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Mucu misconception exists upon the subject of Song-writing Poetry itself—which M. de Lamartine asserts to be “the guardian-angel of humanity in every age”-is considered by many, not otherwise unintelligent people, to be identical with verse. It is thought to be an idle art, unworthy of an age of practical usefulness; while song-writing is held to be the most frivolous department of a frivolous pursuit. Even many of a more correct and better-educated taste scarcely know the difference between and any other short
poem. The multitude, who sing, feel what a song is; but the smaller class, who reason and refine, are as yet scarcely agreed upon the meaning of the term
song,”—unless the vague definition that it is “something which
may be sung" can be considered as satisfactory. The worth of a song in the estimation of such critics as these is as
little as can be imagined; and it has become a proverb, when a thing has been purchased at a price ridiculously low, to say that it has been bought " for a song.” On the other hand, there are people who somewhat overrate the value and importance of songs, and who repeat the phrase made popular by Fletcher of Saltoun, that the song-writer has more influence upon the minds of the people than the law-maker.
Both of these estimates are wrong. A song is neither so small nor so great a matter as is represented. The many
beautiful compositions in the English language that may strictly be called songs, and which we owe to the genius of some of our most illustrious writers from the age of Shakspeare to our own, are sufficient proofs that the depreciation of those who deny all value to this form of poetry is unjust and unfounded; while the absence of any great number of songs popular enough to model the life, , to sway the passions, and to stir the patriotism of the English multitude, proves that, as regards our nation at least, Fletcher of Saltoun, and those who repeat his opinion, have to a considerable extent overrated their influence. Yet who knows how much of loyalty might have remained unexcited if the music of the National Anthem had not been so magnificent, and if the air of “Rule Britannia” had not been so inspiriting. The song-writer, without the musician, is, in fact, but a writer of short poems;
and “immortal verse" must be married to “immortal music" before it can exercise its full influence upon the minds of a people. A
song and a ballad have points of resemblance and of difference. A ballad, which at present seems to signify a song wherein a story is told, originally meant a short, or even a long, poem, modulated in the recital to serve as a musical accompaniment to a dance from ballare, to dance. A song, strictly, should express a sentiment only; but the distinction has been often disregarded by our best writers, and some of the most beautiful compositions of this class in the English language partake largely of the characteristics of both. But a song is a more difficult and excellent composition than a ballad. A song should be like an epigram, complete and entire-a perfect chrysolite—brilliant on every side. It should give voice to one pervading idea, which should be illustrated naturally and elegantly. It should contain no word that
could be omitted without injury to the music or the meaning; and should avoid the jar of inharmonious consonants, which in the English language present so many difficulties to the singer. Every stanza should be the very twin and counterpart of the other, as regards the rhythm; and the whole composition, whether sprightly, tender, patriotic, convivial, or melancholy, should be short and terse, and end with the natural climax of the sentiment. A ballad, while it should be as perfect as regards the rhythm, is allowed more licence, and may extend to any length consistent with the interest of the story told in it, or the power of voice in the singer. Some writers and critics have confined the legitimate topics of song to the expression of amatory, convivial, or patriotic sentiment. This, however, is an undue limitation; for not only love and patriotism, and the less laudable feelings inspired by the bacchanalian frenzy; but joy, hope, tenderness, gratitude, cheerfulness, melancholy, and even grief, are the proper themes of song. Their expression by musical cadences is as natural to men in all ages and climates as speech itself. All high emotion is rhythmical. Wherever there is life or hope, joy or sorrow, are the materials for songs; and the youthful more especially give vent to their feelings in this natural music, as we may suppose the birds give vent to theirs, finding in the expression its own reward. The tender passion, in all ages and in all languages, has ever been the most prolific source of songs. The hope and fear-the joy and sorrow—the quarrels and reconciliation—the guilt and remorse--and even the hatred of lovers,-have all found expression in these compositions; and while there are young hearts to feel, and old ones to be interested, in that passion, it is to be anticipated that songs will continue to be made and to be sung in celebration of the triumphs of love. No progress of philosophy or refinement will root from the heart that feeling which the American philosopher Emerson calls“the divine rage and enthusiasm which seizes on man at one period, and works a revolution in his mind and body, unites him to his race, pledges him to the domestic and civic relations, carries him with new sympathy into Nature, enhances the power of the senses, opens the imagination, adds to his character heroic and sacred attributes, establishes marriage, and gives permanence to human society,"
“All mankind,” says the same deep thinker, in another portion of his delightful Essay, “love a lover. Though the celestial rapture falling out of heaven seizes only upon those of tender age, and although we can seldom see after thirty years a beauty overpowering all analysis or comparison, and putting us quite beside ourselves, yet the remembrance of these visions outlasts all other remembrance, and is a wreath of flowers on the oldest brows. No man ever forgot the visitation of that power to his heart and brain which created all things new—which was the dawn in him of music, poetry, and art—which made the face of nature radiant with purple light--the morning and the night varied enchantments."
Love is the fine spirit of song, and in all its Protean shapes gives music to expression.
English literature contains few amatory songs of any merit,with the exception of some which we owe to the genius of those unfortunate friends, the Earl of Surrey and Sir Thomas Wyatt,of a date anterior to that golden age which produced a Shakspeare. Whatever songs of the kind may have been sung by the people have perished, or only exist in rude snatches and fragments, which Shakspeare himself and some of his contemporaries have preserved. The amatory songs, or the Songs of the Affections, produced at that time, or such of them as have been handed down to us, are rather the productions of the learning and the fancy of scholars, than the simple and passionate effusions of lovers. There is an air of elegance about them highly pleasing to the refined taste,-a finish and a grace, and an epigrammatic brilliancy, which never fail to captivate,—but heart is wanting. In the age which succeeded that of Shakspeare, the merit of the popular love-songs became still less, and heart may be said to have disappeared from them altogether, or to have been but faintly diseernible amid a mass of scholarly conceits and learned prettinesses. The public taste was vitiated, and at last became satisfied with mock sentiment and pagan allusion. No lover considered himself a true devotee at the shrine of beauty without appealing to Cupid or to Venus, and interlarding his speech with thoughts and expressions scarcely fitting in a Greek or a Roman, but utterly unsuited to the realities of passion in a land and among a people that were not heathen. Towards the end of the seventeenth century an attempt to discard the ancient mythology was made by the best writers: it succeeded partially, but it was only to introduce a new style as objectionable as the old. Love played at masquerade, and bedizened itself in the costume of a stage shepherd. It was at this time that the loves of all the Chloes and Strephons came into fashion.
The famous song attributed sometimes to Pope and sometimes to Swift, but most probably the composition of the former, and asserted to be written by a Lady of Quality," happily ridiculed this class of songs, and those which had preceded them.
Fluttering, spread thy purple pinions,
Gentle Cupid, o'er my heart;
Nature must give way to art.
Nightly nodding o'er your flocks,
All beneath yon flowery rocks.
Melancholy smooth Meander,
Swiftly purling in a round,
With thy flowery chaplets crown'd.
Softly seeks her silent mate,
Melody resigns to Fate. When English song-writing was at its lowest ebb; when coarse and brutal bacchanalian rhapsodies were sung at the table; when woman's charms (her virtues were scarcely mentioned) were either portrayed in the silly masquerade of the writers of pastorals, or in the more natural, but less respectful, lyrical effusions of the wits and men about town,-Captain Charles Morris, of the Life Guards, gallantly endeavoured to give a better tone to this department of literature. To use his own language, “he set his face against the lyrical scribblers of the eighteenth century, who, odious to relate, allowed not woman her true place in the heart,