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And this :-
Evil-how oft the finite mind
ledge is strewed with, whether it is with metaphors, or discoveries, or ocean shells, or thirteen-inch shells, we cannot discover. If the tread of genius is to wake a thousand bursting shells in its path, we feel indeed that it is better “ to live unseen, and die unheard.” But, men of genius! still hope on : this may not have been Mr. Collins' meaning
We may leave Mr. Michell with these quotations, and pass on to a book with an equally gigantic title. With amazement bordering on the utter, we have read Mr. Collins' arpropriately entitled book, “ The Fall of Man,"+ and we felt inclined to cry out with Ophelia
Oh, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!
There are two books which we should earnestly recommend Mr. Collins to study in the exquisite retirement of Wicklow, among whose mountains and lakes he has studied nature, and investigated the very depths of the Bathos. They are Blair's Lectures, and Lindley Murray's Grammar. In the latter we would specially recommend the chapters on the Articles and the Pronouns-for, strange to say, Mr. Collins seems blindly iguorant of their existence. We have read the Preface, and have looked in vain for the old familiar faces of the articles. We have spent as much time as we could spare in searching for any connexion between the consequent and the antecedent, usually given in our language by the lost pronoun, and we could not help unconsciously comparing Mr. Collins's writing to the Pleiades, ever looking for their vanished sister. We will quote one sentence from this preface of prefaces for the edification of our readers in the English language :
Where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise. We promise our readers much wildered amusement if they will buy this book. It purports to be a Poem in five Cantos." The two last are published. The first three seem carere vate sacro. Mr. Collins is indeed a preposterous man. He remind of the false prophets in the Inferno, whose faces were reversed, and who consequently were always obliged to walk backwards. Two-thirds of the book are notes on various subjects, chiefly rechauffés of Butler, and Wordsworth, and Coleridge, and some correspondence with a Right Honorable friend.
The fourth Canto is entitled “Probation, and a Future State," and is based on Butler's two matchless chapters in the Analogy. Mr. Collins has built much hay, and straw, and stubble on this strong foundation; and from the sides of the edifice of this fourth Canto there project long-raftered lines like these, which the eye loses in the distance :
And if all nature's mysteries revealed do
show to us the disconnexion wide, Between the essential forms of living things,
and those wherein they're clothed to outward consciousness.
“ Through all advance, a scattered au. dience He (the Poet) will find besides : for thought is wanting in the mass—and narrow mind will never venture through creative strive, to seek discovery in danger's path, or fearless wait the bursting of a shell. The metaphor holds in Philosophic Truth ; the plain of knowledge is strewed with such, the tread of genius will wake a thousand in its path.”
The beginning of the fifth Canto, considered apart from the metre, which Mr. Collins' dictatorial preface cannot make us believe harmonious, is really good, and quite startles the unwary reader ; but towards the middle we unhappily light upon a “son of genius," whom he describes as wandering o'er the troubled face of heaven;" as “rioting in fierce de light;" as "taking his dreadful way through black clouds flashing;" as “speeding his flight in maddening
There it lies, and what the meta phor is--what it is the plain of know
† The Fall of Man, by John Collins, London : Brown, Green and Longmans. 1856.
ecstasy ;" as " leaping on the roaring surge's back ;" as “dashing onward with the roar of elements." We finish with Mr. Collins-
We have seldom met, since we read the poems of Wordsworth, with such delicate etching of quiet scenery. Nature seems to be reflected in his mind, as the encircling hills and woods are in the still bosom of our Killarney lakes. There is no stormy violence in his poetry; and even when he treats of the most keen and sarcastic heart which ever beat with a contempt for humanity--a contempt which was always merging into hate - he finds in the retribution which discarded human feeling ever exacts, a theme for sorrow and for love :
And when we pace along the shrine Which coldly closed on his despair ; View, from his angered life apart, The passioned-tremble of the heart, Which ripples in the little line,
"Only a woman's hair.”
And as around the ocean the angry billows
bear him, His wildly-heaving breast breathes vivid forth
the gloomy spirit of the tempest, Which mounts them foaming to the skies.
