assault, perpetrated in a drunken night brawl. which stimulated his horrible purpose-his reckFrom subsequent inquiries I learnt that the money less conduct-his heartless levity of tongue, when he received had been lavished in riotous in- he should rather have been overwhelmed with temperance and excess of every sort, during shame and sorrow-and the vacant, misplaced, which his eccentricities, freaks, and outrages, combined with his incoherent language and wild looks, had procured for him from his fellow-revellers the name of 'Crazy George.' Struck by the vacant expression of his features, and the rambling silliness of his language, I saw at once that he was in a state of mental alienation, brought on, as I conjectured, by his recent wildness of life; under which impression, having procured his discharge from prison, I took him to a physician, who has very extensive practice in the treatment of similar cases, and who has now seen him seven or eight times.

offensive laugh by which I had so often been revolted-all had now received a solution which showed them to have sprung from latent insanity, not from premeditated and conscious wickedness, not from the frivolty and defiance of an utterly callous heart, not from the deliberate suggestions of an abandoned nature. From an object of unavoidable disgust and hatred, my unfortunate boy was converted into a claimant for the profoundest pity and compassion. It was something to feel that I still had a son, even though he might be little better than a filial statue.

Although Hodges, the foreman, had strict mora} justice been awarded him, deserved punishment rather than reward, I had made him a promise which I held myself sacredly bound to perform. Removing him, accordingly, from a neighborhood where he might have been tempted to a renewal of his unhallowed practices, I purchased for him in a provincial town a long-established and respectable business, by attention to which he cannot fail to realize a moderate independence.

"His deliberate opinion, I am much distressed to state, is exceedingly unfavorable. Though the disorder of the faculties may have been more rapidly developed by recent occurrences, he does not consider it a temporary one, but arising from organic derangement, and therefore of a permanent and incurable character. He pronounces it to be a softening of the brain, a defect which gradually undermines the reasoning powers, and usually terminates in imbecility and idiocy. On my hinting that his patient was by no means a More than a year has elapsed since the occurharmless simpleton, but had recently been harbor-rence of the events stated in the preceding narraing heinous designs, he replied that a combination tive; and though I have no further marvellous of cunning and contrivance with great wickedness frequently characterized the incipient stages of this peculiar lunacy; and that, from the present condition of your son, he had no hesitation in declaring he must have been in an unsound state of mind for several months. Depend upon it,' such were the physician's own words, that this unfortunate young man, though he may have been competent to the ordinary purposes of life, has long been utterly defective in the moral sense; has ceased to know the difference between right and wrong, and cannot, therefore, during this period of morbid mental action, be fairly deemed an accountable being.'

[ocr errors]

"I have placed poor George for the present in a private lunatic asylum, and await your orders as to his ultimate disposal."


adventures to record, the interval has not been altogether uneventful. Godfrey Thorpe, after having run through his own fine fortune by every species of wanton extravagance, lived for some time upon the fortunes of others by running in debt, when, being unable to protract any longer the smash I had anticipated, he absconded from the seat of his ancestors, and is at present settled with his family at Boulogne.

Oakfield Hall, with its wide and fair domains, is now mine, and I am writing in the library of that Elizabethan mansion of which I had so long coveted the possession. Many of my fond and foolish yearnings have been chastised by my temporary consignment to the jaws of death; but this ambition, perhaps the vainest of my earthly vanities, has survived my apparent decease and real entombment, and I feel a daily and increasing pleasure as I wander over my broad acres. Nor are my rides less gratifying because I take them on my favorite white cob, whose back I never again expected to bestride when I caught a glimpse of him as the undertakers were depositing me in my coffin.

Sad and afflicting as it was, I have said that this letter was not without mitigating suggestions. It is a great, a deplorable, a heart-rending calamity to be the father of an incurable idiot; but it is infinitely more terrible to have a son who could My daughter's marriage was solemnized a year contemplate, while in possession of his reason, the ago, and I am already blessed with a little granddiabolical crime of parricide. From this horror son, who bears my name, and who will become and disgrace I was relieved. My heart was my heir. Mr. Mason, for whom I have purchased enabled to throw off the incubus that had dark- the advowson of the living, and who, conjointly ened and crushed it. All was now cleared up, with his wife, does the honors of Oakfield Hall, everything was now intelligible, and my misfor- where they are permanently established, devotes tune, though still a heavy one, was not tainted by himself with an exemplary zeal to the discharge the unutterably hateful associations with which I of his pastoral duties, and is beloved by the whole had been previously haunted. My son's dabblings neighborhood. Their union promises to be more with the poisonous mixture-the monomania than usually blessed; a prospect which affords me

the purest and most exquisite of all pleasures-the | I may give a better account of my stewardship contemplation of that happiness which we have than I could have done at an earlier period.

been instrumental in conferring upon others.

