Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

genius which has consecrated his name, which has made him the most popular poet of his age, and secures that popularity from fading away, was developed in retirement; it would have been blighted had he continued in the course for which he was trained up. He would not have found the way to fame, unless he had missed the way to fortune. He might have been happier in his generation ; but he could never have been so useful ; with that generation his memory would have passed away, and he would have slept with his fathers, instead of living with those who are the glory of their country, and the benefactors of their kind."

It is pleasant to read the honest praise awarded by one poet to the genius of another. In some respects Southey could not fully understand the character of Cowper. In later life, and under the softening influence of sorrow, which served to draw out his own religious character, he would have comprehended it more readily. If, however, I sometimes differ from Southey in his remarks on the character of the poet, I am amused by observing how completely these remarks are refuted by the very facts which he brings forward to confirm them. Southey is the most honest of biographers.

Hartley. Let poetry and the poets sleep for to-night. It is the hour for supper, the pleasantest of all meals, but one which even in the country is fast becoming obsolete.

STANLEY. Medical men who agree on no other point are, with scarcely an exception, sworn foes to supper ; but, to my thinking, a seven o'clock dinner, which is sure to be the heaviest meal of the day, is more hurtful than a light supper, especially if it be enlivened by talk and spiced by wit.

HARTLEY. The former we can have at all times, and if the wit come it shall be welcome. In any wise :

“No simple word,
That shall be utter'd at our mirthful board,
Shall make us sad next morning, or affright
The liberty that we'll enjoy to-night.”

CHAPTER VIII.

Verse sweetens toil, how rude soe'er the sound

All at her work the village maiden sings ;
Nor, while she turns the giddy wheel around,
Revolves the sad vicissitude of things.

ANON.

It seems strange to me, while writing this simple record of our vacation-readings, to think how all that passed besides during the happy hours of that bright, warm summer time is treasured up in my memory, and how peacefully it nestles there among those fair pictures of the past, which serve to link that past to the present and future, and to give harmony and colour to life. For every casual action, enjoyment, or sorrow has, not only its present influence on the mind, but also affects us for good or ill in the years that follow,—partly through the aid of memory, and partly through some hidden power which we feel but cannot discern.

Again, it sometimes seems strange to me that the fear of digression and a certain sense of critical propriety should forbid my making more than an occasional allusion to the joyous out-of-door life we led for so many weeks at Lynton—to the long rambles on foot or on horseback; to the dreamy boatings, and still more dreamy hours on the hills or by the stream-side ; to the excursions by coach or steamer to other parts of that glorious coast-to Ilfracombe, to Clovelly—the most curious and romantic of villages, to Hartland and Hartland Point, to Mouth Mill, and to many other delicious nooks little heeded by the passing tourist, but well loved and keenly appreciated by all true Devonians. They will join with me in praising the glorious hills, the wild moorlands, the long and overarched lanes, the fine extent of seaboard, the swiftlyflowing and sweetly-winding rivers, the trees and flowers, the apple orchards and gardens, the cottage homes and ancestral mansions, the green and pleasant valleys, the rich pasture lands, the ancient woods and young plantations, as well as other and even higher charms, which combine to render Devonshire the loveliest of all our English shires.

Truly I must express my surprise that young Englishmen should so foolishly wander over foreign lands to their inconvenience and discomfort, when so much that is beautiful, suggestive, and of national interest invites their attention in their own country. Depend upon it England cannot be known too well. The more known the more loved she will be ; and if this be true of all England, now the sole ark of liberty, and the most blessed seat of Christendom-of England with all its miseries and poverty, its weary toil and heavy mammon chains-still more true is it of Devon, for there Beauty's self becomes more beautiful, and there the dark shades of sorrow are softened by the kindly hand of Nature !

[“ The Garden” and “The Winter Evening were read at our next meeting ; but a long summer's day upon the water, a goodly portion of which was passed in rowing, did not leave us much liveliness to expend on conversation. Indeed, my notes for this date are so meagre, that it will be advisable to write down, so far as I can recall it, in the present chapter, the discussion which occupied two evenings. The four last books of “ The Task” formed the topic of conversation.]

HARTLEY. Although Cowper's blank verse is cast in a very different mould from that of Milton, it is remarkable how often, whilst reading “ The Task," we are reminded of the “Paradise Lost." Very frequently there are the same turns of expression, the same combination of words. I find no fault with Cowper for this resemblance. The trees which hang over our bright stream are reflected in its bosom—the water takes their likeness, and mirrors their beauty, but its own freshness and purity are not impaired thereby.

STANLEY. The character of Cowper's blank verse is quite as much his own as the thoughts contained in his poem. Yet; had there been no Milton, it would unquestionably have been different. HARTLEY's illustration, however, is not correet. Cowper does not reflect Milton as the trees are reflected in the stream. If he did he would have no rightful claim to originality,

HARTLEY. Illustrations are seldom apposite if taken too literally, and between an illustration and a definition there is a gulph as wide as that into which Curtius leaped. However, I owe my matter-of-fact friend an apology, which is here tendered.

STANLEY. And accepted; yet 'twere better to avoid an error than to apologize for it. Cowper's "Task "grows in value as it proceeds. The third and fourth books are finer than the first and second ; but the fifth and sixth are the best. In “ The Garden,” which we have to thank Talbot for reading, and reading well, there is the celebrated

« VorigeDoorgaan »