[blocks in formation]

If this scene is the only break in the changeful rapidity of the action towards the conclusion of the drama, on the other hand, in the earlier part, there are few exceptions to the smoothness and even tenor of its way. We consider the contrast in this respect to be stronger than is warrantable; yet some justification may be alleged in the art with which the earlier portions prepare us for the catastrophe, not only by familiarising us with the characters of the drama and the part assigned to each, but also by impressing us with the magnitude of the interests at stake, and making us thoroughly enter into the spirit of the age. We feel that the action of the drama is advancing surely, though silently. All day long we watch the exhalations ascending: gradually they form themselves into a canopy over the fatal plain; and as in a moment the sun sets, the collected storm bursts, and the thunderbolt falls.

The instantaneousness of the retribution which overtakes the monastic party is not warranted by the chronological fact; but we are not prepared to say that Mr. Taylor has stretched too far the dramatist's privilege by this condensation of events. The true cause of the Danish conquest is to be found in the divisions of England; and by the eye of the Seer, cause and effect are seen together as one. In real life our actions are so various, the tissue so confused, and the interval between our deeds and their results so considerable, that few men discover the moral of the drama; experience comes too late, and we are left practically to walk by faith, not sight. The poet, by a selection of events not less ideal than his creation of character, and by a privilege of compression which connects historical facts with their moral causes, reduces the chaos of outward circumstance to order, and illuminates it with the light of intellectual truth. For this reason all injurious bonds' of Time are as easily broken through in the poet's marshalling of causes and effects as are those of Space in the battles of the Gods.

We should have wished to give some specimens of the humour with which several scenes abound, as well as of the keen remarks, sarcasms, and truths put in edgewise, that diversify them. We should have been well pleased also to extract Wulfstan's descrip

tion of Oxford: it will touch a sympathetic chord in many a heart that turns with gratitude and love to that ancient and venerable University,' which, after the lapse of so many centuries, remains still a secure asylum for learning and recluse genius. But our space admits only the following passage taken from the first scene in which Edwin and Elgiva converse together :


What a charm

The neighbouring grove to this lone chamber lends!
I've loved it from my childhood. How long since
Is it that standing in this compassed window
The blackbird sang us forth; from yonder bough
That hides the arbour, loud and full at first
Warbling his invitations, then with pause
And fraction fitfully as evening fell,
The while the rooks, a spotty multitude,
Far distant crept across the amber sky!'

We shall now proceed to observe on some faults and failures in Edwin the Fair,' one failure especially which surprises us in so elaborate a work, and one fault which we regard as by no means a trifling one. The underplot of Emma and Ernway, which in the beginning holds out the expectation of a light and pleasant interest to be interwoven with the darker tissue of the main story, very soon falls short of its promise, is but imperfectly blended as the play proceeds, and at the conclusion is left at a loose end with hardly a hint of what we are to suppose the upshot. Ernway is utterly superfluous; and Emma, but that she makes herself agreeable, would be felt to be almost equally so. It is clear to us that in the introduction of these characters the author made a false start, that he did not see his way before him distinctly, that he trusted to Fortune to shape his ends, rough-hew them as he might,' and that Fortune used him but scurvily in the matter. This failure we cannot regard as unimportant; but the other fault which we have to notice is a more serious one. The device of Dunstan, in conjunction with the Queen Mother, for betraying Edwin and Elgiva into an intercourse fatal to honour and innocence is in our judgment not only a blemish in the poetical conception of Dunstan's character, but a feature as derogatory to the higher interests of the story as it is offensive in itself. Dunstan is sufficiently exhibited in his character of tempter by the scene in which he endeavours to procure the abdication of Edwin it was therefore unnecessary to embody the craft of the fanatic in a form so mean as well as so wicked. The scene in question too occurring so early in the work may have the effect of presenting Dunstan in a light so odious as to incapacitate some readers from doing justice to the loftier part of Dunstan's character.


[ocr errors]

The most remarkable characteristics of Mr. Taylor's poetry appear to us its manliness and its truth. It is obvious that he writes not from any peculiar theory of the poetic art, though this has been often attributed to him, but in the manner most natural to him, and most congenial with his general estimate of things. It on a moral base that the intellectual fabric of his poetry rests. Hence an entire absence of false sentiment and factitious effects: hence also, in a volume which is a perfect storehouse of observation and reflection, we shall search in vain for a single remark put forward for its brilliancy rather than its truth. He never solicits our sympathy for morbid sorrows: for real afflictions he never pushes it beyond the limits of what is just and salutary. An excess of pathos is a frequent source of weakness in modern poetry, though, as we are glad to observe, it exists in a much less degree than it did once. In the lower departments of our literature we still find the traces of an evil as great. We allude to that gross and plebeian craving for the harrowing and the horrible, which disgraces the popular literature of a neighbouring country. No doubt persons will always be found who prefer intoxicating drugs to the purer aliments of the mind: but as there exists also a class of readers who look for moral and mental benefits as the result of study, and who have not forgotten that poetry is a study, we rejoice, not only on literary grounds but also for higher reasons, that for this class such books as • Edwin the Fair' are still provided. It is a work full of those thoughts which make books dear to us, and yet leave us independent of books. It is solid in its material, severe in its structure, and elevating in its spirit. It has no ornaments that distract the attention from the robust and permanent attributes of true poetry, no subtleties that destroy breadth of dramatic effect. It is nowhere so concise as to be obscure, and, on the other hand, it is free from that diffuseness which makes the best thoughts as ineffective as a musical string relaxed till it can yield no sound.

