« AnteriorContinuar »
If to those friends your kind regard shall give
To the Castle of Indolence,' Lyttelton contributed the following excellent stanza, containing a portrait of Thomson :
A bard here dwelt, more fat than bard beseems,
Then, waking to the sense of lasting pain,
[Prologue to the Tragedy of Coriolanus—Spoken by
on by Milton's father ; but though a 'respectable O manners gently firm, and nobly plain !
citizen,' the parent of Gray was a man of harshi O sympathising love of others' bliss
and violent disposition. His wife was forced to Where will you find another breast like his !
separate from him; and it was to the exertions of Such was the man: the poet well you know;
this excellent woman, as partner with her sister in Oft has he touched your hearts with tender wo;
a millinery business, that the poet owed the advanOft in this crowded house, with just applause,
tages of a learned education, first at Eton, and afterYou heard him teach fair Virtue's purest laws;
wards at Cambridge. The painful domestic circumFor his chaste muse employed her heaven-taught lyre stances of his youth gave a tinge of melancholy and None but the noblest passions to inspire;
pensive reflection to Gray, which is visible in his Not one immoral, one corrupted thought,
poetry. At Eton, the young student had made the One line which, dying, he could wish to blot. friendship of Horace Walpole, son of the prime O may to-night your favourable doom
minister; and when his college education was comAnother laurel add to grace his tomb:
pleted, Walpole induced him
to accompany him in Whilst he, superior now to praise or blame,
à tour through France and Italy. They had been Hears not the feeble voice of human fame.
about a twelvemonth together, exploring the natural Yet if to those whom most on earth he loved, beauties, antiquities, and picture galleries of Rome, From whom his pious care is now removed,
Florence, Naples, &c., when a quarrel took place With whom his liberal hand, and bounteous heart, between them at Reggio, and the travellers sepaShared all his little fortune could impart:
rated, Gray returning to England. Walpole took
the blame of this difference on himself, as he was he saw' in correspondence with his friends, and occavain and volatile, and not disposed to trust in the sionally ventured into the realms of poetry and imabetter knowledge and the somewhat fastidious tastes gination. He had studied the Greek poets with such and habits of his associate. Gray went to Cam- intense devotion and critical care, that their spirit bridge, to take his degree in civil law, but without and essence seem to have sunk into his mind, and intending to follow up the profession. His father coloured all his efforts at original composition. At had died, his mother's fortune was small, and the the same time, his knowledge of human nature, poet was more intent on learning than on riches. and his sympathy with the world, were varied and He had, however, enough for his wants. He fixed profound. Tears fell unbidden among the classic his residence at Cambridge; and amidst its noble fowers of fancy, and in his almost monastic cell, libraries and learned society, passed the greater his heart vibrated to the finest tones of humanity. part of his remaining life. He hated mathematical Gray's first public appearance as a poet was and metaphysical pursuits, but was ardently de- made in 1747, when his Ode to Eton College was voted to classical learning, to which he added the published by Dodsley. Two years afterwards, his study of architecture, antiquities, natural history, Elegy. Written in a Country Churchyard was printed, and other branches of knowledge. His retired life and immediately became popular. His Pindaric was varied by occasional residence in London, Odes appeared in 1757, but met with little success. where he revelled among the treasures of the His name, however, was now so well known, that British Museum ; and by frequent excursions to he was offered the situation of poet-laureate, vacant the country on visits to a few learned and attached by the death of Colley Cibber. Gray declined the friends. Åt Cambridge Gray was considered as an appointment; but shortly afterwards he obtained unduly fastidious man, and this gave occasion to the more reputable and lucrative situation of Propractical jokes being played off upon him by his fessor of Modern History, which brought him in fellow-inmates of St Peter's college, one of which, about £400 per annum. For some years he had a false alarm of fire, by which he was induced to been subject to hereditary gout, and as his circumdescend from his window to the ground by a rope-stances improved, his health declined. While at was the cause of his removing (1756) to Pembroke dinner one day in the college hall, he was seized Hall. In 1765 he took a journey into Scotland, with an attack in the stomach, which was so vie
lent, as to resist all the efforts of medicine, and after six days of suffering, he expired on the 30th of July 1771, in the fifty-fifth year of his age. He was buried, according to his desire, by the side of his mother, at Stoke, near Eton-adding one more poetical association to that beautiful and classic district of England.
