Page images
PDF
EPUB

mimicry) into the breath of life, and coaxed it upon the stage. Such are the thoughts with which we invariably close a perusal of Mr. Wilson's productions, and with such have we just devoured, for the twentieth time, his “ City of the Plague.”

His mind has evidently dwelt on this loathsome and terrible picture till his faculties were filled and saturated, so to speak, with the dread scenes to which they bore witness. One almost fancies the poet's blanched cheeks and bristling hair, as he pens the hideous recital ; while those who know him are ready to shrink away and close their eyes, as the curtain rises from before that mighty desolation that “ panting, delirious monster," plagued and dying London. But with that constant perception of the beautiful, which, in the poet's mind, always crowns the terrible with the sublime, the eye rests, here and there, on such sweet, sad scenes, as bow the full heart with a kindly sorrow, refreshing as the dew.

The drama opens at a short distance from London, presenting two sailors, the mother of one of whom has been living there, hastening to rescue and remove her; but he comes too late ! after wandering through the awful incidents of the dying, despairing city, he reaches her corpse and his little brother's, laid out, side by side, for burial. Then he and his mistress tread the same sad path, and vanish from our sight forever. There is no plot-there needed none; the picture of each day's adventures is enough. All of the horrible and hideousthe “shattering recollections” of that fiery ordeal—the pest-house, the pit, the mad-house, the revel, grinning a ghastly smile over these chilly terrors-all these and more he has reproduced with fearful power.

Frankfort meets an old man with an infant in his arms, wandering away, after a “three months' sojourn in a sepulchre ;' and from him he hears the first detailed account of the pestilence-how

Death's icy hand hath frozen, with a touch,
The fountain of the river that made glad
The city of the Isle !

Undismayed, they press forward in their filial search for a parent, through

“The waveless silence of the sea of death,”— and here we lose sight of them, till they reappear in the very fullness of its terrors.

A wild and savage being, with his multitude of dupes, comes next before us; shaking their inmost souls with a rude and brutal eloquence, cheating them to despair and death for the sake of gain. On this scene, as might be expected, the poet has lavished much skill and labor ; and verily, if to paint this dread farce to the life-if to make his reader “ hate this shadow and pity that,” be the climax of tragic pow. er, then has our author reached it. But we hasten to a scene of strange and terrible sweetness, more absorbing still.

A holy stillness has fallen on the plague-stricken city : its voices of VOL. XI.

32

despair, though not dead, are distant; and we stand, in the solemn hush, by the dark tower of the tall cathedral, and gaze upon the tombstones that watch so silent 'mid the gilded twilight. Two mourners count their sorrows in a dark corner, till a hymn of unutterable melody fills the air-then dismay; and the striving ear catches the silvery murmured prayer of tried yet trusting innocence

Oh let me walk the waves of the wide world
Through faith unsinking-stretch thy saving hand
To a lone castaway upon the sea,
Who hopes no resting place, except in heaven,
And oh! this holy calm—this peace profound-
That sky so glorious in infinitude-
That countless host of softly burning stars,
And all that floating universe of light,
Lift up my spirit far beyond the grave,
And tell me that my prayers are heard in heaven!

Has it ever been your fortune, reader, while paralized by some stunning sorrow, unable to think or speak correctly—your spirit blighted by the dread misfortune-has it ever chanced to you at such a moment, to gaze at green hill and dell sleeping in quiet sunshine, while gentle breezes fanned sympathizingly your burning cheek ? If so, you must have found that the feeling of punishment and wrath that always accompanies grievous misfortune, and that had rested like an incubus upon you, was suddenly gone-there was a look of love in Nature's smiling face that disarmed despair, and reconciled you even to this new privation, and to life. So did sweet Magdalene restore her trust in the Dei. ty, though the Plague stayed not—and she had her reward : the mur. derer who had followed her for her gold, melts to deep penitence beside the altar, and asks her prayers ; her innocence clothed her not only in triple mail—'twas the sword and shield of victory!

