Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

6

authors who, since the publication of “Merope,' have aimed at producing a neo-classical drama, Mr. Simcox has vouchsafed his readers a preface of some length—a favour more to be honoured, perhaps, in the breach than in the observance. To confess the honest truth, we shrink from attempting to give a sketch of his plot, involved, as it seems to us, and cumbrous in the highest degree; for notwithstanding the aid of four pages of Argument, we cannot pretend that we have succeeded in gathering up more than one or two threads of it. Neither can we imagine that to quote the single line dialogues, where the pregnant Greek particle yap is invariably represented by a naked for,' and other affectations of a taste of the Greek Greek-ish.? are thickly scattered, would be any recommendation of a poem which seems ,

a to us a mistake, a creation likely to find as speedy an oblivion as its elder sister, Merope.' In one particular it outvies that drama--and that particular is noticeable because it exhibits more than aught else the gift that is really in Mr. Simcox. His rhyming lyrics are eminently beautiful. One sample will suffice, the resigned and somewhat too sluggish Peleus is expressing his patient endurance of the loss of Thetis, who has been led away bound by Hermes, to be queen of heaven :

'Above the pride of Zeus, above the Titan’s strife
There is a holy life,
Full of the breath of an exceeding peace.
Those who are purest here
Passing the portals of that sphere,
Gasp once or twice in the unembodied air;
But everlastingly they find release ;
Where, as I still believe,
She whom I love too much to grieve
For what she wills to bear,-
My lady enters now,
Where ghostly crowns of kisses are made ready for her brow.'

-P. 41.

In Mr. Simcox's lyric versification, and in his better blank verse passages, we seem to trace a resemblance to Mr. Swinburne in his 'Atalanta ;' and here and there occur such chance rays of real poetic fancy, that we fancy the dulness of the ‘Prometheus Unbound,' and its heaviness as a whole, must be the result of an unfortunate choice of subject, and of want of tact in not limiting his characters. But judged by his present performance he cannot, we think, claim equal honours with either Mr. Swinburne, Mr. Lancaster, or Mr. Ashe. He needs to shake off a too slavish imitation of the Greek, and to cultivate at the same time its characteristic simplicity; in which case we cannot but augur higher things than he has yet attained unto. Of the new school of dramatists whom we have passed in review, we have

6

the greatest hopes of Mr. Lancaster, as combining classic taste with a graceful fancy, and a natural simplicity, in a greater degree than his fellows, and as portraying characters of more heart and of more genuine feeling than any of them, save Mr. Ashe. These two may possibly less parade their classicality than Mr. Arnold or Mr. Simcox : they are not, we believe, so unstrainedly imbued with it as Mr. Swinburne in his 'Atalanta.' But they have chosen this type of poetry, as that which they will copy, and their loving study of Greek originals, wedded to a faithful endeavour to transfuse its graces into English, can hardly fail to issue in an offspring still nearer to perfection. The spell which has enchained so many ages of the world, is only likely to be broken if the classics fail to hold their place in an age of extended suffrage, leaps in the dark,' and 'education of our masters.' "The useful' may possibly supersede in our

. regards the exact, the graceful, the perfect in form.

But even then these neo-dramatists will have done good service, and have borne noble testimony to the fine-gold in the mines of Greek literature; they will have vindicated the taste, which is perhaps destined to vanish at the dawn of a day more sternly practical. Nay, it may be that, if the originals cease to be appreciated, the traditions of them will be handed on, and cherished, through the means of approximative copies, such as are the dramas which we have been reviewing. And, come what may, (come even the contingency that these writers should quit this field of poetry to-morrow, for another totally different, it is impossible that the discipline of their taste, imagination, diction, and constructive talents already acquired, will have been barren of fruits certain to conduce vastly to their future success as poets.

6

62

a

[ocr errors]

ART. III.-English Merchants. Memoirs in Illustration of the

Progress of British Commerce. By H. R. Fox BOURNE.

R. Bentley, 2 Vols. This book is well named, for it is not a history of British commerce. It does not attempt to enter upon difficult questions on the means of promoting commerce, still less upon

the more difficult question whether it be a true blessing to a country that her 'cry is in ships ;' whether the simplicity of a life where traffic is almost unknown be the safer state, or whether, while this merges into coarseness and indolence, the activity of the exchange, with all its temptations to grasping, to worldliness,

and above all to trading 'in the souls of men,' be the more beneficial alternative.

Looking back, it would seem that the wise of old times had no such doubts. A country producing all that man can need without aid from without, has always been the beau ideal of the philosopher. The estates of the Homeric heroes are selfsupporting, and the occasional luxuries of gold, silver, and fresh slaves are procured either by war, or through those disreputable personages Phoenician traders, whose name among the heroic Greeks does not appear to have been in much better odour than among

the Israelites of Canaan. Purity of manners was almost universally supposed to be dependent on simplicity and isolation, and even down to the last century there was a sentiment about the happy swain whose garments were of his wife's own spinning, and who was acquainted with neither spices nor ragouts, those especial subjects of abhorrence in the ideal state which Fénélon composed for poor old Idomenée in Télémaque. It required a great deal of realism and much disenchantment to teach the world that the self-sufficing of Arcadia produced boorishness, and that those who toiled only for their own needs had not enough work to keep them in a wholesome state of intelligence, such as to raise them above the grossest sensual enjoyment.

