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and they are bound in smiles. Yet often " cheerful


thoughts bring sad thoughts to the mind," and the eye
slides away insensibly iVom the sunshine to the cloud-
shadows, feeling that they are bound together in beauty
by one spirit. Why so sad a word — farewell? We
should not weep in wishing welfare, nor sully felicity
with tears. But we do weep, because evil lies lurking in
wait over all the earth for the innocent and the good, the
happy and the beautiful, and when guarded no more by
our eyes, it seems as if the demon would leap out upon
his prey. Or is it because we are so selfish that we can-
not bear the thought of losing the sight of the happiness
of one we dearly love, and are troubled with a strange
jealousy and envy of beings unknown to us, and for ever
to be unknown, about to be taken into the very heart,
perhaps, of the friend from whom we part, and to whom
we breathe a sad, almost a sullen, yet still a sweet fare-
well? Or does the shadow of death pass over us while
we stand for the last time together on the sea-shore, and
see the ship with all her sails about to voyage away to
the uttermost parts of the earth ? Or do we shudder at
the thought of mutability in all created things, insensate
or with soul — and know that ere a few hours shall have
brightened the path of the swift vessel on the far-off sea,
we shall be dimly remembered — alas ! at last forgotten,
and all those days, months, and years, that once seemed
as if they would never die, swallowed up in everlasting


(Blackwood's Kcliiiburgh Magazine, 1830.)

It must be a heavenly life — wedlock — with one wife and
one daughter. Not that people may not be happy with a
series of spouses, and five-and-twenty children all in a row.
But we prefer still to stirring life — and therefore, oh ! for
one wife and one daughter ! What a dear delightful girl
would she not have been by this time, if born in the famous
vintage of 1811 — the year, too, of the no less famous co-
met 1 But then — in spite of all her filial affection, speaking
in silvery sound, and smiling in golden light, she would,
in all human probability, have been forsaking her old
father this very month ; without compunction or remorse,
forgetting her mother; and even like a fair cloud on the
mountain's breast, cleaving unto her husband ! Such sepa-
ration would to us have been insupi^ortable. Talk not of
grandchildren, for they come but to toddle over your grave ;
— as for son-in-law, they are sulky about settlements, and
wish you dead ; — every man of feeling and every man of
the world, too, knows that his last day of perfect happi-
ness is that on W'hich he sees his only daughter a bride.

But let us not run into the melancholies. We wish —
notwithstanding all this — that we had now — one wife —
one single wife — and one only daughter. Ourselves about
fifty — my dear some six summers farther off heaven — and
my darling, "beautiful exceedingly," on the brink of her
expiring teens ! Ay, we would have shown the world
" how divine a thing a woman might be made." Our
child would have seemed — alternately — Una — Juliet — Des-
demona — Imogen ; for those bright creatures were all kith
and kin, and the angelical family expression would, after


a sleep of centuries, have broken out in beauty over the
countenance of their fair cousin, Theodora North !

"And pray, sir, may I ask how you would have edu-
cated your sweet scion of the rising sun ?" — whispers a
dowager now at her third husband, and therefore at pre-
sent somewhat sarcastically inclined towards bachelors of
a certain age. We answer susurringly. " Think not,
madam, though we have hitherto been the most barren,
and you the most prolific of the children of men, that,
therefore, were a daughter yet to be born to us, we should
show ourselves ignorant of the principles of female educa-
tion. There was Miss Hamilton — and there is Miss Edge-
worth, who never had a child in their lives — though you
have had a score and upwards — yet each of them writes
about children as well or better than if she had had bant-
ling after bantling annually, ever since the short peace of
1802. So are we — to our shame be it spoken — childless;
that is, in the flesh, but not in the spirit. In the spirit we
have had for nearly twenty years — an only daughter — and
her Christian and Scriptural name is Theodora — the gift
of God!"

Some day or other wc intend publishing a poem with
that title, which has been lying by us for several years —
but meanwhile, let us, gentle reader, as if in a " twa-
haun'd crack," chit-chat away together about those ideal
daughters, of whom almost every man has one — two —
or three — as it happens — and whose education he conducts,
after a dreamy mode it is true, yet not untrue to the genial
process of nature, in the school-room of imagination.

