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this sublime power, will show as prolific and exuberant an invention as that which calls forth the beings of the Drama and the Epic-as the Greeks often conveyed their most complicated similes in one epithet. It is scarcely possible to conceive a more solemn and august example of this faculty than where afterwards he calls his sorrow itself into a separate existence, and says—
"Punctual as Lovers to the moment sworn,
But if this great proneness to personify produces so much that is the greatest in Young-it produces also that which criticism condemns as the lowest. For instance, you will smile at the following verses:
Who can take
"Rude thought runs wild in contemplation's field,
He's at the door,
Insidious Death-should his strong hand arrest,
It is the same habit of personification which I think, on looking over Milton and Shakspeare, you will find mainly produce the same fault (if fault it really be) in them.
That power of the Greeks to which I have alluded of conveying the most complicated images by a word, belongs also to Young in a greater degree than to any poet since his time. As where he exclaims
"Much wealth how little worldlings can enjoy ;
And again—a finer instance—
"Mine" (joys) "died with thee, Philander; thy last sigh
Here the whole contents of the preceding lines-the whole power of friendship-the whole victory of death, are summed up at once in the words
"The great MAGICIAN's dead !"
Nothing, indeed, throughout the whole poem is more remarkable in Young than his power of condensation. He gathers up a vast store of thought, and coins the whole into one inestimable sentence. He compresses the porosities of language, and embodies a world of meaning in a single line. And it is indeed remarkable, that a writer possessing this power to so unrivalled a degree, should ever subject himself with justice to the charge of tumidity.
But what place in our literature is to be assigned to Young? At present, his position is vague and uncertain. Like many other of our poets, his merits are acknowledged, but his station undecided. Shall we place him before Pope? Pope's admirers would be startled at the presumption. Below Goldsmith? Few would assert the "Deserted Village" to be a greater poem than the "Night Thoughts." What is his exact rank? I confess that I should incline to place it on a very lofty eminence. In a word, I should consider the "Night Thoughts," altogether, the finest didactic poem in the language. The greatest orders of poetry, we all allow, are the epic and the dramatic. I am at a loss to say whether, in general, lyrical or didactic poetry should be placed next; but I am sure that, in our country, didactic poetry takes the precedence. None of our lyrists have equalled our great didactic writers; and with us, the order itself of lyrical writing seldom aspires beyond the graceful. But it must be understood that there is sometimes a great difference between the rank of the poem and that of the poet; many writings of great excellence can pile up a higher reputation than one work of the greatest. Both Voltaire and Scott depend, not only on the quality but the quantity of their productions, for their fame. When the public were crying out that the Author of "Waverley" was writing too much and too fast, they did not perceive that even his bad works contributed to swell the sum of his glory, by proving the fertility of his genius. And to them may be well applied the words applied to another" he would not have effected such great things, if his errors had been less numerous." So, although I consider the "Night Thoughts" a poem entitled to rank immediately below the "Paradise Lost," I am far from contending that Young should rank as a poet immediately next to Milton. I think the "Night Thoughts" a more sustained, solemn, and mighty poem than theChilde Harold;" but when I recall all the works that accompany the latter-produce of the same fiery and teeming mind-the dark tale of "Lara"-the sweetness of the "Prisoner of Chillon "-the daring grandeur of "Cain," and, above all, the rich, nervous humour -the deep mastery of the living world that breathes a corporeal life into the shadows of the "Don Juan," I am at no loss to allow Byron to be a greater genius, and a greater poet, than Young.
A. But you really think the "Night Thoughts" finer than "The Harold."
L. So much so, that I doubt if the finest parts of "Childe Harold"-the most majestic of its reflections, and the most energetic of its declamation-are not found in those passages which have been (perhaps indistinctly and unconsciously) borrowed from Young.
A. Byron always admired the "Night Thoughts" to idolatry, and his favourite play was "The Revenge."
L. The fault of the "Childe Harold" is as a whole. There is no grandeur in its conception. Every novel in the Minerva Press furnishes a similar idea of the hero and the plan. A discontented young nobleman, sated and jaded, setting out on his travels-turn the conception as you will, it comes always to that in plain and sober reality. But this poor and hacknied conception the Poet has hid in so magnificent a robe, and decorated with such a costly profusion of gems, that it matters little to the delight and interest of the reader. Still, in judging of it as a great poem, we must remember, that in the
most important part of a great poem, it is deficient. But the conception of the " Night Thoughts," for a didactic poem, is unutterably grand. An aged and bereaved mourner stands alone with the dead-the grave his scene-the night his canopy-and time, death, eternity-the darkest, the loftiest objects of human hope and human intellect, supply his only themes. Here, at this spot, and at this hour, commencing his strain with a majesty worthy of its aims and end, he calls upon
"Silence and Darkness, solemn sisters, twins
From ancient Night, who nurse the tender thought
That column of true majesty in man!
