페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

wonderful power more strikingly evinced than in his female portraits, each so distinct, so clearly drawn, so delicately featured, and almost all of them in their purity, depth of soul, and tenderness of feeling, their modesty and refinement, answering to one's ideal type of English womanhood. Verily, the ladies of the island are more indebted to Shakspeare than to all other poets together.

TALBOT. And yet you remember, that Collins-himself a fine poet-had the stupidity to affirm that Shakspeare was too strong-minded to depict the charms, and virtues of womankind. Thus he writes :

"Of softer mould the gentle Fletcher came

The next in order, as the next in name.

With pleased attention 'midst his scenes we find

Each glowing thought that warms the female mind,
Each melting sigh, and every tender tear,

The lover's wishes and the virgin's fear;

His every strain the smiles and graces own,
But stronger Shakspeare felt for man alone."

This piece of criticism is scarcely to be surpassed by Waller's criticism on Milton, Voltaire's on "Hamlet," Dryden's on Denham, Molyneux's on Blackmore's Epics, or that of the wits of Paris, on the "Athalie " of Racine. STANLEY. Or by Sir Walter Scott's own assertion, in corroboration of that of Collins, that "Beaumont and Fletcher surpassed Shakspeare, in drawing female characters."

TALBOT. Is it possible that even Scott has so wofully betrayed his critical incapacity? Scott had such a bright, healthy, manly way of looking both at books and men, that I hardly like to think he could err, even as a critic.

STANLEY. The critical faculty is sometimes but very slightly developed in men of great genius. Sir Walter Scott read the poets by the light of his own imagination, and judged of books not on general principles, but according to the effect they exercised on himself. You will find the panegyric on Beaumont and Fletcher, to which I have referred in the "Life of John Dryden," page 2, and on page 4, Scott makes another statement still more extraordinary, viz-that Drayton, though less known than Spenser, possessed, perhaps, equal powers of poetry." Now

[ocr errors]

good Michael has certainly written a vast quantity of verse. He is like an American river, and thinks nothing. of travelling a thousand miles. His prodigality is marvellous, his invention great, his mental energy untiring ; but he has no creative imagination, not many flashes of fancy, although now and then, as in the "Nymphidia," he gladdens us in that way, little feeling, and no pathos. To compare such a poet with Spenser, is hardly more appropriate than a comparison between Milton and Sir Richard Blackmore.

TALBOT. You might allow Drayton some pathos, as well as fancy. One of his sonnets combines both in an exquisite degree. Let me read it to you. It describes an oft-repeated episode in the immortal story of love :—

"Since there's no help, come, let us kiss and part;
Nay I have done; you get no more of me;
And I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free !
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows ;

And, when we meet at any time again,
Be it not seen in either of our brows

That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of Love's latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies,
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes,

Now, if thou would'st, when all have given him over, From death to life thou might'st him yet recover." HARTLEY. That is beautiful indeed. When Drayton wrote that sonnet he must have been in one of his happiest moods-plaintive rather than sorrowful, and not altogether despairing of the love, for the recovery of which he prescribes so infallible a remedy. Drayton's fame in his own age appears to have been much greater than at any subsequent period. Perhaps Sir Walter Scott echoed the opinion of Winstanley, who exclaims, "He had drunk as deep a draught at Helicon as any in his time; for fame and renown in poetry he is not much inferior, if not equal, to Spenser."

TALBOT. His day is passed, however, and one cannot believe that any change in our national taste will ever revive it again. Drayton will always be read by the patient student of poetry, as well as by the antiquary, and topographer; but I cannot see how his works could be dealt with, in a modern edition of the English poets. It would be imperative to abridge his poems, and that in no slight

measure.

* Charles Lamb has a loving glance at Drayton in his "Notes on the Dramatists," as "the panegyrist of my native earth; who has gone over her soil (in the Polyolbion) with the fidelity of a herald and the painful love of a son; who has not left a rivulet (so narrow that it may be stepped over) without honourable mention, and has animated hills and streams with life and passion above the dreams of old mythology."

HARTLEY.

The poet whose works will bear abridgment almost merits oblivion. As for old Drayton, though I shall never read all his poems, I should be sorry not to have them in their completeness, for he is one of our English worthies. If he is diffuse, has not Edmund Spenser been oftentimes accused of the same defect?

TALBOT. But not with equal reason, HARTLEY. Very beautifully has Professor Wilson defended the copiousness and redundancy of Spenser. I will read you the

passage:-
:--

"Spenser's style is said to be diffuse. So is the style of a river when it chooses to become a lake. But a river never chooses to become a lake without a sufficient reason for such

change of character. It keeps a look-out how the land lies, and adapts its career to circumstances all its way down from source to sea. There you see it shooting straight as an arrowhere you might mistake it for a mighty serpent uncoiling in the sun-there you almost wonder why it is mute-till you gaze again, and are ashamed of yourself for having expected voice from one so still and deep-and here you see the old tops of trees swinging in the storm, but hear not the branches creak because of the thunder of the cataract. Just so with Spenser. One hour you see him—that is his poetry-carelessly diffused in the sunshine, and enjoying the spirit of beauty in which he lies enveloped as in a veil of dreams-another he winds away lucidly along flowery banks, with a sweeter and yet sweeter song, as he nears the bowers on the borders of Paradise-now, as if subdued by a sudden shadow, his brightness grows a glimmer, and the glimmer a gloom—and, wondering what noise it is you hear, you catch a sight through the mist, of white tumbling waves, and recoil in alarm from a monstrous sea."

So writes Christopher, and the defence is well conceived; only, as he liked best himself to run riot, and to express his

[ocr errors]

thoughts in a style which is oftentimes provokingly luscious and flowery, he was not likely to detect a similar defect in the "Faerie Queene," if it is to be found in that poem.

STANLEY. Enough of critics and of poetry. It is a glorious evening-bright with moonlight and tranquil as sleep. Shame would it be to let such beauty pass unheeded; so, ere we part for the night, I suggest that we have a quiet and half-silent stroll, through the Valley of Rocks.

HARTLEY. First of all, however, let us invoke the creature comforts, since alas! even sentiment wanes when the stomach is empty; for if, like Fletcher's "Elder Brother," we could "walk a turn or two in Via Lactea,” and have a "six hours' conference with the stars," we

should scarce consent with him "to breakfast off Aristotle, dine with Tully, drink tea with the Muses, or sup with Livy."

« 이전계속 »