« AnteriorContinuar »
being given to the world; if not, we have no doubt that the editor, as he is an admirer of Chaucer, has read of a certain pardoner, who
We open this volume with no ordinary impression of the delicacy and importance of the task which it imposes on us, and the difficulty of discharging it, at once with justice to the author, and to that public at whose bar we, as well as Mr Campbell, must be considered to stand. Itis notourleast embarrassment, that, in some respects, Mr Campbell may be considered as his own rival; and, in aspiring to extensive popularity, has certainly no impediment to encounter more formidable than the extent of his own reputation. To decide on the merit of " Gertrude of Wyoming" as the work of a poet hitherto undistinguished, would be comparatively easy. But we are unavoidably forced upon comparing it with Mr Campbell's former pieces; and, while our judgment is embroiled by the predilections, prejudices, and preferences, which the recollection of them has imprinted upon our imagination—there are other peculiar circumstances which enhance expectation, and increase proportionally the difficulty of affording it complete gratification.
. "The Pleasures of Hope," a poem dear to every reader of poetry, bore, amidst many beauties, the marks of a juvenile composition, and received from the public the indulgence due to a promise of future excellence. Some license was also allowed for the didactic nature of the subject; which, prescribing no fixed plan, left the poet free to indulge his fancy in excursions as irregular as they are elegant and animated. It is a consequence of both these circumstances that the poem presents in some degree the appearance of an unfinished picture. In gazing with pleasure on its insulated groups and figures, the reflection will often intrude, that an artist, matured in taste and experience, would have methodized his subject, filled up the intermediate spaces, and brought to perfection asketch of so much promise. The
public readily made every allowance that could be claimed on the score of youth—a seeming generosity often conferred on the first essays of poets, painters, and orators, but for which a claim of repayment, with usurious interest, is regularly preferred against them upon their next appearance. But the hope of improvement was, in Mr Campbell's case, hardly necessary to augment the expectation raised by the actual excellence of his first poem. The beauties of a highly polished versification—that animated and vigorous tone of moral feeling—that turn of expression, which united the sweetness of Goldsmith with the strength of Johnson—a structure of language alike remote from servile imitation of our more classical poets, and from the babbling and jingling simplicity of ruder minstrels—new, but not singular—elegan t, but not trite—justified the admirers of "The Pleasures of Hope" in elevating its author to a pre-eminent situation among living poets. Neither did Mr Campbell suffer the admiration excited by his first essay to subside or be forgotten. From time to time we were favoured with exquisite lyrical effusions, calculated rather to stimulate than to gratify the public appetite. The splendid poems of "Hohen-«- -tp(JL<Jl^t_ linden' and "Lochiel," manifesting high powers of imagination, and other short performances, replete either with animation or tenderness, seemed to declare their author destined to attain the very summit of the modern Parnassus. By some, this pre-eminence was already adjuged to him; while others only adjourned their suffrage, until a more daring, extended, and sustained flight, should make good the promises of his juvenile work, and of his shorter detached poems.
It has for a considerable time been known, that a new poem, of some length, was in Mr Campbell's contemplation; and when it was whispered, that he who sung the doubtful conflict of Hohenlinden, and the carnage of Culloden, had chosen for his theme the devastation of Wyoming, expectation was raised to its height. Desire was not too suddenly quenched; and it is only after a long period of suspense that the work has been given to the public. But it is no easy matter to satisfy the vague and indefinite expectation which suspense of this nature seldom fails to excite. Each reader is apt to form an idea of the subject, the narrative, and the style of execution; so that the real poem is tried and censured not upon its own merits, but for differing from the preconceived dream of the critic's imagination. There are few who have not felt disappointment of a similar nature on visiting, for the first time, any spot highly celebrated for its scenery. Expectation has not only exaggerated its beauties, but often sketched a landscape of its own, which the mind unwillingly exchanges even for the most splendid reality. Perhaps, therefore, it is a natural consequence of overstrained hope, that the immediate reception of "Gertrude of Wyoming" should be less eminently favourable than the intrinsic merit of the poem, and the acknowledged genius oft he author, appear to ensure; and perhaps, too, we may be able, in the course of our investigation, to point out other reasons which may for a season impede the popularity of a poem containing passages, both of tenderness and sublimity, which may decline comparison with few in the English language.
The tale of "Gertrude of Wyoming" is abundantly simple. It refers to the desolation of a beautiful tract of country, situated on both sidesof the Susquehannah, and inhabited by colonists, whose primaeval simplicity and hospitality recalled the idea of the golden age. In 1778, Wyoming, this favoured and happy spot, was completely laid waste by an incursion of Indians and civilized savages, under a leader named Brandt. The pretext was, the adherence of the inhabitants to the provincial confederacy; but the lust of rapine and cruelty which distinguished the invaders was such as to add double horrors even to civil conflict.
We do not condemn this choice of a subject in itself eminently fitted for poetry; yet feeling as Englishmen we cannot suppress a hope that Mr Campbell will in his subsequent poems choose a theme more honourable to our national character, than one in which Britain was disgraced by the atrocities of her pretended adherents. We do not love to have our feelings unnecessarily put in arms against the cause of our country. The historian must do his duty when such i painful subjects occur; but the poet who may choose his theme , through the whole unbounded range of truth and fiction may well j excuse himself from selecting a subject dishonourable to his own land. Although the calamity was general, and overwhelmed the whole settlement of Wyoming, Mr Campbell has judiciously selected a single group as the subject of his picture; yet we have room to regret that in some passages at least he has not extended his canvass to exhibit, in the background, that general scene of tumult and horror which might have added force to the striking picture which he has drawn of individual misery.
The opening of the poem describes Wyoming in a state of more than Arcadian case anil happiness, where exiles or emigrants from all quarters of Europe met in peace, and contended only which should best adorn and improve their seat of refuge.. The following stanzas comprehend this interesting description, and are at the same time a just specimen of the style and structure of the poem.
w On SusqnehanDa's fide, fair Wyoming,'
"Then, where of Indian hills the daylight takes
"And scarce had Wyoming of war or crime
Heard but in transatlantic story rung,
For here the exile met from ev'ry clime.
And spoke in friendship ev'ry distant tongue;
Men In.ni the blood of warring Europe spruug,
Were bnt divided by the running brook;
And happy where no Hhenish trumpet sung,
On plains nosiegiug mioe's volcano shook,
The blue-ey'd German chang'd his sword to pruning-hook
"Nor far some Andalusian saraband
Wonld sound to many a native roundelay.
But who is he that yet a dearer land
Remembers, over hills and far away?
Green Albyn ! what though he no more survey
Thy ships at anchor on the quiet shore.
Thy pellochs rolling from the mountain bay;
Thy lone sepulchral cairn upon the moor,
Aud distant isles that hear tne loud Corbrechtau roar!
"Alas ! poor Caledonia's monntaineer,
That want's stern edict e'er, and fendal grief,
Had lbrced him from a home he loved so dear!
Yet found he here a home, and glad relief,
And plied the beverage from his own fair sheaf.
That fired his Highland blood with mickte glee;
And England sent her men, of men the chief,
Who taught those sires of Empire yet to be,
To plant the tree of life; to plaut fair freedom's tree!
"Here was not mingled in the city's pomp
This Albert, the judge and patriarch of the infant settlement, is an Englishman; Gertrude, the heroine of the poem, his only child. The chaste and affecting simplicity of the following picture would furnish a beautiful subject for the pencil.
"I may not paint those thousand infant charms;
The book, the bosom on his knee reclined,
Or how sweet fairy-lore he heard her con.
(The playmate ere the teacher of her mind);
All uncompanion'd else her years had gone
Till now in Gertrude's eyes iheir ninth blue summer shone."
An Indian of a tribe friendly to the settlers, approaches their cottage one morning, leading in his hand an English boy.
"»Of Christian vestnre and complexion bright,
Led by his dusky guide like morning brought by night."
The swarthy warrior tells Albert of a frontier fort, occupied by the British, which had been stormed and destroyed by a party of Hurons, the allies of France. The Oneyda chief, who narrates the story, hastened to aid, but only arrived in time to avenge its defenders. All had been massacred, excepting the widow of the commander of the garrison and her son, a boy of ten or twelve years old. The former, exhausted with fatigue and grief, dies in the arms of the friendly Indians, and bequeaths to their chief the task of conducting her son to Albert's care, with a token to express that he was the son of Julia Waldegrave. Albert instantly recognises the boy as the offspring of two old and dear friends. A flood of kindly recollections, and the bitter contrast between the promise of their early days and the dismal fate which finally awaited the parents of Waldegrave, rush at once on the mind of the old man, and extort a pathetic lamentation. The deportment of the Indian warrior forms an admirable contrast to Albert's indulgence of grief, and the stanzas in which it ^is described rank among the finest in the poem.
"He said—and strain'd unto his heart the boy:
"Vet deem not goodness on the savage stock
Of Outalissi's heart disdain'd to grow;
As lives the oak unwither'd on the rock
By storms above, aod barrenness below:
He scorn'd his own, who felt another's wo:
And ere the wolf skin on his back he flung,
Or laced his moc&sins in act to go,
A song of parting to the boy he sung,
Who slept on Albert's couch, nor heard his friendly tongue."
After a lyrical effusion addressed to the slumbering boy, his "own adopted one," the savage returns to his deserts. His capacity « tracking his way through the wilderness by a species of instinct, or rather by the habit of observing the most minute signs derived from the face of earth or heaven, is described in nervous and striking poetry, and closes the first part of the poem.
Part II. opens with a description of Albert's abode, situated be