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And the scrolls that teach thee to live and die;
The whole scene of the duel, or judicial
all the minuteness of an ancient romancer. The modern reader will probably find it rather tedious; all but the concluding stanzas, which are in a loftier measure.
In the following passage he is less ambitious; and confines himself, as an ancient minstrel would have done on the occasion, to a minute and picturesque representation of the visible object before him:
T The priest had spoke his benison.
Then rose the riot and the din,
Above, beneath, without, within!
"The spousal rites were ended soon;
The hooded hawks, high perch'd on beam,
"'Tis done, 'tis done! that fatal blow
Has stretch'd him on the bloody plain;
In haste the holy friar sped;
Loose wav'd his silver beard and hair,
Still props him from the bloody sod,
And bids him trust in God! Unheard he prays; 'tis o'er, 'tis o'er! Richard of Musgrave breathes no more." p. 145-147. We have already made so many extracts from this poem, that we can now only afford to present our readers with one specimen of the songs which Mr. Scott has introduced in the mouths of the minstrels in the concluding It is his object, in those pieces, to exemplify the different styles of ballad narrative which prevailed in this island at different periods, or in different conditions of society. The first is constructed upon the rude and simple model of the old Border ditties, and produces its effect by the direct and concise narrative of a tragical occurrence. The second, sung by Fitztraver, the bard of the accomplished Surrey, has more of the richness and polish of the Italian poetry, and is very beautifully written, in a stanza resembling that of Spenser. The third is intended to represent that wild style of composition which prevailed among the bards of the northern continent, somewhat softened and adorned by the minstrel's residence in the south. We prefer it, upon the whole, to either of the two former, and shall give it entire to our readers; who will probably be struck with the poetical
effect of the dramatic form into which it is thrown, and of the indirect description by which every thing is most expressively told, without one word of distinct narrative.
"O listen, listen, ladies gay!
No haughty feat of arms I tell;
The black'ning wave is edg'd with white; To inch and rock the sea-mews fly; The fishers have heard the Water-Sprite, Whose screams forbode that wreck is nigh. "Last night the gifted seer did view
A wet shroud roll'd round Ladye gay:
Why cross the gloomy frith to-day?"
Rest thee in Castle Ravensheuch, Nor tempt the stormy frith to-day.
"There are twenty of Roslin's barons bold Lie buried within that proud chapelle; Each one the holy vault doth hold
But the sea holds lovely Rosabelle ! "And each St. Clair was buried there,
With candle, with book, and with knell; But the Kelpy rung, and the Mermaid sung The dirge of lovely Rosabelle !"—pp. 181-184. From the various extracts we have now given, our readers will be enabled to form a tolerably correct judgment of this poem; and if they are pleased with these portions of it which have now been exhibited, we may venture to assure them that they will not be disappointed by the perusal of the whole. The whole night-journey of Deloraine-the opening of the wizard's tomb-the march of the English battle-aud the parley before the walls of the castle, are all executed with the same spirit and poetical energy, which we think is conspicuous in the have already extracted; and a great variety of short passages occur in every part of the poem, which are still more striking and meritorious, though it is impossible to detach them, without injury, in the form of a quotation. It is but fair to apprise the reader, on the other hand, that he will meet with very heavy passages, and with a variety of details which are not likely to interest any one but a Borderer or an antiquary. We like very well
to hear "of the Gallant Chief of Otterburne," or "the Dark Knight of Liddisdale," and feel the elevating power of great names, when we read of the tribes that mustered to the war, "beneath the crest of old Dunbar, and Hepburn's mingled banners." But we really cannot so far sympathise with the local partialities of the author, as to feel any glow of patriotism or ancient virtue in hearing of the Todrig or Johnston clans, or of Elliots, Armstrongs, and Tinlinns; still less can we relish the introduction of Black John of Athelstane, Whitslade the Hawk, Arthur-fire-the-braes, Red Roland Forster, or any other of those wor thies who
"Sought the beeves that made their broth, In Scotland and in England both,"
into a poem which has any pretensions to seriousness or dignity. The ancient metrical romance might have admitted those homely personalities; but the present age will not endure them: And Mr. Scott must either sacrifice his Border prejudices, or offend all his readers in the other parts of the empire.
