THE critic who should undertake to speak of all the poetry which issues from the press of these present days, what is so called by courtesy as well as that which may claim the title as of right, would impose on himself a task demanding no little labor, and entailing no little disgust and weariness. Nor is the trouble well repaid. More profit will not accrue to him who studies, if the word can be used, fifty of a certain class of versifiers, than to him who glances over one: and, while a successful effort to warn such that poetry is not their proper sphere, and that they must seek elsewhere for a vocation to work out, might embolden a philanthropist to assume the position of scare-crow, and drive away the unclean birds from the flowers and the green leaves; on the other hand, the small results which appear to have hitherto attended such endeavors are calculated rather to induce those who have yet made, to relinquish them, than to lead others to follow in the same track. It is truly a disheartening task. To the critic himself no good, though some amusement occasionally, can be expected: to the criticised, good but rarely, for he is seldom convinced, and annoyance and rancour almost of course; and, even in those few cases where the voice crying "in the wilderness" produces its effect, the one thistle that abandons the attempt at bearing figs sees its neighbors still believing in their success, and soon has its own place filled up. The sentence of those who do not read is the best criticism on those who will not think.
It is acting on these considerations that we propose not to take count of any works that do not either show a purpose achieved or give promise of a worthy event; while of such we hope to overlook none.
We believe it may safely be assumed that at no previous period has the public been more buzzed round by triviality and common-place; but we hold firm, at the same time, that at none other has there been a greater or a grander body of genius, or so honorable a display of well cultivated taste and talent. Certainly the public do not seem to know this: certainly the critics deny it, or rather speak as though they never contemplated that such a position would be advanced; but, if the fact be so, it will make itself known, and the poets of this day will assert themselves, and take their places. Of these it is our desire to speak truthfully, indeed, and without compromise, but always as bearing in mind that the inventor is more than the commentator, and the book more than the notes; and that, if it is we who speak, we do so not for ourselves, nor as of ourselves.
The work of Arthur Hugh Clough now before us, (we feel warranted in the dropping of the Mr. even at his first work,) unites the most enduring forms of nature, and the most unsophisticated conditions of life and character, with the technicalities of speech, of manners, and of persons of an Oxford reading party in the long vacation. His hero is
"Philip Hewson, the poet, Hewson, the radical hot, hating lords and scorning ladies;"
and his heroine is no heroine, but a woman, "Elspie, the quiet, the brave."
The metre he has chosen, the hexametral, harmonises with the spirit of primitive simplicity in which the poem is conceived; is itself a background, as much as are "Knoydart, Croydart, Moydart, Morrer, and Ardnamurchan;" and gives a new individuality to the passages of familiar narrative and every day conversation. It has an intrinsic appropriateness; although, at first thought of the subject, this will, perhaps, be scarcely admitted of so old and so stately a rhythmical form.
As regards execution, however, there may be noted, in qualification of much pliancy and vigour, a certain air of experiment in occasional passages, and a license in versification, which more than warrants a warning "to expect every kind of irregularity in these modern hexameters." The following lines defy all efforts at reading in dactyls or spondees, and require an almost complete transposition of accent.
"There was a point which I forgot, which our gallant Highland homes have;"-- "While the little drunken Piper came across to shake hands with Lindsay:"-- "Something of the world, of men and women: you will not refuse me."
In the first of these lines, the omission of the former "which," would remove all objection; and there are others where a final syllable appears clearly deficient; as thus:--
"Only the road and larches and ruinous millstead between" [them]:-- "Always welcome the stranger: I may say, delighted to see [such] Fine young men:"-- "Nay, never talk: listen now. What I say you can't apprehend" [yet]"-- "Laid her hand on her lap. Philip took it. She did not resist" [him]:--
Yet the following would be scarcely improved by greater exactness:
"Roaring after their prey, do seek their meat from God;"
Nor, perhaps, ought this to be made correct:
"Close as the bodies and intertwining limbs of athletic wrestlers."
