Slike strani

its origin, and rich and harmonious in itself, is, when compared with Milton's "organ-voice," pedestrian and artificial. Thomson's love of and perpetual struggle for fine language is his chief defect. When he is evidently pleasing himself best, he is most pompous; when he allows his verse to roll on simply of its own accord, he often produces effects of harmony that never leave the ear. In order to relieve the monotony of a poem entirely devoted to description, he introduces episodes here and there as incidental pictures more or less suggested by his subject. Thus, in Winter, he gives the famous description of the shepherd losing his way and perishing in the snow; in Summer, the story of Musidora, which gave Gainsborough the subject for the charming picture that now hangs on the staircase of our National Gallery; in Autumn, the narrative of Lavinia, borrowed, and spoiled in the borrowing, from the Scriptural history of Ruth and Boaz. Where Thomson approached the subject of love in these episodes his ill-restrained warmth of feeling broke out rather too fervently. Excellent as the whole of The Seasons is, it is inferior in point of literary finish to The Castle of Indolence. The idea and treatment of this poem "The Castle are Spenserian; and the use of the Spenserian of Indolence" (1748). stanza corresponds admirably with Thomson's rich and luxuriant imagination. The allegory of the enchanted "Land of Drowsihead," in which the unhappy victims of Indolence find themselves hopeless captives, and their delivery from durance by the Knight, Industry, whose pedigree and training are given in exact imitation of Spenser's manner, are relieved with occasional touches of a certain kind of humour, seen in Thomson's portraits of himself and his friends. Spenser himself hardly could have surpassed the rich and dreamy loveliness, or the voluptuous melody of the description of the enchanted castle and its gardens of delight; while the passage of the Æolian harp shows that just harmony of verse and music which is native to the greatest poets. Thomson is not one of these; but, among original poets, his place is high, and he certainly set the fashion in poetry for some years to come.

§ 3. The poetry of WILLIAM SHENSTONE is now practically forgotten, but his poem of The Schoolmistress (1742) deserves to


retain some celebrity in the history of English verse. 2. WILLIAM Like Thomson's Castle of Indolence, it is written in (1714-1763). the Spenserian stanza, and, with a plentiful use of archaic words, describes playfully and tenderly the dwelling, character, and pursuits of an old village dame who keeps a day-school. Shenstone's Pastoral Ballad (1743) is very tuneful, light, and delicate-eminently the work of a student of limited landscape and slight garden-scenes. Mr. Edmund Gosse has admirably said that it "has all the pink and silver grace of a Watteau." Shenstone's poetry is an excellent key to his general taste. He was one of the first Englishmen to cultivate the art of landscape gardening and so emancipate

the English garden from the formality of precise continental methods. In this we see an outward sign of the change which he and the other new poets were bringing to pass in the character of English verse. His own gardens at his villa, the Leasowes, near Hagley, were in his generation as famous as his poetry. In short, Shenstone was, as Boswell said, a "very ingenious and elegant gentleman"; and, if his work languishes for want of readers, the fault lies in its scanty volume.

Modern criticism has done its duty nobly by WILLIAM COLLINS, the son of a hatter at Chichester. His poetical genius, ripened by practice and experience, would have

given him almost the highest place among English 3 WILLIAM COLLINS lyric poets. As it was, with an ambition feverish (1721-1759). rather than sustained, with a fatal tendency to dissipation, and with a spirit so sensitive that literary disappointment proved his ultimate ruin, he was undeniably the finest lyric poet of his age. This, considering that he had so brilliant à competitor as Gray, is no mean distinction. He was educated at Winchester College, and, going up to Oxford, entered at Queen's, but migrated, like Addison, to Magdalen. In these early years he was tull of literary projects, and, while still at Oxford, published his Persian Eclogues (1742) and an Epistle to Sir Thomas Hanmer (1743), the editor of Shakespeare. The Persian Eclogues were, as the name implies, a set of pastorals in which the Strephons and Chloës of the conventional type were translated to the East, and their ordinary occupations and worn-out complaints were supplanted by Oriental subjects. Instead of the lamentations of the shepherd expelled from his native fields, we have the camel-driver who bewails the dangers and solitudes of his desert journey; and, instead of the aimless rustics who, since the age of Theocritus and Virgil, had discoursed suavely to each other on the merits of their respective oaten pipes, we hear the mutual commiserations of two Circassian exiles. However, there is no saying to what end this, attempt to give life and colour to the pastoral might have come; we might have had Russian, American, or Algerian editions of the same theme. And, although Collins made a great effort to clothe his novel swains in appropriate costume, and to give his poems all the advantage of local colour, he was no more true to nature than those of his predecessors who had been content with the conventional Arcadia. Although the Eclogues are full of vivid imagery and melodious verse which promised their poet a great future, we must look for the real genius of Collins to his Odes, published at the end of 1746. Although their number is very Collins' small, each polished line has its own value for the student of poetry, and it is almost impossible to point to an otiose phrase or a break in the full current of melody. Collins was still trammelled by the conventions of the classical school, and the casual inspector of anthologies



