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This poet was born of parents in humble circumstances at Eaglesham, in Ayrshire, in 1799. He was educated at the University of Glasgow, and in 1827 took orders in the Scottish Secession Church. In the same year he published " The Course of Time," and, on account of impaired health, left Scotland with an intention to proceed to Italy, but died, on his way, at Southampton, on the fifteenth of September. The “ Course of Time” was written during his student-life, and when, unfriended and unknown, he offered it to the publishers of Edinburgh, none of them were willing to bring it out. The manuscript was fortunately seen by Professor Wilson, who quickly perceived its merits, and effected an arrangement between the poet and Messrs. Blackwood, which resulted in its publication. The plot of the poem is very simple: The events of Time are finished, and a being from some remote world arrives in Paradise, where he inquires the meaning of the hell he has seen on his way heavenward; a bard, once of our earth, sings the story of humanity, from the beginning until time is finished,
-the righteous saved, the wicked damned,
And God's eternal government approved. The subject is a noble one, and in the poem there are graphic conceptions and passages of beauty and tenderness; but it is disfigured by amplifications and a redundancy of moral pictures; it has no continuous interest, and in parts of it which should have been and which the author endeavored to make the most impressive, particularly those in which he subjects himself to a comparison with Dante and Milton, he utterly failed.
ADMIRE the goodness of Almighty God!
He riches gave, he intellectual strength,
To few, and therefore none commands to be
Or rich, or learned ; nor promises reward
to these. On all, He moral worth
Bestowed, and moral tribute asked from all.
And who that could not pay? who born so poor,
Of intellect so mean, as not to know
What seemed the best; and, knowing, might not do ?
As not to know what God and conscience bade,
And what they bade not able to obey ?
And he, who acted thus, fulfilled the law
Eternal, and its promise reaped of peace;
peace alone : who sought it else,
Sought mellow grapes beneath the icy pole,
Sought blooming roses on the cheek of death,
Sought substance in a world of fleeting shades.
Take one example, to our purpose quite,
A man of rank, and of capacious soul,
Who riches had and fame, beyond desire,
An heir of flattery, to titles born,
And reputation, and luxurious life ;
Yet, not content with ancestorial name,
Or to be known because his fathers were,
He on this height hereditary stood,
And, gazing higher, purposed in his heart
To take another step. Above him seemed,
Alone, the mount of song, the lofty seat
Of canonized bards; and thitherward,
By nature taught, and inward melody,
In prime of youth, he bent his eagle eye.
No cost was spared. What books he wished, he read;
to hear, he heard ; what scenes to see,
He saw. And first in rambling schoolboy days
Britannia's mountain-walks, and heath-girt lakes,
And story-telling glens, and founts, and brooks,
And maids, as dewdrops pure and fair, his soul
With grandeur filled, and melody, and love.
Then travel came, and took him where he wished.
He cities saw, and courts, and princely pomp;
And mused alone on ancient mountain brows;
And mused on battle-fields, where valor fought
In other days; and mused on ruins
With years; and drank from old and fabulous wells,
And plucked the vine that first-born prophets plucked,
And mused on famous tombs, and on the wave
Of ocean mused, and on the desert waste;
The heavens and earth of every country saw.
Where'er the old inspiring genii dwelt,
Aught that could rouse, expand, refine the soul,
Thither he went, and meditated there.
He touched his harp, and nations heard, entranced ;
As some vast river of unfailing source,
Rapid, exhaustless, deep, his numbers flowed,
And opened new fountains in the human heart.
Where fancy halted, weary in her flight,
In other men, his, fresh as morning, rose,
And soared untrodden heights, and seemed at home
Where angels bashful looked. Others, though great,
Beneath their argument, seemed struggling whiles ;
He from above descending stooped to touch
The loftiest thought; and proudly stooped, as though
It scarce deserved his verse. With Nature's self
He seemed an old acquaintance, free to jest
At will with all her glorious majesty.
