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The poena is further embellished with a beautiful little ej> sode illustrating the character, parentage, and fortune of Jlian the page of Constance.
We see throughout this poem the cautious and restrictive delicacy, so conspicuous in the other writings of the bard. He does not burst upon us with the daring intrepidity of Southey, in a new creation of his own: neither does he, like Scott, hurry us along with irresistible force wherever he pleases, through the one we inhabit. His genius does not partake of the decided and masculine character of either of these bards; yet if he never astonishes, he is ever sure to please. The reader quits the page with a train of pleasant and agreeable, but not powerful emotions, resembling that peculiar state of the mind when we rise refreshed from an exhilirating dream, and at the same time with a memory incapable of retaining the details. Whatever Mr. Sotheby aims to do, he accomplishes; but he does not strive to touch the springs of the loftier passions, and they remain in a state of quiescence. His characters, it must be confessed, are more than the vehicles of his story, but they do not possess sufficient strength of limb to go alone; nor have we a distinct conception of what they have done, after the poet has concluded.
Our meaning will be better understood, if we compare Almanzor with the character of Roderic Dhu. As long as the page of Sotheby detains us, Almanzor does every thing we should expect him to do; but when he dies by the sword of Lancaster, he fades from our recollection. On the other hand, Roderic exceeds expectation, and long after his death pertinaciously maintains his post in our memories. Almanzor brings off the bard with applause; Roderic with admiration. The same observation applies to Constance. We wish she may not be united to the Moor.—She is beautiful, amiable and lovely; whereas the same character in the hands of the wizard Scott, while undergoing the same trial, would induce the reader to imagine that he was willing to risk fortune, and life in her service. We believe it would be difficult to find in the pages of any other poet, characters who play their allotted parts with so much propriety as they do in those of the present one, and expire so soon afterwards.
Mr. Sotheby, if he does not command our feelings with the same authority as Scott, avoids his incongruities, and daring violations of rule, to which all the force of his genius is incapable of affording a justification. Amidst all the sufferings of Scott's Constance, we still remember that she abetted the foul forgery of Marmion, and attempted the life of her rival by poison. Out disgust and abhorrence m ingle with our pity for her fate, and astonishment at the magnanimity of her endurance.*
* In speaking of Scott, we cannot resist the temptation of laying before our readers, an extract from a letter on the subject of his powers, addressed to us some time since, by one of the most accomplished critics as well as able statesmen of this country. The panegyric, lofty as it is, is scarcely too much so, for the merits of the poet, and the plan traced for his future labours eminently worthy of his attention.
"Among the obligations," says the elegant writer, " which you conferred upon me by the first number of your Review, was that it induced me to read " The£,ady of the Lake," with which I was absolutely enchanted. I had not seen Scott's other poems; and the title of this had given me the impression, that it was some sickly, sentimental, or amatory tale. Judge then how I was charmed and transported to find, the highest combination of lyric, dramatic, and epic excellence, that, as far as I know, exists in any language. I then read the two other works, which afforded me great pleasure. They are both excellent, but far inferior to the last. The second is also, in my opinion, superior to the first. I much doubt whether any age has produced a poet, who has so greatly and in so short a time, improved upon himself. His flight upwards, which commences from a lofty eminence, is so rapid and so high, that he cannot fail, should he continue his exertions, to reach the summit of poetical glory.
« Were I acquainted with Scott, I would advise him to rest a while, and collect all his force for a new and mightier effort. I would advise him to dedicate the rest of his life to an epic poem, ofwhich Wallace should be the hero, and the struggles and final deliverance of Scotland the general subject. I should perhaps prefer Alfred and the expulsion of the Danes; but the other subject would fire his genius more, and give him a wider scope of illustrious characters. Indeed it is better suited to the epopee, by the rapidity of the events, the shortness of the period, the inequality of the forces, and the perpetual display of romantic valour. The character of Edward, too, would augment the interest; which would be raised to the highest pitch of dignity by the object of the struggle, so glori» ously maintained, against so distinguished a foe.
*• Upon such a subject I think that Scott, from the specimens which he has given us, would, in ten years, produce a poem not much inferior to the ./Eneid, and Paradise Lost, or even to the Iliad. The only defect in the theme, is the unworthy end of Wallace,who, instead of falling in baule, fell by the hands of an executioner. But still he died for his country, which it was thought could not be subdued while he lived. And this act of cruel and treacherous policy, being in fact an acknowledgment of his greatness by the oppressor of his country, might be so managed as to increase the attraction of the poem.
