It is not often that we meet with a writer whose attainments are so various, and at the same time so accurate and profound, as those of the one whose works are now before us; while it has been the lot of few to fill, at various periods, stations in society which are generally reserved for those professionally educated for them alone, and from which they seldom subsequently depart: but we have had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Herbert as an orator in the House of Commons, we have heard him as an advocate at the Bar, and we have listened to him as a preacher in the Pulpit. As an author, we have found him in walks of science and literature very remote from each other, not often trodden by the same person; yet always marking his progress by the light he has thrown on his subjects, and, as it appears to us, showing both diligence and accuracy in recording facts, and philosophical discretion in reasoning from them. His remarks on ornithology form, in the shape of notes, the most valuable commentaries that have been made to White's History of Selborne, and show how closely he has attended to the character, habits, instincts, and history of the animals included in that branch of science. By botanists his volume on the plants that are called by the name of "Lily," or "Amaryllis," is highly esteemed; and the preface that accompanies it contains very accurate and important observations on the extensive and difficult subject of botanical arrangement, and the division of the vegetable creation into classes, at once agreeable to nature and useful to scientific inquiry.
As a classical scholar, he has eminently distinguished himself by the correctness of his compositions in both the learned languages, and by his acute criticisms on the abstruse subject of metre, as connected with accent and quantity, as well as by his researches on the formation and analogy of languages; indeed, his knowledge of modern languages seems unusually copious, extending through all those that have been derived from the parent stocks of the Teutonic and Celtic, while his original compositions in them show that his attainments are not superficial, but deeply grounded in their structure and the principles on which they are formed. Lastly, he has appeared with no inferior powers in the character of the poet; his epic poem of Attila, which we reviewed some time since, shews fine poetical conception, and abounds in passages of animation and eloquence: while those in the present volume come with considerable claim to our attention, not only for their own beauty, but as they serve to open to us, almost for the first time, new regions, which will we hope be fruitful of future harvests, which had either been considered beyond the limits of poetical fiction, or which no one had the courage or learning to explore. To confess the truth, the poems founded on the peculiar mythology of the Northern nations, with the exception of the few masterly notes struck out by Gray, have had few charms for us; those who professed to interpret them to us, as Percy, Johnstone, Cottle, and others, seem themselves to have been but imperfectly acquainted with the language in which they were composed, and in their translations not only to have lost the spirit, but even the sense of the original. But while Mr. Herbert has studied them as an antiquary, and even followed them into their own mountains and forests, the cradle of their growth; he has, it seems, cut and chiseled away their rude and abrupt parts, by his poetical talent invested them with new forms of elegance, and placed them under lights softer and more subdued than those in which they had previously appeared. In the volumes before us, when we first looked at their contents, we were at some loss to what points to direct the reader's attention, or after what plan to make our extracts. We found one volume poetical, the other containing prose writings, and the latter consisted of criticisms on ancient and modern authors, some letters on game laws and tithe commutation, a letter to the Archbishop of York, a speech before Sir William Scott, reviews, sermons on different subjects, and dissertations spreading from the Horatian metres to the nature of the gum trade and the orders in council. New and curious as some of these essays are, and valuable on their respective subjects as arc the observations we find in them, yet they are too much separated, and too miscellaneous, to extract with any pleasing or good effect; it would only be possible just to touch on one, before we were called off by another, and the result would have been presented in a very curtailed and disjointed form. We therefore resolved to confine our plan in our extracts to the poetical part, seeing that poetical power is the rarest gift of Nature, and its productions of dignity worthy to occupy the foremost place; and we proceed to give such extracts as will at once evince what are the powers of the author, and what the capabilities and attractions of his subject.
The first poem that we find, under the title of "Horae Scandicae," is called Hedin; its plot is simple, suited to the age and manners of the people, and commences with the following apostrophe to the country where the scene is laid.
Thy steeps adorn'd with fir-trees ever green,
Thy torrents roaring the huge rocks between,
Thy broken glens and crags sublimely pil'd,
O Norway, beauteous Nature's rudest child!
Who call survey, and lash'd by stormy wind
Mark thy bleak coast, and climate nothing mild,
Nor deem such scenes by Freedom's pow'r design'd
To steel her sons with strength, and brace the gen'rous mind?
And hast thou rued the fell invader's sword?
Has the Franc eagle to thine eyrie soar'd?