may be tempted to pass over his odes as attempts of the old kind to patch the face of the Hellenic Muse and build up her hair in a formal top-knot. On closer acquaintance we know better. If these odes are chained to an essentially classical form of poetry, if they are full of personified abstractions, they have, at any rate, a range of melody which is a perfectly new thing, and a sense of natural beauty for which Thomson's love of nature is merely a preparation. Everyone knows The Passions, that famous ode which finds a place in every book of English lyrics, and represents Fear, Anger, and the rest, trying their skill upon the lyre of Music. Here Collins is as formal as any of the classical poets could be. The outward form of the poem at once recalls Alexander's Feast, although its tone has nothing of Dryden's rugged energy. But between the two odes there is a space of fifty-nine years, during which Dryden's lyric genius had given way to smooth and temperate effusions like Pope's Ode on St. Cecilia's Day and Vital spark of heavenly flame. The ardent lyric of the seventeenth century, when it arrived at Collins, had grown merely tepid; but in his hands it received new fire. The harmonies of The Passions are smooth and meditated. The ode is no cascade of impetuous sound, but, in its delicate modulations, its exact adaptation of its melody to its subject, in the hurried quatrain given to Anger, in the slow movement in which Melancholy pours "through the mellow horn her pensive soul," there is a fresh vitality, an expansion of lyric scope, something that takes us back farther


than Dryden, to L'Allegro and Il Penseroso. Further, Their in The Passions Collins is thoroughly alive to the landscape charms of landscape. The scenery of the poem is slightly meretricious; its “glades and glooms," its rocks, woods, and vales, are more like Salvator Rosa's attempts to improve on nature than anything in real life; but, where the subject is so closely allied to the vale of Tempe and other well-trodden resorts of the poets, we can hardly expect anything more. That Collins, when face to face with nature and freed from the presence of the nymphs and muses, could approach more nearly to the splendid pictorial effects of Il Penseroso, is seen in the Ode to Evening, which merely alludes in passing to the usual abstractions, and is a soft and intensely real picture of twilight and dusk. Moreover, these unrhymed stanzas are a faultless triumph of music, carrying with them a lingering echo of the sweetest melody. The Ode to Evening is an exceptional piece, it is true, but nowhere else can Collins' place in the evolution of romantic poetry be so thoroughly appreciated. His musical power, which here accomplishes

Their melody.

a tour de force incapable of repetition, has a more normal form, which is obvious in the exquisite verses, How sleep the brave-a pair of stanzas full of delicate imagination. His love of allegorical personation quite conquered him in this small masterpiece; but the spirit

is not that of the Hellenic woods and valleys which we have seen pervading The Passions. Honour becomes a pilgrim, and Freedom is represented by that hermit to whom the new romantic poets, in an age and country emphatically guiltless of hermitages, were so faithful, from Shenstone's "When forc'd from dear Hebe to go" to Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey. In this and kindred poems the pastoral abstractions of Greek mythology give way to a dim medievalism. Something of the same kind may be seen in Collins' Verses to the Memory of Thomson (1748), “In yonder grave a Druid lies." Pope and the poets of his day would not have thought of Druids on such an occasion. Unfortunately, these admirable pieces failed to please the public. Collins, bitterly disappointed, destroyed the surplus copies of the Odes and wrote very little more. 1749 he dedicated an Ode on the Superstitions of the Highlands to John Home, afterwards the author of Douglas; but, in dealing with this very romantic subject, with which he had no personal acquaintance, he was not altogether at his best. Nevertheless, this ode, in its latter half, is one of the finest things he ever wrote, rising from a faltering beginning to a full appreciation of the grandeur of its theme. Among his later poems this and the exquisite Dirge to Cymbeline (1749) remain; the Ode on the Music of the Grecian Theatre (1750) is lost. The decline of Collins' life was miserable enough; he became melancholy, and, in 1754, went mad. Five years later he died at Chichester, without recovering his reason.



