Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

poetical creation into anarchy and chaos. There are, however, parts which are more capable than others of being regarded apart from the whole, even though we may feel that a censure on the poet is involved in the very act of so regarding them. The description of the infant which we have just quoted is one of these. But there are some which stand so completely in a class by themselves as to deserve a few words of separate commemoration. We allude to the similes of the poem. Two or three of them we have incidentally cited or referred to already; others will be familiar to the reader of Copleston's Prælectiones Academicæ, where it is well remarked that their details, even when irrelevant, are often pleasing from their exceedingly natural character. As parts of the narrative they are sometimes felt to be excrescences : as pieces of independent description they are well worth studying. The poet evidently liked them himself : he is never tired of introducing them; indeed, there is scarcely a page without them.

We will quote a very few of them, rendering them more or less closely into English. Here is one from a tiger:

Qualis ubi audito venantum murmure tigris
Horruit in maculas somnosque excussit inertes,
Bella cupit, laxatque genas, et temperat ungues,
Mox ruit in turmas natisque alimenta cruentis
Spirantem fert ore virum : sic excitus ira

Ductor in absentem consumit prælia fratrem." “As when a tigress, on hearing the horn of the hunters, has bristled her spotted skin, and shaken off the sloth of slumber, she yearns for battle, and eases her stiff jaws, and trims her talons ; soon she rushes among the companies, and carries off in her mouth a living man to feed her savage whelps : so, stirred up with wrath, the prince squanders deeds of arms on his absent brother." The Theban general is compared to a shepherd :3

“Perspicuas sic luce fores et virgea pastor

Claustra levat, dum terra recens: jubet ordine primos
Ire duces, media stipantur plebe maritæ :
Ipse levat gravidas et humum tactura parentum
Ubera, succiduasque apportat matribus agnas.”

1 Book 11, 128 foll.

2 “Horruit in maculas” seems to mean no more than what we have made it mean. Addison, however (Spectator, No. 81), applying it to the patches worn in his day, says it is reported of the tigress that several spots rise in her skin when she is angry, and quotes an imitation by Cowley

“ She swells with angry pride, And calls forth all her spots on every side." 3 Book yıl. 393 foll.

Statius successful in Similes.

167

“Thus the shepherd opens at daybreak the transparent doorwork and the wattled enclosures, while there is freshness abroad on the earth; he bids the rams lead the way; the mediate throng crowds on the ewes; with his own hand he supports those heavy with young, and lifts the udders which would else sweep the ground, and brings to the mothers their dropping lambs.” Human as well as animal life is made to furnish comparisons. The newly-chosen successor of Amphiaraus reminds the poet of a young Persian monarch :1

“ Sicut Achæmenius solium gentesque paternas

Excepit si forte puer, cui vivere patrem
Tutius, incerta formidine gaudia librat,
An fidi proceres, ne pugnet vulgus habenis,
Cui latus Euphratæ, cui Caspia limina mandet.
Sumere tunc arcus ipsumque onerare veretur
Patris equum, visusque sibi nec sceptra capaci

Sustentare manu nec adhuc implere tiaram.” “Even as when the heir of Achæmenes succeeds to the throne and the peoples that were his father's, himself a mere boy, for whom it had been safer were his father still alive, he wavers between the flutterings of joy and fear-Can the nobles be trusted? Will the common herd rebel against the yoke? To whom must he commit the frontier of Euphrates ? To whom the gates of the Caspian ? He is too modest to bend his father's bow or make his father's steed feel his weight; he cannot think his hand yet strong enough for the sceptre, or his brow large enough for the tiara.” Following Virgil, he draws, as we have seen, similes from mythology, but with a much less sparing hand. The joy of Edipus on emerging from his solitude is paralleled with that of Phineus when freed from his Harpy tormentors :

"Qualis post longæ Phineus jejunia poenæ,

Nil stridere domi volucres ut sensit abactas,
Necdum tota fides, hilaris mensasque torosque

Nec turbata feris tractavit pocula pennis.” “Even as Phineus, when his long penal fast was over, soon as he perceived the birds driven off, and no screeching at his doors, ere he wholly credited his bliss, handled gaily board and couch and winecups, unturmoiled by those fierce-flapping wings.” And there is surely some grandeur, if there is some exaggeration, in the comparison of the flight of Adrastus from Thebes to the first entrance of Pluto into his infernal realm,3 a sort of anticipation of the Satan of Milton:

1 Book v. 286 foll. 2 Book viii. 255 foll.

3 Book XI. 443 foll.

“ Qualis Demissus curru lævæ post præmia sortis Umbrarum custos mundique novissimus heres

Palluit, amisso veniens in Tartara cælo.” “ As when, dismounting from his car, after the award of the luckless lot, the warden of the shades, the last sharer of the world's inheritance, grew pale as he entered Tartarus, and felt that heaven was lost.'

Mr. Merivale has observed with much justice that Statius is a miniature painter employed by the caprice of a patron or his own unadvised ambition on a great historical picture. Such exaggerations as his are indeed the fruit of weakness quite as often as of ill-regulated strength. The commonplace aspects of a monstrous story may be seized by any quick apprehension, and reproduced by any fertile fancy: it is only high genius that can render them human and credible. Dryden compares Statius to his own Capaneus engaging the two immortals, Virgil and Homer, and reaping the fruit of his daring. We would rather compare him to his own Atys, the plighted husband of Ismene, who is slain by the mighty arm of Tydeus. The love of his Theban bride leads him into war; he challenges the champion of the field, and falls at the first shock; and he lies in death pale and bloody, yet in the pride of youthful beauty and golden armour.

1 "Discourse on Epic Poetry," prefixed to the Æneid. 2 Book VIII. 555 foll.

Kilmahoe, a Highland Pastoral.

169

ART. VI.-Kilmahoe, a Highland Pastoral : with other Poems.

By John CAMPBELL SHAIRP. Macmillan and Co. 1864.

[ocr errors]

IF romantic scenery and romantic traditions were the main conditions of poetic inspiration, the names of Scotch Highlanders would probably have been as common among the ranks of eminent British poets as they are in the lists of eminent British soldiers. If Scotland, as her greatest son has said, is indeed the “ meet nurse for a poetic child,” and if there is any intimate connexion between the nature of our country and the genius of our people, the romance of our national literature might have been expected to arise from the stern wildness of our northern and western scenery, rather than from the tamer beauties or sometimes dreary ugliness of our Lowlands. Even in the present day, the most commonplace sportsman or tourist feels that he has passed into a new atmosphere--that he has come under the influence of an entirely new set of feelings-when he first reaches his moor, or starts over the mountains on a walking excursion. A sense of the more immediate presence of nature, in her lonely grandeur and loveliness, mingles unconsciously with the passion of the salmon-fisher and the deerstalker; while it is consciously and vividly enjoyed by the man of modern culture, who visits our country under no other attraction than the love of natural beauty. As a remarkable instance of the impression produced by our Highland scenery on a highly-gifted stranger, we would remind our readers of the late Mr. Clough's pastoral, The Bothie of Toper-na-vuolich, which deserves to be read and remembered by every Scotchman. But in addition to this influence of nature, which may be felt as strongly perhaps by a stranger as by a native of the district, the latter is more likely to feel a special interest in the life and character of the people, and in the wild traditions which are still preserved amongst them. We should thus have expected to find the poetry of the Highlands sung by a Highlander. But whatever may be the merits of Gaelic bards and Sennachies, the Highlands have not yet produced a poet of their own. The romance of their history and the poetry of their scenery have been sung and celebrated by Lowland Scotchmen or by English

The interest which the world feels in the past history of the Highlands is due almost entirely to Waverley, Rob Roy, and The Legend of Montrose ; while the very “genius” of the land seems to find a voice in the “Solitary Reaper" and the “Glen Almain” of Wordsworth.

Mr. Shairp has selected as the subject of the poem which gives its name to this volume, the real life of a family living in the Western Highlands, during the quiet generation midway between the eventful times of the '45 and the rapid changes of the present day. He has endeavoured to preserve the memory of a kind of life which is now passing or has passed away, but which deserves not to be unremembered or unhonoured. His aim seems to have been not to shape some idea into poetic form, but to record what has actually been, and to show what a charm and beauty, and what a source of moral and spiritual strength there was in the plain every-day life of a simple Highland household. He brings before us in a series of poems the memories and impressions of this early home in Cantyre, as moulding the character of one of its inmates from a bright and happy childhood to a peaceful and beautiful old age. The record of this life forms the main stream of the poem of Kilmahoe, but with this main stream others intermingle. Thus, the traditions and history of the whole district are introduced as the source of the romantic feeling which blended with a character chiefly remarkable for its simple goodness, piety, and strength of affection. From his love of his subject, and his determination to treat it exhaustively, Mr. Shairp seems to us to overlay it too much with detail ; to introduce more particulars not sufficiently varied from one another, and to dwell longer on many of those particulars than is necessary to produce the impression which he wants to leave on the reader's mind. And this appears to us to be the chief defect in the conception of the poem. His object might have been better attained by greater compression of his materials, and by leaving more to the imagination of the reader. But, on the other hand, the poem has this great merit, that it does leave on the mind a very real, consistent, and worthy impression. As we read its several parts, the author's conception seems gradually to gather shape and completeness in our minds. We fancy that we see the life which he wants us to see; we realize its deep charm and its deeper worth; we recognise once more the truth of which Wordsworth was the great preacher, that the materials for poetry lie everywhere around us in the familiar aspects of Nature and of human life, if we only had the eye and feeling to observe them. The reader, who once feels his interest in the subject of this poem awakened, will often return to it; he will find it thoroughly in harmony with his best and healthiest thoughts ; if it does not aim at giving him new ideas, it gives him many new and genuine impressions, both from the outward and the inward world.

Mr. Shairp can hardly, indeed, expect that his subject will have for all readers the same intense interest that it has for himself. The strong local colouring which he gives to it, while

« PoprzedniaDalej »