1829 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Felicia Hemans

Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, "Mrs. Hemans" Genius of Universal Emancipation [Baltimore] NS 4 (16 October 1829) 44-45.



It is not our purpose to enter into an examination of the general literary character of the lady above mentioned. Her poetry has been too widely diffused, and the beauty of her sentiments too generally acknowledged, even by those who do not rank among her professed admirers, to render such a discussion necessary. She has been said to divide the palm of poetic merit with Miss Landon; but while we would detract nothing from the excellence of the younger rival, we believe there are few who do not turn with pleasure from the noonday brightness of her page — the scorching breath of woman's blighted heart, and the dazzling splendour of chivalric tournament, to the gentle pensiveness of the moonlight genius of Hemans. Her name, amid those of the sister votaries of the muse, is like the star Lyrae amid the constellation from which it derives its name — amid the bright, brightest.

We confess the remarks do not so well apply to the volume which we intend particularly to notice at present, as to some of her other productions. Yet, from its title, the Records of Women should have been one of the best among them; for in what should female genius be supposed capable of excelling, if not in dwelling proudly on the exalted merits of her own sex, or extracting from their heart's chords all their hidden melody, to pour in a flood of inspiration over her page? It is true, there are many beautiful passages scattered throughout the volume — as we intend presently to show — but they are frequently weakened by repetition, and by the ideas being too much diffused. "Arabella Stewart," the first and longest piece in the volume, together with the above faults, contains some extremely fine passages. Mrs. H. after a short narrative of the history of the heroine, says the poem is "meant as some record of her fate, and the imagined fluctuation of her thoughts and feelings" during her imprisonment and separation from her husband. — It is supposed to commence while she is yet

Fostering for his sake
A quenchless hope of happiness to be;
And, feeling still her woman spirit strong
In the deep faith that lifts from earthly wrong
A heavenward glare—

and before a fruitless effort to escape had quenched the bright lamp of reason. The following lines portray very finely the buoyant spirit of youthful hope, and the rich, deep feelings of womanly affection.

I bear, I strive, I bow not to the dust,
That I may bring thee back no faded form,
No bosom chill'd and blighted—
And thou art, too, in bonds! yet droop thou not,
Oh, my beloved! there is one hopeless lot,
And that not ours.

If thou wert gone
To the grave's bosom with thy radiant brow,
If thy deep, thrilling voice, with that low tone
Of earnest tenderness, which even now
Seems floating through my soul, were music taken
Forever from this world — Oh! thus forsaken,
Could I bear on?

Again, after measures had been secretly taken for her escaping and rejoining Seymour — her husband — she exclaims—

We shall meet soon — to think of such an hour!
Will not my heart, o'erburden'd with its bliss,
Faint and give way beneath me, as a flower
Borne down and perishing by noontide's kiss!

The simile which ends the verse, we think uncommonly beautiful. She succeeded in making her escape, but was unfortunately discovered, and conducted back into captivity. The ensuing passage is finely expressive of the total blight of her heart after this event:

Oh, never in the worth
Of its pure cause, let sorrowing love on earth
Trust fondly — never more! — the hope is crush'd
That lit my life, the voice within me hush'd,
That spoke sweet oracles — and I return
To lay my youth as in a burial urn,
Where sunshine may not find it.—

The above passages we think some of the most beautiful in the book: — and they are beautiful. There are others, perhaps, equally so, and some that are vastly inferior — but with these we will have nothing to do. We wish to extract only such as may be read again and again without weariness: — but the volume which can produce such passages is certainly worth a perusal throughout, even if a considerable portion of its contents does fall below their standard. Passing over several shorter pieces, we come to "Propenzia Rossi." This poem is more spiritual throughout, and is not so long as the first mentioned. It is in many parts equally beautiful, though of a different character. The heroine — a sculptor — is supposed to be engaged on her last work, a statue of Ariadne:

The bright work grows
Beneath my hand, unfolding, as a rose,
Leaf after leaf to beauty; line by line,
I fix my thought, heart, soul, to burn, to shine
Through the pale marble's veins — it grows, and now
I give my own life's history to thy brow,
Forsaken Ariadne! thou shalt wear
My form, my lineaments; but oh, more fair!
Touch'd into lovelier being by the glow
Which in me dwells, as by the summer's light
All things are glorified.

After describing the blight in her heart, she adds—

Yet the world will see
Little of this, my parting work, in thee
Thou shalt have fame! Oh, mockery! give the reed
From storms a shelter — give the drooping vine
Something round which its tendrils may entwine—
Give the parch'd flower a rain-drop — and the meed
Of love's kind words to woman! Worthless fame,
That in his bosom wins not for my name
The abiding place it ask'd! Yet how my heart
In its own fairy-land of song and art
Once beat for praise!

But I go
Under the silent wings of peace to dwell,
From the slow wasting, from the lonely pain,
The inward burning of the words, "in vain,"
Sear'd on the heart, I go.

We have no room for further extracts or remarks at present, and we conclude with advising every lady, who has not already done so, to procure and read Mrs. Hemans' poems throughout.