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This is a jewel of a book. We remember meeting Mr. Hall at Pickering's, the booksellers, when the first volume of this beauteous work was in embryo and as we looked over the proofs of the engravings and read a list of the authors to be illustrated, we prophesied a success to the undertaking unparalelled in the history of Annuals. Since this time three volumes have appeared ; the third is now lying before us.
“The Book of Gems”—of a certainty'tis no misnomer for a work so sumptuous as this. 'Tis truly a book of gems, “ dug from the mines of art”—from the mines of painting, of oetry, of sculpture—mines inexhaustibly full of wealth, more precious than Golconda treasures. We envy the man who can devote a life to the working of these mines—who has no harder daily task to perform than the digging up of these bright gems and arranging them museumwise for the inspection of the world. We should ourselves set about such a work as this with a right-earnestness, but little accordant with the sluggishness of our phlegmatic temperament—provided that we had an amanuensis. How delicious to lie upon a couch, with heaps of poetry around us, choosing our author according to the mood of the moment; if kindly-hearted betaking ourselves to the sweet domesticities of dear, good Wordsworth ; if gloomy, disgusted and nuisanthropical to the sunless cavern-depths of dark-souled Byron ; it languid and enervated and luxury-lapped to the “silken dalliance” of Moore's sense subduing, Sardanapalean Muse; if restless, and soaring and Utopian to the high-wrou.ht imaginings of bewildering Shelley; and thus to wander at will in the garden of poetry, culling flowers and wreathing garlands, free and unfettered to go where we list with no one to control our excursiveness. We would willingly leave Grey to his “ Marivaux and Crebillon,” whilst we luxuriated in the poets of our time—a time which has seen the radiance of a brighter galaxy of poets, than any half century in the life of our literature.
There are some who will take exception to this, and cite against us the Shakesperian aera. We are a little staggered, but we maintain our ground. Shakespeare is so hallowed a name, that it would seem an impiety to measure any intellect with his, so giant-sized are all its proportions. But one flower, though it be an aloe, which blooms once in a hundred years, makes not a fair garden ; and one palace, though grander than Nero's, makes not a fine city. Shakespeare stands alone, unrivalled ; we set up none against him, he is a sort of intellectual O'Brien, and it would be no fairer to bring him forward in disproof of our assertion than it would be to support an argument in favour of the improved physical condition of mankind, by citing the Irish giant as an example. We will not suffer this battle to be decided by single combat. We speak of an age nut of an individual—a galaxy of bright stars—the greater and the lesser ones together—ay, even to the “luminous haze which links star to star,” the myriad of small wits which add to the brightness of the whole, though individually they have no distinct place in the map of our poetical heavens. “But bethink you,” our Elizabethan antagonist exclaims, “ of Spenser, and Fletcher, and Marlowe, and Ford, and Ben Jonson, and Herrick, and Massinger, and a host of other doughty-mailed Knights.” We have not a Spenser, but we have a Wordsworth and a Shelley. We have not a Fletcher, but we have a Keats and a Lamb ; we have not a Marlowe, but we have a Leigh Hunt; and so, we might go through the catalo-ue ; and, dispersing the fog of antiquity, seen through which all objects are magnified, we might show that the grants of our own time are gigantic as the great men of the past. Let us take the volume now before us as a sample of the Georgian poetry. It is but a poor sample, however, for brighter gems might have been collected than those in the casket on our table. But still they are gems, and although imperfectly, they will serve to illustrate our position. The poetry in this volume is at least equal to that contained in the first volume of the Gems—far superior to that in the second. Wordsworth stands first in the list and rightly, as undoubtedly the greatest poet of onr age. He who is not a great philosopher can never be a great poet. In the writings of William Wordsworth we trace everywhere the workings of a grand philosophic mind—there is nothing little or sordid, or contemptible; all is elevating, purifying, ennobling. He is the most soul-cleansing of poets—it is almost impossible that his disciples should be proud, or selfish, or harsh, or uncharitable. We love him and could write for ever in his praise. We owe more to him than to any human writer, for he has taught us one grand lesson, the truth of which few will venture to dispute,
that Man is of times nobler when he creeps Than when he soars.
We confess that we were far different from what we are now before we adopted the Wordsworthian philosophy. But this is very little to the purpose.
