The Glasgow Sentinel (16 January, 1858 - p.6)
SHONE the white moon over mountain and valley,
And close to her bosom crept soft as a child—
When lonely and sadly I parted from Sally,
And left the dear vale where my infancy smiled.
Not a star in the ocean of heaven was sleeping;
Sad Philomel sang on the tryst-hallowed tree;
The moment within me, alas! still is weeping
When Fate first grew cold and took Sally from me.
When Joy threw a spell over mountain and wildwood,
And young, blushing Spring filled her musical bowers,
My Sally and I, in an innocent childhood,
Had wandered the long summer’s day—and for flowers.
How sadly we gazed in the eyes of each other,
And thought of the days we might nevermore see;
Alas! bleeding heart, I was more than a brother
When Fate first grew cold and took Sally from me.
ROBT. W. BUCHANAN.
The following article is unsigned, but since its subject is David Gray I am inclined to believe that Robert Buchanan is the “occasional Correspondent”.
The Glasgow Sentinel (23 January, 1858 - p.6)
A COMING POET.
(From an occasional Correspondent).
SOME weeks ago an unpublished MS., purporting to be the poetical efforts of a certain Mr David Gray of this city, was placed in my hands by a friend. Having a gentle yearning towards the aspirant to poetical honours, together with some humble reverence for the “divine art” in the undeveloped bud as well as in the perfect flower, it was with feelings peculiarly apt to appreciate any beauties that might turn up in the course of perusal that I glanced over the careful sheets in a leisure hour. Not, indeed, circumstances considered, expecting much, nor willing to analyse the production in the purely critical light, with as much of pleasure as surprise I began to perceive the undoubted merit possessed by certain of the effusions thus submitted to my notice.
Mr Gray is evidently a young man, and Time will effectually remedy faults which her hand alone, and that of her “large-souled” sister, Experience, can influence or eradicate. His misconceptions are the misconceptions of youth, crudity extravagance, and want of style—sometimes a too obvious tendency to metaphysical indiscrimination. As he grows into natural philosophy, an evident tendency to direct personification will also depart, and the harp upon which he now rehearses his early strains be exchanged for one of tenser strings. He is a poet in heart, warm, loving, and possessed of widely-diffused sympathies; and a few short years will chasten his aspirations and develop the niceties of a yet comparatively uncultivated ear. Not without melody, however—melody of the sweetest and most unexceptionable kind—are some of the occasional strains which “breathe” at his boyish touch. Hill and dale, the earth, the water, air, and awful heaven; man, with his better angel, woman—“lovely woman,” whom God has given to smile upon and to enjoy the innumerable blessings of the vital elements, are lovely in his ampler eye; and nowhere but with a true spirit does he pour forth in song the love with which his mind is so amply and deliciously filled. He is no mongrel sentimentalist, no unstrung spasmodist—mirabile dictu—and for what he lacks in style he compensates in pure direct truth. In some verses to the memory of a love departed, his muse seems inspired with the spirit of true pathos:—
TO JEANIE IN HEAVEN.
Dark is the nicht in the dreesome October,
Low, restless winds blaw the frail leaves amang,
Dull are the heavens, sae starless and sober,
Cauld, wimplin’ Luggie rins weepin’ alang;
Silent the yellow leaves fa’ on its bosom,
Slow wi’ the current are floated awa’—
They mind me o’ spring when the flowers were in blossom;
But faded their beauty, and Jeanie’s awa’.
Come ye, cauld Winter, sae naked and hoary,
Fauld your white mantle the dead earth abune;
Chase ye awa’ Autumn’s beautifu’ glory—
The bare, senseless clay wi’ my Jeanie claims kin.
Cauld draps the rain on the grave o’ my Jeanie,
Withered the sward there and saftened the mound;
But Memory sees the fair face o’ the lassie,
And feels her white arms twine my glad heart around.
Her bonnie black een—can I ever forget them?—
Their lustre is lost unto me evermore;
Her red lips are dry—will anither pair wet them
Wi’ dew that upbreathes frae a heart rinnin’ o’er?
Ah! Jeanie, heart-sair I stan’, lanely and weeping,
’Neath the auld aik where ye aften met me;
My mither, the birds, an’ the stars are a’ sleeping—
My soul, love, is wand’rin’ in Eden wi’ thee.
