The great end of public criticism, we hope our readers are aware, is not the improvement of those who are its immediate objects, — but public example and information; and therefore it is, that we seek chiefly to exercise it on authors who have already obtained some degree of notoriety — their errors being by far the most dangerous, and their excellencies the most likely to attract imitation. It is for the same reason that it is generally of greater consequence to point out the faults than the beauties of writers who have risen to distinction: for this distinction — which criticism, though it may, sometimes help to confer, never can possibly take away — is the natural and sufficient reward of their beauties; while their faults are often so mixed up and confounded with their general merits, that, unless they are clearly discriminated, they are extremely apt to be praised along with them, and sometimes even imitated in their stead. We can assure our readers, that we frequently find it necessary to harden our hearts for the performance of our sterner duties, by the recollection of these maxims — and that, when we look back on the severities with which we have sometimes been constrained to visit the perversities of unquestioned talent, we have inwardly exclaimed with Brutus, over the mangled body of Caesar,
Or else, were this a savage spectacle!
But though this, we fear, must be regarded as the ordinary course of our duty, there is no doubt another, and a far more pleasing office, in which we may sometimes, though we regret to think how rarely, be permitted to engage — the office, we mean, of recommending obscure merit — doing honour to neglected genius — and bringing into view, or helping forward to distinction, such ill starred talents as have presented themselves to us, rather than to the more powerful dispensers of glory. This, however, is a function, in the exercise of which more circumspection is required than in any other branch of our vocation; for, while it is obvious that nothing can be more cruel than to encourage ambitious mediocrity by unmerited praise, we really cannot help distrusting our own favourable impressions, when we find that they are not at all participated by the great body of those to whom the works that have excited them have lain equally open. Though there may be occasions, therefore, in which we have the good fortune to bring into notice a work which had been previously unhonoured because it was unknown, we confess that we should in general be a little shy of informing the public that they have long had a prodigy of genius before their eyes without being at all aware of it — and, like the stupid company in the German play, have received the attendance of a Knight Templar in the disguise of a waiter, without any suspicion of his quality.
With all these hazards before our eyes, we shall venture, however, in this and the succeeding article [on Tennant's Anster Fair], to introduce to the notice of our readers two productions, which, though they have both been published for a considerable period, are still, we suspect, but little heard of beyond the narrow sphere to which the personal influence of the authors or the publishers extend; — and this, though both the said authors are confessedly natives of Scotland, and not only treat of subjects that are exclusively Scottish, but write, in some degree, in the dialect of their country. — There can be no better proof, we think, of our superiority to all sorts of national prejudice or partiality.
The work to which we intend, in the first place, to direct the attention of our readers, is that of which the title is prefixed to this article; and its history, we think, even independent of its merits, would entitle it to the character of a very remarkable production. It would not, indeed, we are aware, be any apology for oppressing our readers with an account of a dull book, that it treated of antient Scottish legends, or was indited by one of the shepherds who actually feed their flocks among our mountains; but if the book be interesting in itself, these things, we conceive, may fairly be allowed to add to its interest; and a very brief account of the author will form an advantageous, though certainly not a necessary introduction to that of his performance.