The aspect of fact pervading "the Bothie of Toper-na-fuosich,"--(in English, "the hut of the bearded well," a somewhat singular title, to say the least,) is so strong and complete as to render necessary the few words of dedication, where, in inscribing the poem, (or, as the author terms it, "trifle,") to his "long-vacation pupils," he expresses a hope, that they "will not be displeased if, in a fiction, purely fiction, they are here and there reminded of times enjoyed together."
As the story opens, the Oxford party are about to proceed to dinner at "the place of the Clansmen's meeting." Their characters, discriminated with the nicest taste, and perfectly worked out, are thus introduced:
"Be it recorded in song who was first, who last, in dressing. Hope was the first, black-tied, white-waistcoated, simple, his Honor; For the postman made out he was a son to the Earl of Hay, (As, indeed, he was to the younger brother, the Colonel); Treated him therefore with special respect, doffed bonnet, and ever Called him his Honor: his Honor he therefore was at the cottage; Always his Honor at least, sometimes the Viscount of Hay.
"Hope was the first, his Honor, and next to his Honor, the Tutor. Still more plain the tutor, the grave man nicknamed Adam, White-tied, clerical, silent, with antique square-cut waistcoat, Formal, unchanged, of black cloth, but with sense and feeling beneath it; Skilful in ethics and logic, in Pindar and poets unrivalled; Shady in Latin, said Lindsay, but topping in plays and Aldrich.
"Somewhat more splendid in dress, in a waistcoat of a lady, Lindsay succeeded, the lively, the cheery, cigar-loving Lindsay, Lindsay the ready of speech, the Piper, the Dialectician: This was his title from Adam, because of the words he invented, Who in three weeks had created a dialect new for the party.
"Hewson and Hobbes were down at the matutine bathing; of course Arthur Audley, the bather par excellence glory of headers: Arthur they called him for love and for euphony: so were they bathing There where in mornings was custom, where, over a ledge of granite, Into a granite bason descended the amber torrent. There were they bathing and dressing: it was but a step from the cottage, Only the road and larches and ruinous millstead between. Hewson and Hobbes followed quick upon Adam; on them followed Arthur.
"Airlie descended the last, splendescent as god of Olympus. When for ten minutes already the fourwheel had stood at the gateway; He, like a god, came leaving his ample Olympian chamber."--pp. 5, 6.
A peculiar point of style in this poem, and one which gives a certain classic character to some of its more familiar aspects, is the frequent recurrence of the same line, and the repeated definition of a personage by the same attributes. Thus, Lindsay is "the Piper, the Dialectician," Arthur Audley "the glory of headers," and the tutor "the grave man nicknamed Adam," from beginning to end; and so also of the others.
Omitting the after-dinner speeches, with their
"Long constructions strange and plusquam-Thucydidean," that only of "Sir Hector, the Chief and the Chairman;" in honor of the Oxonians, than which nothing could be more unpoetically truthful, is preserved, with the acknowledgment, ending in a sarcasm at the game laws, by Hewson, who, as he is leaving the room, is accosted by "a thin man, clad as the Saxon:"
"`Young man, if ye pass thro' the Braes o'Lochaber, See by the Loch-side ye come to the Bothie of Toper-na-fuosich.'"--p. 9.
Throughout this scene, as through the whole book, no opportunity is overlooked for giving individuality to the persons introduced: Sir Hector, of whom we lose sight henceforward, the attache, the Guardsman, are not mere names, but characters: it is not enough to say that two tables were set apart "for keeper and gillie and peasant:" there is something to be added yet; and with other assembled around them were
"Pipers five or six; among them the young one, the drunkard."
The morrow's conversation of the reading party turns on "noble ladies and rustic girls, their partners." And here speaks out Hewson the chartist:
And he proceeds in a rapture to talk on the beauty of household service.
Hereat Arthur remarks:
"`Is not all this just the same that one hears at common room breakfasts, Or perhaps Trinity-wines, about Gothic buildings and beauty?'"--p.13.
