poetry none of the bitterness of the daily bread earned for themselves by the followers of a faction. In it he does not write with the perpetual consciousness that he is the gladiator of a sect or a party: we do not see him constantly spitting gall and venom at every one who differs from himself in religion or politics he feels no yoke but the easy one of our common humanity; is moved by no passion but the love of goodness, and gentleness, and truth; and looks at mankind, not as followers or enemies of a particular ecclesiastical establishment; not as republicans, or royalists, or aristocrats, but as heirs of one nature,
brethren of one house, and partakers of one blessed hope.
When we consider Mr. Southey in any other light than as a poet, we confess that we feel a degree of sorrow in which many of our readers will hardly sympathise. It seems to us that every thing was correct in his mind, at the beginning of his career, except an excessive vanity, and a want of courage to stand before the world but as a member of a party,-but for these qualities, we believe that a future, the most honourble and useful, might well have been predicted to him. But he began to think that political perfection was confined to our own Constitution, and that Christianity was identical with the English Church Establishment. From that time, he has daily become more and more of a partisan,-daily more and more of a sectarian. It is easy to say that he admires the present form of the British Government, because he thinks it the best calculated to produce national happiness; and that he lauds endowments and pluralities, because he believes them most consonant to the apostolical model; but it is evident from the whole tone of his writings, that the actual objects of his respect and love, are not good government and true Christianity for themselves, but good government and true religion, as by law established,-in short, Church and State-the Aristocracy and the Bench of Bishops.
Thence the habit of the politician, of abusing every one, however sincerely attached to the interests of mankind, who has attempted to reform the government of his own country, or thinks that we ought to attempt it in ours. Thence the fondness of the theologian for swelling the bodies of his sentences with "the Church of England," while he puts Providence into a parenthesis. Aud thence above all, the violence, we had almost said the malignity, otherwise so utterly inexplicable, displayed by a pious and benevolent man against all from whom he dif
fers, of every period and denomina- abhorrence, which he probably justition against, that is, nine-tenths of fies to himself by the consideration, all sects and parties, and especially that they are enemies to the happiagainst those wiser and better men, ness of mankind, without reflecting who seeing in the spirit of sectarian- that other men may honestly think ism, one of the greatest afflictions of just as ill of his opinions as he of humanity, have sedulously avoided theirs, and that neither party would its enslaving and corrupting influ- be excusable in slandering and misrepresenting the other.
He is, indeed, a mournful example of the ruin which may be wrought upon the fairest minds, by attaching an universal feeling to particular institutions, and by professing to find all truth in the creed of one establishment. In this case the whole spiritual nature of man is narrowed into an almost mechanical clinging to a few valueless sounds, the images, perhaps, of nothing either in earth or heaven, but of the stupid bigotry that invented them. The attributes of Deity become the watchwords of intolerance and uncharitableness, and Christianity itself, instead of being a scheme for the perfecting our nature into purity and love, is changed into a volume of dissonant war-cries, while the whole armour of God" is employed for the unhallowed strife of worldly passions.
It is obvious, also, that in politics, so soon as ceasing to look forward for improvement, the activity of Mr. Southey's mind attached itself to things as they are, he began to look back into the past, to find supports for his opinion: and because he wished to make out that the present government is a good one, he perverts the whole aspect of history. Strafford and Laud were put to death by political reformers; and therefore, out of hatred to all reform, and as a means of bringing dislike on modern innovators; Strafford becomes a martyr to his benevolent and unselfish patriotism; and the sickening blood-thirstiness of Laud is to be buried in eternal oblivion. We doubt not that Mr. Southey is quite sincere in thinking that a purely aristocratic constitution is the best possible form of government. But moved by this conviction, he speaks of all who think otherwise with an
