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sisted, and the hatred which animated them was not extinguished; yet we behold the Guelphs of Florence forming a league with the very heads of the Gibelin faction, to overthrow the military tyranny of the free companies, endeavouring to unite all the principal members of either denomination, in checking the progress of the Pope himself, when his legates had bound the free cities of Romania in fetters; and rejecting, with true republican haughtiness, at the moment of their greatest need, the protection of the king of France, which they thought would have been too dearly purchased even by the nominal recognition of a seignorial supremacy.
We regret that it becomes necessary for us now to quit the subject. Enough, we trust, has been said to prove that the History of Italy, properly treated, (and we think it is properly treated by M. Sismondi,) throws no such obstructions as are generally imagined, in the way of the reader. By this mode of management, the republics of Florence and Milan, present strong rallying points, sufficient to preserve the unity of interest; while we gain enough of the history of all the other states of Italy, from their necessary connection with the principal object. If there is any interruption in the harmony of the design, it is that which is occasioned by tracing the rise and progress of the maritime republics, which (especially that of Venice) had little connection with the rest of Italy, and no perceptible influence upon her general politics till near the period when Italy herself was enslaved, and those very republics were only left to tell the story of her departed liberties.
Our high opinion of the author of this work may be collected from many of our remarks. The only observation that remains for us to make regards his style, in which he appears to have occasionally sacrificed solidity and clearness to false refinement, and occasionally also to have been somewhat too sparing of the labour of revision. But these faults would but slightly detract, did they even more frequently occur, from the merits of a work which possesses so many indisputable claims on the gratitude of the public.
ART. XI. Irish Melodies, with Words, by Thomas Moore, Esq. Four Numbers. Power, Strand.
WE offer no
E offer no apology to our readers for stepping a little out of our track to review a series of poems published with music ; because, as they bear the name of Mr. Moore, it will at once be perceived that they can have no affinity to those well-bred effusions, which Lauretta and Rosabella are perpetually prevailing upon their music masters to print with a tune.
Nothing can be more satisfactorily explained than the high de gree of honour acquired by the lyric bards of antiquity. Their poetry had not only sublimity and beauty to strike the soul and win the affections, but enjoyed the farther benefit of musical accompaniments, admirably suited to fan the animation whcih they kindled. When to this we add the occasions on which the lyrical compositions of the Greeks were usually exhibited, at sacred festivals and public rejoicings, where the splendour and solemnity, the bustle and pride of the scene, concurred to awaken the strongest emotions of taste and patriotism, we shall not wonder that, among so susceptible and polished a people, the odes and chorusses of their great poets were regarded with an enthusiasm at once affectionate and ardent. And, as the elevation of one branch of a family frequently exalts the others, the glory belonging to the sublimer classes of lyric poetry reflected its lustre on those slighter effusions which were allied to them by their common connection with music.
But the changes of manners have wrought correspondent revolutions in taste. The impatience of fashion will endure no piece of music which has not the recommendation of brevity, whatever be the merit of the poetry connected with it. Few odes, therefore, are now set to music; so that the greatest part of what is called lyric poetry in the works of the chief modern writers is no longer lyric except in its name, having avowedly been written, not to be aćcompanied by music, but simply to be read. Indeed it was not to be expected that men of genius, accustomed to classic and 'canonized forms, would often be found willing to curtail their compositions for the sake of musical accompaniment; so little has usually been the reputation attached to the shorter effusions of poetry.
We conceive that song-writing has sunk in popular estimation far below its just level; but we can scarcely wonder at it, when we contemplate the demerits of those who, through a long succession of years, have addicted themselves to the polite art of making canzonets for the young ladies of their acquaintance. These well-meaning persons, we fear, have brought discredit upon the muse who has been so unfortunate as to obtain their partiality; and thus, probably, it has happened that lyric poetry has lost so much of its ancient honour. Its character and consequence have been appraised in the gross, and the few good poets overlooked or confounded in the multitude of pretenders.
This undiscriminating depreciation is, in truth, an error much more important than at first sight it may appear; not only as taste is concerned, but as national character may be affected. We do not mean to insist upon the influence which poetry has actually had in forming or improving the minds or mauners of the English people;
nay, we are afraid that the enthusiasm of taste has but too often overrated the effect of every fine art upon the national characterunless, indeed, the phrase is meant to denote merely the character of the higher ranks of society. This want of effect however must not be ascribed to any inherent inefficacy in the nature of poetry itself; but to the circumstances, which, in this case, have denied it the opportunity of proving its influence. In Greece, where its enjoyments were communicated through the medium of music to all ranks of the people, we have no doubt that poetry had great power in raising as well as refining the general character. Even the wild descants of the rude minstrels of later times, have, in all forms, and most especially when accompanied by music, affected, in a marked and permanent manner, the characters of courts, and even of camps. We cannot but believe, therefore, that similar effects would have been produced by poetry upon our own commonalty if they had enjoyed similar advantages. Certainly, in the only case in which the experiment has been tried, we mean among our sailors, the result has been signally beneficial; and we should be wanting in justice if we did not add, highly creditable to the talents and feelings of the venerable bard who so patriotically devoted his genius to their service.
