Page images
PDF

Sob out the name of Mother, then did she

Utter a feeble groan.
At length, collecting, Zeinab turned her eyes
To heaven, exclaiming: Praise be the Lord !

He gave, he takes away!

The Lord our God is good !! The metre of Thalaba,' as may be seen from this specimen, has great power, as well as harmony, in skilful hands. It is in accordance with the subject of the poem, and is, as the author himself remarks, 'the Arabesque ornament of an Arabian tale.' Southey had now cast off his revolutionary opinions, and his future writings were all marked by a somewhat intolerant attachment to church and state. He established himself on the banks of the river Greta, near Keswick, subsisting by his pen and a pension which he had received from government. În 1804, he published a volume of Metrical Tales, and in 1805, “Madoc,' an epic poem, founded on a Welsh story, but inferior to its predecessors. In 1810, appeared his greatest poetical work, “The Curse of Kehama,' a poem of the same class and structure as “Thalaba,' but in rhyme. With characteristic egotism, Southey prefixed to · The Curse of Kehama' a declaration that he would not change a syllable or measure for anyone :

Pedants shall not tie my strains

To our antique poets' veins. Kehama is a Hindu rajah, who, like Dr. Faustus, obtains and sports with supernatural power. His adventures are sufficiently startling, and afford room for the author's striking amplitude of description. • The story is founded,' says Sir Walter Scott," upon the Hindu mythology, the most gigantic, cumbrous, and extravagant system of idolatry to which temples were ever erected. The scene is alternately laid in the terrestrial paradise-under the sea-in the heaven of heavens

-and in hell itself. The principal actors are, a man who approaches almost to omnipotence; another labouring under a strange and fearful malediction, which exempts him from the ordinary laws of nature; a good genius, a sorceress, and a ghost, with several Hindustan deities of different ranks. The only being that retains the usual attributes of humanity is a female, who is gifted with immortality at the close of the piece.' Some of the scenes in this strangely magnificent theatre of horrors are described with the power of Milton; and Scott has said that the following account of the approach of the mortals to Padalon, or the Indian Hades is equal in grandeur to any passage which he ever perused:

Far other light than that of day there shone
Upon the travellers, entering Padalon.
They, too, in darkness entering on their way,

But far before the car
A glow, as of a fiery furnace light,
Filled all before them. 'Twas a light that made.

Darkness itself appear
A thing of comfort; and the sight, dismayed,

Shrank inward from the molten atmosphere.
Their way was through the adamantine rock
Which girt the world of woe: on either side
Its massive walls arose and overhead
Arched the long passage; onward as they ride,
With stronger glare the light around them spread

And, lo ! the regions dread-
The world of woe before them opening wide,

There rolls the fiery flood,
Girding the realms of Padalon around.

A sea of flame, it seemed to be

Sea without bound:

For neither mortal nor immortal sight

Could pierce across through that intensest light. When the curse is removed from the sufferer, Ladurlad, and he is transported to his family in the Bower of Bliss, the poet breaks out into that apostrophe to Love which is so often quoted, but never can be read without emotion:

Love. They sin who tell us Love can die. At times deceived, at times oppressed, With Life all other passions fly,

It here is tried and purified, Ali others are but vanity.

Then hath in heaven its perfect rest: In heaven Ambition cannot dwell,

It soweth here with toil and care, Nor Avarice in the vaults of hell :

But the har vest-time of Love is there. Earthly these passions of the earth,

Oh! when a mother meets on high
They perish where they had their birt The babe she lost in infancy,
But Love is indestructible :

Hath she not then, for pains and fears, Its holy flame for ever burneth,

The day of woe, the watchful night, From heaven it came, to heaven returneth. For all her sorrows, all her tears, Too oft on earth a troubled guest,

An over-payment of delight? Besides its wonderful display of imagination and invention, and its vivid scene-painting, The Curse of Kehama' possesses the recommendation of being in manners, sentiments, scenery, and costume, distinctively and exclusively Hindu. Its author was too diligent a student to omit whatever was characteristic in the landscape or the people. Passing over his prose-works, we next find Southey appear in à native poetical dress in blank verse. In 1814 he published 'Roderick, the Last of the Goths,' a noble and pathetic poem, though liable also to the charge of redundant description. The style of the versification may be seen from the following account of the grief and confusion of the aged monarch, when he finds his throne occupied by the Moors after his long absence:

