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laste and research in the selection of his commodities. His varied and almost Mithridatic acquaintance with the languages of modern Europe, extending even to their less classical or almost forgotten dialects, and that liberal spirit in literature, which so extensive a field of enquiry is sure to produce, seemed peculiarly to mark him out as one fitted to transfer lo his country those strains which had conferred celebrity on their authors in their own, or which, though their origin and authorship are lost in the darkness of antiquily, had long cheered the peasant in his sledge amidst the frozen snow, or been associated with the jollity of the harvest and the vintage, or the more tranquil mirth of the cottage fire.
It is true, it may be said, that no very accurate idea of the poetry of a foreign nation, separated from ourselves by seas and continents, and still farther separated in mind by diversity of habits and feelings, can be gained by the labours of any one translator ; and the observation is well-founded to a certain extent. The edifice he seeks to illuminale is, no doubt, too vast to be fully enlightened by a solitary torch ; but at least it is probable that, in moving with him along its vast halls and long arches, the light he carries will strike occasionally on objects of splendour or value; that our eyes will catch dim glimpses of treasures in its inner recesses— sudden openings into far-off gardens, the trees of which, like those which dazzled Aladdin in the cave, seem bright with the tints of the diamond, the ruby, and the emerald ; and that the result of this hasty glance may be a desire to relurn, and to investigate for ourselves, and with more leisure and minuteness, the scenes of which we have caught these dim but pleasing outlines. He who transfers a single strain of true and natural poetry, however simple, however bries, from another language to ours, performs no mean service to literature, and, it may be, to the interests of civilisation in general. He has thrown, as it were, the first plank over the gulf which separated two nations,— has taught them that they have feelings, "eyes, organs, dimensions, affections, passions,” in common,- has awakened a spirit of literary enterprise, and pointed out, if he cannot guide us through, the promised land. Other adventurers will soon throng after him ; a broader bridge will be thrown over the channel that divided them; an exchange of feelings and associations may take place; the old may impart to the new some portion of the polish which long civilisation has produced ; while it receives in return a new infusion of the freshness, rapidity, and wild vigour which characterise an infant literature ; thus bartering its Persian ornaments of gold and silver to receive repayment in a Spartan coinage of iron.
The interest of Dr. Bowring's earliest work —his Specimens of the Russian Poets - was in a great measure that arising from surprise ; from discovering that, in the country which, until the days of Peter the Great, had never made its voice heard among the dynasties of Europe, there had grown up, almost with the suddenness of an exhalation, a poetical literature betraying no marks of its barbaric origin; possessing, in fact, the very qualities which are most commonly found associated with a longestablished literature, - light, graceful, equable, rather than startling, either by its beauties or its faults ; moral, didactic, tender, or satirical, rather than narrative, martial, or mystical : in short, so little hyperborean in its general aspect, that but for some occasional traits of nationality, which give it a certain distinctive and original character, we had great difficulty in believing that any thing so trim and so polished could have been imported from the rough shores of the Don and the Wolga. Perhaps, however, there was but little room for surprise when the peculiar circumstances of Russia were adverted to. Called into existence as a European power, by the genius of one man, she had to borrow every thing from civilised Europe - arts, arms, philosophy, learning - and it was but natural she should borrow her poetry with the rest. Being, as it were, at the time almost in a state of poetical nudity, it was far more easy for her to step into the ready-made, though somewhat faded, habiliments which France, England, and Germany politely pressed upon her acceptance, than to construct a national costume for herself out of the coarse and scanty materials which had constituted her wardrobe in former and ruder centuries; and so, slipping his person unceremoniously into English pantaloons, and a French robe de chambre, the Russian poet went sideling up the walks of Parnassus with a meershaum in his mouth, Young's Night Thoughts in his hand, and Voltaire in his pocket, all unconscious that the Monmouth-street air of his habiliments was visible to every myrmidon that guarded that quarter of Apollo's domain.
Let us not, however, be unjust to the high merit of some of the specimens of Russian poetry, to which we were introduced by Dr. Bowring. We cannot certainly sympathise with him to the full extent of his admiration; for it is an infallible effect of translation, that the translator acquires an undue attachment to the authors on whom he has exercised his powers; and as in general we are apt to estimate the merit of our own works according to the labour which we have bestowed upon them, it may frequently happen that pieces of inferior merit may be rated higher than the works of greater poets in the scale of the translator; simply because it has required a greater exertion of his own skill and ingenuity to bring them into shape, and to present them in an attractive dress to an English reader. We cannot, therefore, but regret, that Russia in borrowing from other countries, did not labour to impart to the materials she imported a stronger air of nationality—to efface more completely the former die from the coin, and to stamp on it her own image and superscription; and that more use was not made on the whole of her national traditions and historical annals; but we admit, at the same time, that many causes have existed, and do exist, in Russia, calculated to narrow the field on which originality can be displayed, and to contract the sphere of feeling and thought; and we willingly do justice to the merits of such men as Derzhaven, Lomonosov, and Zhuskovsky. The ballad of “ Catherine,” in particular, by the latter, wild and spectral like Bürger's “ Lenore,” but national in all its pictures and allusions, scarcely loses by a comparison with its Teutonic prototype: and some of the national songs which close the second volume, brief, artless, lender, and picturesque, seem deserving of the high eulogiums bestowed upon them by the translator. “ They are no subjects for criticism," observes Dr. Bowring;“ for criticism cannot reach them-it cannot abstract one voice from the chorus, nor persuade the village youths and maidens that the measure is false, or the music is discordant.” The rude melody, often gentle and plaintive, in which they find utterance, still vibrate in my ear. I ask for them no admiration—they are the delight of millions.”
