Page images
PDF
EPUB

the management of a story, when that story has to be told in verse. The difficulty is easily analyzed. In all mere narrations there are particulars of the dullest prose, which are inevitable and indispensable, but which serve no other purpose than to bind together the true interest of the incidents-in a word, explanatory passages, which are yet to be “so done into verse” as not to let down the imagination from its pride of place. Absolutely to poetize these explanatory passages is beyond the reach of art, for prose, and that of the flattest kind, is their essentiality ; but the skill of the artist should be sufficient to gloss them over so as to seem poetry amid the poetry by which they are surrounded. For this end a very consummate art is demanded. Here the tricks of phraseology-quaintnesses—and rhythmical effects, come opportunely into play. Of the species of skill required, Moore, in his “ Alciphron," has given us, upon the whole, the happiest ex- . emplification; but Mrs. Lewis has very admirably succeeded in her " Child of the Sea." I am strongly tempted, by way of showing what I mean, to give here a digest of her narrative, with comments—but this would be doing the author injustice, in anticipating the interest of her work.

The poem, although widely differing in subject from any of Mrs. Lewis' prior compositions, and far superior to any of them in general vigor, artistic skill, and assured certainty of purpose, is nevertheless easily recognisable as the production of the same mind which originated “ Florence” and “The Forsaken.” We perceive, throughout, the same passion, the same enthusiasm, and the same seemingly reckless abandon of thought and manner which I have already mentioned as characterizing the writer. I should have spoken also, of a fastidious yet most sensitive and almost voluptuous sense of Beauty. These are the general traits of “The Child of the Sea;” but undoubtedly the chief value of the poem, to ordinary readers, will be found to lie in the aggregation of its imaginative passages—its quotable points. I give a few of these at random :--the description of sunset upon the Bay of Gibraltar will compare favorably with anything of a similar character ever written :

Fresh blows the breeze on Tarick’s burnished bay;
The silent sea-mews bend them through the spray:

The Beauty-freighted barges bound afar

To the soft music of the gay guitar.
I quote further :

-the oblivious world of sleep
That rayless realm where Fancy never beams-
That Nothingness beyond the Land of Dreams.....
Folded his arms across his sable vest,
As if to keep the heart within his breast.

-he lingers by the streams,
Pondering on incommunicable themes.....
Nor notes the fawn that tamely by him glides
The violets lifting up their azure eyes
Like timid virgins whom Love's steps surprise.. ...
And all is hushed-s0 still—80 silent there
That one might hear an angel wing the air.....
Adown the groves and dewy vales afar
Tinkles the serenader's soft guitar.....

--her tender cares,
Her solemn sighs, her silent streaming tears,
Her more than woman's soft solicitude
To soothe his spirit in its frantic mood.....
Now by the crags—then by each pendant bough
Steadies his steps adown the mountain's brow.. ...
Sinks on his crimson couch, so long unsought,
And floats along the phantom stream of thought.....
Ah, no! for there are times when the sick soul
Lies calm amid the storms that round it roll,
Indifferent to Fate or to what haven
By the terrific tempest it is driven.....
The Dahlias, leaning from the golden vase,
Peer pensively upon her pallid face,
While the sweet songster o'er the oaken door
Looks through his grate and warbles weep no more !"....

lovely in her misery,
As jewel sparkling up through the dark sea.....
Where hung the fiery moon and stars of blood,
And phantom ships rolled on the rolling flood.....
My mind by grief was ripened ere its time,
And knowledge came spontaneous as a chime
That flows into the soul, unbid, unsought;
On Earth and Air and Heaven I fed my thought
On Ocean's teachings—Ætna's lava tears-
Ruins and wrecks and nameless sepulchres.....
Each morning brought to them untasted bliss.
No pangs-no sorrows came with varying years,
No cold distrust-no faithlessless-Do tears....

But hand in hand as Eve and Adam trod

Eden, they walked beneath the smile of God. It will be understood, of course, that we quote these brief passages by no means as the best, or even as particularly excelling the rest of the poem, on an averaged estimate of merit, but simply with a view of exemplifying some of the author's more obvious traits—those, especially, of vigorous rhythm, and forcible expression. In no case can the loftier qualities of a truly great poem be conveyed through the citation of its component portions, in detail, even when long extracts are given--how much less, then, by such mere points as we have selected.

“The Broken Heart” (included with “ The Child of the Sea") is even more characteristic of Mrs. Lewis than that very remarkable poem. It is more enthusiastic, more glowing, more passionate, and perhaps more abundant in that peculiar spirit of abandon which has rendered Mrs. Maria Brooks' “ Zophiel” so great a favorite with the critics. “ The Child of the Sea” is, of course, by far the more elaborate and more artistic composition, and excels “ The Broken Heart” in most of those high qualities which immortalize a work of art. Its narrative, also, is more ably conducted and more replete with incident—but to the delicate fancy or the bold imagination of a poet, there is an inexpressible charm in the latter.