The character of Hobbes, called into energy by this observation , is perfectly developed in the lines succeeding:
"And with a start from the sofa came Hobbes; with a cry from the sofa, There where he lay, the great Hobbes, contemplative, corpulent, witty; Author forgotten and silent of currentest phrase and fancy; Mute and exuberant by turns, a fountain at intervals playing, Mute and abstracted, or strong and abundant as rain in the tropics; Studious; careless of dress; inobservant; by smooth persuasions Lately decoyed into kilt on example of Hope and the Poper, Hope an Antinous mere, Hyperion of calves the Piper. . . . . "`Ah! could they only be taught,' he resumed, `by a Pugin of women How even churning and washing, the dairy, the scullery duties, Wait but a touch to redeem and convert them to charms and attractions; Scrubbing requires for true grace but frank and artistical handling, And the removal of slops to be ornamentally treated!"--pp. 13, 14.
Here, in the tutor's answer to Hewson, we come on the moral of the poem, a moral to be pursued through commonplace lowliness of station and through high rank, into the habit of life which would be, in the one, not petty,--in the other, not overweening,--in any, calm and dignified.
" `You are a boy; when you grow to a man, you'll find things alter. You will learn to seek the good, to scorn the attractive, Scorn all mere cosmetics, as now of rank and fashion, Delicate hands, and wealth, so then of poverty also, Poverty truly attractive, more truly, I bear you witness. Good, wherever found, you will choose, be it humble or stately, Happy if only you find, and, finding, do not lose it.'"--p. 14.
When the discussion is ended, the party propose to separate, some proceeding on their tour; and Philip Hewson will be of these.
"`Finally, too,' from the kilt and the sofa said Hobbes in conclusion, `Finally Philip must hunt for that home of the probable poacher, Hid in the Braes of Lochaber, the Bothie of what-did-he-call-it. Hopeless of you and of us, of gillies and marquises hopeless, Weary of ethic and logic, of rhetoric yet more weary, There shall he, smit by the charm of a lovely potatoe-uprooter, Study the question of sex in the Bothie of what-did-he-call-it."'--p. 18.
The action here becomes divided; and, omitting points of detail, we must confine ourselves to tracing the development of the idea in which the subject of the poem consists.
Philip and his companions, losing their road, are received at a farm, where they stay for three days: and this experience of himself begins. He comes prepared; and, if he seems to love the "golden- haired Katie," it is less that she is "the youngest and comeliest daughter" than because of her position, and that in that she realises his preconceived wishes. For three days he is with her and about her; and he remains when his friends leave the farm-house. But his love is no more than the consequence of his principles; it is his own will unconsidered and but half understood. And a letter to Adam tells how it had an end:
"`I was walking along some two miles from the cottage, Full of my dreamings. A girl went by in a party with others: She had a cloak on,--was stepping on quickly, for rain was beginning; But, as she passed, from the hood I saw her eyes glance at me:-- So quick a glance, so regardless I, that, altho' I felt it, You couldn't properly say our eyes met; she cast it, and left it. It was three minutes, perhaps, ere I knew what it was. I had seen her Somewhere before, I am sure; but that wasn't it,--not its import. No; it had seemed to regard me with a simple superior insight, Quietly saying to herself: 'Yes, there he is still in his fancy. . . . . . Doesn't yet see we have here just the things he is used to elsewhere, And that the things he likes here, elsewhere he wouldn't have looked at; People here, too, are people, and not as fairy-land creatures. He is in a trance, and possessed,--I wonder how long to continue. It is a shame and pity,--and no good likely to follow.'-- Something like this; but, indeed, I cannot the least define it. Only, three hours thence, I was off and away in the moor-land, Hiding myself from myself, if I could, the arrow within me.'"--p. 29.
Philip Hewson has been going on
"Even as cloud passing subtly unseen from mountain to mountain, Leaving the crest of Benmore to be palpable next on Benvohrlich, Or like to hawk of the hill, which ranges and soars in its hunting, Seen and unseen by turns." . . . . . . And these are his words in the mountains: . . . . . .
"`Surely the force that here sweeps me along in its violent impulse, Surely my strength shall be in her, my help and protection about her, Surely in inner-sweet gladness and vigor of joy shall sustain her; Till, the brief winter o'erpast, her own true sap in the springtide Rise, and the tree I have bared be verdurous e'en as aforetime: Surely it may be, it should be, it must be. Yet, ever and ever, `Would I were dead,' I keep saying, 'that so I could go and uphold her.'"--pp. 26, 27.
