Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

tion by the events consequent on the Son of God goes forth to war.” And, French Revolution. Perhaps it is im- in the collection published by these possible to name one of our classical writers, we, for the first time, witness an bards so thoroughly free from every attempt to make the Church of England tinge of foreign style or sentiment. The poetical by bringing her weekly services days of German imitation, indeed, had into connexion with the subjects of verse. not yet arrived, but our poetry had We have alluded to James Montgomery. hardly worked itself free from French He, too, deserves notice as a writer of fashions, and Latin pomposity had but devotional lyrics, full of beauty, both recently accomplished a majestic march of feeling and expression. He was a in the measures of Johnson. Moreover, member of the Moravian Society; and there was a sort of conventional diction his hymns, though more finished and afloat, which, if not easy at first sight graceful than those of the Wesleys, are, to assign to a foreign parentage, was like them, chiefly concerned with the scarcely less of an exotic, compared to work of religion on the soul. It is by the plain-spoken English which Cowper them, more than by his longer poems, brought into competition with it. An that his merit is most generally recogother characteristic we observe in this nised. poet, distinguishing him from the Calvin But the next important era in our istic rhymesters who preceded him, is his religious poetry after the date of Cowstrong moralizing vein. Morality had per, was that of Wordsworth. The been kept so completely subordinate to “Lake School,” so called, of which he the doctrines and experiences of faith by was the principal leader contemplathe party to which he belonged, that, tive and philosophical in character-did from the days of Watts to those of not obtain a fair hearing till after the Cowper, scarcely any mention of prac. war and its immediate effects had subtical virtues is to be found in the verse sided. Wordsworth was not a sacred that emanated from that source.

poet, as the phrase is generally underBut it was to men's daily tasks and stood. Nevertheless, he has done much daily responsibilities that Cowper ad to mould our sacred poetry ; more, prodressed himself; and his example, fol- bably, than any other poet within the lowed, as it was, by many writers of range of our literature, save Spenser, various degrees of merit, contributed to Milton, and Cowper. The influence of give to the evangelical school of this Spenser belongs to a state of things long century its practical, domestic style of passed away, and we have nothing to manners and feeling. It influenced, say of him in this place ; but it may indeed, the character of our religious be not uninstructive to bring some points poetry more permanently than we may of Wordsworth's genius into comparison be generally aware of, and still survives with that of the other two: mentioned the varieties of taste which that branch together, not for a moment as comparing of composition has subsequently expe- them in merit, but because they both rienced.

represent certain phases of thought, The later times of the continental war significant for our present purpose. were coincident with a spirit of romance Milton, Cowper, and Wordsworth, and martial enterprise in our land, of each dealt with the appearances of nature, which, as secular poets, Scott, Byron, and with man's relations to the spiritual and Campbell, were apt representatives, world. How did they severally apThe hymns of Heber and Milman ex proach those topics ? Milton wrote of hibit not a little of the colouring im- religion on its God-ward side. His parted even to religious poetry by the imagination soared to the courts of spirit-stirring influences of the day. heaven with the characteristic daring of There is something of almost chivalrous the Puritanism of his age. He ventured ardour in such strains as “From Green- to interpret the Almighty's counsels for land's icy mountains ;” or again, “ The, the fate of man. His love of nature love.

led him to delight in those descriptions These lines of Göthe's are but the of her beauties which, for grandeur of condensation of Wordsworth's creed as diction, scarce any poet in any age or developed in his beautiful poem on country has come near ; but he con- Tintern Abbey : templated the material universe entirely

“I have felt as God's handmaid and tributary. Its

A presence that disturbs me with the morning skies, its nightly splendours,

sense were all parts of the triumphant chant

Of elevated thoughts ; a sense sublime that was for ever arising from His works

Of something far more deeply interfused, below as from His angels above.