52 ATHENEUM, VOL. 9, 2d series.
In spite of the excesses into which Mr. Southey has been betrayed, his natural kindness breaks out very frequently through the fretful load of prejudices and dislikes, wherewith years of partizanship have encumbered him: while his propensity to vituperation usually displays itself most strongly on the points, with regard to which he has himself been in the habit of disputing. He hates Roman Catholics, he hates Calvinists, he hates Unitarians, he hates Frenchmen, who, in his eyes, are almost all Atheists and Jacobins; he thinks the Whigs a very dangerous set of men, he believes that the Edinburgh Review is possessed by Satan, and above all, he abhors every one who dreams of introducing any reforms into England. Yet with all this, we verily believe few men would take more trouble to confer a service on the people of Mexico, or Arabia, or even, if an opportunity presented itself, would seize with more anxiety an opportunity of doing good to his enemies. The Edinburgh Review has uniformly dealt him hard and unjust measure; and all his political opponents have been eager enough to return the blows which he has shewn the example of inflicting; and though his attacks on Lord Byron are very silly, his Lordship disgraced himself, and disgusted the better portion of his readers, by the brutality with which he carried on the war. It not very wonderful therefore that a person, who, however amiable, is by no means remarkable for humility, should have frequently lost temper against these antagonists. But what we complain of is, that on all occasions when he happens to have an occasion for wounding the feelings
of those who are at least towards him guiltless, he displays precisely the same malevolence, and that no man can expect to be treated with ordinary candor who does not agree with him on every possible subject, repeat the Laureate creed, and bow before the Keswick idols.
Whatever be his faults, he must, as long as he lives and writes, continue to be a popular author. As a mere controversialist, (the most melancholy mockery of humanity we know, except the monkeys of Exeter Change,) his abilities and information can never be despised; though in this department (the garrets) of literature, he shows to the least advantage. He has abundant information, and a ready grace in applying it; but he wants the subtlety of argumentation and bitterness of sarcasm, which are so large ingredients in the finished polemic. He generally substitutes for reasoning mere assertion and authority, and downright abuse for satire. The construction of his sentences, the clearness of his arrangement, and the liveliness of his narrative, are admirably adapted for history. But from the want of all power of philosophising, he looks at events as naked facts rather than as developements of principles; or if he ever recurs to general laws, they are of the most common-place description. As a writer of biographies, and of essays of amusing information, scarcely any one, we believe, ever excelled him. His Life of Nelson has been much praised, but not more than it deserves, for unaffected simplicity and unexaggerated earnest ness. His writings probably cover more paper than those of any one now living, except indeed the gentleman in the farce, who "has written all the newspapers in Europe for many years." They contain a wonderful mass of elegant composition and pleasant research, of lively description and animated narrative; but when we consider the effect they must have had in rendering popular his narrow system of politics and religion, we are reluctantly compelled to
doubt whether they have not, on the whole, accomplished more of evil than of good. He has long announced a book on a more fruitful and difficult subject than any that he has previously treated of, "The Progress and Prospects of Society;" but though we shall be curious to see him make the experiment, we would advise him, as he values his reputation, to think well before he publishes such a work. It is all very well to talk of the balance of the Constitution, and the arm of Providence revealing itself in our favour in the Peninsular war, when, as in the Quarterly Review, there are facilities for assuming conclusions, and escaping from proofs; but it will not do in a separate and formal discussion of the powers and destiny of the human race, a subject which has employed the greatest men the world has ever known from Plato until our own day. On such a subject it will not be sufficient to represent irresponsible aristocracies as the saints that shall inherit the earth, or to clothe the angel of the world in lawn-sleeves and a cassock.
On the whole, Mr. Southey's chief talent appears to us to be style. Though sometimes a little affected, and even that but rarely, his composition, on the whole, is wonderfully clear, careful, and animated. But here, we are afraid, the chief our praise stops,-for he has no wit and very little eloquence,-qualities, by the by, which generally go together. He has none of the sprightly fancy of Mr. Moore,―none of the elevating imagination of Wordsworth. He never could have written half as much as he has, if his books required. any great expense of thought; but they really appear to us. to exhibit none at all; and the research they display, though laborious and astonishingly extensive, yet costs infinitely less of real intellectual toil and weariness, than the deducing subtle conclusions from vast and complicated premises, and the binding together and arranging masses of disjointed facts by the application of great
happily for his present ease, fame, and profit, has no such troublesome propensity. He seems, in fact, to have a fainter conception of any thing like abstract speculation than any living author, with one or two exceptions, of nearly equal celebrity. And it must necessarily be so. Great thinkers express wide principles in few words. But nine-tenths of all the events and personages chronicled by the poet-laureat, do not appear in his pages such as naturally connect themselves with any universal principle or permanent consciousness of the human mind, and do not seem to have been the occasion of any feeling in his breast, but contempt for some rival dogmatist, or exultation over some inaccurate his
general laws. But Mr. Southey, torian. Few of his works can live among future generations. For the subjects of his writings, the selfish wars of governments, and the religious systems that narrow themselves into creeds, except as warnings to be shuddered at, must happily lose their interest for our children. But we confess we regret that his poetry is not of a more condensed and concentrated character; for there is a delicacy and sweetness of feeling, and a splendour of descriptive diction, which, if less diluted and impoverished by verbiage, so as to outlast the fluctuations of the hour, would give as much delight to all future ages as they have already conferred on the instructed and gentle of our own day.
