Page images


PROFESSOR WILSON, the distinguished occupant of the chair of moral philosophy in the university of Edinburgh, earned his first laurels by his poetry.

Professor Wilson.

He was born in the year 1788, in the town of Paisley, where his father had carried on business, and attained to opulence as a manufacturer. At the age of thirteen, the poet was entered of Glasgow university, whence in due time he was transferred to Magdalene college, Oxford. Here he carried off the Newdigate prize from a vast number of competitors for the best English poem of fifty lines. Mr Wilson was distinguished in these youthful years by his fine athletic frame, and a face at once handsome and expressive of genius. A noted capacity for knowledge and remarkable literary powers were at the same time united to a singular taste for gymnastic exercises and rural sports. After four years' residence at Oxford, the poet purchased a small but beautiful estate, named Elleray, on the banks of the lake Windermere, where he went to reside. He married-built a house and a yacht enjoyed himself among the magnificent scenery of the lakes-wrote poetry-and cultivated the society of Wordsworth. These must have been happy days. With youth, robust health, fortune, and an exhaustless imagination, Wilson must, in such a spot, have been blest even up to the dreams of a poet. Some reverses however came, and, after entering himself of the Scottish bar, he sought and obtained his moral philosophy chair. He connected himself also with Blackwood's Magazine, and in this miscellany poured forth the riches of his fancy, learning, and taste-displaying also the peculiarities of his sanguine and impetuous temperament. The most valuable of these contributions have been collected and published (1842) in three volumes, under the title of The Recreations of Christopher North. The criticisms on poetry understood to be from the pen of Wilson, are often highly eloquent, and conceived in a truly kindred spirit. A series of papers on Spenser and Homer are equally remarkable for their discrimination and imaginative luxuriance. In reference to these golden spoils' of criticism, Mr Hallam has characterised the professor as a living writer of the most ardent and enthusiastic genius,

[ocr errors]

whose eloquence is as the rush of mighty waters.' The poetical works of Wilson have been collected in two volumes. They consist of the Isle of Palms (1812), the City of the Plague (1816), and several smaller pieces. The broad humour and satire of some of his prose papers form a contrast to the delicacy and tenderness of his acknowledged writingsparticularly his poetry. He has an outer and an inner man-one shrewd, bitter, observant, and full of untamed energy; the other calm, graceful, and meditative- all conscience and tender heart.' He deals generally in extremes, and the prevailing defect of his poetry is its uniform sweetness and feminine softness of character. Almost the only passions,' says Jeffrey, with which his poetry is conversant, are the gentler sympathies of our naturetender compassion, confiding affection, and guiltless From all these there results, along with a most touching and tranquillising sweetness, a certain monotony and languor, which, to those who read poetry for amusement merely, will be apt to appear like dulness, and must be felt as a defect by all who have been used to the variety, rapidity, and energy of the popular poetry of the day.' Some of the scenes in the City of the Plague are, however, exquisitely drawn, and his descriptions of lake and mountain scenery, though idealised by his imagination, are not unworthy of Wordsworth. The prose descriptions of Wilson have obscured his poetical, because in the former he gives the reins to his fancy, and, while preserving the general outline and distinctive features of the landscape, adds a number of subsidiary charms and attractions.



[A Home among the Mountains.]

[From the City of the Plague."]



Magdalene. How bright and fair that afternoon


When last we parted! Even now I feel
Its dewy freshness in my soul! Sweet breeze!
That hymning like a spirit up the lake,
Came through the tall pines on yon little isle
Across to us upon the vernal shore

The unseen musician floating through the air,
With a kind friendly greeting. Frankfort blest
And smiling, said, 'Wild harper of the hill!
This lake I do revisit."
So mayst thou play thy ditty when once more
As he spoke,
Away died the music in the firmament,
And unto silence left our parting hour.
No breeze will ever steal from nature's heart
So sweet again to me.

