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AND OF RAMSAY'S GENTLE SHEPHERD.
pastoral eclogue, which is insipid in all other English hands, assumes in his a touching interest, and a picturesque air of novelty. It seems that he himself ultimately undervalued those eclogues, as deficient in characteristic manners; but surely no just reader of them cares any more about this circumstance than about the authenticity of the tale of Troy.
"In his Ode to Fear he hints at his dramatic ambition; and he planned several tragedies. Had he lived to enjoy and adorn existence, it is not easy to conceive his sensitive spirit and harmonious ear descending to mediocrity in any path of poetry; yet it may be doubted if his mind had not a passion for the visionary and remote forms of imagination, too strong and exclusive for the general purposes of the drama. His genius loved to breathe rather in the preternatural and ideal element of poetry, than in the atmosphere of imitation, which lies closest to real life; and his notions of poetical excellence, whatever ross he might address to the manners,' were still tending to the rast, the undefinable, and the abstract. Certainly, however, he carried sensibility and tenderness into the highest regions of abstracted thought: His enthusiasm spreads a glow even amongst the shadowy tribes of mind,' and his allegory is as sensible to the heart as it is visible to the fancy."-p. 310-312.
Though we are afraid our extracts are becoming unreasonable, we cannot resist indulging our own nationality, by producing this specimen of Mr. Campbell's.
“ The admirers of the Gentle Shepherd must perhaps be contented to share some suspicion of national partiality, while they do justice to their own feeling of its merit. Yet as this drama is a picture of rustic Scotland, it would perhaps be saying little for its fidelity, if it yielded no more agreeableness to the breast of a native than he could expound to a stranger by the strict letter of criticism. We should think the painter had finished the likeness of a mother very indifferently, if it did not bring home to her children traits of undefinable expression which had escaped every eye but that of familiar affection. Ramsay had not the force of Burns ; but, neither, in just proportion to his merits, is he likely to be felt by an English reader. The fire of Burns's wit and passion glows through an obscure dialect by its confinement to short and concentrated bursts. The interest which Ramsay excites is spread over a long poem, delineating manners more than passions, and the mind must be at home both in the language and manners, to appreciate the skill and comic archness with which he has heightened the display of rustic character without giving it vulgarity, and refined the view of peasant life by situations of sweetness and tenderness, without departing in the least degree from its simplicity. The Gentle Shepherd stands quite apart from the general pastoral poetry of modern Europe. It has no satyrs, nor featureless simpletons, nor drowsy and still landscapes of nature, but distinct characters and amusing incidents. The principal shepherd never speaks out of consistency with the habits of a peasant; but he moves in that sphere with such a manly spirit, with so much cheerful sensibility to its humble joys, with
CAMPBELL-CANDID ESTIMATE OF CHATTERTOX.
maxims of life so rational and independent, and with an ascendency over his fellow swains so well maintained by his force of character, that if we could suppose the pacific scenes of the drama to be suddenly changed into situations of trouble and danger, we should, in exact consistency with our former idea of him, expect him to become the leader of the peasants, and the Tell of his native hamlet. Nor is the character of his mistress less beautifully conceived.
She is represented, like himself, as elevated by a fortunate discovery, from obscure to opulent life, yet as equally capable of being the ornament of either. A Richardson or a D'Arblay, had they continued her history, might have heightened the portrait, but they would not have altered its outline. Like the poetry of Tasso and Ariosto, that of the Gentle Shepherd is engraven on the memory, and has sunk into the heart, of its native country. Its verses have passed into proverbs, and it continues to be the delight and solace of the peasantry whom it describes.” -p, 344-346.
We think the merits of Akenside underrated, and those of Churchhill exaggerrated: But we have found no passage in which the amiable but equitable and reasonable indulgence of Mr. Campbell's mind is so conspicuous, as in his account of Chatterton—and it is no slight thing for a poet to have kept himself cool and temperate, on a theme which has hurried so many inferior spirits into passion and extravagance.
