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Though he had bit me, should have stood that night
Had not concluded all. He wakes; speak to him.
Thou art a soul in bliss, but I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire.
Lear.—You are a spirit, I know; when did you die ?
I am mightily abused. I should even die with pity
Of my condition !
And hold your hands in benediction o'er me:
Nay, sir, you must not kneel.
I am a very foolish, fond old man,
To be my child Cordelia !
It cannot be doubted that the whole of this scene is poetry of the highest proof; and yet, except in the passage referring to the storm, (in which those wonderful lines descriptive of the lightning might have been struck out by the flash itself,) there is scarcely a phrase which could not have been employed in the humblest prose record of this conversation. Try the experiment : break up the rhythm, the only thing that constitutes the lines verse, and mark the issue ; the same sentiments will remain, in nearly the same words; yet the latter being differently collocated, and wanting the inimitable cadence of such verse as none but Shakspeare has been able to construct, the charm will be broken, and the pathos subdued, though no mutilation could destroy it. How much the power of poetry
depends upon the nice inflections of rhythm alone, may be proved by taking the finest passages of Milton or Shakspeare, and merely putting them into prose, with the least possible variation of the words themselves. The attempt would be like gathering up dewdrops, which appear jewels and pearls on the grass, but run into water in the hand: the essence and the elements remain, but the grace, the sparkle, and the form are gone.
THE PERMANENCE OF WORDS.
An eloquent, but extravagant writer has hazarded the assertion that “words are the only things that last for ever.” 1 Nor is this merely a splendid saying, or a startling paradox, that may be qualified by explanation into commonplace; but with respect to man, and his works on earth, it is literally true. Temples and palaces, amphitheatres and catacombs-monuments of power, and magnificence, and skill, to perpetuate the memory, and preserve even the ashes, of those who lived in past ages—must, in the revolutions of mundane events, not only perish themselves by violence or decay, but the very dust in which they perish be so scattered as to leave no trace of their material existence behind. There is no security beyond the passing moment for the most permanent or the most precious of these; they are as much in jeopardy as ever, after having escaped the changes and chances of thousands of years. An earthquake may suddenly engulf the pyramids of Egypt, and leave the sand of the desert as blank as the tide would have left it on the sea-shore. A hammer in the hand of an idiot may break to pieces the Apollo Belvidere, or the Venus de Medici, which are scarcely less worshipped as miracles of art in our day than they were by idolaters of old as representatives of deities.
Looking abroad over the whole world, after the lapse of nearly six thousand years, what have we of the past but the words in which its history is recorded ? What, besides a few mouldering and brittle ruins, which time is imperceptibly touching down into dust, what, besides these, remains of the glory, the grandeur, the intelligence, the supremacy of the Grecian republics, or the empire of Rome? Nothing but the words of poets, historians, philoso
collocations of sounds and syllables, the learned alone can appreciate, and that only in some cases) after long, intense, and laborious investigation; but, as thought can be made to transmigrate from one body of words into another, even through all the languages of the earth, without losing what may be called its personal identity, the great minds of antiquity continue to hold their ascendency over the opinions, manners, characters, institutions, and events of all ages and nations through which their posthumous compositions have found way, and been made the earliest subjects of study, the highest standards of morals, and the most perfect examples of taste, to the master-minds in every state of civilized society. In this respect the "words" of inspired prophets and apostles among the Jews, and those of gifted writers among the ancient Gentiles, may truly be said to “last for ever.”
Retrospect of Literature.
JOHN WILSON, 1788.