Whose dwelling is the light of setting Cowper wrote of religion on its human

suns, side—of religion as applied to the

And the blue sky, and in the mind of every-day thoughts and habits of life.

man : He loved to regard nature as a message

A motion and a spirit, that impels to man's heart from his ever-present All thinking things, all objects of all Father, and a means of devout commu

thought nion with Him. In Milton's view,

W And rolls through all things,” &c. nature was rather a display of God's transcendent majesty ; in that of Cow It is evident, we repeat, that Wordsper, it was the voice of His paternal worth is not a sacred poet in the sense

which any doctrinal zealots would accept. With both these poets, the idea of The religion he preaches is that, to use God as revealed in the Bible gave the his own expression, of“ a dreamer in the key-note to their meditations. Herein woods." True, it is very earnest and lies the difference between their standing sublime, thoroughly pervaded by a sense point and that of Wordsworth. The of the moral government of God, and in latter aims rather at a philosophic appre- harmony with revealed Faith. Still, ciation of nature's influence over the revealed Faith is not the postulate on heart, apart from system or creed. He which it rests. We are not speaking looks upon her in the light of a teacher of the ecclesiastical sonnets, in which to guide man to self-knowledge and self- he sentimentalizes on the worship and discipline, without the à priori assump- history of the Church of England, nor tion of a Revelation, by which the sen- of other occasional pieces, but of that timent both of Milton and of Cowper is part of his poetry which is really determined. Perhaps we may say that original and characteristic of his genius, the elevation of nature to the rank of and which, as such, has imparted a new an independent teacher was a gradual stock of ideas to the world. It follows, process; that, while Milton looked upon consistently enough, that, with the Evanher as the Almighty's work of power gelical party, Wordsworth has never and exceeding beauty, and nothing been a favourite. But it is a fact that more, Cowper had already begun to we see the evidence of his training in listen to her with something of the almost all other religious poets of the prespirit of a disciple, before Wordsworth sent day; not only in those of more liberal advanced her authoritative claims to be or fanciful views, but in those whose studied and obeyed. But something high Ecclesiasticism one would think also was derived from the ideas which was little enough in accordance with the study of German had begun to in the very unsystematic faith of the fuse into our poetical literature :

Excursion and the Ode on Immortality.

It so happened that Wordsworth had “Erkennest dann der Sterne Lauf; outlived his detractors, and become a

Und wenn Natur dich unterweist, popular poet, just about the time that Dann geht die Seelenkraft dir auf, the Oxford High-Church views were Wie spricht ein Geist zum andern forming. In the alliance that took Geist.”

· place between these two tendencies of thought, Keble led the way; and, if we pathos is deep and tender; his love and ask what was the ground of the mutual observation genuine, if a little overattraction between such apparently oppo- strained in sentiment and expression. He site modes of thought, we shall perhaps manifests an experimental sense of detect it,

human griefs and necessities, which, First, in the calm placid tone of with all who have known sorrow, must feeling, the avoidance of all passionate ever accredit his title to be an expounemotion or expression, which, while in der of the everlasting text, Vanitas Wordsworth it was to some extent a vanitatum All these qualities have reaction from the fire and tempest of made him a lasting favourite, and not Scott and Byron, was likewise aimed at with sharers in his own opinions only. by the Anglican religionists as a re- In fact, we have a curious evidence, how action from the excitement and fervour little the formalism of his ecclesiastical of the Evangelicals.

views struck the world at first as a Secondly, in the encouragement given prominent characteristic of his verse, to the taste for symbolism by Words- in a criticism of Professor Wilson's, worth’s reverential feeling for the ma- which appeared in Blackwood's Magazine, terial universe in all its parts. Words- three years after the publication of the worth himself was not a symbolist, but “ Christian Year."1 "The critic here he was in some sense a mystic. It was speaks of the new bard much as he the informing Spirit of Nature that he would have spoken of one of the pious' worshipped almost. To contemplate that elders of the Scottish Kirk, whom his spirit as typical of a revealed and ecclesi. fancy loved to idealize, supposing such astically organized system, was altogether elder to have possessed the faculty of foreign to his turn of thought; but the verse. The inspiration was in his eyes combination was easily made by those much the same. The Bible, the Sabwhose favourite dream it was to find the bath, the peasant's cottage, and the visible Church and its adjuncts shadowed braes, are the principal features in his everywhere.

