Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

From the verses Written at an Inn in Henley three stanzas may be quoted. The last will be already known to readers familiar with their Boswell:

6

'I fly from pomp, I fly from plate,

I fly from falsehood's specious grin !
Freedom I love, and form I hate,

And choose my lodgings at an inn.
*Here, waiter ! take my sordid ore,

Which lacqueys else might hope to win;
It buys what courts have not in store,

It buys me freedom at an inn!
•Whoe'er bas travelled life's dull round,

Where'er his stages may have been,
May sigh to think he still has found

The warmest welcome at an inn.'

а

Unhappily this final verse, which Johnson is said to have repeated with great emotion,' has lost its application. The modern traveller, instead of being warmly welcomed at an inn, loses his identity and becomes a number. Akenside, who was born at Newcastle, 1721, received his

education in Edinburgh, where he was Mark Akenside

sent to prepare for the ministry among (1721-1770).

the Dissenters. He, however, changed his mind, became a medical student, and finally, though much disliked for his manners, gained reputation as a physician in London. He is stated to have been excessively stiff and formal, and a frigid stiffness marks the Pleasures of Imagination (1744), a remarkable work considering the writer's age, since it is without the faults of youth. The poem is founded on Addison's Essays on the subject in the Spectator, and the poet also owes a considerable debt to Shaftesbury. Akenside's blank verse has the merits of dignity and strength. But the work is as cold as the author's manners were said to be, and in spite of what may be called poetical power, as distinct from a high order of inspiration, the poem leaves the reader unmoved. Pope, who saw it in MS., said that Akenside was 'no everyday writer,' which is a just criticism. The Pleasures of Imagination has the merits of careful workmanship and of some originality, but the interest which it at one time excited is not likely to be revived. In 1757 Akenside re-wrote the poem, and I believe that no critic, with the exception of Hazlitt, regards the second attempt as an improvement on the first. His skill in the use of classical imagery is seen to advantage in the Hymn to the Naiads (1746), and he deserves praise, too, for his inscriptions, which are distinguished for conciseness and vigour of style. The poet, it may be added, wrote a great number of odes that lack all, or nearly all, the qualities which should distinguish lyrical poetry. Not a spark of the divine fire warms or illuminates these reputable verses, but the author states that his chief aim was to be correct, and in that he has succeeded. David Mallet, a friend or acquaintance of Thomson, was

contemptible as a man and comparatively David Mallet

insignificant as a poet. He did a large (1700-1765).

amount of dirty work, and appears to have made a good income by it. The base character of the man was known to Bolingbroke, of whose basest purpose he made him the instrument (see c. vii.). Mallet's ballad of William and Margaret (1724) is known to many readers, and so is the inferior ballad Edwin and Emma, which was written many years afterwards. In 1728 he published The Excursion, a poem not sufficiently significant to prevent Wordsworth from selecting the same title. In Mallet's poem on Verbal Criticism (1733), Johnson states that he paid court to Pope, and was rewarded by a travelling tutorship gained through the poet's influence. In 1731 his

6

tragedy, Eurydice, was acted at Drury Lane. He joined Thomson, as we have said elsewhere, in the composition of the masque of Alfred, and almost wholly changed' the piece after Thomson's death. Amyntor and Theodora, a

.

a long poem in blank verse, appeared in 1747; Britannia, & masque, in 1753, and Elvira, a tragedy, in 1763. Mallet, who was without qualifications for the task, wrote a life of Lord Bacon. He is said to have obtained a pension for inflaming the mind of the public against Admiral Byng, and thereby hastening his execution.

In Anderson's edition of the poets, Mallet’s biography is related with more fulness than by Dr. Johnson, and, after frankly recording acts which fully justify Macaulay's statement that Mallet's character was infamous,* the writer adds, his integrity in business and in life is unimpeached.'

6

SCOTTISH SONG-WRITERS.

When the poets of England were writing satires, moral essays, and elaborate didactic treatises, the poets of Scotland were singing, in bird-like notes, songs of humour and of love. It is remarkable that the Scotch, the shrewdest, hardest, and most business-like people in these islands, should be so richly endowed with a gift shared and enjoyed by rich and poor alike. The most exquisite of English lyrics fall, where culture is wanting, on regardless ears; the songs of Ramsay and of Burns, of Lady Anne Lind. say and Jane Elliot, of Hogg and Lady Nairne, of Tannahill and Macneil, are household words in Scotland to gentle and simple. A few of the choicest songs of Scotland are due to ladies of rank, but the larger number have sprung from the huts where poor men lie.' Ramsay was a barber and wig-maker; Burns, as all the world knows, * Sur Bangbroke hired ballet to traduce Tone if ter his

resease be ause the poel read whared some cories of a un R bor and Bodexalroke he?elicot ping which the rearleich bich malignal jenius in al aicharadié

hered te cearanored's Forein Raul

of nole

372

two years.

followed the plough ; Tannahill was a weaver; Hogg a shepherd; and Robert Nicoll the son of a small farmer, ‘ruined out of house and hold.' Allan Ramsay was born at Leadhills, in Lanarkshire, in

1686, and was therefore Pope's senior by Allan Ramsay

He has been called the re(1686-1758).

storer of Scottish poetry,' and by his compilation of The Evergreen (1724), and of The Tea-Table Miscellany, published in the same year, he gathered up the wealth of song scattered through the country. The Miscellany extended to four volumes, and before the poet's death had reached twelve editions. An undying interest belongs to both anthologies. The Evergreen was the first poetry Walter Scott perused, and in a marginal note on his copy of The Tea-Table Miscellany he writes : *This book belonged to my grandfather, Robert Scott, and out of it I was taught Hardiknute by heart before I could read the ballad myself. It was the first poem I ever learnt, the last I shall ever forget.' The ballad Scott loved so well, I may say in passing, was written as a whole or in part by Lady Wardlaw (1677-1727),' and belongs therefore either to our period or to the later years of the seventeenth century.

In 1725 Ramsay published The Gentle Shepherd, a pastoral that puts to shame the numerous semi-classical and mythological poems which appeared under that name in England. It is essentially a rural poem, in which the action and language harmonize with what we know, or

6

:

1 To Lady Wardlaw Dr. Robert Chambers attributed twenty-five ballads, and among them several of the finest we possess, which are regarded as ancient by every other authority. If the assumption were proved, this lady would hold a distinguished and unique position among the poets of the Pope period, but there is absolutely no ground for the theory so zealously advocated by Chambers.

think we know, of country manners and life. There is neither striking invention in the plot nor much individuality in the characters, but there is poetical harmony throughout, many pretty rustic scenes, and sufficient interest to carry the reader pleasantly over the ground: The Gentle Shepherd is the work of a poet, and gives a higher impression of Ramsay's power than his songs alone would warrant. His lyrical pieces, though not wholly without the lilt and charm such verse exacts, are perhaps mainly of service in showing the immeasurable superiority of Burns. Ramsay was a successful poet, and not too much of a poet to be alsb a successful man of business. He exchanged wig-making for bookselling, kept a shop in the High Street of Edinburgh, and finally retired to a villa which he had built for himself on the Castle Hill. A good-humoured, care-defying man, he enjoyed life in an easy way, and was not disposed to repine when his road lay down the hill. In an epistle to a friend he writes :

• And now in years and sense grown auld,
In ease I like my limbs to fauld,
Debts I abhor, and plan to be
From shackling trade and dangers free ;
That I may, loosed frae care and strife,
With calmness view the edge of life ;
And when a full ripe age shall crave,
Slide easily into my grave.'

[ocr errors]

Among the Scottish song-writers of the period may be mentioned Robert Crawford (1695 ?-1732), whose love verses, written in a conventional strain, are not without music; Lord Binning (1696-1732), the author of a pretty song called Ungrateful Nanny; and William Hamilton of Bangour (1704-1754), who wrote the well-known Braes of Yarrow. The most charming of Scottish lyrics belong,

« AnteriorContinuar »