Page images

the seals of office as VISCOUNT GLENCRAIG!

Here terminated his public life; but it was the dispensation of Providence that he should live to a ripe old age in the serene luxury of a gradual unfelt decay, surrounded by an affectionate family, beloved by many friends, and honored in the world's esteem. Lady Glencraig, who had been his companion in climbing the dazzling heights of rank and power, shared with him, a short time, the tranquil retirement that followed; but she set out before him on the great journey of eternity. The separation was tender, not agonizing; for no earthly happiness is blighted, no fondlycherished hopes of years to come are destroyed, when, trembling on the verge of eighty, hearts are unlinked by death, which have throbbed in unison through all their foregone days. "Tarry yet a little space, and we will go together," may speak the natural wish of the survivor; but the soul breathes this consolation, "to-day is appointed for thee-and for me a to-morrow which is at hand." The venerable Glencraig felt this, as he bent over the aged form of her, on whose pale and wrinkled face there beamed the placid smile which told of blameless joy that she was summoned first; yet, not till parting was like the current of a quiet stream, whose waters, separated by some dark and rocky fragment, flow in a divided course round its base, but meet again to be forever joined.

Two sons and four daughters of Lord Glencraig were married, and the parents of a numerous offspring. The elder of the former, who was heir to the title, had distinguished himself in several foreign missions of great delicacy. Two other sons, and one daughter, remained unmarried, the last probably because she was devoted to a science which withdrew all her thoughts from earth. She was an astronomer; but beyond looking at the heavenly

bodies through magnificent telescopes, it never appeared that anything came of her star-gazing.

It was delightful to see him, with unimpaired faculties of mind, and few infirmities of body, wearing out the remnant of a life that had been so full of busy incidents. Some branches of his family were always with him, and ONCE in each year it was his custom to have them all assembled at his table, children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren, even down to the nursling of six months old, or younger, if there chanced, at such a time, to be a fresh arrival. Oh the flow of sublime and holy feeling that would seem to gush from the old man's heart at those moments, as he looked round and saw the living images of his Maker, in whose veins kindred blood! How, like a patriarch of the chosen land, he would discourse wisdom with the elders, mingling the maxims of this world with the piety of the next! And then, he had cheerful thoughts, and a lightsome spirit, to call up mirth and laughter on the unclouded brow of youth; while infancy itself, seated on his knee, would chuckle and clap its dimpled hands, as he danced before its sparkling eyes the glittering watch-chain, or radiant diamond that adorned the shriveled shaking hand. All were happy; but he, all, the happiest; for his share of happiness was swelled to overflowing by the addition of theirs.



"Julia, how old are you?" said the venerable peer at one of these annual heart-greetings, addressing the daughter of his eldest son.

"Seventeen," was the reply. "Stand by me :— -And you, Mr. Frederick, with your fearless hawk's eye, what is your age?"

"Eleven, grandfather."

"Come you, here too."-Then, casting his looks round, he fixed upon another, and another, and another, till he had gathered eight of his children's children about him, "I want another yet," he conti

nued, "and it must be that little Miss who is so busy with her doll, in a corner by herself."

The child was brought. The laughing, rosy group stood wondering at what was to follow.

cherub-face of Harriet Beauchamp, who had answered with a pretty lisp she was eight years old,)" and make up eighty-five without you."

But this was his LAST BIRTHDAY. Never again did that happy circle gather round him for when the

"By this living multiplication table," said he, with a gay, good-time came that so they would have humored air, “I reckon my age.' Then he began counting them:




done, Charles Coventry, Viscount Glencraig, was made partaker of

- eleven fourteen that awful secret whose mystery twelve-ten-six-cight-four stretches not beyond the grave. His end was peaceful. He laid down life, as a man who had tasted of its sweetness even to satiety; and he put on immortality-for eternity dawns upon the soul before this world fades from its glimmering consciousness forever-as one who had humble hope in having done well.