It is frightful to consider what Mr. Collins, who, we presume, is a “son of genius," must have suffered in his early youth ; and he will permit us to hope that he has at last attained a more peaceful experience. From our heart we pity the man who has thus been the complacent football of the elements. How browned, how thunder-scarred, how tempest-seamed must be his spirit, if not his corporeal form, which we are actually given to understand from the lines underwent all these appalling incidents. Let not young men imagine that it is necessary to go through all this to make them poets. Let them get back to honest natural life, where the sunlights are warm and the mind healthy, where they may watch the farmer at his work, and the milk-maid crossing the ford ; and ride through a quiet lane at evening, breathing soft air, and with the soul of scent upon the low breeze which comes up from the crofts and orchards of our own lovely land. This is better than any elemental riding. This will make them truer-hearted, and fill them with the human sympathy and the unconscious joy which make the genius. We are sick to death of the grotesque and unimaginable plants which have sprung up around the Byronic tree. Conversations with the lightning, and riding on the sea are not so pleasant now as they were ; and moreover Byron did not perform these feats in the same manner as Mr. Collins' son of genius has done. He simply swam over the Hellespont, and watched from his boat on the dark waters of Geneva, the storm battle through the Alps, and then described the ocean and the tempest, enriching the description with feeling and imagination.
We turn with pleasure, heightened by the contrast," from the “fall of man" to “Versicles, by T. Irwin."*
Of some of these poems we can speak with high and deserved praise, and especially one, “ The First Pyramid.” The May-day Revel is a delightful, lifelike piece of fancy, something like Landseer in poetry. The death of Hercules is a daring and well-sustained imitation of the style and rhythm of the Morte D'Arthur, and the Ænone of Tennyson ; but we wish that Mr. Irwin would be content with his own poetic abilities, and his own natural style. It would be better for his fame.
There is an accuracy of truth in his delineation of animal life and scenery, especially striking us in single lines, which tells of many a thoughtful walk by the greening hillsides and through the autumn woods, at those still seasons when the brain receives the impressions of outward things half unconsciously, yet still all the more deeply for the undertide of thought which has subdued the mind to a receptive calmness. We think and receive together, or rather the senses and the soul are there in perfect tune, and link their harmonies together like a German fugue.
We quote one or two lines :
* Versicles, by Thomas Irwin, Dublin : W. M. Henessy. 1856.
From the far cloud line puffed with snow.
Here is a quaint conceit :
Even her finger tips shall glow,
As pink sheaths of the perfumed bean.
So many an eve, and sing some antique tone We sung together oftentimes of old :* In that dear nook the lonely moonbeams
fall, And touch thy empty chair with mournful
light; Thy picture gazes on me from the wall : I hear thy footsteps in old rooms at night. On lonely roads beneath the darksome dawn, When broods upon the broad dead land the
wind, I wander sadly, looking oft behind, Maychance that I may see thy spectre wan ;
For still I deem thou followest me--and still Believe that love departs not with the clay:
T hy face looks on me from the morning Thy smile comes sadly from the close of day.
Oft, oft, by sandy ridges o'er the sea,
Or over distant famished fields at night, Where sheds some low pale star its slea
derest light, I seek in earth's dim solitudes for thee:
Proud of the everlasting love I bear, Still mix with nature, drawing thence relief;
While from the void of sunset's empty air The stars look on the glory of my grief.
Some of the songs are beautiful. We wish we had room to quote them; but it is better for our readers to spend money well in buying this graceful little book.
We would earnestly recommend Mr. Irwin to condense his poetic thinking. There are times when love of the beauty of nature lures him into mere description. In these times, to attract lastingly the mind of the public, there should be something more. Nature should be wedded to the soul of humanity. We should be startled into an appreciation of the occult relation between the objects we see and the subjective life of our mind. This is the great and teaching charm of Wordsworth. This it is which gives to Göthe's songs their wonderful reality. To represent the spousal of nature to humanity in words, is one of the most difficult as well as one of the loftiest peaks a poet can attain to.
