« FöregåendeFortsätt »
Hence all she knew of earthly hopes and fears,
The brooding dove, but murmur'd sounds of joy.'-p.70-72. The conception of this character is perhaps a little improbable,— -but we confess that there is something in Lilian which disarms our criticism, and we think that Mr. Milman's readers for the most part will have the saine feeling. In her deep retreat, Vortimer, the son of Vortigern, had by accident found, and conceived a romantic attachment for the romantic girl, which she warmly returned. We are not told why this mutual flame was not imparted in due form to the father; but lovers are fond, it is said, of bye-roads to their happiness, and Vortimer's visits were stolen and concealed. It was now long since she had seen him--indeed he had been engaged among the foremost of the British in their attacks on Horsa and the Saxons, and had mainly contributed to the successes which had cooped the invaders up in the isle of Thanet. Lilian now expected him; and walking at fall of eve by the Eamont at the accustomed place of meeting—she hears the tramp of a horse approaching, and 'pranks her dark brown tresses' in the flowing stream to meet his eyes. Instead of Vortimer a much less agreeable object appears before her, her stern and unnatural father, who seizing her roughly, and placing her on his steed, departs in awful silence. Thus far the story is as well told, as conceived; but as our readers will have already observed, Mr. Milman too commonly fails, when his personages begin to speak. It is rather singular, that while he speaks of them, he puts himself, with great truth and force, into their situations, but when they speak for themselves, they uniformly almost put themselves into his; and though nature would require but the fewest, the simplest, the most solemn words to utter their deep distress, or their painful auxiety, they run wild in a display of all his invention and fertility. Lilian, as her father bears her off, faintly demands whither he is carrying her, and is sternly answered, To death.' A situation more overpowering to a young female like Lilian can scarcely be conceived, and the reader, who knows the horrid vow of Caswallon, and his relentless nature, is fully prepared to participate in her agony. Such feelings will be somewhat
somewhat relieved by a reply so full of conceit, and repugnant to true taste, as the following:
Death, father, death is comfortless and cold!
Does not Mr. Milman see that these are general speculations about death, by one a little melancholy at the most, but not expecting in the least to die? What were the morn, the birds, or the summer gale to a tender girl, who had just had the sentence of a violent and instantaneous death announced to her by her own father?
These lines are followed by others of great beauty: she is borne to a deep and black valley nearly at the well-head of the stream by which she had been sitting; in the recesses around are dimly seen the countenances of dark and cruel men in armour; she hears that her father himself is to be the priest, and to plunge her into the abyss. Her inarticulate prayers for mercy, her tears, her white arms clinging round her father's neck, while in her desperate agony she forgets what an unnatural stranger he is to her; his struggles, his brief delay, and proud resolution; all these are indeed perfectly and painfully drawn. Severe criticism might perhaps object, that there was something almost too pretty in the following lines, but we think that even their prettiness accords well with such a mere fairy-like creation of the fancy as Lilian herself is.
A sound is in the silent night abroad,
Float o'er the dark stream, widening to the shore.
And look'd up lovely to the gazing moon.'-p. 80.
We pass rapidly to the conclusion of the episode; Vortimer comes too late to the spot from which Lilian had been taken, and, in the course of the night, her body floats down the stream and he
drags it to the shore. His feelings are well described while he sits with the body in his arms, haunted by the miserable presentiment that it is the body of Lilian; and the dread with which he shrinks from the near approach of light after so devoutly desiring it, praying to be relieved from doubt while it was dark, and shuddering at the certainty when the morning was breaking, is very natural.
From Vortimer and Lilian the poet returns to the Saxon fleet, and rapidly traces the voyage down the eastern coast to the Isle of Thanet. On the opposite shores of Kent were encamped the Britons under Samor, pining already for the soft luxuries of peace, and sustained only by the example and spirit of their leader. The first measure of the wily Hengist is an offer to retire from the island on permission to sell Kent for a sum of money, which offer, in spite of a noble and indignant harangue from Samor, the Britons accept, and agree to ratify the compact at a solemn festival. This was that deadly feast at Stonehenge, and Mr. Milman prepares our minds for it by a very spirited imitation of the closing lines of the first book of the Georgics, with which every scholar is familiar. We lament that our limits forbid our transferring it entire to these pages.