The poetry of Gray is all comprised in a few pages, yet he appears worthy to rank in quality with the first order of poets. His two great odes, The Progress of Poesy, and The Bard, are the most splendid compositions we possess in the Pindaric style and measure. They surpass the odes of Collins in fire and energy, in boldness of imagination, and in condensed and brilliant expression. Collins is as purely and entirely poetical, but he is less commanding and sublime. Gray's stanzas, notwithstanding their varied and complicated versification, flow with lyrical ease and perfect harmony. Each presents rich personification, striking thoughts, or happy imagery
Sublime their starry fronts they rear.
In climes beyond the solar road,
To cheer the shivering native's dull abode.
Of Chili's boundless forests laid,
She deigns to hear the savage youth repeat,
In loose numbers wildly sweet, and met his brother poet Dr Beattie, at Glammis Their feather-cinctured chiefs and dusky loves. castle. He also penetrated into Wales, and made Her track, where'er the goddess roves, a journey to Cumberland and Westmoreland, to see Glory pursue and generous shame, the scenery of the lakes. His letters describing The unconquerable mind and Freedom's holy flame. these excursions are remarkable for elegance and precision, for correct and extensive observation, and Or the poetical characters of Shakspeare, Milton, for a dry scholastic humour peculiar to the poet.
and Dryden :On returning from these agreeable holidays, Gray Far from the sun and summer gale, set himself calmly down in his college retreat-pored In thy green lap was Nature's darling laid, over his favourite authors, compiled tables of chro- What time, where lucid Avon strayed, nology or botany, moralised on all he felt and all | To him the mighty mother did unveil
Her awful face: the dauntless child
feeling, with a touch of the gossip, and sometimes Stretched forth his little arms, and smiled.
not over fastidious in his allusions and remarks. * This pencil take,' she said, 'whose colours clear He was indolent, yet a severe student-hating CamRichly paint the vernal year:
bridge and its college discipline, yet constantly reThine, too, these golden keys, immortal boy! siding there. He loved intellectual ease and luxury, This can unlock the gates of Joy;
and wished, as a sort of Mohammedan paradise, to Of Horror that, and thrilling Fears,
' lie on a sofa, and read eternal new romances of Or ope the sacred source of sympathetic Tears.' Marivaux and Crebillon.' Yet all he could say of Nor second he, that rode sublime
Thomson's Castle of Indolence,' when it was first Upon the seraph-wings of Ecstacy,
published, was, that there were some good verses in The secrets of the abyss to spy.
it! Akenside, too, whom he was so well fitted to He passed the flaming bounds of space and time: appreciate, he thought often obscure, and even unThe living throne, the sapphire-blaze,
intelligible.' As a poet, Gray studied in the school Where angels tremble while they gaze,
of the ancient and Italian poets, labouring like an He saw; but blasted with excess of light,
artist to infuse part of their spirit, their melody, and Closed his eyes in endless night.
even some of their expressions, into his inimitable Behold where Dryden's less presumptuous car
Mosaic work, over which he breathed the life and Wide o'er the fields of glory bear
fragrance of eternal spring. In his country tours, Two coursers of ethereal race,
the poet carried with him a plano-convex mirror, With necks in thunder clothed, and long-resounding which, in surveying landscapes, gathers into one pace.
