estimate the value of licences like these, to do what he pleases with words, and make words do what they are bidden. But with all these immunities, the writers of Scottish verse are so limited in their ranges of subjects, and the compass of their song, that their pieces must of necessity be brief, and their themes nearly confined to humour, pathos, and familiar description. A great work, like an epic poem, could not be achieved in so lawless a dialect.

Capabilities of Languages.

Limited, however, as poetic licence may be in a severe and uncompromising language like ours, the man of original genius will never be at a loss to adapt its resources to his exigencies, and so to assimilate the medium of communication with the character of his own mind, as to give to his most recondite conceptions such perfect development, that no version in a foreign idiom shall equal in effect the sounds and syllables which he has selected for them. What indeed should the poet do, if he had not virtue in himself to mould according to his will the language in which his thoughts are to live? as the fish in the convoluted shell shapes its dwelling by the motion of its body within.

“Will you play upon this pipe ?” says Hamlet to Guildenstern. "I cannot, I know no touch of it, my Lord,” replies the courtier. — “'Tis as easy as lying,” retorts the satirical prince; “govern these ventages with your fingers and thumb; give it breath with your month, and it will discourse most eloquent

music: look

these are the stops.”

6 But these cannot I command to any utterance of harmony; I have no skill,” is the humble confession of the other. Thus the melodies of the pipe must be the result of the piper's employment of its capabilities, which each who tries will variously bring out. It is a small thing that the fiddle is a genuine Cremona, and the warranted workmanship of Straduarius; every hand that draws a bow across it will produce every note unlike every other performer, according to his skill in fingering, and the “music in his soul;” — from the crude scraping of “some blind crowder in the streets," to the tones of anguish or ecstasy which Paganini, with touches like the first beams of sunlight on the statue of Memnon, elicits from the strings; or extorts when he strikes and they shriek as though he were putting live sufferers to the sword.

What the pipe and the viol are to the minstrel, his native tongue is to the poet. The finest instruments are dumb till those harmonies are put into them, of which they can be no more than the passive conductors. Language, in like manner, is a dead letter, till the spirit within the poet himself breathes through it, gives it voice, and makes it audible to the very mind. The powers of any langauge, therefore, are put to proof just in proportion to the powers of the author himself who composes in it. Shakspeare, Milton, and Wordsworth, Burke, Johnson and Junius, among numberless others, have each done with our English what none ever did before him; and there are abundant capabilities in it yet undiscovered. What great master shall next bring a few more of them

forth with equal conspicuity? Nor need they be far sought; they lie along the highway of literature; they are the granite-materials of which the road is made. — Lord Byron affected the frequent use of quaint, obsolete, and outlandish terms; and by this artifice, no doubt, he occasionally rendered his style both gorgeous and venerable. But his chief strength lay in a despotic command over the most ordinary forms of speech. He has done more for common words than Dryden himself did; and the energy with which he employs them is the most remarkable, as well as the most exemplary, characteristic of his style in his best productions, — such as the third and fourth Cantos of “ Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.” Without

any reference to the merits or faults of the following stanzas, they will strikingly exhibit the power of high pressure, which the noble writer could put in force to multiply thoughts with words, and so condense them, that scarcely one of the latter could be withdrawn, without extinguishing one of the former. — In the storm on the Lake of Geneva, he thus breaks out:

“ Sky, mountains, rivers, winds, lake, lightnings ! - Ye,

With night, and clouds, and thunder, and a soul
To make these felt and feeling; - the far roll
Of your departing voices is the knoll
Of what in me is sleepless — if I rest.


« Could I embody and unbosom now

That which is most within me could I wreak
My thoughts upon expression, and thus throw
Soul, heart, mind, passions, feelings strong or weak,
All that I would have sought, and all I seek,

Bear, know, feel, and yet breathe, - into one word
And that one word were lightning, I would speak !
But as it is I live and die unheard,
With a most voiceless thought, sheathing it as a sword.”

I conclude with an admirable illustration of this ill-understood subject, by a critic of no ordinary tact, which may be found in an article on 66 Todd's Milton,” in the Quarterly Review, No. xxxvi. :

“Let us not hear a polished language blamed for the defects of those who know not how to put it forth. It must be wielded by the master before its true force can be known. The Philippics of Demosthenes were pronounced in the mother tongue of every one of his audience; but who among them could have answered him in a single sentence like his own? Who among them could have guessed what Greek could do, though they had spoken it all their lives, till they heard it from his lips? The secret of using language, is to use it from a full mind."



No V.


Narrative Poetry.

Lord Bacon distinguishes poetry under three heads : Narrative, Dramatic, and Parabolic. To these may be added a fourth, Miscellaneous, comprehending one half of the verse that is written, and which can hardly be said to come under any denomination less general. Without particular reference to these distinctions, I shall briefly notice several of the principal classes of poetry, according to the limits which must not here be exceeded.

Narrative poetry embraces all the varieties of metrical story-telling, from the lofty epic to the lowly ballad. In these (according to the licence of fiction) the author-knowing every thing that he chooses to know, and being privy to the inmost thoughts as well as the outward acts of his heroes discloses to his reader (like one invisible being holding converse with another) the entire circumstances of all the

« 前へ次へ »