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Byron thrust away what alone could have restored a heart wasted with self-indulgence, wounded with self-torment. The lines tell of the death of Otho :
6. When Rome's sixth emperor was near his iast,
'It is too late '" While the influence of Lord Byron's poetry has declined (how rarely now is it quoted !), the estimation of Shelley's genius has risen. With fine poetic endowment, both of imagination and feeling, and with a willing spirit of poetic discipline by the study of his art, his mind, unhappily, was bewildered in the mazes and the misery of a speculative scepticism, which possibly a nature generous, sincere, and enthusiastic as his, might have outgrown in a longer life. There was an earnestness in his character that elevates his memory above that of Byron, but the cloud of unbelief brought kindred confusion over his vision, as when he speaks of life and death :
“ In this life
Where nothing is, but all things seem,
Like all the rést, a mockery." In the beautiful lines written among the Euganean Hills, you cannot but see how Shelley's profound sense of the beauty of earth is imbittered by the gloom of infidelity :
"Many a green isle needs must be
Big with clouds, hangs heavily.” It is no untruthful tenderness that has described Shelley as unhappy enthusiast, who, through a calamitous combination of circum
stances, galling and fretting a morbidly sensitive temperament, became a fanatical hater of the perversions and distortions conjured up by his own feverish imagination. .. He was under the miserable delusion of hating, under the name of Christianity, what was not Christianity itself, but rather a medly of anti-christian notions which he blindly identified with it."
Considering how pure Shelley's poetry is from all such sensual depravity as vitiates the pages of Byron, and how earnest he was in speculations he believed to be for the good of his fellow-men, one would fain look with pity on his errors as well as on his tragic death. It is with an honest power of friendship that Leigh Hunt says of Shelley that “Whether interrogating nature in the icy solitudes of Chamcuny, or thrilling with the lark in the sunshine, or shedding indignant tears with sorrow and poverty, or pulling flowers like a child in the field, or pitching himself back into the depths of time and space, and discoursing with the first forms and gigantic shadows of creation, he is alike in earnest and at home.” A more sober judgment, well describing a great deal of Shelley's poetry, is given by Mr. Henry Taylor, in the preface to Philip Van Artevelde : “Much beauty, exceeding splendour of diction and imagery, cannot but be perceived in his poetry, as well as exquisite charms of versification ; and a reader of an apprehensive fancy will doubtless be entranced while he reads; but when he shall have closed the volume, and considered within himself what it has added to his stock of permanent impressions, of recurring thoughts, of pregnant recollections, he will probably find his stores in this kind no more enriched by having read Mr. Shelley's poems, than by having gazed on so many gorgeously coloured clouds in an evening sky: surpassingly beautiful they were while before his eyes; but forasmuch as they had no relevancy to his life, past or future, the impression upon the memory barely survived that upon the senses.
In even the most cursory survey of the literature of our times, it becomes a part of its history that one of the prose-writers, who has made a strong and peculiar impression on many thoughtful intellects, is Thomas Carlyle. Converting simple English speech into a strange Teutonic dialect, he used a style which, while it is odious and repulsive to some, seems, by a sort of fascination, to compel the attention of others; and yet this uncouth style, 50 alien from what the use of centuries has proved to be genuine English, that it almost sounds like the making strange noises to gain and force a hearing, is so redeemed by the author's vigour, and is in such affinity with the strangeness of imagery and illustration with which he utters his strong thinking and hearty
feeling, that one is willing to look on it, nut as affectation, but as the natural expression of such a mind—a fashion of speech for himself alone. The impression Mr. Carlyle has made is owing, no doubt, chiefly to his intense earnestness; and he has done good service in teaching men the worthlessness of all formality in which the truth has died out, and by exposing unreality, mockery—the forms ist untruthfulness and counterfeit, described by the emphatic, homely term, " sham.” The tiu has not yet come for a full estimate of Mr. Carlyle's genius ; for there is not assurance enough whither he may lead his disciples. A deep sense of earnestness does not give all the moral security that is needed; for vice has its earnestness, far less real indeed, as well as virtue; and thus the mere sense of earnestness, though for the most part giving good guidance, may betray, if it be not held in just subordination to the supremacy of the sense of truth. The admiration of power, as in Carlyle's just tribute to all the robust reality of Dr. Johnson's character, may be appropriate and wise ; but, gazing too much at mere power, it may disparage the sense of right, or rather confound might with right. The readers of Mr. Carlyle's writings therefore, while they may draw moral good and wisdom from them, must needs follow him with some caution, for he may lead them into strange places. When I consider what the English language, in all its natural simplicity, and beauty, and majesty, has been in the hands of the great masters of it, whether in prose or verse, I cannot divest myself of a misgiving that such strange and self-willed use as Mr. Carlyle makes of his mother-tongue is a symptom of something unsound in the constitution of his mind.