John Wilson, the distinguished Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, was born in the year 1788, in the town of Paisley. He was the son of an opulent manufacturer, and received his elementary education at Glasgow University, whence, in due time, he was transferred to Magdalene College, Oxford. llere his poetical genius was developed, and he carried off the Newdigate Prize from a vast number of competitors for the best English poem of fifty lines. To fine genius and great powers of literary acquisition, he added a remarkable taste for gymnastic exercises and athletic sports. After being four years at Oxford, he purchased a small but beautiful estate, named Elleray, on the banks of Lake Windermere, where he went to reside. He married, built a house and a yacht, enjoyed himself among the magnificent scenery of the lakes, wrote poetry, and cultivated the society of Wordsworth.” At this period he published the first of his beautiful poems, “ The Isle of Palms," a volume that placed him at once by the side of some of our most elegant modern poets. Subsequently he became a member of the Scottish bar, and in a few years received the appointment to that chair which he has so long filled with honor. His permanent reputation will rest upon his prose writings. IIis contributions to “Blackwood's Magazine" raised the w tone and character of magazine literature--for in this he poured forth the riches of his fancy, learning, and taste; displaying also the peculiarities of his sanguine and impetuous temperament. The most valuable The fault of some of his prose writings consists in his extreme opinions, which are often carried to a point that makes them ridiculous, and therefore harmless : and at times one is doubtful whether he is speaking his real opinions or writing a mere caricature. For instance, in his paper entitled “An Hour's Talk about Poetry,” in his extravagant panegyric upon the English female poets, he thus breaks forth :-“The truth is too glaring to be denied, that all male rational creatures are in the long run vile, corrupt, and polluted; but all women are pure as dewdrops or moonbeams, and know not the meaning of evil.” Exaggeration so absurd, whether he means it for truth or ridicule, equally fails of its object—if it had an object.
Professor Wilson's great strength as a prose writer lies in his power of pathetic description; and here he has never been surpassed. As a delineator of Scottish pastoral life--his “ Lights and Shadows,” his “ Trials of Margaret Lindsay,” and his “Foresters" seem destined to remain unapproached in their peculiar excellencies, and have as fair a chance of becoming immortal as any thing of a similar character in the English language.'
The coffin was let down to the bottom of the grave, the planks were removed from the heaped-up brink, the first rattling clods had struck their knell, the quick shoveling was over, and the long, broad, skilfully cut pieces of turf were aptly joined together, and trimly laid by the beating spade, so that the newest mound in the churchyard was scarcely distinguishable from those that were grown over by the undisturbed grass and daisies of a luxuriant spring. The burial was soon over; and the party, with one consenting motion, having uncovered their heads in decent reverence of the place and occasion, were beginning to separate, and about to leave the churchyard.
Here, some acquaintances from distant parts of the parish, who had not had opportunity of addressing each other in the house that had belonged to the deceased, nor in the course of the few hundred yards that the little procession had to move over from his bed to his grave, were shaking hands quietly but cheerfully, and inquiring after the welfare of each other's families. There, a small knot of neighbors were speaking, without exaggeration, of the respectable character which the deceased had borne, and mentioning to one another little incidents of his life, some of them so remote as to be known only to the gray-headed persons of the group; while a few yards farther removed from the spot were standing together parties who discussed ordinary concerns, altogether unconnected with the funeral, such as the state of the markets, the promise of the season, or change of tenants; but still with a sobriety of manner and voice that was insensibly produced by the influence of the simple ceremony now closed, by the quiet graves around, and the shadow of the spire and gray walls of the house of God. Two men yet stood together at the head of the grave,
with countenances of sincere but unimpassioned grief. They were brothers, the only sons of him who had been buried. And there was something in their situation that naturally kept the eyes of many directed upon them for a long time, and more intently than would have been the case had there been nothing more observable about them than the common symptoms of a common sorrow. But these two brothers, who were now standing at the head of their father's grave, had for some years been totally estranged from each other; and the only words that had passed between them, during all that time, had been uttered within a few days past, during the necessary preparations for the old man's funeral.
No deep and deadly quarrel was between these brothers, and neither of them could distinctly tell the cause of this unnatural estrangement. Perhaps dim jealousies of their father's favor-selfish thoughts that will sometimes force themselves into poor men's hearts, respecting temporal expectations—unaccommodating manners on both sides—taunting words that mean little when uttered, but which rankle and fester in remembrance-imagined opposition of interests, that, duly considered, would have been found one and the same—these, and many other causes, slight when single, but strong when rising up together in one baneful band, had gradually but fatally infected their hearts, till at last they who in youth had been seldom separate and truly attached, now met at market, and, miserable to say, at church, with dark and averted faces, like different clansmen during a feud.
Surely, if any thing could have softened their hearts towards each other, it must have been to stand silently, side by side, while the earth, stones, and clods were falling down upon their father's coffin. And doubtless their hearts were so softened. But pride, though it cannot prevent the holy affections of nature from being felt, may prevent them from being shown; and these two brothers stood there together, determined not to let each other know the mutual tenderness that, in spite of them, was gushing up in their hearts, and teaching them the unconfessed folly and wickedness of their causeless quarrel.
A head-stone had been prepared, and a person came forward to plant it. The elder brother directed him how to place it-a plain