« VorigeDoorgaan »
All I was wretched by to you I owed;
Who most shall give applause where all admire.
[From The Wanderer.]
Yon mansion, made by beaming tapers gay,
Thy thoughts, first ranked, were sure designed the
Passions plebeians are, which faction raise;
The miser-spirit eyes the spendthrift heir,
Fast lessens, when gay hours return no more;
Folly exhibits thus unmanly sport,
While plotting mischief keeps reserved her court.
There sits the sapient bard in museful mood,
Mr Southey has incautiously ventured a statement in his Life of Cowper,' that Blair's Grave is the only poem he could call to mind which has been composed in imitation of the Night Thoughts.' 'The Grave' was written prior to the publication of the Night Thoughts,' and has no other resemblance to the work of Young, than that it is of a serious devout cast, and is in blank verse. The author was an accomplished and exemplary Scottish clergyman, who enjoyed some private fortune, independent of his profession, and was thus enabled to live in a superior style, and cultivate the acquaintance of the neighbouring gentry. As a poet of pleasing and elegant manners, a botanist and florist, as well as a man of scientific and general knowledge, his society was much courted, and he enjoyed the correspondence of Dr Isaac Watts and Dr Doddridge. Blair was born in Edinburgh in 1699, his father being minister of the Old Church there. In 1731 he was appointed to the living of Athelstaneford, a parish
in East Lothian. Previous to his ordination, he had
written The Grave,' and submitted the manuscript to Watts and Doddridge. It was published in 1743. Blair died at the age of forty-seven, in February 1746. By his marriage with a daughter of Mr Law, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh (to whose memory he dedicated a poem), he left a numerous family; and his fourth son, a distinguished lawyer, rose to be Lord President of the Court of Session.
'The Grave' is a complete and powerful poem, of limited design, but masterly execution. The subject precluded much originality of conception, but, at the same time, is recommended by its awful importance and its universal application. The style seems to be formed upon that of the old sacred and puritanical poets, elevated by the author's admiration of Milton and Shakspeare. There is a Scottish presbyterian character about the whole, relieved by occasional flashes and outbreaks of true genius. These coruscations sometimes subside into low and vulgar ideas, as towards the close of the following noble passage:—
Where are the mighty thunderbolts of war?
From kings of all the then discovered globe;
The death of the strong man is forcibly depicted
Strength, too! thou surly and less gentle boast
See, how he tugs for life, and lays about him,
In our extracts from Congreve, we have quoted a passage, much admired by Johnson, descriptive of the awe and fear inspired by a cathedral scene at midnight, where all is hushed and still as death.' Blair has ventured on a similar description, and has imparted to it a terrible and gloomy power
See yonder hallowed fane! the pious work
And tattered coats of arms, send back the sound,
Invidious Grave! how dost thou rend in sunder
Sweet murmuring, methought the shrill-tongued
Mended his song of love; the sooty blackbird
Of dress! Oh! then the longest summer's day
Some of his images are characterised by a Shakspearian force and picturesque fancy of suicides he says
The common damned shun their society,
Drop off like leaves in autumn; yet launch out
The divisions of churchmen are for ever closed-
Stalked off reluctant, like an ill-used ghost,
Like those of angels, short and far between. The latter simile has been appropriated by Mr Campbell, in his Pleasures of Hope,' with one slight verbal alteration, which can scarcely be called an improvement
What though my winged hours of bliss have been, Like angel visits, few and far between.
The original comparison seems to belong to an obscure religious poet, Norris of Bemerton, who, prior to Blair, wrote a poem, 'The Parting,' which contains the following verse :
How fading are the joys we dote upon;
But those who soonest take their flight,
"Like angels' visits short and bright; Mortality's too weak to bear them long. The conclusion of 'The Grave' has been pronounced to be inferior to the earlier portions of the poem ; yet the following passage has a dignity, pathos, and devotional rapture, equal to the higher flights of Young:
Thrice welcome, Death!
That, after many a painful bleeding step,
Each earth-born joy grows vile, or disappears,
His faithfulness stands bound to see it done.