There are many passages, as we have already insinuated, which have the general character of heaviness, such is the minstrel's account of his preceptor, and Deloraine's lamentation over the dead body of Mus grave: But the goblin page is, in our opinion, the capital deformity of the poem. We have already said that the whole machinery is useless: but the magic studies of the lady, and the rifled tomb of Michael Scott, give occasion to so much admirable poetry, that we can on no account consent to part with them. The page, on the other hand, is a perpetual burden to the poet, and to the reader: it is an undignified and improbable fiction, wi which excites neither terror, admiration, nor astonishment; but needlessly debases the strain of the whole work, and excites at once our incredulity and contempt. He is not a "tricksy spirit," like Ariel, with whom the imagination is irresistibly enamoured; nor a tiny monarch, like Oberon, disposing of the desti nies of mortals: He rather appears to us to be an awkward sort of a mongrel between Puck and Caliban; of a servile and brutal nature; and limited in his powers to the indulgence of petty malignity, and the infliction of despicable injuries. Besides this objection to his character, his existence has no support from any general or established superstition. Fairies and devils, ghosts, angels, and witches, are creatures with whom we are all familiar and who excite in all classes of mankind emotions with which we can easily be made to sympathise. But the story of Gilpin Horner can never have been believed out of the village where he is said to have made his appearance; and has no claims upon the credulity of those who were not originally of his acquaintance. There is nothing at all interesting or elegant in the scenes of which he is the hero; and in reading those passages, we really could not help suspecting that they did not stand in the romance when the aged min strel recited it to the royal Charles and his
We have called the negligence which could leave such lines as these in a poem of this nature inexcusable; because it is perfectly evident, from the general strain of his composition, that Mr. Scott has a very accurate ear for the harmony of versification, and that he composes with a facility which must lighten the labour of correction. There are some smaller faults in the diction which might have. been as well corrected also: there is too much alliteration; and he reduplicates his words too often. We have "never, never," several times; besides "tis o'er, 'tis o'er"-"in vain, in vain"-"'tis done, 'tis done;" and several other echoes as ungraceful.
Of the diction of this poem we have but little to say. From the extracts we have already given, our readers will perceive that We will not be tempted to say any thing the versification is in the highest degree ir- more of this poem. Although it does not regular and capricious. The nature of the contain any great display of what is properly work entitled Mr. Scott to some licence in this called invention, it indicates perhaps as much respect, and he often employs it with a very vigour and originality of poetical genius as any pleasing effect; but he has frequently ex-performance which has been lately offered to ceeded its just limits, and presented us with the public. The locality of the subject is such combinations of metre, as must put the likely to obstruct its popularity; and the auteeth of his readers, we think, into some thor, by confining himself in a great measure jeopardy. He has, when he pleases, a very to the description of manners and personal melodious and sonorous style of versification, adventures, has forfeited the attraction which but often composes with inexcusable negli- might have been derived from the delineation gence and rudeness. There is a great number of rural scenery. But he has manifested a of lines in which the verse can only be made degree of genius which cannot be overlooked, out by running the words together in a very and given indication of talents that seem well unusual manner; and some appear to us to worthy of being enlisted in the service of the have no pretension to the name of verses at epic muse. all. What apology, for instance, will Mr. Scott make for the last of these two lines? "For when in studious mood he pac'd St. Kentigern's hall."
or for these?
mighty earls, but were inserted afterwards to suit the taste of the cottagers among whom he begged his bread on the Border. We entreat Mr. Scott to inquire into the grounds of this suspicion; and to take advantage of any decent pretext he can lay hold of for purging "The Lay" of this ungraceful intruder. We would also move for a Quo Warranto against the spirits of the river and the mountain; for though they are come of a very high lineage, we do not know what lawful business they could have at Branksome castle in the year
"How the brave boy in future war, Should tame the unicorn's pride."
The notes, which contain a great treasure of Border history and antiquarian learning, are too long, we think, for the general reader. The form of the publication is also too expensive; and we hope soon to see a smaller edition, with an abridgement of the notes, for the use of the mere lovers of poetry.
The Lady of the Lake: a Poem. By WALTER SCOTT. Second Edition. 8vo. pp. 434: 1810.
MR. SCOTT, though living in an age unusually prolific of original poetry, has manifestly outstripped all his competitors in the race of popularity; and stands already upon a height to which no other writer has attained in the memory of any one now alive. We doubt, indeed, whether any English poet ever had so many of his books sold, or so many of his verses read and admired by such a multitude of persons in so short a time. We are credibly informed that nearly thirty thousand copies of "The Lay" have been already disposed a case, the office of the critic may not be altogether superfluous. Though the success of the author be decisive, and even likely to be permanent, it still may not be without its use to point out, in consequence of what, and in spite of what, he has succeeded; nor altogether uninstructive to trace the precise limits of the connection which, even in this dull world, indisputably subsists between success
proof of extraordinary merit,—a far surer one, we readily admit, than would be afforded by any praises of ours: and, therefore, though we pretend to be privileged, in ordinary cases, to foretell the ultimate reception of all claims on public admiration, our function may be thought to cease, where the event is already so certain and conspicuous. As it is a sore thing, however, to be deprived of our privileges on so important an occasion, we hope to be pardoned for insinuating, that, even in such
of in this country; and that the demand for Marmion, and the poem now before us, has been still more considerable,-a circulation we believe, altogether without example, in the case of a bulky work, not addressed to the bigotry of the mere mob, either religious or political.
