It is natural to wish to know something of an author whose writings have given birth to mental pleasure, and expanded the vision of the soul. Stimulated by grateful curiosity, we look from the history to the historian, from the poetry to the poet. But this curiosity is not always to be gratified; for, during the life of an author, there is more difficulty in collecting materials for a biographical sketch, than if he was an object of public interest belonging to any other class. Much of the life of a statesman may be found in the history of the times in which he lives; and of a soldier in the records of the battles in which he has been engaged: but the life of a poet is the history of his heart, of his feelings, of his secret soul; and nothing less will fully gratify the curiosity of his admirers. But such a history, even if a biographer could be found, who would exercise his talents in recordings with impartiality, the result of the closest intimacy, ought not to be written whilst the poet lives, lest that sensibility should be wounded which has breathed with magic effect, thoughts which have found responding chords of the truest harmony in kindred hearts. Still, whilst he continues to witness the delight he has given, by what he already has written, and to generate hope, anticipation, and expectancy, in the wishes of his admirers, surely a faithful outline of the man may be given, though the more delicate tints of praise, the deeper marking shadows of character, and the concentrating light be withheld. If the picture cannot be completely finished during the life-time of the subject, the pencil-sketch may afford some gratification. Such sketches are sure to be taken of characters so interesting as popular living poets; and if the objects of our admiration do not sit to first-rate artists, the mere pento-graphical outline of their minds will he eagerly sought for by the world; for a poet is not only a public character, in which his cotemporaries have a present interest, but the productions of his genius are the entailed property of his country: for, as he who is the subject of the present memoir has happily expressed it, in his World before the Flood:
There is a living spirit in the lyre,
A breath of music, and a soul of fire;
It speaks a language to the world unknown,
It speaks that language to the bard alone;
Whilst warbled symphonies entrance his ears,
That spirit's voice in every tone he hears;
'Tis his the magic meaning to rehearse,
To utter oracles in glowing verse,
Heroic themes from age to age prolong,
And make the dead in nature, live in song.
Though 'graven rocks the warrior's deeds proclaim,
And mountains hewn to statues wear his name;
Though shrined in adamant his relics lie
Beneath a pyramid that scales the sky,
All that the hand has fashioned shall decay,
All that the eye admires shall pass away;
The mouldering rocks, the hero's hope shall fail,
Earthquakes shall heave the mountain to the vale;
The shrine of adamant betray its trust,
And the proud pyramid resolve to dust;
The lyre, alone, immortal fame secures,
For song, alone, through nature's change endures;
Transfus'd, like life, from breast to breast it glows,
From sire to son by sure succession flows;
Speeds its increasing flight from clime to clime,
Outstripping Death upon the wings of Time.
Mr. MONTGOMERY was the eldest son of a Moravian minister; he was born November 4, 1771, at Irvine, a small sea-port in Ayrshire, North Britain. He was not, however, fated, for any length of time, to inhale the same air as his countryman, Robert Burns; for at four years of age be accompanied his parents to Ireland, where for a short period they resided at Gracehill, in county of Antrim. In the course of the following year he was brought over to England, and placed, for the purpose of Education, (thus deprived in his infancy of a father's care and a mother's tenderness,) at Fulnick, a Moravian seminary, in Yorkshire, in order, as it appears, to enable his mother to accompany his father, about to preach the gospel to the poor benighted negroes in the West Indies, where they both fell sacrifices to the malignity of tie climate, (the one in the island of Barbadoes, and the other in Tobago,) leaving three infant, orphan children to the protection of the God to whose service their lives had been devoted. To the place of his birth, and the sacrifice to faith and duty which his parents made, Montgomery has thus alluded in his "Departed Days:"—
The loud Atlantic Ocean
On Scotland's rugged breast
Rocks with harmonious motion
His weary waves to rest
And gleaming round her emerald isles,
In all the pomp of sunset smiles:—
On that romantic shore
My parents hailed their first-born boy:
A mother's pangs my mother bore,
My father felt a father's Joy:—
My father! — mother! — parents! — are no more!
