1816 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Hogg

John Wilson Croker, Review of Hogg, Poetic Mirror; Quarterly Review 15 (July 1816) 468-75.



Our readers, we flatter ourselves, will not have entirely forgotten the opinions which we expressed in a former Number on the subject of parodies. They are, like mimicry, good only when they are short and striking — when they produce mirth by the happy travestie of some popular passage, or when they mix instruction with amusement, by detecting latent absurdity, and developing the disguises of bad taste.

The work at present before us is a series of parodies, which want the most essential merits of that species of cheap wit. They are long — they do not remind us of any individual popular passages — and the ideas excited by them are nearly those which the authors imitated would, we presume, wish to convey; in short, they are much less parodies than imitations, and though the writer evidently intends to be very pleasant, his whole merit reduces itself to the degree of power which he exhibits in writing such verses as his prototypes might, in a careless hour, have written.

We shall make our view of this matter more familiar to our readers, by calling to their recollection the direct effect of mimicry. We have all seen, with inexpressible delight, that admirable tragedian, Mr. Kemble; we have also seen some wags, like Mr. Mathews and Company, who mimic the peculiarities of this great actor, and we have laughed at them, without any derogation of our respect for his Hamlet or Macbeth. We have also seen actors who were not the mimics but the imitators of Mr. Kemble, who pleased us without exciting any thing like merriment, and who were most successful when we forgot that they were imitators.

What Mathews is to Mr. Kemble, the Rejected Addresses were to Southey and Scott, very like and very laughable; but the author now before us is the grave and not at all laughable imitator. This we say rather in reference to the effect which he produces, than that which he is desirous of producing; for it is evident that he intends to be merry, and will be disappointed at being told that he is like without being ludicrous. He is not, however, in all cases like, and in one or two he is ludicrous. The imitation of Lord Byron has no resemblance, and that of Mr. Wordsworth is amusing. But it is time to acquaint our readers with the plan and scope of this work.

We have heard that Mr. Hogg, the Ettrick shepherd, had written to some living poets to favour him with specimens of their works to furnish out a kind of original Anthology, which he was desirous of publishing; and some wicked wag, probably one of those very personages to whom he addressed himself, has seized on the idea as his own property, and has published, as the contributions of the several living poets of Great Britain, his own imitations of their styles, and amongst them one of poor Mr. Hogg, himself.

That of Lord Byron comes first, and is called "The Guerrilla;" but we cannot discover in what the likeness to Lord Byron consists; the stanza, indeed, is that of Childe Harold, and the hero is as mad and ferocious as Conrade or Lara; but that most striking and essential feature of Lord Byron's poetry, the description of the workings of the mind, of the agitation of the intellects, the embodying the feelings of a high and wounded spirit, of a vain, proud, selfish heart, of a wild, daring, and romantic imagination, are not to be found here; and we need not add, that where they are not, there is nothing of the distinctive character of Lord Byron's genius.

The best stanza is the last, but our readers will judge how little it resembles the glorious "morbidezza" of his Lordship's colouring.

It was Alayni — dost thou wail his case?—
Beloved unhappy, restless unbeloved.
Oh, there are minds that not for happiness
Were framed here nor hereafter, who ne'er proved
A joy, save in some object far removed,
Who leave with loathing that they longed to win,
That overmore to that desired hath roved,
While the insatiate gnawing is within,
And happiness for aye beginning to begin. — p. 26.

As an imitation this is poor enough, and as a parody it falls infinitely short of the pleasantry of the Rejected Addresses, which touch so happily on the querulous, antithetical, and metaphysical tone of this noble and extraordinary writer.

Thinking is but an idle waste of thought,
And nought is every thing, and every thing is nought?

The next author in the series is Mr. Walter Scott. In imitation of him we have an "Epistle to Mr. Southey," in the tone of the admirable introductions to the several Cantos of Marmion, which is followed by a regular or rather irregular lay in three Cantos of twenty or thirty stanzas each, called Wat o' the Cleuch. Wat o' the Cleuch is, we presume, a familiar designation for Walter Scott of Buccleugh, a well known borderer; and the tale is one of moss-trooping, reaving and raiding, pricking over Tiviot, swimming Tweed, and "drinking the Monks of Roxburgh's ale." This poem never could have been intended for a pleasantry on Mr. Scott's style — it is an imitation in good earnest; and though it wants ease, and is written apparently in great haste, and though the author makes too frequent forays into Mr. Scott's borders, the resemblance is lively, and the poem has that degree of merit that a very careless sketch of Mr. Scott's might have had.

The first four stanzas of this poem will give the reader a good idea of the author's power of imitation; they will recognize exactly the tone and spirit of Mr. Scott, but they will see in it nothing to laugh at. As the follower of Mr. Scott the author may have some claim to attention, but as a parodist he has hone; for the metre, the language, the images, &c. are, at least, as consonant to the story and character of the persons as Mr. Scott's style is to some of his own fables and personages.