Come ye in garments o’ holiness gleaming,
Fetch ye a fresh breath o’ heaven for me;
Come in the nicht-tide and set me a dreamin’—
I’ll smile in my sleep, my dear Jeanie, on thee!
Silent the leaves fa’ on Luggie’s dark bosom,
Slow wi’ the current are floated awa’;
They mind me o’ spring when the flowers were in blossom,
But faded their beauty, and Jeanie’s awa’.
The contents of the MS. before me are principally composed, like the above, in that sweet Doric which Robert Burns has employed to such obvious advantage in his briefer lilts. Here is not the namby-pamby stuff, however, everywhere thronging the poetical corners of the provincial press—things of the most provoking patois.—Mr Gray walks with tolerable success in the footprints of the great masters of Scottish song. The effusion above quoted, for instance, must come home to every feeling heart. One verse, in particular, struck me as particularly pathetic and beautiful. Entre nous, Mr Gray, why send “the sentinel stars” to bed at the only hour when they may be said, metaphorically speaking, to be visibly wide awake?
Another little effusion caught my ear and heart—a city love song, which the reader will think flows sweetly:—
Nae flowery cot is the hame o’ my Jeanie,
Nae grassy sward where the dew draps may lie,
Nae bonnie braes a’ besprinkled wi’ lambkins,
Nae dreamie streamlet reflectin’ the sky.
Deep ’mid the breath o’ the city sae gloomy
She lives like a flower in a wild dreary muir!
Sae modest an’ bloomin’, sae loving an’ kindly;
There’s nane in this warl’ like Jeanie McNair!
Her dark braided hair is sae saft an’ sae glossy,
Her fair cheek o’ dimples is Cupid’s ain hame,
Her mild ebon een, and her silken eye-lashes,
For mony a sair heart are muckle to blame.
I preed her lips ance, when the moonlicht was fadin’;
I’ll ne’er do’t again, tho’ my heart should grow sair;
I dream’t o’t at daybreak, at mid-day, and gloamin’,
The bliss frae the sweet lips o’ Jeanie McNair!
Angels, wha come when the daisies are weepin’,
Watch ye my Jeanie when I gang awa’;
Fauld your kind pinions, w’ sweet fragrance deepin’,
Owre the lane lassie, sae guileless, sae braw!
My love is owre holy for Poesy’s passion—
’Tis part o’ my being, my joy, and my care;
My thochts an’ my dreams, and my studies, a’ fashion
Themsel’s to the image o’ Jeanie McNair.
Thy “mild ebon een” and “silken eye-lashes” are celebrated here in no unworthy strains, Oh Jeanie of our poet’s song, whoe’er thou art! Verily, many a maid might envy the honour of such enthusiastic verse. His MS., which we are led to understand is on the eve of publication by a Glasgow house, embraces many effusions, similar and of equal merit, which cannot fail to catch the ear, and be wedded to appropriate airs.
Mr Gray essays, in his more ambitious efforts, to sing in the dialect of the Saxon south—perhaps with less success. A poem of some length, written in the graceful measure of Wordsworth’s “Leech Gatherer” will satisfy such as can appreciate a happy story of Arcadian love sweetly told. It is too long for publication in your columns. Scurrilous critics may descry some faults of style in the subjoined—a production, nevertheless, of considerable quiet beauty:—
A MORNING SALUTATION.
Like lily leaves, her pearly lids, blue-veined,
Are held by sleep o’er deepest violet eyes,
While dreams, the most enrapturing ever strained
To bosom, lift her to Love’s paradise.
Give me to strew fresh flowerets in her room—
Wild thyme, where fragrance lives like melody;
Primroses pale, the musk rose damask bloom,
And honeysuckle twining amorously.
And when her bosom riseth in the swell
Of softest dreams, and lips are slightly parted,
Breathing sweet fragrance forth, this lay I’ll tell,
That like a beam from Love’s dear star hath darted:—
“Awake, my fair, awake! the tell-tale sun
Hath counted every dewdrop on the lawn;
A thousand songful beings have begun,
In joy, to glorify the rosy dawn.
“Awake, my fair! the flower-enamelled grove
Is breathing out its incense, like to prayers;
While the loud universal lay of love
Into the inmost soul melts unawares.