In opening the volume before us, at the head of the first page of selections, we see the great good man himself in an exquisite engraving from Pickersgill's picture. This is the only portrait in the book. It is a gem ; but the gem of all gems is the poem in the pages that succeed. We boldly challenge our imagined Elizabethan antagonist to bring forward a poem of equal length, from the writings of any other poet, we care not of what age, containing so much philosophy, so much tenderness, so much harmony; in short, so much poetry, both of thought and diction, as the ode entitled “ Intimations of immortality from recollections of childhood.” In our very humble opinion, it is the finest lyric poem in the English language. Mr. Hall did well in giving it the place that he has assigned to it, in his book. It is a poem full of haunting lines—of lines ever remembered, and often quoted by those, who know not the source whence they come. It has been said, that the greatest compliment you can pay an author is to quote him, and if this be the case, Wordsworth has been more complimented than any of our poets, with the exception of Shakespeare. The Ettrick Shepherd used to say that there were only three books worth looking into for quotations: the Old Testament, Shakespeare's Plays, and Wordsworth's Excursion.
But this is no proof of his popularity. , Wordsworth is not popular—his writings have had a far greater influence in these days than they are generally supposed to be invested with: but this influence has been almost entirely latent ; and the superficial observer would scarely mark the under-current, so silently flowing has been its course. Many, who contemn Wordsworth, the originator, admire and extol his creations at , second hand in the writings of others. He has been more pillaged than any poet of the age, and his stolen goods have been more commended. Byron, though he made a laughing stock of the author of the Excursion, hesitated not to borrow from him by wholesale. The young poets of the present day are sad marauders of the Wordsworthian treasures, and we have uniformly observed, that they are popular in proportion to the boldness of their depredations. Mr. Taylor, the author of Philip Van Arteveldt, may stand as a fair specimen of these literary pirates, for his success has been in proportion to his dishonesty. We have neither Mr. Taylor's peom nor the Excursion at present within our reach; but we can remember two passages of the former, which were especially lauded by one of the most influential of our critical Leviathans, and which are mere transcripts from Wordsworth's great work.
He who lacks time to mourn, lacks time to mend.
seems to us, but another way of expressing the moral sentiment in this passage of the Eccursion.
– There is often found
is a mere repetition of
- Strongest minds
the lines preceding which Byron has made use of in the “ Prophesy of Dante.”
Many are poets who have never penned -
Many are poets, but without the name,
We have especially alluded to these passages of Philip Van Arteveldt, because they were ridiculously bepuffed and italicized in the Edinburgh Review, with about the same degree of discrimination, with that which made a critic in the Quarterly point out to, for the reader's especial admiration, this line of Mr. Talfourd's Ion :
“ Those are the patient sorrows which touch nearest;” a line, which is so near akin to one in Ford's Broken Heart,
“Those are the silent griefs which cut the heart-strings,”
that we should have thought a critic, with a common share of poetical reading, would have discovered the plagiarism at once. Mr. Talfourd is another of those gentlemen who are so largely indebted to Wordsworth. If that poet had never existed, Ion would never have been written, or if written, it would be somethin totally different from the work which has been called into being. Philip Va. Arteseldt and Ion are both of the Wordsworthian school, and they are infinitely the most popular poems which have made their appearance for several years. This is the nature of Wordsworth's influence in the present day, latent and indirect. Posterity will tell a different tale, though we may not live to hear it.
We have dwelt a long time upon Wordsworth and his writings, but we trust, that we have not wearied the patience of one of our readers. "What we have
written, we have written with a whole-heartedness far removed beyond shortcomings and misgivings; and to be in earnest is a charm which beyond all others, rivets the attention of the reader. But we must pass on to others of these gemmed worthies. Whom have we next 7 Lord Byron.
The illustration is a dog by Landseer. We know not whether Mr. Hall intended by this any particular satire on his Lordship. If intended, we duly appreciate it. 'Tis eminently characteristic of the poet and his writings, of the snarling tone of the Byronic philosophy. We sincerely pity the man, who wrote the lines which are appended to this engraving. “ The inscription on a Newfoundland dog.” They are untrue, malevolent, and self-convicting. The abuse lavished on the world redounds against the author, and the confession at the end is an acknowledgment of unworthiness. He who never knew a friend never deservo cdone, and for such a man a dog is a fitting companion. These lines are our especial aversion. We are ready to acknowledge the unequalled power with which Lord Byron has pourtrayed human nature in one particular aspect, the aspect in which he beheld it, when he looked into his own dark soul. His range was limited, his philophy mistaken, his imagination diseased. He does not elevate, he degrades, he has little sympathy with the pure and the beautiful. He cannot admire, but he can scorn; and he thinks that pride is greatness, the most lamentable of all errors, for pride.