Heigho!" he exclaimed; "to think that I have had for my single share of life, as much as has yet fallen to the lot of this whole cluster! Well-next year you will steal a march upon me, and make a terrible stride, so that I must drop you, Madam," (patting the


THIS is unquestionably the age of antithesis. The poets of the day have ranged themselves under two distinctly opposite banners-those of quiet repose, and passionate excitement; and, according to the fluctuations of ever-varying taste and fashion, has each been alternately magnified and extolled. A few short years ago, nothing went down with the reading public but Sir Walter Scott's battle sceneshis gathering of the clans of the fiery cross-his gorgeous cavalcades, and all the pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war or Lord Byron's semi-demoniacal barbarians, contrasted with woman, sublimated to almost angelic loveliness. At this period, the public appetite was stimulated to a craving for intense emotion, not unlike that of the pampered gourmand for deviled turkey: the charities of the heart were regarded as commonplaces; and whoever peppered the highest, was surest to please. During the prevalence of this singular perversion of taste, there was a class of writers who nobly kept aloof from the contagion, preferring

temporary neglect to unenviable notoriety: and at the head of these praiseworthy devotees, was the illustrious Wordsworth.

A disciple of this great master, and one imbued with a strong conviction of the sterling truth of his poetical canons, Mr. Wilson made his debut in the literary world, whilst yet a very young man, by the publication of his "Isle of Palms ;" a work of amazing wealth in imagery-ever flowing with all that is bright, graceful, and gorgeous in conception; but somewhat deficient in that condensation of idea and of language, which is one of the characteristics of poetry of the more exalted order. It was, however, impossible not to discover, from this first exhibition of his powers, that, whatever might be his faults, poverty of intellect, and obtuseness in the perception of the beautiful and the grand, were not of the number; and that all that was required to enable him to produce a work of more permanent interest, was the application of a bridle to his singularly wild and excursive imagination. To the current productions

of the era at which it appeared, the
Isle of Palms furnished a remarka-
ble contrast.
The rage was then
almost exclusively for romances in
rhyme; and, provided the story was
sufficiently bizarre and appalling,
the quality of the poetry which was
its vehicle was of subordinate im-
portance. In the Isle of Palms,
Mr. Wilson has woven, on a slen-
der thread of narrative, four long
cantos of exuberant versification;
and, instead of savage anger, insa-
tiable revenge, or unnatural ha-

"Guns, trumpets, blunderbusses, drums, and

we are presented with the calm, quiet, secluded beauty of nature : green trees and dewy flowers, bright sunshine, and cerulean skies, and sinless tears, and affectionate tenderness, and pious aspirations after the bliss of a more refined state of existence; in short, with all those brighter shades of human feeling, which adorn and dignify our nature. The machinery of this beautiful and truly original poem, is extremely simple. The story is briefly this -Two betrothed lovers are wrecked together upon a desart, but lovely island in the Indian sea; where they are discovered seven years afterwards by the crew of an English vessel. They return to England, to the great joy of the heroine's mother; who, having given her up for dead, at length determines to take up her abode in the town from the port of which her daughter originally sailed, with the remote hope of hearing some tidings of her fate. The following lines, from the first canto of the Isle of Palms, are not surpassed in beauty by any passage with which we are acquainted, in the whole range of modern poetry:


And lo! upon the murmuring waves
A glorious Shape appearing!

A broad-wing'd Vessel, through the shower
Of glimmering lustre steering!
As if the beauteous ship enjoy'd
The beauty of the sea,

She lifteth up her stately head
And saileth joyfully.

A lovely path before her lies,
A lovely path behind;
She sails amid the loveliness
Like a thing with heart and mind.
Slowly she beareth on ;
Fit pilgrim through a scene so fair,

A glorious phantom of the deep,
Risen up to meet the Moon.

The Moon bids her tenderest radiance fall

On her wavy streamer and snow-white wings,
And the quiet voice of the rocking sea
Oh! ne'er did sky and water blend
To cheer the gliding vision sings.
In such a holy sleep,

Or bathe in brighter quietude
A roamer of the deep.

So far the peaceful soul of Heaven
Hath settled on the sea,

It seems as if this weight of calm
Were from eternity.

