« AnteriorContinuar »
NORTH. And the little wren flits out from the back door of her nest—too happy she to sing—and in a minute is back again, with a worm in her mouth, to her half-score gaping babies—the sole family in all the dell. And the seamews, sore against their will driven seawards, are returning by ones and twos, and thirties, and thousands, up Loch-Etive, and, dallying with what wind is still alive above the green transparency, drop down in successive parties of pleasure on the silver sands of Ardmatty, or lured onwards into the still leas of Glenliver, or the profounder quietude of the low mounds of Dalness.
NORTH. And thousands of Rills, on the first day of their apparent existence, are all happy too, and make me happy to look on them leaping and dancing down the rocks—and the River Etive rejoicing in his strength, from far Kingshouse all along to the end of his journey, is happiest of them all; for the storm that has swollen has not discoloured him, and with a pomp of clouds on his breast, he is flowing in his expanded beauty into his own desired Loch.
SEWARD. Is it fading—or is it brightening ?-no, it is not fading--and to brighten is impossible. It is the beautiful at perfection—it is dissolving—it is gone.
NORTH. I was waiting for the Rainbow. Many eyes besides ours are now regarding it-many hearts gladdened--but have you not often felt, Seward, as if such Apparitions came at a silent call in our souls—that we might behold them- and that the hour or the moment—was given to us alone! So have I felt when walking alone among the great solitudes of Nature.
SEWARD. Lochawe is the name now for a dozen little lovely lakes ! For, lo! as the vapours are rising, they disclose, here a bay that does not seem to be a bay, but complete in its own encircled stillness, there a bare grass island-yes, it is Inishail—with a shore of mists, -and there, with its Pines and Castle, Freoch, as if it were Loch Freoch, and not itself an Isle. Beautiful bewilderment ! but of our own creating !—for thus Fancy is fain to dally with what we loveand would seek to estrange the familiar—as if Lochawe in its own simple grandeur were not all-sufficient for our gaze.
BULLER. Let me try my hand. No—20-10-I can see and feel, have an eye and a heart for Scenery, as it is called, but am no hand at a description. My dear, sweet, soft-breasted, fair-fronted, bright-headed, delightful Cruachanthy very name, how liquid with open vowels-not a consonant among them all-no Man-Mountain Thou—Thou art the LADY OF THE LAKE. I am in love with Thee-Thou must not think of retiring from the earth-Thou must not take the veil-off with it-off with it from those glorious shoulders -and come, in all Thy loveliness, to my long-my longing arms !
SEWARD. Is that the singing of larks ?
NORTH. No larks live here. The laverock is a Lowland bird, and loves our brairded fields and our pastoral braes; but the Highland mountains are not for himhe knows by instinct that they are haunted-though he never saw the shadow nor heard the sugh of the eagle's wing.
SEWARD. The singing from the woods seems to reach the sky. They have utterly forgotten their fear; or think you, sir, that birds know that what frightened them is gone, and that they sing with intenser joy because of the fear that kept them mute ?
NORTH. The lambs are frisking--and the sheep staring placidly at the Tents. I hear the hum of bees-returned-and returning from their straw-built Citadels. In the primal hour of his winged life, that wavering butterfly goes by in search of the sunshine that meets him; and happy for this generation of ephemerals that they first took wing on the afternoon of the day of the Great Storm.
NORTH. I am not a Laker-I am a Locher.
NORTH. I cannot accept a compliment at the expense of all the rest of my countrymen. I cannot indeed.
BULLER. Yes, you can,
NORTH. There was Lord Kames-a man of great talents-a most ingenious manand with an insight
NORTH. One of the Fifteen. A strained elevation-says his Lordship-I am sure of the words, though I have not seen his Elements of Criticism for fifty years
BULLER. You are a creature of a wonderful memory.