confined glance the forms and tints of the surround
ing scene. His imagination performed a similar The Ode to Eton College,' the 'Ode to Adversity,' operation in collecting, fixing, and appropriating and the far-famed ' Elegy,' present the same careful the materials of poetry. All is bright, natural, and and elaborate finishing; but the thoughts and ima- interesting-rich or magnificent-but it is seen but gery are more simple, natural, and touching. A for a moment. Yet, despite his classic taste and train of moral feelings, and solemn or affecting asso- models, Gray was among the first to welcome and ciations, is presented to the mind, in connection admire the Celtic strains of Macpherson's Ossian; with beautiful natural scenery and objects of real and he could also delight in the wild superstitions of life. In a letter to Beattie, Gray remarks— As to the Gothic nations: in translating from the Norse description, I have always thought that it made the tongue the Fatal Sisters and the Descent of Odin, most graceful ornament of poetry, but never ought he called up the martial fire, the rude energy and to make the subject.' He practised what he taught; abruptness of the ancient ballad minstrels. Had for there is always some sentiment or reflection his situation and circumstances been different, the arising out of the poet's descriptive passages. These genius of this accomplished and admirable poet are generally grave, tender, or pathetic. The cast of would in all probability have expanded, so as to embis own mind, and the comparative loneliness of his brace subjects of wider and more varied interestsituation and studies, nursed a sort of philosophic of greater length and diversity of character. spleen, and led him to moralise on the vanity of The subdued humour and fancy of Gray are perlife. Byron and others have attached inordinate petually breaking out in his letters, with brief value to the ‘Elegy,' as the main prop of Gray's picturesque touches that mark the poet and man of reputation. It is, doubtless, the most frequently taste. The advantages of travelling and of taking read and repeated of all his productions, because it notes on the spot, he has playfully but admirably is connected with ordinary existence and genuine summed up in a letter to a friend, then engaged in feeling, and describes, in exquisite harmonious verse, making a tour in Scotland :-Do not you think what all persons must, at some time or other, have a man may be the wiser (I had almost said the felt or imagined. But the highest poetry can never better) for going a hundred or two of miles; and be very extensively popular. A simple ballad air that the mind has more room in it than most will convey pleasure to a greater number of persons people seem to think, if you will but furnish the than the most successful efforts of accomplished apartments ? I almost envy your last month, being musical taste and genius; and, in like manner, in a very insipid situation myself; and desire you poetry which deals with subjects of familiar life, would not fail to send me some furniture for my must find more readers than those inspired flights Gothic apartment, which is very cold at present. of imagination, or recondite allusions, however It will be the easier task, as you have nothing graced with the charms of poetry, which can only to do but transcribe your little red books, if they be enjoyed by persons of fine sensibility, and some are not rubbed out ; for I conclude you have not thing of kindred taste and knowledge. Gray's trusted everything to memory, which is ten times classical diction, his historical and mythological worse than å lead pencil. Half a word fixed upon personifications, must ever be lost on the multi- or near the spot is worth a cartload of recollection. tude. Even Dr Johnson was tempted into a coarse When we trust to the picture that objects draw and unjust criticism of Gray, chiefly because the of themselves on our mind, we deceive ourselves; critic admired no poetry which did not contain without accurate and particular observation, it is some weighty moral truth, or some chain of rea- but ill-drawn at first, the outlines are soon blurred, soning. To restrict poetical excellence to this the colours every day grow fainter, and at last, standard, would be to blot out Spenser from the when we would produce it to anybody, we are List of high poets, and to curtail Shakspeare and forced to supply its defects with a few strokes of our Milton of more than half their glory.
own imagination.' recollect with another poet – the author of the Impressed with the opinion he here inculcates, Night Thoughts—that a fixed star is as much in the poet was a careful note-taker, and his delineathe bounds of nature as a flower of the field, though tions are all fresh and distinct. Thus, he writes in less obvious, and of far greater dignity.'