Beneath the Lion star, they sleep
Beyond the western deep;
And when the Sun's noon glory crests the waves,
He shines without a shadow on their graves.
In the peaceful walls of Fulnick, he passed the following ten years. During that period he was instructed in Latin, Greek, German, and French; and (like the rest of his schoolfellows) was as carefully secluded from all commerce with the world, as if he had been immured in a cloister; and perhaps he never once conversed for ten minutes with any person whatever, except his schoolmates and masters, or occasional Moravian visitors! To a mind so exquisitely tender as that Montgomery possesses from nature, a life so monastic and monotonous was dangerous; and it is not at all unlikely that the peculiar views which these good people take of the Christian revelation, have added much to the indulged melancholy of his imagination. Of the domestic economy of the seminary, of the exercise and arguments, in which the children were indulged, or the plan pursued in giving them scholastic information, it is not necessary to enlarge; but the key-note to which the muse of Montgomery has adapted her harmony may be found in this religious tone and peculiar expression of the days he spent at Fulnick; for there, every thing that he did, he was instructed to do for the love of Jesus Christ, the second person in the Trinity, whom the Moravians always address as if he were the first: offering up their prayers to, and not through him, whose sufferings in the flesh are their constant and everlasting theme, and whom the pupils are taught to regard in the amiable and endearing light of a friend and a brother.
This system must have had peculiar charms to an ardent and feeling mind like that of Montgomery: and as the seeds of poesy which nature had sown, began to germinate, it is no wonder that the hymns peculiarly used by the Moravians, so full of warm and animated expressions, of tender complaints, of unbounded love, and such lofty aspirations should be his delight; or that, as soon as his preceptors had taught him to write and to spell, he should try to imitate them; and indeed, such was the effect produced by these overbearing causes, that before he was ten years of age he had filled a little volume with sacred poems of his own composing.
That these juvenile verses were similar in style and construction to the hymns he daily read and heard, may be well imagined, when it is considered, that, at the time he wrote them, he was unacquainted with any of the great English poets: for so careful were the teachers to preserve the minds of their pupils from any possible contagion, that on the father of one of the boys sending a volume of poems, selected as the choicest, for their moral and religious sentiments, from Milton, Thomson, and Young, the book was carefully examined by one of the masters, and pruned of its unprofitable passages. When the paternal present came to the boy's hand, he had the mortification to find it mutilated and imperfect, many leaves clipt out, and many more in a mangled state!
Notwithstanding this extreme care, our youthful Tyro contrived, by degrees, by secretly borrowing, and reading books by stealth, to add to his stock of poetical ideas: for before he was twelve years old, he had filled two more volumes with his verses; and before he was fourteen. he had composed a mock-heroic poem, in three books, which contained more than a thousand lines, in imitation of Homer's Frogs and Mice.
The praises which his efforts called forth from those of his friends to whom he shewed the effusions of his muse fired his imagination. He saw in its perspective the banner of fame which posterity would willingly wave over his memory; and he planned and began many an epic poem, in which his youthful fancy, whilst he was employed in writing its exordium, would discern immortality. These, however, in their turn, were all discarded for newly presented and more perfect subjects. At length he stumbled upon one which he thought worthy of all the energies of his sanguine mind, at fifteen years of age — the wars in the reign of ALFRED THE GREAT. His ambition, and the temerity of childhood, (for with all his aspirations after fame, he was a child in years, and still more in simplicity of manners and ignorance of the world,) prevented the mighty subject from appalling him; and his want of experience producing temerity, he determined upon quitting the beaten track of heroic poetry, and pursuing his discovery of a new and original path. The books of his poem were to consist of Pindaric odes, in which the story was to be conveyed; conceiving it possible to unite all the magnificence and sublimity of the epic with the glowing enthusiasm of the Pindaric. This was truly boyish daring; but it was the daring of a boy of genius.