A different object from that which he had in view in bis Russian) selections was to be effected by the Batavian Anthology of Dr. Bowring-not to introduce to our notice a nation, in the infancy of literature and civilisation, making her first timid essay in the paths of poetry; but one long celebrated in learning, science, philosophy, and arms, where hard-won Liberty had early made her cradle and home, and still dwelt, though in a more splendid mansion, and amidst the modern luxuries and refinements spread around her by an abundant commerce. It was to dispel the prejudices supposed to exist among ourselves as to the poetry of Holland, and to satisfy the critic by experiment that the country of William I., of Grotius, Erasmus, and Rembrandt, could not be without its poets, as well as its painters, philosophers, and statesmen. This attempt, however, we cannot help thinking, was less successful than its predecessor; not through any fault on the part of Dr. Bowring (for its execution was, on the whole, more skilful), but that, in truth, the opinion which had been formed of the poets of Holland, though exaggerated, was in the main correct;—that although occasional magnificence and constant purity of taste characterise the choruses of Vendel; though Cats be nervous, simple, and sententious; though Decker, Brederode, and Westerbain are often touching and naturala great number of the specimens exhibited by him rather sunk beneath than rose above mediocrity; and that, consequently, the general aspect of the Dutch Parnassus, even as placed by him in its best point of view, too much resembled that of their own gardens—all very smooth and pleasing, and irreproachable in point of neatness, with here and there, too, some stately and umbrageous trees, but seldom varying from a dead level, and with a temperature, on the whole, rising but little above freezing. Dr. Bowring will perhaps think we do injustice to his favourites, and we are willing to hope that his supplementary volume may exhibit the beauties of Batavia in a more favourable light. Meantime, we willingly acknowledge the skill with which many of his own translations are executed.*
From the amphibious world of Holland
“ The slow canal, the yellow-blossom’d vale,
The willow-tufted bank, and gliding sail” Dr. Bowring turned suddenly to a more striking region of song—to the deep valleys and sunburnt sierras, the vineyards, the Moorish palaces and Gothic ruins of Spain; to the romantic chronicles of her ancient kings, so rich in eventful changes and picturesque details; lo the magic names of the Cid, of Bernardo del Carpio, and of that train of heroes who hold an equivocal position on the debatable land between truth and fiction; to Granada, with its Alhambra, Albaycin, and Generalife, its Zegris and Abencerrages, its chivalry, its learning, and ils splendour; to those heroic ballads, where the light and graceful Arabesque wreathes itself, like a vine, round the massive solidity of the Gothic fabric which it decorates, and to that vast collection of national songs, nameless themselves, and touching the imagination and the heart with a nameless but powerful spell. His object now was neither to awaken our interest for an infant literature, nor to disabuse us of prejudices against an old one; but rather to justify to ourselves the prepossessions of which we were conscious towards the literature of the Peninsula. He wished to afford evidence that there was a reality in the dreams which we connected with these shores of old romance, and to make us acquainted with that peculiar anonymous ballad literature, the glory of Spain, which, more than even her laboured productions, evinces the diffusion of
+ See p. 326 of the Review for some pretty stanzas from one of Brederode's songs, which the critic considers to resemble the manner of Herrick.
a high tone of poetical feeling among her inhabitants, and much of which had fortunately been rescued from oblivion and collected so early as 1510. In this field, no doubt, the translator could not, as in the case of his Russian and Batavian anthologies, boast of having led the way. He had been preceded by Mr. Lockhart, who had translated, with great vigour, and with a fine vein of chivalrous feeling, many of the best of the historical romances. But Dr. Bowring's work, from its variety, and, in particular, from the numerous and sometimes extremely happy translations it contained of those little fragments and snatches of song, which had been in a great measure overlooked by his predecessor, must be regarded as a valuable supplement to the Ancient Spanish Ballads.
Scarcely has this peninsular pageant of chivalry passed by, when the scene is changed to the banks of the Seva and the Danube—to Servia and Hungary. The poetical literature of Servia seems even more singular than that of Spain itself. Much of the Spanish poetry was traditional, till collected in the Cancionero and Romancero General; but that of Servia is entirely so. Bequeathed from mouth to mouth, without the aid of manuscripts or printing, the same songs that celebrated the exploits of Marco, or lamented the fatal battle of Kosova (the Servan Xeres de la Frontera), which delivered over the country to the tyranny of Amurath, are still, with slender variations, the popular poetry of the country. Simple and unpretending, they scarcely appear to the natives deserving of the name of poetry—a title which they seem to think can only be claimed by longer and more ambitious effusions. Goëlhe, who has devoted considerable attention to the poetry of Servia, observes, that when some Servians, who had visited Vienna, were requested to write down the songs they had sung, they expressed the greatest surprise that such simple poetry and music as theirs should possess any interest for intelligent and cultivated minds. They apprehended, they said, that the artless compositions of their country would be the subject of scorn or ridicule to those whose poetry was so polished and sublime.
Simple, however, and unadorned as it is, we have no hesitation in saying, that it appears to us the most interesting and original to which Dr. Bowring has yet directed his attention. The language of Servia, a derivative from the old Church Slavonic, modified by the vicinity of Greece and Italy, seems early to have been softened down into a perfect instrument for poetry and music. From the Turks, too, their ancient foes, and latterly their conquerors, the Servians borrowed many additions to their vocabulary; while even the hostile relations subsisting between the two countries tended strongly to impress upon its literature an Oriental character. In this, in fact, it resembled, to a certain extent, that of Spain, though the intercourse between the two countries was of a far less intimate and kindly nature, and the Turks, with whom they maintained the struggle, a very different race from the polished Moors of Granada. Enough remained to impart an Oriental colouring to many of its pictures, and to vary and extend the field of its allusions.
Till within these few years, when a large mass of the national songs and ballads of Servia was collected by Vuck, and committed to paper, either from early recollections, or from the repetition of Servian minstrels, no part of these national compositions had been given to the public. The part which has thus been collected and published, we are informed, forms but a very small portion of the stores which still exist unrecorded among
the peasantry. The historical ballads are written in lines of five trochaics, and are always sung to the accompaniment of a simple three-stringed instrument called the guzla, as the Spanish ballads generally were to that of the guitar. At the end of every verse, the singer drops his voice, and mutters a short cadence. The emphatic passages are chanted in a louder tone. “ I cannot describe," says Wessely, who has translated, with great fidelity, a selection of their nuptial songs into German, “the pathos with which these songs are sometimes sung. I have witnessed crowds surrounding an old blind singer, and every cheek was wet with tears.” Often, like the Arabian story-tellers, they stop in their ballads at the most interesting point, till they have appealed to the generosity of their audience; wisely thinking that they have quite as much to expect from their curiosity as their compassion. The ballads which form their stock in trade possess some features which distinguish them from those of other countries. They are more condensed and straightforward than the Spanish, telling their story with more rapidity of movement, and less of ornament; while they are almost free of those unmeaning repetitions and lines inserted for the mere purpose of eking out the rhyme, which deform so many of the most pathetic of our own ballads. In one respect, however, they assimilate but too closely with our own: in those savage atrocities, and sometimes almost meaningless cruelties, which they recount with a calm apathy; and in instances of treachery, which reflect no great credit on “the goodly usance of those antique times.” The influence of a very peculiar mythology breathes over them all; in which the most remarkable agent is a spirit called the Vila—a beautiful but terrible being, of vast powers, which she employs capriciously or malevolently-who haunts the mountains, caves, and forests, and utters her mandates and denunciations from their recesses. Their most celebrated hero is Marco, a Scythian likeness of the Grecian Hercules ; a name, like Conrad's, “ linked with one virtue and a thousand crimes,” for he murders in cold blood the Moorish maiden who had been his deliverer, for no better reason than that he was frightened at her ebon visage and ivory teeth. This savage warrior, who is represented as endowed with supernatural strength, rides a steed (Sharaz) a century and a half old, and dies himself at the age of three hundred, apparently of nothing at all. These extravagant conceptions, however, afford no fair specimen of the Servian ballads.
On the amatory poems of the Servians, Goëthe has bestowed a strong and merited tribute of admiration. He observes, that, when taken as a whole, they cannot but be deemed of singular beauty: they exhibit the expressions of passionate, overflowing, and contented affection; they are full of shrewdness and spirit: delight and surprise are admirably portrayed, and there is in all a marvellous sagacity in subduing difficulties, and in obtaining an end; a natural, but, at the same time, vigorous and energetic tone; sympathies and sensibilities, without wordy exaggeration, but which, notwithstanding, are decorated with poetical imagery, and imaginative beauty; a correct picture of Servian life and manners: every thing, in short, which gives to passion the force of truth, and to external scenery the character of reality.
* The reviewer adduces, as an instance of the powers of narrative displayed in the Servian ballads, one entitled “ Zeliiza and her Brothers," p. 330--331.
A very short and simple composition of this characier is quoted by the critic, beginning, "O! if I were a mountain streamlet,” (c. p. 333.