« 前へ次へ »
And Bess has slink'd away to talk
Are swinging on the meadow-gate.” Vol. II. pp72, 73. This is not only painting from the life, but absolutely beyond the life; for the poem consists entirely of images, which are common-place in nature, but exquisite in poetry, like insects and sea-shells embedded in amber.
We are compelled to pass over many other pieces of considerable merit. From among the hymns we select the following speciinen of Henry's powers in this neglected walk of poesy, through which bards of his dignity seldom condescend to stray: though themes like these employ the harps and tongues of angels, and the voice of God has been heard on earth, joining in the melody of a hymn*.
• THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM.
The glittering host bestud the sky;
Can fix the sinner's wandering eye.
From every host, from every gem;
It is the star of Bethlehem.
The storm was loud,—the night was dark,
The wind that toss’d my foundering barko
Death-struck, I ceas'd the tide to stem ;
It was the star of Bethlehem.
It bade my dark forebodings cease;
It led me to the port of peace.
I'll sing, first in night's diadem,
The star !_The star of Bethlehem!" Vol. II. 124. In the fragments aforementioned, written on the back of his mathematical exercises, we find some of the most precious relics of his muse. The following lines, though the second is lame, and the cold critic might perhaps find fifty faults in them, are wonderfully grand. There is a veil of ob scurity upon them, like that which hides the secrets of the eternal world.
* Mat. xxvi. 30.
• Once more, and yet once more,
1 give unto my harp a dark-woven lay;
I heard the flood of ages pass away.
In thine eternal cell,
I saw thee rise, I saw the scroll complete,
144. Had Henry left no other specimen of his powers, this fragment alone would have stamped him in our estimation a poet of the highest order. It was well that he left it a fragment; another line might have let down the thought from the third heaven of imagination in which it was conceived, and into which the mind of the reader is rapt in contemplating it.
These fragments are succeeded by a long, desultory, and unfinished poem on “ Time," of very irregular merit, some passages almost rivalling the foregoing quotation in sublimity, others being very rugged and scarcely intelligible.
The crown and close of his poetical works here, is a solitary book of “ The Christiad, a Divine Poem,” on the death of Christ. Mr. Southey says, “ This was the work which Henry had most at heart. His riper judgment would probably have perceived that the subject was ill chosen.” After quoting an opinion from the Censura Literaria on this point, (which we are not at present disposed to contest with him, though some great men and good Christians have thought otherwise,) the editor adds,-“ I cannot refrain from saying that the two last stanzas greatly affected me, when I discovered them written on the leaf of a different book, and apparently long after the first canto; and greatly shall I be mistaken if they do not affect the reader also." The following are the two stanzas, probably the last that the dying poet ever penned, for it pleased God to grant him a higher boon than that for which he prayed: he only asked for life, and he received immortality.
• Thus far have I pursued my solemn theme :
With self-rewarding toil ;-thus far have sung
loftier than beseem
On the dark cypress! and the strings which rung
And must the harp of Judah sleep again,
Shall I no more re-animate the lay!
Thou who dost listen when the humble pray,
One little space prolong my mournful day!
I am a youthful traveller in the way,
*1 Vol. II. p.191. These volumes conclude with some prose Essays, which appeared in the Monthly Mirror; but we have no room to add any remarks upon them.
The work is embellished with a fine portrait of Mr. White, an engraved emblematical title-page, and a view of Clifton Grove. Art. II. Lectures on the History of Joseph. By George Lawson. D.D. Minister of the Associate Congregation in Selkick. 2 vols, 12mo.
Price 8s. 6d. boards. Oliphant and Brown, Edinburgh ; Williams and Smith, London. 1807. MUCH of an author's success will generally depend on
the choice of his subject. It must not exceed his powers of mind, and it ought to be somewhat congenial to his turn and habit of thinking. His subject, besides, should of itself raise some expectation, and not raise too much; he might otherwise find it difficult, in one case, to procure attention ; or, in the other, to avoid disappointing it.
He who writes for fame, will avoid a topic on which it may be supposed that he can say but little, either because it is exhausted, or because it is naturally barren. It requires much genius, in either case, to excite any considerable interest ; it is even difficult to procure readers, because a prejudice will prevail that the book cannot deserve a perusal, An author will have difficulties not less formidable to encounter, though of a different kind, when his subject is peculiarly interesting, and naturally leads the reader to promise himself something very excellent. He who takes up a book under this impression, is very apt to lay it down with a feeling of disappointment. The author must inevitably suffer in justice, whatever be the merit of his performance; for, in proportion as the ideal standard was previously elevated too high, the real value of his work will be depreciated.
