« ПретходнаНастави »
through a multitude of reflections, and amidst many comparisons assimilates the constellations of heaven
of immense weight and value on a ring for the finger of their Creator. Conceit could hardly go farther than to ascribe' finery to Omnipotence. The taste of the French artist was not quite so bold, when, in the picture of Belshazzar's feast, he put a ring and ruffle on the hand that was writing on the wall. : Here, however, he was in earnest comparatively with some other passages, such as that in which he likens Death to Nero driving a phaeton in a female guise, or where he describes the same personage, Death, borrowing the “ cockaded brow of a spend thrift," in order to gain admittance to“ a gay circle." Men, with the same familiarity, are compared to monkeys before a looking-glass; and, at the end of the eighth book, Satan is roundly denominated a “durice 1:" the first time perhaps that his abilities were ever seriously called in question.
Shall we agree with Dr. Johnson when he affirms of the Night Thoughts that particular lines are not to be regarded, that the power is in the whole, and that in the whole there is a magnificence like that which is ascribed to a Chinese plantation, the magnificence of vast extent and endless variety? Of a Chinese plantation few men have probably a very
1 « Nor think this sentence is severe on thee,
Concluding lines of Night 8th.
distinct conception, but unless that species of landscape be an utterly capricious shew of objects, in which case even extent and variety will hardly constitute magnificence, it must possess amusement and vicissitude, arising from the relation of parts to each other. But there is nothing of entertaining succession of parts in the Night Thoughts. The poem excites no anticipation as it proceeds. One book bespeaks no impatience for another, nor is found to have laid the smallest foundation for new pleasure when the succeeding night sets in. The poet's fancy discharges itself on the mind in short ictuses of sur prise, which rather lose than increase their force by reiteration, but he is remarkably defective in progressive interest and collective effect. The power of the poem, instead of “ being in the whole,” lies in short, vivid, and broken gleams of genius; so that if we disregard particular lines we shall but too often miss the only gems of ransom which the poet.can bring as the price of his relief from surrounding tædium. Of any long work, where the power really lies in the whole, we feel reluctant to hazard the character by a few short quotations, because a few fragments can convey no adequate idea of the architecture; but the directly reverse of this is the case with the Night Thoughts, for by selecting particular beauties of the poem we should delight and electrify a sensitive reader, but might put him to sleep by a perusal of the whole. This character of detached felicities, unconnected with interesting progress or reciprocal animation of parts, may be likened to a wilderness, without path or perspective, or to a Chinese plantation (if the illustration be more agreeable), but it does not correspond with our idea of the magnificence of a great poem, of which it can be said that the power is in the whole. After all, the variety and extent of reflection in the Night Thoughts is to a certain degree more imposing than real. They have more metaphorical than substantial variety of thought. Questions which we had thought exhausted and laid at rest in one book, are called up again in the next in a Proteus metamorphosis of shape, and a cameleon diversity of colour. Happily the awful truths which they illustrate are few and simple. Around those truths the poet directs his course with innumerable sinuosities of fancy, like a man appearing to make a long voyage while he is in reality only crossing and recrossing the same expanse of water.
He has been well described in a late poem, as one in whom
“ Still gleams and still expires the cloudy day
The above remarks have been made with no desire to depreciate what is genuine in his beauties. The reader most sensitive to his faults must have felt, that there is in him a spark of originality which is never long extinguished, however far it may be from vivifying the entire mass of his poetry. Many and
exquisite are his touches of sublime expression, of profound reflection, and of striking imagery. It is recalling but a few of these to allude to his description, in the eighth book, of the man whose thoughts are not of this world, to his simile of the traveller at the opening of the ninth book, to his spectre of the antediluvian world, and to some parts of his very unequal description of the conflagration ; above all, to that noble and familiar image,
" When final ruin fiercely drives “ Her ploughshare o'er creation." It is true that he seldom if ever maintains a flight of poetry long free from oblique associations, but he has individual passages which Philosophy might make her texts, and Experience select for her mottos.
FROM NIGHT I.
Introduction to the Night Thoughts — Uncertainty of liuman hap
piness—Universality of human misery.
TIR'd nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep!
From short (as usual) and disturb’d repose,
I wake, emerging from a sea of dreams
fate. Night, sable goddess ! from her ebon throne, In rayless majesty, now stretches forth Her leaden sceptre o'er a slumbering world. Silence, how dead! and darkness, how profound ! Nor eye, nor listening ear, an object finds; Creation sleeps. 'Tis as the general pulse Of life stood still, and nature made a pause; An awful pause! prophetic of her end. And let her prophecy be soon fulfill'd; Fate! drop the curtain; I can lose no more.
Silence and darkness! solemn sisters ! twins
Thou, who didst put to flight