Have Sweden's hateful banners, floating wide,
Mock'd thy gray hills, and valleys' rugged side?
As thy free honours, once fair Norway's boast,
Stoop'd to a foreign yoke in vain defied;
While Want assail'd thy desolated coast,
And ghastly Famine scowl'd on thy beleagur'd host!
Sons of the rock, in strife and tempest brave,
Thine offspring roam'd like seamews o'er the wave,
Yet faithful Love, by the pure glowing light
Of thy bleak snows, with northern streamers bright,
And high-born Honour and chaste Truth abode.
Strong was thy race, and dauntless in the fight,
But none unrival'd as young Hedin strode,
Bold in the battle's surge, and first in glory's road.
The scene is laid in Danish Issefiord, the fleet is in the Port of Ledra, the old Capital of Denmark. Twelve princes sat on thrones beside King Frode, summoned to judge a dispute that had arisen between a chief named Hagen and his son-in-law Hedin. The father first utters his complaint, that he took Hedin, his companion in arms, wounded, into his house; that his daughter nursed and tended him; that he permitted him to wed her,
Freely I yielded the delightful boon,
But his dark treason cull'd the precious flow'r too soon.
Hedin does not make a very satisfactory answer; but says,
But chaste desire was not to honour blind,
And Hilda's virgin fame was stainless as her mind.
Hilda herself then addresses the assembled chiefs, beseeching that death may fall on her rather than on those she loves more than herself, but the stern lords decreed the fight, which is narrated with spirit, and will be read with interest; we have only room to say that they both fell in the combat. The maid bore her double deprivation with apparent calmness and resignation and proud endurance, but the strong love of Hedin gnawed with secret fire, and she sought his tomb, and tracing magic signs upon it, and breathing the fatal strain that can awake the dead, thrice she called him,
Thrice, as she call'd on Hedin, rang the plain;
Thrice echo'd the dread name from hill to hill!
Thrice the dark wold sent back the sound, and all was still.
Then the ground shook, and the rattling of armour was heard, and voices and shrieks, and sounds as if fiends were in conflict, and fearful cries, but Hilda stood undismayed and calm; but her eye told
More sense of inward rapture than of wo,
Thoughts of forbidden joy, and yearnings bold.
As she stood tranquilly gazing by the light that came from the tomb, the departed warrior appears, and this part of the poem bears some resemblance to a much admired one of Mr. Wordsworth's, from the similarity of the fiction; but as Mr. Herbert's poem was written in 1820, and Mr. Wordsworth's Laodamia was not made public we believe till after that time, the resemblance is casual.
Speechless she gaz'd, as from the yawning tomb
Rose Hedin, clad as when he met his doom;
Dark was his brow, his armour little bright,
And dim the lustre of his joyless sight;
His habergeon with blood all sprinkled o'er,
Portentous traces of that deadly fight.
His pallid cheek a mournful sadness wore,
And his long flowing locks were all defil'd with gore.
High throhb'd her heart; the pulse of youth swell'd high;
Love's ardent lightning kindled in her eye;
And she has sprung into the arms of death,
Clasp'd his cold limbs, in kisses drunk his breath;
In one wild trance of Rapture's passion blest,
And reckless of the Hell that yawn'd beneath.
On his dire corslet beats her heaving breast,
And by her burning mouth his icy lips are prest.
Stop, peerless beauty! hope not that the grave
Will yield its wealth, which frantic passion gave
Though spells accurs'd may rend the solid earth,
Hell's phantoms never wake for joy or mirth!
Hope not that love with death's cold hand can wed,
Or draw night's spirits to a second birth.
Mark the dire Vision of the Mound with dread,
Gaze on thy horrid work, and tremble for the dead.
All arm'd, behold her vengeful father rise,
And loud — "Forbear, dishonour'd bride!" he cries,
With starting sinews, from her grasp has sprung,
The cold wan form round which her arms were flung;
Again in panoply of warlike steel
They wake those echoes to which Leyra rung;
Fierce and more fierce each blow they seem to deal,
And smite with ruthless blade the limbs that nothing feel.
Darkling she stands beside the silent grave,
And sees them wield the visionary glaive.
What charm has life for her that can compare
With the deep thrill of that renew'd despair?
To raise the fatal ban, and gaze unseen,
As once in hope, in all her fondest care!