This resolute candidate for poetical favour, was born, we believe, to the humble and romantic occupation we have just specified; and spent the better part of his life in tending his sheep in the pastoral solitudes of Ettrick. There are not many regions, however, even in our poetical country, more favourable for the development of poetical propensities, than this whole range of Southern Highlands; where the scattered population — the memory of the Border wars — the clanship which they tended to perpetuate — and the pastoral life of the greater part of the inhabitants, have produced a striking resemblance to the character and genius of the Celtic tribes that occupy the wilder desarts of the North. Though he had but little erudition, therefore, and few opportunities for reading, or literary discussion, our shepherd was early familiar with song, — and had his memory replenished, and his imagination warmed by the innumerable ballads and traditional legends that are still current in that simple and sequestered district, many of which he had imitated or versified at a very early age. In a mind that had fed on such aliments, and expanded under such training, the earlier publications of Mr. Scott must have produced a sensation, of which other beings can scarcely form a conception. They connected the pastimes of his humble and solitary leisure with the dazzling visions of general distinction and renown, and cast a gleam of poetical glory over the themes and the persons of his mountain bards, with which he could never have expected that they should be visited. It was not long, therefore, till the author of this exaltation became the object of his emulation, and drew forth his homage; and the Mighty Minstrel, with the liberality of true genius, embraced the cause of his rustic disciple, with a zeal that did more honour perhaps to his heart than to his judgment, and drew him forth to premature notoriety, at a moment when the public ear was almost satiated with his own rich and copious effusions. Under these honourable but hazardous auspices, Mr. Hogg put forth a volume of Border Ballads, about the year 1805, which, though respectably versified, and clearly narrated, certainly had not any distinguished success. The truth is, that they were tame and prolix, and occasionally vulgar; and while the splendid colouring of his great patron had made every thing look dim that was not excessively brilliant, the example of Burns had taught even the least fastidious readers to distinguish between simple homeliness and absolute vulgarity: and to feel dissatisfaction with what an age less skilled, and of course less difficult, would have received as fair specimens of ballad poetry.
Mr. Hogg, however, was not at all cast down by the equivocal success of his first poetical adventures; and in spite of the remonstrances of some prudent friends, came shortly after to Edinburgh, and commenced author by profession. Here, among other miscellaneous exertions, he attempted a periodical paper, under the name of "The Spy," — in which, though there are frequent indications of a vigorous and aspiring mind, the defects of his education, and his late and limited intercourse with general society, are more apparent than in his former publication. The success of this work, therefore, was not very encouraging; and when it was found necessary to discontinue it, the more considerate part of his patrons began we believe to regret, that he had abandoned the peaceful and humble pursuits of his early life, for the hazards and exertions of the more ambitious career upon which he had entered. Mr. Hogg himself, however, judged differently; and in the midst of various discouragements and disadvantages, produced the work now before us — which is so much superior to any thing he had before attempted, as to afford good ground for thinking, that he is yet doomed to justify his early election, and in some measure to realize the proudest of his early anticipations.
In the mean time, it must be agreeable to his readers to know, that they are engaged with the work of an author who has in reality all that devotion and enthusiasm for his calling which is so often pretended to disguise the less noble motives which sometimes lead to its adoption; and who, we verily believe, would rather starve upon poetry, then accept of ease and affluence on condition of renouncing it. Delighting still more in the pursuit itself, than in the glory to which he no doubt thinks it is to conduct him, he is resolute, we are persuaded, to serve the Muses, even without the appropriate wages of fame — and will not be induced to abandon them by the want of that success which he will at all events believe he has deserved. It ought also to be recorded to his honour, that he has uniformly sought this success by the fairest and most manly means; and that neither poverty nor ambition has been able to produce in him the slightest degree of obsequiousness towards the possessors of glory or of power; or even to subdue in him a certain disposition to bid defiance to critics, and to hold poets and patrons equally cheap and familiar; and to think that they can in general give no more honour than they receive from his acquaintance. These traits we think are unusual in men whom talents have raised out a humble condition in society — especially where they are unaccompanied, as in the present instance, either with any inherent insolence of character, or any irregularities in private life; and therefore we have thought it right to notice them. But at all events, the merit of the volume before us is such, as to entitle it to our notice; and as the author has fairly fought his way to that distinction, we are not disposed to withhold from him either the additional notoriety which it may still be in our power to bestow, or the admonitions which may enable him still farther to improve a talent that has already surprised us so much by its improvement.
The work consists mainly of a series of ballads, written in imitation of the old Scottish style, and connected and diversified by a fiction not without elegance or ingenuity. Mary Queen of Scots is supposed, soon after her arrival in this country, to have been struck with some of the native melodies which were played before her, and with the accounts she received of the multitude of romantic legends that were adapted to such airs in every part of the country. To gratify her curiosity, she accordingly appointed a grand competition of minstrelsy, to take place at the approaching festival of Christmas; and invited all the bards and harpers of the North and the South to repair to Holyrood, and contend before her for the prizes with which her royal munificence was to reward their skill and ingenuity. A great convocation, accordingly, took place at the time appointed; and the various ballads which form the bulk of the volume before us, are supposed to have been recited during the three nights that the Queen "waked" in the midst of her court, and held open those noble lists to the champions of song. The work, accordingly, is divided into Three Books, with an Introduction, containing an account of the origin and preparation for the Wake, — and a Conclusion narrating the distribution of the prizes; the Books themselves being separated by descriptions of the court and of the weather, — and the Songs by pretty long accounts of the history and deportment of the several minstrels who successively appear on the scene.
