Page images

creation of difficulties, for the mere purpose of displaying his skill in overcoming them.

Of his poem it will not be necessary to say much, nor considering the length to which this article has already extended, would it be proper. This verse is much better than his prose; as what constitutes the chief defect of the one, is scarcely a defect in the other. Great poetical powers are not requisite for the composition of a didactic work: judgement and experience are to be looked for rather than imagination or invention. Just thoughts expressed with clearness and energy, illustrated by apposite allusions and examples, and conveyed in unaffected and harmonious verse, are all that can be reasonably expected. Such expectations Mr. Shee has, in general, fully answered, and has not unfrequently exceeded. In his first canto, he exposes with much spirit the prejudices of the followers of various systems, and thus concludes a pointed ridicule of the devotee of antique.

" A firm believer, travell’d Torso took
“ His faith on trust, nor look'd at Nature's book;
66 The pure antique, his creed in every part,
"The ancients, his evangelists of art;
“ Their works the gospel of his taste receives,
“And Rome's infallibility believes."

ELEM. Canto I. 1. 287. The Venus de Medici and the Apollo Belvidere are described with great animation in the second canto; and seem to have communicated to Mr. Shee's verse a portion of their grace and beauty. The passages, however, are too long to be extracted entire, and it would be doing them injustice to present a partial view of them. It is impossible not to be pleased with the fearlessness of criticism, with which he has asserted the rights of Rubens: the following lines conclude the passage.

66 As petty chiefs fall prostrate, and obey,
" While monarchs move their strength in proud array ;

" But when the pomp is past, the peril o'er,
“Rebel against the rod they kiss'd before;
$ So cavilling tribes who roam the graphic waste,
" Scarce rescued from the savage state of taste,
" Assail the rights of Rubens, grudge his praise,
66 And talk high treason 'gainst the state he Sways;
“ But, when triumphant crown'd in every part,
" He moves in some vast enterprize of art,
ro Isis lawful claims, licentious critics own;
56 And wond'ring painters bend before his throne.”

ELEM. Canto 111. 1. 259.

Though no advocate for the pursuits of the Flemish School, he defends them liberally from the sneers of affectation, and the contempt of fastidious criticism.

“Let not the pedantry of taste despise
66'he humbler beauties of Batavian skies :
" Tho' Painting there, no epic wreath requires,
" Nor feels, nor feigns to feel, poetic fires;
66 Content on boors and burgomasters still,
« At wakes and weddings to display her skill;
" Tho' Fancy too, each towering flight deterr’d,
Degenerates there, a tame domestic bird!
" In homely scenes alone, familiar found,
“ To skip, and sport, and flutter on the ground;
“6 Strong in their glass reflected tho'we own,
" The broad low comedy of life alone;
“ Yet Truth is there and Nature, while we trace
6 Her coarser characters and common face,
" Avows her image mark'd in every part,
“And by her sanction consecrates their art."

Elem. Canto III. 1. 339. Many other passages might be pointed out, which reflect much honour on the author's taste and liberal mode of thinking; but the extracts already made, will be sufficient to convey a general idea of the poem. That it has many faults is true; but in a work of no higher pretensions, they may well be overlooked.

Of his prose style, it is scarcely necessary to say, after the spe. cimens that have been exhibited, that it is vitiated and meretricious to a degree almost if not absolutely without parallel. He seems to have endeavoured to make every particular sen

tence, as it were, a picture; and to have selected for this

purpose the most extravagant figures and the gaudiest colours. To speak in the terms of his own art, there is no keeping in his style; every part is equally laboured, and stands equally prominent. His metaphors are so grotesque and ridiculous, that it is not easy to say whether they will excite most mirth or contempt in the reader.

It would be too severe a sentence on the writer, who could seriously talk of “ stirring with his “ small pebble the lake of public feeling,” to doom him to the fate of St. Stephen; but it would be almost worth while to try whether a dip sufficient to let him know the nature of a lake, might not cure him of his metaphorical madness. It is very palpable that he has been frequently led into contradictions, by his inability to resist the temptation of pointing a sentence, or levelling a sarcasm. The little patches of Latin, with which he has here and there decked his work, neither improve its value nor appearance: but a trifling vanity of this sort deserves no severity of reprehension. There is certainly a good deal of novelty and spirit in many of the author's observations; but as a whole, his production cannot be better characterized than by a passage of his own, contained in a note to the fourth canto, p. 254.