In death's own field, life's trembling joys to glean,
And draw love's keen delight from that abhorred scene!
The beaming sun may wake the dewy spring,
The flow'rs may smile, and the blithe greenwood ring,
Soft music's touch may pour its sweetest lay,
And young hearts kindle in their hour of May:
But not for Hilda shall life's visions glow;
One dark deep thought must on her bosom prey.
Her joys lie buried in the tomb below,
And from night's phantoms pale, her deadly bliss must flow.
Then still, each eve, as Northern stories tell,
By that lone mound her spirit wakes the spell;
Whereat those warriors, charmed by the lay,
Renew, as if in sport, the deadly fray:
Till, when as paler grows the gloom of night,
And faint begins to peer the morning's ray,
The spectre pageant fadeth from the sight,
And vanisheth each form before the eye of light.
The next poem is, perhaps with one exception, the longest and most important in the volume, and as it best exhibits the author's poetical powers, we shall extract in parts, giving, also, an abridged account of the whole narrative. "By undertaking (Mr. Herbert says) an original poem, of which the scene might be laid among the ancient Scandinavians, I should be able to illustrate their manners and religion and superstitions in a form that would be more pleasing to the reader, and to avail myself of a wide field for poetical conception which had been, as yet, untouched by any writer, except in a few short and unconnected translations." From these poems, therefore, we make our quotations, and think that, within the reach of our reading, the present author is the first who has succeeded in making the mythology and fictions of the Northern nations, the descendants of Odin, pleasing to our minds, without any sacrifice of propriety or truth. The original story may be found in Mr. Herbert's Select Icelandic Poetry, pp. 71-97. See also Europe in the Middle Ages, (Lardner's Cycl. vol. i. p. 319 to 349,) and Mr. Herbert's note, p. 140.
The poem opens with the "Feast of Yule," held in King Ingva's hall:—
All who for Sweden drew the sword,
Were gathered round his glittering board,
Where ancient Sigtune'a turrets famed
Frowned proudly, from old Odin named.
Whilom had Ingva's honoured form
Gleamed foremost in the battle's storm;
And many a scald has sung his glory,
But now his locks with age were hoary,
Death's iron hand had quelled the pride
Of those who conquered by his side.
But still he reigned by all revered—
He had one daughter, fair Helga, who presided at the board; but while the wine cup was flowing and the minstrel "Poured the wild notes of Runic rhyme," a sound like a blast from heaven drove along the pavement, the portals flew open, and to the astonishment and fright of all,
Twelve champions huge stalked proudly in,
Each wore a wolf's dark brindled skin;
But loftier, fiercer, statelier too,
Seem'd one, the leader of the crew.
He wore no armour, but depended on his own inborn power and might, for such was his strength,—
Not stoutest kemp of modern days
His wond'rous sword from earth might raise,
But swift as light the champion's arm
Could wield it to his foeman's harm.
He is described as mild and kind, but much given to passion, as will shortly appear.
To the high dais with speed he pass'd,
His voice was like a killing blast:
"These are my brothers, Ingva, born
Like me to meet proud men with scorn.
Angantyr is the name I boast,
Well famed in war, itself a host."
On the king's questioning him as to the cause of his visit, he replied that he would tell him as soon as he had eaten the best the board could yield, and had drank the mead his daughter should pour out.
With food the table was o'erlaid;
Due space was given, due honour paid,
And sparkling mead by Helga poured,
Adorned the hospitable board;
But as she near'd the giant chief,
She trembled like an aspen leaf:
And first he quaffed the beverage rare,
Then gazed upon the timid fair.
He has ta'en her by the slender waist,
And to his rugged bosom press'd,
He has laid his hand upon her face,
And held her in his strict embrace.
While the maid blush'd all scarlet red,
And strove to hide her weeping head.
He has placed her on his knee and kissed
Her coral lips, e'en as he list.
Then, rising from his seat, he cried:
"King Ingva, this must be my bride!"
The monarch look'd around the board,
But not one warrior grasp'd his sword:
Then, frowning, thus, in hasty mood:—
"Not thus, brave lord, are damsels woo'd."
But little recked that champion dire
Of maiden blush, or monarch's ire:
He cast his goblet on the floor,
He stamped, and with a fiendish roar:
"Sailed I from Ledra's stately port
To yield base homage at thy court?
To praise the venison at thy board,
Or mead, with which thy vaults are stored?