The minor poems embraced in the volume published by Mr. Putnam, evince a very decided advance in skill made by their author since the issue of the “Records of the Heart.” A nobler poem than the “La Vega” could not be easily pointed out. Its fierce energy of expression will arrest attention very especiallybut its general glow and vigor have rarely been equalled.

Among the author's less elaborate compositions, however, “The Angel's Visit," written since the publication of her “Child of the Sea,” is, perhaps, upon the whole, the best—although “The Forsaken” and “ La Vega” are scarcely, if at all, inferior.

In summing up the autorial merits of Mrs. Lewis, all critical opinion must agree in assigning her a high, if not the very highest rank among the poetesses of her land. Her artistic ability is unusual; her command of language great; her acquirements numerous and thorough ; her range of incident wide ; ber invention, generally, vigorous ; her fancy exuberant; and her imagination—that primary and most indispensible of all poetic requisites-richer, perhaps, than any of her female contemporaries. But as yet—her friends sincerely believe-she has given merely an earnest of her powers.

JOEL T. HEADLEY.*

The Reverend MR. HEADLEY—(why will he not put his full title in his title-pages ?) has in his “Sacred Mountains” been reversing the facts of the old fable about the mountains that brought forth the mouse--parturiunt montes nascetur ridiculus mus—for in this instance it appears to be the mouse—the little ridiculus mus—that has been bringing forth the “Mountains," and a great litter of them, too. The epithet, funny, however, is perhaps the only one which can be considered as thoroughly applicable to the book. We say that a book is a "funny" book, and nothing else, when it spreads over two hundred pages an amount of matter which could be conveniently presented in twenty of a magazine: that a book is a “funny" book—"only this and nothing more”—when it is written in that kind of phraseology, in which John Philpot Curran, when drunk, would have made a speech in at a public dinner: and, moreover, we do say, emphatically, that a book is a "funny" book, and nothing but a funny book, whenever it happens to be penned by Mr. Headley.

We should like to give some account of “The Sacred Mountains," if the thing were only possible—but we cannot conceive that it is. Mr. Headley belongs to that numerous class of authors, who must be read to be understood, and who, for that reason, very seldom are as thoroughly comprehended as they should be. Let us endeavor, however, to give some general idea of the work. “ The design,” says the author, in his preface, “is to render more familiar and life-like, some of the scenes of the Bible.” Here, in the very first sentence of his preface, we suspect the Reverend Mr.

* The Sacred Mountains: By J. T. Headley,-Author of “Napoleon and his Marshals," Washington and his Generals, etc.”

Headley of fibbing: for his design, as it appears to ordinary apprehension, is merely that of making a little money by selling a little book.

The mountains described are Ararat, Moriah, Sinai, Hor, Pisgah, Horeb, Carmel, Lebanon, Zion, Tabor, Olivet, and Calvary. Taking up these, one by one, the author proceeds in his own very peculiar way, to elocutionize about them : we really do not know how else to express what it is that Mr. Headley does with these eminences. Perhaps if we were to say that he stood up before the reader and "made a speech" about them, one after the other, we should come still nearer the truth. By way of carrying out his design, as announced in the preface, that of rendering “more familiar and life-like some of the scenes” and so-forth, he tells not only how each mountain is, and was, but how it might have been and ought to be in his own opinion. To hear him talk, anybody would suppose that he had been at the laying of the corner-stone of Solomon's Temple-to say nothing of being born and brought up in the ark with Noah, and hail-fellow-well-met, with every one of the beasts that went into it. If any person really desires to know how and why it was that the deluge took place--but especially how --if any person wishes to get minute and accurate information on the topic-let him read “The Sacred Mountains”—let him only listen to the Reverend Mr. Headley. He explains to us precisely how it all took place—what Noah said, and thought, while the ark was building, and what the people, who saw him building the ark, said and thought about his undertaking such a work; and how the beasts, birds, and fishes looked, as they came in arm in arm; and what the dove did, and what the raven did not-in short, all the rest of it: nothing could be more beautifully posted up. What can Mr. Headley mean, at page 17, by the remark that “ there is no one who does not lament that there is not a fuller antediluvian history ?" We are quite sure that nothing that ever happened before the flood, has been omitted in the scrupulous researches of the author of " The Sacred Mountains.”

He might, perhaps, wrap up the fruits of these researches in rather better English than that which he employs :

Yet still the water rose around them till all through the valleys nothing but little black islands of human beings were seen on the surface...... The

« PreviousContinue »