In many of Mr. Irwin's poems there is a real human raciness and picturesqueness as in “ the Blacksmith," and“ a group in Queen Anne's time," which puts us in mind of Prior; while others, from their versatility of thought, suggested irresistibly to us Madame de Sable's letters, where we find in one page often philosophy and cookery, scent and science, the maxims of La Rochefoucauld and the Penseés of Blaise Pascal.
But we should be doing him deep injustice if we said his poems were only this. There is a vein of tender melancholy and sorrow for lost friends, which makes the mind and memory sweet and thoughtful as they read. We might quote many, but one will be sufficient, in which he has attained to that excellence we said above he required, in order to give his poetry a lasting value :
No one is without a folly of his own ; and Mr. Irwin, from whom we had expected better things, has indulged his muse in one of the prevailing madnesses of the time. Many of the present poets seem to imagine that pouring out libations of Helicon to the Vine, and writing songs in praise of wine is pleasing to the public taste. There never was a greater mistake. It is enough that Horace has said :
Quid non ebrietas designat, etc. It is enough that Alexander Smith should make one of his heroes “ roar in a mountain shieling." It is enough that Festus should drink through five pages of poetry with his friends. Let us have no more of it. Why the infant Bacchus (no infant in our days) as in the old Dionysian processions, should always be peering out among the ivy-type in our times of loneliness and thought -is a marvel and a grief to us. It is time these celebrations of eating and drinking were at an end. When Wilson satirized the puling sentimentality and the cockneyism of his time, by the tremendous trencher powers of North and his two friends, he little thought that a tribe of men who
I sit at eve within the curtain's fold,
only wish Mr. Browning not to be content with himself ; let him pass on from Æschylus to Sophocles ; we have had the great rough block of pure marble, let us have it carved into the finished statue.
We cannot approve of such poems as The Heretic's Tragedy-the gross irreverence which some excuse, because it is necessary to the character, might be avoided by not treating of such a subject at all. There is much affectation and stone breaking verbiage in a poem called “ Old Pictures at Florence," mixed with much acute thinking. It is a great misfortune that Mr. Browning should persist in writing in a style which resembles that of Don Juan, rough cast, with here and there an enormous block of wit, too heavy for any one to carry away without a groan.
“In a balcony" is, though not incomprehensible, at least most unnatural, yet full of scattered beauty. Here are a few lines :
imagined Hogg's eating to be real, would follow in his train, and that the early novels of Disraeli and Bulwer would be actually larded with discourses on gastronomy, and panegyrics on wine. Ever since the time of Thomas Moore, poets have thought it necessary for their fame to be vinous. We can assure them, in all sobriety, that there is not the slightest necessity for such songs, and that, on the whole, they are displeasing to the public.
We took up Mr. Browning's poems not without the recollection of the tone of the criticisms which have issued from the press upon his latest work, “Men and Women."* When we had read it through, we laid it down with a very different appreciation from that which it has received elsewhere ; we could not but feel that this man was himself, and no one else. In style, in mode of expression, in an abrupt careless strength of thought, in often times an acute analysis of supposed states of existence, and the action of the mind therein, he stands alone. To be a distinct spoke in the wheel of literature is, at least, something to be praised for. But at times his originality locks its legs around his throat, like the Old Man of the Sea, and chokes his distinct utterance. There is always a pearl in the oysterpoem, but it is so encrusted with barnacle words, and long trails of entangled sea weed sentences, that the reading public would abandon the task of opening the meaning from want of the knife of patience. A little trouble on Mr. Browning's part would, with his strong and acute mind, satisfy both himself and the public better. We are far from imagining that poetry of this class must be understood at once, but there is a needless obscurity and uncouthness in Mr. Browning's modes of expression which might be avoided. The same strength of thought which produced this rough wild etching could, if brought more within the ordinary rules of art, produce more delicate pencilling, without losing a bold reality. To be useful to many is better than to be useful to a few. But this careless strength is Mr. Browning's idiosyncrasy. Well, we
This eve's the timeThis eve intense with yon first trembling
star, We seem to pant and reach ; scarce aught
between The earth that rises and the heaven that
bends. All nature self-abandoned, every tree Flung as it will, pursuing its own thoughts, And fixed so, every flower, and every weed. No pride, no shame, no victory, no defeat : All under God-each measured by itself.
