even in liis breast some hope of a fairer future for Humanity
on earth, — some aspiration, at least, for a Social Order wherein
Eank and Wealth should not be everything, and Man nothing,
— but no : I cannot recall even a passing allusion to America,
save that most inaccurate one, " the still vext Bermoothes,"
and never once an intimation, a suspicion, that the common
lot might be meliorated through the influence of the settle-
ment and civilization of this side of the globe. Of course,
the actor-manager-author meant no disrespect to us Anglo-
Americans in prospect, nor yet to our Franco-American neigh-
bors just north, nor to the Spanish and Portuguese Americans
south of us ; it was only a way he had of viewing everything
with an eye which, tliough it oft, " in fine frenzy rolling,"
might " glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,"
never penetrated laterally much beyond the fogs of Lon-
don and the palace of Whitehall, and not only saw in the mil-
lion merely the counters wherewith kings and nobles played
their gallant game, but refused to see in them the possibility
of becoming anything better.
Whether Shakespeare the monarchist or Milton the repub-
POETS AND POETRY. 475
lican were intellectually the greatest Englishman who ever
lived, I will not judge ; but none can doubt that, morally,
Milton was by far the superior. His purity of life and noble-
ness of aim ; his constancy to the republican cause after it
had been irretrievably ruined ; in short, his every act and
word, prove his immeasuraljly tlie nobler nature. Shake-
speare, the Tory and Courtier, had he lived an age later,
could never have dared and suffered for his convictions as
Milton did for his. Nor, though he has written many finer
passages, which have found ten times as many delighted
readers as aught of Milton's has found, or perhaps will ever
find, can I recall one passage from Shakespeare, which does
his manhood such honor as is reflected on Milton's by his two
sonnets on his blindness, which, however familiar, I shall
make no apology for citing : —
ON HIS BLINDNE SS.
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide,
Lodged with me nseless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
" Doth God exact day-labor, light denied ? "
I fondly ask : But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, " God doth not need
Either man's work or His own gifts ; who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best : His state
Is kingly ; thousands at His bidding speed.
And post o'er land and ocean witliout rest ;
They also sei-ve who only stand and wait."
TO CYRIAC SKINNER.
Cyriac, this three years, day these eyes, though clear,
To outward view, of blemish or of spot,
Bereft of light, their seeing have forgot,
Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear
Of sun, or moon, or star, throughout the year,
Or man, or woman. Yet I argue not
Against Heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot
Of heart or hope ; but still bear up and steer
Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask 1
The conscience. Friend, t' have lost them overplied
In Liberty's defence, ray noble task.
Of which all Europe rings from side to side.
This thought might lead me through the world's vain mask
Content, though blind, had I no better guide.
Such sentiments, not only uttered but lived, the efflux of
a serene, majestic soul, which calamity could not daunt, nor
humiliation depress, not merely honor our common nature, —
they exalt and ennoble it. Shakespeare could no more have
written thus of himself than Milton could have created and
gloated over the character of Falstaff.
Of later English poets, prior to those of the reign of George
III., I regard Pope alone as deserving of remark ; and he mainly
because of the unmeasured eulogies of Byron and others, who
certainly should be judges of poetry. For myself, while
esteeming him a profound philosopher and moralist, and the
king of verse-makers, I should hardly account him a poet at
all. " The Rape of the Lock " is undoubtedly a clever poem
of the slighter or secondary order ; but very much of Pope's
verse, had it been cast in the mould of prose, would never
have struck us as essentially poetic. For all the poetry they
contain, some of his satirical verses might better have taken
the form of prose, not to speak of those which, for the sake of
decency, had better not been written at all. And so I say of
Goldsmith, Thomson, Cowper, Yoimg, and their British co-
temporaries : they understood the knack of verse-wi-iting ;
they did well what they undertook ; their effusions — " The
Deserted Village," especially — may still be read with a mild
and temperate enjoyment ; but a thousand such bards would
never have created a National Poetry, — never have produced
anything which other nations would eagerly translate and
delightedly treasure. Essentially, they are not poets, but essay-
ists, sometimes moralists or sermonizers ; at others, romancers
or story-tellers ; but they produced nothing wliich mauldnd
POETS AND POETRY. 477
could not easily spare. Let them glimmer awhile in their
decent, inoffensive mediocrity, then sink into a kind oblivion.