the following graceful strain to his friend Nicholls, In the character of Gray there are some seeming in commemoration of a tour which he made to inconsistencies. As a man, he was nice, réserved, Southampton and Netley Abbey :-'My health and proud-a haughty retired scholar; yet we find is much improved by the sea, not that I drank him in his letters full of English idiom and English | it or bathed in it, as the common people do:
no, I only walked by it, and looked upon it. The little lake they command. From the shore a low climate is remarkably mild, even in October and promontory pushes itself far into the water, and on November; no snow has been seen to lie there it stands a white village with the parish church for these thirty years past; the myrtles grow in the rising in the midst of it; banging inclosures, corn ground against the houses, and Guernsey lilies fields, and meadows green as an emerald, with their bloom in every window; the town clean and well- trees, hedges, and cattle, fill up the whole space built, surrounded by its old stone-walls, with their from the edge of the water. Just opposite to you is towers and gateways, stands at the point of a penin- a large farm-house, at the bottom of a steep smooth sula, and opens full south to an arm of the sea, lawn embosomed in old woods, which climb half way which, having formed two beautiful bays on each up the mountain's side, and discover above them a hand of it, stretches away in direct view, till it joins broken line of crags, that crown the scene. Not a the British Channel; it is skirted on either side single red tile, no glaring gentleman's house or with gently-rising grounds, clothed with thick wood, garden walls, break in upon the repose of this little and directly cross its mouth rise the high lands of unsuspected paradise; but all is peace, rusticity, the Isle of Wight at some distance, but distinctly and happy poverty, in its neatest and most becoming
In the bosom of the woods (concealed from attire.' profane eyes) lie hid the ruins of Netley Abbey ; The sublime scenery of the Grande Chartreuse, there may be richer and greater houses of religion, in Dauphiny (the subject of Gray's noble Alcaic but the abbot is content with his situation. See ode), awakened all his poetical enthusiasm. Writthere, at the top of that hanging meadow, under the ing to his mother from Lyons, he says— It is a shade of those old trees that bend into a half circle fortnight since we set out hence upon a little excurabout it, he is walking slowly (good man!), and sion to Geneva. We took the longest road, which bidding his beads for the souls of his benefactors, lies through Savoy, on purpose to see a famous interred in that venerable pile that lies beneath him. monastery, called the Grande Chartreuse, and had Beyond it (the meadow still descending) nods a no reason to think our time lost. After having thicket of oaks that mask the building, and have travelled seven days very slow (for we did not excluded a view too garish and luxuriant for a holy change horses, it being impossible for a chaise to go eye; only on either hand they leave an opening to post in these roads), we arrived at a little village the blue glittering sea. Did you not observe how, among the mountains of Savoy, called Echelles: as that white sail shot by and was lost, he turned from thence we proceeded on horses, who are used and crossed himself to drive the tempter from him to the way, to the mountain of the Chartreuse. It that had thrown that distraction in his way? Iis six miles to the top; the road runs winding up it, should tell you that the ferryman who rowed me, a commonly not six feet broad; on one hand is the lusty young fellow, told me that he would not for all rock, with woods of pine-trees hanging overhead; the world pass a night at the abbey (there were such on the other a monstrous precipice, almost perpenthings near it), though there was a power of money dicular, at the bottom of which rolls a torrent, that, hid there. From thence I went to Salisbury, Wil- sometimes tumbling among the fragments of stone ton, and Stonehenge; but of these I say no more ; that have fallen from on high, and sometimes precithey will be published at the university Press. pitating itself down vast descents with a noise like
P.S.-I must not close my letter without giving thunder, which is still made greater by the echo you one principal event of my history, which was, from the mountains on each side, concurs to form that in the course of my late tour) I set out one one of the most solenn, the most romantic, and the morning before five o'clock, the moon shining most astonishing scenes I ever beheld. Add to this through a dark and misty autumnal air, and got to the strange views made by the crags and cliffs on the sea-coast time enough to be at the sun's levee. the other hand, the cascades that in many places I saw the clouds and dark vapours open gradually to throw themselves from the very summit down into right and left, rolling over one another in great the vale and the river below, and many other par. smoky wreaths, and the tide (as it flowed gently in ticulars impossible to describe, you will conclude upon the sands) first whitening, then slightly tinged we had no occasion to repent our pains. This place with gold and blue; and all at once a little line of St Bruno chose to retire to, and upon its very top insufferable brightness that (before I can write these founded the aforesaid convent, which is the superior five words) was grown to half an orb, and now to a of the whole order. When we came there, the two whole one, too glorious to be distinctly seen. It is fathers who are commissioned to entertain strangers very odd it makes no figure on paper; yet I shall (for the rest must neither speak one to another, nor remember it as long as the sun, or at least as long as to any one else) received us very kindly, and set beI endure. I wonder whether anybody ever saw it fore us a repast of dried fish, eggs, butter, and fruits, before? I hardly believe it.'