A popularity so universal is a pretty sure
and desert, and to ascertain how far unexampled popularity does really imply unrivalled talent.
As it is the object of poetry to give pleasure, it would seem to be a pretty safe conclusion, that that poetry must be the best which gives the greatest pleasure to the greatest number of persons. Yet we must pause a little, before we give our assent to so plausible a proposition. It would not be quite correct, we fear, to say that those are invariably the best judges who are most easily pleased. The great multitude, even of the reading world, must necessarily be uninstructed and injudicious; and will frequently be found, not only to derive pleasure from what is worthless in finer eyes, but to be quite insensible to those beauties which afford the most exquisite delight to more cultivated understandings. True pathos and sublimity will indeed charm every one: but, out of this lofty sphere, we are pretty well convinced, that the poetry which appears most perfect to a very refined taste, will not often turn out to be very popular poetry.
This, indeed, is saying nothing more, than that the ordinary readers of poetry have not a very refined taste; and that they are often insensible to many of its highest beauties, while they still more frequently mistake its imperfections for excellence. The fact, when stated in this simple way, commonly excites neither opposition nor surprise: and yet, if it be asked, why the taste of a few individuals, who do not perceive beauty where many others perceive it, should be exclusively dignified with the name of a good taste; or why poetry, which gives pleasure to a very great number of readers, should be thought inferior to that which pleases a much smaller number, the answer, perhaps, may not be quite so ready as might have been expected from the alacrity of our assent to the first proposition. That there is a good answer to be given, however, we entertain no doubt: and if that which we are about to offer should not appear very clear or satisfactory, we must submit to have it thought, that the faul is not altogether in the subject.
It is to be considered also, that though it be the end of poetry to please, one of the parties whose pleasure, and whose notions of excellence, will always be primarily consulted in its composition, is the poet himself; and as he must necessarily be more cultivated than the great body of his readers, the presumption is, that he will always belong, comparatively speaking, to the class of good judges, and endeavour, consequently, to produce that sort of excellence which is likely to meet with their approbation. When authors, therefore, and those of whose suffrages authors are most ambitious, thus conspire to fix upon the same standard of what is good in taste and composition, it is easy to see how it should come to bear this name in society, in preference to what might afford more pleasure to individuals of less influence. Besides all this, it is ob vious that it must be infinitely more difficult to produce any thing conformable to this exalted standard, than merely to fall in with the current of popular taste. To attain the former object, it is necessary, for the most part, to understand thoroughly all the feelings and associations that are modified or created by cultivation :-To accomplish the latter, it will often be sufficient merely to have observed the course of familiar preferences. Success. however, is rare, in proportion as it is difficult; and it is needless to say, what a vast addition rarity makes to value, or how exactly our admiration at success is proportioned to our sense of the difficulty of the undertaking.
Such seem to be the most general and immediate causes of the apparent paradox, of reckoning that which pleases the greatest number as inferior to that which pleases the few; and such the leading grounds for fixing the standard of excellence, in a question of mere feeling and gratification, by a different rule than that of the quantity of gratification produced. With regard to some of the fine arts-for the distinction between popular and actual merit obtains in them all-there are no other reasons, perhaps, to be assigned; and, in Music for example, when we have said that it is the authority of those who are best quali fied by nature and study, and the difficulty and rarity of the attainment, that entitles cer tain exquisite performances to rank higher than others that give far more general delight, we have probably said all that can be said in explanation of this mode of speaking and judging. In poetry, however, and in some other departments, this familiar, though somewhat extraordinary rule of estimation, is justified by other considerations.
As it is the cultivation of natural and per
In the first place, then, it should be remembered, that though the taste of very good judges is necessarily the taste of a few, it is implied, in their description, that they are persons eminently qualified, by natural sensibility, and long experience and reflection, to perceive all beauties that really exist, as well as to settle the relative value and importance of all the different sorts of beauty;-they are in that very state, in short, to which all who are in any degree capable of tasting those re-haps universal capacities, that produces that fined pleasures would certainly arrive, if their refined taste which takes away our pleasure sensibility were increased, and their experi- in vulgar excellence, so, it is to be considered, ence and reflection enlarged. It is difficult, that there is an universal tendency to the protherefore, in following out the ordinary analo- pagation of such a taste; and that, in times gies of language, to avoid considering them as tolerably favourable to human happiness, in the right, and calling their taste the true there is a continual progress and improvement and the just one; when it appears that it is in this, as in the other faculties of nations and such as is uniformly produced by the cultiva- large assemblages of men. The number of tion of those faculties upon which all our per- intelligent judges may therefore be regarded ceptions of taste so obviously depend. as perpetually on the increase. The inner
circle, to which the poet delights chiefly to pitch his voice, is perpetually enlarging; and, looking to that great futurity to which his ambition is constantly directed, it may be found, that the most refined style of composition to which he can attain, will be, at the last, the most extensively and permanently popular. This holds true, we think, with regard to all the productions of art that are open to the inspection of any considerable part of the community; but, with regard to poetry in-of a splendid and unmeaning accumulation particular, there is one circumstance to be at- of those images and phrases which had long tended to, that renders this conclusion pecu- charmed every reader in the works of their liarly safe, and goes far indeed to reconcile original inventors. the taste of the multitude with that of more cultivated judges.