However, like many of the preceding plans which had floated in the fertile brain of the nestling poet, Alfred was never matured, though he persevered in it till he had completed two books, which contained about twenty Pindaric odes. It is not probable that any of them are now in existence. The matured taste of their author, has, in all probability, long ago consigned them to oblivion: but the spirit which imagined them will command admiration from every one capable of entering with recollected feelings into the conceptions of a youthful enthusiast. The first scintillations of genius are valuable to those best able to estimate the gem, when it has attained the polish of experience; and even the still-born progeny of such an intellect as that of Montgomery, which were conceived before his strength was able to bring them to maturity, must be interesting. To prove that they were so, the writer of this brief memoir feels happy in recollecting what he was once told, on undoubted authority, was the subject of the first and second odes of the contemplated poem already mentioned. It commenced whilst Alfred was in the Isle of Athelney, disguised as a peasant, and the first ode opened with a description of the Almighty seated upon his throne looking down and commiserating the ruins of England, when a host of the spirits of Englishmen, who had just perished in a battle with the Danes, appeared in his presence to receive their eternal doom! These spirits described the state of their country, and implored the Sovereign of the Universe to interpose and deliver it from despotism. Such was the opening of the juvenile epic! It was a fearless flight! And though it fell abortive, the boldness of the conception must have convined the conductors of the Fulnick Academy, that their pupil was of no common fashion.; and that the "Heaven-born flights" of his imagination, would, at some future period, when it was tempered by judgement, reflect no little lustre on the character of a Christian minister of their peculiar faith, for which, at that time, he was designed: but, like his own Javan, in the World before the Flood,
Meanwhile, excursive fancy long'd to view
The world, which yet by fame alone he knew;
The joys of freedom were his daily themes,
Glory the secret of his midnight dreams;—
That dream he told not, tho' his heart would ache:—
For, like the Spartan boy, who having stolen a fox, and hidden it under his cloak, rather chose to let the animal tear out his bowels, than discover his theft, he kept his anxious aspirations after fame a secret, till, the change which became visible in his health and disposition betrayed it. In vain the worthy superiors strove to bring back their pupil to the train of thought, and placidity of mind most proper for a divinity student. Every mean was tried to bring him back to that serious sense which would best resist the love of fame, and repress his incessant longings after the world; of which, at this time, (to use his own words, when, many years afterwards, he was speaking on this subject) he. was "almost as ignorant as he was of the mysteries beyond the grave." Yet his thoughts were' constantly fixed upon the picture which his Imagination had drawn; and except in contemplating the air-built castle which he was continually erecting in his mind,
—No delight the minstrel's bosom knew,
None, save the tones that from his harp he drew,
And the warm visions of a wayward mind,
Whose transient splendour left a gloom behind,
Frail as the clouds of sun-set, and its fair,
Pageants of light, resolving into air.
At last, the Moravian brethren, finding it impossible to cure the disease which sunk deeper and deeper into his heart, abandoned their long cherished hope of seeing him a minister; and he was placed with a view to an apprenticeship with a very worthy man of the same religious persuasion, who kept a retail shop at Mirfield, near Wakefield. He was treated with the greatest tenderness whilst he remained in this situation: but the business making only a small demand on his time, he indulged in day-dreams, in which he saw the world and its honours depicted in vivid colours; that world into which, in reality, he had as yet scarcely advanced a single step. With his mind continually brooding on one point, it is scarcely to he wondered at, that after he had been at Mirfield about a year, and as he was not an articled apprentice, knowing that he could not be forced back, contrary to his own wishes, and at an age when remote consequences are not taken into calculation, or obvious probabilities into contemplation, he determined to quit his situation; and with the clothes on his back, a single change of linen, and three shillings and sixpence in his pocket, he carried his design into effect, leaving behind him a letter to his employer, in which he detailed the uneasiness of his mind, and gave a promise that he should be heard from again in a few days. "Thus," to use his own words to a friend, "at the age of sixteen, set out James Montgomery to begin the world." As he advanced towards the busy scene, he found that the picture conceived by his imagination was far from being correct in its outline, and much overcharged with colour: in short, he found the world very