« PreviousContinue »
FOETRY, SONG, AND MUSIC.
faculty, then, of harmonious metrical composition does not appear to depend on this natural genius or taste for music as a distinct art. Some of the most melodious of our lyrists, evenour writers of songs-have been absolutely wanting in musical quickness. The schoolmaster who taught Burns in his youth has distinctly left it on record, that in the musical department, Burns and his brother were the most backward pupils in the whole parish. Robert's ear, in particular,' he says, was remarkably dull; it was long before I could get him to distin'guish one tune from another.' He did, in later life, learn to make out an air on the violin; but it seems to have been a work of determination. Scott, also, who could, when he liked, write a stirring and sonorous ballad, and whose recitation of snatches of Scotch song seems to have been something surpassingly fine, was notoriously deficient in the musician's organ of tune. The music of such men, therefore, the ideal hum or cadence, moaning through their heads as they thought or wrote, must have been something altogether different from the voluntarily conceived notes of a technical melody. And so, also, with prose speakers, The orator is nearly akin to the lyrist; and yet neither are orators, any more than lyric poets, invariably endowed with the musical ear. Chalmers, whose voice rolled superbly in that mighty cadence, to which all his periods seemed to be naturally written, was as unapt in music as Scott. Fine singers, on the other hand, are often bad, or, as we say, unmusical speakers. The spoken remarks with which the vocalist Wilson used to preface his songs, positively jarred on the ear.
All this would seem to prove, that our theory of what is called, technically, the musical ear, is not yet sufficiently precise to enable us to say how the possession or want of this gift would affect the faculty of metrical expression. Probably the required explanation lies in investigations yet to be undertaken into the physiology of common speech, as distinct from the physiology of singing. Meanwhile, this, at least, is clear, that for a poet, such in native kind, and in professed intention, as Moore was, the possession of technical musical knowledge and accomplishment is a great advantage, or even an indispensable requisite. Moore was not pre-eminently a poet in the stricter sense in which we have ventured to discriminate between that term and the term lyrist; his Lalla Rookh is a specimen of the best he could do in the walk of imaginative creation, and, whatever may be thought of the conception of that poem as a metrical romance, a critic like Wordsworth would have been very severe on its general claims, as a poetical composition. But Moore had, in very high degree, the lyrical faculty,-the gifts necessary to a song-writer,
Now, a song is not properly at the end of its destiny till it has been set to music. But there are two ways in which this end may be attained. On the one hand, the poet may write the words, thinking of no other music than that which hums through his own mind; and the technical musician may come after him, providing a musical air such as he conceives to be appropriate.
But so rare is high skill in this art of musical interpretation, that some of the noblest lyrical pieces in the language have either not been set to music at all, or been set to music in a manner quite miserable. Fancy Tennyson's stanzas, Break, break, break,' set, as we are told they have been, by some young lady or other, to a merry lilt. As regards the interests of the professional vocalist, therefore, it has been found better that, instead of the musical composer waiting on the song-writer, the song-writer should wait on the musical composer. The remark is as common as a proverb, that the words of a song are nothing. The silliest trash, that would not be readable alone-anything, in short, with 'hearts' and 'marble halls' in it, will pass and please in singing, if the air is good. It is the air to which the hearer listens, it is the air that gives him pleasure; and if a piece of verse is really fine, he would prefer having it brought before him simply as a piece of verse, which he could read as such. Still, as it is the destiny of a fine air to be wedded to such words as shall be a true articulate interpretation of the inarticulate melody, every musician who cannot be his own poet, must have a poet for his brother.
Now, though a poet, like Scott or Byron, not accomplished in music, is able, as all experience proves, to catch, by some means or other-often indeed by the help of words previously associated with the air,-the meaning of the musician, and so to furnish words lyrically appropriate; yet it cannot be doubted that one who combines something of the feeling of the musician with the genius of the poet, will here have the advantage. Not only are there certain conditions determining what syllabic conjunctions and other such minutiæ are most available for the voice in singing, which conditions will be most apparent to one who is himself a singer: but the innate capabilities of an air, in respect to the words that may be fitted to it, must be more intimately known to one who can appreciate the air apart from words, and adopt that very air, as it were, as the inarticulate hum with which his thoughts must be in unison during the moment of composition. Whether by his violin-playing, or by some other means, Burns, it is very clear, succeeded in attaining even this ideal perfection as a song-writer. The very genius of the old Scottish airs seems to have passed into his verse; so that, where he has written a song to an air, it is as if the song and the air had been born Jogether.
POETRY, SONG, AND MUSIC.
Moore, even more peculiarly than Burns, was a writer of songs to musical melodies. The songs of Burns, and those of Beranger, are such, both in meaning and composition, that they may be read or spoken, and still lose nothing in the appreciation of the most fastidious critic. In the songs of Moore, one is perpetually reminded, by certain artificialities of thought and diction, that they were written for the singer's voice, and are to be read with that allowance. A singer himself, of much sweetness and feeling, and accustomed from his boyhood to the keys of the piano, though never a profound or highly educated musician, Moore had an instinctive perception from the first of his true vocation as a poet. Whenever he met with a fine air, he wrote words to it. Among the pieces he has left behind him are songs to the airs of all nations-Sicilian airs, Neapolitan airs, Savoyard airs, French airs, English airs, airs of Mozart and Beethoven, even Persian, Turkish, and Mahratta airs. His greatest and most congenial work, however, in this kind, was his collection of songs for the Irish melodies. The spirit of Irish nationality, driven by pains and penalties from the field of political activity, had taken the shape of a movement for the revival of ancient national traditions, and, above all, of ancient national music; and it was the happy destiny of Moore to be the poet of this movement. His lines to the Harp of his Country,' in themselves an example of what is exquisite in a song, as distinct from a pure poetical composition, contain also the true boast of his life.