And, meanwhile, Katie, among the others, is dancing and smiling still on some one who is to her all that Philip had ever been.
When Hewson writes next, his experience has reached its second stage. He is at Balloch, with the aunt and the cousin of his friend Hope: and the lady Maria has made his beliefs begin to fail and totter, and he feels for something to hold firmly. He seems to think, at one moment, that the mere knowledge of the existence of such an one ought to compensate for lives of drudgery hemmed in with want; then he turns round on himself with, "How shall that be?" And, at length, he appeases his questions, saying that it must and should be so, if it is.
After this, come scraps of letters, crossed and recrossed, from the Bothie of Toper-na-fuosich. In his travelling towards home, a horse cast a shoe, and the were directed to David Mackaye. Hewson is still in the clachan hard by when he urges his friend to come to him: and he comes.
"`There on the blank hill-side, looking down through the loch to the ocean; There, with a runnel beside, and pine-trees twain before it, There, with the road underneath, and in sight of coaches and steamers, Dwelling of David Mackaye and his daughters, Elspie and Bella, Sends up a column of smoke the Bothie of Toper-na-fuosich. . . . .
"So on the road they walk, by the shore of the salt sea-water, Silent a youth and maid, the elders twain conversing."--pp.36, 37.
"Ten more days, with Adam, did Philip abide at the changehouse; Ten more nights they met, they walked with father and daughter. Ten more nights; and, night by night, more distant away were Philip and she; every night less heedful, by habit, the father.--pp.38, 39.
From this point, we must give ourselves up to quotation; and the narrow space remaining to us is our only apology to the reader for making any omission whatever in these extracts.
"For she confessed, as they sat in the dusk, and he saw not her blushes, Elspie confessed, at the sports, long ago, with her father, she saw him, When at the door the old man had told him the name of the Bothie; There, after that, at the dance; yet again at the dance in Rannoch; And she was silent, confused. Confused much rather Philip Buried his face in his hands, his face that with blood was bursting. Silent, confused; yet by pity she conquered here fear, and continued: `Katie is good and not silly: be comforted, Sir, about her; Katie is good and not silly; tender, but not, like many, Carrying off, and at once, for fear of being seen, in the bosom Locking up as in a cupboard, the pleasure that any man gives them, Keeping it out of sight as a prize they need to be ashamed of : That is the way, I think, Sir, in England more than in Scotland. No; she lives and takes pleasure in all, as in beautiful weather; Sorry to lose it; but just as we would be to lose fine weather. . . . . There were at least five or six,--not there; no, that I don't say, But in the country about,--you might just as well have been courting. That was what gave me much pain; and (you won't remember that tho'), Three days after, I met you, beside my Uncle's walking; And I was wondering much, and hoped you wouldn't notice; So, as I passed, I couldn't help looking. You didn't know me; But I was glad when I heard, next day, you were gone to the teacher.' "And, uplifting his face at last, with eyes dilated, Large as great stars in mist, and dim with dabbled lashes. Philip, with new tears starting, `You think I do not remember,' Said, `suppose that I did not observe. Ah me! shall I tell you? Elspie, it was your look that sent me away from Rannoch.' . . . . And he continued more firmly, altho' with stronger emotion. `Elspie, why should I speak it? You cannot believe it, and should not. Why should I say that I love, which I all but said to another? Yet, should I dare, should I say, Oh Elspie you only I love, you, First and sole in my life that has been, and surely that shall be; Could, oh could, you believe it, oh Elspie, believe it, and spurn not? Is it possible,--possible, Elspie?' `Well,' she answered, Quietly, after her fashion, still knitting; `Well, I think of it. Yes, I don't know, Mr. Philip; but only it feels to me strangely, Like to the high new bridge they used to build at, below there, Over the burn and glen, on the road. You won't understand me. . . . . Sometimes I find myself dreaming at nights about arches and bridges; Sometimes I dream of a great invisible hand coming down, and Dropping a great key-stone in the middle.' . . . . "But while she was speaking-- So it happened,--a