unlike what he had figured to himself at Fulnick, and from what he had conceived from the almost as distant and indistinct view he had of it from Mirfield. The great object of his wishes was to proceed at once to London: for it was there his heated imagination had depicted the honours and the riches which awaited him; but to go thither was, impossible; and on the fourth day he engaged himself in a situation similar to that which he had left, at Wash, near Rotherham, from whence he fulfilled his promise of writing to his former protector, from whom he demanded such a character as would recommend him to the confidence of his new employer. This he boldly asked, for his service had been faithful, and not even the slightest spot had ever stained his moral character. The good man laid this letter before the Moravian council of ministers at Fulnick, where they meet to regulate the affairs of the society. They respected Montgomery, for his genius did them honour; and he was beloved by them, for he was amiable, though he had disappointed their hopes: they therefore agreed to write any testimony which he might require, "if he obstinately persisted in his resolutions to leave them." They, however, instructed his late master to make him any offers he might find equal to the task of inducing him to return to the fold he had left. The worthy mediator then repaired to the young man at Rotherham. The meeting was affecting; for both parties had feeling hearts. The elder, through he had deplored the frowardness of his young friend, loved him for his amiable and ingenuous simplicity, and for the very genius which had removed him from the influence of sober counsels; and the runaway loved and venerated the elder for the goodness of his heart, and the parentlike kindness he had always shewn him. They met in the inn yard, and forgetting there were any spectators of the scene, impelled by benevolent tenderness on the one hand, and by respectful and grateful affection on the other, they rushed at once into each others arms, and burst into tears. It required all the resolution of the youthful votary of ambition and the muses, to resist the kindness of the intreaties, and the flattering offers which were made him to return. He, however, did resist them; and though his firmness gave pain to his old friend, it did not make him less kind. He supplied his immediate wants, sent him the clothes, &c. he had left at Mirfield, and, not content with giving him a written testimonial of the estimation in which he held him, he called personally on his protege's new employer, to recommend him to his confidence and protection. Mr. Montgomery remained at Wash only twelve months, which time was passed in the fulfilment of his engagement, in cherishing a melancholy which resulted from the peculiarity of his cloistered, and perhaps too strictly religious education, and in the cultivation of those talents which have since benefited the world. Indeed, the conflict between his religious and his poetical feelings was almost incessant, and whether
To wither in the blossom of renown,
And, unrecorded, to the dust go down—
Or for a name on earth to quit the prize
Of immortality beyond the skies,
Perplex'd his wavering choice.
World before the Flood.
At last, genius triumphed; and having prepared the way for an introduction to the capital, by sending a volume of manuscript poems to Mr. Harrison, a bookseller in Paternoster Row, he removed to London.
Mr. Harrison gave him a situation in his shop, and encouraged him to cultivate his talents, though he declined publishing his poems, not deeming them likely to better his fortune, or to lift him up to fame. The bright star which had allured him from Fulnick, from Mirfield, and from Wash, now seemed, to his sickened hope, a very ignis fatuus; and in the darkness of disappointment he lost sight of the splendid vision of immortality, and the munificent patronage which sanguine anticipation had promised him. At the end of eight months, having had a misunderstanding with Mr. Harrison, and having tried, in vain, to induce a bookseller to treat with him for an Eastern tale in prose, to which he had been persuaded to turn his attention as more profitable than poetry, he returned to his last situation Yorkshire, where he was received with the heartiest welcome, and all possible kindness: for his value being fairly appreciated, and his virtues understood, his employer loved him with all the affection of a father. "It was this master," says the writer of a Biographical Sketch of Mr. Montgomery, published in the Monthly Mirror of January, 1807, "that many years afterwards, in the most calamitous period of Montgomery's life, sought him out in the midst of his misfortunes, not for the purpose of offering him consolation only, but of serving him substantially by every means in his power. The interview which took place between the old man and his former servant the evening previous to the trial at Doncaster, will ever live in the remembrance of him who can forget an injury, but not a kindness. No father could have evinced greater affection for a darling son; the tears he shed were honourable to his feelings, and were the best testimony to the conduct and integrity of James Montgomery."