The credit of ushering in the brightest era of British Poetry
belongs to the Scotch ploughman and rustic, Eobert Bums.
This man of many faults and sins, who little deemed himself
summoned to do the work of a literary reformer, was yet fated
to brush aside the sickly sentimentalisms and fantastic con-
ceits of an artificial age, and teach Poetry to sj^eak once more
to the soul in accents of Truth and Nature. At the sound of
his honest, manly, burly voice, the nymphs and goddesses, the
Chloes and Strephons, of a dawdling and unreal generation
vanished, and Poetry once more spoke from heart to heart in
her own unmufiled, undisguised voice, and was joyfully recog-
nized and welcomed. I know that citations may be made
from Burns which would seem to contradict this statement ;
but thfiy prove only that he was at times fitfully ensnared by
the Delilahs whose sorceries he was nevertheless destined to
vanquish and conclude. " A man's a man for a' that," " The
Twa Dogs," " The Cottar's Saturday Night," and many more
such, will for generations be read and admired in the gas-
lighted drawing-room, and by the log-cabin fireside, as vindi-
cations of the essential and proper nobility of Human Nature,
and of the truth that virtue and vice, worth and worthlessness,
fame and shame, are divided by no pecuniary, no social, line
of demarcation, but may each be found in the palace and in
the hovel, — under the casque of a noble or the cap of a boor.
In the character and works of Ptobert Burns is the first answer
of the dumb millions to the taunts and slurs of Shakespeare.
The great French Eevolution — if I should not rather say,
the great mental world-revolution which preceded and im-
pelled the French — ushered in a new era in Literature, and
especially in Poetry. Burns was the herald or forerunner of
this era, but he did not live to mark its advent.
I do not rank Walter Scott with the poets of our century.
Though chronologically his place is among them, he belongs
essentially to another epoch, or at least to the period of tran-
sition. The morning-star of this era was Keats ; its lurid and
oft-clouded sun was Byron. Keats was a dreamy and sensi-
tive youth, whose soul found in poetry its natural expression ;
but who had not attained the maturity of his genius, the per-
fection of his utterance, when a harsh and withering criticism
killed him. Byron was a wild and dissolute young lord, who
had made one tolerably good, and many weak, if not inexcus-
ably bad, attempts at poetry, when a severe but just critique
stung him to madness, and his wrath and bitterness flashed
and glowed into enduring verse. His indignation was vol-
canic ; but the lava it ejected was molten gold, — sulphurous,
as volcanic discharges are apt to be. As the death-freighted
thunderbolt, which often stuns and slays, has been known to
unseal the ears of the deaf and the reason of the idiot, so the
harsl^ discipline which crushed the poet Keats made a poet
of the second-rate poetaster Byron.
When I assign to Byron a very high, if not the highest,
place among modern English poets, I will only ask those who
differ from me to instance another whose ^\Titings have been
so widely read, or have exerted so marked an influence on the
age in which they appeared and the generation then in their
teens. I do not commend that influence, — I realize that it
does not, on the whole, conduce to a more confiding faith in
either God or man. Byron's poems, equally with his life,
letters, and conversation, excuse, if they do not justify, De
Stael's savage characterization, " He is a demon." Eead Cain
and Manfred considerately, then take up Goethe's "Faust,"
and study the role of Mephistopheles, and you will be tempted
to guess, since Goethe could not well have modelled his
demon after BjTon's life, that Byron must have modelled his
character on that of Goethe's devil.
It would be a difficult task to "WTite an honest life of Byron
that *vould be adapted to the use of Sunday schools, unless
you were to do as he promised in the opening of Don Juan,
but failed to perform, when he gave out that his story would
be a moral one, because, before he ended it, he meant —
POETS AND POETRY. 479
" to show
The very place where wicked people go."
Yes, this sceptical, cynical, irreverent, law-dericling libertine
Byron has made his mark deeply on our century, and not
■wholly for evil. His honest, profound, implacable hatred of
tyranny in every shape, where has it been surpassed, either
in intensity or in efficacy ? Do you believe Holy Inquisitions
and other machinery for torturing and killing men and women
for' the honest avowal of their religious convictions could
endure another year, if every one had read " The Prisoner of
Chillon ? " You or I may loathe his way of looking at the
great problem of Evil ; but tell me who ever presented the
argument against what is currently termed the Evangelical
view of this problem more tersely, strongly, startlingly, than
he has done in " Cain, a Mystery " ? And his remark that,
" if Satan is to be allowed to talk at all, you must not expect
him to talk like a clergyman," is obviously just. You must
let him fairly present his view of " the great argvmient," as
Milton does not, as Byron does, but with too manifest a lean-
ing to the infernal side. Bind up " Paradise Lost " and
" Cain " in one volume, and you will have therein the best
condensed statement of the pro and con of the theology cur-
rently accounted Orthodox or Evangelical that can be found
in the English language.