The great thing is, to keep them out of harm's way.
Now, surely that is not hard to do, even in a wicked world.
There is a good deal of thieving and robbing going on, all
round about villages, towns, and cities, especially of flowers
and vegetables. Yet, look at those pretty smiling subur-
ban gardens, where rose-tree and pear-tree are all in full
blossom or bearing, not a stalk or branch broken ; — nor
Has the enormous Newfoundlander in yonder kennel been
heard barking, except in sport, for a twelvemonth. Just
so with the living flower beneath your eye in your own
Eden —

80 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

No need for you to growl,
Be mute — but be at home.

Not a hair of her head shall be touched by evil ; it is guard-
ed by the halo of its own innocence ; and you feel tliat
every evening when you press it to your heart, and dis-
miss the pretty creature to her bed with a parental prayer.
It is, then, the easiest of all things to keep your rose or
your lily out of harm's way ; for thither the dewy gales of
gladness will not carry her ; in sunlight, and moonlight,
and in utter darkness, her beauty is safe — if you but knew
what holy duties descended upon you from heaven the
moment she was born, and that the God-given must be
God-restored out of your own hand at the last day !

But we are getting too serious — so let us be merry as
well as wise — yet still keep chatting about Theodora. She
has, indeed, a fine temper. Then we defy Fate and For-
tune to make her miserable, for as long a time as is neces-
sary to boil an egg — neither hard nor soft — three minutes
and a half; for Fate and Fortune are formidable only to a
female in the sulks ; and the smile in a serene eye scares
them away to their own dominions. Temper is the atmo-
sphere of the soul. When it is mild, pure, fresh, clear,
and bright, the soul breathes happiness ; w hen it is hot
and troubled, as if there were thunder in the air, the soul
inhales misery, and is aweary of very life. Yet there are
times and places, seasons and scenes, when and where the
atmosphere, the temper of every human soul, is like the
foul air or damp in a coal-pit. The soul at work sets fire
to it, by a single spark of passion; and there is explosion
and death. But religion puts into the hand of the soul her
safety-lamp; and, so guarded, she comes uninjured out of
the darkest and deepest pit of Erebus.

You have kept your Theodora, we hope, out of harm's
way ; and cherished in her a heavenly temper. The crea-
ture is most religious; of all books she loves best her
Bible; of all days most blessed to her is the Sabbath. She
goeth but to one church. That one pew is a pleasant
place, hung round by holy thoughts, as with garlands of
flowers, whose bloom is perennial, and whose balm breathes
of a purer region. The morning and the evening of each


week-day has still to her something of a Sabbath feeling —
a solemnity that sweetly yields to the gladness and gaiety
of life's human hours, whether the sunlight be astir in
every room of the busy house, or the " parlour-twilight"
illumined by the fitful hearth, that seems ever and anon
to be blinking lovingly on the domestic circle. Humble
in her happiness — fearful of offence to the Being from whom
it is all felt to flow — affectionate to her earthly parents, as
if she were yet a little child — pensive often as evening,
yet oftener cheerful as dawn — what fears need you have
for your Theodora, or why should her smiles sometimes
affect you more than any tears?

Can a creature so young and fair have any duties to
perform ? Or will not all good deeds rather flow from her
as unconsciously as the rays from her dewy eyes? No —
she ^is not the mere child of impulse. In her bosom —
secret and shady as is that sacred recess — feeling has
grown up in the light of thought. Simple, indeed, is her
heart, but wise in its simplicity ; innocence sees far and
clear with her dove-like eyes; unfaltering where'er they
go, be it even among the haunts of sin and sorrow, may
well be the feet of her who duly bends her knees in prayer
to the Almighty Guide through this life's most mortal
darkness ; and " greater far than she knows herself to
be," is the young Christian lady, who sees a sister in the
poor sinner that in her hovel has ceased even to hope ; but
who all at once on some gracious hour, beholds, as if it
were an angel from heaven, the face of one coming in her
charity to comfort and to reclaim the guilty, and to save
both soul and body from death.