This, it is obvious, is a plan that admits, and even invites, to every possible degree of variety — at the same time that it has the disadvantage of excluding all sustained or continued interest — and of forcing the author, in a good degree, to mimic a diversity of styles, and, consequently, to forego that which is most natural and best adapted to his genius; and allowance for both these peculiarities must of course be made in judging of this performance, the character of which, however, it is not easy to mistake. Mr. Hogg has, undoubtedly, many of the qualifications of a poet — great powers of versification — an unusual copiousness and facility in the use of poetical diction and imagery — a lively conception of natural beauty — with a quick and prolific fancy to body forth his conceptions. With all this, however, he is deficient in some more substantial requisites. There is a sensible want of incident, and character and pathos, about all his composition. He is excellently well appointed as to what may be entitled the materiel of poetry, but weak in its living agents. There is too much mere embellishment, and too little stuff or substance in his writings. Plenty of shining ringlets and tinctured skin; but a want of bone and muscle and marrow. Sonorous versification — sparkling images and striking descriptions play before the imagination of his reader, and alternately soothe or dazzle him with their profusion; but no rapid narrative or well digested story rivets his attention or engages his curiosity — no powerful or simple characters rouse him with the energy, or enchant him with the loveliness of reflected nature — no vigorous sentiment flashes light on his understanding — and no strain of genuine tenderness steals upon his thrilling heartstrings. If we add to this, that he is apt to be somewhat prolix and redundant in his descriptions, and to luxuriate and diffuse himself in heaping image upon image, and weaving stanza to stanza, and that he gives occasional indications of bad taste in assorting harsh and homely pictures with others that are elegant and impressive, we shall have a pretty full account of his faults. His great merit is copiousness and richness of language, with an occasional exaltation of fancy that brings him now and then to the borders of a very high species of poetry — though, we think, from his frequent lapses, without being conscious of its extraordinary value. The reader, however, shall now judge for himself, by a few specimens.
The description of Queen Mary's landing, and procession to Holyrood, though not without merit, we do not think particularly fortunate. The author's talent for painting natural appearances, may be better estimated by the following Winter-morning piece — and the subsequent sketch of a gloomy December day in our Northern latitudes.
Unheard the bird of morning crew;
Unheard the breeze of Ocean blew;
The night unweened had passed away,
And dawning ushered in the day.
The Queen's young maids, of cherub hue,
Aside the silken curtains drew,
And lo the Night, in still profound,
In fleece of heaven had clothed the ground;
And still her furs, so light and fair,
Floated along the morning air.
Low stooped the pine amid the wood,
And the tall cliffs of Salsbury stood
Like marble columns bent and riven,
Propping a pale and frowning heaven. p. 88, 89.
The lurid vapours, dense and stern,
Unpierced save by the crusted cairn,
In tenfold shroud the heavens deform;
While far within the moving storm,
Travelled the sun in lonely blue,
And noontide wore a twilight hue.
The pendent clouds of deepest grain,
Shed their dull twilight o'er the main.
Each spire, each tower, and cliff sublime,
Were hooded in the wreathy rime;
And all, ere fell the murk of even,
Were lost within the folds of heaven.
It seemed as if the welkin's breast
Had bowed upon the world to rest;
As heaven and earth to close began,
And seal the destiny of man.
Then burst the bugle's lordly peel
Along the earth's incumbent veil;
Swam on the cloud and lingering shower,
To festive hall and lady's bower;
And found its way, with rapid boom,
To rocks far curtained in the gloom,
And waked their viewless bugle's strain,
That sung the softened notes again. p. 95-97.