description of the sources of Keble's Here, then, we have found our way poetry and of its influence. And so no to the historical position which Keble, doubt with most of the world, it was as as a sacred poet, occupies amongst us. sentiment, not as system, that much of Coming when modern Puritanism had the phraseology of the Oxford school was reached its culminating point, and when, at first regarded. But then came the together with the rise of a new set of “Tracts for the Times,” and made its theological ideas, a new first-rate poet real purpose clear; and then, as in prose, stood ready for imitation and adapta- so also in verse, a stereotyped set of notion, he inaugurated a fresh school of tions and expressions soon came into religious verse. Numerous have been vogue, limiting and hampering on every his imitators; and, as is generally the side that free communion with the heart case, they have exaggerated his peculiar and with nature which can alone encharacteristics into more or less of a sure genuine power. Keble, not himconventional cant. But he was himself self an original poet, though the origi. early imbued with the teaching of an nator of a new tendency of poetry, older school. His religious sentiment became the subject of imitation. Patriswas grounded rather on the biblical tic allegorizing and mediæval hymnody associations of the long dominant were more and more resorted to as Puritanism, than on the mediæval asso- sources of inspiration, and much maw. ciations of the Anglican Revival, which kish or dogmatic verse has been the he himseif contributed to bring about; result. The versifiers of this school and in these respects he stands in advan indeed, have been mostly men of contageous comparison with the writers siderable attainment, and of more classi

eferred to. Though frequently obscure cal taste than the Methodists, of whatever and fanciful, Keble is not affected. His

Blackwood, xxvi. 83. No. 27.-YOL. V.

denomination, ever affected. But, whereever a poet writes to uphold a party and a system, rather than to interpret nature and the human heart, cant of one kind or another will be the inevitable result. With all the pious feeling and graceful versification, for example, of the author of the “ Cathedral,” there is cant in the superstitious reverence he expresses for architectural forms and symbols, as much, perhaps, though of a very oppo. site kind, as in the daring familiarities with Divine things and persons which are to be met with in Dissenting and Low-Church hymnody. The “Lyra Apostolica,” published in 1836, in which Keble himself wrote, was a much more

formal exposition of opinion than the “ Christian Year.” Some of Keble's coadjutors in this work, in fact before long overstepped the extremest limits of the Via Media. But the fashion of this world passes away, in devotional poetry as in other things. Though Keble's first work retains its hold over the public mind, the Ultra-Tractarian school of verse is now very much at a discount. The hymns of the German Gesangbuch, on the other hand, have of late been numerously and repeatedly translated. The “Lyra Germanica” has many more readers at the present day than the “Lyra Apostolica."

BEGGARS.

BY CHARLES ALLSTON COLLINS.

La mendicité est défendue dans le partement du Pas de Calais."

This is one of the very first announcements which one reads on disembarking from the Dover packet. It is affixed to the celebrated gate of Calais, which Hogarth has immortalized, and a similar notice is to be found at the entrance to every one of the numerous departments of France. And, though there are just at this moment a great many beggars in Paris, it is yet certain that, as a rule, one is little annoyed by beggars as long as one remains in the French dominions.

It is not so here. In this free and happy country, the beggar thrives and prospers, persecutes, intimidates, and sometimes even as will presently appear, makes a comfortable independence out of the credulity of the public. The days must surely be at hand when these things will be better looked after than they are at present; and, when these devouring tribes are no longer known among us, it will be interesting to have a record of their existence, as of any other obsolete species. It is such a record that I now

propose to draw up for the benefit of posterity.