moment she paused from her work, and, pondering, Laid her hand on her lap. Philip took it, she did not resist. So he retained her fingers, the knitting being stopped. But emotion Came all over her more and more, from his hand, from her heart, and Most from the sweet idea and image her brain was renewing. So he retained her hand, and, his tears down-dropping on it, Trembling a long time, kissed it at last: and she ended. And, as she ended, up rose he, saying: `What have I heard? Oh! What have I done, that such words should be said to me? Oh! I see it, See the great key-stone coming down from the heaven of heavens.' And he fell at her feet, and buried his face in her apron. "But, as, under the moon and stars, they went to the cottage, Elspie sighed and said: 'Be patient, dear Mr. Philip; Do not do anything hasty. It is all so soon, so sudden. Do not say anything yet to any one.' `Elspie,' he answered, "Does not my friend go on Friday? I then shall see nothing of you: Do not I myself go on Monday? 'But oh!' he said, 'Elspie, Do as I bid you, my child; do not go on calling me Mr. Might I not just as well be calling you Miss Elspie? Call me, this heavenly night, for once, for the first time, Philip.' "`Philip,' she said, and laughed, and said she could not say it. `Philip,' she said. He turned, and kissed the sweet lips as they said it. "But, on the morrow, Elspie kept out of the way of Philip; And, at the evening seat, when he took her hand by the alders, Drew it back, saying, almost peevishly: "`No, Mr. Philip; I was quite right last night: it is too soon, too sudden, What I told you before was foolish, perhaps,--was hasty. When I think it over, I am shocked and terrified at it.'" . . . . "Ere she had spoken two words, had Philip released her fingers; As she went on, he recoiled, fell back, and shook, and shivered. There he stood, looking pale and ghastly; when she had ended, Answering in a hollow voice: "`It is true; oh! quite true, Elspie. Oh! you are always right; oh! what, what, have I been doing? I will depart to-morrow. But oh! forget me not wholly, Wholly, Elspie, nor hate me; no, do not hate me, my Elspie.'" "But a revulsion passed thro' the brain and bosom of Elspie; And she got up from her seat on the rock, putting by her knitting, Went to him where he stood, and answered: "`No, Mr. Philip: No; you are good, Mr. Philip, and gentle; and I am the foolish: No, Mr. Philip; forgive me.' "She stepped right to him, and boldly Took up his hand, and placed it in her's, he daring no movement; Took up the cold hanging hand, up-forcing the heavy elbow. `I am afraid,' she said; `but I will;' and kissed the fingers. And he fell on his knees, and kissed her own past counting. . . . . . "As he was kissing her fingers, and knelt on the ground before her, Yielding, backward she sank to her seat, and, of what she was doing Ignorant, bewildered, in sweet multitudinous vague emotion, Stooping, knowing not what, put her lips to the curl on his forehead. And Philip, raising himself, gently, for the first time, round her Passing his arms, close, close, enfolded her close to his bosom. "As they went home by the moon, `Forgive me, Philip,' she whispered: `I have so many things to talk of all of a sudden, I who have never once thought a thing in my ignorant Highlands.'" [pp. 39-44.
We may spare criticism here, for what reader will not have felt such poetry? There is something in this of the very tenderness of tenderness; this is true delicacy, fearless and unembarrassed. Here it seems almost captious to object: perhaps, indeed, it is rather personal whim than legitimate criticism which makes us take some exception at "the curl on his forehead;" yet somehow there seems a hint in it of the pet curate.
Elspie's doubts now return upon her with increased force; and it is not till after many conversations with the "teacher" that she allows her resolve to be fixed. So, at last,
"There, upon Saturday eve, in the gorgeous bright October, Under that alders knitting, gave Elspie her troth to Philip."
And, after their talk, she feels strong again, and fit to be his.--Then they rise. "`But we must go, Mr. Philip.' "`I shall not go at all,' said He, `If you call me Mr. Thank Heaven! that's well over!' "`No, but it's not,' she said; `it is not over, nor will be. Was it not, then,' she asked, `the name I called you first by? No, Mr. Philip, no. You have kissed me enough for two nights. No.--Come, Philip, come, or I'll go myself without you.' "`You never call me Philip,' he answered, `until I kiss you.'"--pp. 47, 48.