I think Moore has somewhere said before me, that the
Third Canto of Childe Harold contains some of the noblest
poetry we have. Waterloo, the Alpine thunder-storm, and
scores of passages equally vivid, will at once present . them-
selves to the reader's mind. " Description is my forte," said
Byron ; and Bayard Taylor, sailing through the Adriatic and
the ^gean, along the rugged coast of Dalmatia, and among
the ruin-strown, yet flower-mantled, "Isles of Greece," re-
marks that he finds himself continually recalling or repeating
the descriptive stanzas of Childe Harold, suggested by a
similar voyage ; for nothing else could so truly, forcibly, aptly,
embody his own impressions and emotions. Eemember that
Homer and J^schylus had gazed on much of this same pano-
rama, and ^\Titten from minds full of the tliouglits it excited,
and you are prepared to estimate the tribute paid by our
American traveller to tlie genius of Byron. Let me quote one
familiar passage — how could I quote any that is not familiar ?
— from Manfred. I cite that respecting the Coliseum, be-
cause, having anyself seen the moon rise through its ruined
arches while Italian devotees were praying and chanting
within, and French cavalry prancing and manoeuvring with-
out, its enormous walls, I feel its force more vividly than
though I had seen this mightiest monument of ancient Eome
in imagination only. Yet what could I say of that grandest
of ruins to equal this ?
" The stars are forth, the moon above the tops
Of the snow-shilling mountains. — Beautiful!
I linger yet with Nature, for the night
Hath been to me a more familiar face
Than that of man ; and in her starry shade
Of dim and solitary loveliness,
I learned the language of another world.
I do remember me, that in my youth,
Wlicn I was wandering, — upon such a night
I stood within the Coliseum's walls,
Midst the chief relics of almighty Rome ;
The trees which grew along the broken arches
Waved dark in the blue midnight, and the stars
Shone through the rents of ruin : from afar,
The watch-dog bayed bcj'ond the Tiber ; and,
More near, from out the Cffisars' palace came
The owl's long cry, and, interruptedly,
Of distant sentinels the fitful song
Began and died upon the gentle wind.
Some cypresses beyond the time-worn breach
Appeared to skirt the horizon ; yet they stood
Within a bowshot. — Where the Caesars dwelt,
And dwell the tuneless birds of night, amidst
A grove which springs through level battlements,
. And twines its roots with the imperial hearths,
Ivy usurps the laurel's place of growth ; —
But the gladiator's bloody circus stands,
A noble wreck, in ruinous perfection !
While Cffisar's chambers, and the Augustan halls.
Grovel on earth in indistinct decay. —
And thou didst shine, thou rolling moon, upon
POETS AND POETRY. 481
All this, and cast a wide and tender light,
Which softened down the hoar austerity
Of rugged desolation, and filled up.
As 't were anew, the gaps of centuries ;
Xicaving that beautiful which still was so,
And making that which was not, till the place
Became religion, and the heart ran o'er
"With silent worship of the great of old ! —
The dead but sceptred sovereigns, who still rule
Our spirits from their urns."
Of Coleridge, Sonthey, Campbell, Eogers. and other co-
temporaries of B}Ton, Wordsworth excepted, I shall say very
little. Each did some things well ; but, beyond a few stirring
lyrics by Campbell, and perhaps the Christabel and Gene-
vieve of Coleridge, I think our literature could spare them all
without irreparable damage.