Assist me: I will thank you in the grave-
Following the course of the sombre inspiration that he adjures, he then passes in a vast review before him, in the presence of the Stars, and above the slumbers of the dead, the pomps and glories of the world—the veiled and shadowy forms of Hope-the dim hosts of Memory
"The Spirit walks of each departed Hour,
Standing upon the grave-the creations of two worlds are round him, and the grey hairs of the mourner become touched with the halo of the prophet. It is the time and spot he has chosen wherein to teach us, that dignify and consecrate the lesson: it is not the mere human and earthly moral that gathers on his tongue. The conception hallows the work, and sustains its own majesty in every change and wandering of the verse. And there is this greatness in his themedark, terrible, severe-hope never deserts it! It is a deep and gloomy wave, but the stars are glassed upon its bosom. The more sternly he questions the world, the more solemnly he refers its answer to Heaven. Our bane and antidote are both before him; and he only arraigns the things of Time before the tribunal of Eternity. It is this, which to men whom grief or approaching death can divest of the love and hankerings of the world, leaves the great monitor his majesty, but deprives him of his gloom. Convinced with him of the vanities of life, it is not an ungracious or unsoothing melancholy which confirms us in our conviction, and points with a steady hand to the divine SOMETHING that awaits us beyond;
"The darkness aiding intellectual light,
And sacred silence whispering truths divine,
I know not whether I should say too much of this great poem if I should call it a fit Appendix to "Paradise Lost." It is the Consolation to that Complaint. Imagine the ages to have rolled by since our first parents gave earth to their offspring, who sealed the gift with blood, and bequeathed it to us with toil :-imagine, after all that experience can teach-after the hoarded wisdom and the increasing pomp of countless generations-an old man, one of that exiled and fallen race, standing among the tombs of his ancestors, telling us their whole history, in his appeals to the living heart, and holding out to
us, with trembling hands, the only comfort which Earth has yet discovered for its cares and sores-the anticipation of Heaven! To me, that picture completes all that Milton began. It sums up the Human History, whose first great chapter he had chronicled; it preacheth the great issues of the Fall; it shows that the burning light then breathed into the soul, lives there still, and consummates the mysterious record of our mortal sadness and our everlasting hope. But if the conception of the "Night Thoughts" be great, it is also uniform and sustained. The vast wings of the Inspiration never slacken or grow fatigued. Even the humours and conceits are of a piece with the solemnity of the poem-like the grotesque masks carved on the walls of a Cathedral, which defy the strict laws of taste, and almost inexplicably harmonize with the whole. The sorrow, too, of the poet is not egotistical, or weak in its repining. It is the Great One Sorrow common to all human nature-the deep and wise regret that springs from an intimate knowledge of our being and the scene in which it has been cast. That same knowledge, operating on various minds, produces various results. In Voltaire, it sparkled into wit; in Goethe, it deepened into a humour that belongs to the sublime; in Young, it generated the same high and profound melancholy as that which produced the inspirations of the Son of Sirach, and the soundest portion of the philosophy of Plato. It is, then, the conception of the poem, and its sustained flight, which entitle it to so high a rank in our literature. Turn from it to any other didactic poem, and you are struck at once by the contrast-you are amazed at once by its greatness. "The Seasons" shrink into a mere pastoral; "The Essay on Man" becomes French and artificial; even the "Excursion" of Wordsworth has, I know not what, of childish and garrulous, the moment they are forced into a comparison with the solemn and stern majesty of the "Night Thoughts."
There is another merit in the "Night Thoughts;" apart from its one great lesson, it abounds in a thousand minor ones. Forget its conception-open it at random, and its reflections, its thoughts, its worldly wisdom alone may instruct the most worldly. It is strange, indeed, to find united in one page the sublimity of Milton and the point of La Bruyere. I know of no poem, except the Odyssey, which in this excels the one before us. Of isolated beauties, what rich redundance! The similes and the graces of expression with which the poem is sown are full of all the lesser wealth of invention. How beautiful, in mere diction, is that address to the flowers:
"Queen lilies, and ye painted populace,
So, too, how expressive the short simile,
like our shadows,
Our wishes lengthen as our sun declines." What-but here I must pause abruptly, or I should go on for ever; for the poet is one who strikes the superficial even more on opening a single page at random than in reviewing the whole in order. Only one word, then, upon the Author himself. Ambition he certainly possessed; and, in spite of all things, it continued with him to the last. His love of ambition, perhaps deepened, in his wiser moments, his con
tempt of the world: for we are generally disappointed before we despise. But the purer source of his inspiration seems to have been solemnly and fervently felt throughout life. At college, he was distinguished for his successful zeal in opposing the unbelief of Tindal. In literature, some of his earliest offerings were laid upon the altar of God. In the pulpit, where he was usually a powerful and victorious preacher, he is recorded once to have burst into tears on seeing that he could not breathe his own intense emotion into the hearts of a worldly audience. Naturally vain, he renounced the drama, in which he had gained so great a reputation, when he entered the church; and though called covetous, he afterwards gave-when his play of "The Brothers" several years afterwards was acted, not the real proceeds of the play, (for it was not successful,) but what he had imagined might be the proceeds-a thousand pounds, to the propagation of the Gospel abroad. A religious vein distinguished his private conversation in health and manhood, no less than his reflections in sorrow, and his thoughts at the approach of death. May we hope with him that the cravings of his heart were the proof of a hereafter
"That grief is but our grandeur in disguise,
While we admire his genius, let us benefit from its object; while we bow in homage before the spirit that "stole the music from the spheres to soothe their goddess;" while we behold aghast the dread portrait he has drawn of Death, noting from his grim and secret stand the follies of a wild and revelling horde of bacchanals; while we shudder with him when he conjures up the arch-fiend from his lair; while we stand awed and breathless beneath his adjuration to Night,
"Nature's great ancestor, Day's elder born,
let us always come back at last to his serene and holy consolation :-
The moral muse has shadowed out a sketch
For peace on earth, or prospect of the skies."
I have given the substance-and, as far as I could remember, the words of my friend's remarks-the last conversation I ever held with him on his favourite poet-or indeed upon any matters merely critical. And although the reader, attached to more worldly literature, may not agree with L as to the high and settled rank in which the poem thus criticised should be placed-I do not think he will be displeased to have had his attention drawn for a few moments towards one, at least, among the highest, but not most popular, of his