ページの画像
PDF
ePub

&c. I shall pass over his Christopher Columbus, a poor essay, which our academicans would call romantique; it is composed of fragments united by explanatory titles, in which there are more points than verses, and in which the summary is more extended than the poem. But how is it possible to deny the harmony of the philosophical poem, the Pleasures of Memory? All its details are select, delicate, and ingenious •, the whole is full of agreeable reverie, like the sound of distant music, and such is also the impression generally produced by a reversion of the mind to the subject. The poet has especially defined, with great felicity of effect, the association of material objects with memory, of those objects which "whisper of the past," a happy expression, which is incapable of being translated.

The opening which introduces us into the midst of a rural landscape, prepares us in the first instance for the tender emotions of which the poem is the source. The allusions sometimes seem to be short and abrupt; those, for instance, which, when explained in a note, interest us more than as they stand in the text: but there occurred the danger of multiplying episodes, and losing sight of the original conception of the poem.

The plan of Human Life is less successful, because it embraces every thing, and necessarily remains incomplete.

"Chaque age a son esprit, ses plaisirs ct ses mceurs."

Human Life is an imperfect developement of these verses of Boileau ; but it is less a series of descriptions, than of moral reflections on the unforeseen revolutions which occur in the human mind, in accordance with the progress of the age, and the course of the events of life. Entirely contemplative, without local description, and without individual characters, the poem abounds in common places, to which the polish of the style is not always capable of imparting attraction.

One of the most frequently quoted passages is, the beautiful description of the mother embracing and suckling her first-born son. Several graceful images of the same description follow, expressed with elegance and purity; but there is nothing striking, and nothing newer than the verse, wherein the poet has translated the charming line of Virgil—

"Incipe, parvepuer, rku cognotcere matrem"

This picture of the infant in its cradle, and of the tender admonition of the mother, has inspired the sombre genius of Byron with an idea worthy of Albano, or Raphael; that in which Adam speaks to Cain, while showing him the little Enoch on the point of waking. Cain, Act the 2nd. Campbell in the Pleasures of Hope has also placed an unhappy mother near the cradle of her sleeping son; the sight of whom inspires the song of melancholy tenderness,

"Sleep, image of thy father, See."

And to this picture, Campbell adds that of the first lessons of the mother, which has furnished Westall with the subject of that graceful vignette, in which the child, on its knees, with its little hands joined, is learning to lisp its prayers.

Rogers has been more successfully inspired in the description of the marriage festival, and some rural or domestic scenes which contrast with those in Crabbe; for Rogers, who bears the reputation of great skill in writing an anonymous epigram, does not permit himself the indulgence of the slightest satirical expression in his poems.

The Pleasures of Hope is a didactic poem, like the Pleasures of Memory; but the future lyrical poet is detected there, in the vagueness of the plot, the greater licence of the transitions, and a more frequent boldness of thought and image; in a more rapid march of the style, and especially in its eloquent apostrophes, like those to Kosciusko and Liberty, which terminate the first canto. Compared with Rogers's poem, that of Campbell satisfies the judgment less; notwithstanding it has some more striking passages, it leaves fewer impressions on the mind; the poet stands in need of all the brilliancy of his style to give us satisfaction. This arises from the defectiveness of the subject; for the Pleasures of Memory may be sketched within the limits of a poem, but what limits can be set to those of hope? which not only embrace terrestrial things, but quit their limits, create new worlds, new divinities, and paradise, &c. &c. Campbell's poem more effectually evades analysis than that of Rogers.

Campbell for several years seemed to content himself with the success of his first poem; some short lyrical compositions alone appeared at long intervals, to re-awaken the attention which the Pleasures of Hope had excited: a larger work of the author's had been long promised in the bookseller's advertisements, when Gertrude of Wyoming, an episode of the revolutions of Pennsylvania, made its appearance. The versification and the details of this poem, demonstrated that the talent of Mr. Campbell had matured itself; but if Ihe fable be analyzed, one is tempted to infer, that everything has been sacrificed to a desire of disarming criticism by the unremitted elegance of the style, which possesses all the harmony peculiar to that of Goldsmith, and the vigour of Johnson, joined to that brilliancy which recalls the imaginative splendour of Spencer. The action is as much neglected as the style is polished; each idea is complete, but appears isolated; a defect rendered more obvious by the rhyme of the stanza of nine lines which the poet has adopted; it might be called a long series of sonnets. This construction is also the same which Byron has chosen for his Childe Harold,but in Childe Harold, there is no unity of action, all is descriptive. Gertrude is an almost pastoral subject, which perhaps required more ease and simplicity. Such, however, as it is, Campbell's poem exhibits admirable contrasts. The grand scenes of American landscape are happily contrasted with the patriarchal life of the colonists; the majestic sketch of old Oneyda, and his savage eloquence, are in harmony with the mountains, the ancient forests, and the lakes of his native soil. He is worthy of taking his place by the side of Chactas. His character is less developed than that of Atala's lover; but his physiognomy possesses something more frank and local, because, like Chactas, he has not been half civilized by contact with the inhabitants of Europe. The infancy and love of Waldgrave and Gertrude unfavourably recal the exquisite groupe of Paul and Virginia; but Campbell has made no more than a sketch of that which composes so dramatic a picture in Bernardin de St. Pierre. Let us forget, for Campbell's sake, comparisons of this kind. The merit of the rhythm remains his own; for the English, especially, are incapable of comprehending to what a degree St Pierre and Chateaubriand are poets in prose.

Wyoming, where Campbell has laid the scene of his poem, is a village, on the banks of the Susquehanna, which was ravaged and burnt in 1778, by the Indians of the anti-republican party. The poet has been reproached with his choice of a subject, which is naturally calculated to wound the national pride; but this imputation has not been more fatal to him than that which some critics amongst us have addressed to the author of the Vespres Siciliennes. The Messenniennes of Casimir Delavigne, and the Ode on the Battle of Hohen

Vol. n. o

« 前へ次へ »