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Where pure content my soul may bless
That mental feast to courts unknown ;
This sketch is from the “Poetical Sketches” of Alaric A. Watts. It is needless to say that it is a sketch of great sublimity, and that the beauty of the images are of that poetic character which is more easily felt than described. We do not think, however, that the “ black smoke" rolling down the side of “Cuma's height” can philosophically be said to produce “artificial darkness.” Whatever is produced by natural causes cannot be the effect of art, in the production of which man must be always an agent. In one sense, however, we admit that the darkness was not natural, if by natural we mean only effects proceeding from the fixed and general laws of nature; but we think the term equally applicable to effects arising from particular inversions of these laws, where there is no cooperation of man in producing the effect. We would also object to “ towns and villages deserted of their habitants.” Johnson, indeed, has marked no difference between habitants and inhabitants ; but we think the latter is applied, and properly too, by all correct writers, to those who reside in some particular place. We say a habitant of the earth, but an inhabitant of a village, Crabb has taken no notice of these words in his Synonymes, but we believe the distinction we have made ought to be observed by every writer stu
dious of propriety. These, however, are mere verbal inaccuracies, and
He who expects a faultless piece to see,
Expects what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be. We must confess, however, we feel a certain grating sensation whenever we meet the adjective “fitful,” and the adverb derived from it ; not that we find it always misapplied, but that it is one of those hacknied words which are continually obtruding themselves upon our perhaps too fastidious ears. We believe it would be difficult to find a poem, however short, proceeding from the pen of any inferior writer, within the last half dozen years, in which this and a tribe of other epithets, which we shall occasionally notice, do not occur, particularly where external nature is described. The term is a happy one when properly applied ; but we do not think the writer a very happy one, who is obliged to have recourse to it continually, because he can only do so by imitating those pedantic writers of the seventeenth century, and their predecessors, who were continually deviating from their subject to introduce some Greek or Latin quotation. That an unjust prejudice has been excited against the use of these quotations, and that their discontinuance in consequence of this prejudice is a serious evil, are truths of which we have long felt convinced. The use of quotations from foreign languages is now considered a mark of pedantry, as if English literature contained in itself every thing necessary to elucidate or confirm the arguments of a writer. Nothing can be more absurd. The works produced by English writers on subjects of general literature, philosophy, and metaphysics, though very numerous, are far, very far from affording all that knowledge, and satisfying all those doubts which are apt to suggest themselves to discriminating and analyzing minds. Hence it is, that in the Manuel du Libraire, published a few years ago in Paris, containing a catalogue of all works of merit on general subjects of literature, from all languages, not one work in twenty is selected from the English, though it is certain, at the same time, that every work of merit which this country has produced is to be found in this catalogue. How absurd is it, then, to suppose that our domestic literature, or what is boastingly called our national literature, contains every thing necessary to satisfy an enquiring mind. That quotations from other languages were in too common request about one hundred years ago, and for many centuries before, and that the writers of the time went purposely in search of these quotations, by which they were obliged to deviate from their subject in order to make room for them, cannot be doubted; but it is equally certain that he who rejects them where they obviously present themselves, and are suggested by the subject, lest he should appear pedantic, yields to a false and effeminate taste, and leaves his readers unconvinced, where he might have convinced them had he supported his arguments by writers of the first authority. In general, all extremes in literature are equally dangerous; and it is difficult to say whether Cobbett or Montaigne are most in fault. In the former we never meet with a classical quotation, not even an allusion to the classics ; in the latter we forget the writer's arguments and subject altogether, our attention is so frequently diverted from them by quotations from ancient and contemporary writers. Both these extremes are equally vicious, and equally to be avoided by every writer of good taste. There is a certain limit quem ultra citraque requit consistere rectum. He who can observe this medium in all things, has little to fear from the false taste, false morality, or false philosophy of the age in which he lives. If unmixed happiness has any residence upon earth, it can only dwell in the bosom of such an individual.
It was a lovely night : the crescent moon, (A bark of beauty on its dark blue sea) Winning its way amid the billowy clouds, Unoar'd, unpiloted, moved on. The sky
Was studded thick with stars, which glitt'ring stream'd
Darkness arose, and volumed clouds swept o'er Earth and the ocean. Through the gloom, at times, Sicilian Etna's blood-red flame was seen Fitfully flickering. The stillness now Yielded to murmurs hurtling on the air, From out her deep-voiced crater; and the winds Burst through their bonds of adamant, and lash'd The weltering ocean, that so lately lay Calm as the slumbers of a cradled child, To a demoniac's madness. The broad wave Swell’d into boiling surges, which appear’d, Whene'er the mountain's lurid light reveal'd Their progress to the eye, presumptuously To dash against the ebon roof of heaven. Then came a sound,-a fearful deafʼning sound, Sudden and loud, as if an earthquake rent The globe to its foundations; with a rush, Startling deep midnight on her throne, rose up,
From the red mouth of Etna's burning mount, A giant tree of fire, whence sprouted out Thousands of boundless branches, which put forth Their fiery foliage in the sky, and shower'd Their fruit, the red-hot levin, to the earth, In terrible profusion. Some fell back Into the hell from whence they sprang, and some, Gaining an impulse from the winds that raged Unceasingly around, sped o'er the main, And, hissing, dived to an eternal home, Beneath its yawning billows. The black smoke, Blotting the snows that shroud chill Cuma's height, Roll'd down the mountain's sides, girding its base With artificial darkness, for the sea, Catania's palaces and towers, and even The far off shores of Syracuse, revealed In the deep glare that deluged heaven and earth, Flash'd forth in fearful light upon the eye. And there was seen a lake of liquid fire Streaming and streaming slowly on its course, And widening as it flow'd, like the dread jaws Of some huge monster ere its prey be fang'd. At its approach the loftiest pines bent down, And strew'd its surface with their trunks ;—the earth Shook at its coming; towns and villages, Deserted of their habitants, were whelm'd Amid the flood, and lent it ampler force. The noble's palace, and the peasant's cot, Alike but served to swell its fiery tide. Shrieks of wild anguish rush'd upon the gale; And universal Nature seem'd to wrestle With the giant forms of Darkness and Despair.