I.
Wat o' the Cleuch came down through the dale,
In helmet and hauberk of glistening mail;
Full proudly he came on his berry-black steed,
Caparison'd, belted for warrior deed.
O bold was the bearing, and brisk the career,
And broad was the cuirass and long was the spear,
And tall was the plume that waved over the brow
Of that dark reckless borderer, Wat o' the Cleuch.

2.
His housing, the buck's hide, of rude massy fold,
Was tasell'd and tufted with trappings of gold;
The henchman was stalworth his buckler that bore;
He had bowmen behind him, and billmen before;
He had Bellenden, Thorleshope, Reddlefordgreen,
And Hab o' the Swire, and Jock of Poldean;
And Whitstone, and Halston, and hard-riding Hugh,
Were all at the back of bold Wat o' the Cleuch.

3.
As Wat o' the Cleuch came down through the dale,
The hinds stood aghast and the maidens grew pale,
The ladies to casement and palisade ran,
The vassals to loop-hole and low barbican,
And saw the bold borderers trooping along,
Each crooning his war-note or gathering-song;
O many a rosy cheek changed its hue
When sounded the slogan of Wat o' the Cleuch!

4.
As downward they past by the Jed and the Roule,
The monk took his crozier, his cord, and his cowl,
And kneel'd to the Virgin with book and with bead,
And said Ave-Maria and mutter'd his creed,
And loudly invoked, as he clasped the rood,
Saint Withold, Saint Waldave, Saint Clare, and Saint Jude!
He dreaded the Devil, to give him his due,
But held him as nothing to Wat o' the Cleuch. — pp. 55-57.

We really cannot help suspecting that, though some of the subsequent articles are evidently factitious, Wat o' the Cleuch may be the real offspring of the prolific, though imperfect, and sometimes hasty pen of Mr. Scott himself; how it has got into the hands of the publisher we cannot divine, and we speak with unfeigned sincerity when we say we have no other ground for our suspicion than the internal evidence.

The imitation of Mr. Scott occupies 100 pages of the volume which contains only 270. The next fifty or sixty pages are dedicated to the ridicule of Mr. Wordsworth, and it is here only that the author assumes, every now and then, the legitimate line of parody by applying the high sounding blank verse, the intricate combinations of thought and affected phrases of Mr. Wordsworth, to objects still more ludicrously low than Mr. Wordsworth himself, daring as he is in this way, ventures to do. There are three extracts from the poem called the Recluse, which are entitled "The Flying Taylor," "James Rigg," and "The Stranger;" they are amusing enough, but they are too long; the comic parts are too rare, and the general style of imitation is too laboured, and approaches too near the acknowledged beauties of Mr. Wordsworth's style.

The description of the infancy of the Flying Taylor is enlivened by such passages as these.

Him from his birth unto his death I knew:
And many years before he had attain'd
The fulness of his fame, I prophesied
The triumphs of that youth's agility,
And crown'd him with that name which afterwards
He nobly justified — and dying left
To Fame's eternal blazon — read it here—
"The Flying Tailor!"

It is somewhat strange
That his mother was a cripple, and his father
Long way declined into the vale of years
When their son Hugh was born. At first the babe
Was sickly, and a smile was seen to pass
Across the midwife's cheek, when, holding up
The little wretch, she to the father said,
"A fine man-child!" What else could they expect?
The mother being, as I said before,
A cripple, and the father of the child
Long way declined into the vale of years.

But mark the wondrous change — ere he was put
By his mother into breeches, Nature strung
The muscular part of his economy
To an unusual strength, and he could leap,
All unimpeded by his petticoats,
Over the stool on which his mother sat,—
More than six inches — o'er the astonish'd stool. — pp. 156, 157.

But the following, which describes James Rigg, after an explosion in a quarry in which he was working had deprived him of sight, is one which we think, with the exception of one or two lines, Mr. Wordsworth would not disclaim; and we think that the cold and heavy pleasantry of these lines are not enough to constitute a parody, and give no very favourable specimen of the author's turn for humour.

