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Rosicrusian learning, but the subject was not so well suited to his poetical genius as it was to his acquired knowledge. It is full of fancy, but is very deficient in poetry, abounding in pretty descriptions and all the lighter graces of the muse. We are perpetually in doubt whether this and that passage are very nice verses, or whether they may not actually be called the mere frivolities of writing. This is a sure evidence of a poet's failure, although it may prove him to possess considerable fancy. It is as a lyric poet of progress, as an utterer of “Voices from the Crowd,” that we feel he is a true speaker of fine thoughts, and here we become aware that a brave, keen mind, and a fearless heart, are at work in man's behalf. He regards “old opinions” as “rags and tatters.” The dignity of “daily work” he celebrates, instead of aristocratical arrogance and pomp. “Who lags for dread of daily work, And his appointed work would shirk, Commits a folly and a crime, A soulless slave, A paltry knave, A clog upon the wheels of time. With work to do and store of health, The man's unworthy to be free Who will not give, That he may live, His daily toil for daily fee.” He then denounces the causes which render emigration necessary; in another “Voice” he triumphantly anticipates when wars shall cease and brotherhood prevail. One of his pleasantest “Voices” is “On Railways”— “No poetry in railways: foolish thought Of a dull train—to no fine music wrought, By mammon dazzled, though the people prize
The gold above, yet shall not we despise
Of pregnant mind the fruitful prophecy,
The poetry of Mr. Mackay is more adapted for the mass, who take up a book and put it down after an hour's pleasant reading; it does not appeal to either poet, critic or thinker. The thoughts are not original nor profound, but just what a well educated, earnest man of a fine temperament might be expected to feel under certain moods; in addition, there is nothing to offend the most fastidious taste in morals or religion; for although his opinions are strongly expressed, they belong to the progressive, and not to the destructive school of politics.
He has a keen sense of the future, and a firm faith in the ultimate destiny of man; nevertheless, there is too great a want of originality either in presenting a truth to the mind, and of power in rousing the heart, ever to put him with the Tennysons and Brownings. He has a lively fancy, a neat mode of expression, and a sharp eye in selecting topics generally pleasing to the million. While, however, we suspect that he will never achieve any great or original work, let us thank him cordially for what he has done in prose and verse.
M A R STON, H E R A UD, AND OTHERS.
We propose in this chapter to glance at a few writers of an inferior class; men who are not poets, but who have a certain sensibility of soul, and a facility of verse; it sometimes occurs, however, that this very mediocrity is advantageous to their popularity, and the fellow-feeling of the reader makes him wondrous kind to the author.
Of this class, John Abraham Heraud is indisputably the greatest; and, had he been possessed of a clear, bright understanding, instead of a mystical sophism, he would have been a distinguished writer of prose; but this unhappy defect poisoned the chalice of pure thought; and in consequence, the author of the “Descent into Hell,” and “The Judgment of the Flood,” is only a minor poet, of heavier pretensions and more learning than minor poets generally have.
The “Descent into Hell,” which is extremely dull, reminds us of a jeu de esprit of Douglas Jerrold: Heraud is an enormously vain man, and one evening he asked Jerrold if he had ever read his “Descent into Hell;” the latter replied, “No, I would rather see it.” This calls to our recollection a still better retort the cynical author of “The Caudle Lectures” made to Albert Smith. Modesty is not, perhaps, the distinguishing peculiarity of this clever author; possibly his greatest failing is a kind of assumption, which leads him to become occasionally boastful: one evening, at the Museum Club, on his return from Paris, he was making somewhat free with the name of Lamartine, then in the heyday of his popularity, on account of the prominent part he had played in the recent French Revolution. According to Mr. Smith, the distinguished French statesman never did anything without his advice and assistance. He wound up a long and boastful eulogium on Lamartine's regard for him, by saying, “In short, we always row in the same boat.” Jerrold, who had been quietly listening to his brother author's rhodomontade, exclaimed, “That's very likely; you may row in the same boat, sure enough, but with very different sort of sculls.” The sarcastic wit accompanied this retort with a good tempered, but highly significant tap on his head. We chiefly mention Mr. Bennett as an instance of the evil cheap journals do to young men of that vague restlessness of mind, so often mistaken for a poetic faculty. Easily accessible, they tempt the scribbling shopboy to neglect his day-book or his counter, and instead of adding up pounds of cheese, he writes verses for Howitt's Magazine or the People's Journal. This has been the case with Mr. Bennett, who is, we are told, clerk or assistant to a jeweller or pawnbroker at Greenwich. These facts, although sufficiently amusing, degrades the dignity of authorship, and ought to be discouraged. Literature, however, will always have these animalculae writers of verse and prose, and we must, therefore, put up with the Bennets, the Archer Gurneys, and others of that class in England, and set them off with a similar race in America. Mr. Edmund Reade is another very curious animal of the verse spinning genus; he exhibits the peculiar faculty of changing himself into the last author he reads, as some insects become the color of the plant they last fed on; for instance, if he has been studying Wordsworth’s “Excursion,” he comes out as a pedler, in a complete suit of gray, and somniferizes all by the drowsy humming of his voice; shortly after he lives upon Croly, and he then becomes Cataline; after a meal on Byron he disgorges “The Records of the Pyramids,” “Dying Gladiators,” and so on. We recommend the case of this gentleman to all zoologists. Mr. Archer Gurney is another specimen of that small tribe of versemongers which have the same proportion to poets that monkeys have to men; like that chattering tribe, their gibbering and antics are sometimes diverting, but there is something painful and revolting to our feelings in the absurd resemblance they bear to the superior race. Mr. Gurney has published two volumes, the first, an apish resemblance to “Lalla Rookh,” entitled “Love's Legends,” and the other a curious drama, called “Charles I;” the latter is, perhaps, the funniest specimen of a tragedy on record. While Talfourd's tragedies are pretty, Gurney's are funny; it was suggested by the author of “Orion” that there was a striking resemblance between the hero and the poet, in the fact of both having no head; be this as it may, Mr. Archer Gurney might just as well have been without his head, seeing the little use he has made of it in this curious drama. Two out of three of the scenes end thus, in the very middle. “The scene closes in great confusion—exeunt confusedly.” An act is generally brought to its termination in this ingenious manner: “a great uproar, the curtain falls amid wild confusion.” This terrific confusion and disorder are the only evidences we have of Mr. Archer Gurney's head. We ought to add, as another proof of this young bardling's genius, that at a dissolution of Parliament he rushes about, as a sort of clown, contesting impossible elections; now he suddenly appears as the antagonist of Lord Morpeth, for the West Riding of Yorkshire, but on the day before the election he forgets all about it, and rides home on the outside of the mail; he then throws a sommerset, and comes plump down at Lambeth, where he threatens to annihilate Mr. Hawes, but he don't altogether do that, for on the close of the poll the numbers are somewhat in this fashion—Hawes 6097,