§ 4. The work of THOMAS GRAY, to whom, as a discoverer of the picturesque, England owes so much, is, generally speaking, better known than the lyric poetry of Collins. He was the son of a money-scrivener in London, but his 4 THOMAS father was a violent and arbitrary person, and he (1716-1771). owed everything to his mother, who endured cruel treatment from her tyrannical husband. She and her family sent him to Eton, from which he proceeded to Peterhouse at Cambridge. He did not, however, take a degree, but went down in 1738, and, from 1739 to 1741, travelled with Horace Walpole in France and Italy. He had no taste for any profession, and, in 1742, made his home at Cambridge, in spite of his dislike for the prevailing system of education. There he lived for the rest of his days the life of a cultured dilettante, going away from time to time to visit his mother and to make picturesque tours in his native country, whose beauty no man appreciated more thoroughly. In 1756 a mischievous practical joke, played on him by some undergraduates who probably construed his delicacy and refinement into superciliousness, led him to migrate from Peterhouse to Pembroke. The remaining five years of his life were more happily spent ; he enjoyed great consideration from the society of his College, and, in 1768, became Regius Professor of Modern History. The historical school at Cambridge was, however, not very flourishing, and

the post, so long as Gray held it, was a sinecure. He died in his rooms at Pembroke, falling ill one evening in the College hall, and dying six days later.

Gray's poetry was very popular among his contemporaries; and, in 1757, when Cibber died, he might have been Poet Laureate. Johnson, however, utterly failed to appreciate him, and not only did he write a most un


poetry. worthy life of Gray in the Lives of the Poets, but lost no opportunity of saying harsh things about his poems. "They are forced plants, raised in a hotbed; and they are poor plants; they are but cucumbers after all." "Sir, he was dull in company, dull in his closet, dull everywhere. He was dull in a new way, and that made many people think him great. He was a mechanical poet." This was not a malicious judgment: it was simply a vehement aberration of criticism. Gray was actually in advance of his age. Few of his contemporaries at Cambridge really understood the solitary student who read perpetually in his rooms and introduced some artistic method into their decoration. A curious parallel might be drawn between him and the late Mr. Walter Pater-both of them living secluded lives in college, both indefatigable workers, both so much in harmony with the personal note in nature, and both producing little, and that little so polished and exquisite. Gray's literary acquirements were immense; he had not merely studied the classics to advantage, but was thoroughly erudition. versed in medieval romance literature, in French and Italian poetry, and in that early Celtic and Scandinavian literature about which very few people cared just then. His learning, of course, had a very powerful influence upon his poetical work; his classical studies and his researches in the frigid Italian poets of the seventeenth century made him more than a common prey to the tedious method of allegory which we have already remarked in Collins, the constant personification of abstract qualities; it led also to a love of undiluted allusion which makes certain of his poems meaningless without a commentary. But his erudition is not the only thing in his work.


Critical importance of his work.

For, judging him as poet alone, he stands at the place where two roads meet. He is the last poet who is troubled by classical formalism; he is the first poet who gives his testimony clearly on the side of romance. The Elegy in a Country Churchyard looks back to Thomson on the one hand, and forward to Wordsworth on the other. The Progress of Poesy, while retaining traces of the classical influence of Pope and his school, anticipates Shelley's freer treatment of myth and legend. The Bard, for all its Pindaric form, is, in its subject and the essential quality of its treatment, kindled by a love for medieval romance, while The Descent of Odin and The Fatal Sisters are the precursors of Scott's romantic ballads.

The work which has thus so much of the old spirit in its

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