Whate'er my doom,
It cannot be unhappy. God hath given me
The boon of resignation: I could die,
Though doubtless human fears would cross my soul,
Calmly even now; yet if it be ordained
That I return unto my native valley,
And live with Frankfort there, why should I fear
To say I might be happy-happier far
Than I deserve to be. Sweet Rydal lake!
Am I again to visit thee? to hear

Thy glad waves murmuring all around my soul!
Isabel. Methinks I see us in a cheerful group
Walking along the margin of the bay,
Where our lone summer-house-
Magd. Sweet mossy cell!

So cool-so shady-silent and composed!
A constant evening full of gentle dreams!
Where joy was felt like sadness, and our grief
A melancholy pleasant to be borne.
Hath the green linnet built her nest this spring
In her own rose-bush near the quiet door?
Bright solitary bird! she oft will miss

Her human friends: our orchard now must be

A wilderness of sweets, by none beloved.

Address to a Wild Deer.

Isabel. One blessed week would soon restore its beauty, Magnificent creature! so stately and bright!

Were we at home. Nature can work no wrong.
The very weeds how lovely! the confusion
Doth speak of breezes, sunshine, and the dew.

Magd. I hear the murmuring of a thousand bees
In that bright odorous honeysuckle wall
That once enclosed the happiest family
That ever lived beneath the blessed skies.
Where is that family now? O Isabel,
I feel my soul descending to the grave,
And all these loveliest rural images
Fade, like waves breaking on a dreary shore!
Isabel. Even now I see a stream of sunshine bathing
The bright moss-roses round our parlour window!
Oh! were we sitting in that room once more!

In the pride of thy spirit pursuing thy flight;
For what hath the child of the desert to dread,
Wafting up his own mountains that far beaming head;
Or borne like a whirlwind down on the vale!
Hail! king of the wild and the beautiful!-hail!
Hail! idol divine!-whom nature hath borne
O'er a hundred hill tops since the mists of the morn,
Whom the pilgrim lone wandering on mountain and


Magd. Twould seem inhuman to be happy there,
And both my parents dead. How could I walk
On what I used to call my father's walk,
He in his grave! or look upon that tree,
Each year so full of blossoms or of fruit,
Planted by my mother, and her holy name
Graven on its stem by mine own infant hands!

As the vision glides by him, may blameless adore:
For the joy of the happy, the strength of the free,
Are spread in a garment of glory o'er thee,
Up! up to yon cliff! like a king to his throne!
O'er the black silent forest piled lofty and lone--
A throne which the eagle is glad to resign
Unto footsteps so fleet and so fearless as thine.
There the bright heather springs up in love of thy

A Sleeping Child.

Art thou a thing of mortal birth,

Whose happy home is on our earth?
Does human blood with life imbue
Those wandering veins of heavenly blue
That stray along thy forehead fair,
Lost 'mid a gleam of golden hair?
Oh! can that light and airy breath
Steal from a being doomed to death;
Those features to the grave be sent
In sleep thus mutely eloquent ?
Or art thou, what thy form would seem,
The phantom of a blessed dream?

Oh! that my spirit's eye could see
Whence burst those gleams of ecstacy!
That light of dreaming soul appears
To play from thoughts above thy years.
Thou smil'st as if thy soul were soaring
To heaven, and heaven's God adoring!
And who can tell what visions high
May bless an infant's sleeping eye!
What brighter throne can brightness find
To reign on than an infant's mind,
Ere sin destroy or error dim
The glory of the seraphim?