We admit that the temperament which disposes the soul to take fire at the beauties of poetry, must, in every state, be limited to a very small number; and we suspect, that even these, considered as a body, are not the most moral class of the community. The warmth which makes them so feelingly alive to the charms of verse, is apt to lead them to the indulgence of less innocent emotions; and though they may be capable of a sudden exertion of virtue, yet that very propensity which disposes them to receive impressions so readily, occasions these to be as readily effaced.
It is not however by this romantic kind of impression, that the most important benefits of poetry are usually produced. These, we think, are more essentially promoted by that repugnance to every thing mean and ignoble, which becomes habitual from the study of nature in the purity of her poetical form; by the innocent, and at the same time agreeable direction which the pursuits of taste impart to the idler propensities of the mind; by the influence of generous and pathetic verse in keeping open those hearts which are in danger of being choked with the cares of business, or the still more hardening apathy of wealth; and, most of all, by that suavity of manner which the fine arts create and nourish, and which education and the unrestrained intercourse of good society are daily extending from the higher to the middling classes. It is not, in short, to strong impres sions made on particular persons, but to the laudable habits and manners which a prevailing disposition to poetical pursuits insensi
bly insinuates into the whole social system, that we ascribe the benefit produced by poetry upon national character. That benefit is not a sudden luxuriance engendered by a partial inundation: it grows and ripens like the regular harvest of the season, fostered by the dews and silent rains of heaven.
These are some of our reasons for regretting, that the chief English poets have contributed so little toward a collection of songs worthy to accompany the bold and touching strains of music bequeathed by the bards of more romantic ages. We have stated our opinions rather largely, because we think that the present circumstances of society have given the subject more consequence than it ever possessed before. The abolition of those prejudices which so long condemned the female part of the community to intellectual idleness, has admitted a new and very numerous class to the enjoyments of poetry. Now, of all the poetry which women usually read, the verses that accompany their music form by far the most important portion. If then it be of consequence to form and guide the tastes and pursuits of those who are to be wives and mothers, we should encourage the genius of our lyric poets to its utmost attainable perfection. We should remember the flexibility of the female mind in early youth, and the readiness with which it receives either a good or an evil impulse. We should consider the extreme sensibility of women to the charms of music, and their sympathy with the tone of feeling, which the words connected with that music breathe. We should reflect too upon the striking effects which, in countries where such poems have been more highly valued, the songs of love, of war, and of patriotism have produced, not upon women only, but upon bearded men:' and thus be led to take a more liberal view of an art which, rightly directed, must be essentially conducive to the cultivation of the warmest, and tenderest affections of the heart.
Before we proceed to the direct examination of Mr. Moore's poems, we must be permitted to say a few words about the qualities which we conceive to be the most essential in a song. The first requisite appears to be a decisive tone of feeling, whether joyous or melancholy, tender or heroic. In the next place, the versification, we think, should be free from all forced inversion; a species of construction which saves the trouble of the writer by increasing that of the reader; which checks the flow of sympathy even at its crisis; and renders the representation of nature a distortion of her features and not a reflection.
We will mention only one more quality essential to a song,it should be very short. There is some difficulty, no doubt, in producing a strong effect upon the feelings within the small compass of two or three stanzas; but this makes it the more necessary
to allure superior talents into the undertaking. Ambition is not appalled by difficulties when honour lies beyond them; and if the reputation of song writing were placed on a more equal footing with that of other poetry, the additional toil which songs require would be counterbalanced by the more general circulation which their association with music usually obtains for them. In one or other of these requisites most of the older songs are obviously defective and the praise of producing a large and interesting collection, not only free from cramp versification and prolixity, but distinguished for positive excellence, was reserved for the poet whose works are now before us.
Of his original and fatal error, the sacrifice of decorum at the altar of love, that crime for which, in his youth, he lost the world, and was content to lose it,' the present volumes happily retain no traces. The soul of his poetry has transmigrated into a purer form; and the verse, which once courted admiration by meretricious enticements alone, now steals to the heart with a surer interest, by the modesty which softens and consecrates the influence of beauty.
The most remarkable fault, in the plan of the present work, is a superabundance of ballads upon topics merely Irish. If Mr. Moore were a person whose writings were not calculated to extend beyond the narrow circle of a few discontented place-hunters in Ireland, he might strike his harp in vituperation of government until its strings cracked, without molestation from us; but as this work, not only from the author's previous fame, but from its own intrinsic merits, is likely to attract considerable attention, we put it to Mr. Moore's own judgment, whether he would not have consulted his reputation more effectually by excluding all topics of a local or political nature; topics, which by impartial readers are generally scanned with indifference, and by no small number of zealous partisans with absolute disgust. At the same time it is but justice to confess that there are some of this class (particularly the third song in the third number, beginning Oh! blame not the bard') of which, in our opinion, the energy and pathos have seldom been exceeded.
In the next place, it must be observed, that our poet is but too prone to run into strained, incorrect, and remote resemblances, so that he becomes confused, and sometimes even unintelligible. Yet he has the skill to disguise his inaccuracies in language so elegant, and melody so lulling, that though the fallacy be perceptible to the reader, the hearer is almost inevitably deceived.
There are also two or three songs in the collection, partaking of that character which, for want of a more classical title, has been usually styled, the namby-pamby. Such are, While gazing on