Page images




E are going to do a thing very common with critics;

we are about to speak of a work we do not understand. What is not so common, however, we are not going to condemn

it. On the contrary, the evident spirit under which it is written, gives it a very advantageous character in our opinion; and we shall proceed to show those eminent and dissatisfied persons, how possible it is by the help of a little good humor and modesty to be pleased instead of provoked, and to enjoy one's imagination instead of resenting one's ignorance.

The reader is aware perhaps, that there is a kind of Poetical Order existing among our Welsh brethren, the object of which is to keep up the genius as well as remembrance of their ancient Bards. The members look upon themselves, in love at least, as their successors ; take the same title of Bards; distribute harps as prizes ; and endeavor to catch the reflection of their old fire on the same mountains. Nor is this second-hand inspiration, we dare say, without the occasional production of something fine. In a populous modern city, with its sophistications, such an establishment might be regarded as a mere game at antiques. But in persons of simplicity of life and earnestness of intention, especially in solitudes peopled with grand human recollections, it is difficult to love anything fervently, and never speak of it in a worthy manner. We have seen poems in the English language written by Welshmen of this character, which were as good as some of the English productions of Burns; and the inference is, that in their own language, and on the subject of their own affections, they have not always produced poetry unworthy of ranking with his Scotch. Even upon subjects of mere antiquity, the inspiration above mentioned may act upon them as that of the great poets of Greece and Italy has acted upon their own. Great times and men may literally be said never to die in point of effect. Their touch reaches us from afar. Their eye is upon us out of the clouds of time. We feel their memory in our ears, like the tremble of an eternal song. If their own works help to divert us from the more natural soil out of which they drew the flowers and fountains of their immortality, they serve to create a new stratum of fertility, not so fine indeed as the other, but still fine and abundant, and full of a second vitality. Death itself helps to beautify them. We walk among their memories, as we do among the leaves of autumn, or the ruins of great places ; and supply the want of present perfection with the love of that which is past.

In our youth, we met with one of the Modern Welsh Bards, who had all the character we speak of. He was a man of primeval simplicity of manners; that is to say, one who without any of the conventional substitutes for the humanities of intercourse, possessed that natural politeness of benignity, which is so instantly felt to be their vital spirit. He had the true Welsh face improved by information, hair and eyes black as a raven, and an expression of great candor and good nature. If we remember rightly, we gathered from his conversation, that he had risen, by dint of his love of letters, and much to the credit of those who noticed him, from an humble origin ; which origin he neither affected to hide nor to boast of. He

him ;

occasionally came up to London ; took his meals with the best society among his countrymen or at his own hermitlike table ; and hired an humble lodging near the Museum, where it was his delight to go and study Welsh antiquities. Thus if he came to London, he brought his country with

found his bards and his very quiet about him, wherever he pleased, in the shape of books ; and in default of his goats and mountains, could get among animals and things which perhaps he loved as well, and thought almost as real, the dragons and golden fields of Cambrian heraldry. Among other advantages of the remoteness and romantic nature of the sphere in which he grew up, it had kept him free from the small pedantry and self-sufficiency so often observable in the leading wits of country towns and minor cities, who think their own amount of knowledge the sum of all that is accomplished, and have a particular fancy for setting Londoners in the right. He had the humanity to think well of what he did not know. He loved his country's music and its poets, and in our fondness for an air on the piano-forte and an ode of Horace was pleased to discover something which he thought worthy both of his sympathy and his respect.

This pleasant Cambro-Briton, of whom we are speaking, once took us to see a countryman of his, whose taste in urbanities and antiquities resembled his own. He lived in a small quiet house near the fields ; and we found him up to the eyes in good humor, books, and a Welsh harp. If we are not much mistaken, this is the author of the Welsh Milton.

There is something very beautiful to us to see the whole souls of men yearning in this manner towards their native country, when its power has long ceased to exist. They have all the merit of adhering to a great friend in adver

sity ;

and yet the friend is perhaps greater than ever he was, and can reward them more. The ancient Britons had in them the seeds of a great nation, even in our modern sense of the word. They had courage ; they had reflection; they had imagination. When driven from their larger possessions by the mere power which the world then adored, they soon found out the two great secrets of adversity, — that of softening reality with romance, and of turning experience to reformation. They possessed, in an extraordinary degree, the spirit of legislative improvement. Power at last made a vassal of their prince. There were writers in those times; harpers and bards, who made the instinct of that brute faculty turn cruel out of fear. But there were no presses to let all the world know what the writers thought, and to give intellectual power its fair chances with brute. They bequeathed to their countrymen, however, the glory of their memories. They, and time together, have consecrated their native hills, so as they were never before consecrated. Existing, in a manner, no longer as a thing of the common world, the country took an elevation nearer heaven. its head in the light of love and poetry, and its tops shine, to this day in the reverted eyes of its wanderers.

It lifted up

[ocr errors]

Fond impious man, thinkst thou yon sanguine cloud

Raised by thy breath, has quenched the orb of day?
To-morrow he repairs the golden flood,

And warms the nations with redoubled


Violence is the grown childhood of the world. Its manhood is intellect and equanimity; and part of the grace of manhood consists in recollecting the better things of infancy. Edward the First, who made vassals of the Welsh, is now an inferior person in our eyes compared with Howell the legislator. We would rather see Alfred

the Great than the widest-ruling of all the Roman Emperors. We should expect more in his face. We should recognize in him a greater existing man,

a finer contemporary, or rather a more becoming fellow-creature for the Shakespeares and Bacons : for when we speak of modern times, we mean the intellectual times which such great men have produced for us. Even the smallness of the territory, to which the old Britons were confined, serves to concentrate and make strong the gaze of recollection. Mere greatness acts through the medium of pride or fear. It always inflicts a sort of uneasy consciousness of the gross nature of its pretensions. Break it, and it resolves its compounds into littleness. You can only contrast it with mere smallness, or pity it because it is not entire. It cannot afford to be otherwise. Its compounds have no principle of growth,

, -- no power of voluntary aggrandizement, - no charm with which to call associations about them. But break a heart into a thousand shivers, and every atom shall be reverenced. Love is great enough for itself. Such phrases as the Great King and the Great Nation, even though warranted in point of physical power, are nothing but vanity, and are felt to be so. Both imply a want of individual importance, and by the same reason a want of general humanity. They make the recollections either too vaguely public, or too minutely private. The Persian in Greece, or the Turk in Candia, was angry at being killed by a petty republican, or regretted only his harem or his houris ; but the Greek who “dying, thought of sweet Argos," * and

* Sternitur infelix alieno vulnere, cælumque Adspicit, et dulces moriens reminiscitur Argos.

VIRGIL, Lib. 10, v. 781.

« PreviousContinue »