In 1792, he removed to Sheffield, and engaged himself, with Mr. GALES, who at that time published a very popular newspaper, to which during the continuation of this connection, which lasted till Mr. Gales left England. Montgomery occasionally contributed essays and verses, which, notwithstanding the Sheffield Register was devoted to popular politics, were very seldom political; for, as the author of the sketch before quoted has observed, "the Muses had his whole heart, and he sedulously cultivated their favours, though no longer with those false, yet animating hopes, which formerly stimulated his exertions."
It was the fate of the young poet to conciliate the affections of all with whom he came in contact in domestic society; and Mr. Gales and his amiable family vied with each other in demonstrating their respect and regard for him; treating him like a brother, and nursing him with the most solicitous tenderness, during a long and painful illness, with which he was afflicted in the year 1793. In 1794, when Mr. Gales left England, to avoid a political prosecution, Montgomery, by the assistance of a gentleman, to whom, except in a knowledge of his talents, he was almost a stranger, became the publisher of the newspaper — the title of which he changed for that of the "Iris." Of the politics of the Register, it would be irrelevant to speak; but by the observance of a greater degree of moderation in censuring public measures, and by being less speculative in reform, the new editor gave offence to many of his readers; though others thought the paper had acquired a new interest in the greater degree of originality and literary merit of its more miscellaneous columns. Amongst other articles, was one which he denominated "The Enthusiast:" this was particularly attractive to his friends, since they could not but see that the portrait exhibited was a playfully-sketched likeness of the mind of the editor himself. But with all his care to avoid the fate of his predecessor, it was not long before he fell into a snare, which had all the appearance of having been laid for him. Amongst the types, &c. in the printing office, when it was transferred to him, was a song, which, to use the technical phrase, had been set up in type some time before Mr. Gales left England; this song, the type of which it was composed not being wanted, remained in statu quo. It was a song written, by a clergyman in Ireland, in commemoration of the demolition of the Bastile, in 1789, and was sung at Belfast, on the 14th July, 1792, on the anniversary of that event. It had been copied into half the newspapers in the kingdom, and had not the least allusion to the war, which broke out nine months after it was written. Montgomery was ignorant that the song was ready in his office for the press, till a hawker informed him of the fact, at the same time requesting him to print a few quires for him: this, in the first instance, was refused, as he was not in the habit of printing such articles for hawkers; importunity, however, prevailed; the song being in his eye perfectly harmless.
Others, it appeared, thought differently, for the hawker was taken up a few days afterwards at Wakefield, and there became evidence against the printer, who was tried at the January Quarter Sessions, 1795, and found guilty of publishing. This verdict, which was in fact an acquittal, was refused by the court; and the jury, on reconsidering for another hour, then gave in a general verdict of guilty. The sentence, which was delivered by M. A. Taylor, esq. who presided, was a fine of twenty pounds, and three months imprisonment in York Castle.
Our author was not ruined by his incarceration; for an active friend superintended his business during his confinement; and on his return, after the completion of the sentence, he was welcomed home by all parties, as one "more sinned against than sinning." On resuming his editorial duties, in order to banish speculative politics as much as possible from the Iris, he commenced a series of essays, which he called "The Whisperer." A very considerable portion of genuine humour, both in prose and verse, was observable in these effusions; and though they were hastily written, and hastily published, to meet the public eye, they will be read with much interest by those who may have the good fortune to possess one of the very few copies which (in 1798) their ingenious author published in a single volume, for the originals in the Iris must have nearly all perished by the accidents which generally make newspaper literature so short-lived.