David Mackaye gives his consent; but first Hewson must return to College, and study for a year.
His views have not been stationary. To his old scorn for the idle of the earth had succeeded the surprise that overtook him at Balloch: and he would now hold to his creed, yet not as rejecting his experience. Some, he says, were made for use; others for ornament; but let these be so made, of a truth, and not such as find themselves merely thrust into exemption from labor. Let each know his place, and take it,
"For it is beautiful only to do the thing we are meant for." And of his friend urging Providence he can only, while answering that doubtless he must be in the right, ask where the limit comes between circumstance and Providence, and can but wish for a great cause, and the trumpet that should call him to GodŐs battle, whereas he sees
"Only infinite jumble and mess and dislocation, Backed by a solemn appeal, ÔFor GodŐs sake, do not stir there.'" And the year is now out. "Philip returned to his books, but returned to his Highlands after. . . . There in the bright October, the gorgeous bright October, When the brackens are changed, and heather blooms are faded, And, amid russet of heather and fern, green trees are bonnie, There, when shearing had ended, and barley-stooks were garnered, David gave Philip to wife his daughter, his darling Elspie; Elspie, the quiet, the brave, was wedded to Philip, the poet. . . . . So won Philip his bride. They are married, and gone to New Zealand. Five hundred pounds in pocket, with books and two or three pictures, Tool-box, plough, and the rest, they rounded the sphere to New Zealand. There he hewed and dug; subdued the earth and his spirit."--pp. 52-55.
Among the prominent attributes of this poem is its completeness. The elaboration, not only of character and of mental discipline, but of incident also, is unbroken. The absences of all mention of Elspie in the opening scene and again at the dance at Rannoch may at first seem to be a failure in this respect; but second thoughts will show it to be far otherwise: for, in the former case, her presence would not have had any significance for Hewson, and, in the latter, would have been overlooked by him save so far as might warrant a future vague recollection, pre-occupied as his eyes and thoughts were by another. There is one condition still under which we have as yet had little opportunity of displaying this quality ; but it will be found to be as fully carried out in the descriptions of nature. In the first of our extracts the worlds are few, but stand for many.
"Me_ly glen, the heart of Lochiel's fair forest, Where Scotch firs are darkest and amplest, and intermingle Grandly with rowan and ash;--in Mar you have no ashes; There the pine is alone or relieved by birch and alder."--p. 22.
In the next mere sound and the names go far towards the entire effect; but not so far as to induce any negligence in essential details:
"As, at return of tide, the total weight of ocean, Drawn by moon and sun from Labrador and Greenland, Sets in amain in the open space betwixt Mull and Scarfa, Heaving, swelling, spreading, the might of the mighty Atlantic; There into cranny and slit of the rocky cavernous bottom Settles down; and with dimples huge the smooth sea-surface Eddies, coils, and whirls, and dangerous Corryvreckan."--p. 52.
Two more passages, and they must suffice as examples. Here the isolation is perfect; but it is the isolation, not of the place and the actors only; it is, as it were, almost our own in an equal degree;
"Ourselves too seeming Not as spectators, accepted into it, immingled, as truly Part of it as are the kine of the field lying there by the birches." "There, across the great rocky wharves a wooden bridge goes, Carrying a path to the forest; below,--three hundred yards, say,-- Lower in level some twenty-five feet, thro' flats of shingle, Stepping-stones and a cart-track cross in the open valley. But, in the interval here, the boiling pent-up water Frees itself by a final descent, attaining a bason Ten feet wide and eighteen long, with whiteness and fury Occupied partly, but mostly pellucid, pure, a mirror; Beautiful there for the color derived from green rocks under; Beautiful most of all where beads of foam uprising Mingle their clouds of white with the delicate hue of the stillness. Cliff over cliff for its sides, with rowan and pendent birch-boughs, Here it lies, unthought of above at the bridge and pathway, Still more concealed from below by wood and rocky projection. You are shut in, left alone with yourself and perfection of water, Hid on all sides, left alone with yourself and the goddess of bathing."-- "So they bathed, they read, they roamed in glen and forest; Far amid blackest pines to the waterfall they shadow, Far up the long long glen to the loch, and the loch beyond it Deep under huge red cliffs, a secret."
