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Theodric, a Domestic Tale: with other Poems. By THOMAS CAMPBELL. 12mo. pp. 150. London: 1824.
IF Mr. Campbell's poetry was of a kind that could be forgotten, his long fits of silence would put him fairly in the way of that misfortune. But, in truth, he is safe enough; and has even acquired, by virtue of his exemplary laziness, an assurance and pledge of immortality which he could scarcely have obtained without it. A writer who is still fresh in the mind and favour of the public, after twenty years' intermission, may reasonably expect to be remembered when death shall have finally sealed up the fountains of his inspiration, imposed silence on the cavils of envious rivals, and enhanced the value of those relics to which it excludes the possibility of any future addition. At all events, he has better proof of the permanent interest the public take in his productions, than those ever can have who are more diligent in their multiplication, and keep themselves in the recollection of their great patron by more frequent intimations of their existence. The experiment, too, though not without its hazards, is advantageous in another respect; for the re-appearance of such an author, after those long periods of occultation, is naturally hailed as a novelty-and he receives the double welcome, of a celebrated stranger, and a remembered friend. There is, accordingly, no living poet, we believe, whose advertisement excites greater expectation than Mr. Campbell's: - and a new poem from him is waited for with even more eagerness (as it is certainly for a much longer time) than a new novel from the author of Waverley. Like all other human felicities, however, this high expectation and prepared homage has its drawbacks and its dangers. A popular author, as we
CAMPBELL'S THEODRIC A DOMESTIC STORY,
have been led to remark on former occasions, has no rival so formidable as his former self- and no comparison to sustain half so dangerous as that which is always made between the average merit of his new work, and the remembered beauties for little else is ever remembered of his old ones.
How this comparison will result in the present instance, we do not presume to predict with confidencebut we doubt whether it will be, at least in the beginning, altogether in favour of the volume before us. The poems of this author, indeed, are generally more admired the more they are studied, and rise in our estimation in proportion as they become familiar. Their novelty, therefore, is always rather an obstruction than a help to their popularity;- and it may well be questioned, whether there be any thing in the novelties now before us that can rival in our affections the longremembered beauties of the Pleasures of Hope-of Gertrude of O'Connor's Child-the Song of Linden -The Mariners of England-and the many other enchanting melodies that are ever present to the minds of all lovers of poetry.
The leading piece in the present volume is an attempt at a very difficult kind of poetry; and one in which the most complete success can hardly ever be so splendid and striking as to make amends for the difficulty. It is entitled "a Domestic Story" and it is so;-turning upon few incidents-embracing few characters - dealing in no marvels and no terrors - displaying no stormy passions. Without complication of plot, in short, or hurry of action - with no atrocities to shudder at, or feats of noble daring to stir the spirits of the ambitious -it passes quietly on, through the shaded paths of private life, conversing with gentle natures and patient sufferings — and unfolding, with serene pity and sober triumph, the pangs which are fated at times to wring the breast of innocence and generosity, and the courage and comfort which generosity and innocence can never fail to bestow. The taste and the feeling which led to the selection of such topics, could not but impress their
AND THEREFORE DIFFICULT FOR A POET. 201
character on the style in which they are treated. It is distinguished accordingly by a fine and tender finish, both of thought and of diction- by a chastened elegance of words and images - a mild dignity and tempered pathos in the sentiments, and a general tone of simplicity and directness in the conduct of the story, which, joined to its great brevity, tends at first perhaps to disguise both the richness and the force of the genius required for its production. But though not calculated to strike at once on the dull palled ear of an idle and occupied world, it is of all others perhaps the kind of poetry best fitted to win on our softer hours, and to sink deep into vacant bosoms-unlocking all the sources of fond recollection, and leading us gently on through the mazes of deep and engrossing meditation and thus ministering to a deeper enchantment and more lasting delight than can ever be inspired by the more importunate strains of more ambitious authors.
There are no doubt peculiar and perhaps insuperable difficulties in the management of themes so delicate, and requiring so fine and so restrained a hand- nor are we prepared to say that Mr. Campbell has on this occasion entirely escaped them. There are passages that are somewhat fade: there are expressions that are trivial: -But the prevailing character is sweetness and beauty; and it prevails over all that is opposed to it. The story, though abundantly simple, as our readers will immediately see, has two distinct compartments-one relating to the Swiss maiden, the other to the English wife. The former, with all its accompaniments, we think nearly perfect. It is full of tenderness, purity, and pity; and finished with the most exquisite elegance, in few and simple touches. The other, which is the least considerable, has more decided blemishes. The diction is in many places too familiar, and the incidents too common - and the cause of distress has the double misfortune of being unpoetical in its nature, and improbable in its result. But the shortest way is to give our readers a slight account of the poem, with such specimens as may enable them to judge fairly of it for themselves.
It opens, poetically, with the description of a fine scene in Switzerland, and of a rustic church-yard; where the friend of the author points out to him the flowery grave of a maiden, who, though gentle and fair, had died of unrequited love:- and so they proceed between them, for the matter is left poetically obscure, to her history. Her fancy had been early captivated by the tales of heroic daring and chivalric pride, with which her country's annals abounded and she disdained to give her love to any one who was not graced with the virtues and glories of those heroic times. This exalted mood was unluckily fostered by her brother's youthful ardour in praise of the commander under whom he was serving abroadby whom he was kindly tended when wounded, and whose picture he brought back with him on his return to his paternal home, to renew, and seemingly to realize, the day-dreams of his romantic sister. This picture, and the stories her brother told of the noble Theodric, completed the poor girl's fascination. Her heart was kindled by her fancy; and her love was already fixed on a being she had never seen! In the mean time, Theodric, who had promised a visit to his young protegé, passes over to England, and is betrothed to a lady of that country of infinite worth and amiableness. then repairs to Switzerland, where, after a little time, he discovers the love of Julia, which he gently, but firmly rebukes-returns to England, and is married. His wife has uncomfortable relations- quarrelsome, selfish, and envious; and her peace is sometimes wounded by their dissensions and unkindness. War breaks out anew, too, in Theodric's country; and as he is meditating a journey to that quarter, he is surprised by a visit from Julia's brother, who informs him that, after a long struggle with her cherished love, her health had at last sunk under it, and that she now prayed only to see him once more before she died! His wife generously urges him to comply with this piteous request. He does so; and arrives, in the midst of wintry tempests, to see this pure victim of too warm an imagination expire, in smiles of speechless gratitude and love. While mourning over
OPENING OF NARRATIVE.
her, he is appalled by tidings of the dangerous illness of his beloved Constance-hurries to England - and finds her dead! her fate having been precipitated, if not occasioned, by the harsh and violent treatment she had met with from her heartless relations. The piece closes with a very touching letter she had left for her husband --and an account of its soothing effects on his mind.
This, we confess, is slight enough, in the way of fable and incident: But it is not in those things that the merit of such poems consists; and what we have given is of course a mere naked outline, or argument rather, intended only to explain and connect our extracts.
For these, we cannot possibly do better than begin with the beginning.
"Twas sunset, and the Ranz des Vaches was sung,
And lights were o'er th' Helvetian mountains flung,
Amidst them one of spotless marble shone
A maiden's grave
and 't was inscrib'd thereon,
'Yes,' said my comrade, 'young she died, and fair!