An eminent cutler of the Strand, one of whose My poor son, whom I regularly see, though he relations had been buried alive, left a legacy of no longer recognizes me, is in a private asylum for ten guineas to be given to any surgeon who should lunatics, where he receives every succor and pass a stiletto through his heart before his body consolation that his unfortunate state allows.- was committed to the grave; to facilitate the perAll hopes of his recovery have long been aban-formance of which operation, the weapon was tied doned.

Though my constitution will never cease to feel the effects of the trying shocks it has sustained, I am still enabled, thank God! to participate in most of my customary enjoyments; nor am I without a hope that my moral health has been benefited by the ordeals through which I have passed, and that when I am finally called away,


LET in the light of the fair sun,

And leave me here alone;
This hour with thee must be the last,
My dear, unspotted one!

Thy bier waits in the silent street,
Ånd voiceless men are there;
While, in sad, solemn intervals,
'The bell strikes on the air.

Through the bare trees the autumn wind
With rustling song complains
To the deep vales, and echoing hills,
In sad funeral strains.

And this is death;-these heavy eyes,
This eloquent, sweet face,
Where beauty, throned in innocence,
Sat with celestial grace.

These limbs, whose chiselled marble lines
But shame the sculptor's skill,
In more than mortal slumber wrapt,
Unconscious, cold and still.

Seal up the fountains of mine eyes,
This is no place for tears;
These are but painted images,

That mock my hopes and fears.
Backward, this little hand in mine,
Feeling thou still art here,
I trace the blissful joys and cares
That filled thy short career.

The bright intelligence that gleamed
From out these infant eyes

Seems still to point, with blessed beams,
The pathway to the skies.

But this is death! beneath whose touch,
Cold, unrelenting power!
Beauty's unwithered garlands fall,
To perish in an hour.

Take up the bier, and bear it hence
It were in vain to weep;
But gently, and with noiseless step,
As to the couch of sleep.

The measured journey to the grave
Is dark to him who fears
To scan the blotted memories
Of unrepented years.

to the will. This example I have followed. Vain and even ridiculous as the precaution may be deemed, I have too vivid, too harrowing a recollection of my past sufferings, to incur the possibility of their recurrence. I have no wish to writeand, probably, my readers would have as little inclination to peruse-a second “ Posthumous Memoir of Myself."

[blocks in formation]


WITLAF, a king of the Saxons,
Ere yet his last he breathed,
To the merry monks of Croyland
His drinking-horn bequeathed:

That whenever they sat at their revels
And drank from the golden bowl
They might remember the donor,
And breathe a prayer for his soul.

So sat they once at Christmas,
And bade the goblet pass;
In their beards the red wine glistened,
Like dew-drops in the grass.

They drank to the soul of Witlaf,
They drank to Christ the Lord,
And to each of the Twelve Apostles,
Who had preached his holy word.
They drank to the Saints and Martyrs
Of the dismal days of yore,
And as soon as the horn was empty,
They remembered one saint more.
And the Reader droned from the pulpit,
Like the murmur of many bees,
The legend of good Saint Guthlac,

And Saint Basil's homilies!

Till the great bells of the convent,
From their prison in the tower,
Guthlac and Bartholomæus,

Proclaimed the midnight hour.

And the yule-log cracked in the chimney,
And the abbot bowed his head,

And the flamelets flapped and flickered,
But the abbot was stark and dead!

Yet still in his pallid fingers

He clutched the golden bowl,
In which, like a pearl dissolving,
Had sunk and dissolved his soul.

But not for this their revels

The jovial monks forbore, For they cried, "Fill high the goblet! We must drink to one saint more!" Graham's Magazine.

From the Boston Post.

The Poetical and Prose Writings of Charles Sprague. New and Revised Edition. Boston: Ticknor, Reed & Fields.

YEAR after year are the generations coming up, and it is fitting that the works of one whom the fathers delighted to honor should be accessible to the children. The present edition of Sprague contains a few pieces never before presented with their brethren, but is especially welcome at this time, from the entire disappearance from our bookstores, of Francis & Co.'s elegant volume.


