Page images
PDF
EPUB

was exactly like one of those which used to contain the ashes of the dead; a lachrymal served them for a coffee-pot; and there was a painting on the tea-board which represented the funeral of the Princess Charlotte. I rose indignantly from my chair, and insisted upon leaving the house. The lady declared she was confounded at my refusal to take a bed, that the sheets were "bed-sheets!" I exclaimed, (for how could I controul myself?) "a bier and winding-sheets you mean, -they can be nothing else! But, cousin, let me give you a little advice at parting. Every man ought to be consistent, even in his inconsistencies. There is one piece of furniture, the piano-forte, quite out of keeping with the rest. Agreeably to your "pretty ideas," let it be moulded into the form of a coffin, plentifully studded with black nails, and adorned with death's-heads and cross-bones at the corners ;-and buy also a pall, in lieu of that leathern cover, to keep it clean; you can get one at the undertaker's!" With these words I hurried out of the house, without bidding adieu to my host or his dog's-eared wife, and tumbled against a boy at the door, who was bringing a sarcophagus for a wine-cooler. The poor boy was hurt to be sure, but I rejoice at the accident, for I broke the sarcophagus.

Alas! Sir, my miseries did not end in Queen Square. I had a dream in the Saracen's-head, to which a night-mare were a luxury. Owing to that foolish cousin of mine having held forth in praise of the Elgin Marbles, and in defence of his perverted taste, I laid my head on my pillow with such a confusion in my brain, that scarcely had I fallen asleep before I thought I went to the British Museum, where Pericles, in the costume of a parish beadle, opened the door, and made me a profound bow. Upon entering the room, I found it thronged with Athenians, all in English characters and English dresses, and talking Greek in a broad Scotch accent, so that it was with difficulty I could understand them. The figure that first caught my eye was a harlequin, rolling his head over his own shoulders, and then leaping over the shoulder of others, it was Socrates. Presently I discovered Diogenes, turned Dandy, and combing his whiskers in a pocket-mirror. I heard a bawling voice behind me cry out "Oh, such marchings and counter-marchings! from Brentford to Ealing, from Ealing to Acton, from Acton to Uxbridge!"-and, turning round, I recognised Xenophon in the character of Major Sturgeon. Zeno and Epicurus, looking sly at each other, walked arm-in-arm like two archbishops; and Plato, in the uniform of a light-horse volunteer, talked with infinite disdain against Brougham's Bill for the Education of the poor. Alcibiades, as a stock-jobber, put down his name to the Constitutional Association; and Lais, as an old maid, paid her subscription to the Society for the Suppression of Vice. I should have touched my hat to many more of my classical acquaintances, had it not been that, all at once, the attention of every body was directed to the middle of the room, where, slowly and gravely, the ghost of Phidias arose from the floor. His finger pointed to the several spoils of the Parthenon, and then he burst into so violent a fit of laughter, that he split his sides to pieces. I looked up, and saw that Apelles had just finished a "fine piece of work," as the company called it:-he had daubed the Ceutaurs and Lapithæ with flesh-colour, given them red cheeks and staring eyes, and made all their broken limbs appear like

so many bloody stumps. But not only were they painted, they also wore head-dresses of cocked hats, hussar caps, and old women's bonnets. The Theseus had the Lord Chancellor's wig, hind part before; and an Athenian matron was busily employed in nailing the Duke of Wellington's head on the trunk of the Ilissus,-the noise of her ham

mer awoke me.

O that I were again in Pembrokeshire! Not for the world would I venture among the Elgin Marbles, lest there should be some distorting object, something to occasion a squint in "my mind's eye," and recal the horrors of my last night's dream. Nor will I have any thing to do with your exhibitions,-no, nor with your grand new streets; for I have a suspicion that all the orders of architecture, and all the different styles, Grecian, Saxon, Gothic, and Arabesque, are jumbled together in the same buildings; and, for aught I know, there may be a Chinese pagoda on one of your bridges. I return to my wife by today's coach, and this letter serves to employ my time till it sets off, and to give vent to my spleen.

Saracen's Head Inn, Wednesday 13th March.

P.

P.S. I promised Mrs. Pa present from London, and it was my intention to purchase a pair of scissors; but I suppose it is impossible to procure any in this city, unless in the shape of the fatal sister Atropos, with her arms a-kimbo for the bows. If so, I must make my "quietus with a bare bodkin,"-they cannot surely have metamorphosed that.