all excellent in their kind, and extremely neat. Much as has since been written on the lake They pressed us to spend the night there, and to country, nothing can exceed the beauty and finish stay some days with them ; but this we could not of this miniature picture of Grassmere:—Passed do, so they led' us about their house, which is, you by the little chapel of Wiborn, out of which the Sun- must think, like a little city, for there are a hundred day congregation were then issuing. Passed a beck fathers, besides three hundred servants, that make [rivulet] near Dunmailrouse, and entered Westmore- their clothes, grind their corn, press their wine, and land a second time; now begin to see Helmcrag, dis- do everything among themselves. The whole is tinguished from its rugged neighbours not so much quite orderly and simple; nothing of finery; but by its height, as by the strange broken outline of the wonderful decency, and the strange situation, its top, like some gigantic building demolished, and more than supply the place of it. In the evening the stones that composed it flung across each other we descended by the same way, passing through in wild confusion. Just beyond it opens one of the many clouds that were then forming themselves on sweetest landscapes that art ever attempted to imi- the mountain's side.' tate. The bosom of the mountains spreading here In a subsequent letter to his poetical friend West, into a broad basin, discovers in the midst Grassmere Gray again adverts to this memorable visit: 'In our water; its margin is hollowed into small bays with little journey up the Grande Chartreuse,' he says, bold eminences, some of them rocks, some of soft 'I do not remember to have gone ten paces without turf, that half conceal and vary the figure of the an exclamation that there was no restraining. Not
a precipice, not a torrent, not a cliff, but is pregnant with religion and poetry. There are certain scenes that would awe an atheist into belief, without the help of other argument. One need not have a very fantastic imagination to see spirits there at noonday. You have Death perpetually before your eyes, only so far removed, as to compose the mind without frightening it.'
In turning from these exquisite fragments of description to the poetry of Gray, the difference will be found to consist chiefly in the rhyme and measure : in loftiness of sentiment and vividness of expression, the prose is equal to the verse.
Hymn to Adversity. Daughter of Jove, relentless power,
Thou tamer of the human breast,
The bad affright, afflict the best!
Virtue, his darling child, designed,
And bade to form her infant mind.
Self-pleasing Folly's idle brood,
And leave us leisure to be good.
Immersed in rapturous thought profound,
With leaden eye, that loves the ground,
Dread goddess, lay thy chastening hand!
Nor circled with the vengeful band
Horror's funeral cry,
T'hy milder influence impart,
To soften, not to wound, my heart.
And ye, that from the stately brow
Whose turf, whose shade, whose flowers among
Wanders the hoary Thames along
Ah, fields beloved in vain !
A stranger yet to pain :
My weary soul they seem to soothe,
And, redolent of joy and youth,
Full many a sprightly, race,
The paths of pleasure trace,
What idle progeny succeed
To chase the rolling circle's speed,
Their murmuring labours ply
To sweeten liberty;
Still as they run, they look behind;
They hear a voice in every wind,
Less pleasing when possessed ;
The sunshine of the breast. Theirs buxom health of rosy hue, Wild wit, invention ever new, And lively cheer of vigour born;
The thoughtless day, the casy night,
The spirits pure, the slumbers light,
The little victims play;
Nor care beyond to day;
Ah! show them where in ambush stand,
The vultures of the mind,
And shame that skulks behind;
And Envy wan, and faded Care,
Grim-visaged comfortless Despair, And Sorrow's piercing dart. Ambition this shall tempt to rise,
Then whirl the wretch from high,
And grinning Infamy.
Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College. Ye distant spires, ye antique towers,
That crown the watery glade, Where grateful science still adores
Her Henry's* holy shade;
* King Henry VI., founder of the college