And here we might stay our pen. For is there need, at this late day, of calling attention to "Curiosity," " Art," the "Centennial," and the "Shakspeare Ode," to say nothing of those many tender, affectionate, pathetic stanzas which even now are circling through the American press, and like the poet's own "winged worshippers," are "blessed wanderers o'er lakes and lands?" In one view no further word need be uttered. The welcome which Sprague has always received, and now receives from the public, proves that, in some measure, at least, he is appreciated. His writings might be safely left to themselves-true taste yet thrives in many a quiet nook. True poetry in good English, with thoughts sublime, imaginative, beautiful or philosophical, expressed clearly, strongly and completely, in melodious verse, is not yet thrown aside as worthless, at the advent of new schools and new styles, with their crudities, spasms and thoughts too big for the utterance of the thinker, and so thrust upon the world in clothing, picked up, blindfold, in a Brattle street of words. But in another view, our subject should not yet be dismissed. For in late years, as it seems to us, there have grown up in our midst, a class of people, who are ever "like Paul's Athenians, seeking something new," to the forgetfulness of what is good in the old. And, in fine, there are many, now-a-days, whose approval is really valuable, who are fast tending to the opposite extreme to that wherein men wandered in the days of "good Queen Anne," who, it may be added, literally sat in the sun," but had no brightness of her own.


In Pope's time, the dress of thought was more regarded, perhaps, than thought itself-now-a-days, there is a growing disposition to disregard the dress altogether. And we would attempt a few sentences in defence of the happy medium. Good, plain, correct English alone, however apt, terse or expressive, is neither thought nor poetry; but we do maintain that it is the only proper garb, coloring and outside of both, whether in verse or prose. And though in the main but the mechanical part of verse, it is almost as indispensable as the mental portion; and though a fair production of this outside may not call for the poetical faculty, yet in its perfect production, is displayed a very high degree of that faculty. At all times, it requires taste, experience, ear, knowledge of the language, power of condensation, perspicuity and distinctness of idea; at some time, so completely mixed and inter

merged are the external and internal of poesy, that it requires the most lofty and vigorous, the most tender and burning efforts of whatever divinity there may be within. And in truth, what have been rashly termed the outward and mechanical parts of verse, including, of course, all ornamental epithets as well as melody, fitness and terseness of expression, and everything, in fine, but its inner idea and conception, really constitute, generally speaking, a large proportion of what is universally recognized as poetry, and that, too, of a high and even the highest order. The simple thought of Prospero of the utter dissolution of the world, with all its "cloud-capped towers, gorgeous palaces," and his mental grasp of the sublimity, as if he held the great globe in the hollow of his hand, are the really poetical cores of the glorious passage. But were they not, are they not, comparatively speaking, common thoughts; is not the merit of the passage in its expression? Who has sung like Shakspeare? and yet he sang by the scale. his tones were sweeter, fuller, and more sublime. Who cannot perceive, at any rate, that thought and expression are here so intimately blended, that the former all alone would be but a preacher's moral, while the latter without the thought could never have been attained?


So, too, in Byron. The naked comparison of fallen Greece to the beautiful dead, is unquestionably poetical, but the great charm of the passage is the truthful, graceful and thrilling elaboration of its dress. Coming to single lines, everybody knows that the drum is a noisy and barbaric instrument. There would seem to be nothing very poetical in the idea, at any rate; but Campbell says

And hears thy stormy music in the drum. And let him who dare, deny the line to be true and even lofty poetry.

And the author under notice, in his "Centennial Ode," while speaking of the Indian, says—

Cold with the beast he slew, he sleeps. Here the idea is certainly poetical, but how much of the beauty and effect of the line reside in the opening epithet and the concluding alliteration! So in the "Shakspeare Ode," the poet has told of the downfall of the Roman empire, with its learning, science and the arts.

In dust the sacred statue slept,
Fair science round her altars wept,

And wisdom cowled his head.

Is not this a vast but perfectly finished picture? and yet the charm of the whole is "wound up" by the verb in the last line. What other word in the language could have so comprised the whole story of the retreat of wisdom to the monks of the middle ages? Does it require nothing but the practice of a blockhead, or even of a shrewd and persevering brain, to obtain such expressions as these?

But we are no insane idolater of what may be regarded as, more or less, the externals of verse. And still less are we special pleaders for the ex

ternal grace, strength and correctness of the author under notice. He has all these, but he has the "heart of hearts" of poetry, in addition. Moreover, in some of his most admired and most exquisite pieces, few writers could be less indebted than he to poetical expression. In some of them, the idea, whether pathetic or philosophical, is almost the only charm-the expression being noticeable chiefly for its clearness and harmony with the idea.

