« PreviousContinue »
But then of what use is an idle jingle of words, which has not the least claim to poetical fire, harmony, or embellishment, if it requires a long commentary to be understood ? Besides,
« Si l'obscure matière absorbe les rayons,
« Le noir frappe nos yeux;" is, we apprehend, not philosophically correct, since the absence of light, l'obscure matière, cannot strike the eye; and the end of the line, mais lorsque nous voyons,” is intolerably prosaic. The expressions " l'obscure matière” and 6 dédaigneuse des uns,” are also hardly reconcileable with good taste.
When, in appreciating the comparative merits of Virgil and Lucretius, Mr. De Lille observes of the latter, that « Nature had granted him but a portion of the poetical ta66 lent, which she had bestowed entire on the author of the “ Georgics," whatever may be the justice of the observation, it certainly applies to Mr. De Lille himself. His philosophie cal poem is really, as he confesses,“ d'un genre un peu
froid,” notwithstanding the episodes with which he has attempted to supply its want of warmth.
The assertion, that “ the art of treating a subject is nothing " but the art of digressing from it without abandoning it “ entirely,” is rather paradoxical. We shall, therefore, quote Mr. De Lille's expressions : “ L'art de traiter un sujet," he says, “ n'est que l'art d'en sortir sans s'en éloigner; on en “ trouve l'image dans la navigation ancienne qui se tenoit “ toujours à portée de la terre et à la vue des côtes." He then adds rather exultingly : “ Qu'on me permette sur cette " sorte d'ornement quelques idées assez nouvelles," and illustrates his new theory of episodes more fully, by the following remark:
« S'il est nécessaire que les épisodes se rattachent au dessein " général de l'ouyrage, il ne l'est pas que l'idée principale de
chaque épisode soit en rapport immédiat avec le fond du sujet ; au contraire, plus ces ornemens accessoires lui sont étrangers,
" plus ils jettent dans la composition et de nouveauté et de variété,
premiers charmes de tous les ouvrages d'imagination."
And in support of this observation, he instances his episode at the end of the canto on the Vegetable Kingdom, where, after having treated of flowers, and said
16. Et sur la mer, enfin, souvent aux matelots
66 Leur parfum présagea la terre et le repos ;” he introduces Columbus, on his first voyage to America, smelling the perfume of flowers, at the moment when his followers are going to murder him, for having decoyed them so far from home. This propitious circumstance serves Columbus to animate his crew to fresh exertions, which enable them to reach the shore. Mr. De Lille connects this episode .again with the main subject of his song, by making the sailors crown Columbus with a garland of flowers :
“On redouble d'efforts, on aborde, on arrive;
“ Présages des succès, en deviennent le prix." This slight connection of the episodes with the principal subject, which Mr. De Lille recommends, is the only novelty which we liave been able to discover in his vaunted theory of digressions. It reminds us of the trick of a gentleman, who never went into company without having stored his memory with three or four anecdotes, which he would contrive to retail at all events, even when the turn of conversation was not in the least favourable to their introduction.
The reason why Mr. De Lille has borrowed very little of the eloquent Buffon, is, because “ Depredations committed on ** the rich are more easily found out, and more severely pu<< nished by the police of literature.” Might not this strange avował suggest the uncharitable supposition of his being in 'the habit of stealing from obscure writers ? Surely, when a poet attempts to sing the discoveries of science, and the phenomena of nature, it is no disparagement to his merit to consult the best authors on the subjects which he intends to treat, provided he paints with poetical enthusiasm what they have recorded with diligent attention.
We should have been tempted to arraign the title of Mr. De Lille's poem as a misnomer, since it treats of the three kingdoms of nature only in the four last cantos, the first four being taken up with the four elements; but the plan of the poem was suggested by the late M. Darcet, of the Academy of Sciences and National Institute of France, who observed, 66 That the four elements being combined in the three king“ doms, these two parts of the work were by no means incon“ gruous, and might form a regular whole.”
The first canto, on Light and Fire, opens with the Genius of Nature appearing to the poet in a dream, and ordering him to celebrate the beauties of nature. The poet obeys. He begins with a violent invective against the love of systems, tunes his lyre to sing the light, calls Apollo to his aid, and implores the astronomer Delambre to guide his steps, lle then describes the prismatic decomposition of light and ițs different effects; the coruscations of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern light, which he represents under the form of a female, jealous of her Eastern sister, against whom she prefers very foolish complaints to the God of Light, in a long heavy speech. From light, the poet passes to heat and fire, and enumerates the advantages which men derive from both. The transition from fire to electricity is in his happiest
“ Mais c'est peu que nos arts règnent en Souverains
" Et la foudre, à nos pieds vient mourir en silence." and so is the description of the electrical machine and its powers. The contrast of the horrible effects of the explosion of gunpowder in fire-arms and mines, with the peaceable scenes of the fire-side at home, is well imagined; but the
description of the latter is rather tediously dilated. Together with some conceits like
Là Vénus s’apperçoit qu'elle est chère à Vulcain.” and
“Et le lit conjugal rend grâce au coin du feu." It offers the picture of many family pastimes, among which, that of the Slipper is however too vulgar, even in France, to merit a place in a philosophical poem.
“ Ici sous des genoux qui se courbent en voûte
“ Sur le parquet battu se trahit en passant.”
The second canto, on Air, states its nature, combinations, utility, its effects on the reflection of light, and its gravity. This leads to the introduction of the names of Toricelli and Pascal, the latter of whom having like Mr. De Lille been born in Auvergne, this circumstance reminds the poet of his native country. He then passes to the elasticity of the air, and sings the Steam Engine in the following strain :
56 Au-dessus des bassius sur qui l' onde bouillonne,
S'exhale dans le vide en tourbillon fumeux;
Cependant un levier qui dans l' air se balance
66 Ravit le noir charbon à la mine féconde
" Et la terre, et les eaux, et la flamme, et les airs." The terrible effects of winds and tempests, particularly in the frightful deserts of Africa, where whole armies have been buried under burning sands, are pourtrayed with glowing colours. The destruction of Cambyses' army is acknowledged to have been taken from Darwin.
We are only sorry for the poor conceit which closes this animated description :
66 mais de savants débats
Egalent en fracas les cavernes d'Eole.” * The influence of the winds on navigation, on the heat of summer, and the frost of winter, is next described, and followed by a moving picture of the plague, from the desolating scene of which the poet gladly turns to the melodious effects of the vibrating air in musical instruments. He bestows high praises on the harps and pianofortes of Ehrhard, and on the wonderful execution of Séjan on the organ.
66 Sous ses rapides mains le sentiment voyage ;
This comparison, with which the canto finishes, is certainly beautiful.
The third canto, on Water, describes the different effects and qualities of this element, the horrors of an inundation, the comforts of bathing, which are enlivened by the story of Damon and Musidora, translated from Thomson's Seasons, in a manner not anworthy of the original; the beauties of rivu