« PreviousContinue »
„images about evening, collected from books, and „, compiled in a study. The incorrectness is equally „ perceptible in the whole as in the details.
“It was but rarely that Gray followed Sir Philip “Sidney's advice, to look in his heart and write.'
“But in Burns, inferior as was his educatioil, im“ perfect his knowledge of the square and measure of “the architects of verse, the wording is accurate, the “ picture complete, because, faithful to nature and to “ truth, he is uttering simply what he has observed, or “expressing passionately what he has felt; and criticism “ dies without a sign upon his descriptions of nature, or “his revelations of sentiment.
“In fact, as moral error consists partly in viewing “only a portion of the truth, partly in want of faith as “to the rest of the truth that it cannot discover, so in“correctness, which is the moral error of the poet, “ arises from a meagre experience, or from a lukewarm "imagination. Hence that poet is, in the proper and “scientific sense of the word, the most correct, who “combines the greatest acuteness of actual observation “ with the most vivifying power of creative enthusiasm.
“Yet Gray was a great poet, though his faults lie “precisely in the quarter whence his merits have been “vulgarly drawn. He was not an accurate writer, and “in the larger and purer sense of the epithet, he was “not a classical one; he was not classical, for he had “neither the faith, the simplicity, nor the independent “ originality which constitute the characteristics of the “poets of Greece. Learned he was, but the classical “poets were not learned. Pindar's rapture never lived “ in the lyre of Gray, for Gray never knew what the “ rapture of poésy is.
“Painfully and minutely laborious, diffident of his “ own powers, weighing words in a balance, borrowing "a thought here, and a phrase there, Gray wrote “ English as he wrote Latin. It was a dead language to
BURNS AND GRAY COMPARED.
“him, in which he sought to acquire an elegant pro“ficiency by using only the epithets and the phrases “rendered orthodox by the best models. But he was “no vulgar plagiarist-his very deficiency of invention “ became productive of a beauty peculiarly his own, “and created a kind of poetry of association; so that “in reading Gray we are ever haunted with a delightful “and vague reminiscence of the objects of a former “admiration or love, as early things and thoughts that “are recalled to us by some exquisite air of music, and “in some place most congenial to dream-like recol“lections of grace and beauty.”—Lord Lytlon's Miscellaneous Prose Works.
Gray, in short with much learning and cultivated taste, has reproduced from the calm contemplative study of the most approved models, works highly and beautifully artificial. But Burns excels him and many other poets, because while he diligently studied the best models within his reach, he had abundantly the creative power of a great poet, strong feelings and passions, exquisite sensibility, and a keen perception of the beautiful in nature and in sentiment, from which he drew the rich material of his art. He went to books for lessons in taste and culture, but he went direct to the natural and moral world around him for inspiration,
“ I am nae Poet, in a sense,
But just a Rhymer like, by chance,
Yet, what the matter ?
I jingle at her.
Your critic-folk may cock their nose,
To mak a sang ?'
Ye're maybe wrang.
Gie me ae spark o' Nature's fire
At pleugh or cart,
May touch the heart.
Whoever has watched a stream, as poet, sketcher or angler, or as a loving careful observer of river scenery, must be struck with the graphic power with which Burns describes such scenes, and with his skilful use of his native tongue as in Halloween, and as in the ode to “Mary in Heaven," in pure English, and how in that pathetic lay of love he does touch the heart.
“Ayr, gurgling kissed his pebbled shore,
O’erhung with wild woods thick’ning green, The fragrant birch and hawthorn hoar,
Twined am'rous round the raptured scene.”
And in “Halloween,” the brook seen by moonlight meandering through the glen, falling over or winding round a rock in eddies and pools, gliding and coyly hiding under braes like a living creature
“Whyles owre a linn the burnie plays,
· As thro' the glen it whimpl’t:
Whyles in a wiel it dimpl’t :
Wi' bickering, dancing dazzle:
Unseen that night.”
Campbell is another of our standard writers, and Wilson said to Wordsworth he thought these lines in the “ Pleasures of Hope” were magnificent
COMPARED WITH CAMPBELL
“ Lo to the wintry winds the Pilot yields,
His bark careering o'er unfathomed fields,
And so you think this magnificent. What has a giant to do with a star, and tell me what is the meaning of a meteor standard to the winds unfurled. Take the book and read, for I cannot understand it. And Christopher North, poet and critic, soon threw down the book and said, neither can I understand it!
There is a great deal of magnificent nonsense, which read superficially may pass for poetry, especially under the shelter of a great name which Campbell had and deserved. There is a phrase, “neither rhyme nor reason; ”rhyme without reason is just as common. It would seem that more may be said about this magnificent passage than occurred to the two poets during their table talk. Lord Byron wrote grandly
“Mont Blanc is the monarch of mountains,
They crown'd him long ago
With a diadem of snow.”
Suppose he had written Alps is the monarch of mountains-Pyrenees is the monarch of mountains.
The Andes or the Cordilleras is a chain of many mountains, extending 4,500 miles along the coast of the Pacific ocean, a multitudinous giant. Chimborazo is the giant of the Andes, but that did not suit the rhyme to which therefore reason and geography were sacrificed by poetical license.
The meteor-standard of Campbell was a Will o' the Wisp which misled that justly admired poet on more than one occasion. What a noble ode is Hohenlinden, heroic in the highest degree, and deeply pathetic; and
“Ye mariners of England” must often have kindled the courage of our brave sailors on the stormy deep,
• With thunders from her native oak,
She quells the floods below,"
is rather out of date in this iron age; no blame, however, to the poet, But what are we to say of
“ The meteor flag of England,
Shall yet terrific burn !”
Sailing down the Rhine at midnight in 1844, we saw a meteor swiftly traverse our course, so brilliant as to light up every object on deck, and then quickly vanish. But for the Union Jack to burn and blaze away in that fashion ; was ever such a thing imagined by our jack tars when they cheered those words, and thought them magnificent. I remember two wonderful lines in a poem on the battle of Waterloo, published soon after the event; the fame of its author was evanescent as a meteor, but never so brilliant
“ And thou Dalhousie, thou great God of war,
Lieutenant-Colonel to the Earl of Mar!
Mars, instead of being Lieutenant Colonel of Mar, ought at least to have been Field-Marshal and Generalissimo of the army; but we preferred the Duke of Wellington.
Burns never committed those meteoric and metaphoric blunders, for he looked “ on fair nature's face” not through the spectacles of books, but with a true poet's eye. The philosophic poet Wordsworth, when he saw from Mossgiel the grand view of the Frith of Clyde, bounded by the peaks of Arran, thought it remarkable that with that daily prospect before his eyes, “ during much the most productive period of his “poetical life, Burns nowhere adverts to it.” Indeed he beheld the same scenery from infancy from the