THE LAWYER AND THE CHIMNEY-SWEEPER.

A ROGUISH old Lawyer was planning new sin,
As he lay on his bed in a fit of the gout,

The mails and the day-light were just coming in,

The milkmaids and rushlights were just going out:

When a Chimney-sweep's boy, who had made a mistake,
Came flop down the flue with a cluttering rush,
And bawl'd, as he gave his black muzzle a shake,
"My master's a coming to give you a brush."
"If that be the case," said the cunning old elf,
"There's no moment to lose-it is high time to flee;
Ere he gives me a brush, I will brush off myself,
If I wait for the Devil, the Devil take me!"
So he limp'd to the door without saying his prayers;
But Old Nick was too deep to be nick'd of his prey,
For the knave broke his neck by a tumble down stairs,
And thus ran to the Devil by running away.

H.

SELECTIONS FROM ANCIENT SPANISH POETRY.*

THE ballads, and early compositions of every country, are interesting, as the most open and unstudied expression of natural feeling. They are the first accents of the infant muse, and they breathe the winning simplicity and artlessness of childhood. Like the language of infancy, they reveal to us the character of a nation, before its peculiarities become disguised by the influence of external intercourse and the cautious reserve of riper years. There can be no more lamentable proof of poetical insensibility in any nation, than the neglect of its early productions; that nervous delicacy of goût, which seeks to consign every thing to oblivion until the arrival of some favoured era, which is considered as the advent of good taste, and to hold out to other nations the opinion, that with it Poetry sprang forth at once, armed at all points, like Minerva from the brain of Jupiter. It is as if man, in the pride of his reason and judgment, should wish to blot from the tablet of memory all the bright visions of youth, and to persuade himself and others that he had never been a child. But could he even succeed in thus deluding himself, others will recollect that there was a time when nature and simplicity prevailed instead of the present cold and laborious precision-when a certain audacity of genius supplied the place of a faultless mediocrity; and will question whether the loss of the freshness and originality of nature has been compensated by the improvement of judgment, and the refinement of taste. Thus it is, that while the French critics of the Academy scarcely deigned to recognize the existence of any poet antecedent to the age of Louis the Fourteenth, and confidently decreed universal admiration and immortality to the writers of that happy period, foreigners bestow but a cold and passing glance on most of these immortal productions, and turn with enthusiasm to the simplicity and pathos of Clement Marot, and his more celebrated imitator, La Fontaine. We will venture to say there is no piece in the whole range of French poetry so exquisitely pathetic, as the old ballad of Alexis and Alix, by Moncrif. The very flow of the verse almost calls tears into the eyes. Moliere was well aware of the merit of these old compositions. The readers of the "Misantrope" will recollect the fine stanzas quoted by Alcestis, in his critique on the sonnet of Orontes :

"Je prise bien moins tout ce que l'on admire

Qu'une vieille chanson, que je m'en vais vous dire.

+ Si le Roi m'avoit donné
Paris sa grande ville,
Et qu'il me fallut quitter
L'amour de ma mie;

* Floresta de Rimas Antiguas Castellanas, ordenada por Don Juan Nicolas Böhl de Faber, de la Real Academia Española, Hamburgo 1821.

These stanzas are happily rendered in the English translation-

"If King Henry would give to me

His Paris large and fair,

And I for it behoved to quit

The love of my true dear:

Take back, I'd say, take back, I pray,

Your Paris great and fair;

Much more I love my own true dove

Much more I love my dear."

Je dirois au Roi Henri,
Reprenez votre Paris-

J'aime mieux ma mie-oh gay!
J'aime mieux ma mie.

La rime n'est pas riche, et le stile en est vieux,
Mais ne voyez vous pas que cela vaut bien mieux
Que ces colifichets, dont le bon sens murmure,
que la passion parle là toute pure.