Oh! vision fair! that I could be
Again as young, as pure as thee!
Vain wish! the rainbow's radiant form
May view, but cannot brave the storm:
Years can bedim the gorgeous dyes
That paint the bird of Paradise,
And years, so fate hath ordered, roll
Clouds o'er the summer of the soul.
Fair was that face as break of dawn,
When o'er its beauty sleep was drawn
Like a thin veil that half-concealed
The light of soul, and half-revealed.
While thy hushed heart with visions wrought,
Each trembling eyelash moved with thought,
And things we dream, but ne'er can speak,
Like clouds came floating o'er thy cheek,
Such summer-clouds as travel light,
When the soul's heaven lies calm and bright;
Till thou awok'st-then to thine eye
Thy whole heart leapt in ecstacy!
And lovely is that heart of thine,
Or sure these eyes could never shine
With such a wild, yet bashful glee,
Gay, half-o'ercome timidity!

Lo! the clouds in the depths of the sky are at rest;
And the race of the wild winds is o'er on the hill!
In the hush of the mountains, ye antlers lie still!-
Though your branches now toss in the storm of delight,
Like the arms of the pine on yon shelterless height,
One moment-thou bright apparition-delay!
Then melt o'er the crags, like the sun from the day.

His voyage is o'er-as if struck by a spell,
He motionless stands in the hush of the dell ;
There softly and slowly sinks down on his breast,
In the midst of his pastime enamoured of rest.
A stream in a clear pool that endeth its race--
A dancing ray chained to one sunshiny place-
A cloud by the winds to calm solitude driven-
A hurricane dead in the silence of heaven.

Fit couch of repose for a pilgrim like thee:
Magnificent prison enclosing the free;
With rock wall-encircled-with precipice crowned-
Which, awoke by the sun, thou canst clear at a bound.
'Mid the fern and the heather kind nature doth keep
One bright spot of green for her favourite's sleep;
And close to that covert, as clear to the skies
When their blue depths are cloudless, a little lake lies,
Where the creature at rest can his image behold,
Looking up through the radiance as bright and as bold.
Yes: fierce looks thy nature e'en hushed in repose-
In the depths of thy desert regardless of foes,
Thy bold antlers call on the hunter afar,
With a haughty defiance to come to the war.
No outrage is war to a creature like thee;
The buglehorn fills thy wild spirit with glee,
As thou bearest thy neck on the wings of the wind,
And the laggardly gaze-hound is toiling behind.
In the beams of thy forehead, that glitter with death,
In feet that draw power from the touch of the heath-
In the wide raging torrent that lends thee its roar-
In the cliff that once trod, must be trodden no more-
Thy trust-'mid the dangers that threaten thy reign:
-But what if the stag on the mountain be slain?
On the brink of the rock-lo! he standeth at bay,
Like a victor that falls at the close of the day-
While the hunter and hound in their terror retreat
From the death that is spurned from his furious feet;
And his last cry of anger comes back from the skies,
As nature's fierce son in the wilderness dies.

[blocks in formation]

The cold wan light that glimmers here, The sickly wild flowers may not cheer; If here, with solitary hum,