He laid his hand upon
“ the ocean's mane,' And played familiar with his hoary locks; Stood on the Alps, stood on the Apennines, And with the thunder talked, as friend to friend; And wove his garland of the lightning's wing, In sportive twist, the lightning's fiery wing, Which, as the footsteps of the dreadful God, Marching upon the storm in vengeance, seemed; Then turned, and with the grasshopper, who sung His evening song beneath his feet, conversed. Suns, moons, and stars, and clouds, bis sisters were ; Rocks, mountains, meteors, seas and winds and storms His brothers, younger brothers, whom he scarce As equals deemed. All passions of all men, The wild and tame, the gentle and severe; All thoughts, all maxims, sacred and profane; All creeds, all seasons, Time, Eternity; All that was hated, and all that was dear; All that was hoped, all that was feared, by, man; He tossed about, as tempest, withered leaves,
Then, smiling, looked upon the wreck he made.
With terror now he froze the cowering blood,
And now dissolved the heart in tenderness;
Yet would not tremble, would not weep himself;
But back into his soul retired, alone,
Dark, sullen, proud, gazing contemptuously
On hearts and passions prostrate at his feet.
So ocean from the plains his waves had late
To desolation swept, retired in pride,
Exulting in the glory of his might,
And seemed to mock the ruin he had wrought.
As some fierce comet of tremendous size,
To which the stars did reverence, as it passed,
So he through learning and through fancy took
His flight sublime, and on the loftiest top
Of fame's dread mountain sat; not soiled and worn,
As if he from the earth had labored up;
But as some bird of heavenly plumage fair,
He looked, which down from higher regions came,
And perched it there, to see what lay beneath.
The nations gazed, and wondered much, and praised.
Critics before him fell in humble plight,
Confounded fell, and made debasing signs
To catch his eye, and stretched, and swelled themselves
To bursting nigh, to utter bulky words
Of admiration vast: and many, too,
Many that aimed to imitate his flight,
weaker wing, unearthly fluttering made, And gave
abundant sport to after days. Great man! the nations gazed, and wondered much, And praised ; and many called his evil good. Wits wrote in favor of his wickedness, And kings to do him honor took delight. Thus, full of titles, flattery, honor, fame, Beyond desire, beyond ambition, full, He died. He died of what ? Of wretchedness ;Drank every cup of joy, heard every trump Of fame, drank early, deeply drank, drank draughts
That common millions might have quenched; then died
Of thirst, because there was no more to drink.
His goddess, Nature, wooed, embraced, enjoyed,
Fell from his arms, abhorred; his passions died,
Died, all but dreary, solitary pride;
And all his sympathies in being died.
As some ill-guided bark, well built and tall,
Which angry tides cast out on desert shore,
And then, retiring, left it there to rot
And moulder in the winds and rains of heaven;
So he, cut from the sympathies of life,
And cast ashore from pleasure's boisterous surge,
A wandering, weary, worn, and wretched thing,
Scorched, and desolate, and blasted soul,
A gloomy wilderness of dying thought,-
Repined, and groaned, and withered from the earth.
His groanings filled the land his numbers filled ;
And yet he seemed ashamed to groan: Poor man !
Ashamed to ask, and yet he needed help.
Proof this, beyond all lingering of doubt,
That not with natural or mental wealth
Was God delighted, or his peace secured ;
That not in natural or mental wealth
Was human happiness or grandeur found.
Attempt, how monstrous, and how surely vain!
With things of earthly sort, with aught but God,
With aught but moral excellence, truth, and love
To satisfy and fill the immortal soul!
Attempt, vain inconceivably ! attempt,
To satisfy the ocean with a drop,
To marry immortality to death,
And with the unsubstantial shade of time,
To fill the embrace of all eternity !
HARPS of eternity! begin the song:
Redeemed, and angel harps ! begin to God,
Begin the anthem ever sweet and new,