When the dread trumpet sounds, the slumbering dust, Not unattentive to the call, shall wake;
And every joint possess its proper place,
With a new elegance of form, unknown
To its first state. Nor shall the conscious soul
Shall rush, with all the impatience of a man
ISAAC WATTS-a name never to be pronounced without reverence by any lover of pure Christianity,
vided for placing him at the university, but he early inclined to the Dissenters, and he was educated at one of their establishments, taught by the Rev. Thomas Rowe. He was afterwards four years in the family of Sir John Hartopp, at Stoke Newington. Here he was chosen (1698) assistant minister by an Independent congregation, of which four years after he succeeded to the full charge; but bad health soon rendered him unfit for the performance of the heavy labours thus imposed upon him, and in his turn he required the assistance of a joint pastor. His health continuing to decline, Watts was received
Abney House. in 1712 into the house of a benevolent gentleman of his neighbourhood, Sir Thomas Abney of Abney Park, where he spent all the remainder of his life.
There is no circumstance in English literary biography parallel to the residence of this sacred bard in the house of a friend for the long period of thirty
six years. Abney House was a handsome mansion, surrounded by beautiful pleasure-grounds. He had apartments assigned to him, of which he enjoyed the use as freely as if he had been the master of the house. Dr Gibbons says, Here, without any care of his own, he had everything which could contribute to the enjoyment of life, and favour the pursuit of his studies. Here he dwelt in a family which, for piety, order, harmony, and every virtue, was a house of God. Here he had the privilege of a country recess, the fragrant bower, the spreading lawn, the flowery garden, and other advantages to soothe his mind and aid his restoration to health; to yield him, whenever he chose them, most grateful intervals from his laborious studies, and enable him to return to them with redoubled vigour and delight.' The death of Sir Thomas Abney, eight years after he went to reside with him, made no change in these agreeable arrangements, as the same benevolent patronage was extended to him by the widow, who outlived him a year. While in this retirement, he preached occasionally, but gave the most of his time to study, and to the composition of those works which have given him a name in the annals of literature. His treatises on Logic and on the Improvement of the Mind are still highly prized for their cogency of argument and felicity of illustration. Watts also wrote several theological works and volumes of sermons. His poetry consists almost wholly of devotional hymns, which, by their simplicity, their unaffected ardour, and their imagery, powerfully arrest the attention of children, and are never forgotten in mature life. In infancy we learn the hymns of Watts, as part of maternal instruction, and in youth his moral and logical treatises impart the germs of correct reasoning and virtuous selfgovernment. The life of this good and useful man terminated on the 25th of November 1748, having been prolonged to the advanced age of seventy-five.
How fair is the rose! what a beautiful flower, The glory of April and May!
But the leaves are beginning to fade in an hour, And they wither and die in a day.
Yet the rose has one powerful virtue to boast, Above all the flowers of the field;
Behold the God! the Almighty King
Here camps, with wide-embattled force,
[A Summer Evening.]
How fine has the day been, how bright was the sun,
When its leaves are all dead, and its fine colours lost, His rays are all gold, and his beauties are best;
Still how sweet a perfume it will yield!
So frail is the youth and the beauty of men,
Though they bloom and look gay like the rose; But all our fond care to preserve them is vain, Time kills them as fast as he goes.
Then I'll not be proud of my youth nor my beauty,
But gain a good name by well-doing my duty;
[The Hebrew Bard.]
Softly the tuneful shepherd leads
He paints the sky gay as he sinks to his rest,
Just such is the Christian; his course he begins,
But when he comes nearer to finish his race,
EDWARD YOUNG, author of the Night Thoughts, was born in 1681 at Upham, in Hampshire, where his father (afterwards dean of Salisbury) was rector. He was educated at Winchester school, and subsequently at All Souls' college, Oxford. In 1712 he commenced public life as a courtier and poet, and he continued both characters till he was past eighty. One of his patrons was the notorious Duke of Wharton, the scorn and wonder of his days,' whom Young accompanied to Ireland in 1717. He was next tutor to Lord Burleigh, and was induced to give up this situation by Wharton, who promised to provide for him in a more suitable and ample
manner. The duke also prevailed on Young, as a scribes, must be true; but they did not permanently political supporter, to come forward as a candidate influence his conduct. He was not weaned from the for the representation of the borough of Cirencester world till age had incapacitated him for its purin parliament, and he gave him a bond for £600 to suits; and the epigrammatic point and wit of his defray the expenses. Young was defeated, Whar-Night Thoughts,' with the gloomy views it pre
sents of life and religion, show the poetical artist fully as much as the humble and penitent Christian. His works are numerous; but the best are the 'Night Thoughts,' the Universal Passion,' and the tragedy of Revenge. The foundation of his great poem was family misfortune, coloured and exaggerated for poetical effect
Insatiate archer! could not one suffice?
