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ALEXANDER WILsoN, a distinguished naturalist, was also a good Scottish poet. He was a native of Paisley, and born July 6, 1766. He was brought up to the trade of a weaver, but afterwards preferred
that of a pedler, selling muslin and other wares. In 1789, he added to his other commodities a prospectus of a volume of poems, trusting, as he said,
If the pedler should fail to be favoured with sale, Then I hope you’ll encourage the poet.
He did not succeed in either character; and after publishing his poems, he returned to the loom. In 1792, he issued anonymously his best poem, Watty and Meg, which was at first attributed to Burns.” A foolish personal satire, and a not very wise admiration of the principles of equality disseminated at the time of the French Revolution, drove Wilson to America in the year 1794. There he was once more a weaver and a pedler, and afterwards a schoolmaster. A love of ornithology gained upon him, and he wandered over America, collecting specimens of birds. In 1808, appeared his first volume of the American Ornithology, and he continued collecting and publishing, traversing swamps and forests in quest of rare birds, and undergoing the greatest privations and fatigues, till he had committed an eighth volume to the press. He sank under his severe labours on the 23d of August 1813, and was interred with public honours at Philadelphia. In the Ornithology of Wilson we see the fancy and descriptive powers of the poet. The following extract is part of his account of the bald eagle, and is extremely vivid and striking:
* As Burns was one day sitting at his desk by the side of the window, a well-known hawker, Andrew Bishop, went past crying: “Watty and Meg, a new ballad, by Robert Burns.” The poet looked out and said: “That's a lee, Andrew, but I would make your plack a bawbee if it were mine. This we heard Mrs Burns, the poet's widow, relate.
The celebrated cataract of Niagara is a noted place of resort for the bald eagle, as well on account of the fish procured there, as for the numerous carcasses of squirrels, deer, bears, and various other animals that, in their attempts to cross the river above the falls, have been dragged into the current, and precipitated down that tremendous gulf, where, among the rocks that bound the rapids below, they furnish a rich repast for the vulture, the raven, and the bald eagle, the subject of the present account. He has been long known to naturalists, being common to both continents, and occasionally met with from a very high northern latitude to the borders of the torrid zone, but chiefly in the vicinity of the sea, and along the shores and cliffs of our lakes and large rivers. Formed by nature for braving the severest cold, feeding equally on the produce of the sea and of the land, possessing powers of flight capable of outstripping even the tempests themselves, unawed by anything but man, and, from the ethereal heights to which he soars, looking abroad at one glance on an immeasurable expanse of forests, fields, lakes, and ocean deep below him, he appears indifferent to the little localities of change of seasons, as in a few minutes he can pass from summer to winter, from the lower to the higher regions of the atmosphere, the abode of eternal cold, and from thence descend at will to the torrid or the arctic regions of the earth.
In procuring these, he displays, in a very singular manner, the genius and energy of his character, which is fierce, contemplative, daring, and tyrannical; attributes not exerted but on particular occasions, but when put forth, overpowering all opposition. Elevated on the high dead limb of some gigantic tree that commands a wide view of the neighbouring shore and ocean, he seems calmly to contemplate the motions of the various feathered tribes that pursue their busy avocations below; the snowwhite gulls slowly winnowing the air; the busy tringae coursing along the sands; trains of ducks streaming over the surface; silent and watchful cranes intent and wading; clamorous crows; and all the winged multitudes that subsist by the bounty of this vast liquid magazine of nature. High over all these, hovers one whose action instantly arrests his whole attention. By his wide curvature of wing, and sudden suspension in air, he knows him to be the fish-hawk, settling over some devoted victim of the deep. His eye kindles at the sight, and balancing himself with half-opened wings on the branch, he watches the result. Down, rapid as an arrow from heaven, descends the distant object of his attention, the roar of its wings reaching the ear as it disappears in the deep, making the surges foam around. At this moment the eager looks of the eagle are all ardour; and, levelling his neck for flight, he sees the fish-hawk once more emerge, struggling with his prey, and mounting in the air with screams of exultation. These are the signal for our hero, who, launching into the air, instantly gives chase, and soon gains on the fish-hawk; each exerts his utmost to mount above the other, displaying in these rencontres the most elegant and sublime aërial evolutions. The unencumbered eagle rapidly advances, and is just on the point of reaching his opponent, when, with a sudden scream, probably of despair and honest execration, the latter drops his fish : the eagle, poising himself for a moment, as if to take a more certain aim, descends like a whirlwind, snatches it in his grasp ere it reaches the water, and bears his ill-gotten booty silently away to the woods.