King, I have vowed to bear her hence,
Nor leave I ask, nor shun offence.
At solemn feast all Denmark heard
My high sworn oath and plighted word,
Never to comb my coal-black hair
'Till I have won this peerless fair.
In Ledra reigns my royal sire,
O'er arms of might, and hearts of fire,
Ten thousand Danes, with sword and helm,
Await my word to waste thy realm;
I turn not to my native land
Ere thy best blood has dyed my brand."
One moment was the king's cheek white,
The next was red as morning bright.
I know not whether fear or wrath
Had chased the warm blood from its path;
But in that instant, prouder far
Than e'er his crest had gleamed in war,
King Ingva started on his feet,
Behind him rang the gilded seat,
And, "Lives not here one dauntless head
Of all my princely wealth has fed,
To dare the contest? Who shall free
My daughter takes her hand from me."
But such was the fear of Angantyr that no one accepted the challenge, and a dread pause ensued. At length a mailed man named Hialmar rose.
I challenge thee to mortal fight—
Samsoe the field — this maid our right:
Which shall embrace her as his bride,
Odin and our good swords decide.
King Ingva yields assent. Angantyr departs home till the appointed day; but not without sundry tokens of his inward rage, for he nearly pulls down the pillars which support the hall, and when he reaches the forest from very fury he smites the rocks, and uproots the trees, and gives every mark that he is a "rough wooer." In the mean time there is gloom and darkness in the Swedish halls. Of the two most famous warriors that Sweden could call on for her defence, one, Asbiorn, is sick, and Orvarod is fighting in a distant country.
Now must Hialmar's single arm
From Sweden ward this deadly harm.
But he is strengthened by Helga's love, for
On calm Hialma's gentle mind
All her fond thoughts of bliss reclined.
And so ends Canto the first. The second commences by introducing us to the abode of the sorceress, great Vala.
Hard by the eastern gate of Hell
In ancient times great Vala fell,
And there she lies in massive tomb,
Shaded by night's eternal gloom.
She holds in her hands the keys of destiny, and knows all that took place in time by-gone.
And if intruder bold presume,
Her voice unfolds his hidden doom.
So terrible was her dwelling-place that no one but Odin, for young Balder's sake, had ever dared approach her; but Helga braves all dangers, and goes to consult her as to whether Angantyr or Hialmar shall prove victorious in the coming conflict. Her nightly pilgrimage is well described, and her approach to the lofty gates of Hell, amid the shrieks of phantoms and gibbering faces, while
Ghastly forms and shapes obscene
Glided the hoary rocks between.
Helga, however, prays to the goddess Freya for help, and reaches in safety Vala's tomb, whom she thus addresses:—
By the force of Runic song,
By the might of Odin strong,
By the lance and glittering shield
Which the Maids of slaughter wield,
By the gem whose wond'rous light
Beams in Freya's necklace bright,
By the tomb of Balder bold,
I adjure thine ashes cold.
Vala, list a virgin's prayer,
Speak Hialmar's doom declare.
The answer is, that if Hialmar can gain a sword from the immortal pigmy race, who have their magic forge in the Northern fells, he shall be victorious over Armgantyr; but Helga at the same time is aware of the impiety of the adventure, and the misfortunes that will follow.
But thou who darest with living tread
Invade these realms, where rest the dead,
Breaking the slumbers of the tomb,
With charms that rend Hell's awful gloom,
Who seek'st to scan with prescience bold
What Gods from mortal man withhold,
Soon shall thine heart despairing rue
The hour that gave these shades to view,
And Odin's wrath thy steps pursue.
On hearing this dreadful doom pronounced she fainted, but either Freya gliding from above saved her, or Odin reserved her for worse despair.
For at the earliest dawn of day
In her still bower young Helga lay,
And wak'd as from a feverish dream
To hail the morning's orient beam.
The third Canto commences with some lines on the powers of sleep in its various effects over the tranquil or agitated mind, and with the supposition that all that had been just described was a dream; and that at morning, the spirit of Helga being still perplexed, Odin seems to stand before her and pronounce the penalty of her crime.
Advent'rous maid, whose impious feet
Have dared explore death's shadowy seat,
Rifling the womb of hoary time,
Hear the dark penance of thy crime.
The vision of this night once told,
Memory shall quit her sacred hold,
And that fond lose which bade thee stray
Down yawning Hell's forbidden way,
That love for which thou fain wouldst die,
Shall in thy breast forgotten lie,
Till anguish make thy mind to know
Joy's strange deceit and hapless woe.
The king now commands a royal bear hunt, and this gives us an opportunity of quoting the description of the scenery of these northern regions, of which the features have not been so often introduced into poetry as those of the more favoured climates of Ausonia or Arcadia.
Joy leads them on, o'er comb and glen,
To stir the monster's hoary den;
Some trooping on hot coursers past,
Some with long snow-shoes skating fast,
Some boldly on the beaked sledge
Gliding o'er precipice and ledge.
See how they scatter o'er the plain!
How laboring now the steep they gain!
Now circled in some rocky nook!
Now gliding down the frozen brook,
O'erhung with stone, and icicle
That brighter gleams than hunter's steel!
Now on yon crag, that strains the sight,
I see them die along the height
On giddy causeway, one by one;
Their weapons sparkle to the sun.
How many dreadful fathom deep
Shot from that high and rugged steep,
The foaming torrent roars beneath!
One slippery step were instant death.
Hialmar saves Helga from being devoured by a wolf, which is followed of course by a full confession of his love. This Helga not reluctantly receives, and then proceeds to inform him of her visit to the tomb of Vala, and the information respecting the enchanted sword which he was to obtain; but the curse now takes place that threatened her if she ever told the Vision of the Night; — her memory fades, and her love is forgotten.
She saw the man her bosom loved,
But knew him not, and, wildly moved,
She thought Hialmar was her foe,
And nimbler than the mountain roe
Burst from his grasp, and swift to flie,
Was lost to his admiring eye.
The fourth Canto commences with the travel of Hialmar to the abode of the Pigmies, and contains some animated descriptions of the scenery of the Northern climates.
O'er hill and vale, and woody dell,
From Thylemark to Dovre-fell,
From Kiolen's ridge to either sea,
To Bothman Gulf and Helsinge, &c.
Hialmar journeys on, subsisting on berries and mountain snow, till he reaches the mysterious glen,
—where the slippery brow
Shelves o'er the sea, that far below
Dashes unheard its sullen waves
Beneath the cliff's o'erhanging caves.
He suddenly hears the sound of subterranean music, and through a fissure on the side of the mountain the strokes of hammer and anvil. Hialmar prays to Odin, rushes into the cavern, and finds himself in the company of the Pigmy folk.
A loathsome, wan and meagre race,
With shaggy chin and sallow face,
Treading with steps demure and slow,
The Pigmy folk moved to and fro.
Some on their sturdy shoulders bore
The weight of rude unsmelted ore.
Some from huge stones of various hue
The ponderous bars of metal drew;
Near the hot furnace others staid,
And laboring smote the glowing blade;
In the centre of the wall stood a dark colossal statue like Mars; in its left hand a shield, and in its right a sword.
On the pure blade were written plain
These fatal words, — "Angantyr's bane."
As Hialmnar is passing to seize it, a Pigmy said to him,
Go, boaster, seize the shining prize!
But know, who wins that falchion, dies!
Hialmar, however, rushed on to the capture, and succeeded in wresting the sword from the grasp of the statue.
Then back the hand of iron sprang,
And through the vault loud echoes rang;
For it had struck with might the shield
Which in its left that statue held:
And sudden as the blow were all
The lights extinguished in the hall.
Hialmar endeavoured to regain the realms of light, and was directed in his path by that same sweet voice he had heard before: it was a song of dangerous allurements, for these were the notes.
Proud warrior! thou shall dwell to-night
With the fair queen of the Elves of light:
My voice shall guide thee to the bower,
Where thou shall spend the pleasant hour;
A thousand Elves of swarthy hue
In vain the wond'rous virgin woo.
Then his thee, hie thee, youth, to share
Joy's best delight, love's daintiest fare.
He now finds himself in an enchanted garden filled with the most beautiful trees and fruits all formed of rare jewels, and in the centre, on a gorgeous couch, rather less clothed than beseemed a lady in the open air, lay "the fairest of the Elfin kind:" we must pass over the too fascinating description of her charms—
Her beaming eye alone concealed,
Seemed in deep slumber sweetly sealed.
The Elfin queen informs Hialmar that she was safe in her bower, as long as the sword was in the iron hand of the statue; and that she had vowed to be the bride only of him who could wrest it from his grasp—
Art thou the bravest of the brave?