Yes, Theodora has her duties ; on them she meditates
both day and night ; seldom for more than an hour or two,
are they entirely out of her thoughts ; and sometimes does
a faint shadow fall on the brightness of her countenance,
even during the mirth which heaven allows to innocence,
the blameless mirth that emanates in the voice of song
from her breast, — even as a bird in spring, that warbles
thick and fast from the top-spray of a tree in the sunshine,
all at once drops down in silence to its nest. A life of
duty is the only cheerful life ; for all joy springs from the
affections ; and 'tis the great law of nature, that without

82 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

good deeds, all good affecfion dies, and the heart becomes
utterly desolate. The external world, too, then loses all its
beauty ; poetry fades away from the earth ; for what is
poetry, but the reflection of all pure and sweet, all high and
holy thoughts? But where duty is,

" Flowers laugh beneath her in their beds,
And fragrance in her footing treads ; —
She doth preserve the stars from wrong.
And tiie eternal heavens, through her, are fresli and strong."

And what other books, besides her Bible, doth Theodora
read? History, to be sure, and romances, and voyages
and travels, and — poetry. Preaching and praying is not
the whole of religion. Sermons, certainly, are very spi-
ritual, especially Jeremy Taylor's; but so is Spenser's
Fairy Queen, if we mistake not, and Milton's Paradise
Lost. What a body of divinity in those two poems!
This our Theodora knows, nor fears to read them, — even
on the Sabbath day. Not often so, perhaps ; but as often
as the pious spirit of delight may prompt her to worship
her Creator through the glorious genius of his creatures!

And what may be the amusements of our Theodora?
Whatever her own heart — thus instructed and guarded —
may desire. No nun is she — no veil hath she taken —
.but the veil which nature weaves of mantling blushes, and
modesty sometimes lets drop, but for a few moments, over
the reddening rose-glow on the virgin's cheeks. All round
and round her own home, as the centre, expand before
her happy eyes, the many concentric circles of social life.
She regards them ail with liking or with love, and has
showers of smiles and of tears too to scatter, at the touch
of joys or sorrows that come not too near her heart, while
yet they touch its strings. Of many of the festivities of
this world — ay, even of this wicked world — she partakes
with a gladsome sympathy — and, would you believe it? —
Theodora sometimes dances, and goes to concerts and
plays, and sings herself like St. Cecilia, till a drawing-
room in a city, with a hundred living people, is as luished
as a tomb full of skeletons in some far-oif forest beyond
the reach of the voice of river or sea !

Now, were you to meet our Theodora in company.


ten to one you would not know it was she; possibly you
might not see any thing very beautiful about her; for the
beauty we love strikes not by a sudden and single blow, —
but — allow us another simile — is like the vernal sunshine,
still steal, steal, stealing through a dim, tender, pensive
sky, and even when it has reached its brightest, tempered
and subdued by a fleecy veil of clouds. To some eyes
such a spring-day has but little loveliness, and passes
away unregarded over the earth ; but to others it seemeth
a day indeed born in heaven, nor is it ever forgotten in
the calendar kept in common by the imagination and the

Would you believe it? — our Theodora is fond of dress !
Rising up from her morning prayer, she goes to her mir-
ror ; and the beauty of her own face — though she is not
philosopher enough to know the causes of effects — makes
her happy as day-dawn. Ten minutes at the least — and
never was time better employed — has the fair creature
been busy with her ten delicate fingers and thumbs in
tricking her hair; — ten more in arranging the simple
adornment of her person ; and a final ten in giving, ever
and anon, sometimes before the mirror, and sometimes
away from it, those skilful little airy touches to the
toute-e7isembIe, which a natural sense of grace and elegance
can alone bestow — of which never was so consummate a
mistress — and of which Minerva knew no more than a
modern Blue. Down she comes to the breakfast-table ;
for a spring-shower has prevented her from taking her
morning walk ; — down she comes to the breakfast-table,
and her presence difTuses a new light over the room, as if
a shutter had been suddenly opened to the east.


(Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 1830.)