By way ": ‘to invoke the clemency of the reader, Wilson relates the following exquisite trait of simplicity and nature:
“In one of my late visits to a friend in the country, I found their youngest son, a fine boy of eight or nine years of age, who usually resides in town for his education, just returning from a ramble through the neighbouring woods and fields, where he had collected a large and very handsome bunch of wild-flowers, of a great many different colours; and, presenting them to his mother, said: “Look, my dear mamma, what beautiful flowers I have found growing on our place! Why, all the woods are full of them! red, orange, and blue, and 'most every colour. Oh! I can gather you a whole parcel of them, much handsomer than these, all growing in our own woods! Shall I, mamma? Shall I go and bring you more?” The good woman received the bunch of flowers with a smile of affectionate complacency; and, after admiring for some time the beautiful simplicity of nature, gave her willing consent, and the little fellow went off on the wings of ecstasy to execute his delightful commission.
“The similarity of this little boy's enthusiasm to my own struck me, and the reader will need no explanations of mine to make the application. Should my country receive with the same gracious indulgence the specimens which I here humbly present her; should she express a desire for me to go and bring her more, the highest wishes of my ambition will be gratified; for, in the language of my little friend, our whole woods are full of them, and I can collect hundreds more, much handsomer than these.”
The ambition of the poet-naturalist was amply gratified.
1 Old shoes.
I wha stand here, in this bare scowry coat,
Ay! thae were days indeed, that gared me hope,
Oh, sir, but lasses' words are saft and fair,
Cauld now the winter blew, and deep the snaw
What great misfortunes are poured down on some!
Lang, lang I sought and graped for my pack,
Wi’ whilk I hoped, within a towmont's date,
h ECTOR MACNEILL.
HECTOR MACNEILL (1746–1818) was brought up to a mercantile life, but was unsuccessful in most of his business affairs. He cultivated in secret an attachment to the muses, which at length brought him fame, though not wealth. In 1789, he published a legendary poem, The Harp, and in 1795, his moral tale, Scotland's Skaith, or the History o’ Will and Jean. The object of this production was to depict the evil effects of intemperance. A happy rural pair are reduced to ruin, descending by gradual steps till the husband is obliged to enlist as a soldier, and the wife to beg with her children through the country. The situation of the little ale-house where Will begins his unlucky potations is finely described.
A weekly club is set up at Maggy Howe's, a newspaper is procured, and poor Will, the hero of the tale, becomes a pot-house politician, and soon goes to ruin. His wife also takes to drinking.
Wha was ance like Willie Gairlace? Wha in neebouring town or farm?
Beauty's bloom shone in his fair face, Deadly strength was in his arm.
Whan he first saw Jeanie Miller,
Thousands had mair braws and siller,
See them now!—how changed wi' drinking!
Davered, doited, daized, and blinking—
In the cauld month o' November—
Cowering o'er a dying ember,
Bond and bill and debts a stoppit,
Cattle, beds, and blankets roupit
No anither night to lodge here—
He's ta'en on to be a sodger,
The little domestic drama is happily wound up: Jeanie obtains a cottage and protection from the Duchess of Buccleuch; and Will, after losing a leg in battle, returns, ‘placed on Chelsea's bounty, and finds his wife and family.
Sometimes briskly, sometimes flaggin',
On a cart, or in a wagon,
Tired ae e'ening, stepping hooly,
In the bonny month o' July,
Saft the southland breeze was blawing, Sweetly sughed the green aik wood;
Loud the din o' streams fast fa’ing, Strack the ear wi' thundering thud :
Ewes and lambs on braes ran bleating;
Frae the west the sun, near setting,
Roslin's towers and braes sae bonny ?
Roslin's banks unpeered by ony,
Ilka sound and charm delighting, Will—though hardly fit to gang—
Wandered on through scenes inviting, Listening to the mavis' sang.
Faint at length, the day fast closing, On a fragrant strawberry steep,
Esk's sweet dream to rest composing, Wearied nature drapt asleep.
The simple truth and pathos of descriptions like these appealed to the heart, and soon rendered Macneill's poem universally popular in Scotland. Its moral tendency was also a strong recommendation, and the same causes still operate in procuring readers for the tale, especially in that class best fitted to appreciate its rural beauties and homely pictures, and to receive benefit from the lessons it inculcates. Macneill wrote several Scottish lyrics, but he wanted the true genius for song-writing—the pathos, artlessness, and simple gaiety which should accompany the flow of the music. He published a descriptive poem, entitled The Links of Forth, or a Parting Peep at the Carse of Stirling; and some prose tales, in which he laments the effect of modern change and improvement. The latter years of the poet were spent in comparative comfort at Edinburgh, where he enjoyed the refined and literary society of the Scottish capital till an advanced age.
Mary of Castle-Cary.
‘Saw ye my wee thing, saw ye my ain thing,
Crossed she the meadow yestreen at the gloaming,
The birdie sings upon the thorn
Whan we were bairnies on yon brae,
I hae a wish I canna tine,
Farewell to Ayrshire.
[This song of Gall's has been often printed-in consequence of its locality—as the composition of Burns.]
Scenes of woe and scenes of pleasure,
Bowers, adieu ! where love decoying,
Friends, that parting tear reserve it,
D R A MATIST S.
The popular dramatic art or talent is a rare gift. Some of the most eminent poets have failed in attempting to portray actual life and passion in interesting situations on the stage; and as Fielding and Smollett proved unsuccessful in comedy– though the former wrote a number of pieces—so Byron and Scott were found wanting in the qualities requisite for the tragic drama. “It is evident, says Campbell, “that Melpomene demands on the stage something, and a good deal more, than even poetical talent, rare as that is. She requires a potent and peculiar faculty for the invention of incident adapted to theatric effect; a faculty which may often exist in those who have been bred to the stage, but which, generally speaking, has seldom been shewn by any poets who were not professional players. There are exceptions to the remark, but there are not many. If Shakspeare had not been a player, he would not have been the dramatist that he is.’ Dryden, Addison, and Congreve, are conspicuous exceptions to this rule; also Goldsmith in comedy, and, in our OWn #. Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer in the romantic
drama. The Colmans, Sheridan, Morton, and Reynolds, never, we believe, wore the sock or buskin; but they were either managers, or closely connected with the theatre. One of the most popular tragedies at the commencement of this period was Murphy's Grecian Daughter, produced in 1772. This was a classic subject treated in the French style, but not destitute of tenderness. RoPERT JEPHsoN (1736–1803) produced his tragedy of The Count of Narbonne, copied from Walpole's Castle of Otranto, and it was highly attractive on the stage. In 1785, Jephson brought out another tragedy, The Duke of Braganza, which was equally successful. He wrote three other tragedies, some farces, and operas; but the whole are now utterly neglected. Jephson was no great dramatic writer; but a poetical critic has recorded to his honour, that, “at a time when the native genius of tragedy seemed to be extinct, he came boldly forward as a tragic poet, and certainly with a spark of talent; for if he has not the full flame of genius, he has at least its scintillating light. The dramatist was an Irishman by birth, a captain in the army, and afterwards a member of the Irish House of Commons. HoRACE WALPoLE was author of a tragedy, The Mysterious Mother (1768), which, though of a painful and revolting nature as to plot and incident, abounds in vigorous description and striking imagery. As Walpole had a strong predilection for Gothic romance, and had a dramatic turn of mind, it is to be regretted that he did not devote himself more to the service of the stage, in which he would have anticipated and rivalled the style of the
| German drama. The Mysterious Mother has never
been ventured on the stage. The stage was aroused from a state of insipidity
or degeneracy by the introduction of plays from the
German, which, amidst much false and exaggerated
sentiment, appealed to the stronger sympathies of
our mature, and drew crowded audiences to the theatres. One of the first of these was The Stranger, . said to be translated by Benjamin Thompson; but the greater part of it, as it was acted, was the production of Sheridan. It is a drama of domestic life, not very moral or beneficial in its tendencies —for it is calculated to palliate our detestation of adultery—yet abounding in scenes of tenderness and surprise, well adapted to produce effect on the stage. The principal characters were acted by Kemble and Mrs Siddons, and when it was brought out in the season of 1797–8, it was received with immense applause. . In 1799, Sheridan adapted another of Kotzebue's plays, Pizarro, which experienced still greater success. In the former drama, the German author had violated the proprieties of our moral code, by making an injured husband take back his guilty though penitent wife; and in Pizarro he has invested a fallen female with tenderness, compassion, and heroism. The obtrusion of such a character as a prominent figure in the scene was at least indelicate; but, in the hands of Mrs Siddons, the taint was scarcely perceived, and Sheridan had softened down the most objectionable parts. The play was produced with all the aids of splendid scenery, music, and fine acting, and these, together with its displays of generous and heroic feeling on the part of Rolla, and of parental affection in Alonzo and Cora, were calculated to lead captive a general audience. “Its subject was also new, and peculiarly fortunate. It brought the adventures of the most romantic kingdom of Christendom—Spain —into picturesque combination with the simplicity and superstitions of the transatlantic world; and