Imágenes de páginas

But the balance and antithesis of the heroic couplet follow him and make even his best cosmic picture or parallel monotonous; he has none of the varied rhythm of even The Pleasures of Imagination. Nor are there the lofty ideals of that poem to give atmosphere to the straining after religious thought. And even his best passages are spoiled by trivial analogies ; as, for example, when speaking of the star of night;

“Divine Instructor ! Thy first volume this

For man's perusal! All in capitals ! ” 2. A far nearer approach to Miltonism applied to gloomy moralisation was made by Robert Blair, a Scotch clergyman, in his poem “The Grave," published in 1743, but written long before. The pulpiteering rhetoric is not sawn up into equal lengths, but has been strengthened by an appreciative study of Shakespeare. Yet it reveals its time as much in the approaches it makes, like the Night Thoughts, to bathos. The antitheses of death take the place of those of the worlds above and are equally marred by mean analogies. Lines like these show that Blair was a true poet;

“ 'Tis but a night, a long and moonless night,

We make the grave our bed and then are gone.
Thus at the shut of eve the weary bird
Leaves the wide air and in some lonely brake
Cowers down."

Section 8. 1. As real a poet was John Dyer, a Welshman, who, in

I. his Grongar Hill, published in the same year as Thomson's Winter (1726), revealed the fact that in the more mountainous districts lay all the material for the regeneration of English poetry. It is a brief poem in rhyming octosyllabics giving a picture of the scenes to be viewed from Grongar Hill. It shows a close study of the Puritan secular poets, and especially Marvell, and as true an appreciation of the beauty of nature as The Seasons. And there is a tinge of melancholy in it, that adds grace to it, as in these lines :

ok But transient is the smile of fate ! A little rule, a little sway

[ocr errors]


A sunbeam in a winter's day,
Is all the proud and mighty have

Between the cradle and the grave”, And this love of the shadowed side of life developed, and along with a trip to Italy and his study of Milton, produced his blank verse poem The Ruins of Rome in 1740.

2. But the poem that showed best how much he belonged to the middle of the eighteenth century was The Fleece, published in 1757, the year before his death. He had given up the profession of painter, and, entering the church, held livings in Leicestershire, Huntingdonshire, and Lincolnshire. It was the industrial era just opening, and his pastoral surroundings, that forced the theme and its treatment on his imagination. All the processes connected with wool, its rearing, and manufacture, are described in blank verse, often with genuine poetry, even the making of the steel shears at Sheffield being versified. The poem tells better than any contemporary history could where the new audience of literature was to be found ; in the shepherds' huts, and the great centres of industry and commerce Milton was still read, and the realities of the growing industrial life were most talked of.

3. Richard Glover (1712-1785) had already attempted to find the poetry of commercial life in his “London or the Progress of Commerce” (1739). A merchant himself, he also showed that English merchants could see the romance of ancient times as well as of modern. In his Leonidas, first published in 1737, enlarged from nine to twelve books in 1770, and added to in its sequel, the Athenaid, published posthumously (1788), he revealed the influence of both Milton and Pope on himself and his class and readers. It weaves modern romance and the passion for political freedom and English patriotism into the story of Thermopylae.

like Akenside and all the progressive minds of the middle class, opposed to Walpole and his policy, and uses all these poems, as well as his Ballad of Admiral Hosier's Ghost, as political propaganda. But the pseudo-classicism of the Queen Anne era bears the art down, whilst the Popian balance destroys the Miltonic rhythm of the blank


He was,

poems were too monotonous to live.


[ocr errors]

4. John Armstrong (1709-1779), like his friend James Thomson, a son of the manse, brought up in Roxburghshire, and trained at Edinburgh University, came closer in spirit to the Queen Anne age. His occupation as a medical man in London brought him, like his countryman, Arbuthnot, into close intimacy with the utilitarian, commonsense, and often gross tone of fashionable life.

His poems, The Art of Preserving Health (1744), and The Economy of Love (1739), though written in Thomsonian blank verse, and sometimes striving after sublimities, represent well the common level Queen Anne poetry could reach when it was didactic without satire; they are marred both by the vulgarities and bathos of Night Thoughts, and by the grossnesses of Swift. And yet there is promise of the coming poetry, as also in the stanzas contributed by him to Thomson's Castle of Indolence, where too he is portrayed ; he “quite detested talk”, “oft stung by spleen ”, often “inly thrilled " by "pensive fury”;

". “Nor ever uttered word, save when first shone

The glittering star of eve,-'Thank Heaven, the day is done."" His description of the sweating sickness in The Art of Preserving Health has much of the vigour and the repulsive picturesqueness of that by Lucretius of the plague at Athens. His verse is now Miltonic, again Thomsonian; but oftenest it needs but rhyme to be Popian, as, for example :

“Who never fasts no banquet e’er enjoys :

Who never toils or watches never sleeps.” And in his later and briefer poems, Benevolence, and Taste, he returns to the heroic couplet and to the satiric poetry of the Queen Anne age.