On that he lifted up his harden'd hands,
Harden'd by sun, and rain, and storm, and toil,
Unto the blasted eye-balls, and awhile
Stood motionless as fragment of that rock
That wrought him all his woe, and seem'd to lie,
Unwitting of the evil it had done,
Calm and serene, even like a flock of sheep
Scatter'd in sunshine o'er the Cheviot-hills.
I ween that, as he stood in solemn trance,
Tears flow'd for him who wept not for himself,
And that his fellow-quarrymen, though rude
Of soul and manner, not untouchingly
Deplored his cruel doom, and gently led
His footsteps to a green and mossy rock,
By sportive Nature fashion'd like a chair,
With seat, back, elbows, — a most perfect chair
Of unhewn living rock! There, hapless man,
He moved his lips, as if he inly pray'd,
And clasp'd his hands and raised his sightless face
Unto the smiling sun, who walk'd through heaven
Regardless of that fatal accident,
By which a man was suddenly reduced
From an unusual clear long-sightedness
To utter blindness — blindness without hope,
So wholly were the visual nerves destroyed.
"I wish I were at home!" he slowly said,
"For though I ne'er must see that home again,
I yet may hear it, and a thousand sounds
Are there to gladden a poor blind man's heart." — p. 182.

The imitation of Mr. Hogg follows: it is called the Gude Grey Katt; this gude grey cat, who lives in the "Touir of Main," is a witch; but the story is written in a dialect, or rather a jargon, so uncouth and unintelligible that we cannot tell whether it is pleasant or sad, or whether Mr. Hogg will consider the author as a rival or a mimic.

Then comes "The Lady Isabelle" and "The Cherub," in imitation, of Mr. Colridge; the former, in evident allusion to "the Lady Christabel" recently published, is quite as wandering and unintelligible as that long riddle, but it has none of those flowers of poetry which Mr. Colridge has scattered over the dark pall that covers and conceals the meaning of Christabel.

The imitations of the Laureate, which next follow, are, in our opinion, the worst of the whole; they have no resemblance, either grave or gay, serious or pleasant, to Mr. Southey; the first, which is named "Peter of Barnet," might, we think, with more propriety, be attributed to Mr. Wordsworth, or Mr. Colridge, than to Mr. Southey; though we hardly think that either of those gentlemen would have written such stuff as—

D—n them! said Peter, — he thrust back his chair,
Dashed one knee o'er the other furiously,
Took snuff a double portion, — swallowed down
His glass at once, — looked all around the room
With wrathful eye, and then took snuff again. — p. 240.

And the second, which is called Carmen Judiciale, imputes to that amiable man a tone of angry and impatient egotism, of which we certainly find no example in his works: as decidedly the best part of the latter poem, we will present our readers, for their amusement, with the following "Curse" (imitated from that of Kehama) upon our brethren of the North, for their supposed injustice to the bard, — a curse which there are those, perhaps, who would not be unwilling, mutatis mutandis, to denounce against ourselves.

THE CURSE.
May heaven and earth,
And hell underneath,
Unite to unsting thee
In horrible wrath.
May scorning surround thee,
And conscience astound thee,
High genius o'erpower,
And the devil confound thee—
The printers shall harass,
The devils shall dun thee,
The trade shall despise thee,
And C—t—e shun thee.
The judge shall not hear thee,
But frown and pass by thee,
And clients shall fear thee,
And know thee, and fly thee!
I'll hunt thee, I'll chase thee,
To scorn and deride thee,
The cloud shall not cover,
The cave shall not hide thee;
The scorching of wrath
And of shame shall abide thee,—
Thou shalt thirst for revenge
And misrule, as for wine,
But genius shall flourish!
And royalty shine!
And thou shalt remain,
While the Laureate doth reign,
With a fire in thy heart,
And a fire in thy brain,
And Fame shall disown thee
And visit thee never,
And the curse shall be on thee
For ever and ever! — pp. 255-257.

The volume concludes with three supposed specimens of Mr. Wilson's poetry, which, like many of the former, are liable to the objection of leaving the reader in doubt whether the author is in jest or earnest. We do not profess to be intimately acquainted with Mr. Wilson's peculiarities, but we can hardly believe that he will consider the following address to the Moon as a disparaging imitation of his style.

Come forth, sweet spirit! from thy cloudy cave,
Far in the bosom of the starless night,
And suddenly above the mountain-top
Lifting thy placid beauty, all at once
Spread a still rapture o'er th' encircling earth,
That seems just waking from some heavenly dream.

Hail, soft-brow'd sovereign of the sea and sky!
Thee heaven and all its glories worship—
Thee Worships old Ocean with his million waves.
And though 'mid fleecy clouds as still as snow,
Or the blue depths of stainless sanctity,
Lies thy beloved way — yet often Thou
Art seen careering on a throne of storms,
Seemingly borne on to eternity,
So wild the hurried glimpses of thy face,
Perturb'd yet beautiful! — p. 268.

Upon the whole, then, we hope the author of this little volume will be satisfied with the judgment we pass upon him — as we are sure he ought to be — that his talents, as a parodist, are much inferior to those which be could bring to original poetry, and that his work would be, with a few trifling exceptions, read with more satisfaction and applause if it professed a serious and original character. He is like a painter, who should say, "Come, I'll sketch you a laughable caricature," and who should end with producing a grave and tolerable portrait of the person whom he professes to ridicule.