“ Didactic writers, in general, are more desirous to shew “ themselves than their subject, and labour rather to display “ the powers of their eloquence than the principles of their 66 art. The author almost always supersedes the teacher ; « and where they can amuse by their wit, they are seldom 66 solicitous to instruct by their science. Every thing, there“ fore, is pompous and exaggerated; raised to the altitudes “ of affected enthusiasm, or refined to the siftings of subtle « discrimination."



KINGDOMS OF NATURE. BY JACQUES DE LILLE NOTES BY MR. CUVIER, OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF FRANCE, AND OTHER LEARNED Men, 2 vols. 12mo. 1. xxxyiii. 309. II. 285. Paris. 1808. - Imported by Dulau and Co.

[ocr errors]

The most correct description of external nature, though by its minute accuracy it may satisfy the understanding, if it be unanimated by dramatic action, leaves the reader cold; and mere descriptive verses, though ever so characteristic and excellent in their kind, must still be deficient in what constitutes the very essence of poetry, since they can awaken no, latent sympathy of the heart. They may force us to acknowledge the skill and industry of the writer; but they are as little calculated to confer on their author the envied appellation of a poet, as the best drawing of Richmond-hill or Westminster-abbey would be to elevate the drawer to the proud eminence of a great painter. Nor is the talent of affix. ing proper epithets to

“The gloomy pine, the poplar blue,

The yellow beech, the sable yew," sufficient to raise those awful, tender, or pleasing emotions, which it is the province of the poet to excite.

Aware of these objections, which on both sides of the Channel have been repeatedly urged against descriptive poems, Mr. De Lille, in his preliminary discourse, admits that “ To " describe for the sake of describing is a folly;" but contends, that “ If it be done with the view to diffuse the knowledge of " the processes of the arts, and the appearances of nature, it " is not only allowable but needful; and whatever is needful, " is always irreprehensible.” This argument, however, does not establish the necessity of communicating such knowledge

Sober prose appears far better adapted to convey descriptive details when they are designed to instruct. A!.


in verse.


[ocr errors]

though the inversions in French poetry he not many, yet the constraint of rhyme and measure renders the admission of terms, which are not exactly the proper expressions, unavoidable, and often obscures that which should be taught in a clear, precise, and distinct manner. It is chiefly on this account, that almost every attempt to unite poetry and science has hitherto failed; and were it not for the long notes by which it is accompanied, even Mr. De Lille's work would frequently be found unintelligible. When he says,

• Ou plutôt, quand je vole à la céleste voute
“ C'est à toi, cher Delambre, à diriger ma route ;
“ Toi qui sus réunir, par un double pouvoir,
" Les beaux arts au calcul et le goût au savoir.
66 L'immortel Isaac, de ses mains souveraines,
“6 Des mondes étoilés te confia les rênes ;
“ Viens; et sans m'effrayer du sort de Phaéton,

66 Que je monte avec toi sur le char de Newton!" How is the young French student to know that the immortal Isaac is the self-same Newton, whose name is mentioned three lines after, since it is not customary in France to say le chevalier Isaac, as the English speak of Sir Isaac, but always le chevalier Newton? To an English reader, the expression is besides in danger of appearing rather facetious, as it involuntarily recalls the idea of little Isaac; and to the French reader, it must necessarily seem pedantic, because the measure of the verse requires the name of Isaac to be read I-sa-ac, as being composed of three syllables, which is contrary to common pronunciation.

What information could be obtained, without the assistance of notes, from such lines as,

66 Suivant les corps divers la lumière varie;
“ Dédaigneuse des uns, aux autres se marie.
66 Si l'obscure matière absorbe les rayons,
6 Le noir frappe nos yeux; mais lorsque nous voyons,
“ Des corps où vient tomber l'éclatante lumière,
“ La masse des rayons rejaillir toute entière;
66 De la blancheur alors l'ail ressent les effets."

« PreviousContinue »