We have seen Dr. Lawson venturing upon subjects of the first class, apparently without giving himself any concern about literary reputation; and we have seen bis success. Few, we are convinced, would open bis Lectures on Esther without a suspicion, that they should not find much to reward the
* See Ecl, Rer. Vol. 1 p. 684.
trouble of perusal, and as few laid them aside without a conviction that they had judged too hastily. The volume on Ruth* was otherwise received, because the public knew what the author could do with subjects apparently so barren; and the volumes before us have all the advantage of that respectable character which their author has deservedly obtained. But they will likewise be liable to suffer, in the judgement of the public, from expectations raised, partly by the Dr.'s character, and partly by the interesting nature of the subject. Readers who are not much accustomed to reflect, will expect from him, who could render the book of Esther so entertaining, a production of very superior attractions on the history of Joseph. With this prepossession, which is far from being well founded, they are not likely to do the author justice.
We were not led to the preceding remarks particularly by perusing these discourses, but rather by reflecting on the subject of them, and on the impression which the simple story is calculated to produce. There is so much native simplicity in the history of Joseph, both in the circumstances and in the form of the narrative, so much to engage our curiosity and interest our feelings, so much to rouse our resentment at injustice and call forth our sympathy with distress, and the issue of the whole is so pleasing, that he who can read it without admiration must be something below the ordinary level of human beings. It is from this circumstance, that an attempt to illustrate such a portion of Scripture must always appear less interesting, to the generality of readers, than illustrations of most other parts. We do not recollect to have seen any attempt to new model the story of Joseph, which was barely tolerable ; nor any comment upon it which did not seem dull; because we cannot help every moment comparing the im.' prover with the original, and the comment with the text.
If Dr. Lawson should give less satisfaction to some readers, in these Discourses, than in those which he formerly published, we think it ought in justice to be ascribed to the difference of the subject, and not to any decay of ability or attention in the author. We see here the same good sense, the same fertility of mind in discovering practical instruction, the same appropriate manner of introducing it, and the same characteristic simplicity uniformly prevalent. Indeed his manner of lecturing seems peculiarly calculated to prevent that disgust, which an ordinary comment would be likely to produce on such a subject; since it never defaces the history by tedious paraphrase, nor renders plain things unmeaning by needless explanation. Readers, who cannot be satisfied with any thing but fine sentimental strokes, and pretty speeches put into the
* See Ecl. Rev. Vol. III. p. 478.
mouths of the respective personages, may save themselves the trouble' of reading these volumes; the author is not a writer to their taste. But those who desire above all things to be instructed, will learn how to apply the surprising incidents of this history to practice; an use which the beauty of the story may have led them to overlook.
The author mentions one use of his performance, in the following modest terins : “ The history of Joseph is one of those portions of Scripture, concerning which parents may hope to speak to their children with advantage, before they are fit to receive much instruction concerning the doctrines and duties of religion. May not this book assist parents in speaking of it to iheir little ones, in a manner fiited to insinuate into their minds some of the most important lessons of religion?" We certainly think that the author has not overrated bis work ; and are satisfied also that if the old as well as the young, parents as well as children, do not derive benefit from it, the fault must be their own. Our readers have had various specimens of the Doctor's style and manner laid before them, on former occasions; we shall present a few extracts from the volumes before us, 'to show, that in the present discourses there is no material difference.
• But Jacob himself had very different views from his sons concerning Joseph's dreams, (vol. i. p. 23.) although he affected to treat them with contempt. “ His father rebuked him, and said unto him, what is this dream that thou hast dreamed ? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth.” A very natural exposition is here given of the dream, in such a manner as to suggest that it could not be accomplished. The head of a nation is often, in figurative language, signified by the sun ; and the same emblem might be applied to a family, which making a part of no other nation, might be considered as a nation by itself, especially considering how large and powerful it was. For the same reason, the mother and mistress of a family might be represented by the moon, and the children of the family by the stars. But according to this interpretation, the dream had the appearance of absurdity. Joseph would not wish nor expect that his father should do him obeisance. It would be strange if his brethren, who were all, or most of them, older than himself, should all bow down to him; and it was impossible that his mother could bow down to him, for she was already in her grave.
• But if this be the true interpretation of the dream, was not Jacob right in reproving Joseph for telling it? It is not necessary to the accomplishment of a dream, that every object which presented itself to the fancy should have something correspondent to it in the event, but only that the general idea should agree with what was afterwards to happen. Thus in parables, it would be unreasonable to seek a distinct meaning to every circumstance that may be proper in the narration for connecting its parts, or for adorning it. It is certain th:t Rachel could not bow down to Josep!, and it is not certain that any
of Jacob's VOL. IV.