Yet the history of favoured Israel might have seemed to sanction these opinions. The land fixed upon for the occupation of the chosen race was one of the best fitted for the supply of all human necessities, and their intercourse with the commercial nations on either hand was systematically discouraged as their most dangerous temptation, whilst the luxury of Tyre was denounced in strains that have been ever since a warning.

Yet, on the one hand, the peculiar destination of the Israelites required them to be thus separated from among the nations,

[ocr errors]

and, on the other, the clownish ferocity produced by solitude was guarded against by those general meetings at the three annual feasts, which brought the whole population together on terms of fellowship, and taught them to rejoice in common. And, while it cannot be forgotten that in the culminating age of Israel's greatness, the reign of Solomon, commercial activity was largely developed, when their independence ceased it seems to have been part of the preparation for the time of promise that the natural aptitude of this people for traffic was no longer restrained, but that they were almost directed to disperse themselves among the neighbouring nations, and to buy and sell, conducting mercantile transactions not only with great dexterity, but with a trustworthiness arising from the reality of their religion. The ramifications of Jewish trade, and the connexions it occasioned with persons of other nations, no doubt were of great assistance to the Apostles in the spread of the Gospel; and though ‘not many noble, not many mighty, were called,' it was from the crowded street and busy mart, the tanner, and the trader in purple, that the earlier Christians were taken, rather than from among the country districts, which continued unconverted long enough to leave the memory of their heathenism impressed upon the languages of modern Europe.

Crass ignorance becomes the most hopeless and obstinate prey of superstition, and is always defiant of novelty; and corruption, though perhaps less flagrant, is often more inveterate, than where variety opens the mind to the capacity for mental enjoyment. Labour, again, is an absolute necessity for keeping the human creature in a wholesoine healthy state, and where soil and climate are such as to supply the ordinary wants of life without exertion, the dolce far niente leads to apathy. Much of the soil of the Chosen People, be it observed, would only yield her fruits under the most persevering industry, and the two tribes whose constancy and faithfulness saved them from rejection, were mountaineers placed in the least fertile portion of Palestine. Again and again have missionaries felt the difficulty of raising the condition of converts who lie under no necessity of toiling. It was the difficulty of the Jesuits in South America, as it is that of our own Church in dealing with the Pitcairners in Norfolk Island; and experience seems to declare that the negative innocence of stagnation is more apparent than real, and that activity, with all its temptations and corruptions, is the more hopeful alternative. The Catholicity of the Church makes itself felt through the universal intercourse of different nations; and in the fulfilment of the prophecy, “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased,' it has not been mere earthly science and art that has prospered, but religion has both

6

been extended, and has had to show herself at once practical and living. Men who were for ever at work gaining riches only to venture them on perilous speculations, became alive to the sense that in religion alone lay any refuge from the uncertainties of their lives, and their practical turn of mind was sure to render that religion peculiarly active, as they felt that in its exercise lay the sole safeguard from the perils of dishonesty, as well as the only means of sanctifying their wealth.

Thus, though the lower ranks of traffic have often been filled with hard, grasping, worldly men, true Tyrians or Carthaginians in heart, and with Punic principles of trade ; yet, on the other hand, there have been many noble-hearted men of strict integrity and magnificent charity, often the greatest lay supporters of the Church. These are the men whose fame survives, and whose families inherit a blessing; and accordingly, in this book of biographies the good infinitely predominate over the bad.

It is, as we have said, merely a book of sketchy biographies, for the most part compiled from authorities not accessible to general readers, and cast into an interesting shape, but without much of breadth of view, or any deep thought, nor indeed of classification of the subjects, although chronology is not the only guide. The first volume, however, naturally divides into the goldsmith money-lending merchant of the middle ages, the adventurous discoverer, the 'merchant-venturer,' of Tudor times, and the grave merchant proper of the seventeenth century; after which, in the second volume, the manufacturer and the banker seem to us to have absorbed the attention of the author, almost to the exclusion of the original subject. Mr. Fox Bourne begins in the days when England was not yet a commercial country, and when the trade of the nation scarcely extended beyond the internal traffic conducted by pedlars, who obtained foreign wares through the merchants who sailed to France and Flanders, with considerable encouragement from the old English government.

After the Norman conquest, however, we hear much of the restrictions placed on commerce by the jealousy of the citizens of our chief marts, aided by the rapacity of the sovereigns. Exports and imports alike met with every possible hindrance, and what one enlightened Plantagenet gave, was sure to be quickly taken back again under the inevitable feeble successor. It was no wonder that the Germans, the merchants of the Steel Yard, formed themselves into a sort of league, offensive and defensive, so as to become the Janissaries or Templars of commerce.

They had a Gilhalda Teutonicorum,' Guildhall or house of the Germans, in Thames Street, with two other buildings attached to it, and all surrounded by a wall able to stand a

« AnteriorContinuar »