Or say, did guile obtain the glaive?
The warrior having satisfactorily vindicated his courage, all her charms are displayed to captivate him, and, with the assistance of music, perfumes, and other dissolvers of faith and virtue, she nearly succeeds, for
By viewless forms the youth was led
Towards that fair nymph's voluptuous bed.
Invisible guidance, gentle force,
That left the will without resource!
His mail was loosed by Elfin hands,
Unknit his armour's iron bands,
And some light finger strove in vain
From his tough grasp the sword to gain.
That instant waked to sense of shame,
Sprang back the chief with eyes of flame,
Starting from that insidious spell
Which softly on his senses fell,
And swift on his unearthly foes
Poured the bright weapon's deadly blows.
Sudden strange cries assail his ear,
And shrieks of anguish and of fear;
Vanished the wanton fairy bower,
Each precious wreath and sparkling flower;
And all the bright illusion fled,
He views nor nymph, nor gorgeous bed,
But skulking at the cavern's door
That spiteful dwarf who spoke before.
There, scaped from ill, the joyful youth,
At the cave's dark and narrow mouth,
Stands in the wild and deep ravine
Those high romantic hills between.
Full well he knew the visage wan,
And at the treacherous dwarfish man,
Winged with swift vengeance, aimed a blow
That might have laid a giant low:
But ne'er by vengeance overta'en
Through mortal force was Pigmy slain
The trenchant metal cleaves the stone,
And the proud warrior stands alone.
So ends Canto four. The fifth Canto opens with some pleasing poetical reflections on the truth of nature and the deceitfulness of man.
'Twere sweet to lie on desert land,
Or where some lone and barren strand
Hears the Pacific waters roll,
And views the stars of Southern pole!
'Twere best to live where forests spread
Beyond fell man's deceitful tread,
Where hills on hills proud rising tower,
And native groves each wild embower,
Whose rocks but echo to the howl
Of wandering beast, or clang of fowl!
The eagle there may strike and slay
The tiger spring upon his prey;
The kayman watch in sedgy pool
The tribes that glide through waters cool;
The tender nestlings of the brake
May feed the slily coiling snake;
And the small worm or insect weak
May quiver in the warbler's beak;
All there at least their foes discern,
And each his prey may seize in turn.
But man, when passions fire the soul,
And reason stoops to love's control,
Deceitful deals the murderous blow,
Alike on trustiest friend or foe:
And oft the venomed hand of hate
Points not the bitterest shaft of fate,
But faithless friendship's secret fang
Tears the fond heart with keener pang,
And love demented weaves a spell
More dreadful than the pains of Hell.
While our readers are perusing these eloquent lines, fierce Orvarod, the bulwark and pride of Sweden, is returning home victorious, and hastens to succour his friend; and Asbiorn too has arisen from his bed of sickness.
Foremost in strength and beauty's pride,
Stands Asbiorn by his comrade's side,
Hails his return to Swedish land,
And greets him with a brother's hand.
But Asbiorn has also been wounded by the same darts of love that Hialmar had felt: and in the absence of his friend, who had not yet returned from the Pigmies' Cave, he solicits to meet Angantyr in his stead, and to reap the harvest of his courage, in the person of Helga, but the King informs him that his sacred word is given; that Asbiorn must remain at home to guard the country, while Hialmar and Ovarod hoist sail for the place of meeting. The disappointed warrior leaves the court sullen and angry, and wanders to where the mournful bower of Helga is seen amid the darkness of the forest. Here the poor forlorn damsel dwells, having left her father's court, the prey of visionary fancies and fears.
The images of past delight
Have fleeted from her troubled sight,
And left no perfect form behind
On the dim mirror of the mind.
As he approached her bower, Asbiorn hears her singing this pleasing melancholy song, of which we give only one extract.
Return, my love, return and see
The bridal couch is spread for thee.
O place me by some rippling stream,
Where I may softly sleep and dream!
And let my airy harp be laid
Under the willow's mournful shade:
That every breeze which Summer brings,
Sweeping its sweet accordant strings,
May some wild strain of music borrow,
And waft the tenderest notes of sorrow:
Return, my love, return and see
The bridal couch is spread for thee!"