O World of Waters! the steadfast earth

Ne'er lay entranced like thee!
Is she a vision wild and bright,
That sails amid the still moon-light
At the dreaming soul's command
A vessel borne by magic gales,
All rigg'd with gossamery sails,
And bound for Fairy-land?
Ah, no!-an earthly freight she bears,
of joys and sorrows, hopes and fears;
Thus left by herself on the moonlight sea
And lonely as she seems to be,
In loneliness that rolls,

She hath a constant company,
Five hundred human souls!
In sleep, or waking revelry,
Since first she sail'd from fair England,
Three moons her path have cheer'd;
And another lights her lovelier lamp
Since the Cape hath disappear'd.
For an Indian isle she shapes her way
With constant mind both night and day:
She seems to hold her home in view,
And sails, as if the path she knew;
So calm and stately is her motion
Across th' unfathom'd trackless ocean.

In the above glorious picture, of the various poetical descriptions our readers will recognise the germ of a ship, which have appeared since its publication; especially Lord Byron's well-known and justly-admired couplet

"She walks the waters like a thing of life;

And seems to dare the elements to strife."

Nor is the next quotation less powerful in its kind, although of a different stamp:


But list! a low and moaning sound
At distance heard, like a spirit's song,
And now it reigns above, around,
As if it call'd the ship along.

The Moon is sunk; and a clouded grey

Declares that her course is run,

And like a God who brings the day,
Up mounts the glorious Sun.

Soon as his light has warm'd the seas,
From the parting cloud fresh blows the breeze;
And that is the spirit whose well-known song
Makes the vessel to sail in joy along.
No fears hath she ;-her giant-form
O'er wrathful surge, through blackening storm,
Majestically calm, would go

'Mid the deep darkness white as snow!
But gently now the small waves glide
Like playful lambs o'er a mountain's side.
So stately her bearing, so proud her array,
The main she will traverse forever and aye.
Many ports will exult at the gleam of her


-Hush! hush! thou vain dreamer! this hour is her last.

Five hundred souls in one instant of dread
Are hurried o'er the deck;
And fast the miserable ship
Becomes a lifeless wreck.

Her keel hath struck on a hidden rock,
Her planks are torn asunder,

And down come her masts with a reeling shock,

And a hideous crash like thunder.
Her sails are draggled in the brine
That gladden'd late the skies,

And her pendant that kiss'd the fair moonshine
Down many a fathom lies.

Her beauteous sides, whose rainbow hues
Gleam'd softly from below,

And flung a warm and sunny flush

O'er the wreaths of murmuring snow,
To the coral rocks are hurrying down

To sleep amid colors as bright as their own.

Oh! many a dream was in the ship

An hour before her death;

And sights of home with sighs disturb'd
The sleepers' long-drawn breath.
Instead of the murmur of the sea
The sailor heard the humming tree
Alive through all its leaves,

The hum of the spreading sycamore
That grows before his cottage-door,
And the swallow's song in the eaves.
His arms inclosed a blooming boy,
Who listen'd with tears of sorrow and joy
To the dangers his father had pass'd;
And his wife-by turns she wept and smiled,
As she look'd on the father of her child
Return'd to her heart at last.

-He wakes at the vessel's sudden roll,
And the rush of waters is in his soul.
Astounded the reeling deck he paces,
'Mid hurrying forms and ghastly faces ;-
The whole ship's crew are there.
Wailings around and overhead,
Brave spirits stupified or dead,
And madness and despair.

Another sample is all that we can afford to give of this beautiful poem; but it will be found no less characteristic of its author's genius than those already furnished. It is


The pier-head, with a restless crowd,
Seems all alive; there, voices loud

45 ATHENEUM, VOL. 5, 3d series.

Oft raise the thund'rous cheer,
While, from on board the ship of war,
The music bands both near and far,
Are playing, faint or clear.

The bells ring quick a joyous peal,
Till the very spires appear to feel
The joy that stirs throughout their tapering

Ten thousand flags and pendants fly
Abroad, like meteors in the sky,
So beautiful and bright.

And, while the storm of pleasure raves
Through each tumultuous street,
Still strikes the ear one darling tune,
Sung hoarse, or warbled sweet;
Well doth it suit the First of June,
"Britannia rules the waves!"

