« PreviousContinue »
united wonders oppressed me beyond endurance. But there is no knowing. Imagination itself familiarizes us to spectacles of things which are too much for the mechanical. It is the body which is in fault when the mind is overbon in its own business. Again, I like Mrs. Graham's committal of herself about Pope. The scene, she says, was one which, she is “convinced, would have given an energetic impetus to the ideas of the immortal Pope himself, to have given an adequate description." She betrays, to be sure, the extent of her reading; and though Pope is an immortal, one is accustomed to confine the epithet to immortals greater than he; but what could she do better than resort to the utmost limits of her book-knowledge, to show the height of her sensations ? Poetry itself may be glad of any compliment paid it, at an elevation of three miles and a half above terra firma !
It is not improbable that they who feel apprehensive at the idea of ascending in a balloon, would feel less so when fairly up in the air, especially at a great height. There is something in the air itself at those altitudes, which supports and delights. I remember I used to have less of the feeling I have been speaking of, when standing on the greatest mountainous precipices, than on the top of a house. I have looked from a platform of the maritime Apennines, down upon the Gulf of Genoa, where the towns on the opposite coast appeared like toys in a shopwindow, at a less distance from the edge of the mountain than I could have borne at a far less elevation. Extremes meet. It seemed so idle to contest a point, or to have a will not in unison with so many thousand feet, that the counter idea itself mitigated the fascination of its terror. Besides, there is a tendency in the pure air to put the bodily feelings into a state of tranquillity. It seemed as if
the great, good-natured elements themselves would have supported me.
“Ye gentle gales, upon my body blow,
And softly lay me on the waves below.”
Perhaps they might really do so if one had a good cloak on, or some such expanding piece of drapery! There was a marvellous paragraph the other day in the newspapers, stating that a young lady at Odessa had ascended in a balloon made of paper, which burst at a great height, and dismissed her to the earth, where she landed, nevertheless, in safety! The winds must have been conveniently opposed to her, and her garments have formed an extempore parachute, after the fashion of the hoop-petticoat described in the “Spectator.” But does it not seem a shame for men to have a thought of danger, while ladies can go up in paper balloons, or in any balloons at all? One is forced, in self-defence, to conclude that these fair aërial voyagers cannot, at all events, superabound in imagination. They would hardly irritate a perverse husband with an excess of the gentle. Not that they may not be very good-humored either, nor are they bound to be masculine in an ill sense. The truth is, they stand a chance of being either very pleasant or very unpleasant people — pleasant, if their courage arises from good health, or confidence in science, and a willingness to go where their husbands go, and the reverse, in all conscience, if it be sheer want of fancy and abundance of will. I confess, if I were seeking a wife, that, on the face of the matter, should not be desirous to fetch
“E'en from the golden chariot of balloon,
A fearless dame, who touch'd a golden fee;"
nd yet circumstances might render even that circumstance a touching proof of her womanhood; and I might fare worse, on the score of the truly feminine, with a screamer at a frog.
Poets go up in the air without balloons, and arrive at sensations which others must ascend in actual cars to experience. The Psalmist takes “the wings of the morning,” (how beautiful!) and remains “in the uttermost parts of the sea." Goethe heard the sun rolling in thunder round the throne of God, and young Milton anticipated the grandeurs of his epic poem, and saw the thunders themselves lying in cloudy piles and mountains of sullen
Milton, in his nineteenth year, seems to have meditated a poem on some aërial subject, like the “Extasy,” subsequently published by his contemporary Cowley, whom he is known to have highly admired in spite of his conceits. There is even a dash of Cowley's mixture of great and little things (the taste of the day) in the following lines, which, however, are a true announcement of the future Milton;
“I have some naked thoughts that rove about,
And loudly knock to have their passage out;
and see each blissful deity, How he before the thund'rous throne does lie,
Listening to what unshorn A pollo sings
In heaven's defiance mustering all his waves.” Cowley's “Extasy” is a very curious poem, provoking for its excessive mixture of mean and grand ideas. Had Cowley and Milton, instead of being kept apart by difference of political opinion, had the luck to become friends, they might have done one another great service. Milton might have saved Cowley's taste from the homely drawbacks to which good nature rendered it liable, and the highly rational amiableness of Cowley's heart might have softened the sternness of Milton, and saved it from degenerating into puritanical sourness. The opening of this poem might serve for an aëronaut when quitting the ground; but how ludicrous is the misplaced waiving of ceremony in the second line, especially after the mighty universality of the first !
“ I leave mortality and things below;
“ Where shall I find the noble British land?
Lo! I at last a northern speckespy,
(Here comes a fine line),
“Oh, irony of words ! - do call Great Britannie?"
He then seems to be imitating the lines of his contemporary, but in a very inferior strain. The third and fourth lines are in laughably bad taste:
pass by th' arched magazines which hold
I pass two stanzas to come to a most noble line
“Where am I now? ANGELS AND GOD IS HERE."
I know nothing finer than the use of this word is instead of are, making the idea of the presence of God swallow up that of the angels, and yet leaving a sense of them too. It is a feeling of this sort, which appears to me as if it would be overwhelming, up in that unaccustomed region of silence and vastness. This transport, in spite of some quaintness of expression, is not unworthily followed up in the succeeding lines, though in the concluding one the poet falls plump down into familiar inanity
“Where am I now? Angels and God is here;
An unexhausted ocean of delight
That's fine ; but look at the next!
“O! 'tis too much for man ! but let it ne'er be less !!"