Et Act 1. Scene 2. No nation can boast of so rich and interesting a collection of these relics as Spain. From the rude simplicity of the romance of the Cid, to the polished trifles of Gongora and the Prince of Esquilache, we can trace the gradual changes of the ballad through the hands of the most distinguished Spanish poets. The Italian taste, which had been introduced by Boscan and Garcilaso, and which had for a time obscured the reputation of the early writers, although it undoubtedly communicated a permanent impression to Spanish poetry, could not long prevent the general feeling from recurring with enthusiasm to the old national ballads. In fact they possessed every feature likely to captivate a whole nation, and to unite the suffrages of the learned and the ignorant. They were, as Quintana observes, the only real lyric poetry of Spain. "It was on these that Music employed her accents: they were sung in the streets and lanes to the sound of the harp and the guitar; they served as the vehicle and incentive of love, the shafts of satire and revenge; they painted in lively colours Moorish customs and pastoral manners, and preserved in the memory of the people the prowess of the Cid and other heroes. More flexible than any other kind of poetry, they adapted themselves to every subject, availed themselves of a rich and natural language, a mellow and harmonious colouring, and presented in every part that ease and that freshness, which belong only to an original character, unconstrained and unstudied." (Quintana, Introduccion a las Poesias Castellanas.) The defects of these compositions spring from the same source as their beauties. Their extreme ease frequently degenerates into carelessness, their simplicity into coarseness, their ingenuity into affectation; and conceits and quibbles were too likely to be regarded as excusable in compositions which had all the air of extempore effusions.

We have been led into these remarks by the late work of Don Juan Nicolas Böhl de Faber, who, after devoting the leisure of twenty years to the study of Spanish poetry, has now communicated to the world the first part of the result of his labours. The present volume contains a rich collection from the works of the ancient poets, and we cannot but anticipate, with the highest pleasure, the completion of the interesting plan which he announces in his preface, and the possession of a body of Spanish poetry, less voluminous perhaps, but more interesting, than any of its predecessors. As yet the small work of Quintana is the best we possess. The collection of Fernandez is by far too indiscriminate, and the arrangement of the Parnaso Español is, candidly speaking, the very worst we have ever met with. Tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral," are blended together in the most inextricable confusion: "a mighty maze," and all "without a plan;" for we have not even the assistance of an index to guide us through the labyrinth.

66

M. de Faber has classed his present selections under the heads of

Religious, Didactic, Amorous, and Convivial Poems. Without entering on the merits of his general principle of classification, we must say we are very much at a loss to perceive why the Moorish ballads, which to us appear the most interesting relics of early Spanish poetry, should be thus summarily excluded from his collection. They are distinguished by possessing, in a peculiar degree, the vigour and beauty of style, the fertility of invention, and the happy brevity of expression, which are common to the whole class of Spanish romances. "Those manners which displayed so fine a union of bravery and love-those Moors so gallant and so tender-that country so beautiful and so delightful— those names so sonorous and so melodious," might surely have claimed an honourable situation in a work like the present, professing to embody the beauties and peculiarities of national poetry.

It is not our intention to enter into a regular review of M. de Faber's work, which our narrow limits would render impracticable, but merely to lay before our readers a few specimens from these "Selections." There is no part of the work more strongly impressed with the image and superscription of the national character, than the religious poems with which it opens. They are written in such a style of mingled devotion and gallantry, that many of them might, without any impropriety of arrangement, have been transferred to the department of" Rimas Amorosas." It seems to be the very spirit of Spanish Catholicism to blend mere physical excitement with moral enthusiasm; and, by this insidious and dangerous union, to transfer the glowing ideas and language of passion to the pure and holy services of religion; to substitute familiarity for fervency; and to connect ideas of the most awful importance with base and degrading conceptions. In reading the Spanish poets, while the most sacred names are

"Familiar in our mouths as household words,"

we find them in perpetual juxta position with expressions of the most inconsistent nature. Such of our readers as are familiar with the canzoni of Petrarca, where it is frequently impossible to say whether the Virgin or Laura be the object of the poet's idolatry, will have an idea of the very equivocal style in which the Virgin is generally addressed in these singular compositions. In one of them Adam is described as hearing the news of the birth of Christ in limbo, and running up and down among the patriarchs, communicating the intelligence, and requesting their congratulations. We remember a strange sonnet of Onofrio Menzoni, in which a similar idea is carried still farther. Adam, awakened by the earthquake at the crucifixion, looks up, and inquires who it was that was thus expiring on the cross; and, being informed, he turns furiously to Eve and exclaims

"Io per te diedi al mio Signor la morte."

Some sonnets of the pious Luis de Leon on Trans-substantiation would, with us, have assuredly subjected the worthy friar to an ex-officio information on the score of blasphemy. We are far from meaning to insinuate that the authors of such compositions were influenced by any spirit but that of the sincerest piety; but we are at the same time convinced that it would be impossible to present them in translation, without exciting ideas of a very different nature, and we therefore have not attempted the task. We were a good deal surprised to find only one

« PreviousContinue »