What ship is she that rises slow
Above the horizon ?-White as snow,
And cover'd as she sails

By the bright sunshine, fondly woo'd
In her calm beauty, and pursued
By all the Ocean gales?

Well doth she know this glorious morn,
And by her subject waves is borne,
As in triumphal pride:

And now the gazing crowd descry,
Distinctly floating on the sky,
Her pendants long and wide.
The outward forts she now hath pass'd;
Loftier and loftier towers her mast;
You almost hear the sound

Of the billows rushing past her sides,
As giant-like she calmly glides
Through the dwindled ships around.
Saluting thunders rend the main !
Short silence !-and they roar again,
And veil her in a cloud :

Then up leap all her fearless crew,
And cheer till shore, and city too,
With echoes answer loud.

In peace and friendship doth she come,
Rejoicing to approach her home,
After absence long and far;

Yet with like calmness would she go,
Exulting to behold the foe,
And break the line of war.

Although no one

was hardy

enough to deny the merit of a poem abounding with passages as exquisitely beautiful as these, yet, as was to have been expected from the vitiated taste which prevailed when the Isle of Palms was first published, Mr. Wilson shared for some years the neglect, we had almost said obscurity, of his preceptor; and although fervently admired by a select and discriminating few, was on the whole little read and still less frequently purchased. Among those who paid him the well-merited tribute of their praise, at this early stage of his career, we are happy to mention Mr. Jeffrey, (although his previous abuse-his

ignorant depreciation, of Words- and repose, the attempered glory

worth, deprives his opinion of the sincerity or consistency which can alone render an opinion valuable); and the honest avowal of James Hogg, that such an impression did the perusal of the Isle of Palms make upon him, and "so completely did it carry him off his feet, that for some days afterwards he felt himself as in a land of enchantment, and could with difficulty bring down his feelings to the business of ordinary life."

At the distance of about four years from the publication of the Isle of Palms, Mr. Wilson produced his best and most popular work, "The City of the Plague,"-a poem of first-rate excellence, amply realizing the anticipations to which his maiden effort had given birth. To the exalted merits of this production, which is of a severer order, and for the most part free from those exuberances of youthful genius which had in some measure

deformed its predecessor, gratifying testimony has been borne by several of Mr. Wilson's distinguished contemporaries; and, among others, by Lord Byron and Mr. Moore, two writers whose genius is as opposite in character to that of the object of their eulogy as can well be imagined. In the preface to his Doge of Venice," Lord Byron mentions the City of the Plague, as one of the very few evidences that dramatic power is not yet extinct among us. If that poetry deserves. to rank the highest, which excites the most vivid emotions in the mind of the reader, Mr. Wilson's trage

dy will certainly be found amply to deserve his Lordship's generous tribute; for we know of no work, of a purely imaginative character, which is calculated to make so deep an impression upon a person of even ordinary feeling and intelligence, as this. It assumes a loftier tone of inspiration than the Isle of Palins. Indeed, the two poems will scarcely admit of a comparison in any respect. One is a tale of love, beauty

of a summer's eve, disturbed only
by one of those transitory storms
which leave the face of nature more
beautiful than
ever; whilst the
other is a narrative of alternate pity
and suffering-tears and terror-
imbued throughout with an energy
almost supernatural-and producing
upon the mind of the reader an in-
pression which, like the recollection
of a storm at sea, is never after-
wards obliterated. Although dra-
matic in its form, there is little that
is dramatic in either its plct, or the
manner in which it is developed.
It consists in a great measure of a
series of impassioned dialogues on
natural loveliness-a vernal picture
of all that is serene, gentle and fas-
cinating in human nature, here and
there chastised by those "sabler
tints of woe,"

"Which blended form, with artful strife,
The strength and harmony of life."

The selection of so awful a sub

ject as the great plague in London,

of the abiding strength and lovelias a groundwork for the delineation additional evidence of the power ness of our best affections, affords and versatility of Mr. Wilson's genius. Yet this he has attempted; and, notwithstanding the apparently antithetical nature of the subject, has achieved most triumphantly. The following passages from his poem, we select, not less for their intrinsic beauty than that they strike us as being peculiarly characteristic of his powers.

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »