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His praise be ever new! and on him breathed !
This long extract, which we would willingly have abridged, could we have done so without marring its effect, has already enabled the reader, in a good degree, to anticipate our criticism. He perceives that Mr. Pollok is a man of true poetical talent, writing verses with almost as much freedom and facility as he could prose, not very curious about their cadence, and occasionally, indeed, even violating prosody by gross negligence or unauthorized metrical liberties; but, pouring out numbers equally remarkable for strength and simplicity, always with the zeal of an evangelist, and sometimes with a “prophet's fire." Indeed, considered merely as a Didactic Poem, we do not know any thing in the language that is better than “The Course of Time." In the perusal of it, (without meaning to compare the author, in every particular, with the Roman poet, we have been frequently reminded of the masculine and free style of Lucretius. His apparent earnestness and singleness of purpose in inculcating what he believes to be the truth, even at the risk of sacrificing too much to utility, is one point in which the resemblance is especially striking.
The subject of the “The Course of Time" is hriefly as follows: The Last Judgment was past, &c., when two " youthful sons of Paradise,” standing one day in conversation on the “Hills of Immortality,” from which they had a boundless prospect beyond the Walls of Heaven, saw a stranger (angelical as may be supposed) directing his course in great haste towards them. Civilities, such as might beseemn natures so pure and elevated, having been interchanged between them, the new comer relates with much surprise, that he has just passed through the bottomless abyss, and seen the sights of wo which belong to that region dolorous. He had remarkedamong the rest, the" Worm that Dieth Not,” in the shape of an enormous serpent of the Hydra species, and a figure of “ Eternal Death,” of indescribable terrors, reflected upon a wall of burning adamant. He expresses an anxious curiosity to have these mysterious appearances explained to him; whereupon the two youthful angels conduct him to an old Bard, once an inhabitant of earth, but now rewarded with the privilege of singing anthems of eternal praise to
a heavenly harp. This divine poet, at the request of his angelic guests, relates to them something of what had happened—of what men had thought, and felt, and done in “the course of time," and thence the name of the poem. He sometimes deals in generalities, declaiming against avarice, ambition, &c. in the abstract; but, at other times, he descends to particular examples, such as in the extract already made, and in another we shall presently submit, in which the character of Lord Byron is pourtrayed. In short, the old Bard delivers a sort of funeral discourse upon the world and its inhabitants, in blank verse, and in spite of all his inspiration, does, it must be owned, occasionally fall into a downright prône.
The great fountain of Mr. Pollok's poetry is, no doubt, his own fervently pious spirit, the sublime writings of the Old Testament, and those ideas of the infinite and eternal, those awful and all-absorbing interests in a future state of existence, which are revealed in the New. Perilous as is such an undertaking to men of ordinary talents, we have often wondered how so few out of the multitudes of enthusiastic minds that have devoted themselves to the study and the propagation of Christianity, have ever broken out into the raptures of holy song, and raised their style “ to the height of that great argument,” in a language worthy of its inspiration. This is the more unaccountable, when it is considered that the influence of a spiritual religion is clearly visible in every part of modern poetry, and, indeed, in the prevailing modes of thinking, and all the
great social interests of mankind. Milton's song, and Dante's and Tasso's, (and even Racine's,) breathe of Christianity throughout, especially in their loftiest strains. If such have been the indirect effects of our religion, why have not the direct been as signal, those, namely, where it not only inspires the genius of the poet, but furnishes the theme and the materials of the poem? Mr. Pollok's very successful attempt shews how naturally every deep and sincere feeling of the heart, producing a strong and glowing conception in the mind, prompts to true poetry, and how nearly allied true poetry, as every thing else implying deep and sincere feeling, is to religion.
But, besides drawing from this great fountain-head of modern song, our author has evidently pored much over the pages of “Paradise Lost," and the “Night Thoughts." Not that he has borrowed, but only imitated-and then, only imitated the form and exterior of the verse, as if to shew how successfully he could sometimes emulate its spirit and power. We were particularly reminded of Dr. Young, by a passage which is to be found at the top of page 72. Of his partiality for Milton, traces are every
where discernible, but the reader will not fail to be struck with the whole of the description at page 114-beginning “ Desire of every land.” We certainly do not mean to intimate, what it seems some minor English Magazine has ventured to say in express terms, that we would rather be the author of " The Course of Time" than of Paradise Lost. Mr. Pollok, we think, a man of genius, and his poetry is religious- so far he resembles Milton, but to equal him, he must add much to the tirst of these, besides an assemblage of other rare qualities which he does not possess. In point of style, .especially, and diction, it would be quite ridiculous to institute such a comparison. In one respect, indeed, our author has a decided advantage over his matchless predecessor in the same walk. His poem, although resembling a sermon or disquisition more than an Epic-although it has no plot to excite curiosity and interest-is of a decidedly more attractive and popular character. The fact that it has already passed through three editions in England, and two in this country, appears to be conclusive on this head. Nor will the reader, when he comes to look into its contents, be at all at a loss for the reason; for, although the subjects would seem to be analogous, yet is there a very wide difference between them, or at least between the aspects under which they are presented. The defects in Paradise Lost, pointed out in some previous remarks, do not exist in “The Course of Time.” There is a terrible reality about it—it is what we must all come to, as the Irish Judge said. The weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth in the bottomless pit, are of those who were men like ourselves—not named, indeed, like the sufferers in Dante's Inferno, but still of the same race beyond doubt. It is human agony and despair; it is the dreadful future, and the eternal doom. In this point of view, the poem before us has all the advantage over Paradise Lost, that truth and prophecy, in the most awful concerns, can have over mere vision and shadowy dreams of other existences and an irrevocable past. Add to this, that there are interspersed throughout the whole poem, touching and beautiful pictures drawn evidently from the life of many of the most affecting situations, characters and passions of men.
It is but seldom that Mr. Pollok falls into the pointed and antithetic style of Dr. Young, whose woe is not unfrequently quite epigrammatic. The genius of the former was more fervid, enthusiastic, and if we inay say so, declamatory. This it is that betrays him not unfrequently into the verbosity and diffuseness often tedious and slovenly—which are the chief faults of the poem. Still, even in such passages, his sincerity, simplicity and seriousness, are redeeming qualities. Some whole pages,
especially in the first and second, and the two last books, might be read off as prose, without materially offending the ear of a critic, by a poetical cadence, or even collocation : but they would always make vigorous, and generally beautiful prose.
As a fair specimen of his style, we extract the following portrait of Lord Byron, already alluded to. We object to it that he overrates Byron's genius throughout-the majority of our readers, however, will probably find no fault with him upon that score. But what all will admit is, that this picture, however good as a likeness, or powerful and striking in the conception and the colouring, is, in one part of it at least, excessively overcharged. The lines in italics, seem to us exaggerated and bombastic.
“A man of rank, and of capacious soul;
to hear, he heard: what scenes to see,
And first in rambling school-boy days,
Where'er the old inspiring Genii dwelt,
Aught that could rouse, expand, refine the soul,
He touched his harp, and nations heard, entranced.
As some fierce comet of tremendous size, To which the stars did reverence, as it passed ;