Descrii'tive poetry is citlicr the most dull or the most
delightful thing in the united kingdoms of art and nature. To
write it well, you must see with your eyes shut — no such
easy operation. But to enable you to see with your eyes shut,
you must begin with seeing with your eyes open — an opera-
tion,also, of much greater difficulty than is generally ima-
gined — and indeed not to be well performed by one man in a
thousand. Seeing with your eyes open is a very compli-
cated concern — as it obviously must be, when perhaps
fifty church-spires, and as many more barns, some mil-
lions of trees, and hay-stacks innumerable, hills and plains
without end, not to mention some scores of cities, towns,
villages, and hamlets, are all impressed — tiny images — on
each retina — which tiny images the mind must see as in
reflection within these miraculous mirrors. She is apt to
get confused amidst that bewildering conglomeration — to
mistake one object for another — to displace and disarrange
to the destruction of all harmonies and proportions — and
finally, to get, if not stone — at least, what is perhaps
worse, sand-blind. The moment she opens her mouth to
discourse of these her perceptions, Ihe old lady is apt to
wax so confused, that you unjustly suspect her of a bad
liabit ; and as soon as she winks, or shuts her eyes, begins
prosing away from memory, till you -lose all belief in the
existence of the external world. Chaos is come again —
and old John Nox introduces you to Somnus. The poem
falls out of your hand — for we shall suppose a poem — a
composing draft of a descriptive poem to have been in it —
but not till 5'ou have swallowed sufficient of one dose to
produce another dnzc that ihreatens to last till doomsday.


We really cannot take it upon ourselves to say what is
the best mode of composition for a gentleman or lady of
poetical propensities to adopt with respect to a descriptive
poem — whether to sketch it, and lay the colours on — abso-
lutely to finish it off entirely — in the open air, sitting under
the shade of an elm, or an umbrella ; or from a mere out-
line, drawn sub dio, to work up the picture to perfect
beauty, in a room with one window, looking into a back-
court inhabited by a couple of cockless hens, innocent of
cackle. Both modes are dangerous — full of peril. In the
ont', some great Gothic cathedral is apt to get into the
foreground, to the exclusion of the whole country; in the
other, the scenery too often retires away back by much
too fiir into the distance — the groves look small, and the
rivers sing small — and all nature is like a drowned rat.

The truth is — and it will out — that the poet alone sees
this world. Nor does it make the slightest difference to
him whether his eyes are open or shut — in or out — bright
as stars, or " with dim suffusion veiled" — provided only
the iris of each " particular orb" has, through tears of love
and joy, been permitted for some twenty years, or there-
abouts, to span heaven and earth, like seeing rainbows.
All the imagery it ever knows has been gathered up by
the perceiving soul during that period of time — afterwards
'tis the divining soul that works — and it matters not then
whether the material organ be covered with day or with
night. Milton saw without eyes more of the beauty
and sublimity of the heavens than any man has ever
done since with eyes — except Wordsworth ; — and were
Wordsworth to lose his eyes — which heaven forbid — still
would he

" Walk in glory and in joy,
Following his soul upon the mountain side."

The sole cause of all this power possessed by the poet over
nature, is the spirit of delight, the sense of beauty, in
which, from the dawning of moral and intellectual thought,
lie has gazed upon all her aspects. He has always felt
towards her " as a lover or a child" — she hath ever been
his mother — his sister — his bride — his wife — all in one

86 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

wonderful living charm breathed over the shapings of his
brain and the yearnings of his blood ; — and no wonder
that all her sights dwell for ever and ever in the fountains
of his eyes, and all lier sounds in the fountains of his ears
— for what are these fountains but the depths and recesses
of his own happy yet ever agitated heart.'

A poet, then, at all times, whether he will or not, com-
merces with the skies, and with the seas, and with the
earth, in a language of silent symbols; and when he lays
it aside, and longs to tell correctly of what he sees and
feels to his brethren of mankind not so gifted by God,
though then he must adopt their own language, the only
one they understand, yet from his lips it becomes, while
still human, an angelic speech. Ay — even their home-
liest phrases — their everyday expressions — in which they
speak of life's dullest goings-on and most unimpassioned
procedure — seem kindled as by a coal from heaven, and
prose brightens into poetry. True, that the poet selects
all his words — but he selects them in a spirit of inspiration,
which is a discriminating spirit — as well as a moving and
creating spirit. All that is unfit for his high and holy
purpose, of itself fades away; and out of all that is fit,
genius, true to nature, chooses whatever is fittest — out of
the good — the best. Not with a finer, surer instinct, fiies
the bee from flower to flower — touching but for a moment,
like a shadow, on the bloom where no honey is — and
where that ambrosia lies, piercing with passion into the
rose's heart. Poetical language, indeed — who may tell
what it is? What else can it be but poetry itself? And
what is poetry — we know not — though " our heart leaps
u|) when we behold" it — even as at sight of a something in
the sky — faint at first as a tinging dream, cloud-born — but
growing gradually out of the darkness of the showery
sky — child of the sun — dying almost as soon as born —
yet seeming to be a creature — a being — a living thing
that might endure for ever — and not a mere apparition,
too, too soon deserting the earth and the heaven it has
momentarily glorified with a — rainbow !