The wandering mountain-bee doth come,
'Mid the pale blossoms short his stay,
To brighter leaves he booms away.
The sea-bird, with a wailing sound,
Alighteth softly on a mound,
And, like an image, sitting there
For hours amid the doleful air,
Seemeth to tell of some dim union,
Some wild and mystical communion,
Connecting with his parent sea
This lonesome stoneless cemetery.
This may not be the burial-place
Of some extinguished kingly race,
Whose name on earth no longer known,
Hath mouldered with the mouldering stone.
That nearest grave, yet brown with mould,
Seems but one summer-twilight old;
Both late and frequent hath the bier
Been on its mournful visit here;
And yon green spot of sunny rest
Is waiting for its destined guest.
I see no little kirk-no bell
On Sabbath tinkleth through this dell;
How beautiful those graves and fair,
That, lying round the house of prayer,
Sleep in the shadow of its grace!
But death hath chosen this rueful place
For his own undivided reign!
And nothing tells that e'er again
The sleepers will forsake their bed-
Now, and for everlasting dead,
For Hope with Memory seems filed!
Wild-screaming bird! unto the sea
Winging thy flight reluctantly,
Slow floating o'er these grassy tombs
So ghost-like, with thy snow-white plumes,
At once from thy wild shriek I know
What means this place so steeped in wo!
Here, they who perished on the deep
Enjoy at last unrocking sleep;
For ocean, from his wrathful breast,
Flung them into this haven of rest,
Where shroudless, coffinless, they lie-
"Tis the shipwrecked seaman's cemetery.
Here seamen old, with grizzled locks,
Shipwrecked before on desert rocks,
And by some wandering vessel taken
From sorrows that seem God-forsaken,
Home bound, here have met the blast
That wrecked them on death's shore at last!
Old friendless men, who had no tears
To shed, nor any place for fears
In hearts by misery fortified,
And, without terror, sternly died.
Here many a creature moving bright
And glorious in full manhood's might,
Who dared with an untroubled eye
The tempest brooding in the sky,
And loved to hear that music rave,
And danced above the mountain-wave,
Hath quaked on this terrific strand,
All flung like sea-weeds to the land;
A whole crew lying side by side,
Death-dashed at once in all their pride.
And here the bright-haired fair-faced boy,
Who took with him all earthly joy,
From one who weeps both night and day
For her sweet son borne far away,
Escaped at last the cruel deep,
In all his beauty lies asleep;
While she would yield all hopes of grace
For one kiss of his pale cold face!

Oh! I could wail in lonely fear,
For many a woful ghost sits here,
All weeping with their fixed eyes!
And what a dismal sound of sighs
Is mingling with the gentle roar
Of small waves breaking on the shore;
While ocean seems to sport and play
In mockery of its wretched prey!

And lo! a white-winged vessel sails
In sunshine, gathering all the gales
Fast freshening from yon isle of pines
That o'er the clear sea waves and shines.
I turn me to the ghostly crowd,
All smeared with dust, without a shroud,
And silent every blue-swollen lip!
Then gazing on the sunny ship,
And listening to the gladsome cheers
Of all her thoughtless mariners,
I seem to hear in every breath
The hollow under-tones of death,
Who, all unheard by those who sing,
Keeps tune with low wild murmuring,
And points with his lean bony hand
To the pale ghosts sitting on this strand,
Then dives beneath the rushing prow,
Till on some moonless night of wo
He drives her shivering from the steep,
Down-down a thousand fathoms deep.

[The Shipwreck.]

[From the Isle of Palms."]

But list! a low and moaning sound
At distance heard, like a spirit's song,
And now it reigns above, around,
As if it called the ship along.
The moon is sunk; and a clouded gray
Declares that her course is run,

And like a god who brings the day, Up mounts the glorious sun.

Soon as his light has warmed 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 for ever and aye.
Many ports will exult at the gleam of her mast
Hush! hush! thou vain dreamer! this hour is her last
Five hundred souls in one instant of dread

[blocks in formation]

And sights of home with sighs disturbed The sleeper's long-drawn breath.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

Felicia Hemans.

father was a merchant; but, experiencing some reverses, he removed with his family to Wales, and there the young poetess imbibed that love of nature which is displayed in all her works. In her fifteenth year she ventured on publication. Her first volume was far from successful; but she persevered, and in 1812 published another, entitled The Domestic Affections, and other Poems. The same year she was married to Captain Hemans; but the union does not seem to have been a happy one. She continued her studies,

[merged small][graphic][ocr errors]

Rhyllon-the residence of Mrs Hemans in Wales. 1819 she obtained a prize of £50 offered by some patriotic Scotsman for the best poem on the subject of Sir William Wallace. Next year she published The Sceptic. In June 1821 she obtained the prize awarded by the Royal Society of Literature for the best poem on the subject of Dartmoor. Her next effort was a tragedy, the Vespers of Palermo, which was produced at Covent Garden, December 12, 1823; but though supported by the admirable acting of Kemble and Young, it was not successful. In 1826 appeared her best poem, the Forest Sanctuary, and in 1828, Records of Woman. She afterwards produced Lays of Leisure Hours, National Lyrics, &c. In 1829 she paid a visit to Scotland, and was received with great kindness by Sir Walter Scott, Jeffrey, and others of the Scottish literati. In 1830 appeared her Songs of the Affections. The same year she visited Wordsworth, and appears to have been much struck with the secluded beauty of Rydal Lake and Grasmere