Young Asbiorn could no longer restrain the impetuosity of his passions:
And he has reached the virgin bower
Of that sad maid in luckless hour;
And soon he placed him by her side,
And named her as his wedded bride.
What follows we must give in the poet's words, for we have none of our own which could so appropriately and delicately describe it. The task was one of some little difficulty, and, we think, well achieved.
To momentary bliss betrayed,
She smiled and wept, and doubtful prayed,
Then glanced her wild enquiring eye,
And her breast heaved a piteous sigh;
A mist before her sight was spread,
And the faint sparks of reason fled.
The gazing look could not discern,
Nor the bewildered memory learn,
Whether in truth her honored lord
Returned to claim her plighted word,
Or whether warrior strange and rude,
Breathing deceit, had dared intrude.
Her mantling blushes kindled bright,
And straight her cheek was wan and white;
She stirred not, but her hurried glance
Showed life was in the speechless trance
Then with a shriek that seemed to break
Life's tenement so frail and weak,
She starting wildly from her seat,
Fell senseless at the warrior's feet.
If there are kindred spirits sent
By Heaven upon man's welfare bent,
With him his mortal race to run,
Their web of fate together spun;
If there are guardian powers on earth
That tend the helpless infant's birth,
And close beside him tread unseen
Through life's dark ways and varied scene,
To guide aright his erring will,
And wrestle with the powers of ill;
O! some pure form its arm extend,
And o'er the form of Helga bend!
The chaste, disordered robe compose,
Whose ruffled folds her charms disclose;
Nor let unhallowed thoughts assail
The beauties hid by modest veil!
Fame saith not, whether Helga lay
In speechless trance till morning's ray,
For twilight's gloom was gathering fast,
The day's last beam was quickly past,
And the dark mantle of the night
Closed on the warrior's rapturous sight;
But the sun lit the forest tall
Long ere he reached King Ingva's hail.
The approach of Spring in the Northern latitudes, with which the sixth Canto commences, is pleasingly described in the following lines.
Yestrene the mountain's rugged brow
Was mantled o'er with dreary snow,
The sun sat red behind the hill,
And every breath of wind was still:
But, ere he rose, the southern blast
A veil o'er Heaven's blue arch had cast,
Thick rolled the clouds, and genial rain
Poured the wide deluge o'er the plain.
Fair glens and verdant vales appear,
And warmth awakes the budding year.
O 'tis the touch of fairy hand
That wakes the spring of northern land;
It warms not them by slow degrees,
With changeful pulse, the uncertain breeze;
But sudden as the wandering sight
Bursts forth the beam of living light,
And instant verdure springs around,
And magic flowers bedeck the ground.
Returned from regions far away,
The red-winged throstle pours his lay,
The soaring snipe salutes the spring,
While the breeze whistles through his wing;
And, as he hails the melting snows,
The heathcock claps his wing and crows,
Bright shines the sun on Sigtune's towers,
And Spring leads on the fragrant hours,
The ice is loosed, and prosperous gales
Already till the strutting sails.
After some delay, Hialmar returns, bearing the sword of fate, and would have hastened for an instant to Helga's bower to breathe one sweet farewell, but Orvarod chided him for his too long delay.
E'en now on Samsoe's dreary coast
Angantyr and his savage host
Insulting much our long delay.
Hialmar, though vexed and angry, yields to his friend's rebuke. They spread the sail, and reach Samsoe's isle. When within the bay, they espy a Danish bark at her moorings, and climbing the height to view her.
I ween they had not paced a rood,
When close beside Hialmar stood,
On steeds that seem'd as fleet as light,
Six maids in complete armour dight.
Their chargers of ethereal birth
Paw'd with impatient hoof the earth,
And snorting fiercely, 'gan to neigh,
And burn'd to join the bloody fray.
But they unmoved and silent sate,
With pensive brow and look sedate;
Proudly each couch'd her glittering spear,
And seem'd to know nor hope, nor fear:
So mildly firm their placid air,
So resolute, yet heavenly fair.
But not one ray of pity's beam
From their dark eyelids seem'd to gleam.
These are the fatal sisters.
—a glorious ray
From their dark lashes, as they pass'd,
Full on Hialmar's face they cast,
Then wheeling round in gorgeous pride
They paused, and thus the foremost cried.
They sing the song that foredooms the fate of Hialmar.
Praise to the slain on battle plain
Glory to Odin's deathless train!