This is good, but we heartily hope Mr. Browning will cease writing lines which much offend every ear and taste, and which are not manly, because they are careless and nonsensical-nonsensical, because the meaning can be expressed just as forcibly in other words. Let the reader form his opinion of this verse :Why, you would not bid men sunk in such a
slough, Strike no arm out further, stink and stick as
now; Leaving right and wrong to settle the em
broilment, Heaven with snaky hell in torture and en
There is one poem in Mr. Browning's first volume which exhibits The sights we saw, and the sounds we heard,
* Men and Women, by Robert Browning. London : Chpaman and H.]]. 1856.
The lights and the shades made up a spell, Till the trouble grew and stirred.
more delicacy of thought and more finish (excellences we, perhaps, owe
perhaps. owe to the subject) than any other almost in the book. It is entitled “ By the Fireside," and is addressed to his gifted wife, whose poetry all have lead with pleasure. The fine analysis of the connexion of ideas which gradually lead him from the hazel trees, among which his children steal out to play, to the ruined chapel on the Alpine gorge, is a rarity in literature. The description of the approach and of the landscape we quote. The very words, in parts, are almost vocal with the scenery A turn, and we stand in the heart of things,
The woods are round us heaped and dim, From slab to slab how it slips and springs,
The thread of water single and slim, Through the ravage some torrent brings.
This is quite perfect, and gives us what we want, and what we accused Mr. Irwin of not possessing, the power of disclosing to us the bearing which nature has on humanity, and the assistance it gives us by chiming in with our feelings, and calling them forth by a silent sympathy.
A moment after, and hands unseen
Were hanging the night around us fast; But we knew that a bar was broken between
Life and life ; we were mixed at last, In spite of the mortal screen.
The forests had done it; there they stood,
We caught for a second the powers at play; They had mingled us so, for once and for good, Their work was done - we might go or
stay, They relapsed to their ancient mood.
Does it feed the little lake below ?
That speck of white just on its marge Is Pella ; see, in the evening glow
How sharp the silver spear-heads charge, When Alps meet heaven in snow.
How the world is made for each of us.
And yonder at foot of the fronting ridge,
That takes the turn to the range beyond, Is the chapel reached by the one-arched bridge, Where the water is stopped in a stagnant
pond, Danced over by the midge.
The chapel and bridge are of stone alike
Blackish grey, and mostly wet ; Cut hemp stalk steep in the narrow dike,
See here again how the lichens fret, And the roots of the ivy strike.
And all day long a bird sings there,
It has had its scenes, its joye, its crimes. But that is its own affair,
We wish that Mr. Browning had written more poems like this. There is one strange poem in his collection, which will give many curious thoughts to any one fond of psychological enquiries. It is a letter from a Syrian physician who has met Lazarus. It would be too long for us to give an analysis of this strange poem, but it is interesting and novel, and treated in a manner which discloses great subtlety of thought and metaphysical imagination.
Mr. Browning is a lover of art. His criticisms are distinguished by the same “ dash," which we half suspect to be affectation. Still, the words of a man who thinks are always worth reading. “Andrea del Sarto" will well repay a careful perusal. The following lines seem to us so true an analysis between the spiritual and material in painting, and how each should never stand alone, but be always the complement of the other, that we cannot forbear quoting them, and it shall be our last quotation ; moreover the quotation will give the reader an idea of Mr. Browning's dashing style :
And then by his fireside comes the remembrance of his evening walk with her who sits opposite, and how they crossed the crumbling bridge, and were about to return-“ but wait"
Oh, moment one and infinite!
The water slips o'er stock and stone, The west is tender, hardly bright;
How grey at once is the evening grown, One star – the chrysolite. We two stood there with never a third,
But each by each, as each knew well,
A fine way to paint soul, by painting body So ill, the eye can't stop there, must go
farther, And can't fare worse.