It is not fair to Mr. Hogg, however, to detain the reader longer among his prologues. We proceed, therefore, to the pieces themselves; among which our especial favourite is what he has entitled "Kilmeny." It belongs altogether to what Wharton has rather affectedly denominated "pure poetry," — that is, poetry addressed almost exclusively to the imagination, and inspired rather by the recollection of its most fantastic and abstracted visions, than by any observation of the characters, the actions, or even the feelings of mortal men. It is of course a very difficult, and a very dangerous species of poetry — requiring not only a certain fairy brightness and purity in the colouring — but an entire novelty, and at the same time a grace and consistency, and we would almost say a probability in the arrangement of impossible occurrences — as well as a certain caution and temperance in the management, without which it is apt to run into mere mysticism and extravagance. It is a species of poetry, in short, in which it is utterly impossible to succeed without original genius — but, in return, it is one which requires scarcely any other qualification; and in which the utmost excellence may be attained by one who has no knowledge of men or even of books, and who would have blundered equally in the representation of manners and the details of fictitious history. Mr. Hogg, we think, has attained no ordinary degree of excellence in it; — and in this little story of Kilmeny, especially, has presented us with a sketch in which this sort of supernatural interest is managed with great delicacy and beauty, and a wild and unearthly charm diffused over the whole composition, without any of the vulgar horrors or exaggerations of the German school of incantation. The story is simply that of a beautiful maiden, who was transported in her sleep to a world of purer spirits — and permitted, after a time, to return for a short period to her mortal parents. It begins with the account of her disappearance and return. The language, we are afraid, may sometimes perplex a mere modern reader — though we have taken the liberty to simplify some of the more antique orthography.
Bonny Kilmeny gaed up the glen;
But it was not to meet Duneira's men,
Nor the rosy monk of the isle to see,
For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.
It was only to hear the yorlin sing,
And pull the cress-flower round the spring;
The scarlet hypp and the hindberrye,
And the nut that hangs frae the hazel tree;
For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.
But lang may her mother look o'er the wa',
And lang may she seek i' the green-wood shaw;
Lang the laird of Duneira blame,
And lang, lang greet or Kilmeny come hame!
When many a day had come and fled,
When grief grew calm, and hope was dead,
When mass for Kilmeny's soul had been sung,
When the bedes-man had prayed, and the dead-bell rung,
Late, late in a gloamin, when all was stiff,
When the fringe was red on the westlin hill,
The wood was sere, the moon i' the vane,
The reek o' the cot hung over the plain,
Like a little wee cloud in the world its lane;
When the ingle lowed with an eiry leme,
Late, late in the gloaming Kilmeny came hame! p. 171-2.
Her mother then interrogates her about her mysterious absence — and marvels, not without awe, at the lily brightness of her garments, and the glow and the fragrance of the flowers that burn upon her brow. The description of her deportment is conceived, we think, in a very high strain of poetry and beauty.
Kilmeny looked up with a lovely grace,
But nae smile was seen on Kilmeny's face;
As still was her look, and as still was her ee,
As the stillness that lay on the emerald lea,
Or the mist that sleeps on a waveless sea.
For Kilmeny had been she knew not where,
And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare;
But it seemed as the harp of the sky had rung,
And the airs of heaven played round her tongue,
When she spake of the lovely forms she had seen,
And a land where sin had never been;
A land of love, and a land of light,
Withouten sun, or moon, or night
Where the river swa'd a living stream,
And the light a pure celestial beam;
The land of vision it would seem,
A still, and everlasting dream. p. 173,
The poet then proceeds to recount in his own words the substance of her astonishing narration, from the moment of her losing sight of her earthly habitation. — After describing a lonely recess in a steep and woody vale to which she had wandered from her mother's cottage, one still summer evening, he proceeds—
In that green wene Kilmeny lay,
Her bosom happed wi' flowerits gay;
But the air was soft and the silence deep,
And bonny Kilmeny fell sound asleep.
She kend nae mair, nor opened her ee,
Till waked by the hymns of a far countrye.
She 'wakened on couch of the silk sae slim,
All striped wi' the bars of the rainbow's rim;
And lovely beings round were rife,
Who erst had travelled mortal life;
And aye they smiled, and 'gan to speer,
"What spirit has brought this mortal here?" p. 174.