NORTH. “Astrained elevation is attended with another inconvenience, that the author is apt to fall suddenly, as well as the reader; because it is not a little difficult to descend sweetly and easily from such elevation to the ordinary tone of the subject. The following is a good illustration of that observation”—and then his Lordship quotes the passage I recited--stopping with the words, “ densissimus imber," which are thus made to conclude the description !
BULLER. Oh! oh! oh! That's murder.
NORTH. In the description of a storm-continues his Lordship—" to figure Jupiter throwing down huge mountains with his thunderbolts, is hyperbolically sublime, if I may use the expression: the tone of mind produced by that image is so distinct from the tone produced by a thick shower of rain, that the sudden transition must be very unpleasant."
BULLER. Suggestive of a great-coat. That's the way to deal with a great Poet. Clap your hand on the Poet's mouth in its fervour-shut up the words in midvolley-and then tell him that he does not know how to descend sweetly and easily from strained elevation !
NORTH. Nor do I agree with his Lordship that “ to figure Jupiter throwing down huge mountains with his thunderbolts is hyperbolically sublime.” As a part for a whole is a figure of speech, so is a whole for a part. Virgil says, " dejicit ;" but he did not mean to say that Jupiter - tumbled down" Athos or Rhodope or the Acroceraunian range. He knew--for he saw them—that there they were in all their altitude after the storm-little if at all the worse. But Jupiter had struck-smitten-splintered-rent-trees and rocks-midway or on the summits-and the sight was terrific-and “ dejicit" brings it before our imagination which not for a moment pictures the whole mountain tumbling down. But great Poets know the power of words, and on great occasions how to use them-in this case-one--and small critics will not suffer their own senses to instruct them in Poetry—and hence the Elements of Criticism are not the Elements of Nature, and assist us not in comprehending the grandeur of reported storms.
BULLER. Lay it into them, sir.
NORTH. Good Dr Hugh Blair again, who in his day had a high character for taste and judgment, agreed with Henry Home that “the transition is made too hastily-I am afraid-from the preceding sublime images, to a thick shower and the blowing of the south wind, and shows how difficult it frequently is to descend with grace, without seeming to fall." Nay, even Mr Alison himself-one of the finest spirits that ever breathed on earth, says-“I acknowledge, indeed, that the plaviâ ingenti sata læta, boumque labores diluit' is defensible from the connexion of the imagery with the subject of the poem ; but the implentur fossæ' is both an unnecessary and a degrading cireumstance when compared with the magnificent effects that are described in the rest of the passage." In his quotation, too, the final grand line is inadvertently omitted“Nunc nemora ingenti vento, nunc litora plangunt."
BULLER, I never read Hugh Blair—but I have read-often, and always with increased delight-Mr Alison's exquisite Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste, and Lord Jeffrey's admirable exposition of the Theory-in statement so clear, and in illustration so rich—worth all the Æsthetics of the Germans-Schiller excepted-in one Volume of Mist.
NORTH. Mr Alison had an original as well as a fine mind; and here he seems to have been momentarily beguiled into mistake by unconscious deference to the judgment of men-in his province far inferior to himself-whom in his modesty he admired. Mark. Virgil's main purpose is to describe the dangersthe losses to which the agriculturist is at all seasons exposed from wind and weatber. And he sets them before us in plain and perspicuous language, not rising above the proper level of the didactic. Yet being a Poet he puts poetry into his description from the first and throughout. To say that the line “Et pluviâ," &c. is “ defensible from the connexion of the imagery with the subject of the Poem" is not enough. It is necessitated. Strike it out and you abolish the subject. And just so with “implentur fossæ.” The “ fossa" we know in that country were numerous and wide, and, when swollen, dangerous--and the “cava flumina" well follow instantly-for the “fossæ" were their feeders-and we hear as well as see the rivers rushing to the sea- and we hear too, as well as see, the sea itself. There the description ends. Virgil has done his work. But his imagination is moved, and there arises a new strain altogether. He is done with the agriculturists. And now he deals with man at large-with the whole human race. He is now a Boanerges--a son of thunder-and he begins with Jove. The sublimity comes in a moment. * Ipse Pater, mediâ nimborum in nocte”-and is sustained to the close-the last line being great as the first-and all between accordant, and all true to nature. Without rain and wind, what would be a thunder-storm ? The " densissimus imber" obeys the laws—and so do the ingeminanting Austriand the shaken woods and the stricken shores.
BULLER. Well done, Virgil-well done, North.
NORTH. I cannot rest, Buller-I can have no peace of mind but in a successful defence of these Ditches. Why is a Ditch to be despised ? Because it is dug? So is a grave. Is the Ditch-wet or dry--that must be passed by the Volunteers of the Fighting Division before the Fort can be stormed, too low a word for a Poet to use? Alas! on such an occasion well might he say, as he looked after the assault and saw the floating tartans- implentur fossathe Ditch is filled !
BULLER. Ay, Mr North, in that case the word Ditch-and the thing would be dignified by danger, daring, and death. But here
NORTH. The case is the same with a difference, for there is all the Danger-all the Daring-all the Death-that the incident or event admits of- and they are not small. Think for a moment. The Rain falls over the whole broad heart of the tilled earth from the face of the fields it runs into the Ditches- the first unavoidable receptacles—these pour into the rivers--the rivers into the river mouths--and then you are in the Sea.
BULLER. Go on, sir, go on.
NORTH. I am amazed—I am indignant, Buller. Ruit arduus æther. The steep or high ether rushes down! as we saw it rush down a few minutes ago. What happens ?
“Et pluviâ ingenti sata læta, boumque labores
Diluit !" Alas! for the hopeful—hopeless husbandman now. What a multiplied and magnified expression have we here for the arable lands. All the glad seedtime vain—vain all industry of man and oxen—there you have the true agricultural pathos—washed away--set in a swim-deluged! Well has the Poet -in one great line-spoke the greatness of a great matter. Sudden affliction--visible desolation ---imagined dearth.
BULLER. Don't stop, sir, you speak to the President of our Agricultural Society-go on, sir, go on.
NORTH. Now drop in-in its veriest place, and in two words, the necessitated Implentur fosse. No pretence-no display--no phraseology-the nakedest, but quite effectual statement of the fact-which the farmer-I love that word farmer-has witnessed as often as he has ever seen the Coming—the Ditches that were dry ran full to the brim. The homely rustic fact, strong and impressive to the husbandman, cannot be dealt with by poetry otherwise than by setting it down in its bald simplicity. Seek to raise-to dress to disguise
—and you make it ridiculous. The Mantuan knew better-he says what must be said-and goes on
"Et cava flumina crescunt
Cum sonitu." The “hollow-bedded rivers" grow, swell, visibly wax mighty and turbulent. You imagine that you stand on the bank and see the river that had shrunk into a thread getting broad enough to fill the capacity of its whole hollow bed. The rushing of arduous ether would not of itself have proved sufficient. Therefore glory to the Italian Ditches and glory to the Dumfriesshire Drains, which I have seen, in an hour, change the white murmuring Esk into a red rolling river, with as sweeping sway as ever attended the Arno on its way to inundate Florence.
BULLER. Glory to the Ditches of the Vale of Arno-glory to the Drains of Dumfriesshire. Draw breath, sir. Now go on, sir.
NORTH. u Cum sonitu." Not as Father Thames rises-silently-till the flow lapse over lateral meadow-grounds for a mile on either side. But “cum sonitu," with a voice--with a roar-a mischievous roar- a roar often thousand Ditches.
NORTH. You have hit it. They will be—for the Arno in flood is like liquid mudby no means enamouring, perhaps not even sublime-but showing you that it comes off the fields and along the Ditches-that you see swillings of the " sata læta boumque labores." Agricultural Produce !
NORTH. For a moment-a single moment-leave out the Ditches, and say merely, " The rain falls over the fields—the rivers swell roaring.” No picture at all. You must have the fall over the surface-the gathering in the narrower artifi