of unsuitable finery. There are other features, no doubt, that distinguish the idols of vulgar admiration from the beautiful exemplars of pure taste; but this is so much the most characteristic and remarkable, that we know no way in which we could so shortly describe the poetry that pleases the multitude, and displeases the select few, as by saying that it consisted of all the most known and most brilliant parts of the most celebrated authors,
As it seems difficult to conceive that mere cultivation should either absolutely create or utterly destroy any natural capacity of enjoyment, it is not easy to suppose, that the qualities which delight the uninstructed should be substantially different from those which give pleasure to the enlightened. They may be arranged according to a different scale, and certain shades and accompaniments may be more or less indispensable; but the qualities in a poem that give most pleasure to the refined and fastidious critic, are in substance, we believe, the very same that delight the most injudicious of its admirers:-and the very wide difference which exists between their usual estimates, may be in a great degree accounted for, by considering, that the one judges absolutely, and the other relatively -that the one attends only to the intrinsic qualities of the work, while the other refers more immediately to the merit of the author. The most popular passages in popular poetry, are in fact, for the most part, very beautiful and striking; yet they are very often such passages as could never be ventured on by any writer who aimed at the praise of the judicious; and this, for the obvious reason, that they are trite and hackneyed,-that they have been repeated till they have lost all grace and propriety, and, instead of exalting the imagination by the impression of original genius or creative fancy, only nauseate and offend, by the association of paltry plagiarism and impudent inanity. It is only, however, on those who have read and remembered the original passages, and their better imitations, that this effect is produced. To the ignorant and the careless, the twentieth imitation has all the charm of an original; and that which oppresses the more experienced reader with weariness and disgust, rouses them with all the force and vivacity of novelty. It is not then, because the ornaments of popular poetry are deficient in intrinsic worth and beauty, that they are slighted by the critical reader, but because he at once recognises them to be - stolen, and perceives that they are arranged without taste or congruity. In his indignation at the dishonesty, and his contempt for the poverty of the collector, he overlooks altogether the value of what he has collected, or remembers it only as an aggravation of his offence, -as converting larceny into sacrilege, and adding the guilt of profanation to the folly
The justice of these remarks will probably be at once admitted by all who have attended to the history and effects of what may be called Poetical diction in general, or even of such particular phrases and epithets as have been indebted to their beauty for too great a notoriety. Our associations with all this class of expressions, which have become trite only in consequence of their intrinsic excellence, now suggest to us no ideas but those of schoolboy imbecility and childish affectation. We look upon them merely as the common, hired, and tawdry trappings of all who wish to put on, for the hour, the masquerade habit of poetry; and, instead of receiving from them any kind of delight or emotion, do not even distinguish or attend to the signification of the words of which they consist. The ear is so palled with their repetition, and so accustomed to meet with them as the habitual expletives of the lowest class of versifiers, that they come at last to pass over it without exciting any sort of conception whatever, and are not even so much attended to as to expose their most gross incoherence or inconsistency to detection. It is of this quality that Swift has availed himself in so remarkable a manner, in his famous "Song by a person of quality," which consists entirely in a selection of some of the most trite and well-sounding phrases and epithets in the poetical lexicon of the time, strung together without any kind of meaning or consistency, and yet so disposed, as to have been perused, perhaps by one half of their readers, without any suspicion of the deception. Most of those phrases, however, which had thus become sickening, and almost insignificant, to the intelligent readers of poetry in the days of Queen Anne, are in themselves beautiful and expressive, and, no doubt, retain much of their native grace in those ears that have not been alienated by their repetition.
But it is not merely from the use of much excellent diction, that a modern poet is thus debarred by the lavishness of his predecessors. There is a certain range of subjects and characters, and a certain manner and tone, which were probably, in their origin, as graceful and attractive, which have been proscribed by the same dread of imitation. It would be too long to enter, in this place, into any detailed examination of the peculiarities-originating chiefly in this source-which distinguish ancient from modern poetry. It may be enough just to remark, that, as the elements of poet