"When we conceive," says Mr. C., "the inspired boy transporting himself in imagination back to the days of his fictitious Rowley, embodying his ideal character, and giving to airy nothing a 'local habi. tation and a name,' we may forget the impostor in the enthusiast, and forgive the falsehood of his reverie for its beauty and ingenuity. One of his companions has described the air of rapture and inspiration with which he used to repeat his passages from Rowley, and the delight which he took to contemplate the church of St. Mary, Redcliffe, while it awoke the associations of antiquity in his romantic mind. There was one spot in particular, full in view of the church, where he would often lay himself down, and fix his eyes, as it were, in a trance. On Sundays, as long as daylight lasted, he would walk alone in the country around Bristol, taking drawings of churches, or other objects that struck his imagination.
“During the few months of his existence in London, his letters to his mother and sister, which were always accompanied with presents, expressed the most joyous anticipations. But suddenly all the flush of his gay hopes and busy projects terminated in despair. The particular causes which led to his catastrophe have not been distinctly traced. His own descriptions of his prospects are but little to be trusted; for while apparently exchanging his shadowy visions of Rowley for the real adventures of life, he was still moving under the spell of an imagination that saw every thing in exaggerated colours. Out of this dream he was at length awakened, when he found that he
hari miscalculated the chances of patronage and the profits of literary labour.
* The heart which can peruse the fate of Chatterton without being moved, is little to be envied for its tranquillity; but the intellects of those men must be as deficient as their hearts are uncharitable, who, confounding all shades of moral distinction, have ranked his literary fiction of Rowley in the same class of crimes with pecuniary furgery; and have calculated that if he had not died by his own hand he would have probably ended his days upon a gallows! This disgusting sentence has been pronounced upon a youth who was exemplary for severe study, temperance, and natural affection. His Rowleian forgery must indeed be pronounced improper by the general law which condemns all serious and deliberate falsifications; but it deprived no man of his fame; it had no sacrilegious interference with the memory of departed genius; it had not, like Lauder's imposture, any malignant motive to rob a party, or a country, of a name which was its pride and omament.
Setting aside the opinion of those uncharitable biographers, whose imaginations have conducted him to the gibbet, it may be owned that his unformed character exhibited strong and conflicting elements of god and evil. Even the momentary project of the infidel boy to become a Methodist preacher, betrays an obliquity of design and a contempt of human credulity that is not very amiable. But had he been spared, his pride and ambition would probably have come to flow in their proper channels. His understanding would have taught him the practical value of truth and the dignity of virtue, and he would have despised artifice, when he had felt the strength and security of wisdom. In estimating the promises of his genius, I would rather lean to the utmost enthusiasm of his admirers, than to the cold opinion of those who are afraid of being blinded to the defects of the poems attributed to Rowley, by the veil of obsolete phraseology which is thrown over them.
“The inequality of Chatterton's various productions may be compared to the disproportions of the ungrown giant. His works had nothing of the definite neatness of that precocious talent which stops short in early maturity. His thirst for knowledge was that of a being taught by instinct to lay up materials for the exercise of great and undeveloped powers Even in his favourite maxim, pushed it might be to hyperbole, that a man by abstinence and perseverance might accomplish whatever he pleased, may be traced the indications of a genius which nature had meant to achieve works of immortality. Tasso alone can be compared to him as a juvenile prodigy. No English poet ever equalled him at the same age.—vol. vi. p. 156—162.
The account of Gray is excellent, and that of Goldsmith delightful. We can afford to give but an inconsiderable part of it.