'Dear harp of my country! in darkness I found thee,
But, so oft thou hast echo'd the deep sigh of sadness,
This sweet wreath of song is the last we shall twine!
Have throbb'd at our lay, 'tis thy glory alone;
And all the wild sweetness I wak'd was thy own.'
Well then may Ireland accept Moore as her national and popular poet. Out of Ireland, however, as we have already said, he will be remembered best as the song-writer of a more restricted
circle of associations and feelings. Among the poets of England, he will hold place chiefly as the singer of the characteristic joys and melancholies of parlours and salons. All his songs, however various in theme-merely Anacreontic and convivial as too many of them are, and these, in our opinion, the poorest and worst; or touching, as many of them do, deeper and more tender chords, so that even the solitary reader of them will be moved to luxurious tears; or, rising as some of them do, into a really glorious Tyrtæan strain-carry in them evidences of their origin in, and their fitness for, what may be called the festive mood of indoor artificial life. But to be the poet even of parlours and salons was, as we have said before, no mean function; and in as far as Moore performed this function well, in as far as, while enhancing social joys, and promoting genial melancholies, his Muse served virtue and not vice, let his name be remembered with affectionate praise. And so, Ireland continuing to be proud of him, and young men and maidens in Ireland and England too continuing to sing his choicest songs while their hearts are tending towards the kind and noble, may the grass be green and the sunshine pleasant on his sequestered English grave!
ART. IX.-Report of the Commissioners appointed to examine and report upon the Proceedings and Practice of the Courts of Common Law.
THE relation of debtor and creditor being nearly co-extensive with our adult population, we know few subjects of more general interest than the state of the laws which are conversant with debt, and the proceedings of the tribunals which enforce them. If to be able to enforce a pecuniary claim, without the risk of incurring disproportionate expense, be a social right; and if it is reasonable that every man should be able to resist a questionable claim without the danger of being ruined by costs, then, on these grounds alone, we must all have a direct interest in the proceedings of the courts of law. But if we further take into the account the great variety of the other relations and circumstances of life in which litigation may occur, it will be obvious that society abounds with transactions liable to dispute, and that every man of property must be deeply interested in the excellences and vices of our tribunals. The monied man lends his capital to the needy man upon this or that legal security; the seller of land, by his agreement with the purchaser, becomes liable to the jurisdiction of the courts of equity as well as of law. Every contract in
OPERATION OF THE COUNTY COURTS.
commerce; every bargain and sale; every tenancy of land or houses; every marriage settlement, and every will; in a word, almost every dealing between man, and man may end in a quarrel, and make all the parties concerned in it the helpless victims of the lawyers and the law. Etiam solitario homini, atque in agro 'vitam agenti; atque iis etiam quì vendunt, emunt, educunt, "locant contrahendisque negotiis implicantur, justitia ad rem 'gerendam necessaria est.' It would be happy indeed for society, if the virtue of which Cicero here speaks were potent enough to regulate the dealings of men. The many thousands of causes already tried in the County Courts are a melancholy proof that men require to be stimulated to do justice, by courts invested with powers more formidable to the delinquent, than the neglected stings of conscience. Hence it follows, that whether the laws themselves are oppressive, or obsolete, or obscure, or whether the proceedings of the tribunals which administer the laws are dilatory, unintelligible, or costly, there is in either case a substantial grievance to be redressed.
Now, upon further consideration, it will appear that the present demand for law-reform is founded chiefly upon the latter of these two grievances. It is not, in fact, the laws which are complained of, but rather the course of proceedings and practice in the higher courts of judicature which are deemed inconsistent with the common sense of mankind. And thus, whilst at first sight this view of its objects may seem to depreciate the dignity of the popular feeling, yet in truth the matter is one of more practical and personal interest than any political or social reform that is likely to be canvassed in our time.
Within the last four years a great revolution has taken place in the judicature of the country, by the establishment of about sixty new civil tribunals called County Courts. They were first instituted in the year 1846, for the more easy recovery of small debts not exceeding twenty pounds,' taking the place of the ancient court of the same name, whose dilatory proceedings had rendered it obsolete; and absorbing all those minor courts of request which had been granted from time to time to various districts by local acts of parliament. So favourably was the new institution received, and so well did it execute its work, that in 1850 its jurisdiction was extended by parliament to all 'debts, demands, and damages,' not exceeding the sum of fifty pounds (saving, however, a concurrent jurisdiction in the superior courts in cases when the parties live more than twenty miles apart, if they prefer to sue in them), and also to certain cases of insolvency. Upon the establishment of this new jurisdiction, a serious mistake was made by Lord Chancellor Cottenham, to whom the first