One of the immortals answers, that he had transported her from earth, to show how near to celestial purity a woman might attain, if snatched betimes from the cares and pollutions of that lower region. — The hospitable spirits then flock around her.
They clasped her waist and her hands sae fair,
They kissed her cheek, and they kemed her hair,
They lifted Kilmeny, they led her away,
And she walked in the light of a sunless day:
Then deep in the stream her body they laid,
That her youth and her beauty might never fade;
And they smiled on heaven, when they saw her lie
In the stream of life that wandered bye.
And she heard a song, she heard it sung,
She knew not where; but sae sweetly it rung,
It fell on her ear like a dream of the morn:
"O! blest be the day Kilmeny was born!
Now shall the land of the spirits see,
Now shall it ken what a woman may be, &c. p. 177-8.
They then bear her softly through the soft and fragrant air, over all the Elysian landscape beneath—
Unnumbered groves below them grew,
They came, they past, and backward flew,
Like floods of blossoms gliding on,
In moment seen, in moment gone. p. 177-179.
and halt at length on the top of a purple mountain, from which she had various prospects and revelations; the greater part, we think, rather injudiciously, allegorizing the history of Scotland, and of modern Europe, — but all described with a great glow and splendour of language. The best part of this phantasmagoria, to our taste, is the introduction.
She saw the sun on a summer sky,
And clouds of amber sailing bye;
A lovely land beneath her lay,
And that land had glens and mountains gray;
And that land had vallies and hoary piles,
And marbled seas, and a thousand isles:
Its fields were speckled, its forests green,
And its lakes were all of the dazzling sheen.
Like magic mirrors, where slumbering lay
The sun and the sky and the cloudlet gray.
Kilmeny sighed and seemed to grieve,
For she found her heart to that land did cleave;
She saw the corn wave on the vale,
She saw the deer run dawn the dale;
She saw the plaid and the broad claymore,
And the brows that the badge of freedom bore;
And she thought she had seen the land before. p. 180-181.
The description is broken off with some images which seem intended to typify the course of the French revolution — but we are given to understand that it actually included all the events that are to happen till the passing away of this perishable universe.
But she saw till the sorrows of man were bye,
And all was love and harmony;
Till the stars of heaven fell calmly away,
Like the flakes of snaw on a winter day. p. 185.
In the midst of these beatitudes, the heart of the mortal maiden is touched with a mournful remembrance of the beloved friends she had left in the lower world; and she begs to be permitted to return for a little season to earth, to see and to console them. Her request is granted — and the effect of her re-appearance is again described with a very happy picture of mild and innocent enchantment.
With distant music, soft and deep,
They lulled Kilmeny sound asleep;
And when she wakened, she lay her lane,
All happed with flowers in the green-wood wene.
When seven lang years had come and fled
When grief was calm, and hope was dead;
When scarce was remembered Kilmeny's name,
Late, late in a gloamin Kilmeny came hame!
And O, her beauty was fair to see,
But still and stedfast was her ee!
Such beauty bard may never declare,
For there was no pride nor passion there;
And the soft desire of maidens een
In that mild face could never be seen.
Her seymar was the lilly flower,
And her cheek the moss-rose in the shower;
And her voice like the distant melodye,
That floats along the twilight sea.
But she loved to roam thro' the lonely glen,
And keeped afar frae the haunts of men;
Her holy hymns unheard to sing,
To suck the flowers, and drink the spring.
But wherever her peaceful form appeared,
The wild beasts of the hill were cheered;
The wolf played blythly round the field,
The lordly byson lowed and kneeled;
The dun deer wooed with manner bland,
And cowered aneath her lilly hand.
And when at even the woodlands rung,
When hymns of other worlds she sung,
In ecstacy of sweet devotion,
O, then the glen was all in motion.
The wild beasts of the forest came,
Broke from their bughts and folds the tame,
And murmured and looked with anxious pain
For something the mystery to explain.
The buzzard came with the thristle-cock;
The corby left her houf in the rock;
The wolf and the kid their raike began,
And the fox, and the lamb, and the leveret ran. p. 185-187.