The sound, the sight
Of turban, girdle, robe, and scimitar,
And tawny skins, awoke contending thoughts
Of anger, shame, and anguish in the Goth;
The unaccustomed face of humankind
Confused him now-and through the streets he went
With baggard mien, and countenance like one
Crazed or bewildered. All who met him turned,
And wondered as he passed. One stopped him short,
Put alms into his hand, and then desired
In broken Gothic speech, the moon-struck man
To bless him. With a look of vacancy,

.

Roderick received the alms: his wande
Fell on the money, and the fallen king,
Seeing his royal impress on the piece,
Broke out into a quick convulsive voice,
That seemed like laughter first, but ended soon
In hollow groan suppressed : the Mussulman
Shrunk at the ghastly sound, and magnified
The name of Allah as he hastened on.
A Christian woman, spinning at her door,
Beheld him-and with sudden pity touched,
She laid her spindle by, and running in,
Took bread, and following after, called him back-
And, placing in his passive hands the loaf,
She said, Christ Jesus for his Mother's sake
Have mercy on thee!' With a look that seemed
Like idiocy, he heard her, and stood still,
Staring a while; then bursting into tears,

Wept like a child.
Or the following description:

A Moonlight Scene in Spain.
How calmly, gliding through the dark-blue sky.
The midnight moon ascends! Her placid beams,
Through thinly scattered leaves, and boughs grotesque,
Mottle with mazy shades the orchard slope;
Here o'er the chestnut's fretted foliage, gray
And massy, motionless they spread; here shine
Upon the crags, deepening with blacker night
Their chasms; and there the glittering argentry
Ripples and glances on the confluent streams.
A lovelier, purer light than that of day
Rests on the hills; and oh, how awfully,
Into that deep and tranquil firmament,
The summits of Auseva rise serene!
The watchman on the battlements partakes
The stillness of the solemn hour; he feels
The silence of the earth; the endless sound
Of flowing water soothes him; and the stars
Which in that brightest moonlight well-nigh quenched,
Scarce visible, as in the utmost depth
Of yonder sapphire infinite, are seen,
Draw on with elevating influence
Towards eternity the attempered mind.
Musing on worlds beyond the grave, he stands,
And to the Virgin Mother silently .

Breathes forth her hymn of praise. Southey having in 1813, accepted the office of poet-laureate, composed some courtly strains that tended little to advance his reputation. His. Carmen Triumphale’ (1814) and "The Vision of Judg. ment' (1821) provoked much ridicule at the time, and would have passed into utter oblivion, if Lord Byron had not published another

Vision of Judgment'-one of the most powerful, though wild and profane, of his productions, in which the laureate received a merciless and witty castigation, that even his admirers admitted to be not unmerited. The latest of our author's poetical works was a volume of narrative verse, ‘All for Love,' and 'The Pilgrim of Compostella' (1829). He continued his ceaseless round of study and composition,

writing on all subjects, and filling ream after ream of paper with his in lucubrations on morals, philosophy, poetry, and politics. He was offered a baronetcy and a seat in parliament, both of which he prudently declined. His fame and his fortune, he knew, could only be preserved by adhering to his solitary studies; but these were too. ' constant and uninterrupted. The poet forgot one of his own maxims, that ‘frequent change of air is of all things that which most cons duces to joyous health and long life.