But we do say that no man can be a poet withont a proper knowledge of both the coarser and finer mechanism of verse, from its construction, which may, to some degree, be learned by a persevering dunce, to its choicest epithets, depending for their merit on natural gifts and careful cultivation. No man can be a painter without skill, and the greatest, in brushes, canvas and pigments, whatever be the ardor of his conceptions. If he could, dear reader, you or we might sometimes stand with Raphael or Buonarotti. And the poet is the painter in words. His canvas is under his hand, but on its narrow woof are shown the mote in the sunbeam, the "violet 'neath a mossy stone," the real glories of creation, the fabled terrors of the last day. As Shakespeare, in the chorus of Henry V., exclaims

[blocks in formation]

patience and practice, or those higher beauties, ranging from external elegances to the real spirit of poetry, which cannot be learned, but may be, nay, must be cultivated.

"A poet is born, not made," says the ancient critic. He should have added, “A poet is born, but born to grow." In the words of Ben Jonson

For though the poet's matter nature be,
His art doth give the fashion. And that he
Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
and strike the second heat

Upon the muse's anvil; turn the same
And himself with it, that he thinks to frame;
Or for the laurel, he may gain a scorn,
For a good poet's made as well as born.

Our present purpose is chiefly to show our author as an artist, to express our opinion of his writings as works of art, to prove that his poetry is no less because his art is more than that of most living writers, nay, of any living poet; for some people seem to believe that nothing which is finished can be great or sublime-forgetting that the very mountains are piled, the glaciers spread, and the chasms rent, not by chance, but according to eternal laws.


Curiosity" is undoubtedly the best known and the most general favorite of all Sprague's longer poems. We shall therefore say little about it. Everybody knows what an occasional poem is "bound" to be-a thing of "shreds and patches," a shot at a given, not a chosen mark. Until the appearance of Holmes' "Urania," Curiosity" was the only poem of its class which seemed destined to fill a permanent place in our literature. It has now survived more than twenty years, has passed through a number of editions, and has been

[ocr errors]

No man, therefore, can be a poet who does not have all the requisites for writing verse properly. He may have large conceptions, a novel turn of thought, and even, when the fit is on him, may ac-published as the work of an Englishman, and cidentally throw forth a gem of poesy to shine amid the muck which is around, and astonish the world by its contrasted brilliancy. With great luck, he may produce these jewels often enough to make the whole heap a second Golconda; but instances of this fortuitous excellence are rare.

A man, to be a poet, must have not only the fire from heaven within him, but he must be able to breathe it skilfully, to play with it, to blast with it, to melt with it, according to the changing of his mood and his subject.

Obscurity and inappropriateness of expression involve clumsiness, carelessness, indolence and presumption. And if here reminded that we have wandered from our subject, we should reply that all the foregoing is really a tribute to our author; for he, of all American poets, is most remarkable for beauties of language, whether elegant, terse or simply correct, and for an union of these external beauties with the inner essence, whether it expand into a thought as vast as space itself, or creep into a single epithet, like Ariel into the cowslip's bell. To repeat, then, our opening remark, these paragraphs are written for the special consideration of those who are beginning or have begun to neglect the dress of poetry, whether this dress be that mere construction and that use of sensible words, a knowledge of which may be acquired by mere

praised accordingly, both in Calcutta and London. In comparison with the only occasional poem ever produced in America, worthy of a place with it, it may be said that "Urania" has the more salient points, the more daring flights, the more laughable hits; the other the better lines, the more strength, and the higher finish. "Urania" has the more fire," Curiosity" the more wisdomthe former is brilliant, the latter profound. "Urania" is a circlet of diamonds-" Curiosity" one entire stone, of inferior water, perhaps, but resplendent, nevertheless, and shapely, polished, and without a flaw. Both have passages of lofty and touching poetry, sparkling wit, spiced wisdom, and biting satire.

But to leave comparison, " Curiosity," as a specimen of mastery over the heroic measure, stands alone in American literature. It does not contain a single weak line, or meaningless epithet, thrown in to eke out a foot or for the sake of a rhyme. It has but two or three lines which one would like to alter, and we defy the amateurs of the new school to scan it more closely and severely than we have done. The whole work is a model of execution, and a pleasant essay might be written on its individual verses and particular expressions. We do not claim for it the highest honors of poetry, but do aver, that while it is surpassed by

few productions of the kind, even in matter-in not easily matched both "for poetry of idea and manner it stands before them all.

felicity of expression." Passages will endure as long as the Indian is remembered; and as the red man passes away, and the evil memories of him are effaced, Sprague's glowing and sympathetic pictures may be even more highly regarded than at present. The Indian's

-heraldry is but a broken bow,

His history but a tale of wrong and woe,
His very name must be a blank.

