voice will naturally die away in the wilderness of the past. A great poet must throw his voice before him if he wishes to be heard in the coming time; the world marches onwards; when he indulges in regrets he speaks not to men, but to the empty space they have past over. All Wordsworth's later writings are of this class. The healthy state of a reverent appreciation, and a wise patience is turned into the disease of superstition, and a slavish passiveness. That this is the character of much of Mr. Wordsworth's writings, must be evident to a candid reader, and it will materially lessen the admiration of future ages. We shall, however, adhere to the rule we laid down in the commencement of this chapter, and treat the poets under consideration as an exception to the rule we mean to adopt in the remainder of the volume, and shall content ourselves with a short description of Mr. Wordsworth. The biographical facts of his life are so well known that we pass them over. In person he is tall and largely framed; his eyes have a peculiarly thoughtful expression— they seem the seat of contemplation, not of observation; and being deeply set in his head, give to the whole contour of his face a physical expression admirably in keeping with his idiosyncracy. The finest likeness of him is a three-quarter portrait by one of the most gifted of modern artists, Margaret Gillies. This represents him in his parlor at Rydal Mount, with the beautiful lake scenery in the distance, seen through the window; an open book is before him. He is looking up at some one to whom he is explaining a passage in the volume, which it is almost unnecessary to add is his own poems. In private life he is an example to all men, obliging, charitable and courteous; he is always happy to see any visiters whom the fame of his genius inclines to call on him, and shows his garden and grounds with the gusto of a connoisseur, and the affection of a parent. Every tree has a living interest in his eye, and he is on speaking terms with every natural object in the country. Hills, woods and waterfalls are his companions, and he resents an indignity offered to them with as much energy as though they were of his own household. He visits London, generally, every other year, where he remains for three or four months, one of the most venerable of lions. We regret to add, that his health has lately been very much impaired and aggravated by the death of his only daughter, Mrs. Quillinan, who died of consumption. Owing to his careful husbandry of a small patrimony, and his frugal habits, he has a moderate competency. Till four years since he was distributor of stamps, which office he resigned in favor of his son, upon his own appointment to the Laureateship. Of all the superior intellects who have spoken or written, Wordsworth is undoubtedly one of the most incapable of humor. He cannot understand a joke, either mental or practical. Even when explained to him, he lays it on his logical rack, and there dissects it scientifically. A little anecdote will, however, convey better the old poet's idea of wit than an elaborate exposition. At a friend's house, after dinner the conversation turned upon wit and humor. The author of Lalla Rookh, who was present, gave some illustrations from Sheridan's “sayings, doings and writings.” Starting from his reverie, Wordsworth said that he did not consider himself to be a witty poet; “indeed,” continued he, “I do not think I was ever witty but once in my life.” A great desire was naturally expressed by all to know what this special drollery was. After some hesitation the old poet 'said—“Well, well, I will tell you. I was standing some time ago at the entrance of my cottage at Rydal Mount. A man accosted me with the question—‘Pray, sir, have you seen my wife pass by ?" whereupon I said, “Why, my good friend, I didn't know, till this moment, that you had a wife!’” The company stared, and finding that the old bard had discharged his entire stock, burst into a roar of laughter, which the facetious Wordsworth, in his simplicity, accepted as a genuine compliment to the brilliancy of his wit. Accustomed to live secluded from the world—coddled up by a few old and withered spinsters—the poetical mind of this fine writer has become narrowed till it has lost most of that vigorous and embracing universality, and scorn of conventionalism, which made him in his inspired moments utter

“We must be free, or die

Who speak the language Shakspere spoke—the faith
And morals hold that Milton held—”

—The career of Mr. Leigh Hunt is so familiar with the reading public that we need not waste our space in reciting it. We shall content ourselves, therefore, with the statement that as an agreeable essayist, vivacious poet, and pleasant companion, few men are his superiors. He does not pretend to any loftier position in literature than that of a genial and humanising critic; in this latter character he has done more than any other man to soften the acerbity of criticism, acting chiefly in the spirit of Shakspere's adage—

“Love lends a precious seeing to the eye.”