The festival on the plains of Sarum is ushered in with becoming splendour, and cheerfulness of poetry, which contrasts very well with the tremendous bodings that closed the last book.
'The laughing skies
Look bright, oh Britain, on thy hour of bliss.
Wafting glad tidings: wide their flower-hung gates
Seem harmony; still all fierce sounds of war;
Soft slumber in the war-steed's drooping mane.'-p. 107.
With the same brilliancy Mr. Milman paints the long procession, the gorgeous feast, and the eminent among the nobility and warriors of both nations who graced it; he brings to notice, we think, with great happiness, the thoughtless exultation of a
whole people, the entire forgetfulness of past ills, and past causes of hatred, the greedy welcome given to the returning peace. The giddy curiosity too of the females and children form no uninteresting feature in this busy picture. So far all the colours are glowing and gay: they become more sombre as the poet paints the fall of evening, the spectators returning from the feast in long lines, and small parties recounting the pleasures of the day; the picture still darkens as we see women watching late for their lords return, children worn out with waiting and composed to rest, maidens inwardly chiding the delay of their lovers; night falls, and one long and lonely blast of a single horn is heard from the plain; the weary women start at the signal of the return, forms are seen in the gloom entering the gates, they preserve a dismal silence; each wife is looking for her husband, each maid for her lover, but they see none but Saxons-Saxons still; and at last their bloody knives uplifted reveal the whole dreadful secret. Here the poet judiciously breaks off-the plunder, the murder, the rape that ensued would have been a common-place consummation to such a picture -he has done more wisely; for all the gorgeousness of the feast, the richness of music, the sumptuousness of habiliments, the splendour of the mid-day sun, the bands of bright and manly forms assembled; for all the glowing pride of the day, and all the tender thoughts of the evening, he exhibits to us in the heavy darkness of midnight,
"On the wide plain one lonely man. Wan light,
Bears token of rude strife.'-p. 110.
Samor was that sole survivor-stunned and bewildered for the moment by the harrowing scene which he had so miraculously passed unhurt. Within the mysterious ring of Stonehenge he lies down and collects his thoughts; breathing his soul in prayer he solemnly devotes himself to the cause of his country, and the waging of interminable war against the Saxons. His heart then turns to his wife and family, and he hurries homeward-here too the hand of fate was heavy on him; he sees the White Horse banner floating on the walls of the Bright City-his palace plundered, his wife and children all gone; and from a dying daughter he learns the whole dismal tragedy. Mr. Milman, as usual, has sunk much below himself in the unreasonable speech of this expiring child; but he rises
to his proper level in the complete desolation, the undaunted bearing, the tender heart, the pious resignation of his hero. Samor buries his daughter on the margin of the Severn,
'clos'd that mournful office, nearing fast
He sprang, and pass'd to Severn's western shore.'-p. 130. With this extract, which sets the hero forward upon his glorious task, we close our analysis of the poem. To pursue it at the length, which we have hitherto allowed ourselves, would be to trespass far beyond the limits of a single article, and we feel at the same time, that the substantial purposes of criticism cannot be answered by running over it in a more superficial manner. The progress, however, which we have already made will serve to give the reader an adequate conception of the whole poem, though we are bound to state, in justice both to the public and Mr. Milman, that the opening books are much the least interesting of all, as far as relates to the characters and the story. The detailed remarks too, which we have made with friendly, but entire freedom, while they will establish, we would hope, some general principles of criticism, will sufficiently apprise our readers of the judgment which we are disposed to pass on the poem. After so much censure it would be idle to pronounce sentence of unqualified approbation; but we thank Mr. Milman sincerely for much pleasure. There is scarcely a page of the book, which does not testify that he is a poet of no ordinary powers. Every one of them exhibits some beautiful expression, some pathetic turn, some original thought, or some striking image. This is Mr. Milman's praise, and we bestow it on him gladly; but after all, if his ambition be what it ought to be, this will be but unsatisfactory; for all these things do not suffice to make a good poem. Samor is not a good poem, and we are less confident now, than on a former occasion, that its author ever will produce oue, because he is now much older, and we fear, more hardened in unre pented error.
His faults are numerous and important; the parts of the poem