MARIAN GODFREY :—A SKETCH OF 1651.
"He has been protected from the arrows of the ungodly, and is in good health. He is marching with his victorious army towards London; and it is the intention of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Sheriffs, with the Council of State, to meet the Lord General to morrow, at Acton, and enter London with him in becoming order."
"I am right glad to hear it," said his father: "it is fitting that the citizens should show General Cromwell the respect which they entertain for his character, and the gratitude they feel for the services which he has rendered the state."
"Are there many wounded, in the battle you speak of, Philip?" inquired his sister, in a tremulous voice, who was sitting at an embroidery frame at the farther end of the apartment, an unnoticed, but not an inattentive hearer of their discourse. Her brother turned towards her at the sound of her voice-" Good Marian," he said, "trouble not thyself concerning this matter: suffice, that the loss which the Lord General has sustained is very small; but
to the commencement of this narrative, he had been left by his father in the house in Aldersgate Street, as he had a perfect reliance upon his skill and prudence to manage his affairs, while he himself occupied a house in Holborn, which had been lent him by a friend, and which, being more cheerful and airy, would, he hoped, restore Marian's health, that had seemed sadly drooping of late, while its vicinity to the city enabled him to see his son daily, and to render his assistance in any affair of moment should it be requisite.
Marian Godfrey was in her nineteenth year. She had passed much
"A sudden giddiness," she replied; "I shall be better anon-'tis nothing-it has already passed!" and she attempted to smile, but there was anguish in her smile; and her brother led her to her apartment, and, tenderly kissing her, bade her try to gain a little repose.
of her time with Mistress Moreton, who was a half sister of her still fondly remembered mother. That lady's husband had espoused the cause of King Charles, and had fallen fighting for that cause in the civil wars. At her house Marian was thrown much into the society of the gallant and devoted chevaliers of the Royalist party; and, while she listened to their polite conversation, and witnessed their generous selfdevotion, and the privations which they underwent rather than forsake the interest which they had espoused, her republican principles were gradually undermined, and she deplored in secret the tragical death of Matthew Godfrey was a merchant her sovereign, and the extinction of of great respectability in the city of royalty in England. The change London. He was a stern republi- which had taken place in her sentican, but a conscientious one; and, ments she carefully abstained from in the wars between the unfortunate speaking of, as she knew her father's Charles and his Parliaments, he had inflexibility too well to believe that constantly taken part with the latter, he could be brought to approve of because he believed their cause to it; and she loved him too tenderly be just and right, and their taking up to grieve him by open opposition. arms for the sole purpose of deliver- With respect to her brother, it was ing the nation from tyranny and in- still worse: he was a relentless perjustice. He was a Puritan; but he secutor of the Royalists, and was did not carry his religious zeal to the wholly destitute of his father's modeextent practised by many of that ration in party matters. Matthew sect his piety was without hypoc- Godfrey had tenderly loved his wife, risy. Matthew Godfrey had been and for her sake he respected Mismany years a widower, with two tress Moreton, and saw no improchildren; and his son had, for the priety in permitting his daughter to last two or three years, principally visit her frequently. As to the unmanaged his mercantile concerus; fortunate adherents of the Stuart and for some little time previously party, whom she might there meet
the enemy suffered dreadfully; and the number of prisoners taken is considerable. Why, how now, what ails the foolish girl?" he said, as he observed that tears were in his sister's eyes; art thou ready to weep for tidings which should make England raise a joyful cry unto God for her final deliverance from the yoke of the oppressor ?—I had well nigh forgotten to tell you," continued Philip, turning to his father, "that young Herbert Lisle, the son of Sir Thomas Lisle, whom we have formerly seen at our kinswoman, Mistress Moreton's, is among the number of the prisoners."
A convulsive sob here arrested his attention; and, turning round, he beheld his sister, pale as death, at tempting to leave the room; but her strength failed her, and she would have fallen had not Philip hastened towards her, and supported her with his arm.
"What has thus moved you, Marian?" he said.