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ples, and lay down no rules by which poetry in general is to be judged; the consequence is that they are read and admired, but neither consulted nor remembered. This is not the worst however; for criticism might act indirectly with more force even than by immediate application to the public: if those who write poetry were taught to do so with a proper knowledge of the principles of their art, and with a due observance of them, the taste of those who read it could not long be very uncultivated. But how should the genus irritabile respect the opinions of the modern critic? They see in him in general an ambitious rival, one who approaches them most injudiciously on their own ground, who is not intent upon laying before the world a fair examination of their faults and beauties, but solicitous only that the critique should be at least as shining and poetical as the poem itself.
It would be imprudent probably, and certainly would be invidious for us to insist at greater length upon this irrelevancy of matter, and false brilliance of manner in modern criticism; but we must briefly notice two errors flowing from them which, as we think, characterise modern poems and poets. As criticism becomes lowly rated, all rules become equally neglected; the only thing sought after is the exhibition of talent; point out to a poet a tame passage in this page, and he answers with a beautiful one in the next; in short no one aims at producing a good and perfect poem, the monumentum are perennius, which former bards delighted to consume a life in building up; but to give proof by brilliant flashes that he might if he pleased have written such a poem.
The other error is a natural one, but it lies at the root of all poetical criticism-it is this, that the poet learns to believe no one but himself or a brother poet competent to judge of his productions; it is, according to his argument, a question of feeling and power, and he who neither feels so acutely, nor wields such mental energies as his own, can be no proper censor of the propriety of their joint result. Now we hate the cant of criticism as much as any wit or poet of any age or nation, and we certainly shall hardly be accused of a desire to shelter its abuses, or excuse the follies of individual critics; but of criticism itself rightly employed, we will say that the poet who denies its jurisdiction has never thoroughly considered, and does not rightly understand, the real nature of the poetic character.
We now proceed to a task, perhaps too long delayed—an examination of the poem before us. Mr. Milman's choice of a subject would have been in many respects a happy one, if all our impressions from history did not run counter to the truth of its catastrophe. He celebrates the defeat and expulsion of the Saxon invaders from this country with the re-establishment of the British monarchy. His
hero is a Briton chief, the Lord of Gloucester, or the Bright City, and the interest of the poem requires that we should place our affections on the British side. This we are well enough disposed to do; for it is a very curious fact, (an instance perhaps of the force of names and words,) that even to this day, a motley race as we are of Saxons, Angles, Danes and Normans, any thing but Britons, we indentify ourselves entirely with these last in reading our early history, and regard the former as invaders and conquerors with whom we have no connection. So far the subject of Samor is well chosen; but unfortunately we have been familiar from our earliest years with Saxon victories and British defeats; and though we find upon examination that the struggle was long and severe, we know that the issue approached nearly to the extermination of the Britons. It is impossible therefore not to feel something unsatisfactory and imperfect in the close of the story;-those with whom we sympathize are victorious and exult in the return of peace and freedom-we stand by them in their triumph, like superior beings, and know that their joys are delusive, and their calamities respited only for a moment.
The poem opens at Troynovant, on the return of the Saxons under Hengist and Horsa from a successful expedition against the Picts. The degenerate King Vortigern receives them with a prodigal welcome, and conducts the chiefs to a banquet in the palace. This is described with perhaps somewhat too much of oriental magnificence; but the Saxon warriors and British courtiers, the band of effeminate and parasite court bards, and the white-haired Aneurin shedding indignant tears at the prostitution of his art, and degradation of his country, are spiritedly contrasted. At the close of a war-song Rowena enters the hall she is a very important personage in the poem, and Mr. Milman has lavished on her in this and many other places all the richness of his fancy and language.
'Sudden came floating through the hall an air
Flower-wreath'd, their snowy robes from clasped zone
The symmetry of form and feature, set
As the light dew-shower on a tuft of flowers.
