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nature; and I would rather have a glorious poem like "Lycidas," which is only a semi-pastoral, than the most correct piece of the kind that has ever been written. By the way, do you remember that James Montgomery in his lectures treats the pastoral with unmitigated contempt?
TALBOT. You are too fond, HARTLEY, of backing your own opinions with the authority of some man of mark. Montgomery, like all other poets who have undertaken to expound their art, was liable to dogmatize, and nursed, of course, his own favourite crotchets.
HARTLEY. My dear TALBOT, you cannot venture to affirm that the pastoral, according to Pope's definition of it, is worthy of much attention, or fitted to afford enjoyment to true lovers of poetry. The thing, as our forefathers understood it, is altogether effete; and you might as well attempt to revive the romances of knight-errantry, or the starched politeness of Sir Charles Grandison. I heartily rejoice, indeed, that this is the case. It is not because we love nature less, that we turn away with contempt from the uncouth and affected dialects of amatory shepherds, but because we love her with a more hearty and indeed a wiser affection, than was ever evinced, except by a few select spirits, in the days of old. The man who is thoroughly in love with any woman drops at once all high-flown phrases, and all merely conventional politeness. His language becomes simple without verging on the common-place, and eloquent without effort. If he is silent, it is from feeling, and an honourable reticence; if he reveals his heart's secret, he does it with a marked sincerity which leaves no doubt that he is in earnest,and just so if a poet wooes nature with the ardour of a
first love, he is not likely to deal in quibbles, or to find satisfaction in the idle play of a misdirected fancy. Our poets in modern times, with plenty of faults to answer for, know more of the beauty and variety of God's world, drink in a deeper solace, and find profounder matter of thought in the flowers, the birds, the mountains, the forest trees, in all the animate and inanimate life around them, than was perhaps possible to their gifted predecessors, in whose lives so many distracting elements contended for the mastery.
TALBOT. A nebulous remark, truly. Explain yourself. HARTLEY. I have said nothing which I cannot justify, and, if need be, prove. Mind you, it is only in one respect that I assert the position of our modern poets to be more favourable than that enjoyed by the greater number of their poetic ancestors. They know more about nature, because they have more leisure to observe her; because they are but seldom actors in the history of their times; because the difficulty of bread-getting does not press them down, and compel them to sing only what they "learn in suffering," or what, to the degradation of their genius, is forced from them to sustain a social status or even a bare existence. The battle of life in this comfortable nineteenth century is not necessarily a hard one for the poets. They can live in well-furnished houses, and accumulate large libraries, and keep an account at their bankers, and walk the streets with the easy and assured step of monied men. The "wind sits in the corner of their sail," and popularity and competence combine to carry them smoothly and pleasantly along.
STANLEY. Too smoothly, perhaps, for their own fame
and the world's advantage. Comfortable and well-to-do men, are not those from whom we expect the noblest flights of genius, or the most pregnant suggestions of wisdom. True greatness is forced out of a man by conflict.
HARTLEY. Granted. I am not arguing as to the greatness of our modern poets, when I affirm that in one respect they have an advantage over their, perhaps, more illustrious predecessors; yet I might reply to you by saying that men who, to outward appearance, live delicately, may know more of stern mental conflicts, and have tougher struggles with foul fiends, than those whose enemies come in a shape more visible and common-place. The man of deep thought—and a great poet is of all men the most profoundly thoughtful-will encounter many an Apollyon with whom he must do battle. But this mental conflict, so far from proving a barrier to intercourse with nature, becomes a powerful incentive to such intercourse.
It is late, exclaimed STANLEY, rising hastily from his chair. I like not late hours, even in London; but in the country all nature summons us to retire to rest betimes, that we may be ready to enjoy her fresh morning fragrance.
A hasty good night was exchanged, an agreement made to meet at an earlier hour the next evening, and away we went down the hill, shouting out snatches of old songs to the silent midnight air.
To lie on the grass in summer noons under breathless trees, to glide over smooth waters and watch the still shadows on tranquil shores, is happiness to me. I need then no books -then no companion. But if to that happiness in the mere luxury of repose I may add another happiness of a higher nature, it is in converse with some one friend upon subjects remote from the practical work-day world.-CAxtoniana, vol. ii., p. 117.
THE next day was spent by STANLEY and myself in an excursion through Exmoor Forest to Simonsbath, where we had a delicious plunge in the cool water, and a long and cheerful ramble over the rough moorland. We took a chaise with us, and left it at the blacksmith's shop while we had our bath and our stroll. I know not how far we wandered; for we were both in high spirits and in active conversation, and consequently in no humour to calculate distance. It was late in the afternoon when we returned, and the valley of the Lyn was already lying in shade. Only a few breaks of golden light here and there, remained to prove how brightly the sun was still shining on the hills. There is something inexpressibly soothing and beautiful in this valley at the close of a summer's day, when nature seems at rest without being torpid; when the trees, with low, faint murmur, speak to us in the solemn voice which is heard in ancient forests, and the river lifts itself in graceful foam-hills over the rocks, as if
eager to catch a glimpse of its ocean-home. Doubtless, the stream is as lively at noon-tide, and the hills guard this happy valley with as loving a care, and the woods have just as wise a lesson to impart when the sun throws over them its warmest beams, and straggles into their most secret enclosures. But so in the full daylight of earthly prosperity are we surrounded by proofs of Divine love, and might learn lessons of humility, and gather up golden sheaves for the storehouse of heaven. Do we gain all this in our hours of joy? Not often, I trow. It is rather when a subdued shade steals over our landscape, and impending darkness silences our mirth, that we look upwards to Him who can give us light at even-tide, and peace in the most gloomy hour.
Our conversation this evening, so far as I am able to recal it, was as follows:
HARTLEY. Once upon a time, and a long time ago it seems, I read through the whole of Shakspeare's plays in search of rural passages, and was surprised to find how few scenes or even lines in them possess a pastoral flavour.
STANLEY. HARTLEY rejoices in a paradox, and such it surely is to assert that the arch-poet of nature sings but seldom of the country. Shakspeare's poetry deficient in rural passages! Why, ask any man who reads his dramas, of what pervading influence he is conscious, and he will tell you that next to the noble, tolerant, Christian spirit that breathes through them, the loveliness of God's world, or at any rate of English earth, appears to colour every scene, and to affect almost every character.
HARTLEY. And no doubt he will be correct in saying