Page images

and idealized, however, and in exquisite accordance with the lovely scenery of ancient Greece and Italy, and with the golden atmosphere of primeval existence. This treatment of a subject, which ordinary readers would consider hopelessly worn and threadbare, is certainly not Homeric, nor is it Miltonic, nor is it in the manner of any of the great poets who have employed the mythological imagery of antiquity; but it is productive of very exquisite pleasure, and must, therefore, be in accordance with true principles of art. In Hyperion, in the Ode to Pan, in the verses on a Grecian Urn, we find a noble and airy strain of beautiful classic imagery, combined with a perception of natural loveliness so luxuriant, so rich, so delicate, that the rosy dawn of Greek poetry seems combined with all that is most tenderly pensive in the calm sunset twilight of romance. Such of Keats's poems as are found. ed on more modern subjects — The Eve of St. Agnes for example, or The Pot of Basil, a beautiful anecdote versified from Boccaccio are, to our taste, inferior to those of his productions in which the scenery and personages are mythological. It would seem as if the severity of ancient art, which in the last-mentioned works acted as an involuntary check upon a too luxuriant fancy, de him when he left the antique world; and the absence of true, deep, intense passion (his prevailing defect) becomes necessarily more painfully apparent, as well as the discordant mingling of the prettinesses of modern poetry with the directness and unaffected simplicity of Chaucer and Boccaccio. But Keats was a true poet. If we consider his extreme youth and delicate health, his solitary and interesting self-instruction, the severity of the attacks made upon him by hostile and powerful critics, and above all the original richness and picturesqueness of his conceptions and imagery, even when they run to waste, he appears to be one of the greatest of the young poets — resembling the Milton of Lycidas, or the Spenser of the Tears of the Muses.

§ 16. THOMAS CAMPBELL (1777-1844), who was born on the 27th of July, 1777, at Glasgow, was educated at the University in that city, where he distinguished himself by his translations from the Greek poets. In 1799, 'when he was only in his twenty-second year, he published his Pleasures of Hope, which was received with a burst of enthusiasm as hearty as afterwards welcomed the Lay of the Last Minstrel and Childe Harold. Shortly afterwards he travelled abroad, where the warlike scenes he witnessed and the battle-fields he visited suggested some noble lyrics. To the seventh edition of the Pleasures of Hope, published in 1802, were added the magnificent verses on the battle of Hohenlinden, re Mariners of England, the most popular of his songs, and Lochiel's Warning. In the following year he settled in London, married, and commenced in earnest the pursuit of literature as a profession. His works were written chiefly for the booksellers, and, with the exception of his Gertrude of Wyoming, which appeared in 1809, do not require any notice in a history of literature. In 1843 he retired to Boulogne, where he died in the following year. His body was brought over to England and interred in Westminster Abbey.

To his lyrics, which are among the finest in any language, Campbell will owe his lasting fame. In Campbell, as in the general state of literary feeling reflected in his works, a complete and vast change had taken place. In the fluctuation of popular taste, in the setting of that current, which, flowing from the old classicism, has carried us insensibly but irresistibly first through Romanticism, and has now brought us to a species of metaphysical quietism, there have been many temporary changes of direction, nay, some apparent stoppages. Despite the effort and impulsion of the Byronian poetry — the poetry of passion

there were writers who not only retained many characteristics of the former school that had to appearance been exploded, but even something of the old tone of sentiment, modified, of course, by the æsthetic principles which were afterwards to be completely embodied in such a cycle of great works as constitutes a school of literature. Campbell is one of the connecting links between the two systems so opposite and apparently so incoinpatible; and in comparing his first work with his last we find a perfect image of the gradual transition from the one style of writing to the other.

$ 17. In the circle of poets with Byron, Shelley, and Keats, outliving by many years the latest of these, must be mentioned the names of Leigh Hunt and Walter Savage Landor.

JAMES HENRY LEIGH Hunt (1784-1859) was the son of a West Indian, who, resident in the United States, had remained a firm loyalist, and after the declaration of independence found it advisable to come over to this country. The poet was born at Southgate, Middlesex, and received his education at Christ's Hospital, which he left “in the same rank, at the same age, and for the same reasons, as Lamb.” He stammered, and therefore “Grecian I could not be.” In 1805 he joined his brother in editing a newspaper called the News, and shortly afterwards established the Examiner, which still exists. A conviction for libel on the prince regent detained him in prison for two years, the happiest portion of his life: he was free from the worry and care which never afterwards forsook him. Soon after he left prison he published the Story of Rimini, an Italian tale in verse (1816), which contains some exquisite poetry, both as to conception and execution. About 1818 he started the Indicator, a weekly paper, in imitation of the Spectator; and in 1822 he went to Italy, to assist Lord Byron and Shelley in their projected paper called the Liberal. Shelley died soon after Hunt's arrival in Italy; and though Hunt was kindly received by Byron, and lived for a time in his house, there was no congeniality between them. The Liberal was discontinued, and they parted on bad terms. On his return to England, Hunt published an account of Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries, which was universally condemned as both ungenerous and unjust. He continued to write for periodicals, and published various poems from time to time, of which one of the most celebrated was Captain Sword and Captain Pen. He died in 1859, at the age of seventy-five, having enjoyed during the latter years of his life a pension of 200l. a year from the Crown. Leigh Hunt's poetry is

graceful, sprightly, and full of fancy. Though not possessing much soul and emotion, it has true life and genius, while here and there his verse is lit up with wit, or glows with tenderness and grace. His prose writings consist of essays, collected under the title of the Indicator and his Companions ; Sir Ralph Esher, a novel; The Old Court Suburb; and his lives of Wycherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar, prefixed to his edition of their dramatic writings.