We cannot afford room far the rest of this saintly jubilee, nor for the account of the enchanted virgin's final retreat to the land of bliss. But the specimens we have already given will enable the reader to judge of the style and manner of this singular composition; upon the strength of which alone we should feel ourselves completely justified, in assuring the author, that no doubt can be entertained that he is a poet — in the highest acceptation of the name.
The only other poem, from which we shall make any considerable extract, is also of a magical and romantic character; though not so entirely divorced from human feelings as that we have just been considering. It is called "The Abbot M'Kinnon;" and contains the history of the miraculous fate by which this antient master of Icolmkill expiated the breach of his monastic vow.
The poem opens with a view of the embarkation of this worthy Abbot in his gorgeous galley, manned by lay-brothers in their cowls and dark garments, and rushing out of the rocky bay on a secret expedition. The revelry that takes place among the inferior Monks in the absence of their rigid head, and the whisperings and sighings that are heard echoing in the dark from nuns and friars gliding in pairs through the dim portals and cloisters during the same period of license, are described with something of a satirical animation. At last, however, the Abbot returns; and brings with him a stranger youth, in the full habit of the order.
His breast was graceful, and round withal,
His leg was taper, his foot was small,
And his tread so light that it flung no sound
On listening ear or vault around.
His eye was the morning's brightest ray,
And his neck like the swan's in Iona bay;
His teeth the ivory polished new,
And his lip like the morel when glossed with dew,
While under his cowl's embroidered fold
Were seen the curls of waving gold.
This comely youth, of beauty so bright,
Abode with the abbot by day and by night. p. 293.
Some smothered scandal and surmise are excited on account of the beautiful novice; but the authority of the Abbot hushes all murmurs; and the months glide on in tranquillity till this saintly person is visited, one morning, in a dream, by St. Columbo himself, who directs him to make an immediate pilgrimage to the neighbouring isle of Staffa, with an appointed company, and there to offer certain oblations to the unseen Spirit of the Ocean. The Abbot, notwithstanding the Heathenish nature of the rite thus enjoined on him, feels himself compelled to obey; and accordingly takes the appointed band along with him, and embarks with a heavy heart on this ill-omened expedition. The following description of the voyage presents we think a very powerful and original sea prospect.
The clouds were journeying east the sky,
The wind was low and the swell was high,
And the glossy sea was heaving bright
Like ridges and hills of liquid light;
While far on her lubric bosom were seen
The magic dyes of purple and green.
How joyed the bark her sides to lave!
She leaned to the lee, and she girdled the wave;
Aloft on the stayless verge she hung,
Light on the steep wave veered and swung,
And the crests of the billows before her flung.
Loud murmured the ocean with gulp and with growl,
The seal swam aloof and the dark sea fowl;
And behind her, far to the southward, shone
A pathway of snow on the waste alone. p. 296, 297.
They arrive at last at the magical island; — the singular aspect of which is thus poetically, though perhaps not very clearly delineated.
They wheeled their bark to the east around,
And moored in basin, by rocks imbound;
Then, awed to silence, they trode the strand
Where furnaced pillars in order stand.
Their path was on wonderous pavement of old,
Its blocks all cast in some giant mould,
Fair hewn and grooved by no mortal hand,
With countermure guarded by sea and by land.
The watcher Bushella frowned over their way,
Enrobed in the sea-baize, and hooded with grey;
The warder that stands by that dome of the deep,
With spray-shower and rainbow, the entrance to keep.
But when they drew nigh to the chancel of ocean,
And saw her waves rush to their raving devotion,
The song of the cliff, when the winter winds blow,
The thunder of heaven, the earthquake below,
Conjoined, like the voice of a maiden would be,
Compared with the anthem there sung by the sea.
The solemn rows in that darksome den,
Were dimly seen like the forms of men,
Like giant monks in ages agone,
Whom the God of the ocean had seared to stone,
And bound in his temple for ever to lean,
In sackcloth of grey and visors of green. p. 297-299.
The hymn in which they invoke the Spirit of the mighty deep, is written with considerable force and solemnity. It ends with these lines.