It was not long, however, notwithstanding his anxiety to avoid giving offence, before the amiable editor of the Iris was again entangled in the web of law. He had scarcely become warm in his office, when a riot took place in the streets of Sheffield, in which two men were killed by the military. He detailed the circumstance, as it appeared to him, correctly; but a magistrate in the neighbourhood, who was also a volunteer officer, felt aggrieved at the narrative, and preferred a bill of indictment against the printer for a libel, which was tried at Doncaster Sessions, in January, 1796. The defence he set up was a justification of the statement which he had published; and a cloud of witnesses established it. He was however found guilty, and sentenced to pay a fine of thirty pounds, and to suffer another imprisonment in York Castle for the space of six months. Whatever may be thought of the sentence, it is but justice to both plaintiff and defendant, to add, that 'the former treated the latter, after his return from York Castle, with marked kindness and attention; promoted his interest by every means in his power, and even seemed to take a pleasure in shewing him marks of respect in public. A few years before he died, (for he has been dead many years,) when presiding at the Quarter Sessions, he saw Mr. Montgomery amongst the crowd of auditors, and instantly called to the proper officer to make way for him, inviting him, at the same time, to come up and sit upon the bench beside himself, where he would be less inconvenienced. Mr. Montgomery did seat himself there, and who would not, at that moment, have envied his feelings? His was the triumph of proclaimed truth and innocence. And yet the circumstance reflected honour on the proper feeling and candour of his late prosecutor.
Whilst Montgomery remained in York Castle, where he had the satisfaction of being treated with respect by all around him, and where, after a few days, he was accommodated with an apartment exclusively his own, and with the range of the extensive Castle yard, he bore up his spirits by the consciousness, that his sufferings were unmerited; and filled up his time by correspondence with his friends, by writing articles for his newspaper, and by seizing the opportunity which secluded leisure afforded him, to new-string his lyre; his
Solace of his bleeding heart;
for it was now that he, composed the poems, which he afterwards (in 1797) published under the title of Prison Amusements. He also revised, during his seclusion, a work of greater magnitude, replete with wit, and with such wild sallies of humour, that no one could suppose that they emanated from the pen which traced the "Harp of Sorrow." This work, however, has been profitless; for he could not be prevailed upon to let it meet the public eye, though it was calculated to have caused as many hearty peels of sympathizing laughter, as his melancholy tones had drawn tears.
He was liberated on the 5th of July, 1799, and immediately went to Scarborough, in order to brace his shattered constitution, which, delicate as it was from nature, had suffered much from excessive anxiety and imprisonment. He now, for the first time since he was four years of age, saw the sea. — To a mind like his, the magnificence of the ocean, and the high-piled grandeur of the Yorkshire coast, were sublime spectacles; and they afforded him uncommon gratification — a gratification which was repeated in subsequent visits, and which (in 1805) gave birth to his poem on "The Ocean;" a production which will he read with delight as long as the language in which it is written shall exist. This, his first visit to Scarborough, occupied about three weeks, after which, with improved health and spirits, he returned to Sheffield and the duties of his occupation.
In the following spring he published his Prison Amusements. These poems were received, wherever they were seen, with approbation; but their author made no effort to put them in the way of notoriety; and he was still more careless of the fate of a series of essays, which he drew from the pages of the Iris, under the title of The Whisperer, in 1795. From this time till in 1806 he produced the volume containing "The Wanderer of Switzerland" — he confined his pen chiefly to his editorial duties; indulging himself in cherishing those feelings which have marked in his character so striking a resemblance. to that of the amiable and highly-gifted, but melancholy, Cowper; a resemblance of which all his friends are fully sensible, and of which he himself seemed to be aware, when in his "West Indies" he thus speaks of the poet of Olney, in advocating the cause of the poor negroes:—
The muse to whom the lyre and lute belong.
Whose song of freedom is her noblest song,
The lyre, with awful indignation swept,
O'er the sweet lute in silent sorrow wept—
When Albion's crimes drew thunder from her tongue—
When Afric's woes o'erwhelmed her while she sung.
Lamented COWPER, in thy paths I tread:—
Oh! that on me were thy meek spirit shed!
The woes that wring my bosom once were thine:
Be all thy virtues, all thy genius mine!
