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Mary Tighe yet lives in the memory of Taste; but Scotland furnishes a greater name: If you wish to speak of a real poet,” Scott said to Ballantyne, “ Joanna Baillie is now the highest genius of our country.” He numbered the description of Orra's madness with the sublimest scenes ever written, and compared the language to Shakspeare's. The Songs of Mrs. Hemans afford a lively contrast. It was her misfortune that she wrote to live, instead of living to write. Her compositions, therefore, are unequal; but in her best pieces the eye is delighted by the glow and colour, and the ear is soothed by the varied cadenceoften delicious, never harsh. The visionary tenderness and romance of Mrs. Radcliffe are breathed over the Address to Melancholy, and the Song of a Spirit. The quotation from Hannah More was chosen for the subject which it offered to the Artist, who has so happily embodied it in his genre sketches. The chaste elegance of Mrs. Barbauld is of a higher order; and very true poetic feeling and utterance are conspicuous in the local pictures and the tender Sonnets of Charlotte Smith, which Miss Seward, clever in her spite, called “ everlasting duns upon pity.”
One name in the tuneful Sisterhood has a home interest for me. It seems but yesterday that the shutters were shut in “Our Village,” and Mary Russell Mitford went from among us. While turning over the leaves of this book, I have thought of the kindly welcome with which she would have greeted the illustration of her own “Rienzi," if I had taken it to her on one of these soft autumn days which she loved so much, and when her familiar lanes and dingles wear their sweetest colours. She had compared her old abode to a bird-cage that might be laid on a shelf, or hung upon a tree; and her latest dwelling was hardly less odd, or dwarfish. But there, also, she had a cool retreat out of doors, in the shade of her garden, and I see her sitting in it now with table and book; constant to all her little heresies of taste; reading the interminable Richardson every year, preferring wood - embers to the fairest moonbeams that ever lighted lovers, and panegyrising the nightingale's song, if accompanied by the moan of the pigeon.
But the Brotherhood has names, also, to be remembered by me with very sincere regard. When I read the description of the dying
Adam by James Montgomery—a passage exquisite in conception, imagery, and language the author is before me as I saw him in my early youth. Lisle Bowles is another name to be marked with a white stone. A delightful spot was Bremhill indeed, is still with the quaint garden, and the swans, Snow-drop and Lily, sailing up to the parlour window to inquire after their dinner, and Peter the hawk, and the Vicar holding his watch to his ear, to make sure that he had not grown deaf since breakfast. Southey visited the Parsonage when the loveable old man was in his seventy-third year, and presented to the eye of his friend the most entertaining mixture that could be of untidiness, simplicity, benevolence, timidity, and good-nature; but nobody smiled at his oddities more heartily than the owner. The poetical merits of Bowles are great. His sonnets delighted Coleridge, and even Byron acknowledged the excellence of The Missionary.
Of all the elder poets of our time, my examples are less numerous than I had hoped to give. The lines of Wordsworth on Tintern Abbey are omitted from want of room; and the most striking effort of Southey's imagination, the agony of Kailyal at her father's flight, was ill adapted for pictorial use. The fame of Coleridge, however, will not suffer loss by resting on Genevieve, who has caught a new grace from the hand of Millais. Among these earlier poems, the reader will be attracted by the Legend of Kilmeny, which, for a moment, lifts the Shepherd to the side of Burns ; by the sunshiny morals of Praed, who reminds me of an Ariosto brought up in England; and by the seaviews and the Dutch painting of Crabbe.
If I could have turned my Preface into an illustrated catalogue, these poems would have furnished agreeable notes ; for to many some little story is attached; as in the case of Keats, whose Ode to the Nightingale was written in the spring of 1819, when the fatal disease lay so heavy at his heart, that Coleridge, meeting him in a lane near Highgate, remarked — “There is death in that hand.” The stanzas beginning " The sun upon the Weirdlaw Hill” become more affecting, when we are told that Scott composed them during the languor of sickness, and that they mark the very spot of their birth, now clothed by rich woodlands, the work of the Poet's hand. The Elm Tree might also claim a paragraph, to tell of the solemn Avenue which
inspired it; and certainly “Umbrageous Ham" has not been mused in by a more genial visitor, since the frequent feet of Thomson broke the shadows. The noble verses. “ Wine of Cyprus” — should recall the memory of the blind Scholar to whom they were addressed; and the compositions of Frances Brown will lose a charm if the shadow on her eyes be forgotten. But of living Poets I may not speak. They are here to speak for themselves in tones of harmony, grandeur, and pathos, to which few ears, I suppose, will be deaf. The list might have been enlarged, but a great Constituency can only be represented by a few Members.
R. A. WILLMOTT. St. CATHARINE's, October 2, 1856.
The volume of"Poets of the Nineteenth Century," edited by the Rev. R. A.WILLMOTT, a most loving and judicious critic of English literature, is here preserved entire, with some important extensions. The selections have been increased from four hundred to six hundred and seventy-four pages, and a proportional addition has been made to the number of Engravings. The new material, in both instances, will be found indicated in the Table of Contents.
The work of Mr. Willmott was confined to writers of his own country. In the present volume a liberal space has been given to American authors, illustrated by American artists. Additional illustrations of English poems are furnished from the pencils of painters of eminent merit, making the work a very comprehensive representation of the art of the day as applied to literature.
New York, November, 1871.
CO N T E N T S.
A Star prefixed to the Titles indicates matter added in the present American Edition.
11 A GOOD VILLAGER... LINES TO MY MOTHER'S PICTURE ............ 17 THE PARTING LOOK........