“Awake, my peerless! I have woven for thee
A floral chaplet, passing rich and rare,
Of crimson-spotted cowslips, which the bee,
On limber pinions, seeks with earnest care.
“Awake, the only image of my thought!
For I am bold a hidden tale to con;
With love-lorn schemes my spirit now is fraught,
That must be acted e’er the day be done.
“Awake in beauty! and in pity, smile,
O goddess! on they ravished worshipper!
I kneel, in veriest rapture, e’en the while,
O maid divine, thou fillest all the air.
“Awake, O fairest of the very fair!
For I am bold my page of love to con;
And though thou haughty art, yet I shall dare
To love and hope—a new Endymion.”
I am informed that Mr Gray is a native of Merkland, a small village in the vicinity, and is at present engaged in this city in the pursuit of an arduous profession. An enthusiast in the love of the beautiful and true, I am rejoiced to perceive he has not considered it necessary to neglect the no less chastening, real, and the practical, whence, indeed, the fanciful must ever spring. His revels on Helicon—revels, indeed, under such circumstances—are held chiefly as a means of relaxation from the harsh but lesson-laden duties which the “Immortal Theory in the Immortal System of Human Life and Death” sanctifies and enforces. He is very young—little more than a boy—having not long ago witnessed the advent of his nineteenth summer. Yet already has he essayed to put on the robe of the man—that robe of purest and firmest texture—and to walk forth in perfect peace and perfect love through the shadow-subdued avenues of manly strength!
A word or two in conclusion. I have hopes for Mr Gray, which I fervently trust he will not disappoint. I think he is sensible enough to exercise his powers discreetly. He will carefully prune his poetic wings, and take my welcome—it were perhaps as well—in a qualified sense. One-third of our promising young poets are quenched by egotism; another by undue haste. Mr Gray will enter the ranks of the still surviving tri-part, and accept my comment and advice—extended in all good-will—with that good sense which his own heart has taught him to appreciate and to exercise.
The Glasgow Sentinel (6 February, 1858 - p.6)
“Life is dreary,
And I am a-weary,
In wandering on without thee, Mary.”
How come the rosy seasons and depart?—
I gnaw my simple grief;
Around the wheel of fate my withered heart
Is flapping like a leaf.
Sweet Spring, glad Summer, clap young hands in mirth,
Smiles Autumn, chaste in flowers;
Dear Winter gossips at a happy hearth—
I weigh the heavy hours.
Sweet hints of fragrant Paradise enshrine
The universe of life—
I dare be sad, and, mocking the divine,
Gloat o’er my inner strife.
Dreaming and dreaming on my darling’s tomb,
I pray to be forgiven,
If, while all Nature smiles, I sit in gloom
And turn weak eyes to Heaven.
Feb. 2, 1858. ROBT. W. BUCHANAN.
The Glasgow Sentinel (20 February, 1858 - p.6)
THE BALLAD OF THE LADY IMOGENE.
BY ROBT. W. BUCHANAN.
“Think of her tenderly,
Gently and humanly,
Not of the stains of her.”—HOOD.
NIGHT of silence, Night of shadows,
Bird-like, brooded o’er the meadows,
Brooded o’er the misty meadows,
O’er the meadows huge and sober—
Leaves were surging in the west,
Passion surging in thy breast,
Surging as you nestled, fair one,
Nestled, rich one, nestled, rare one,
’Mid the dark and dim October—
Nature’s one surviving blossom,
Blooming very fair, I ween—
Nestled sweet in Hesper’s bosom,
Rare Imogene, fair Imogene,
Regretting, fretting Imogene!—
Grew glorious as the hidden far lands,
As the twinkling, tender star-lands
In the light,
In the virgin light you spread
O’er the solitary dead,
O’er the church-sward, softly green—
Glory round your midnight head,
Through the dim and grassy grove,
Spirit-laden zephyrs rove,
Breathing lowly, whispers holy,
Fraught with melancholy love!
Trembles the silent and silver light
From the starry brow of the dusky Night,
From the gentle gems of the dreaming Night,
Down-a-down to the scented Earth,
Where the elfins are sitting in faerie mirth—
Sitting, the pigmy revellers old,
The sylvan revels of Pan to hold,
Merry amid the boisterous bowers,
Bright’ning the desolate hearts of the hours
Rare Imogene, fair Imogene,
Regretting, fretting Imogene!—
Rich tears, I trow, did trickle down,
And you wore a sad half-frown,
As you waited, fair, alone,
Waited by the grey, grim stone—
Where the buried lordlings lie—
Earthlings ’neath a scornful sky;
Tender tear-drops trickled slow—
But a very smile, I trow,
Lit pale cheek and marble brow,
As he leapt,
Leapt o’er bush and grim grey stone,
To the silver sward and lone,
’Mid the mellow graves and lone,
As an arm around thee crept,
And a shadow bathed the green,
And a welcoming shower of delight you wept,
Scion of a noble line,
Lordling of the lordly eye,
In the soft and sad moonshine,
Melancholy mad moonshine,
Spurred and booted tall he stood,
Rich in proud patrician blood,
Half in love and half in pride,
Beneath thy glances deified,
Darkly at thy tremulous side,
At thy frail and passionate side—
Half the virgin light was gone
Round thy virgin head that shone,
O’er thy dim and midnight head,
Sadder, sombre radiance spread—
Angels weep, grey Night, I ween,
For the quick and for the dead!—
Dream of a polluted bed,
Pale Imogene, frail Imogene,
Regretting, fretting Imogene!
Where the maiden radiance holy
That defied thy melancholy,
Saintly, glorious melancholy?
Nobly bred and nobly born,
Imogene, the garb of scorn
Scattered on thy soul forlorn,
Saintly countenance forlorn?
Where the icy look you wore
Eighteen Autumns, fair, and more?
Where the cold but spotless heart,
Cold in Nature, cold in Art,
Marble Nature, marble Art?—
Icy cold and icy fair.
Smileless empress debonaire—
When the lady moon did lean
From her pale ephemeral car,
In the dusky heaven afar,
Envied of each star—
As you hungered for the years,
Fair Imogene, rare Imogene,
Regretting, fretting Imogene—
Where the shadow at the side,
In the Autumn evening sober?
By the wooed and bedded bride,
Sanctified and wedded bride,
Where the long and melting eye
Fired in lust’s own ecstacy?—
Standest thou alone and weeping,
Where the flowers are sweetly sleeping,
In their own life-radiance sleeping,
Shadow on the church sward green,
Cloudlet on the silvery green,
Where the leaflets sere are leaping,
And the steeple’s phantom creeping,
Where the yew o’er the hall of the dead is weeping,
By the dimly mantled yew,
Up the shadowy avenue,
Softly sombre avenue,
Curtain of the slumb’ring rooks—
Shuddering at thine own foot-fall,
To the solitary hall;
Where the phosphent beams like brooks
Overflowed the silver lawn,
Solitary, southern lawn,
And the light serenely fell
Softly over pane and sill!
Gliding through the vine-hugged porch,
Dewy brow and brain a-scorch,
Sorry thoughts are thine, I ween,
Thoughts that choke the passionate breath,
Paint thy cheek with snowy Death,
* * * * * *
Weeping and creeping and weeping for ever,
On to the bosom of ocean, river!
Silver and sad through thine ancient glades,
Where the wild-wind sighs like a human soul,
Where the willow weeps and the summer fades,
To the arms of eternal ocean roll!
Where the leaflets laugh in the dreary moon,
Where the black bat cries and the owlet roves,
And the nightingale wakens an hour too soon,
River! roll on through thy silent groves,
Gently and tenderly bear her, river,
Home to the arms of the parent sea—
Hush! she is dreaming, and dreaming for ever,
Rock’d on the breast of Eternitie!
Fair as the mere in the night that smiles,
Gentle and gentle—a tender clod!—
Pale as the argent round Eastern Isles,
Thy burthen bear to the arms of God.
The Glasgow Sentinel (27 March, 1858 - p.6)
A LOVE LYRIC.
ALAS! say not that gentle eyes
Beam wi’ deceitful splendour—
I’d fain believe the blue, blue skies
And woman’s spirit tender.
There blooms a flower by Willie’s Howe,
Wha, gin she’s blest wi’ ony,
Has maiden wealth—a bosom fine,
And face as blythe as bonny
Full famed her een o’ pawky blue
For tender, tender slaughter—
Her snaw-white breast micht gar the mou’
O’ anchorite to water.
Her tender form, her smilefu’ face,
Micht deck some sweetest fairy—
An’, emblem dear o’ native grace,
Fond luve has named her—Mary!
O gin thou wert the lady moon
Yon wand’rin’ luves beguilin’,
Thou wert a sorry, feckless loon
Gin then thoud’st doubt her smilin’.
O had the forest’s leafy wa’s
Reveal’d their fervid story,
I ween thoud’st deem her less than fause,
An’ mair than maiden glory!
Religion sweet o’ gentle eyes,
A heart o’ luve I render—
She bids me deem the blue, blue skies,
An’ woman’s spirit tender.
ROBT. W. BUCHANAN.
I have not found the first two articles in this series on ‘Poets and Poetry’. Either they appeared before 1858, or perhaps they were never published at all. Buchanan returned to the subject of Herrick in the essay, ‘Robert Herrick, Poet and Divine’ which was published in the January 1861 edition of Temple Bar, an edited version of which was included in his first book of essays, David Gray and other Essays, chiefly on poetry published in 1868.
The Glasgow Sentinel (24 July, 1858 - p.6)
POETS AND POETRY.
POETRY is separated by a bright distinguishing line from ordinary language, inasmuch as it not only appropriates to itself the choicest forms of speech, but also the additional graces of metrical harmony. There is thus acquired a power peculiar to poetry in comparison with other compositions, for it is enabled to address itself to man’s natural susceptibility to the beauty of the regular succession of harmonious sounds, and thus music is brought into alliance. It has been frequently suggested that the most ancient poets were led to adopt a metrical form, to enable their hearers, in a barbarous age, more easily to recollect their compositions. If poetry were like the familiar rhymes employed to call the number of days in each month, the theory might be true; but, otherwise, it seems to me rather a shallow one. The truth lies deeper—in influences exercised over the heart by sound, when controlled by principles of harmony, and consequently concurrent and subsidiary to the aims of true poetry. Besides, the poet, speaking better thoughts and better feelings through the minds of men, instinctively seeks, as their appropriate garb, a better language and a better music. The pure heart of poetry needs the voice of the purest and most graceful forms of language. To this poet, Robert Herrick, English verse owes some of its musical metrical arrangements.
In the matter of family, Robert Herrick could show a tree as ancient and as richly blazoned as any that hung in the halls of the Devonshire squires who patronised him. The original stock had been early settled in Leicestershire, asserting its descent from one Eric the Wild, who had held the Marches of Wales against the advancing conqueror. About the middle of the sixteenth century, Nicholas and William Herrick, two brothers of the race, had settled in the metropolis as goldsmiths and jewellers; and, previously or subsequently to this, Nicholas led to the hymeneal altar Julian, daughter of William Stone, of Segentroe, in Berkshire. Robert, fourth fruit of their union, came into the world in 1591, exactly twelve months ere the worthy citizen, his sire, broke his loyal neck by a fall from an upper window of his house in Cheapside. Thanks to the kind heart of their uncle, William Herrick—who had been distinguished by both Elizabeth and James, the latter of whom made him his principal jeweller, and on Easter Tuesday, 1605, bestowed upon him the honour of knighthood for his skill in piercing a certain great diamond—his numerous family were cared for comfortably. In 1615 Robert was entered a commoner of St John’s, Cambridge, and, after a lapse of three years, quitted the university with the degree of M.A. Having taken holy orders, he was in 1629 presented by Charles I. to the living of Dean’s Prior, in Devonshire. He was then in his thirty-eighth year, and without the means of independent support. But, although the certainty thus afforded him might have been agreeable enough, with feelings far from akin to pleasant he set out for the country, where, to use the words of Luce in Beaumont’s comedy, “No old charneco is, nor no anchovies, nor Maister Such-a-one to meet at the ‘Rose.’”
Herrick describes his parishioners in much the same way as Crabbe portrayed the natives of Suffolk—among whom he was cast in early life—as “a wild amphibious race,” rude almost as “salvages,” and “churlish as the seas.” Twenty long and very dull years, no doubt, withal, passed in this sequestered locality, in which one or two rough Devonshire “squirelets” were his solitary associates. Trammelled in clerical leading strings, and yearning haply for the convivial romance of the city, we envy thee not thy nights and days, poor jovial Bob; and with a thrill of delight, indeed, we presently hear of thy ejection. In 1648 he shared the fate of the clergy who refused to take the Covenant, and was expelled from his living.
To London Herrick immediately upon this bent his steps; and the geniality of his inspired soul taught him to bear the “whips and scorns” of Mistress Fortune with composure. The merriest of Herrick’s days had at length arrived, and, admitted to the society of the most eminent literati and wits of his day, Bob was in his element.
O merriest assemblage!—glorious indeed in these days of moral pocket-handkerchiefs and flannel waistcoats to look upon—rich in thy Drayton, thy Carew, thy Selden, with Ben Jonson—Ben the bravest and most rare—as thy president, thy sacer vates! Supported by the wealthy Royalists here, Bob quaffed the “mighty bowl,” and “throve” in “convivial frenzy;” and, honi soit qui mal y pense, many years after in his solitary western vicarage he delighted to return in memory to these “brave translunary scenes” and “days of glorious life:”—
Say how or when
Shall we, thy guests,
Meet at those lyrick feasts
Made at the Sun,
The Dog, the Triple Tun,—
Where we such clusters had
As made us nobly wild, not mad.
And yet each verse of thine
Out-did the meat, out-did the frolick wine.”
After the Restoration, Herrick was replaced in his Devonshire living. Farewell for ever, Bob, to the noctes cœnaeque Deum! Thou art, probably, tired of canary, sack, and tavern jollities. Amid the green fields, and beneath the blue heaven, it is thine to mingle in melodious verse the glories of creation with the passions of thy merrier years. Farewell, convivial frenzy; and welcome the chaste delight of solitude and contemplation. Go! for even among the “rude salvages” and “auld warld” poetry of Dean Prior, shalt thou complete a benevolent immortality!
With emotions akin to the most mournful, nevertheless, did Herrick bid adieu to his metropolitan haunts. But inherent in his nature lay an undoubted relish for the pleasures of a country life, and his day glided not by so wearily after all. Here lived a certain Sir Edward Giles, who had fought in the low countries for Queen Bess, and had long represented the town of Totnes in Parliament, “taking care,” says prince, “he gave to Cæsar the things which were Cæsar’s, and to the country the things which were the country’s.” His house was ever thronged with a succession of visitors—
“My good dame she
Bade all be free,
And drink to their heart’s desiring.”
It was here that he found in perfection all those old ceremonies and customs, for a trace of which we should now for the most part look in vain, even in out-of-the-world Devonshire. His “Thanksgiving for his House” supplies us with a picture of his domestic condition:—
Lord, thou hast given me a cell
Wherein to dwell;
A little house, whose humble roof
Under the spars of which I lie
Both soft and dry.
Where Thou, my chamber for to ward,
Hast set a guard
Of harmless thoughts, to watch and keep
Me while I sleep.
Low is my porch, as is my fate,
Both void of state;
And yet the threshold of my door
Is worn by the poor,
Who hither come, and freely get
Good words or meat.
Like as my parlour, so my hall,
And kitchen small;
A little buttery, and therein
A little bin,
Which keeps my little loaf of bread
Some brittle sticks of thorn or brier
Make me a fire,
Close by whose living coal I sit,
And glow like it.
Lord, I confess too, when I dine,
The pulse is Thine,
And all those other bits that be
There placed by Thee.
The worts, the purslain, and the mess
Which of Thy kindness Thou hast sent;
And my content
Makes those, and my beloved beet,
To be more sweet.
’Tis Thou that crown’st my glittering hearth
With guiltless mirth;
And giv’st me wassail bowls to drink,
Spiced to the brink.
Lord, ’tis Thy plenty-dropping hand
That sows my land:
All this, and better, dost Thou send
Me for this end:
That I should render for my part
A thankful heart.
Here it must have been, moreover, that his “florid and witty discourse” recommended him to the friendship and especial consideration of the west country dignities. “Robert Herrick Vicker,” says the register, “was buried the 15th day of October, 1674.” Non ubi nascor, sed ubi pascor, is Fuller’s rule for distributing his worthies, and Herrick must be contented with the mark of the Devonshire flock. His “sometime” parish may well be proud of having matured one who has obtained a lasting, though it may not be a very lofty place among the illustrious company of British poets.
In the poetry of Herrick we meet with strains as light in their movement as fancy ever danced to; but in him we meet also with one of the genuine endowments, infinitely different, indeed, in its degrees—the faculty of imagination. It would be strangely interpreting God’s scheme in the government of the world, did we suppose this mighty power was bestowed for no other than the pitiful offices often deemed its distinctive functions. It has more precious trusts than the production of tawdry romances or sentimental novels. The very existence of imagination is a proof that it is an agency which may be improved to our good, or neglected and abused to our harm. Even if it were beyond our comprehension to conceive how it may be auxiliary to humanity, it would be no more than a simple impulse of faith to feel that, so surely as it is an element implanted in our nature, it is there to be nurtured and strengthened by thoughtful exercise. But we are not left to the strenuous effort of implicit faith; for the purposes of the endowment are manifold and multifarious. It has been well demanded, “To what end have we been endowed with the creative faculty of the imagination, which, glancing from heaven to earth, vivifies what to the eye seems lifeless, and actuates what to the eye seems torpid, combines and harmonises what to the eye seems broken and disjointed, and infuses a soul, with thought and feeling, into the multitudinous fleeting phantasmagoria of the senses? To what end have we been so richly endowed, unless—as the prime object and appointed task of the reason is to detect and apprehend the laws by which the Almighty Lawsgiver upholds and ordains the world which He has created—it be in like manner the province and duty of the imagination to employ itself diligently in perusing and studying the symbolical characters, wherewith God has engraven the revelations of his goodness on the interminable scroll of the visible universe?” Half the refutation will often be the mere discovery of its origin. There is confusion of mind on one point. I allude to the very common and superficial error of identifying poetry with verse. That verse—the melody of metre and rhyme—is the appropriate diction of true poetry (its outward garb) is perfectly true; and then it is nothing more than the outward form—it is the dress and not the body or the soul of poetry. Very far am I from entertaining those principles of criticism which recognise as poetry imaginative composition divested of metrical expression, which I deem its natural and essential form. But, then, there may be the form without the appropriate substance. The idea of poetry comprehends verse, but there may be verse without a ray of poetry; and to suppose that dexterity in versifying alone implies the endowment of a poet’s powers is much the same confusion of thought as to think that a military cloak makes a soldier or an ecclesiastical vestment a priest. Thought, whether uttered in prose or verse, may undergo no change with the change of the outward fashion. When verse is mistaken for poetry discredit is brought on the latter, because it is very well known that the making of verse looking indeed very like poetry is within the power of the shallowest intellect. It may be the merest mechanism conceivable. To place the mere versifier in the same category with the genuine poet is the gross fallacy of giving to the butterfly, the bat, and the winged insect brotherhood with the dove and the eagle. It is a false affinity, from which true imagination has always revolted. The classical student will, on a moment’s reflection, recall the feelings in this particular of more than one of the Roman satirists.
Again, the luscious harmony of Herrick’s versification is unrivalled, and the whole is pervaded by a spirit of warm and passionate susceptibility, which, if the sterner reader will persist in calling sensual, yet it is a sensuality there so refined, there so natural, so engaging, as to look almost like innocence—her first cousin at farthest. Nevertheless, there was a natural coarseness in Herrick’s mind, which shows itself every now and then in his best verses. It has gone far to spoil his fairy poems, notwithstanding their quaint fancifulness; and I cannot help thinking that any claim of cousinhood advanced by his elfin court would certainly be disregarded by the Dartmoor “pixies,” or the Scottish “gude neighbours.” The mass of his amatory poems are not less marked by a thorough vulgarity; and yet a single “Night-piece to Julia” ought to weigh heavily on the other side. The music of the sweetness of Moore’s melodies does not surpass in modulation the verses so entitled:—
“Her eyes the glow-worm lend thee;
The shooting stars attend thee;
And the elves also,
Whose little eyes glow
Like the sparks of fire, befriend thee.
“No Will-o’-the-wisp mislight thee,
Nor snake or glow-worm bite thee;
But on thy way,
Not making a stay,
Since ghost there is none to affright thee.
“Let not the dark thee cumber;
What tho’ the moon doth slumber?
The stars of the night
Will lend thee their light,
Their tapers clear without number.
“Then, Julia, let me woo thee,
Thus, thus, to come unto me;
And when I shall meet
Thy silvery feet,
My soul I will pour into thee.”
What, in its way, can be more pleasing than the merry moralising in what are, perhaps, his best-known lines:—
Gather the rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying,
And this same flower that smiles to-day,
To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the Sun,
The higher he’s a getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But, being spent, the worse, and worst
Time shall succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.
Among the poems of Herrick, I find two songs, happy, perhaps, as any similar efforts in the language. A sentiment was never more fancifully and beautifully expressed than when, for instance, in the spirit of true pathos, he sings his melodious lay:—
Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
And yet the early-rising sun
Has not attained his noon:
Until the hast’ning day
But to the even-song;
And, having prayed together, we
Will go with you along!
We have short time to stay as you;
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you or anything:
As your hours do; and dry
Like to the summer’s rain,
Or as the pearls of morning-dew,
Ne’er to be found again.
And what, for pensive moral feeling, combined with lively conceit and imagery, may equal the subjoined:—
Fair pledges of a fruitful tree,
Why do you fall so fast?
Your date is not so past,
But you may stay yet here awhile,
To blush and gently smile,
And go at last.
What! were ye born to be
An hour or half’s delight,
And so to bid good-night?
’Tis pity nature brought ye forth,
Merely to shew your worth,
And lose you quite.
But you are lovely leaves, where we
May read how soon things have
Their end, though ne’er so brave;
And after they have shewn their pride,
Like you awhile, they glide
Into the grave.
TO CORINNA, TO GO A MAYING.
Get up, get up for shame, the blooming morn
Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
See how Aurora throwes her fair
Fresh-quilted colours through the air;
Get up sweet slug-a-bed and see
The dew-bespangling herb and tree.
Each flower has wept, and bowed toward the east,
Above an hour since, yet you not drest,
Nay, not so much as out of bed;
When all the birds have matins said,
And sung their thankful hymns: ’tis sin,
Nay, profanation, to keep in,
When as a thousand virgins on this day,
Spring sooner than the lark to fetch in May.
Rise; and put on your foliage, and be seen
To come forth, like the spring-time, fresh and green,
And sweet as Flora. Take no care
For jewels for your gown or hair;
Fear not; the leaves will strew
Gems in abundance upon you;
Besides, the childhood of the day has kept,
Against you come, some orient pearls unwept.
Come, and receive them while the light
Hangs on the dew-locks of the night:
And Titan on the eastern hill
Retires himself, or else stands still
Till you come forth. Wash, dress, be brief in praying;
Few beads are best when once we go a Maying.
Come, my Corinna, come; and, coming, mark
How each field turns a street; each street a park
Made green, and trimmed with trees; see how
Devotion gives each house a bough,
Or branch; each porch, each door, ere this,
An ark, a tabernacle is,
Made up of white thorn neatly interwove;
As if here were those shades of cooler love,
Can such delights be in the street
And open fields, and we not see’t?
Come, we’ll abroad, and let’s obey
The proclamation made for May;
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying,
But, my Corinna, let’s go a Maying.
In examining a poet’s character, there is a consideration not to be overlooked, to wit, how far his natural endowments have been cultivated by a study of the principles of his art, as exemplified in the approved productions of his predecessors. This cultivation no one—no matter what may be his native gifts—can venture to despise; indeed, the greater his powers, the more valuable is such discipline, for it seems to chasten and to strengthen, without the peril of sterility of imitation. Every one of the greatest poets in our language, holding an independent and majestic attitude of originality, yet deemed it a worthy thing to study with a docile spirit the inspiration of the mighty bards who had gone before. To the formation of Herrick’s character this cultivation was singularly conducive. Among the plays and masks of Shakspere and Jonson did he find such exquisite snatches of lyrical melody as served for models of the highest excellence. Carew and Suckling, moreover, had preceded him. Perhaps his knowledge derived from books was no more than the casual light reading of a gentleman ordinarily accomplished; but even such habits of thought were calculated to invigorate his intellectual or imaginative faculties.
No portrait of Herrick is known to exist. Our only knowledge of his personal appearance is derived from the engraving by Marshall, on the title-page of his “Hesperides,” and this is far from attractive. The eye alone, large and prominent, seems to mark the poet. He tells us himself, however, that he was “mop-eyed,” near-sighted, and that he had lost a finger.
R. W. B.
Robert Buchanan and The Glasgow Sentinel - continued