« VorigeDoorgaan »
only the eighth and the twenty-first are entitled to this slender commendation.” The blindness or prejudice of this decision is absolutely amazing. We turn to the pages of Milton, and take almost at random, a couple of his Sonnets. These (the 18th and 19th) are amongst those excluded from the honor of Dr. Johnson's “ slender commendation.” According to him, therefore, they are positively bad !
ON THE LATE MASSACRE IN PIEMONT.
AVENGE, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold;
E'en them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones,
Forget not : in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep, and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piemontese that rolled
Mother with infant down the rocks. The moans
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To heaven. Their martyr'd blood and ashes sow
O’er all the Italian fields, where still doth sway
The triple tyrant ; that from these may grow
A hundred fold, who, having learned the way,
Early may Ay the Babylonian woe.
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide,
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he, returning chide ;
“ Doth God exact day-labour, light denied ?"
I fondly ask: but Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “ God doth not need
Either man's work, or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best : his state
Is kingly ; thousands at his bidding speed,
o'er land and ocean without rest ; They also serve who only stand and wait.” That any man setting himself up as a critic should be utterly insensible to the poetical and impassioned spirit, the masculine
tone, and the severe beauty of Milton's sonnets, is indeed surprising. Johnson's contemptuous notice of them is only equalled in absurdity and injustice by the flippant insolence of Steevens respecting those of Shakespeare, which he had the audacity to assert were “ written in the highest strain of affectation, pedantry, circumlocution and nonsense.”
I shall now give a few specimens of Drummond's genius in this class of compositions. I dare say that they will be as good as manuscript" to some of my readers ; and those who have perused them before, will assuredly have no objection to meet with them again.
The following is elegant and compact, and does not read as if it had been written about two hundred years ago.
A good that never satisfies the mind,
A beauty fading like the April fow'rs,
A sweet with floods of gall that runs combin'd,
A pleasure passing ere in thought made ours,
A honour that more fickle is than wind,
A glory at opinion's frown that lowers,
A treasury which bankrupt time devours,
A knowledge than grave ignorance more blind,
A vain delight our equals to command,
A style of greatness, in effect a dream ;
A swelling thought of holding sea and land,
A servile lot, deck'd with a pompous name ;
Are the strange ends we toil for here below,
Till wisest death make us our errors know.
Almost every poet may echo the sentiment of the next sonnet.
I know that all beneath the moon decays,
And what by mortals in this world is brought
In Time's great periods shall return to nought ;
That fairest states have fatal nights and days.
I know that all the Muses' heavenly lays,
With toil of sprite, which are so dearly bought,
As idle sounds, of few, or none are sought ;
That there is nothing lighter than vain praise.
I know frail beauty's like the purple flow'r
To which one morn oft birth and death affords,
That love a jarring is of mind's accords,
Where sense and will bring under reason's power :
Know what I list, this all cannot me move,
But that, alas, I both must write and love.
The smart antithetic style of the ensuing, shews great facility and power
Fair is my yoke, though grievous be my pains,
Sweet are my wounds, although they deeply smart,
My bit is gold, though shorten'd be the reins,
My bondage brave, though I may not depart;
Although I burn, the fire which doth impart
Those flames, so sweet reviving force contains,
That like Arabia's bird my wasted heart,
Made quick by death, more lively still remains.
I joy, though oft my waking eyes spend tears,
I never want delight, even when I groan,
Best 'companied when most I am alone,
A heaven of hopes I have ʼmidst hell of fears ;
Thus every way contentment strange I find,
But most in her rare beauty, my rare mind.
The line in italics has been often imitated. Milton is amongst the imitators,
For solitude is sometimes best society.
There is infinite grace and beauty in the following address to
Sleep, Silence' child, sweet father of soft rest,
Prince whose approach peace to all mortals brings,
Indifferent host to shepherds and to kings,
Sole comforter of minds which are oppress’d,
Lo, by thy charming rod, all breathing things
Lie slumb’ring, with forgetfulness possess’d,
And yet o'er me to spread thy drowsy wings
Thou sparest, alas ! who cannot be thy guest.
Since I am thine; O come, but with that face
To inward light which thou art wont to shew,
With feigned solace ease a true felt woe;
Or if, deaf god, thou do deny that grace,
Come as thou wilt, and what thou wilt bequeath,
I long to kiss the image of my deuth.
This sonnet seems to have been suggested by Sir Phillip
Sidney's on the same subject. The third line of Drummond's
sonnet is like the fourth of Sidney's.
“Come Sleep-0 Sleep, the certain knot of peace !
The baiting place of wit, the balm of woe,
The poor man's wealth, the prisoner's release,
Th' indifferent judge between the high and low !"
Sir Philip Sidney.
Mr. Cunningham's new edition of Drummond's Poems is enriched with several of his sonnets never before published, procured from the Antiquarian Society of Edinburgh, and illustrated with notes by David Laing.
THE DESERTED MAID. She once was beautiful—but secret shame, Despairing love, and unavailing woe, Have wrought a fearful change! The ceaseless flow Of unregarded tears hath worn her frame, And made her heart a ruin. Still the flame Of quenchless passion lights her pallid brow With fierce unnatural radiance. Wildly now, She haunts the scenes where first the false youth came With music-breathing vows. The forest bowers, The sheltered valleys, and sequestered streams, The mossy caves, and ivy-mantled towers, Oft soothe awhile the Maiden's calmer dreams ; But, ah ! too soon, o'er Reason's fitful gleams, The murky cloud of maddening frenzy lours !
Oh, hideous Fiend ! at whose malignant breath
Life's fairest blossoms wither and decay—
Dread minister of sorrow and dismay !
The pale and livid countenance of death
Is welcome as the presence of a friend
To those sad hearts thy tortures lacerate !
Fierce child of Envy and delirious Hate !
At their decree thy willing fingers rend
The chords of Love, or tear the wreath of Fame.
The boldest breast, that ever bared its front
In proud defiance to the battle's brunt,
Would dread thy secret and unerring aim,
And bear but ill the keen, envenomed dart
That wakes the soul's immedicable smart!