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Thus the poem proceeds. Tresillian, a lover of Sibyl, appears on the scene, but it is only to part, until the end is brought about under a better aspect than was anticipated. There are episodes introduced by the author, which seem foreign to the purpose, or perhaps he introduced them to aid in effect, that relative to Egypt appearing somewhat out of place. On the whole, there are no less than fifteen cantos, if they may be so called; brief, it is true; and, with some trivial irregularities in authorship, exhibiting much poetical genius, and a strong degree of local attachment, pure feeling, and, as well, considerable power over the language. As before remarked, there is too much natural description in place of concentrated human action-we mean too much for the insensibility of the time to justness of feeling and pure nature, though the descriptions show not only fidelity to nature, but an affection for its aspects and a knowledge of them, both rare in the present day, which is not the author's fault.
Of the other poems, the Land's End, the theme of many a poetical description even before an immortal pen wrote,
Where the great vision of the guarded mount
to the humbler praises of the modern muse.
styled, too, and long styled:
Bolerium, seat of storms.
The Land's End
The one a scene of poetic and religious celebrity, on the summit of which, arrayed in celestial glory, sat the archangel, Michael, and a grander seat this island could scarcely afford; the other a wonderful scene of sublimity. Each has an offering in the present volume, from which we have not space to quote satisfactorily. The "Seasons of Youth," the "Evening of Life," the "Dream of a London Seamstress," which last recals Hood's verses on a similar subject; "Woman's Love," hymn to the "Rising Sun," and a number of shorter pieces; these complete a volume which exhibits-albeit the writer may not have studied the "ungentle art of criticism". -a strong affection for the muse and equal power of execution.
The advantage to one so well able to display his poetical talents of a close study of our better and older poets, whose fame has become fixed, must be obvious to himself, and we recommend it. The great models for such studies are now become of the past, and fixed for ever. The present writer, with a fertile fancy and quick imagination, with a love of the muse evidently for her own sake, with strong evidence of purity of morals amid his faithfulness of description, and in the honest desire of notoriety, cannot do better than keep himself under the best of guides by studying those models, and avoiding the flaunting fashions and capricious opinions
of those ephemeral schools which at present assume so much with so little of honest merit-a merit very easily tested. The author will not imagine that the assumption of the day will be any guide to himself, for he is evidently above that feeling or desire. Nature, it appears, has been his teacher, and she rarely forsakes those who trust to her.
The tomes of rhyme and no rhyme, of vague verse run mad, and of prose assuming to be poetry, are peculiarities of the passing hour. Condensation and passion, sensibility of feeling, and an enlarged measure of knowledge, can only qualify that man for a poet whose ambition it is to become, on that account, in his works, a legacy to future generations. The present virtue of this writer's poetry shows no slight insight into nature, and no inconsiderable knowledge of her workings in the human mind. It shows that regard for the upright and the beautiful in the social body, which pleads highly and well for the power and feeling of the good and holy, socially speaking. Here we take leave of an author whose mind and undoubted genius justify the expectation, that the future will enable him to produce something yet more worthy of the "Rocky Land of Strangers"-of the land renowned from him of whom all Europe once rang from side to side-the chief of the Seven Champions, who, with his companions of the Round Table, are so mingled up in the chant of "fierce war and faithful love.' Mr. Michell was right to select his themes from those romantic shores, endeared to him as the land of his nativity; and had his pocms no merit but that, they would derive from it some degree of note, for there is virtue in names, as has long been said. Had the author, then, no merit but this, it would redound to his honour in a day when low ideas and grovelling pursuits lead so many to paint the great world unworthily by the mean in their aspirations. He is not wanting in the selection of worthy themes, and in the carrying them out. Too few feel pleasure in contemplating the gist, or are elevated enough in mind to enjoy, as a part of their amusement or contemplation during an idle hour, those delicious dreams and fancies which flit "in light visions round the poet's head," when they are unaffected and truthful to
Here we must take leave of the author and of " Sibyl" until some fresh effort of his pen at a future time again bid us return "to some new flight of fancy" spread out by him before us, "one and all," to quote his county motto, though we hardly need to repeat here how often our pages have been indebted to the offspring of his vivid imagination.
By her own account, and on her ipse divit as a veracious historian-the dignity of history being above feminine foibles on the score of age-Anna Comnena was born on the first day of December, Anno Domini 1083. At thirteen-while the first Crusaders were all astir-she was, in Gibbon's phrase "nubile,' and perhaps married to the younger Nicephorus Bryennius, whom she fondly styles her own Casar — τὸν ἐμὸν Κάισαρκα. "Some moderns have imagined that her enmity to Bohemond was the fruit of disappointed love."* So writes-italicizing the sheer imagination of the mare's-nest moderns-the historian of the Roman Empire in its decline and fall, in whose history the reign of Alexius Comnenus, as narrated by his august daughter in the "Alexiad," occupies a prominent place. Of the "Alexiad" itself, and of its enthusiastic authoress, Mr. Gibbon remarks, in one place, that Anna's "partial" accounts of the transactions of Constantinople and Nice may be opposed to the partiality of the Latins; but that in their subsequent exploits she is brief and ignorant. In another, he incidentally observes that the general knowledge of the age may be deduced from the example of "two learned females," the Empress Eudocia and the Princess Anna Comnena (poor empress, and poor princess, to be called "females" by a classical historian!)-who, meaning the two "females" aforesaid, "cultivated in the purple, the arts of rhetoric and philosophy." He allows that Anna may boast of her Greek style; and that Zonaras, her contemporary, but not her flatterer, may ascribe to her with truth an almost Attic turn of speech. From her preface to the "Alexiad," with Ducange's notes, it is also made apparent that the princess was conversant with the artful dialogues of Plato; and had studied the Terpakтùs, or quadrivium of astrology, geometry, arithmetic, and music.† Glorious John has told us that
Two of a house few ages can afford,
a couplet which, could it have been ante-dated by some six centuries, Anna would have appropriated as pertaining in its significance, by quite particular applicability or private interpretation, to her empurpled Sire and her born-in-the-purple Self. Both Alexius and Anna have been popularised to light readers by the failing
* Gibbon, Roman Empire, ch. lviii., notes.
pen of the worn-out author of " Waverley"-whose history, in this case, is better than his romance. Let us glance at his portraiture of the princess.
The first glimpse we have of Anna Comnena in Scott's historical fiction, is where she is seated, the queen and sovereign of a literary circle, such as an imperial princess, porphyrogenita, or born in the sacred purple chamber itself, could assemble in those days. She is described as having the bright eyes, straight features, and pleasing manners, which all would have allowed to the emperor's daughter, even if she could not have been, with severe truth, said to have possessed them. She is placed upon a small bench, or sofa, the fair sex not being permitted to recline, as was the fashion of the Roman ladies. A table before her is loaded with books, plants, herbs, and drawings. She sits on a slight elevation, and those who enjoy the intimacy of the princess, or to whom she may wish to speak in particular, are allowed, during such sublime colloquy, to rest their knees on the little daïs, or elevated place where her chair finds its station, in a posture half standing, half kneeling.
A chair similar to her own, in size and position, is appropriated to her husband, Nicephorus Bryennius, who "was said to affect the greatest respect for his wife's erudition, though the courtiers were of opinion he would have liked to absent himself from her evening parties more frequently than was particularly agreeable to the Princess Anna and her imperial parents." This is partly explained by the private tattle of the court, which avers that the Princess Anna had been more beautiful when she was less learned; and that, though still a fine woman, she had somewhat lost the charms of her person as she became enriched in her mind. Be this as it may, on the present occasion the chair of Nicephorus is vacant -and to his negligence and absence was perhaps owing the angry spot on the brow of his fair bride."
Two other chairs of state are designed for the imperial couple, her august parents, who frequently assist at their daughter's studies -the Empress Irene enjoying the triumph peculiar to the mother of an accomplished daughter; while Alexius will listen with complacence to the rehearsal of his own exploits in Anna's inflated language, and will sometimes mildly nod over her dialogues upon the mysteries of philosophy, with the Patriarch Zosimus, and other sages.*
One of Scott's later chapters discovers to us the princess excited to believe and denounce her husband as a traitor, political and matrimonial; and here we see her dash the tears from her eyes, and her countenance, naturally that of beauty and gentleness,
*See, passim, the third chapter of "Count Robert of Paris."
becomes animated with the expression of a fury. "She again burst forth, for nature having given her considerable abilities, had lent her at the same time an energy of passion, far superior in power to the cold ambition of Irene, or the wily, ambidexter, shuffling policy of the emperor.'
At another time, again, we have intelligence of a violent altercation between empress and daughter, on the subject of Anna's siding with her attainted, imperilled, unthankful husband--her fears for whose safety are no sooner dispelled, than the sense of his ungrateful behaviour begins to revive. Anna becomes sensible, too, that a woman of her extraordinary attainments, who, by a universal course of flattery, has been disposed to entertain a very high opinion of her own consequence, makes rather a poor figure as the passive subject of a long series of intrigues, by which she is destined to be disposed of, in one way or the other, according to the humour of a set of subordinate conspirators, who have never so much as dreamed of regarding her as a being capable of forming a wish in her own behalf, or even yielding or refusing a consent. "Her father's authority over her, and right to dispose of her, was less questionable; but even then it was something derogatory to the dignity of a princess born in the purple-an authoress besides, and giver of immortality-to be, without her own consent, thrown, as it were, at the head now of one suitor, now of another, however mean or disgusting, whose alliance could for the time benefit the emperor."†
But domestic differences availed not to weaken the daughter's intense appreciation, or exaggeration, of the emperor's imperial greatness. To the spirit of veneration which informs and inspires the "Alexiad," we may apply what a modern dramatist makes another Comnenus say to another Anna Comnena:
-Not much the doubt
Comnenus would stand well with times to come,
Another Comnenus-for Isaac is the speaker. Another Annafor the Anna was but five years old at the time represented in Mr. Taylor's play, which is A.D. 1088. And Mr. Taylor has a more discerning respect of persons, we take it, at this confused stage of confusing Byzantine history, than Mr. W. C. Hazlitt showed, in at least the first edition of his "Venetian Republic," in which Manuel and all his house appear invariably by the designation of Comnena-perhaps, suggested a vastly amused Saturday Reviewer, in honour of the Princess Anna. But the honour would have
*See, passim, the twenty-first chapter of "Count Robert of Paris."
Henry Taylor's "Isaac Comnenus," Act. III. Sc. 5