Page images

give a subtler tone to criticism, and sow a few valuable seeds of thought in mind worthy to receive them. Nine-tenths of his theology would apply equally well to their own creeds in the mouths of a Brahmin or a Mussulman.

His poetry is another matter. It is so beautiful, and was so quietly content with its beauty, making no call on the critics, and receiving hardly any notice, that people are but now beginning to awake to a full sense of its merits. Of pure poetry, strictly so called, that is to say, consisting of nothing but its essential self, without conventional and perishing helps, he was the greatest master of his time. If you could see it in a phial, like a distillation of roses (taking it, I mean, at its best), it would be found without a speck. The poet is happy with so good a gift, and the reader is “happy in his happiness.” Yet so little, sometimes, are a man's contemporaries and personal acquaintances able or disposed to estimate him properly, that while Coleridge, unlike Shakspeare, lavished praises on his poetic friends, he had all the merit of the generosity to himself; and even Hazlitt, owing perhaps to causes of political alienation, could see nothing to admire in the exquisite poem of Christabel, but the description of the quarrel between the friends! After speaking, too, of the Ancient Mariner as the only one of his poems that he could point out to any one as giving an adequate idea of his great natural powers, he adds, “ It is high German, however, and in it he seems to conceive of poetry but as a drunken dream, reckless, careless, and heedless of past, present, and to come.” This is said of a poem, with which fault has been found for the exceeding conscientiousness of its moral! O, ye critics, the best of ye, what havoc does personal difference play with your judgments! It was not Mr. Hazlitt's only or most unwarrantable censure, or one which friendship found hardest to forgive. But peace, and honour too, be with his memory! If he was a splenetic and sometimes jealous man, he was a disinterested politician and an admirable critic: and lucky were those whose natures gave them the right and the power to pardon him.

Coleridge, though a born poet, was in his style and general musical feeling the disciple partly of Spenser, and partly of the fine old English ballad-writers in the collection of Bishop Percy. But if he could not improve on them in some things, how he did in others, especially in the art of being thoroughly musical ! Of all our writers of the briefer narrative poetry, Coleridge is the finest since Chaucer; and assuredly he is the sweetest of all our poets. Waller's music is but a court-flourish in comparison; and though Beaumont and Fletcher, Collins, Gray, Keats, Shelley, and others, have several as sweet passages, and Spenser is in a certain sense musical throughout, yet no man has written whole poems, of equal length, so perfect in the sentiment of music, so varied with it, and yet leaving on the ear so unbroken and single an effect.

A damsel with a dulcimer

In a vision once I saw ;
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she play'd,

Singing of Mount Abora. That is but one note of a music ever sweet, yet never cloying.

It ceas'd; yet still the sails made on

A pleasant noise till noon,
A noise like of a hidden brook

In the leafy month of June,
That to the sleeping woods all night

Singeth a quiet tune. The stanzas of the poem from which this extract is made (The Ancient Mariner) generally consist of four lines only; but see how the “ brook has carried him on with it through the silence of the night.

I have said a good deal of the versification of Christabel, in the Essay prefixed to this volume, but I cannot help giving a further quotation.

It was a lovely sight to see
The lady Christabel, when she
Was praying at the old oak tree.
Amid the jagged shadows

Of mossy leafless boughs,
Kneeling in the moonlight
To make her gentle vows ;


Her slender palms together press’d,
Heaving sometimes on her breast ;
Her face resigned to bliss or bale-
Her face, O call it fair, not pale !
And both blue eyes more bright than clear,
Each about to have a tear.

All the weeping eyes of Guido were nothing to that. But I shall be quoting the whole poem. I wish I could; but I fear to trespass upon the bookseller's property. One more passage, however, I cannot resist. The good Christabel has been undergoing a trance in the arms of the wicked witch Geraldine:

A star hath set, a star hath risen,

O Geraldine! since arms of thine
Have been the lovely lady's prison.

O Geraldine! one hour was thine-
Thou hast thy will! By tarn and rill
The night-birds all that hour were still,

(An appalling fancy)

But now they are jubilant anew,
From cliff and tower tu-whoo! tu-whoo!
Tu-whoo! tu-whoo! from wood and fell.

And see! the lady Christabel
(This, observe, begins a new. paragraph, with a
break in the rhyme)

Gathers herself from out her trance;
Her limbs relax, her countenance
Grows sad and soft; the smooth thin lids
Close o'er her eyes; and tears she sheds--

Large tears that leave the lashes bright!
And oft the while she seems to smile,
As infants at a sudden light.

Yea, she doth smile, and she doth weep,
Like a youthful hermitess
Beauteous in a wilderness,
Who praying always, prays in sleep.
And, if she move unquietly,
Perchance 't is but the blood so free
Comes back and tingles in her feet.
No doubt she hath a vision sweet:
What if her guardian spirit ’t were ?
What if she knew her mother near ?
But this she knows, in joys and woes,
That saints will aid, if men will call,

For the blue sky bends over all. We see how such a poet obtains his music. Such forms of melody can proceed only from the most beautiful inner spirit of sympathy and imagination. He sympathizes, in his universality, with antipathy itself. If Regan or Goneril had been a young and handsome witch of the times of chivalry, and attuned her violence to craft, or betrayed it in venomous looks, she could not have beaten the soft-voiced, appalling spells, or sudden, snake-eyed glances of the lady Geraldine - looks which the innocent Christabel, in her fascination, feels compelled to "imitate.”

A snake's small eye blinks dull and shy,
And the lady's eyes they shrank in her head,
Each shrank up to a serpent's eye ;
And with somewbat of malice and more of dread,

« PreviousContinue »