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Mr. Leigh Hunt has, in the present volume, been betrayed by hii incurable egotism, into this capital error. lie has prefixed to his ' Greenwoods' and ' Evergreens' thirty pages of 'Cursory observations on Poetry and Cheerfulness,' of which, after the sketch we have given in our last Number, of the leading tenets of this new school, we may be excused for saying but little. Some of the remarks are smart and true enough, though neither profound nor brilliant; but when he talks of Milton being affected by ' the Dragon Phantom Calvinism,' of Cowper's timidity of constitution being ' frightened by bigotry into madness,' of voluptuousness being ' an ill-used personage,' of the riddlet of incarnation and resurrection, and of ' the danger of setting 'authorised selfishness above the most natural impulses, and 'making guilt by mistaking innocence ;'—we perceive the kind of man we have to do with, from these obscure intimations of his principles, and if v\e do not at once throw down the volume as fearing to trust our imagination unguarded in such bad company, we can enter upon the perusal with no favourable impressions of either his heart or his understanding. What sentiments indeed can we look for but such as may comport with the creed of the heathen anil the morals of the libertine?
The reader of " Foliage" will, however, be surprised if he opens the volume, as we did, at a poem of so very different a character from the general cast of Mr. Hunt's productions, as the following touching and exquisite stanzas:
« To T** L** H**5
'Sir Years old; during a Sickness.
'Sleep breathes at last from out thee
My little, patient Boy;
Smooths off the day's annoy.
Of all thy winning ways;
That I had less to praise.
'Thy side-long pillowed meekness,
Thy thanks to all that aid,
Of fancied faults afraid;
That wipes thy quiet tears,
Dread memories for years.
'Sorrows I've had, severe ones,
I will not think of now;
Have wasted with dry brow;
But when thy fingers press
And pat my stooping head,
The tears are in their bed.
« Ah, first-born of thy mother,
When life and hope were near,
Thy sister, father, too;
My bird when prison bound,
My prayers shall hold thee round.
• To say 'He has departed,—
«• His voice"—" his face''—is gone;"
Yet feel we must bear on;
To whisper of such woe,
That it will not be so.
'Yes, still he's fixed and sleeping!
This silence too the while—
Seem whispering us a smile :—
Seems going by one's ear,
Who say, " We've finished here."
We are not so unreasonable as to ask why the Volume is not marie to consist of poems equal to this, because neither Mr. Hunt nor any other man could compose an entire volume of such stanzas. It is only now and then that it falls to the lot of real genius to strike off, in a happy moment, a perfect poem of so unique a kind. But we must be allow* d to express our regret, that a writer capable of producing such a one, should have chosen wilfully to deviate so fur, in his general style, from correct taste and genuine- feeling.
The only other original poem in this collection, yrhich claims attention, is that entitled ' the Nymphs.' It is represented by the Author as ' founded on that beautiful mythology, which it is 'not one of the least merits of the new school to - be restoring to * its proper estimation.' What poets are, referred Jo under this designation, is not quite evident. There are many new schools, for in fact, this cant phrase has;become quite,hackneyed in its application. The newest school is Mr. 'Hunt's little school; but as we cannot suppose the' Authpr meant to arrogate to him. self the peculiar merit which he speaks of, we must confess we are rather at a loss in our conjectures to whom the remark is intended to apply. Not to the Lake school, for Mr. Hunt's tete-a tfte companion at the Round Table tells us, that when this school arose, ' all the common-place figures ol' poetry, 'tropes, allegories, personifications, with the whole heathen my
* thology, were instantly discarded;' and that ' a classical allu
* sion was considered as a piece of antiquated foppery.' And yet, in the greatest production of the master of this school, a passage occurs which might be suspected to have suggested this very poem of Mr. Hunt's. Whether he was indebted to it for the first thought of ' the Nymphs,' or not, the lines to which we allude, may challenge comparison with any passage that can be cited from the poems of his contemporaries, in respect of the elegant use the Author has made in them of-the 'beautiful mythology' of the ancients. Although they have been already quoted in our Journal, we must beg leave to recal them to our readers:
'In that fair clime, the lonely herdsman, stretched 'On the soft grass through half a summer's day,
* With music lulled his indolent repose: 'And, in some fit of weariness, if he
* When his own breath was silent, chanced to hear 'A distant strain, far sweeter than the sounds
'Which his poor skill could make, his fancy fetched,
* Even from the blazing chariot of the Sun,
'A beardless youth, who touched a golden lute,
* Towards the crescent Moon, with grateful heart
< That timely light, to share his joyous sport:
'And hence a beaming goddess with her nymphs,
'Across the lawu and through the darksome grove,
'(Not unaccompanied with tuneful notes
'By echo multiplied from rock or cave)
'Swept in the storm of chase, as Moon and Stars
'Glance rapidly along the cloudy heavens,
'When winds are blowing- strong. The Traveller slaked
'His thirst from rill or gushing fount, and thanked
* The Naiad. Sunbeams upon distant hills
'Might, with small help from fancy, be transformed
'And, sometimes, intermixed with stirring horns
'Of the live deer, or goat's depending beard;
'These were the lurking Satyrs, a wild brood
'Of gamesome deities! or Pan himself
'The simple shepherd's awe-inspiring god.'
No one can doubt that the author of these lines feels and appreciates all the beauties of classic fable, to which, by the power of a kindred imagination, he has imparted so picturesque a character; but still he alludes to them as the fictions of a remote superstition, not as things which could for a moment assume in his own mind the place of realities. The philosophical nature of his poem, forbade, it may be said, any other use of the ancient mythology, than that of a passing allusion. We are, however, satisfied from comparing the effect of this passage with that produced by Mr. Hunt's long poem, that Mr. Wordsworth has taken by far the best method of restoring 'that beautiful mythology' to its proper estimation. The fact is, that fiction interests us only as it appears to us to be in itself credible, and so to represent truth, or otherwise as having once been believed in, it is associated with human interests and human feelings. The mythology of Greece was the matter of religious belief to the idolatrous vulgar, and its influence upon their minds was that of reality. We know these things were believed in as true, and we can by the help of imagination conceive of the effect which, so believed in, they must have had upon those ignorant idolaters, whom nevertheless, by a further exercise of imagination, we indulge ourselves in conceiving of as beings far more elevated than the vulgar of our own times. Viewed through the medium of their own classics, those ancient nations become in themselves objects of romantic interest, and the strong sympathy by which we learn to identify ourselves with the actors of the stories of antiquity, extends to the silliest and most monstrous delusions which superstition ever palmed upon credulity. Incredible as they seem, the imagination cannot for a moment entertain the illusion, otherwise than as we for the moment personify the beings to whom that illusion was truth, and transfer to the objects of their belief, the indefinite feelings which are connected in our own minds with things that do indeed exist.
But when, neither as the matter of ancient belief, nor as philosophical allegories, but as imaginable possibilities, the demonology of Paganism is sincerely taken as a theme of highwrought invocation and description, without any intimation on the part of the poet, that he is acting a character, and we are called upon to listen to his second-hand legends as grave matters of fact, the mind resents at once the undisguised absurdity of the fiction; we should think of surrendering ourselves to the elegant nonsense of ' naiads,' and ' limniads,' and ' oreads,' and 'dryads,' just about as soon as we should sympathize with the reveries of a Swedenborgian. Those beautiful mythological personages, dissociated from the circumstances which lent them a sort of credibility, and brought out of their obscurity into broad day, suffer much the same degrading1 violence as the marble majesties of Greece, when torn from their climate and their pedestals, to form the unimpressive ranks of a museum. An exception may be made in favour of those very ethereal deities, 'the i in bodied essences,' as Mr. Hunt terms them, 'of 'all the grand and lovely qualities of nature,' which resolve themselves at a touch into the elements of natural scenery: they awaken, when their names occur, ideas scarcely different from what the simple forms of expression would suggest, with which they have become familiarly convertible. A naiad and a stream mean in plain English much the same, and do equally well even in an English landscape. There is also another case in which these mythological descriptions may please, and that is, when they recal some fine painting, in which a palpable form of beauty has been given to the unsubstantial imagery. This pleasure, however, is more nearly allied to the pleasures of art, than those which are strictly proper to the imagination. Mr. Hunt has evidently copied much of his poetry, not from nature, but from Le Poussin. He describes pictures instead of suggesting ideal images. He defines to the very grouping and attitude of his figures, and seems incapable of conceiving of any thing that he has not first seen upon the canvas. We suspect that his fancy is by no means of exuberant fertility: he can feel, but he cannot invent; he has the eye of a connoisseur, and the pencil of a colourist, but he is a mere artist. His leading poem, ' The Nymphs/ affords, we think, sufficient proof of this; it is, as he says of Pope's Homer, 'an elegant mistake.''
Our readers, however, may claim the right of judging for themselves: we willingly indulge them with a few extracts. Part the First opens with the following rapturous invocation:
'Spirit, who waftest me where'er I will,