It must not be supposed that we give our unqualified applause to this passage; we object to the diction in many parts of it; (but this is an old quarrel between Mr. Milman and ourselves, upon which we will say a few words hereafter;) we think moreover that there is some little inconsistency in the conception of the character. But its principal fault as a composition is an injudicious mixture of the beauty which is merely external, with that which is to be inferred from the effects it produces, or the qualities it is said to express. It is very possible to give the liveliest idea of beauty without the definite drawing of a single feature, or the mention of any merely corporeal attribute, such as shape, or colour; it is equally possible to invert the mode of description: but it is very seldom that the two can be well mixed, at least in the present instance they are jumbled together in most unaccommodating masses. As every one knows, the weak and passionate Vortigern is subdued by this beautiful apparition, who, after pledging his health,
instantly retires as she came. The King impatiently inquires who and whence she is, and learns from Hengist that she is his daughter. Upon this a conversation ensues between them apart, and ends with the proclamation of Hengist King of Kent' by the infatuated monarch. The Saxons receive it with a clamorous shout of joy, and drain their goblets to the new King-but this introduces to us the hero of the poem in a noble manner. Nothing can be more happy in conception or execution-the language and metre have a solemn and placid dignity, without effort, involution, or glitter-the ideas are correspondent, and the precise effect is produced, which was intended, of impressing us from the first moment with a lofty idea of Samor.
'As mid the fabled Libyan bridal stood
The Briton Samor: at his rising, awe
Went forth, and all the riotous hall was mute;
His speech, and courtly reverence smooth'd its tone.'—p. 11. The speech which follows is not unworthy of the introduction, neither vaunting nor (which is Mr. Milman's usual fault) too long; but simple, dignified and firm; denying the king's right to give any part of the island, which was his only to govern, and disclaiming any allegiance to the new chief. At the close he leaves the hall, attended by the nobler part of the British courtiers. Vortigern makes light of the threatened opposition; he exclaims contemptuously
'Whom the flax binds not, must the iron gyve.'
As he leaves the banquet, Samor encounters him; his open and animated remonstrances joined with the most earnest supplications rouse in the King the dormant virtues of the warrior and patriot, and in the enthusiasm of the moment he determines on renouncing the dishonourable alliance with the Saxon. The resolution has hardly passed his lips, when the fatal beauty arrives in her bridal car, and the poet tells us the issue in a single line,—
'Alone she came-alone she went not on.'
The second book opens with another of the thousand and one imitations of the Council of Kings in the Iliad, and we are sorry, principally on that account, that Mr. Milman should have thought it necessary to the conduct of the story. There is nothing that so
disturbs the illusion, which should be preserved in all works of fiction, as imitation of incident. In a narration of real events if a circumstance occurs rese esembling one already familiar to us, we are surprised at first, but we instantly regard it as what it really is, a curious though not an unnatural coincidence, and the sensation on the whole is rather pleasurable than otherwise. But when the same thing happens in a work of fiction, we reflect and examine for a moment as in the former case, but the first and immediate effect of this is to dispel all the dream, in which we had yielded to the story as true; and this alone is painful; the second effect is, dissatisfaction with the author, who having the tissue of incidents at his disposal might have avoided this imitation. In the present instance the borrowed incidents may be convenient for the introduction and development of new characters, but we think that Mr. Milman's ingenuity properly tasked might have discovered some less hacknied meaus for the same object.
In order to make our readers understand this part of the poem, we must go back a little to events which are supposed by the poet to have happened before its commencement. Constantine, King of Britain, is said to have aspired to the purple, and to have led an army to the continent to support his claim. After some successes he lost his own life and crown, together with the flower of his troops, in a disastrous battle near Arles.* He left three sons, Constans, Emrys, (Aurelius Ambrosius,) and Uther, but they were all thought too young to conduct the retreat of the army and sustain the sinking fortunes of Britain; Vortigern therefore was elected King. In the council now assembled Emrys first rises, and in a firm yet temperate manner reclaims for his brother and himself the crown, which they had lost by their youth, but which Vortigern had forfeited by his treason to the common weal. Uther followsa more impetuous character-his warm and animating appeal to the chiefs, his denunciation of instant and interminable war on Vortigern and his allies produce a suitable effect on the council. Shouts of war are heard, spears are brandished, and shields are clashed; when Samor rises to still the commotion. This is managed with too apparent intention of contrast, and his speech is much too long and too rhetorical; as in many other places it is Mr. Milman and not his hero, who speaks; still there is much of beauty, and even moral force in the address;
Our council thus appealing, may not wear
It is not of much importance in a case like this, but Mr. Milman will find that he has misquoted Gibbon as to these facts in his prefatory notice.