To thee, who bid'st those mountains of brine
Softly sink in the fair moonshine,
And spread'st thy couch of silver light,
To lure to thy bosom the queen of the night,
Who weavest the cloud of the ocean dew,
And the mist that sleeps on her breast so blue;
When the murmurs die at the base of the hill,
And the shadows lie rocked and slumbering still,
And the Solan's young, and the lines of foam,
Are scarcely heaved on thy peaceful home,
We pour this oil and this wine to thee,
God of the western wind, God of the sea! p. 301.
At the close of these oblations, a hoarse and awful voice re-echoes from the cavern, "Greater yet must the offering be!" — At this dreadful response, the holy brotherhood gaze in terror on each other, and descend sadly to their vessel. On their way M'Kinnon hears a sweet voice, ascending with the dash of the waves from the foot of the precipice, on whose ridge they were journeying; and peeping over the giddy edge, descries a beautiful mermaid sporting and singing among the lonely rocks of the shore.
He saw her sit on a weedy stone,
Laving her fair breast, and singing alone;
And aye she sank the wave within,
Till it gurgled around her lovely chin,
Then combed her locks of the pale sea-green,
And aye this song was beard between.
Matilda of Skye
Alone may lie,
And list to the wind that whistles by!
Sad may she be,
For deep in the sea,
Deep, deep, deep in the sea,
This night her lover shall sleep with me!
For far, far down in the floors below,
Moist as this rock-weed, cold as the snow,
With the eel, and the clam, and the pearl of the deep,
On soft sea-flowers her lover shall sleep,
And long and sound shall his slumber be
In the coral bowers of the deep with me.
The trembling sun, far, far away,
Shall pour on his couch a softened ray,
And his mantle shall wave in the flowing tide,
And the little fishes shall turn aside;
But the waves and the tides of the sea shall cease,
Ere wakes her love from his bed of peace. p. 303-5.
Heart-struck with this prophetic strain, he rushes down in silence to the beach, where he finds a venerable old man, with a sad and placid countenance, and a beard as white as snow, sitting in the stern of their deserted galley. The mysterious stranger makes no answer to their inquiries, but turns a thoughtful and melancholy eye on their array, as the vessel bounds again from that ill-omened shore. When the waters grow dim with the shades of evening, he rises, and slowly lifting up his hand to the sky, exclaims, with a sorrowful air, "Now is the time!" — and instantly a sudden blaze of lightning envelops the horizon; and a roar, louder than the mingling voices of ocean and air, bursts at once on their senses — in the midst of which the vessel, with all its devoted crew, vanishes for ever from the light.
Some ran to the cords, some kneeled at the shrine,
But all the wild elements seemed to combine;
'Twas just but one moment of stir and commotion,
And down went the ship like a bird of the ocean,
This moment she sailed all stately and fair,
The next nor ship nor shadow was there,
It sunk away with a murmuring moan,
The sea is calm, and the sinners are gone! p. 307-8.
From the general character of the quotations we have given, our readers will perceive, that we think Mr. Hogg's forte consists in the striking representation of supernatural occurrences, or of the more imposing aspects of external nature; — and we certainly consider his narratives of less marvellous events, as of inferior merit. His descriptions, however, are always brilliant and copious; though frequently drawn out to such a length, as to become in some degree tedious and languid. The following is a fair specimen of his ordinary ballad style. Mary Scott, the heroine of one of the Border bards, is reduced, like Juliet, to the necessity of swallowing a sleeping potion — and being put into a coffin, to effect her escape to a lover disapproved of by her father. Her Romeo, however, fortunately lives to witness her revival — which is thus described. The distracted lover pens the coffin, to gratify himself with a last look of the departed beauty.
With trembling hand he raised the lid,
Sweet was the perfume round that flew;
For there were strewed the roses red,
And every flower the forest knew.
He drew the fair lawn from her face,
'Twas decked with many a costly wreath;
And still it wore a soothing grace
Even in the chill abodes of death.
And aye he prest the cheek so white,
And aye he kissed the lips beloved,
Till pitying maidens wept outright,
And even the frigid monks were moved.
Why starts Lord Pringle to his knee?
Why bend his eyes with watchful strain?