And one day, romance will pour upon his grave
her tears and roses, and there will be none alive
to mock at her sympathy. Then Sprague's elegy
and eulogy of the savage, over cordial as they now
appear, will be received as truth as well as

But we must pass on. The elegiac effusions of Sprague are as well known as household words. Our prime favorite is "I see thee still;" a composition on which verbal criticism is absolutely at fault. Everything is as clear as truth, as tender as love. That there is true poesy in all these pathetic pieces we have never heard disputed. Is there less, than if they were written crudely, obscurely, carelessly-with ill-chosen words, with harsh expressions? Who will deny that a deal of their pathos even, flows from the perfect harmony and delicacy of their apparel. The whole poetical idea of "I see thee still," for instance, is obvious in the title-all the rest proceeds either from the power or the carefulness of expression. Finally we come to the "Shakspeare Ode," After the elegiac pieces come "The Winged having left it to the last; as we consider it the Worshippers" and "To my Cigar," two genial greatest work of its author. Much of it, we bits of moralizing raised into poetry by the art of know, is but a paraphrase of Shakspeare, and the poet. Preceding these are the series of these portions we dismiss at once. But enough "Prize Prologues," which were so successful, in "remains behind." In this poem Sprague has various cities and among stranger judges, from essayed his most daring flight, and proved himself twenty to thirty years ago. These, too, are poems as capable of soaring into the imaginative as of of "occasion," and in them the author was flitting about among the realities of human life, With little fancy, in necessarily even more "cabined, cribbed, confined," with its joys and sorrows. than in " Curiosity" or the other long poems. the Lalla Rookh sense of the term, his imaginaAt the present day, it may be said of these pro- tion is strong and his descriptions vivid and ductions, that they are, essentially, but tasteful, vigorous. We have heretofore noticed the comelegant, well-turned lines. The address for the prehensive picture given in the opening stanzas. Park Theatre in 1821 is the best, upon the whole-On the next page the birth of Shakspeare is thus the others are necessarily, in some measure, reechoings of the same strain. But in the second are the following beautiful thoughts :

Poor maniac beauty brings her cypress wreath,
Her smile a moonbeam on a blasted heath;

described :

There, on its bank, beneath the mulberry's shade,
Wrapped in young dreams, a wild-eyed minstrel strayed;
Lighting there, and lingering long,
Thou didst teach the bard his song:
Thy fingers strung his sleeping shell,
And round his brows, a garland curled ;

Round some cold grave she comes, sweet flowers to strew, On his lips, thy spirit fell,
And, lost to reason, still to love is true.

And bade him wake and warm the world!

But again

Is not this poetry? Could it be better expressed? Comment on these lines is needless. These are the questions which the critic should we ask, would they have been better, if worse ask of himself. The subject may not suit him, expressed? We should think so, to judge from perhaps, but the subject given, could the execution the stuff which finds admirers, now-a-days. But be improved? Setting aside the first few lines the truth is, that what men think, or ought to of Johnson's celebrated address at the opening of think, however high, spiritual or poetical, can be Drury Lane in 1747, we do not hesitate to aver put into words in such fashion as to be clear to that Sprague's theatrical prologues are superior other men-that is, it can be so put, with time, to the best of the most noted British efforts. We care, skill, patience, and ability. The passage in have now before us the addresses of Pope, Rogers, Sheridan, Byron, and Scott, and we know that those of the American are not only more sensible, poetical and elegant, but that, as mere verse, his lines are decidedly superior.

the "Ode" on "Mirth, his face with sunbeams lit"-is a find specimen of the blending of sound with sense-and that beginning, "Young love with eye of tender gloom" is a most beautiful picture of love's sorrow and joy. As an example of the bold and even sublime, the lines ending the dream of Richard of Gloster should not be forgotten :

The poem on "Art" next demands attention. John Quincy Adams once said of this, that in forty lines was comprised an encyclopædia of description. The idea is poetical, and the expression is For him the vulture sits on yonder misty peak, worthy the idea. It is, in mere execution, the And chides the lagging night, and whets her hungry beak. most happy of all Sprague's productions, and it One can peer out into the thick darkness, and bemay be commended to versifiers as a model of hold the shadowy bird, impatient for her royal correct, condensed, melodious language. "The carrion. We shall copy but one more passage. Centennial Ode" was never our favorite, in spite After the Pindaric lines, the heroic measure comes of occasional fine passages and strong lines; and in with fine effect. Its sweep, at once majestic yet were our present task to end here, we could and yet full of spirit, is unsurpassed, when rolled quote from the "Requiem of the Indian," stanzas from a master lyre :

« VorigeDoorgaan »