Howe'er disguised in its own majesty,
Far nobler is it to love than to hate, to admire than to contemn, to sympathize with than to shun our fellows.
We live by admiration, hope and love,
We need not say that these lines are Wordsworth's, nor point out the severity
with which they may be applied to the stern moralist who can speak of humanity in terms so degrading as this:—
Oh! man, thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Now, in our opinion, these lines for rancorous drivel are unsurpassed by any we have ever read. They are slime ; and we know not whether we feel more pity or more disgust as we read them. Our own conviction is so opposite to that contained in the second couplet of this extract, that we are always rejoiced to have an opportunity of declaring, that the more we see of mankind the more rooted we become in our optimism. An increase of years, with its attendant increase of experience, only renders our philosophy more cheerful. Perhaps we are more fortunate than others, but almost every dav adds a little to our store of love and admiration; and as for friends, we think, it will be a long time before we betake ourselves to the brute creation. We know too fine a specimen of humanity to be ever driven to such miserable straits.
Southey and Moore follow next: we think the former the greatest writer, now living, and the latter the prettiest rhymester. We shall say nothing of them, but pass on to the next on the list, who is a poet, a true poet, and one of our favorites—Percy Bysshe Shelley. Leigh Hunt has written the prefatory scrap of biography, in his own most generous spirit; but it would seem that he had not written quite enough for the purpose, as Mr. Hall has appended to these remarks a few sentences of his own, to make then fit, we suppose, and in these few, sentences he has contrived, with most praiseworthy candour, to neutralize all Hunt's generosity. , Now we are at issue on this point with Mr. Hall. We remember, two or three years ago, (the gentleman was then editor of the New Monthly Magazine) that in the periodical just named, it was with reference to a forgotten work of our own, he spoke of Shelley “as one of the most brilliant but most hollow-hearted of created beings.” Now, if there be any one word in the English language less descriptive of Shelley's heart than all others, it is certainly that word hollow. He was a remarkably full-hearted man: from the very fullness of his heart proceeded all his errors; he was mistaken but he was certainly sincere. Leight Ilunt, in his prefatory observations, remarks that “ whether his (Shelley's) speculations were well or ill grounded he is acknowledged on all hands to have been sincere in the pursuit of them, and that his friends entertain the sincerest regard for his memory.” It is very evident that Leigh Hunt knew little of the man whom he was writing for, and that he little bargained for the editor's appendix, when these lines were penned, he could little have thought that Mr. Samnel Caster Hall would insert in his piece of joinery such a neutralizing passage ast the following. “The dangerous tendency of Shelley's writings, his mistakes theoretical and practical, in some instances acknowledged by himself, will not find from others the excuse they have found from those, who had personal segard for the man as well as admiration for the poet. Shelley may have been, as it is contended he was, sincere in his schemes for reinodelling society ; bu his doctrines are not therefore the less pernicious.” See what infinite pains the editor takes to falsify Leigh Hunt's words. Mr. Hunt says “it is acknowledged on all hands that Shelley was sincere,” but Mr. Hall, for whom he is writing, will acknowledge nothing of the kind. “He may have been sincere,” says this generous editor, “in his schemes for remodelling society.” We should very much like to know what interested motives he could have had, seein that his birth, his talents, and his fortune might have placed him, had it so
leased him, in the very highest ranks of the society he wished to remodel. If *...ho. had advocated a communion of property he would surely have been acknowledged sincere. Mr. Owen of Lanark is sincere ; it he were a poor man, people might doubt the fact, but as he is wealthy, it is past dispute. Mr. Shelley was born an aristocrat; it he had sprung from the dregs of the people, then Mr. Hall might have doubted his sincerity.
We are neither disposed to quarrel with, nor to commend, the editor for the selections he has made from Shelley. He seems to have gone upon his neutralizing system ; having introduced us to one of the worst and one of the best of Shelley’s minor pieces. Perhaps this is but fair, as the duty of a selector should be to present the reader with such specimens of a poet, as may give the best idea to a stranger of the general qualities of that poet's muse, both as to its beauties and its defects. Mr. Hall, in the present instance at least, has done this most conscientiously, he has given us “The Cloud,” which exhibits the peculiar vices of Shelley's genius, obscurity and extravagance, more glaringly than any poem we know. Beauties it has of rhythm and diction assuredly, but it is a most bewildering poem, as far removed from the sphere of human sympathy, as poetry possibly can be. We never in our life read a poem so overladen with discordant metaphors. Let us take two stanzas as specimens of the incongruous images which a wildly exuberant fancy will conjure up in relation to