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But when he speaks so frequently of “our fleets” and “our troops," when he commemorates as “glorious victories” those obtained by Great-Britain and her allies, he manifests too much the feelings of a partisan, and lessens our reliance on his impartiality—and when, amidst his strong invectives against the ambition of Napoleon, his anathemas against the schemes and prospects of universal dominion, which the career of this extraordinary man once unfolded to the world ; amidst his rejoicings that the sword of the oppressor was broken, the arm of the mighty was powerless, and the day-spring of liberty had arisen on mankind; we find him exulting in the continual triumphs of the British navy, boasting that the exploits of Nelson "so indisputably asserted the right. of Britain to the dominion of the ocean" (vol. i. p. 414)—that England retained the full command of what has been tern.ed her native element" (vol. ii. p. 264)-—"that she did not relax her precautions on the element she calls her own" (vol. ii. p. 37)—and “that Fate had vested in other hands (than Napoleon's) the empire of the seas” (vol. ii. p. 85)—we begin to suspect that these tirades against ambition and universal dominion are mere declamation, and that Sir Walter could look with as much complacency on the empire of the land as he does on the empire of the seas, provided both the one and the other were in the guardianship of Great-Britain.
ART. IX.—The Omnipresence of the Deity. A Poem. By Ro
BERT MONTGOMERY. Philadelphia. 1828.
The poetry of this little volume is certainly very pretty and very pious, but we must be permitted to confess that we have been disappointed in the expectations we had been led to form of it. If it were the production of a very young man, we should say it was of excellent promise; considered as the work of a practised writer, in the maturity of his powers, and as the highest achievement of those powers, it may not pass muster so easily. We were puzzled to know before we looked into the volume, what it could be about. “The Omnipresence of the Deity, a Poem.” Was it a metrical demonstration, a priori, or a posteriori of that attribute of the Creator ? But what
could be made of any thing so metaphysical in rhyme, and how had the author succeeded in imparting such attractions to his subject, as to deserve the praises that have been bestowed upon his lay by foreign critics ? The mystery, however, was soon solved; we found that it was only a misnomer, and that the poem might just as well have been called Omnipotence, Omniscience, or in short, by any other fancy name which a romantic and fond parent might have selected for it. It is a little effusion, ide mni scibili et quolibet ente. It begins at the very beginning, to wit, the creation of the world, and ends with its final confiagration and the Day of Judgment. Within these narrow limits, our poet wanders about at random, moralizing in a very edifying strain of sentimentalism, and turning into rhyme whatever happens to hit his fancy. The thunders of Mount Sinai, and the farewell of an honest tar on the sea shore to his true love, who ejaculates a prayer for him—the vicissitudes of the seasons, with all the beauty and grandeur that accompany them, and the fate of a street-walker and a young convict-the picture of a grandsire sitting by the fire and chatting about the incredible exploits of past times; and “by a natural but melancholy digression,” a glance at atheism, as influencing the horrors of the French revolution-in a word, it is a pleasing little miscellany, in which Mr. Montgomery has chosen to pack up in one envelope, all the precious reflections that have suggested themselves to his apparently philanthropic and contemplative mind, in the course of his pilgrimage through life.
We were much more gratified with the first perusal of this poem, than with the second. Some allowance, we are aware, must always be made in such cases, for a difference in the reader's own feelings, especially where he voluntarily lays any restraint upon them, with a view to a more critical examination of a work. We have no doubt, however, that in the present instance, such a change may be accounted for in a good degree, by another cause. Mr. Montgomery's faults in all his verses that we have happened to see, and especially in these, is a certain mawkish and languid sweetishness that palls upon the taste--the suavitas dulcis et decocta, which in works of genius, just as much (we are alınost ashamed of the comparison) as in those of the culinary art, becomes in the long run, cloying and disgustful. The true test of excellence is, that you like it more and more at every repeated examination of it. Who was ever tired of Shakspeare or Homer, or to come down to mere mortals, of Burns or Goldsmith, or any other poet remarkable for simplicity as well as talent ? Compare the first part of Thomson's Castle of Indolence (which nothing can surpass) with his Seasons, which are liable to the
same criticism as this poem of Mr. Montgomery-or Campbell's Hohenlinden, &c. with his “Pleasures of Hope,” and the difference alluded to will be soon perceived. The mention of the “ Pleasures of Hope,” reminds us that that poem has been compared (as we learn from some of our newspapers) with the one now under consideration. We think Mr. Montgomery overrated by such a comparison, although Mr. Campbell is certainly capable of far higher things than that very popular production, which has been fully as much praised as it deserves to be.
There is yet another fault in this poem. “The Omnipresence of the Deity” is an idea that greatly heightens the grandeur of the natural world, and ought to add in the same degree to the fervour and sublimity of a Christian poet's conceptions. It would seem, therefore, to present a theme which a man of ordinary talent might treat with success—but the fact is certainly otherwise. It suffers in the hands of any but the mightiest geniuses. Who but a Milton or a Racine is worthy to strike: the harp of the Prophets and the Psalmist? Paradise Lost, and the Choral odes of Esther and Athalie, preserve that sublime and somewhat stern simplicity, that awful grandeur, that comes up to our conceptions of the divine power and majesty. Their raptures are as of those who have been admitted, if it may be said with reverence, to the glories of the Vision Beatific. But those of Mr. Montgomery are not quite so high and prophet-like. He expresses himself, indeed, with abundance of pious fervour-he deals profusely in interjection and begins almost every other paragraph with an Oh! or an Ah! But the dolendum est tibi primum, however true of the pathetic in tragedy and declamation, is, we fear, not quite so applicable to. the sublime-or at any rate, a reader who expects a great deal will not be put off with an exclamation—which must often be his fate in reading “The Omnipresence of the Deity, a Poem.” Its author seems to labour for expressions equal to his theme. He is thus not unfrequently betrayed into extravagant and frigid conceits. Thus, “a thunder-storm” is the “eloquence of heaven," with a note of admiration! And one who hears sits hollow groan,” is said" to feel Omnipotence around him thrown." He apostrophises the mountains as follows:
“ Terrific giants that o'erlook the sea!
These lines recall to us a couplet in the “Wanderer of Switzerland," which we remember reading in our youth. There the Alps are addressed as
“Nature's bulwarks, built by Time
'Gainst Eternity to stand !!!" The reader may take his choice between these “enormous masses of sublimity,” though if he agree with us he will reject them both as puerile bombast. Again, “the youthful billows pant—"the cloud-battalions march."* Death is described, (p. 86) as “ dragging the world into eternity,” while “ages on ages” are attempting in vain to “grapple” him, which is a contest of rather a singular kind. The Deity "speaks in the storm and travels on the winds.” And his picture of the Day of Judgment, which is the end or epilogue of the whole poem, terminates thus
“The curs’d, with hell uncovered to their eye,
And in a blazing tempest whirls away!” We do not mean to say that a few such blemishes are to be dwelt upon with much emphasis in a fine poem; but we quote these passages for the purpose of exemplifying the faults to which Mr. Montgomery is most prone. There is, indeed, another still more insufferable and fatal—the mediocrity of its beauties, which we lament to say is more observable than might be wished.
After all, there is much to be pleased with in this little volume, and it is no small matter to clothe in the charms of elegant diction and poetical fancy, those subjects about which the thoughts and sensibilities of civilized and christian men ought to be most constantly engaged. Mr. Montgomery has succeeded in doing this. There is a sweet tone of benevolence and piety that pervades the whole work, and it will be scarcely possible to read it through without feeling these good dispositions confirmed in our bosoms.
We proceed to lay some extracts before our readers. The Poem opens with a description of the Creation, in which there are some passages of very great beauty :
“ Primeval Power! before Thy thunder rang, And Nature from Eternity outsprang !
.* Virgil has ventorum prælia, and Milton speaks sublimely of “ two black clouds, with heaven's artillery fraught, &c.” but every thing depends upon the connexion and the manner, and Mr. M's line appears to us turgid and strained.
Ere matter form’d at thy creative tone,
The Earth unshrouded all her beauty now;
And next, triumphant o'er the green-clad Earth,
But all was dismal as a world of dead,
Creation's master-piece! a breath of God,
the gorgeous Universe was rife,
And thus, Thou wert, and art, the Fountain Soul,