We think Mr. Sotheby peculiarly felicitous in the incidents of his work. As an evidence of this, we mijjht cite the magic girdle worn by Pedro, the gift of lady Blanche, which is indeed true, if Froissanfs Chronicles are intitled to any credit; a historian who never was accused of a too rigid adherence to fact. Pedro was sirnamed the cruel, and something was wanting to palliate the disgust the reader must conceive, when he learns that the British monarch abets the cause of that tyrant. The poet, by a dexterity peculiar to himself, prepares to soften and do away our hostility to the act. Pedro has a presentiment in a dream of his future fate; an incident that answers the double purpose of informing the reader what it was,v,-hilc it alarms that monarch to repentance. Trembling under such impressions, he unfolds to Edward the whole history of his guilty life, and exposes the terrific girdle as evidence that divine indignation still pursues him. A reverend abuot, persuaded that the repentance is sincere, imposes a vow which, when ihe sovereign takes, the girdle falls from his body. Now, the cause of Pedro is righteous, and the reader yields a ready assent to its truth when it is confirmed by such a miracle.
Such difficulties the bard was aware of, when he contemplated the subject at a distance, and he provided against them. He therefore employs the traditional superstition of the age to bear on the particular point, and then abandons both the one and the other with the most perfect indif
"In such a work this great poet ought to adopt the heroic measure, (I mean the verse of Pope, not that of Milton), and to discard his obsolete words and phrases. The measure which he has heretofore used, is admirably adapted to the subjects and nature of his former poems. They derive also an air of antique rusticity from the obsolete words and phrases, which is greatly becoming to them as romantic tales. But the grandeur and sublimity of an epic poem require a loftier verse; and such a work ought to be written in the utmost purity of the language, in its most improved state.
"For his lighter studies, and the intermediate recreations of his rouse, a poem upon the plan of Marmion, founded on the story of William Tell, or on the adventures and death of Schill the German hero, and one on the exploits of Edward the Third, the Black Prince, or Henry the Fifth, would be most happily adapted to the times, and could not fail to produce the best effects. Such a genius should be devoted to the public cause. The strains of such a lyre should unceasingly stir the souls of his countrymen, and vibrate in its turn to their heroic and patriotic emotions. Scott is born to be the poet of his nation. He ought to be more. He ought to be the poet of honourable sentiments, dignity of mind, and national independence throughout the world."
ference, satisfied that he has removed an obstacle that appeared to confront him in limine. Scott uses no precaution of this kind —he trusts to the momentary energy of his genius to bear him out, confident that if he fails of persuading, he is sure of admiration; that the reader, while overpowered by the witchery of his muse, will gladly compound the matter with the bard, and overlook where he cannot be completely reconciled.
In the speech of the hermit, who predicts the approaching victory at Navaret, the author was unable to forego the tempting opportunity afforded him of glancing at the present times. Bonaparte of course appears in high relief, and the assistance which England now renders to Spain, is alluded to by the hermit. Gracefully as this incident falls in with the narrative, and flattering as the compliment must be to the poet's countrymen, we question the policy, in a literary point of view, of mingling events so recent with the story of times so antique. The tissue displays in such cases such disparity of tints, and the last hues which we discover are so much more vivid than the preceding, that they dazzle from our minds the memory of the remainder. Artifices of this nature, if admissible at all, ought certainly to be covered with a deeper veil than the present example affords. What we precisely mean is this, that some remoter period of history in some measure analogous to ours, should, we conceive, be taken as the groundwork of the plot. In such situations, the events of the present day might be cautiously and delicately shadowed out, and to the reader should be left the task of the discovery. If no such periods of history exist, reflections may be introduced which, without seeming to bear designedly upon the present day, remind the reader of passing occurrences. Of this latter class we have an instance in the poem before us.
"At Edward's voice, at glory's call,
Many fastidious critics have objected to the structure of this species of verse. They triumphantly ask, how persons, .. who profess entire veneration for the sounding, majestic march of Dryden and Pope, can possibly reconcile them
selves to the short trip in the footsteps of the modern Muses? We ^eply, very easily. The grandeur of the epic measure, we conceive, has been essentially impaired by unrestrained indulgence. It should be reserved for high and great occasions, and kept more distinct from ordinary use than it has hitherto been. Having become so common, it now partakes, we fear, in a great measure of the triviality of the incident it celebrates, and has lost by such frequent repetition that lofty majesty, with which it was once endowed, and which it is its proper office to assume. We regard as a happy omen the adoption of a measure, that relieves us from such misapplication of epic metre. It tends to advance another desirable object, which is to raise the heroic strain to its former dignity. The old ballad style, while it does not sacrifice melody, is not encumbered with it; it is susceptible of an endless variety of modulation, and gives a freedom to expression which epic stubbornly refuses to admit. A few sounding words destitute of meaning will not now be enabled to hide their total imbecility behind the popularity of epic. The ancient style of writing so long disused, has been suddenly ennobled, invigorated and brought into repute, by the splendid genius of those who have not disdained its adoption.
In reviewing a poem like the present one, which pleases us by its uniformity of merit, we confess that we feel considerable embarrassment, when we undertake the selection of particular passages. They are so well connected with precedent and subsequent matter, that we run the hazard of breaking this thread, and even of injuring the character of the poet by extracting the parts we most admire. They seem beautiful in their places, and for that reason lose something when separated from the community they adorn, and by which they are adomed. The following extract evinces the propriety of this remark.