In many of the images of this poem, as also in the volume "Ambarvalia," the joint production of Clough and Thomas Burbidge, there is a peculiar moderness, a reference distinctly to the means and habits of society in these days, a recognition of every-day fact, and a willingness to believe it as capable of poetry as that which, but for having once been fact, would not now be tradition. There is a certain special character in passages like the following, the familiarity of the matter blending with the remoteness of the form of metre, such as should not be overlooked in attempting to estimate the author's mind and views of art:
"Still, as before (and as now), balls, dances, and evening parties, . . . .
Seemed like a sort of unnatural up-in-the-air balloon work, . . . .
As mere gratuitous trifling in presence of business and duty
As does the turning aside of the tourist to look at a landscape
Seem in the steamer or coach to the merchant in haste for the city."--
"I was as one that sleeps on the railway; one who, dreaming,
Hears thro' his dream the name of his home shouted out.--hears and hears not,
Faint, and louder again, and less loud, dying in distance,--
Dimly conscious, with something of inward debate and choice, and
Sense of [present] claim and reality present; relapses,
Nevertheless, and continues the dream and fancy, while forward,
Swiftly, remorseless, the car presses on, he knows not whither."--p. 38.
Indeed, the general adaptation of the style to the immediate matter, the alternation of the poetic and the familiar, with a certain mixture even of classical phrase and allusion, is highly appropriate, and may almost be termed constant, except in occasional instances where more poetry, and especially more conception and working out of images, is introduced than squares with a strict observance of nature. Thus the lines quoted where Elspie applies to herself the incident of "the high new bridge" and "the great key- stone in the middle" are succeeded by others (omitted in our extract) where the idea is followed into its details; and there is another passage in which, through no less than seventeen lines, she compares herself to an inland stream disturbed and hurried on by the mingling with it of the sea's tide. Thus also one of the most elaborate descriptions in the poem,--an episode in itself of the extremest beauty and finish, but, as we think, clearly misplaced,--is a picture of the dawn over a great city, introduced into a letter of Philip's, and that, too, simply as an image of his own mental condition. There are but few poets for whom it would be superfluous to reflect whether pieces of such-like mere poetry might not more properly form part of the descriptive groundwork, and be altogether banished from discourse and conversation, where the greater amount of their intrinsic care and excellence becomes, by its position, a proportionally increasing load of disregard for truthfulness.
For a specimen of a peculiarly noble spirit which pervades the whole work, we would refer the reader to the character of Arthur Audley, unnecessary to the story, but most important to the sentiment; for a comprehensive instance of minute feeling for individuality, to the narrative of Lindsay and the corrections of Arthur on returning from their tour.
"He to the great might have been upsoaring, sublime and ideal; He to the merest it was restricting, diminishing, dwarfing;" For pleasant ingenuity, involving, too, a point of character, to the final letter of Hobbes to Philip, wherein, in a manner made up of playful subtlety and real poetical feeling, he proves how "this Rachel and Leah is marriage."
"The Bothie of Toper-na-fuosich" will not, it is to be feared, be extensively read; its length combined with the metre in which it is written, or indeed a first hasty glance at the contents, does not allure the majority even of poetical readers; but it will not be left or forgotten by such as fairly enter upon it. This is a poem essentially thought and studied, if not while in the act of writing, at least as the result of a condition of mind; and the author owes it to the appreciations of all into whose hands it shall come, and who are willing to judge for themselves, to call it, should a second edition appear, by its true name;--not a trifle, but a work.
That public attention should have been so little engaged by this poem is a fact in one respect somewhat remarkable, as contrasting with the notice which the "Ambarvalia" has received. Nevertheless, independently of the greater importance of "the Bothie" in length and development, it must, we think, be admitted to be written on sounder and more matured principles of taste,--the style being sufficiently characterized and distinctive without special prominence, whereas not a few of the poems in the other volume are examples rather of style than of thought, and might be held in recollection on account of the former quality alone.
Last modified 6/2/95