With reference to our introductory remarks, we must also observe, that in some respects Mr. Taylor's poetry is distinguished from that of other poets of this age, whose merits are unquestioned and have stood the ordeal of time: we allude in particular to his aptitude for observing character and action. It is not only man, but men, that he takes for the subject-matter of his verse: men in all the relations of social and political life, civil or ecclesiastical,men awake to all the excitements of a busy career, and fulfilling their parts with a healthy energy. Mr. Taylor seldom writes as a metaphysician, though frequently as a philosopher. As unconsciousness is necessary condition of healthfulness of character, so a certain suspension of poetic consciousness appears


to be requisite for the vigorous conception of character;which is perhaps the reason that metaphysicians have never been dramatists. It is as ill-judged to exercise the critical and the creative faculties at the same moment as it would be to combine the statue with the anatomical model by the use of some transparent material, and call upon us at once to admire the outward beauty of man's shape and the marvels of his internal economy. In Mr. Taylor's poetry we never come to an analysis of the feelings, for it is not the passions, but men impassioned, that he describes we seldom come to any long strain of merely speculative meditation, for his subject is not thought in itself, but thoughtful men. Passion appears to be valued chiefly as leading to action: nay, action itself is in some degree subordinated to reflection, though reflection of so practical a character as to be in fact a form of action. It is in this respect that he pays his tribute to the age and reflects its spirit. Belonging, on the whole, to the active school, his poetry is, though never sicklied over,' yet sometimes shadowed over with the cast of thought (we do not mean mystical thought), in a degree which makes the principal difference between him and our early dramatists. So far as this predominance of practical thought and fixed purpose tends to weaken his sympathy for natural and healthy passion, it necessarily tends to injure the popular interest of his dramas, and to deprive them of that perfect spontaneity of movement and redundant life which characterizes those of our early literature. On the other hand, the blended dignity of thought and a sedate moral habit invests Mr. Taylor's poetry with a stateliness in which the drama is generally deficient, and makes his writings illustrate, in some degree, a new form of the art-such a form indeed as we might expect the written drama naturally to assume if it were to revive in the nineteenth century, and maintain itself as a branch of literature apart from the stage.

[ocr errors]

ART. IV.-Medii Evi Kalendarium: or Dates, Charters, and Customs of the Middle Ages, with Kalendars from the Tenth to the Fifteenth Century; and an Alphabetical Digest of obsolete Names of Days; forming a Glossary of the Dates of the Middle Ages, with Tables and other Aids for ascertaining Dates. By R. T. Hampson. 2 vols. London. 1841. THE plan and intention of this work may be best told in the

s au


words of the author.

"Of a work which is chiefly founded on information derived from manuscript or printed sources, little explanation can be necessary. The


2 D


original intention was to cast into the form of a glossary as many of the terms now obsolete, being employed in medieval chronology, as could be obtained by a diligent research, and to assign the bearing of each as nearly as it could be satisfactorily ascertained. In the prosecution of this plan it soon became obvious that the utility of the glossary would be considerably enlarged by determining the age of the term itself; and the attempt to effect this object with exactitude has necessarily introduced a multitude of ecclesiastical and legal antiquities which were not contemplated in the first design, but which are indispensable in many cases to confer probability on explanations respecting which there may be conflicting opinions. Writers of considerable eminence on ecclesiastical subjects connected with chronology do not always agree in determining the year in which several of the principal feasts were instituted. The variation sometimes extends to one or two centuries, and occasions difficulties which are not always to be surmounted. In such cases the leading opinions are given, with references to the authorities on which they are founded. . Innumerable instances may be readily collected from the glossary, in which it has been a principal object to assemble, in an alphabetical order, whatever might tend to elucidate the obscurities of the chronology of the middle ages. In order the better to preserve the utility of this department of the work by removing from it everything that did not immediately belong to the explanations, it became necessary either to reject many curious and not altogether useless facts, or to embody them in a separate department. The latter course has been pursued.

'The Kalendars, it is presumed, will be found of considerable service. They are six in number, of which two are incorporated in one, but the others are distinct. They range from the middle of the tenth century to the end of the fourteenth, and may therefore be supposed to contain all the information which can be expected from works of their description. Of one, of which the original is believed to have been the property of King Athelstan, it must be confessed that it contains much matter that is not likely to prove remarkably useful, and it has been presented more as a literary curiosity than as an assistant in chronology. The obits of another have been retained, so far as they could be read by the transcriber, because it is possible that one or other of them may determine the date of some particular fact. For instance, we know from the Saxon Chronicles that the battle of Malden was fought in the year 993, and we ascertain, what is not mentioned by our historians, from the obit of Byrhtnoth, that it took place on the 11th of August.'

Mr. Hampson makes no parade of his researches, but he has diligently consulted manuscript authorities, and brought forward much new and very curious matter, hitherto neglected or unemployed. He is, nevertheless, rather deficient in knowledge; and he has fallen into many errors and inaccuracies, displaying want of editorial care. These defects, which we will pass over, are, however, of very secondary importance when compared with the flippant and irreverent spirit by which the work is completely


« ElőzőTovább »