But is poetry indeed thus evanescent? Yes — in the
poet's soul. For it is produced upon the shadowy and
showerv background of the imagination, bv genius shin-


ing upon it sunlike ; that visionary world fades away, and
leaves him " shorn of his beams," like a common man in
this common world ; but words once uttered may live ibr
ever — in that lies their superiority over clouds ; and thus
poetry — when printed by Bensley or Ballantyne — becomes
a stationary world of rainbows. And there are ways —
sacred ways which religion teaches — of preserving in the
spirit of men who read poetry — even till their dying day
— that self-same ecstasy with which Noah and his chil-
dren first beheld the arch of promise.

There was a long period of our poetry, during which poets
paid, apparently, little or no devotion to external nature;
when she may be said to have lain dead. Perhaps, we poets
of this age pay her — we must not say too much homage —
but too much tribute — as if she exacted it — whereas it ought
all tobe a free-will offering, spontaneousas the flower-growth
of the hills. It is possible to be religious overmuch at her
shrine — to deal in long prayers, and longer sermons, for-
getting to draw the practical conclusions. Without know-
ing it, we may become formalists in our worship ; nay,
even hypocrites ; for all moods of mind are partly hypo-
critical that arc not thoroughly sincere — and truth abhors
exaggeration. True passion is often sparing of words ;
compressedly eloquent; not doting upon and fondling
mere forms, but carrying its object by storm — spirit by
spirit — a conflict — a catastrophe — and peace. There is
rather too long a courtship — too protracted a wooing of
nature now by shilly-shallying bards; they do not suffi-
ciently insist on her, their bride, naming the nuptial day;
some of them would not for the world run away with her
to Gretna-Green. They get too philosophical — too Pla-
tonic ; amicitia seems their watchword rather than amor;
and the consequence is, that nature is justified in jilting
them, and privately espousing a mate of more flesh and
blood — Passion, who not only pops the question, but insi-
nuates a suit of saffron, and takes the crescent honeymoon
by the horns. Nature does not relish too metaphysical a
suitor ; she abhors all that is gross, but still loves some-
thing in a tangible shape ; no cloud herself, she hates
being embraced by a cloud ; and her chaste nuptials, warm
as they are chaste, must be celebrated afier our human

88 avilson's miscellaneous writings.

fashion, not spiritually and no more, but with genial em-
braces, beneath the moon and stars, else how, pray, could
she ever be — mother earth ? Unfruitful communion else,
— and the fairy-land of poetry would soon be depopulated.

But observe — that if true poets are sometimes rather too
cold and frigid in their tautological addresses to Nymph
Nature, those wooers of hers who are no poets at all,
albeit they lisp to her in numbers, carry their rigmaroling
beyond all bounds of her patience, and assail her with
sonnets as cold as icicles. Never was there a time when
poetasters were more frigid in their lays than at present;
never was there a greater show of lantastic frost-frost;
instead of a living Flora, you are put off with a Ilortus
Siccus. And therefore it was, that in the first sentence of
this article we said that descriptive poetry might be the
dullest — and we now add — the driest and deadest thing in
the united kingdom of Art and Nature — or the most
delightful — just as the true poet is wedded to Nature, or
the true proser keeps dallying with her, till he with a flea
in his ear is ordered out of her presence, and kicked by
Cupid and Hymen into the debatable land between Imagi-
nation and Reality, where luckless wights are, like fish
without fins, or iowls without wings, unable either to
swim or fly, and yet too conceited to use their feet like
either walking, creeping, or crawling creatures. Never
— never was there such a multitude of pretenders elbow-
ing themselves into notice among the inspired; and one

Online LibraryJohn WilsonCritical and miscellaneous essays (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 34)