A few negotiations, and we must drop the curtain ; and the first is a brief picture of the Plague in Scotland.

The morning smiled on—but nae kirk-bell was ringing,
Nae plaid or blue bonnet came down frae the hill;
The kirk-door was shut, but nae psalm-tune was singing,
And I missed the wee voices sae sweet and sae shrill.
The infant had died at the breast of its mither,
The cradle stood still at the mitherless bed;
As clay the bairn sunk in the hand o'its brither;
At the fauld on the mountain the shepherd lay dead.
Sic silence, sic lonesoineness, ob, were bewildering !
I heard nae lass singing when herding her sheep;
I met nae bright garlands of wee rosy children
Dancing on to the schoolhouse just wakened frao sleep.

With what a lonesome sadness do these words weigh down the spirit, like the lake's cold ripple in a misty winter's morning! Indeed,

all is sad here, that is not terrible-one looks in vain for joy or triumph here, except in mad revels or wild delirium ; but the tone varies (to continue the figure) from the sullen plunge of stricken vice, to the gentle sigh of sobbing girlhood. When Frankfort, having heard of bis mother's death, is about to enter the room where she lies, awaiting his last farewell, he says to the kind old priest who has watched her last sigh and guides him to her :

I go into her chamber--fear me not ;
I will not rush into the mournful presence
With frantic outcry, and with violent steps
Most unbecoming mid the hush of death;
But I, with footsteps gentle as the dew,
And with suspended breath, will reach her bed ;
There, silent as she is, so will I be!

This is the effort of frantic sorrow to restrain itself to urge a calm solemnity on its threshold violence-how tender and affectionate!

It is in these subduing, life-like exbibitions of nature in her hours of trial, that Wilson excels ; but where, in transition from one such crisis to another, the language, from the absence of incident, should become calm and natural, his power fails him, and one feels uneasy at the defective representation of still life—the energy that bears him through tragic scenes and great occasions exaggerates and distorts the more trivial : yet surely, we may forgive the fault that leads to such happy effect and beautiful poetry as that which we have just been considering. A further analysis of his works would be a pleasure indeed, and holds out a strong inducement to longer lingering in this land of sad reverie ; but we must reserve this luxury for another occasion, when we hope to “cull fresh flowers” from his shorter though not less delightful poems.

TENDENCIES IN GOVERNMENT.

Nations in the days of their prosperity expect to last forever.

From the time when ancient bards first tuned their voices in unison with roughly fashioned lyres, and, by the still waters of the rivers of the East, poured forth their evening song of thanksgiving to their country's gods ; or at crowded festivals sang praises to the heroes of the land, down to this very present hour,-a Government which should know no change of name or form has ever been the idol of a nation's hopes, the crowning point of its ambition.

But the nations of those times where are they now? Alas for hopes ! scarcely did they outlive the bards, who sang that they should never die. A few short pages of often doubtful history—perchance a

broken column or a fallen shaft, are the only traces that time has spared of their existence. Thus has it ever been. Each nation, as it rose, stretched out its grasping arms, prophesied its own eternity, sell, and was forgotten. True, those who sought for causes, found them in abundance. But, though each succeeding nation discovered reasons for the others' fall, it saw none for its own.

We have caught the spirit of those nations; and now it has become a question, if not of immediate importance, at least of curiosityWhat is our destiny ? We nations of to-day-are we too to glitter for a moment on the surface of time, and disappear, like a bubble from the wave, leaving not a ripple to say, we once were here ? or are we, by the light of accumulated experience, to shun the dangers which have been their ruin, and live on and on, linking the present with the future, and still another future with its past, till futurity has become antiquity again and again, and a great nation find themselves spread out upon the earth, whose origin is lost in the shadows of time ?