Like his great prototype — for such will every one who is intimate with the features of Montgomery's mind pronounce Cowper to have been — with a spirit humbly obedient to its God, and tremblingly alive to the due performance of every moral obligation, extraordinary susceptibility, and perhaps, an exaggerated conviction of the awful situation in which mortality is placed, he exhibits occasionally a melancholy gloom which enchains his vigorous and elastic fancy, and arrests the progress of his playful pen. And, as he so well expresses it in a passage of "Javan,"
The world, whose charms his young affections stole,
He found too mean for his immortal soul.
Wound into life through all his feelings wrought,
Death and eternity possessed his thought....
The fame he followed, and the fame be found,
Healed not his heart's immedicable wound
Admired, applauded, crowned where'er he roved,
The bard was homeless, friendless, unbeloved.
All else that breathed below the circling sky,
Were linked to earth by some endearing tie;—
He only, like the ocean weed uptorn,
And loose along the world of waters borne,
Was cast, companionless, from wave to wave,
On life's rough sea — and there was none to save.
The picture which our poet has draws of the antediluvian bard, however, fails in its generally close resemblance to himself in one of its lines; for although he has never been married, and in that sense is "homeless," he has never been "friendless," nor "unbeloved;" for few persons can be acquainted with him without feeling an interest in his happiness — and there is no one that knows him intimately, who does not love and esteem him. But the other part of the portrait is so strikingly similar to his own character, that the likeness is scarcely to he mistaken.
But to proceed. "The Wanderer of Switzerland" was sent into the world. It was read, and admired; and its author. was immediately acknowledged worthy of being registered on the roll of genuine poets. Another poem of a very different character had been prepared to take the lead of the minor pieces which are appended to the volume: but this the author superseded when nearly the whole of it was printed. Why he discarded the "Loss of the Locks" he has not declared; but having had the satisfaction of perusing this disinterested child of the Muse, the writer of this article cannot help expressing his concern that the world has not been allowed to participate in the gratification it afforded him. In 1809, the first edition of The West Indies was published in quarto, with superb embellishments. — As the work was not advertised in the usual manner, and as the expensive scale on which it was got up by Mr. BOWYER, the publisher, seemed to demand, it was little known till it was printed in a portable form: of which upwards of ten thousand copies have been since sold. The feeling and piety which pervade every page were to he expected from the pen of Montgomery; but the harmony was not exclusively composed of such notes as are best drawn from a "Harp of Sorrow" — for there were amongst them such as he blew from the trumpet of his wrath, and such as his JUBAL struck when he swept the "living lyre," and in indignant strains sung man's oppression—
For now a bolder hand he flings
And dives among the deepest strings;—
Then forth the music brake like thunder."
The same observation applies to his World before the Flood, published in 1812, although, perhaps, from the very title and subject, the popularity of that volume has not equalled its precursors. It is, however, a poem which must rise in estimation in proportion as it is known; for no man of taste and feeling can possibly read it without wishing to make others participate in the pleasure he has derived from it. In the course of this sketch of the life of its author, several passages have been quoted of no common interest; and if the poem is unequal in its interest, it has resulted from the subject itself, which fettered the imagination of the poet; obliging him to correspond in his flights with the obscurely detailed circumstances related of some of his PERSONAE, in the sacred volume from which he drew them. As a proof of this, it will be acknowledged, even by those who are most in unison with the author, in devotedness to the holy text, that in those portions of the narrative in which he has adhered the closest, and with the greatest reverence to the authority which furnished the foundation, though he intertwines the sublime and solemn strains of divinely inspired poesy, he is then the least attractive, because the thoughts have been long familiar to his readers. Human nature has a greedy curiosity, a never satisfied thirst for novelty; and where disappointment follows expectancy, the substitution of more sublime and more important, but already known truths, are coolly received; and even of the most bewitching strokes of harmony, if they are already familiar to the ear, whatever talent he displayed, or however skilful the variation, the approval is always qualified. Thus, if our author, in the World before the Flood, had not tied himself so closely to the letter of the text, his strains would have commanded more attention, and would have elicited more applause; for where he has found himself unshackled by the record, he has burst boldly into the realms of invention, and enriched his pages with the spoil. Where he did not feel himself bound by conscience to use scriptural phraseology, in elucidation of scriptural facts, he repaired to the storehouse of his own brilliant imagination, and drew from thence those interesting incidents and tasteful decorations which he has so variously and happily applied throughout the poem.