Wordsworth's ultimate triumph is a striking proof of the
virtue of tenacity. Here is a studious, meditative man, of no
remarkable original powers, who quietly says to himself, " In-
tensity of expression, vehemence of epithet, volcanic passion,
profusion of superlatives, are out of place in Poetry, which
should embody the soul's higher and purer emotions in the
simplest and directest terms which the language affords." So
he begins to wTite and the critics to jeer, but he calmly per-
severes ; and, when it is settled that he wont stop vn-iting, the
critics conclude to stop jeering, and at length admit that he
was a poet all the while, but that their false canons or per-
verted tastes precluded their discovery of the fact for a quar-
ter of a century. I do not accept Wordsworth's theory, — I
believe there are ten persons born each year who are fitted to
derive both pleasure and instruction from the opposite school
to one who can really delight in and profit by the bare, tame
affirmations which are characteristic of Wordsworth (for he,
like the founders of other schools, is not always loyal to his
o"vvn creed), — but that Wordsworth's protest against the in-
tensity of the Byronic school was needed and wholesome, I
Yet it was not Wordsworth, not "the Lake school," as it
was oddly designated, that led and inspired the reaction
against " the Satanic school," so called, of Poetry, by which
the later morning of the XlXth century was so mildly irra-
diated. The credit of that reaction is primarily due to a
woman, — to Felicia Hemans. When Byron, still young, was
dpng in Greece of disappointment, and the remorse which a
wasted life engenders, she was just rising into fame among
the purest and happiest homes of England, like a full moon
rising calmly, sweetly, at the dewy close of a torrid and tem-
pestuous day. It was her influence that hushed the troubled
waves of doubt and defiance and unrest, and soothed the
heaving breast into renewed and trusting faith in virtue, eter-
nity, and God.
I apprehend that Mrs. Hemans finds fewer readers, with far
fewer profound admirers, to-day than she had thirty years
ago ; and in this fact there is a strong presumption that we,
who so admired her then, assigned her a higher station than
her writings will maintain. A pure and lovely woman, un-
happy in her domestic relations, and nobly struggling by lit-
erature to subsist and educate her children, is very apt to
arouse a chivalry, among readers not only, but critics, that is
unfavorable to sternness of judgment. I would gladly be-
lieve that the girls of 1868 read Mrs. Hemans as generally,
and esteem her as highly, as their mothers did in their girl-
hood ; but I fear their brothers, for the most part, neither
read nor admire her. Let me venture, therefore, for the sake
of my older readers, to cite one of her minor poems, which
must recall to many minds liours of pure and tranquil pleas-
ure passed in the perusal of the author's fresh efPasions. For-
ty years ago, had you opened a thousand American weekly
newspapers, — presuming that so many then existed, — you
would have found the " Poet's Corner " of at least one third
of them devoted to one of the latest productions of Mrs.
Hemans, and not one fourth so many given up to the verses
of any other person whatever. Now, you might open three
thousand journals without discovering therein even her name.
Bryant, Tennyson, Longfellow, Whittier, Lowell, Holmes, now
POETS AND POETRY. 483
fill her accustomed place ; as, forty years hence, alas ! some
fresher favorites will fill their places. So flows and ebbs this
transitory world ! But let not us, her old admirers, suffer her
name to drift by us into Obli\n.on's murky sea without a part-
ing cup of remembrance. We will recall
THE ADOPTED CHILD.
" Why wouldst thou leave me, gentle child 1
Thy home on the mountain is bleak and wild, —
A straw-roofed cabin, with lowly wall ;
Mine is a fair and pillared hall,
Where many an image of marble gleams,
And the sunsliine of picture forever streams."
" 0, green is the turf where my brothers play.
Through the long, bright hours of the Summer's day !
They find the red cup-moss where they climb,
And they chase the bee o'er the scented thyme.
And the rocks where the heath-flower blooms they know ;
Lady, kind lady, let me go."
" Content thee, boy ! in my bower to dwell ;
Here are sweet sounds which thou lovest well :
Flutes on the air in the stilly noon.
Harps which the wandering breezes tune.
And the silvery wood-note of many a bird,
Whose voice was ne'er in thy mountain heard."
" ! my mother sings at the twilight's fall,
A song of the hills far more sweet than all ;
She sings it under our OM-n green tree.
To the babe half slumbering on her knee ;
I dreamt last night of that music low, —
Lady, kind lady ! O, let me go."
" Thy mother is gone from her cares to rest ;
She hath taken the babe on her quiet breast ;
Thou wouldst meet her footstep, my boy, no more,
Nor hear her song at the cabin door.
Come thou with me to the vineyards nigh.
And we '11 pluck the grapes of the richest dye."
" Is my mother gone from her home away ?