$ 18. WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR (1775-1864) was born on the 30th of January, 1775. His father was a gentleman of good family and wealthy circumstances residing in Warwickshire. The son entered Rugby at an early age, and thence proceeded to Trinity College, Oxford. Like many others who have taken important literary positions, he left the University without a degree; and though intended at first for the army, and afterwards for the bar, he declined both professions, and threw himself into literature, with the assistance of a liberal allowance from his father. In 1795 his first work - a volume of poems

appeared, followed early in the present century by a translation into Latin of Gebir, one of his own English poems. Landor had no small facility in classical composition, and he appeared to have the power of transporting himself into the times and sentiments of Greece and Rome. This is still more clearly seen in the Heroic Idyls (1820), in Latin verse; and the reproduction of Greek thought in The Hellenics is one of the most successful attempts of its kind. At the death of his father, the poet found himself in possession of an extensive estate; but longing for a life of greater freedom and less monotony than that of an English country-gentleman, he sold his patrimony and took up his abode on the continent, where he resided during the rest of his life, with occasional visits to his native country. The republican spirit which led him to take part as a volunteer in the Spanish rising of 1808 continued to burn fiercely to the last. He even went so far as to defend tyrannicide, and boldly offered a pension to the widow of any one who would murder a despot. Between 1820 and 1830 he was engaged upon his greatest work, Imaginary Conversations of Literary Men and Statesmen. This was followed in 1831 by Poems, Letters by a Conservative, Satire on Satirists (1836), Pentameron and Pentalogue (1837), and a long series in prose and poetry, of which the chief are the Hellenics enlarged and completed, Dry Sticks Fagoted, and The Last Fruit off an Old Tree. He resided towards the close of his life at Bath; but some four or five years before his death, a libel on a lady, for which he was condemned to pay heavy damages, drove him again from his country, and he retired to his Italian home near Florence, and there in serene old age

" the Nestor of English poets,” one of the last literary links with the age of the French Republic, passed quietly away. He died on the 17th of September, 1864, an exile from his country, misunderstood from the very individuality of his genius by the majority of his countrymen, but highly appreciated by those who could rightly estimate the works he has left behind him.

It has been well said of the author of Imaginary Conversations that

[ocr errors]

no writer presents as remarkable an instance of the strength and weakness of the human understanding.” Landor was a man of refined tastes and cultured mind. A gentleman by birth, every line of his writings gives proofs of the learned and polished intellect. But unhappily his great powers were marred by the heedlessness and rashness of his disposition, strong passions, and an unrestrained will. There is no regard for the thoughts and feelings of others. He therefore is too fond of paradox and unfounded assertion. His opinion must be received, because it is his; he runs against every one else, and believes what no one else believes, and scouts those ideas which have received universal assent. Thus Napoleon Bonaparte was a man of no genius; Alfieri the greatest man that Europe has seen; Pitt was a poor creature, and Fox a charlatan. It was this unhappy inconsistency, paradox, and wilfulness, which prevented his writings obtaining that position which was their due. His style is nervous and graceful. In the Imaginary Conversations the tones and manners of the age or individual are well rendered, and the whole work is evidently that of a man deeply in earnest, yet wanting in that gentleness, considerateness, and prudence, which are required in a really valuable production.



§ 1. WILLIAM WORDSWORTH: his life and works. § 2. Criticism of his poetry.

§ 3. SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE: his life. § 4. His literary character and poems. § 5. His prose works and conversation. $6. ROBERT SOUTHEY: his life. § 7. His poems. Joan of Arc. Madoc. Thalaba. Kehama. Roderick. § 8. His prose works.

§ 1. WILLIAM WORDSWORTH (1770-1850), the founder of the so-called Lake School of poetry, was born at Cockermouth, in Cumberland, April 7, 1770. In his ninth year he was sent to a school at Hawkshead, in the most picturesque district of Lancashire, where the scholars, instead of living under the same roof with a master, were boarded among the villagers. They were at liberty to roam over the surrounding country by day and by night, and Wordsworth largely availed himself of this privilege. The relish for the beauties of creation, to which he mainly owes his place among poets, was early manifested and rapidly developed. In his fourteenth year his father died, and the care of the orphans devolved on their uncles. The poet was sent to St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1787, where he spent his time chiefly in the study of the English poets, and in the ordinary amusements of the University. After taking his degree in 1791, he went over to France, where he eagerly embraced the ideas of the wildest champions of liberty in that country. Wordsworth's eye, much more practised to scan landscapes than men, nowhere penetrated beneath the surface; and he concluded that a king and his courtiers were the only Frenchmen by whom power could be abused. His political sentiments, however, became gradually modified, till in later life they settled down into steady Conservatism in Church and State. To vindicate his talents, which his Cambridge career had brought into question, he, in 1793, produced to the world — hurriedly, he says, though reluctantly — two little poems, An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. If the Evening Walk was hastily corrected it had not been hastily composed, for it was begun in 1787, and continued through the two succeeding years. The metre and language are in the school of Pope, but they are the work of a promising scholar, and not of a master. The Descriptive Sketches had been penned at Orleans and Blois, in 1791 and 1792. The execution is of the same school as the Evening Walk, but the language is simpler, and so far superior.

In 1793 Wordsworth commenced, and in 1794 completed, the story of Salisbury Plain, or, Guilt and Sorrow, which did not appear entire till 1842, but of which he published an extract in 1798, under the title of The Female Vagrant. In regard to time it is separated from the

« PreviousContinue »