Since he sung of the antediluvians, he has published nothing except his newspaper, and a tribute to the memory of the late Mr. Reynolds; but he has had on hand, for some time, a Poem, which was announced for publication several months ago, but which procrastination, (still Cowper-like) has detained from the press. Fastidious in the extreme in deciding where his reputation may be committed, and tremblingly fearful of putting forth a line which might possibly be construed to militate, in the least degree, against any thing which he deems a divine or a moral obligation he tries every note with the most careful solicitude, in the solitude of his study, before he ventures to breathe the strain in public, lest a chord should vibrate in unison with some idea less pure than his own. When his promised poem appears, judging from what has been already seen, it is not too much to expect that the public stock of intellectual pleasures will receive a valuable increase, and the poet an additional sprig to the Parnassian he has so fairly earned and so modestly wears.
As the editor of a newspaper the subject of this memoir must, to a certain degree, he considered in a political point of view. His "Ode to the Volunteers of Britain," "The Battle of Alexandria," and "The Ocean," afford such honorable testimony of his patriotism, that no one can dispute his pretensions to rank as a loyal bard; and if his claims as an editor admit of any question it must arise from his not being at all times perfectly understood when he has given expression to his opinions, which he always does honestly and impartially. Forced by the profession in which accident, not choice had placed him, to write upon political subjects, he uniformly looks at every question he is obliged to comment upon, in the Iris, abstractedly, without reference to the party from whence the measure originated, or to that by which it is opposed. Of all men breathing Mr. Montgomery is perhaps the last whose constitutional or acquired habit would lead him to political hostility: but necessitated, sometimes, however irksome, to give expression to his opinion, by way of making the labour pleasant, he often indulges the sportiveness of his fancy, and in his retrospects or leading articles, whilst he penetrates to the very heart's core of his subject, he exhibits such a vein of good-natured, though deeply-searching satire, and embellishes his reasoning with so much wit and pathos, such a playfulness of style, and such a complete mastery of language, that superficial readers almost constantly set him down as the partizan of the party, who, at the moment, take the same side of the question, which the editor of the Iris, from its own abstract merits, and his own unbiassed view of the subject, has been induced to advocate. The same erroneous mode of judgment has been applied at other times on reading his paper, by persons who, forgetting that an honest man is of no party but that of truth, as it may appear to his own eyes, have accused 'him of tergiversation and political instability, of being a deserter from a standard under which he never marched, and from a corps in which he had never enrolled himself. Mr. Montgomery, in his capacity of editor, has taken a proud because it is an independent stand, between two great contending parties, which divide opinions on great public measures. He may have decided erroneously in some particular cases, (for whose judgment s infallible?) but the expression of his views have always borne internal evidence of being honest ones.
This memoir has imperceptibly taken possession of more space than is usually appropriated to articles of biography in periodical publications: and yet for the gratification of such as may wish to know something of the person of its subject, it maybe proper to add, that he is rather below the middle stature; slightly formed, but well proportioned. His complexion is fair and his hair yellow. His features have a melancholy but interesting expression when his imagination is at rest; but when that is awakened by the animating influence of conversation (especially on questions of importance or of feeling) his whole countenance (and particularly his eyes, which beam intelligence) is irradiated by his genius. His modesty, and seclusion of manner, in the company of strangers, have a tendency to hide from common observation the riches of his mind; but when familiar intercourse has broken the talisman which seals his lips on introduction, his colloquial powers are found to be of the first order. His ideas have an able auxiliary in his eloquence; for language is subservient to his will, and though in a war of words an opponent must often smart beneath the lash of his wit, and the severity of his retort, the amiableness of his nature instantly furnishes a balm to heal such wounds.