In person he is tall; his hair is now gray and parted on his forehead; it grows low down, which gives the appearance of a want of intellectual power; his voice is peculiar and soft; he sings a lively song, and accompanies himself on the piano or seraphine with much spirit and grace; abounds with pleasant anecdote, and is fond of punning; his quotations are very happy, and he occasionally throws off a parody of some old hackneyed passage with great effect.

We remember one day, in an excursion with him and Dr. Southwood Smith to Croydon, he saw some sheep grazing in a park near that place. He there remarked how much of the beauty of a pas

sage depended on a word; for instance, said he, apostrophizing the sheep—

“The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed to-day,
Had he thy reason would he skip and play?
Pleased to the last, his flowery food he crops,
And licks the hand that cuts him into chops!”

Leigh Hunt, had he done nothing himself, would still be remarkable for his associations. While we should consider the author of Rimini, and the Legend of Florence as a very clever man of letters, who, having no originality himself, had the rare art of doing several old things so well as to achieve a sort of adventitious fame; yet, when we regard him as the intimate friend of Shelley and Keats, the associate of Byron, Lamb, Hazlitt and Coleridge, he becomes more remarkable on their account than on his own. He has an aroma not belonging to him—

“He is not the rose, says the Persian song,
But he has dwelt beside it!”

Intercourse with these men of genius, and the keen, appreciating spirit of Hunt, has had the effect of making him one of the most agreeable of talkers. He is now in the enjoyment of a pension from the queen of two hundred pounds per annum, and one of one hundred and twenty pounds from Sir Percy Florence Shelley, son to the great poet. We must not forget to name, that on the death of his grand-father, when he came to the Baronetcy, young Shelley immediately sent to Mr. Hunt stating he had learnt that his father had intended giving him an annuity, and he, therefore, felt happy in carrying out the wishes of one so dear to him.

If any extended notice of Mr. Leigh Hunt was unnecessary, it is still less requisite in the case of the author of Lalla Rookh.

His melodies have made him the inmate of every household; his name conjures up associations old as our boyhood—lips once trembling with emotion, but now closed for ever, have sung to us those most graceful of all lyrics—“oft in the stilly night,” visions of the bygone years float past to the music of his ballads; we may, therefore, leave the inimitable lyrist of the genial, the tender and the fanciful, by remarking what, however, is perhaps generally known, that he now awaits in a half torpid state the touch of that great Master whose finger carries to the world of graves. His later years have been clouded by family misfortune, and it is pretty currently rumored that nature has treated the aged bard kindly, by rendering him partially insensible to his domestic bereavements. We may sing in the words of a dramatist—

“Deal gently with him, sovereign death, for he
Has charmed the world with his sweet minstrelsy "

—Mr. Procter, better known as Barry Cornwall, the schoolfellow of Byron ànd Peel, has retired for many years from the poetical world. He may, therefore, be considered as having abdicated Parnassian Life. As a poet, we are inclined to believe posterity will award him little honor. What celebrity he may earn as a “Commissioner of Lunatics” is another question. With the exception of a few pretty songs, he has done very little. He has tried the higher kinds of composition, and lamentably failed: his tragedy of Mirandola was an unequivocal defeat; his larger poems of the Flood of Thessaly, and Marcian Colonna, were likewise evidences of his want of power for a sustained flight. Fortunately for his ephemeral reputation he first appeared at a time when it took very little to make a poetical name. Had he lived in later days he would certainly have only achieved a seat on the second form. Next after Wordsworth, Walter Savage Landor is undoubtedly the most original poet in this little band of patriarchs. His extreme classicality, and half paganistic worship of beauty, have, however, deprived him of that wide circle of readers and admirers, which undoubtedly his genius deserves. Curiously enough, it is to his prose works that he owes the small popularity he enjoys.

« ElőzőTovább »