Is it in our power to gather enough from all the past, and to see enough in all the present, to answer our questions? Tendencies and principles are prophetic voices, which speak, with certainty indeed, but very inaudibly, to our ears as yet somewhat dull. But if we listen carefully, and try earnestly, as did they who listened for the oracles of old, perhaps we may catch some faint murmur, which, though not articulate, scarce audible even, may tell us something more than we know

now.

First then, let us inquire, what is Government ? Outwardly, it is a system of rules and restrictions which mankind, assembling together in society, agree for their own benefit mutually to enforce and suffer. Inwardly, it is the result of human imperfection ; not that human imperfection is the cause, but that it is the condition, and the sole condition, under which human governinent exists. Imperfection is a disease for which Government is an attempted remedy.

For the narrow question of its humanity or its divinity, we care nothing. All wisdom is divine. If you choose to call government divine, then it is a provision of divine wisdom, given in all kindness 10 erring man, as a remedy for evils which he has brought upon himself. If you choose to call it human, then it is the offspring of that wisdom which the Deity has given to man, to provide against the evils with which that Deity foresaw that his creatures would be surrounded. One thing we may aver. God did intend that man should be governed till such time as he becomes able to govern himself, and if man will not subinit to this, he must suffer the consequences of violated law.

It is not hard to see that this is the true nature of Government, to wit, that it is an attempted remedy for human imperfection. Examine it in its details. It protects rights which man, in a state of purity, would never attempt to violate. It punishes crimes which man in a state of purity would never dare or even wish to commit. It regulates society in affairs of business, which, unless man were disposed to do his neighbor wrong, would regulate themselves, and would adapt them. selves much more nearly to his wants than can possibly be done by human legislation,—which, even when it is the offspring of the greatest human foresight, combined with the utmost purity of purpose, is, and must often be, artificial, incomplete, and unnatural in its operations ; cramping and constraining where it attempts to direct, palsying and destroying where it should protect and cherish.

Since, then, the sole object of Government is the protection of the rights of man, and since, when it transcends this office, it becomes rather a burden than an assistance, just so much government do we need as shall protect those rights, and no more. But this amount will differ as human imperfections differ in different states of society. A nation just emerging from barbarisin, or not yet emerged at all, where wise men are few, and passions strong and violent, needs to be governed with a strong arm ; but after years of education, after the progress of the arts of civilization, aster a common interest has produced a sympathy of feeling, and above all, after Christianity, that great civilizer, has bound men's hearts together by the cords of love, how light the rein that is then needed to guide and control a people! Compare for a moment the Saxon Heptarchy and our own country, and consider how the law of Force has been modified by the law of Love. To be sure, this is not perfection, but it is progress.

How much we have heard of a true government-a natural government-a government by divine appointment! how many analogies have been traced and arguments adduced to prove what, after all, reason would not and could not admit the divine right of Patriarchs, of Nobles, and of Kings ! and yet, when viewed in this light, how simple the whole matter becomes ! The true government for any nation is that which will best protect them, and this will, of course, depend on the amount of their own imperfection ; for what does government protect men from, but from one another? The laws of one nation have no power over the people of another, and a common interest instinctively impels all to unite in defending themselves from aggression. It is from one another, then, that the people of a nation are to be protected, and that government which does this best, is the best, the most natural, the truest, the wisest, the most divine government for that nation. In one state of society, this may be patriarchal or absolute; in another, constitutional and limited ; in another, popular or republican, and perhaps in another, no government at all. But it is certain that all governments are not natural for all nations; and this we see in the very way which Providence, or man, by the wisdom which providence has bestowed upon him, has, while in different situations, endeavored by different means, to remedy his imperfections, and protect himself.

When history first began to be regarded as something more than a mere record of facts, or a collection of tales of men and manners ; of the exploits of heroes, and the bravery exhibited in battles, when, leaving its superficiality, it began to assume the more earnest and serious aspect of Philosophy, one of the first truths which it disclosed, was, that in the changes of government there is a very observable order-not always perfectly developed but always evident—that the tendency is from absolute sovereignty towards absolute freedom.

« PreviousContinue »