From the year 1833 to 1837 he was chiefly engaged in editing the works of Cowper, published in fifteen volumes. About the year 1834, his wife, the early partner of his affections, sank into a state of mental imbecility, ‘á pitiable state of existence,' in which she continued for about three years, and though he bore up wonder: fully during this period of affliction, his health was irretrievably shattered. In about a year and a half afterwards, however, he married a second time, the object of his choice being Miss Caroline Bowles, the poetess. “My spirits,' he says, 'would hardly recover their habitual and healthful cheerfulness, if I had not prevailed upon Miss Bowles to share my lot for the remainder of our lives. There is just such a disparity of age as is fitting; we have been well acquainted with each other more than twenty years, and a more perfect conformity of disposition could not exist.' Some members of the poet's grown-up family seem to have been averse to this union, but the devoted attentions of the lady, and her exemplary domestic . virtues, soothed the few remaining years of the poet's existence. Those attentions were soon painfully requisite. Southey's intellect became clouded, his accustomed labours were suspended, and though he continued his habit of reading, the power of comprehension was gone, “His dearly prized books,' says his son, 'were a pleasure to him almost to the end, and he would walk slowly round his library looking at them, and taking them down mechanically.'

Wordsworth, writing to Lady Frederick Bentinck in July 1840, says, that on visiting his early friend, he did not recognise him till he was told. “Then his eyes flashed for a moment with their former brightness, but he sank into the state in which I had found him, patting with both hands his books affectionately like a child. Three years were passed in this deplorable condition, and it was a matter of satisfaction rather than regret that death at length stepped into shroud this painful spectacle from the eyes of affection as well as from the gaze of vulgar curiosity. He died in his house at Greta on the 21st of March 1843. He left at his death a sum of about £12,000, to be divided among his children, and one of the most valuable private libraries in the kingdom. The life and correspondence of Southey have been published by his son, the Rev. Charles Cuthbert Southey, in six volumes. His son-in-law, the Rev. J. Wood Warter, published his Commonplace Book,' 4 vols., and Selections from his Letters,' 4 vols. In these works the amiable private life of Southey-his indę.

fatigable application, his habitual cheerfulness and lively fancy, and his steady friendships and true generosity, are strikingly displayed, The only drawback is the poet's egotism, which was inordinate, and ' he hasty uncharitable judgments sometimes passed on his contemporaries, the result partly of temperament and partly of his seclusion from general society. Southey was interred in the churchyard of Crosthwaite, and in the church is a marble monument to his memory, a full-length recumbent figure, with the following inscription by Wordsworth on the base of the monument:

Wordsworth's Epitaph on Southey.
Ye vales and hills, whose beauty hither drew
The poet's steps, and fixed him here, on you
His eyes have closed : and ye, loved books, no more
Shall Southey feed upon your precious lore,
To works that ne'er shall forfeit their renown,
Adding immortal labours of his own :
Whether he traced historic truth with zeal
For the state's guidance, or the church's weal;
Or Fancy, disciplined by studious Art,
Informed his pen. or Wisdom of the heart.
Or Judgments sanctioned in the patriot's mind
By reverence for the rights of all mankind.
Large were his aims, yet in no human breast
Could private feelings find a holier nest.
His joys, his griefs, have vanished like a cloud
From Skiddaw's top; but he to heaven was vowed
Through a life long and pure, and steadfast faith

Calmed in his soul the fear of change and death. Few authors have written so much and so well, with so little real pop- ularity, as Southey. Of all his prose works, admirable as they are in purity of style, the Life of Nelson' alone is a general favourite. The magnificent creations of his poetry-piled up like clouds at sunset, in the calm serenity of his capacious intellect-have always been duly appreciated by poetical students and critical readers; but by the public at large they are neglected. An attempt to revive them, by the publication of the whole poetical works in ten uniform and cheap volumes, has only shewn that they are unsuited to the taste of the present generation. The reason of this may be found both in the subjects of Southey's poetry, and in his manner of treating them. His fictions are wild and supernatural, and have no hold on human affections. Gorgeous and sublime as some of his images and de. scriptions are, they come like shadows, so depart.' They are too remote, too fanciful, and often too learned. The Grecian mythology is graceful and familiar; but Southey's Hindu superstitions are extravagant and strange. To relish them requires considerable previous reading and research, and this is a task which few will undertake. The dramatic art or power of vivid delineation is also comparatively unknown to Southey, and hence the dialogues in ‘Madoc' and ‘Roderick’ are generally flat and uninteresting. His observation was of books, ņot nature. Some affectations of style and expression

« PreviousContinue »