5. Another Edinburgh-trained doctor, James Grainger (1721-1766), practising first in London, and afterwards in the West Indies, followed the fashion of his time, and tried to elevate by a tumid sounding verse a theme from industrial life. In his Sugar Cane (1764), he describes the employments of the negroes, whom he conventionally calls swains, and the various kinds of work on a plantation, discussing even rats, monkeys, fies, and hurricanes. ' Like Dyer's Fleece, it reveals the drift of English civilisation towards industrialism and the change in the audience of literature.

[ocr errors]

6. But the most frequent didactic use of blank verse during the period was for the description of out-door scenes strung together, as in Thomson's Seasons, by some theme that took its poet into the presence of nature, like Somerville's Chase (1734) and Mason's English Garden (1772-1782). Thus was the way prepared for Cowper's Task; and following him the use was continued in the nineteenth century by poems like Graham's Sabbath (1804) and Pollok's Course of Time. Another favourite use of it for the same purpose was to deal with a special locality. Instances were Albania, describing Scotland (1737), Amwell, by John Scott, the Quaker-poet, describing his native place (1776), Lochleven not published till 1770 after the death of its young author Michael Brụce (1746-1767); Lewesdon Hill (1786) by the Professor of Poetry at Oxford, Rev. William Crowe, and Beachy Head by the authoress of The Old Manor House, Mrs. Charlotte Smith (1749-1806). And Wordsworth, in his Lines written near Tintern Abbey (1798), had only to infuse the new spirit into this old form. A less common use was to take an incident or narrative and interweave descriptions of nature and reflections on it. Mallet's Amyntor and Theodora, which leads Aurelius a refugee from the religious persecutions of the Restoration to St. Kilda (1747), is an instance. Wordsworth took this up and made it his own in Michael and other shorter poems and also in The Excursion. And during the century the blank verse developed into something quite different from its Miltonic use. It gave up its larger harmonies and its grandeur, its difficult syntax, and its learned and new use of words. It approached nearer to prose, and even acquired the simplicity and brevity of conversational English. It still made efforts at the old variety of rhythm and melody. But it never returned to the greatness and intensity it had shown in Milton's hands. So it was with the didacticism ; it gradually gave up the abstractness of its source, and resorted more to pictures or character-sketches or narrative; it the guise of teacher or preacher, and tried to conceal its primary purpose; it moralised less and less. If we compare The Pleasures of Memory of Rogers and The Pleasures of Hope of Campbell, coming at the close of the century, with the Pleasures of Imagination of Akenside (1744) and The Pleasures of Melancholy of Thomas Warton (1745), the increasing concreteness becomes apparent. The earlier poems are all apostrophe and maxim ; the later are all picture and suggestion. Its use for narrative gets more and more predominant, as in Southey's Joan of Arc (1793), and Landor's Gebir (1795). As we advance in the nineteenth century, the blank verse becomes more plastic and the didacticism more narrative and picture. In the hands of Browning in Pauline and Paracelsus, of Mrs. Browning in Aurora Leigh, and of Tennyson in Morte d'Arthur, they lose all traces of their origin; these poets teach their lesson by dramatic scene or psychological analysis of character, whilst they give their verse all the freedom and adaptability of the new prose and all the melody of true poetry.

put off

7. The history of the heroic couplet is one rather of decay than development. When Johnson in his Lives of the Poets spoke of poetry having reached its highest point in Dryden and Pope and expressed something approaching despair of its ever surpassing their art, he meant, of course, poetry as represented by the heroic verse. Its true métier was epigrammatic satire, satire that had its point in the couplet, or at least in nothing longer than the paragraph rising to a climax; its balance demanded continual haltingplaces to clench its point and to prevent monotony. Pope in his Rape of the Lock and Satires revealed this about it, and raised it to its highest. The rest of the century went back again and again to the study of his use of it and only brought out more and more clearly its lack of plasticity and freedom by applying it to other purposes than satire. And in the nineteenth century a consciousness grew in the minds of poets and their readers that its day was past and it has sunk into an academic exercise. Cowper and Crabbe galvanised it into popularity, and some poets like Byron began their career by using it; but they at once abandoned it. Its history is practically confined to the eighteenth century. Few minor poets of the latter half of that period could keep from trying their hand at it. For no great poet arose to snatch the laurel from the head of Pope and give a new model ; and the conditions out of which it grew still persisted in London society, the artificial manners, the love of wit, the low ideal of life, the rhetorical prose, and the dominant influence of political oratory.

« AnteriorContinuar »