Page images

merely into past and present, and place these into the balance to be weighed against each other, not considering that the present is in our estimation not more than a period of thirty years, or half a century at most, and that the past is a mighty accumulation of many such periods, perhaps the whole of recorded time, or at least the whole of that portion of it in which our own country has been distinguished. We may illustrate this by the familiar use of the words Ancient and Modern, when applied to poetry-what can be more inconsiderate or unjust than to compare a few existing writers with the whole succession of their progenitors? The delusion, from the moment that our thoughts are directed to it, seems too gross to deserve mention; yet men will talk for hours upon poetry, balancing against each other the words Ancient and Modern, and be unconscious that they have fallen into it.


There are different orders of greatness. Among these the first rank is unquestionably due to moral greatness, or magnanimity; to that sublime energy, by which the soul, smitten with the love of virtue, binds itself indissolubly, for life and for death, to truth and duty; espouses as its own the interests of human nature; scorns all meanness and defies all peril; hears in its own conscience a voice louder than threatenings and thunders; withstands all the powers of the universe, which would sever it from the cause of freedom and religion; reposes an unfaltering trust in God in the darkest hour, and is ever 'ready to be offered up' on the altar of its country or of mankind. Of this moral greatness, which throws all other forms of greatness into obscurity, we see not a trace in Napoleon. Though clothed with the power of a god, the thought of consecrating himself to the introduction of a new and higher era, to the exaltation of the character and condition of his race, seems never to have dawned on his mind. The spirit of disinterestedness and self-sacrifice seems not to have waged a moment's war with self-will and ambition. His ruling passions, indeed, were singularly at variance with magnanimity. Moral greatness has too much simplicity, is too unostentatious, too self-subsistent, and enters into others' interests with too much heartiness, to live an hour for what Napoleon always lived, to make itself the theme, and gaze, and wonder of a dazzled world.


Next to moral, comes intellectual greatness, or genius in the highest sense of that word; and by this, we mean that sublime capacity of thought, through which the soul, smitten with the love of the true and the beautiful, essays to comprehend the universe, soars into the heavens, penetrates the earth, penetrates itself, questions the past, anticipates the future, traces out the general and all-comprehending laws of nature, binds together by innumerable affinities and relations all the objects of its knowledge, rises from the finite and transient to the infinite and the everlasting, frames to itself from its own fulness lovelier and sublimer forms than it beholds, discerns the harmonies between the world within and the world without us, and finds in every region of the universe types and interpreters of its own deep mysteries and glorious inspirations. This is the greatness which belongs to philosophers, and to the master spirits in poetry and the fine arts. Next comes the greatness of acand by this we mean the sublime power of conceiving bold and extensive plans; of constructing and bringing to bear on a mighty object a complicated machinery of means, energies, and arrangements, and of accomplishing great outward effects. To this head belongs the greatness of Bonaparte, and that he possessed it we need not prove, and none will be hardy enough to deny. A man, who raised himself from obscurity to a throne, who changed the face of the world, who made himself felt through powerful and civilized nations, who sent the terror of his name across seas and oceans, whose will was pronounced and feared as destiny, whose donatives were crowns, whose antechamber was thronged by submissive princes, who broke down the awful barrier of the Alps and made them a highway, and whose fame was spread beyond the boundaries of civilization to the steppes of the Cossack, and the deserts of the Arab; a man, who has left this record of himself in history, has taken out of our hands the question, whether he shall be called great. All must concede to him a sublime power of action, an energy equal to great effects.


Paradise and its inhabitants are in sweet accordance, and together form a scene of tranquil bliss, which calms and soothes, whilst it delights the imagination. Adam and Eve, just molded by the hand, and quickened by the breath of God, reflect in

their countenances and forms, as well as minds, the intelligence, benignity, and happiness of their author. Their new existence has the freshness and peacefulness of the dewy morning. Their souls, unsated and untainted, find an innocent joy in the youthful creation, which spreads and smiles around them. Their mutual love is deep, for it is the love of young, unworn, unexhausted hearts, which meet in each other the only human objects on whom to pour forth their fulness of affection; and still it is serene, for it is the love of happy beings, who know not suffering even by name, whose innocence excludes not only the tumults but the thought of jealousy and shame, who, imparadised in one another's arms,' scarce dream of futurity, so blessed is their present being. We will not say that we envy our first parents; for we feel that there may be higher happiness than theirs, a happiness won through struggle with inward and outward foes, the happiness of power and moral victory, the happiness of disinterested sacrifices and wide-spread love, the happiness of boundless hope, and of thoughts which wander through eternity.' Still there are times, when the spirit, oppressed with pain, worn with toil, tired of tumult, sick at the sight of guilt, wounded in its love, baffled in its hope, and trembling in its faith, almost longs for the wings of a dove, that it might fly away' and take refuge amidst the 'shady bowers,' the vernal airs,' the 'roses without thorns,' the quiet, the beauty, the loveliness of Eden. It is the contrast of this deep peace of Paradise with the storms of life, which gives to the fourth and fifth books of this poem a charm so irresistible, that not a few would sooner relinqush the two first books, with all their sublimity, than part with these. It has sometimes been said, that the English language has no good pastoral poetry. We would ask, in what age or country has the pastoral reed breathed such sweet strains, as are borne to us on the odoriferous wings of gentle gales' from Milton's Paradise?