“Goldsmith's poetry enjoys a calm and steady popularity. It inspires us, indeed, with no admiration of daring design, or of fertile invention ; but it presents, within its narrow limits, a distinct and
JUDGMENT ON GOLDSMITH.
unbroken view of poetical delightfulness. His descriptions and sentiments have the pure zest of nature. He is refined without false de licacy, and correct without insipidity. Perhaps there is an intellectual composure in his manner, which may, in some passages, be said to approach to the reserved and prosaic; but he unbends from this graver strain of reflection, to tenderness, and even to playfulness, with an ease and grace almost exclusively his own: and connects extensive views of the happiness and interests of society, with pictures of life, that touch the heart by their familiarity. His language is certainly simple, though it is not cast in a rugged or careless mould. He is no disciple of the gaunt and famished school of simplicity. Deliberately as he wrote, he cannot be accused of wanting natural and idiomatic expres. sion; but still it is select and refined expression. He uses the ornaments which must always distinguish true poetry from prose; and when he adopts colloquial plainness, it is with the utmost care and skill, to avoid a vulgar humility. There is more of this elegant simplicity, of this chaste economy and choice of words, in Goldsmith, than in any modern poet, or perhaps than would be attainable or desirable as a standard for every writer of rhyme. In extensive narrative poems such a style would be too difficult. There is a noble propriety even in the careless strength of great poems as in the roughness of castle walls; and, generally speaking, where there is a long course of story, or observation of life to be pursued, such exquisite touches as those of Goldsmith would be too costly materials for sustaining it. The tendency towards abstracted observation in his poetry agrees peculiarly with the compendious form of expression which he studied; whilst the homefelt joys, on which his fancy loved to repose, required at once the chastest and sweetest colours of language, to make them harmonize with the dignity of a philosophical poem. His whole manner has a still depth of feeling and reflection, which gives back the image of nature unruffled and minutely. He has no redundant thoughts, or false transports ; but seems on every occasion to have weighed the impulse to which he surrendered himself. Whatever ardour or casual felicities he may have thus sacrificed, he gained a high degree of purity and self-possession. His chaste pathos makes him an insinuating moralist; and throws a charm of Claude-like softness over his descriptions of homely objects, that would seem only fit to be the subjects of Dutch painting But his quiet enthusiasm leads the affections to humble things without a vulgar association ; and he inspires us with a fondness to trace the simplest recollections of Auburn, till we count the furniture of its alehouse, and listen to the varnished clock that clicked behind the door.' ” —p. 261 — 263.
There is too much of William Whitehead, and almost too much of Richard Glover, — and a great deal too much of Amherst Selden, Bramston, and Meston. Indeed the ne quid nimis seems to have been more forgotten by the learned editor in the last, than in any of the other volumes. Yet there is by no means too much
BURXS-PALINODE OF THE REVIEWER.
of Burns, or Cowper, or even of the Wartons. The abstract of Burns's life is beautiful; and we are most willing to acknowledge that the defence of the poet, against some of the severities of this Journal, is substantially successful. No one who reads all that we have written of Burns, will doubt of the sincerity of our admiration for his genius, or of the depth of our veneration and sympathy for his lofty character and his untimely fate. We still think he had a vulgar taste in letter-writing; and too frequently patronized the belief of a connexion between licentious indulgences and generosity of character. But, on looking back on what we have said on these subjects, we are sensible that we have expressed ourselves with too much bitterness, and made the words of our censure far more comprehensive than our meaning. A certain tone of exaggeration is incident, we fear, to the sort of writing in which we are engaged. Reckoning a little too much, perhaps, on the dulness of our readers, we are often led, unconsciously, to overstate our sentiments, in order to make them understood; and, where a little controversial warmth is added to a little love of effect, an excess of colouring is apt to steal over the canvass which ultimately offends no eye so much as our own. We gladly make this expiation to the shade of our illustrious countryman.
In his observations on Joseph Warton, Mr. C. resumes the controversy about the poetical character of Pope, upon which he had entered at the close of his Essay; and as to which we hope to have some other opportunity of giving our opinions. At present, however, we must hasten to a conclusion; and shall make our last extracts from the notice of Cowper, which is drawn up on somewhat of a larger scale than any other in the work.
The abstract of his life is given with great tenderness and beauty, and with considerable fullness of detail.
But the remarks on his poetry are the most precious,- and are all that we have now room to borrow.
" The nature of Cowper's works makes us peculiarly identify the poet and the man in perusing then. As an individual, lue was retired and weaned from the vanities of the world; and, as an original writer,