It is a dreadful thing to be begged of. It is a dreadful thing to see Keziah Kadge waiting for one a few yards ahead by the side of the pavement. She has just been exhausting her eloquence upon a Greek gentleman, by whose side she has been ambling along all round the crescent, looking back straight into his eyes as she runs a little in front of him, which is the professional method, and a very effective one, too. She has abandoned the Greek, who is inexorable, and there she waits for you. You cannot escape her without absolutely turning back, and even then I hardly think you would get rid of her; for Keziah's time is her own, she is very accommodating, and may as well be going your way as any other. Is there any one who has not quailed when he has seen the beggar-woman thus waiting for him, or, still worse, crossing over the street higher up, ready to attack him as soon as he gets within fire ? Her mode of address is monotonous and unvarying. Do, good gentleman,” she gasps, as she runs by your side, for she is a hard feeder and short of breath, and it is common for the victim to “force the pace” a little, in order to get rid of her.

Do, good gentleman, have compassion on a poor girl-had nothing to eat all day, and mother at home with the fever.” This, by the bye, is a very good stroke, for if the persecuted pedestrian happens to be of a nervous nature, he will think it cheap to be rid of the danger of infection at the price of all the copper, or rather bronze, which he happens to have about him. This is fol. lowed, if the victim is still obdurate, by a volley of benedictions, expressions of a hope that he may never want “it;" which, considering that he has got " it," and probably means to keep “it,” seem almost superfluous. Then follow awful appeals to the Supreme Being to corro borate the truth of her statement; and as this, if you are well initiated in the art of begging, at once decides you not to give, it is commonly succeeded by some muttered curses, “not loud, but deep,” to which she gives vent as she stands, having at last given you up, and watches your retreating figure with hateful and malignant eyes.

Those curses are of about as much importance as the blessings which immediately preceded them ; but how does a man feel during the enacting of such a scene as that described above? He feels annoyed and uncomfortable. If things have that day been going well with him, if he has just been receiving a sum of money, if he is going home or elsewhere to a good dinner, and to the enjoyment of all sorts of comfort, he will feel a kind of weak and illogical conviction that he ought to impart a penny share in his prosperity to Keziah Kadge. If he does this, he knows, and, perhaps, acknowledges to himself, that he is acting like a fool, but still he goes to his dinner or other enjoyments with Keziah's full sanction and permission, which he other wise felt to be withheld. Are beggars skilled physiognomists? Does Keziah Kadge know the man who has done a good stroke of business by his countenance? It is far from improbable. Has

the reader ever observed that there are some days on which he is more solicited for alms than on others—the same, perhaps, chosen by children to ask what o'clock it is in the public streets, or to request him to pull, on their behalf, “ the top bell-handle on the left-hand door-post ? ”

The class of mendicants of which Keziah Kadge is a specimen, is an especially bad one. She is a strong, young, able-bodied woman, and yet an habitual and professional beggar. It is doubtful, however, whether she is quite the worst specimen of all. She is what may be called the clamorous beggar; is she as bad as the silent beggar ?

With the silent beggar we have all been long familiar, though it is only now, as we shall shortly see, that he has reached the culminating point of full development. The silent beggar is ordinarily a thin and sickly-looking individual. He dresses generally in seedy black, showing, however, an aggravatingly white shirt-front, which, in its spotless cleanliness, is part of his stockin-trade, for he is “poor, but scrupulously clean." It is not unfrequently the case that nature will decorate the nose of the silent beggar with a fine vermilion tinge, which sets off the pallor of the other parts of his countenance to great advantage, and is-pray observe-in nowise the result of drinking. The scene chosen by the silent beggar for his mute appeal is generally one of our leading and most bustling thoroughfares, the Tottenham-courtroad or that of Edgeware ; and here, selecting a situation where there is a good flaring gas-light blazing full upon himfor night, and especially Saturday night, is his great time—he takes up his position. It is not, however, his practice to stand upon the pavement; he is far too humble for that. He stands in the road, just at the edge of the kerbstone, and, to complete the unobtrusive character of his appearance, holds himself in a slightly stooping position, with his head bent down, and never removing his gaze from the pavement, except on rare occasions, to glance around him in

« ElőzőTovább »