It is no reflection on this amiable princess to suppose, that in her early dawn, with the dew of her youth so fresh upon her, she anticipated a long series of years, and expected to be led through successive scenes of enchantment, rising above each other in fascination and beauty. It is natural to suppose she

identified herself with this great nation which she was born to govern; and that while she contemplated its pre-eminent lustre in arts and in arms, its commerce encircling the globe, its colonies diffused through both hemispheres, and the beneficial effects of its institutions extending to the whole earth, she considered them as so many component parts of her grandeur. Her heart, we may well conceive, would often be ruffled with emotions of trembling ecstasy when she reflected, that it was her province to live entirely for others, to compose the felicity of a great people, to move in a sphere which would afford scope for the exercise of philanthropy the most enlarged, of wisdom the most enlightened; and that, while others are doomed to pass through the world in obscurity, she was to supply the materials of history, and to impart that impulse to society which was to decide the destiny of future generations. Fired with the ambition of equaling or surpassing the most distinguished of her predecessors, she probably did not despair of reviving the remembrance of the brightest parts of their story, and of once more attaching the epoch of British glory to the annals of a female reign. It is needless to add that the nation went with her, and probably outstripped her in these delightful anticipations. We fondly hoped that a life so inestimable would be protracted to a distant period, and that, after diffusing the blessings of a just and enlightened administration, and being surrounded by a numerous progeny, she would gradually, in a good old age, sink under the horizon, amid the embraces of her family and the benedictions of her country. But alas! these delightful visions are fled, and what do we behold in their room but the funeral pall and shroud, a palace in mourning, a nation in tears, and the shadow of death settled over both like a cloud! O the unspeakable vanity of human hopes! the incurable blindness of man to futurity! ever doomed to grasp at shadows, to seize with avidity what turns to dust and ashes in his hands, to sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.


There lived a divine old man, whose everlasting remains we have all admired, whose memory is the pride of England and of nature. His youth was distinguished by a happier lot than, perhaps, genius has often enjoyed at the commencement of its

career: he was enabled, by the liberality of fortune, to dedicate his soul to the cultivation of those classical accomplishments in which almost his infancy delighted: he had attracted admiration at the period when it is most exquisitely felt: he stood forth the literary and political champion of republican England; and Europe acknowledged him the conqueror. But the storm arose; his fortune sunk with the republic which he had defended; the name which future ages have consecrated was forgotten; and neglect was embittered by remembered celebrity. Age was advancing-health was retreating-nature hid her face from him for ever, for never more to him returned

"Day, or the sweet approach of even or morn,

Or sight of vernal bloom, or summer's rose,
Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine."

What was the refuge of the deserted veteran from penuryfrom neglect from infamy-from darkness? Not in a querulous and peevish despondency: not in an unmanly recantation of principles-erroneous, but unchanged; not in the tremendous renunciation of what heaven has given, and heaven alone should take away;—but he turned from a distracted country and a voluptuous court,- he turned from triumphant enemies and inefficient friends,—he turned from a world that to him was a universal blank, to the muse that sits among the cherubim,—and she caught him into heaven!—The clouds that obscured his vision upon earth instantaneously vanished before the blaze of celestial effulgence, and his eyes opened at once upon all the glories and terrors of the Almighty,-the seats of eternal beatitude and bottomless perdition. What, though to look upon the face of this earth was still denied-what was it to him, that one of the outcast atoms of creation was concealed from his view-when the Deity permitted the muse to unlock his mysteries, and disclose to the poet the recesses of the universe- -when she bade his soul expand into its immensity, and enjoy as well its horrors as its magnificence—what was it to him that he had "fallen upon evil days and evil tongues," for the muse could transplant his spirit into the bowers of Eden, where the frown of fortune was disregarded, and the weight of incumbent infirmity forgotten in the smile that beamed on primeval innocence, and the tear that was consecrated to man's first disobedience.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »