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value of some purer form of Christianity, than that spurious doctrine which the British missionaries fling amongst them by their tracts and Bibles; and provided also, that before we altogether withdraw from the peninsula, we shall leave behind us those seeds of rational government, which may in time spring up, like the mustard grain, to stately trees, and extend their fostering shade over the whole continent of Africa.
ART. IV.-l. Attempts in Verse, by John Jones, an old Servant: with some account of the Writer, written by himself: and an Introductory Essay on the Lives and Works of our uneducated Poets. By Robert Southey, Esq. Poet Laureate. 8vo. pp. 332. London: Murray. 1831. 2. United Efforts. A Collection of Poems, the mutual Offspring of a Brother and Sister. 12mo, pp. 100. London: Sherwood. Dover: Batcheller. 1831. 3. Corn Law Rhymes. Third Edition. 12mo, pp. 115. London: Steill. Sheffield: Blackwell & Pearce. 1831. 4. Omnipotence! A Poem. By Richard Jarman. 2nd edition. 12mo. pp. 134. London: Chappell. 1831. 5. Hymns for Children. By the Rev. W. Fletcher, &c. &c. 16mo. pp. 96. London: Hailes. 1831. THERE is nothing in this world like a little philosophy. The habit of turning to the best account every thing that happens to us—to laugh at trifling misfortunes, to endure great ones, and even to magnify the ordinary consolations that are offered to our acceptance, is in itself better, a great deal better, than to be born heir to a hundred principalities. Thus, some ten years ago, when Byron, and Moore, and Southey, and Campbell, were in the most palmy state of their reputation, we could have no more had the patience to read a page of the poetry, now scattered on a table before us, than to dwell upon the beauties of Cocker. But, thanks to experience, governed by a morçeau of philosophy, we can now not only read these effusions, but really find in them much to be pleased with, and even something to admire. This is what we call making the best of human affairs. We cast our eyes around, and perceive no more traces of that effulgence, which lately filled our literary skies with so much glory. The night has come, but with it have come also myriads of stars twinkling like silver in the firmament, and we say to ourselves, that whereas the sun has taken his departure, let us be contented, for the present, with those spots which still partake, though faintly, of his distant light, and be as happy as we can until he shall peep again, in his own divinity, above our horizon. Mr. Southey is, we may observe, of our way of thinking. He, perhaps, at the period when his mind was labouring with the magnificent creations upon which he has since raised the fabric of his purest fame, would have been as intolerant towards mediocre poetry, as he now is towards every religion save that which at present engrosses his belief. But time, it seems, has taught him, that bad poetry is not to be decried, when it can do no harm, and that that which stands half way between the worst and the best, is entitled to a very respectable measure of applause. ‘The mediocres,’ he writes, ‘have long been a numerous and an increasing race, and they must necessarily multiply with the progress of civilization. But it would be difficult to say, wherefore it should be treated as an offence against the public, to publish verses which no one is obliged either to purchase or to read. Booksellers are not likely to speculate, at their own cost, in such wares; there is a direct gain to other branches of trade; employment is given where it is wanted; and if pecuniary loss be a matter of indifference to the author, there is then no injury to himself, and he could not have indulged himself in a more innocent folly, if folly it should deserve to be called. But if he is a good and amiable man, he will be both the better and the happier for writing verses. Poetry, says Lander, opens many sources of tenderness, that lie for ever in the rock without it !” Upon such a subject as this, no one can presume to set himself up as a more competent judge than the Poet Laureate. Be this, therefore, the reign of the mediocres 1 May they all flourish under the protecting auspices of Robert Southey, and, first of all, may John Jones flourish and prosper long, in whose poetic welfare the Laureate feels an especial interest, in consequence of some circumstances which we shall now relate. The author of Thalaba having been at Harrowgate, with his family, in the summer of 1827, received there the following letter: 6 & & Sir, * “The person who takes the liberty of addressing you is a poor, humble, uneducated domestic, who, having attempted the stringing together a few pieces in verse, would be happy in the possession of your opinion of them. ““Living in a family, Sir, in which there are fourteen children, I have devoted but little time exclusively to their construction, they having been chiefly composed when in the exercise of my domestic duties, and frequently borne on my memory for two or three weeks before I had leisure to ease it of its burthen. * “Seeing in a Leeds paper, Sir, that you were at Harrowgate, I avail myself of the opportunity it affords me of soliciting the favour of your perusal of them, as well, Sir, from a conviction that I should be satisfied with your opinion, as that, from the kindness of your nature, you would forgive me if I intruded upon you what you could not in justice foster with your approval. ‘‘‘Should it be your pleasure to inspect them, Sir, I shall be happy in sending them to you; and though it may not suit your present convenience, they might, in your possession, Sir, await a more favourable opportunity. * “The last of my humble attempts, Sir, occurred to me from seeing a lady of the family collecting the crumbs from the breakfast-table, and putting them by to await the coming of a little red-breast, who never failed to solicit them at the window during the winter months; and as it has just fallen from among some papers in which I placed it two or three months ago, not having room to insert it in my book, it suggested the idea of sending it as a specimen: and though, Sir, I can hardly hope that my poor little Robin possesses any trait of beauty worthy of your admiration, I do hope, Sir, that its harmless simplicity will obtain for me your pardon for the liberty I have taken in thus addressing you, and with that hope, Sir, I subscribe myself, Your most respectful and most dutiful servant, Joh N Jon Es.”
• THE RED-BREAST.
‘Sweet social bird with breast of red,
‘Thy cheerful song in winter's cold,
“Thy friendly heart, thy nature mild,
Creep to the love of man and child,
“The gleanings of the sumptuous board,
“In stately hall and rustic dome,
“The Herdsman on the upland hill,
Are prone thy little paunch to fill,
“The Woodman seated on a log
“For thee a feast the Schoolboy strews
“At tents where tawny Gipsies dwell,
“Nor are thy little wants forgot,
The Miser only feeds thee not,
“The Youth who strays, with dark design
“The Finch a spangled robe may wear,
The Swallow fly most swift on wing.
“The Peacock's plumes in pride may swell,
We confess that we like the verses better than the letter, in which we detect now and then a “cunning hand,” correcting and polishing the language of the writer, and, if the phrase be allowable, somewhat sophisticating his simplicity. It is a pity that the same assistance had not been extended to some of the verses too, for then we should not have had the woodman casting, as the inevitable construction of the lines now imports, first himself, and next his dog, and next a crumb to the little robin, who would hardly have thought himself under any very great obligations for either of the two first presents. Were the blemish removed, we do not know that we should hesitate to recommend these verses, as worthy of the consideration of any young lady who has a page to spare for them in her album. At any rate, Red-breast will be the better off next winter, we hope, for this mention of his name, as he may get a few more crumbs than might otherwise have been laid aside for his use, if a knowledge of the forecast of that fair economist, who habitually laid up a little store for him, had been confined to her own family. It is an amiable frugality which well deserves imitation.
Pleased with these specimens of the serving man's epistolary and poetic powers, the Poet Laureate read them to his wife and daughters, and to a lady of his party, in whose judgment he felt great confidence, and in this he acted with good sense, for, in nine cases out of ten, we take it, the ladies are by far better critics of poetry than men. They look at once to the effect produced upon the feelings by the verse, without very nicely scrutinizing the means, by which that effect might be heightened or impaired. They, too, were charmed with the natural images embodied in these lines, and came to an unanimous vote, that the man’s book should be sent for, and the whole published, if found equally deserving of praise. The result must be stated in Mr. Southey’s own words, as no
others could afford a more interesting insight into the benevolent motives by which he was actuated on this occasion.
“Upon perusing the poems I wished they had been either better or worse. Had I consulted my own convenience, or been fearful of exposing myself to misrepresentation and censure, I should have told my humble applicant that although his verses contained abundant proof of a talent for poetry, which, if it had been cultivated, might have produced good fruit, they would not be deemed worthy of publication in these times. But, on the other hand, there were in them such indications of a kind and happy disposition, so much observation of natural objects, such a relish of the innocent pleasures offered by nature to the eye, and ear, and heart, which are not closed against them, and so pleasing an example of the moral benefit derived from those pleasures, when they are received by a thankful and thoughtful mind, that I persuaded myself there were many persons who would partake, in perusing them, the same kind of gratification which I had felt. There were many, I thought, who would be pleased at seeing how much intellectual enjoyment had been attained in humble life, and in very unfavourable circumstances; and that this exercise of the mind, instead of rendering the individual discontented with his station, had conduced greatly to his happiness, and if it had not made him a good man, had contributed to keep him so. This pleasure should in itself, methought, be sufficient to content those subscribers who might kindly patronize a little volume of his verses. Moreover, I considered that as the Age of Reason had commenced, and we were advancing with quick step in the March of Intellect, Mr. Jones would, in all likelihood, be the last versifier of his class; something might properly be said of his predecessors, the poets in low life, who, with more or less good fortune, had obtained notice in their day; and here would be matter for an introductory essay, not uninteresting in itself, and contributing something towards our literary history. And if I could thus render some little service to a man of more than ordinary worth, (for such upon the best testimony Mr. Jones appeared to be,) it would be something not to be repented of, even though I should fail in the hope (which failure, however, I did not apprehend) of affording some gratification to “gentle readers;” for readers there still are who, having escaped the epidemic disease of criticism, are willing to be pleased, and grateful to those from whose writings they derive amusement or instruction.' —Attempts in Verse, pp. 11—13.
Before we take a glance at Jones's predecessors, in the same line, we shall make the reader a little better acquainted both with his biography and his poetry. From a very modest and becoming narrative of his little-chequered life, drawn up by himself, it appears that he was born in January, 1774, in the village of Clearwell, Gloucestershire, where his mother kept a small shop, his father being generally employed in the gardens of Squire Edwin. His letters and the art of reading he learnt from an old woman of the neighbourhood, and the evenings of the best part of two winters he spent in acquiring the mysteries of writing from an old man, by trade a stone-cutter, who in the winter evenings only could exchange the chisel for the pen, and this, he says, was the ‘finishing of his education.” Having been employed for three years as his