O vale and lake, within your mountain urn Smiling so tranquilly, and set so deep! Oft doth your dreamy loveliness return, Colouring the tender shadows of my sleep With light Elysian; for the hues that steep Your shores in melting lustre, seem to float On golden clouds from spirit lands remoteIsles of the blest-and in our memory keep Their place with holiest harmonies. Wordsworth said to her one day, 'I would not give up the mists that spiritualise our mountains for all the blue skies of Italy'-an original and poetical expression. On her return from the lakes, Mrs Hemans went to reside in Dublin, where her brother, Major Browne, was settled. The education of her family (five boys) occupied much of her time and attention. Ill health, however, pressed heavily on her, and she soon experienced a premature decay of the springs of life. In 1834 appeared her little

[ocr errors]

volume of Hymns for Childhood, and a collection of Scenes and Hymns of Life. She also published some sonnets, under the title of Thoughts during Sickness. Her last strain, produced only about three weeks before her death, was the following fine sonnet dictated to her brother on Sunday the 26th of April:How many blessed groups this hour are bending, Through England's prinirose meadow-paths, their way Toward spire and tower, 'midst shadowy elms ascending,

Whence the sweet chimes proclaim the hallowed day!
The halls, from old heroic ages gray,
Pour their fair children forth; and hamlets low,
With whose thick orchard blooms the soft winds play,
Send out their inmates in a happy flow,
Like a freed vernal stream. I may not tread
With them those pathways-to the feverish bed
Of sickness bound; yet, O my God! I bless
Thy mercy that with Sabbath peace hath filled
My chastened heart, and all its throbbings stilled
To one deep calm of lowliest thankfulness.

This admirable woman and sweet poetess died on the 16th May 1835, aged forty-one. She was interred in St Anne's church, Dublin, and over her grave was inscribed some lines from one of her own dirges

Calm on the bosom of thy God,
Fair spirit! rest thee now !

Even while with us thy footsteps trode,

His seal was on thy brow.

Dust to its narrow house beneath!

Soul to its place on high! They that have seen thy look in death, No more may fear to die.

A complete collection of the works of Mrs Hemans, with a memoir by her sister, has been published in six volumes. Though highly popular, and in many respects excellent, we do not think that much of the poetry of Mrs Hemans will descend to posterity. There is, as Scott hinted, too many flowers for the fruit; more for the ear and fancy, than for the heart and intellect. Some of her shorter pieces and her lyrical productions are touching and beautiful both in sentiment and expression. Her versification is always melodious; but there is an oppressive sameness in her longer poems which fatigues the reader; and when the volume is closed, the effect is only that of a mass of glittering images and polished words, a graceful melancholy and feminine tenderness, but no strong or permanent impression. The passions are seldom stirred, however the fancy may be soothed or gratified. In description, Mrs Hemans had considerable power; she was both copious and exact; and often, as Jeffrey has observed, 'a lovely picture serves as a foreground to some deep or lofty emotion.' Her imagination was chivalrous and romantic, and delighted in picturing the woods and halls of England, and the ancient martial glory of the land. The purity of her mind is seen in all her works; and her love of nature, like Wordsworth's, was a delicate blending of our deep inward emotions with their splendid symbols and emblems without.

The Voice of Spring.

I come, I come! ye have called me long,

I come o'er the mountains with light and song;
Ye may trace my step o'er the wakening earth,
By the winds which tell of the violet's birth,
By the primrose stars in the shadowy grass,
By the green leaves opening as I pass.

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »