Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][merged small]

SHEFFIELD has been poetically fortunate. It has had the honour, not to give birth to two eminent poets—a mere accident, but to produce them. Neither Montgomery nor Elliott was born in Sheffield ; but there their minds, tastes, and reputations grew. In both poets are strongly recognisable the intellectual features of a manufacturing town. They are both of a popular and liberal tendency of mind. They, or rather their spirits and characters, grew amid the physical sufferings and the political struggles of a busy and high-spirited population, and by these circumstances all the elements of freedom and patriotism were strengthened to full growth in their bosoms. Montgomery came upon the public stage, both as a poet and a political writer, long before Elliott, though the difference of their ages was not so great as might be supposed from this fact, being only about ten years.

It is not my object in this article to compare or to contrast the intellectual characters of these two genuine poets. They are widely different. In both, the spirit of freedom, of progress, of sympathy with the multitude, and of steady antagonism to oppression, manifest themselves, but with much difference of manner. Both possess great vigour, and fervour of feeling; but in James Montgomery the decorums of style are more strictly preserved. We feel that he received his education in a very different school to that of Ebenezer Elliott. In the still halls and gardens of the Moravian brethren, Montgomery imbibed the softness of bearing, and that peculiarly religious tone, which distinguish him. Amidst the roughest and often most hostile crowd of struggling life, Elliott acquired a more fiery and battling aspect, and he learned involuntarily to thunder against evils, where Montgomery would reason and lament. Yet it would be difficult to say in which all that characterises real patriotism, and real religion, most truly resides. In very different walks they both did gloriously and well, and we will leave to others to decide which is the greater poet of the two. Elliott, by both circumstance and temperament, was led to make his poetry bear more directly and at once upon the actual condition of the working classes ; Montgomery displayed more uniform grace, and in lyrical beauty far surpassed his townsman, though not in the exquisite harmony of many portions of his versification. But they are not now to be compared, but to be admired ; and nothing is more beautiful than to find in what tone and manner they spoke of each other. Montgomery gave Ebenezer Elliott the highest praise for his genius, and was for years, in the Iris, the only one who could or would see the merit of the great but unacknowledged bard; while Elliott modestly dedicated his poem of “Spirits and Men” to the author of The World before the Flood, “as an evidence of his presumption and his despair."

James Montgomery had a strictly religious education ; he was the son of religious parents, and belonged to a preeminently religious body, the Moravian brethren; and the spirit of that parentage, education, and association, is deeply diffused through all that he has written. He was essentially a religious poet. Perhaps there are no lyrics in the language which are so truly Christian ; that is, which breathe the same glowing love to God and man, without one tinge of the bigotry that too commonly eats into zeal as rust into the finest steel. We have no dogmas, but a pure and heavenly atmosphere of holy faith, filial and fraternal affection, and reverence of the great Architect of the universe, and of the destinies of man. There is often a tone of melancholy, but it is never that of doubt. It is the sighing of a sensitive heart over the evils of life ; but ever and anon this tone rises into the more animated one of conscious strength and well-placed confidence ; and terminates in that pæan of happy triumph to which the Christian only can ascend. There is no " dealing damnation round the land” in the religious poetry of James Montgomery; we feel that he has peculiarly caught the genuine spirit of Christ; and a sense of beauty and goodness, and of the glorious blessedness of an immortal nature, accompanies us through all his works. That is the spirit which, more than all other, distinguishes his lyrical compositions; and how many, and how beautiful are they! as, The Grave, The Joy of Grief, Verses on the Death of Joseph Brown, a prisoner for conscience' sake in York Castle, commencing," Spirit, leave thine house of clay ;” The Common Lot, Prayer, The Harp of Sorrow, The Dial, The Mole-hill

, The Peak Mountains, A Mother's Love, those noble Stanzas to the Memory of the Rer. Thomas Spencer, The Alps, Friends, Night, and many others in the same volume with the Pelican Island, perhaps some of them the most beautiful and spiritual things he ever wrote. The poetry of Montgomery is too familiar to most readers, and especially religiously intellectual readers, to need much quotation here ; but a few stanzas may be ventured upon, and will of themselves more forcibly indicate the peculiar features of his poetical character, than much pruse description.

The opening stanzas on the death of Thomas Spencer embody his very creed and doctrine as a poet. ** I will not sing a mortal's praise,

" I worship not the Sun at noon, To thee I consecrate my lays,

The wandering Stars, the changing Moon, To whom my powers belong;

The Wind, the Flood, the Flame; These gifts upon thine altar thrown, I will not bow the votive koce O GOD! accept;-accept thine own:

To Wisdom, Virtue, Liberty: My gifts are Thine,-be Thine alone * There is no God but GOD,' for me: The glory of my song.

- Jehovah is his name. * In earth and ocean, sky and air,

“ Him through all nature I explore, All that is excellent and fair,

Him in His creatures I adore, Seen, felt, or understood,

Around, beneath, above; From one eternal cause descends,

But clearest in the human mind. To one eternal centre tends,

His bright resemblance when I find, With God begins, continues, ends,

Grandeur with purity combined, The source and stream of good.

I most admire and love." I cannot resist transcribing one more specimen. It is one is which the quaint but adoring spirit of Quarll, Withers, or Herrick, seems to speak ; nor shall I ever forget the thrilling tone in which I have heard it repeated by a sainted friend, in whom the love of her Saviour was the very life-blood of her heart, and who resembled him in his beneficent walk on earth as much, perhaps, as it is possible for mortal to do.

THE STRANGER AND HIS FRIEXD.

" Ye have done it unto me."—Matt. IXV. 40. " A poor wayfaring man of grief

“ 'Twas night: the floods were out; it ble Hath often crossed me on my way,

A winter hurricane aloof; Who sued so humbly for relief,

I heard his voice abroad, and fiew That I could never answer, Nay:'

To bid him welcome to my roof: I had not power to ask his name,

I warmed, I clothed, I cheered my guest, Whither he went or whence he came; Laid him on my own couch to rest : Yet was there something in his eye Then made the hearth my bed, and seemed

That won my love, I knew not why. In Eden's garden wbile I dreamed. "Once when my scanty meal was spread, * Stript, wounded, beated, nigb to death,

He entered ;-not a word he spake;- I found him by the highway side;
Just perishing for want of bread,

1 roused his pulse, brought back his breathe I gave him all; he blessed it, brake, Revived his spirit, and supplied And ate,—but gave me part again :

Wine, oil, refreshment: he was healed: Mine was an angel's portion then,

I had myself a wound concealed ; For while I fed with eager haste,

But from that hour forgot the smart That crust was manna to my taste. And Peace bound up my broken heart. " I spied him where a fountain burst "In prison I saw him next, condemned Clear from the rock; his strength was To meet a traitor's doom at morni; gone;

The tide of lying tongues I stemmed. The heedless water mocked his thirst, And honoured him 'midst shame and He heard it, saw it hurrying on.

scorn : I ran to raise the sufferer up;

My friendship's utmost seal to try. Thrice from the stream he drained my cup, He asked if í for him would die; Dipt, and returned it running o'er;

The flesh was weak, my blood ran chr. I drank, and never thirsted inore.

But the free spirit cried, I wil"

" Then in a moment to my view,
The stranger darted from disguise;
The tokens in his hands I knew,
My Saviour stood before mine eyes :
He spake; and my poor name He named:
• Of me thou hast not been ashamed:
These deeds shall thy memorial be:

Fear not, thou didst them unto Me.'"
But it is not merely in the lyrical productions of his muse that
Montgomery has indicated the deep feeling of piety that lives as a
higher life in him; in every one of those larger and very beautiful
poems, in which we might have rather supposed him bent on
indulging his literary ambition, and sitting down to a long and
systematic piece of labour, which should remain a monument of the
more continuous if not higher flights of his genius, we perceive the
same still higher object of a sacred duty towards God and man. In
no instance has he been content merely to develop his poetical
powers, merely to aim at amusing and delighting. Song has been
to him a holy vocation, an art practised to make men wiser and
better, a gift held like that of the preacher and the prophet, for the
purposes of heaven and eternity. În every one of those productions
are still recognised the zealous and devoted spirit of one of that
indefatigable and self-renouncing people, who from the earliest ages
of the Christian Church have trod the path of persecution, and won
the burning crown of martyrdom ; and in the present age continue
to send out from their still retreats in Europe an increasing and
untiring succession of labourers, male and female, to the frozen
regions of the north, and to the southern wilds of Africa, to civilize
and Christianize those rude tribes, which others, bearing the Chris-
tian name, have visited only to enslave or extirpate. The Wanderer
of Switzerland, the poem which first won him a reputation, was a
glowing lyric of liberty, and denunciation of the diabolical war-spirit
of the revolutionary French. It was animated by the most sacred
love of country, and of the hallowed ground and hallowed feelings of
the domestic hearth. The West Indies was a heroic poem, on one
of the most heroic acts which ever did honour to the decrees of
a great nation—the abolition of the slave trade. But it was a work
not merely of triumph over what was done, but of incentive to what
yet remained to do-to the abolition of slavery itself. Time has
shown what a stupendous mustering of national powers that achieve-
ment has demanded. What a combination of all the eloquence, and
wisdom, and exertions, of all the wisest, noblest, and best men of,
perhaps, the most glorious period of our history, was needed !
Time has shown that the very slave trade was only abolished on
paper. That, like a giant monster, that hideous traffic laughed at
our enactments, and laughs at them still, having nearly quadrupled
the number of its annual victims since the great contest against it
was begun. But amongst those whose voices and spirit have been in
fixed and perpetual operation against this vile cannibal commerce,
none more effectually exercised their influence than James Mont-
gomery. His poem, arrayed in all the charms and graces of his
noble art, has been read by every genuine lover of genuine poetry

[ocr errors]

It has sunk into the generous heart of youth; and who shall say • how many it has been in after years the unconscious yet actual spring of that manly demand for the extinction of the wrongs of the African, which all good men in England, and wherever the English language is read, still make, and will make till it be finally accom. plished? What fame of genius can be put in competition with the profound satisfaction of a mind conscious of the godlike privilege of aiding in the happiness of man in all ages and regions of the earth and feeling that it has done that by giving to its thoughts the power and privileges of a spirit, able to enter all houses at all hours, and stimulate brave souls to the bravest deeds of the heroism of humanity?

There are great charms of verse displayed in the poem of Tho West Indies. One would scarcely have believed the subject of the slave trade capable of them. But the genial, glowing description of the West Indian islands, of the torrid magnificence of the interior of Africa

“ Regions immense, unsearchable, unknown

Bask in the splendour of the solar zone;
A world of wonders, where creation seeins
No more the works of Nature, but her dreams,

Great, wild, and wonderful." The white villains of Europe, desecrating the name of ChristianSpaniards, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Dutchmen, Danes, and Portuguese-all engaged in the brutal traffic, are sketched with the same rigorous pencil; but the portraiture of the Creole is a master-piece, and I quote it because it still is not a mere picture, but a dreadful reality.

“ Lives there a reptile baser than the slave!

-Loathsome as death, corrupted as the grave;
See the dull Creole, at his pompous board,
Attendant vassals cringing round their lord;
Satiate with food, his heavy eye-lids close,
Voluptuous minions fan him to repose ;
Prone on the noonday couch he lolls in vain,
Delirious slumbers rock his maudlin brain ;
He starts in horror from bewildering dreams;
His bloodshot eve with fire and frenzy gleams;
He stalks abroad; through all his worited rounds,
The negro trembles, and the lash resounds,
And cries of anguish, shrilling through the air,
To distant fields his dread approach declare.
Mark, as he passes, every head declined;
Then slowly raised-to curse him from behind.
This is the veriest wretch on nature's face,
Owned by no country, spurned by every race;
The tethered tyrant of one narrow span;
The bloated vampire of a living man:
His frame,-a fungus form of dunghill birth,
That taints the air, and rots above the earth;
His soul;-has he a soul, whose sensual breast
Of selfish passions is a serpent's nest ?
Who follows headlong, ignorant and blind,
The vague, brute-instinct of an idiot mind;
Whose heart 'mid scenes of suffering senseless grown,
Even from his mother's lap was chilled to stone;
Whose torpid pulse no social feelings move;
A stranger to ihe tenderness of love;
His motley harem charms his gloating eye,
Where ebon, brown, and olive beauties vie :

« PreviousContinue »