But I know that my brothers are there at play :
I know they are gathering the foxglove's bell,
Or the long fern-lea vcs by the sparkling well ;
Or they launch their boats where the bright streams flow,
Lady, kind lady ! O, let me go."
" Fair child, thy brothers are wanderers now ;
They sport no more on the mountain's brow ;
They have left the fern by the spring's green side,
And the streams where the fairy barks were tied.
Be thou at peace in thy brighter lot ;
For thy cabin home is a lonely spot."
" Are they gone, all gone, from the sunny hill ?
But the bird and the blue-fly rove over it still ;
And the red-deer bound in their gladness free ;
And the heath is bent by the singing bee.
And the waters leap, and the fresh winds blow :
Lady, kind lady ! 0, let me go ! "
I do not kaow liow many ever suspected, during his life,
that Thomas Hood was a poet of rare and lofty powers. I
apprehend, however, that they were, at least till near the close
of his career, a " judicious few," — fewer, even, than the judi-
cious are apt to be. For this true bard was nevertheless a
man, — though delicate in frame, and for the most part frail
in health, he had physical needs, — more than all, he had a
wife and children, who looked to him for daily bread, and
must not look in vain. Poet as he was, he knew tliat man-
kind not only stone their prophets before buHding their toml^s,
but starve their poets before glorifying them ; and he declined
to sacrifice his children's bread to his own glory. The world
would not pay cash down for poems, but freely would for fun ;
so he chose to mint his golden fancies into current coin that
would pass readily at tlie grocer's and baker's, rather than
fashion it daintily into cameos and filigree-work, which he
must liave pledged at ruinous rates with the pawnbroker.
And we, generation of blockheads ! thought liini a rare buf-
foon, because he eported the cap and bells in our presence,
knowing this, though by no means the best thing he could do,
decidedly that for which we would pay him best. If his
" "Whims and Oddities " imply the degradation of a great fac-
ulty, is not the fault, the shame, rather ours than his ? If
a modern Orpheus could only find auditors by fiddling for
POETS AND POETRY. 485
bacchanal dancers in bar-rooms, conld we justly reproacli him
for his \"ulgar tastes and low associations ?
We who so long read and laughed at Hood's puns and
quips, — read and only laughed, when we sliould have thought
and sighed, — we might have seen, if we had sought instruc-
tion, and not mere recreation, that a great moralist, teacher,
philanthropist ; an earnest hater of tyranny and wrong ; a
warrior, with Damascus blade, on cant, and meanness, and
servility, — was addressing us in parables which were only
wasted, as others' parables have been, because our ears were
too gross, our understandings too dull and sordid, to perceive,
or even seek, their deeper meaning. We might have discerned
the lesson, but did not, because the laugh sufi&ced us.
Have I seemed to regret or condemn the law whereby the
true poet is divorced from the hope of gain by his faculty ?
I surely did not mean it. Wisely, kindly devised is that
Divine ordinance, "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon."
The law is steadfast and eternal, — the seeming exceptions
few and factitious. The greatest benefactors of mankind have
waited till after death for the recognition of their work and
their worth. If to speak the highest truths and do the noblest
deeds were the sure way to present fame and pelf, what merit
would there be in ^drtue, what place for heroism on earth ?
If Poetry were the Pennsylvania Avenue to fortune and pres-
ent fame, how could our earth upbear the burden of her
poets ? iSTo : it were better for Poetr}^ that there had never
been a Copyright Law, so that the Poet's utterances were
divorced from all hope of pecuniary recompense. We should
then have had far fewer poems, perhaps, but not half the
trouble in unburpng them from the avalanche of pretentious
rhythmical rubbish whereby they are overlaid and concealed.
Let aspiring youth evermore understand that writing Poetry
is not among the Divinely appointed means for overcoming
a dearth of potatoes. I do not say that potatoes were never
gained in this way, though I doubt that any were ever thus
earned. Be this as it may, I am quite sure that no one ever
undertook to ^vTite Poetry for potatoes, — to satisfy his per-
sonal need of potatoes by writing Poetry, — who thereby truly
succeeded. He may have achieved the potatoes, but not the
Poetry. So Hood did manfully and well in writing " Whims
and Oddities" for a livelihood, and Poetry for fame alone.
Do you suppose the hope of money could ever have impelled
any man to write " The Song of the Shirt " ?
Let us refresh our remembrance of him with the simplest