Thy shafts flew thrice, and thrice my peace was slain; And thrice, ere thrice yon moon had filled her horn. This rapid succession of bereavements was a poetical license; for in one of the cases there was an interval of four years, and in another of seven months. The profligate character of Lorenzo has been supposed to indicate Young's own son. It seems to us a mere fancy sketch. Like the character of Childe Harold, in the hands of Byron, it afforded the poet scope for dark and powerful painting, and was made the vehicle for bursts of indignant virtue, sorrow, regret, and admonition. This artificial character pervades the whole poem, and is essentially a part of its structure. But it still leaves to our admiration many noble and sublime passages, where the poet speaks as from inspiration-with the voice of one crying in the wilderness-of life, death, and immortality. The truths of religion are enforced with a commanding energy and persuasion. Epigram and repartee are then forgotten by the poet; fancy yields to feeling; and where imagery is
ton died, and the court of chancery decided against the validity of the bond. The poet, being now quali-employed, it is select, nervous, and suitable. In fied by experience, published a satire on the Uni- this sustained and impressive style Young seldom versal Passion-the Love of Fame, which is at once remains long at a time; his desire to say witty and keen and powerful, and the nearest approach we smart things, to load his picture with supernumehave to the polished satire of Pope. When upwards rary horrors, and conduct his personages to their of fifty, Young entered the church, wrote a pane-sulphureous or ambrosial seats,' soon converts the gyric on the king, and was made one of his majesty's chaplains. Swift has said that the poet was compelled to
torture his invention
To flatter knaves, or lose his pension. But it does not appear that there was any other reward than the appointment as chaplain. In 1730, Young obtained from his college the living of Welwyn, in Hertfordshire, where he was destined to close his days. He was eager to obtain further preferment, but having in his poetry professed a strong love of retirement, the ministry seized upon this as a pretext for keeping him out of a bishopric. The poet made a noble alliance with the daughter of the Earl of Lichfield, widow of Colonel Lee, which lasted ten years, and proved a happier union than the titled marriages of Dryden and Addison. The lady had two children by her first marriage, to whom Young was warmly attached. Both died; and when the mother also followed, Young composed his Night Thoughts.' Sixty years had strengthened and enriched his genius, and augmented even the brilliancy of his fancy. In 1761 the poet was made clerk of the closet to the Princess Dowager of Wales, and died four years afterwards, in April 1765, at the advanced age of eighty-four.
A life of so much action and worldly anxiety has rarely been united to so much literary industry and genius. In his youth, Young was gay and dissipated, and all his life he was an indefatigable courtier. In his poetry he is a severe moralist and ascetic divine. That he felt the emotions he de
great poet into the painter and epigrammatist. The ingenuity of his second style is in some respects as wonderful as the first, but it is of a vastly inferior order of poetry. Mr Southey thinks, that when Johnson said (in his 'Life of Milton') that 'the good and evil of eternity were too ponderous for the wings of wit,' he forgot Young. The moral critic could not, however, but have condemned even witty thoughts and sparkling metaphors, which are so incongruous and misplaced. The Night Thoughts,' like Hudibras,' is too pointed, and too full of compressed reflection and illustration, to be read continuously with pleasure. Nothing can atone for the want of simplicity and connection in a long poem. In Young there is no plot or progressive interest. Each of the nine books is independent of the other. The general reader, therefore, seeks out favourite passages for perusal, or contents himself with a single excursion into his wide and variegated field. But the more carefully it is studied, the more extraordinary and magnificent will the entire poem appear. The fertility of his fancy, the pregnancy of his wit and knowledge, the striking and felicitous combinations everywhere presented, are indeed remarkable. Sound sense is united to poetical imagery; maxims of the highest practical value, and passages of great force, tenderness, and everlasting truth, are constantly rising, like sunshine, over the quaint and gloomy recesses of the poet's imagination
The glorious fragments of a fire immortal,