The maidens shriek his mien to see;
The startled priests inquire in vain!
Was that a sob, an earthly sigh,
That heaved the flowers so lightly shed?
'Twas but the wind that wandered bye,
And kissed the bosom of the dead!
Are these the glowing tints of life
O'er Mary's cheek that come and fly?
Ah, no! the red flowers round are rife,
The rosebud flings its softened dye. p. 241-2.
It is returning life, however, that produces those startling appearances; and a glass of good wine, prudently administered by her worthy mother, completes the young lady's restoration.
She drank the wine with calm delay,
She drank the wine with pause and sigh:
Slowly, as wakes the dawning day,
Dawned long-lost thought in Mary's eye. p. 243.
This is all very well; but we confess we like Mr. Hogg's witchcry better than his merely romantic legends; and think he knows more about beings of another world than of this. There is great spirit in the account given by the witch of Fyfe, of her nocturnal peregrinations — her voyaging, for instance, from Fyfe to Norway, in a cockle-shell—
And aye we mountit the sea-green hillis,
Till we brushed thro' the clouds of the hevin;
Than sousit dounright like the star-shot light,
Fra the liftis blue casement driven.
But our taickil stood, and our bark was good,
And so pang was our pearly prowe;
Whan we could not climb the brow of the waves,
We needilit them throu belowe,
As fast as the hail, as fast as the gale,
As fast as the mydnycht leme,
We borit the breiste of the burstyng swale,
Or fluffit i' the flotyng faem.
And whan to the Norraway shore we wan,
We muntyd our steedis of the wynd,
And we splashit the floode, and we threaded the woode,
And we left the shower behynde.
The dales war deep, and the Doffrinis steep,
And we rose to the skyis ee-bree;
White, white was our rode, that was never trode,
Owr the snaws of eternity! p. 72-73.
—or her description of the unearthly music, to which she danced on the tops of her native hills, under the bright stars of midnight.
It rang so sweet through the green Lommond,
That the nycht-winde softer blew;
And it swept alang the Loch Leven,
And wakened the white sea-mew,
It rang so sweet through the green Lommond,
So sweitly butt and so shrill,
That the wezilis leapt out of their mouldy holes
And danced on the mydnycht hill.
The corby craw cam gledgin near,
The ern gede veeryng bye;
And the trouts leapt out of the Leven Loch,
Charmed with the melodye. p. 70, 71.
We can afford to make no more quotations; — yet it would scarcely be fair not to give one stanza from the song to which the author himself has assigned the prize in this competition. — To us it appears to be altogether in the falsetto of affected vehemence. This is the opening—
When the gusts of October had rifled the thorn,
Had dappled the woodland, and umbered the plain,
In den of the mountain was Kennedy born:
There hushed by the tempest, baptized with the rain.
His cradle, a mat that swung light on the oak;
His couch, the sear mountain-fern, spread on the rock;
The white knobs of ice from the chilled nipple hung,
And loud winter-torrents his lullaby sung. p. 47.
There are some traits of coarseness in this little specimen but they turn into absolute vulgarity as the story proceeds; — as, for example, when the blushing bride gives this simple account of her proceedings on the night of her marriage—
I had just laid me down, but no word could I pray;
I had pillowed my head, "and drawn up the bed cover."
There are many such blemishes of diction, indeed, throughout the volume, and several that are combined with considerable obscurity; — as when the author tells us of an eagle waked by a ghost, that
Astonished, to hide in the moon-beam he flew!
And "screwed" the night-heaven till lost in the blue.
After the large specimens, however, which we have already exhibited, it is useless to dwell on these little peculiarities. Mr. Hogg is undoubtedly a person of very considerable genius. He has obviously imitated Mr. Scott more than any other author; but he has not imitated him very successfully; and the passages in which he resembles him the least, are certainly the most meritorious. In the same department, his inferiority in vigour of sentiment, conception of character, and animation of narrative, abundantly conspicuous. When he attempts a wilder flight, he is often very beautiful and impressive; but it would be an infinite improvement to the whole of his poetry, if he could be persuaded to put a little more thought and matter in it — to make his images a little more select, and his descriptions a good deal less redundant.