I pass, by an association of contrast, to Southey, whose use of the language shows that natural and scholarlike beauty which is an element of his reputation, both as a prose-writer and a poet. His career of authorship, in both departments, has been most remarkable: in prose, embracing, with much miscellaneous essay-writing of a high order, one of the most popular biographies in our literature, the Life of Nelson, and a learned and elaborate historical work, such as his history of Brazil ; and in poetry and political odes, resembling Milton's political poems in power, a great variety of the minor pieces, and such extended productions as the heroic narrative poem of Roderic, and those highest efforts of his genius, the poems in which he brought Asiatic forms into the service of Christian poetry and truth, spiritualizing those forms of error as Spenser hallowed and purified chivalry and its customs. The most attractive of these poems is Thalaba--the finest achievement, perhaps, of what has been well styled Southey's judicious daring in supernatural poetry. It shadows forth, as its pervading but not obtruded moral, the war and
victory of faith, a spiritual triumph over the world and evil powers, and thus is one of the great sacred poems in our literature. I should have been glad of an opportunity to show more fully the high imaginative character of this poem, and how much interest may be found in the study of it. I can now do little more than remark that the poet has taken not so much Mohammedanism (certainly not at all in its impurity),
a system of belief and worship developed under the covenant with Ishmael,” a remnant of patriarchal faith traditional among the
and the believing in Arabia ; and upon it he has brought the light of Christian imagination to shine, as the angel's face beamed on the fugitive bonu'woman when he bade her turn her wandering footsteps home again, and opened for her outcast and fainting child a fountain in the desert. “ Thalaba” is a poetic story of faith—its spiritual birth, its might, its trials, and its victory-such a story as none but a Christian poet could have told. As you follow the hero along his wondrous career to its sublime and pathetic close, the feeling which the rapt imagination retains is a deep sense of the majestic strength given to the soul of man when God breathes into it the spirit of faith. It has been truly remarked of Shakspeare's dramas, that the opening scene always bears an impress characteristic of the sequel; and never was the same principle of art more finely proved than in the beautiful opening stanzas of Thalaba—not least admirable in this, the reverential reserve with which they breathe of Scripture truth and story:
“ How beautiful is night!
A dewy freshness fills the silent air;
Breaks the serene of heaven;
Beneath her steady ray
The desert circle spreads,
How beautiful is night!
Who, at this untimely hour,
No station is in view,
The mother and her child,
They at this untimely hour
Alas! the setting sun
Hodeirah's wife beloved,
The fruitful mother late,
They wished their lot like hers,—
A wretched widow now;
With only one preserved,
She wanders o'er the wilderness.
But sometimes when the boy
And, looking up to her fixed countenance,
The pious sufferer cried :
She cast her eyes around :
Beside the bending sands;
The dark blue sky closed round
And rested like a dome
Upon the circling waste-
And wept upon her child." During nearly the first forty years of this century did Southey devote himself, as long as his powers lasted, to an honourable activity in his country's literature, associating like Scott, in genial companionship with all the good and great in the same cause: the record of his life (his son is now giving it to the world), like the inimitable biography of Scott, is not only a personal narrative, but a history of the literature of our times. I know not where you could look for that history so agreeably told as in these two biographies.
In this rapid and very inadequate view of contemporary îiterature, I have reserved little space for an influence which is felt most amply and gratefully where it is felt at all, and which, in my belief, will prove
the most permanent poetic influence of these times : I refer, I need hardly