To Hialmar they alone are visible. Orvarod heard only the sighing of the wind, and saw nothing but the bounding of the deer. Hialmar mournfully informs his friend of his coming fate, — that he is doomed to fall, and must never again reach his native shores, nor enjoy his proud bride.
Yet not Angantyr's force I fear,
But Gondula's immortal spear.
I see the stern Valkyriur nigh,
All arm'd, and pointing to the sky:
Virgins of fate, that choose the slain,
They bid me hence to Odin's train.
Orvarod, thinking him unmanned by the softness of love, rebuked him in some good soldier-like strains; but, while he is speaking, the Danish champions arrive, wielding their huge clubs and roaring.
Hialmar and his giant foe begin their deadly fight, Hialmar's sword cutting into the mace of Angantyr. Meanwhile the seven brothers come forward, and Orvarod turns to sudden flight. He is pursued by the savage crew, whom however he outstrips in speed; and as each brother successively arrives near him, he pierces him with an arrow, till the whole are slain.
Proud Semingar has bit the plain,
Barri and Hervardur are slain
Another whizzing shaft is sped—
Reitner, it strikes thy towering head.
Short is the space those warriors run:
They fall, unpitied, one by one;
Writhing upon the barren moor,
They lie in blood, to rise no more.
Orvarod then enters to witness the fight between Hialmar and Angantyr, and seats himself on a rock, spectator of the bloody fray. After a severe conflict, in which both are wounded and bleeding, and ill sustaining the fight—
On the breathless verge of fate,
Angantyr glow'd with shame and hate,
And, gathering all his strength and pride,
One last but fatal effort tried.
Both arms upraised, his ponderous brand
He wielded high with either hand;
The keen point smote Hialmar's crest,
Glanced from his helm, and gored his breast.
But, as Angantyr struck, the blood
Gush'd from his side with hastier flood,
And that proud effort seem'd to force
Life's current from its inmost source.
He reels, he staggers; on the shore
His length distended, lies in gore,
Gigantic; like a stately mast
On the bleak coast by tempest cast,
Shatter'd in battle from the deck
Of some huge ship, a blood-stain'd wreck.
But Hialmar is also wounded unto death; and, in his latest moments, addresses his friend in these plaintive and elegant lines;
Orvarod, the arm of fate prevails;
Hialmar's hope and glory fails.
The day shall dawn on Sweden's hills,
And gild with joy her sparkling Hills;
The wild flowers in her forests green
Shall laugh amidst the genial scene,
And blithe to hail the morning ray
The birds ring out their vernal lay:
But cold and stark thy friend shall lie,
Nor hear their music warbling nigh,
Nor raise to light the sparkling eye.
Thou bear me to my native land,
From dreary Samsoe's fatal strand;
Place my cold limbs by Helga's side,
My hope in life, in death my bride!
For O! that perfect form, mature
With every grace that can allure,
Shall wither in its prime, and fall,
When hapless love and duty call;
And scarce shall live to shed a tear
O'er young Hialmar's honor'd bier.
Thou, Orvarod, bid our ashes rest
In one cold mound, together blest;
And let the Scalds their music raise
To thy friend's peace and Helga's praise.
He is carried by the maids of war to the abode of Odin, and the company of the gods, when all rise from their thrones to greet him, but he,
Drawn back by mournful sympathy,
Looks piteous down on Helga's bower,
Heedless of each immortal Power,
And casts one glance on Samsoe's shore,
Where lie his cold remains in gore.
We now open on the seventh and last Canto, which begins with some reflections on the hope of earthly love surviving its tenement of clay, and accompanying the immortal spirit to Heaven.
Where'er the fleeting soul shall go,
Still will our pure affections glow!
And thus Hialmar turns his sight towards Sigtune's towers, and the lovely mourner there, who shall never again behold her lord. In the mean time Orvarod buries the giant brothers under a gloomy pile of stones.
And on the summit placed alone
A strangely graven Runic stone.
He did not give, so runs the fame,
The hostile bodies to the flame,
But ranged, in that dark tomb below,
Their ghastly forms in frightful row!
Placed magic Tirfin in its sheath,
Angantyr's giant head beneath,
And by each livid brother's side
His weapon oft in battle tried.
The corpse of Hialmar he embalms and brings home in his vessel.
On a rich pall the chief they laid,
In panoply of steel array'd,
The iron gauntlet on his hand,
And in its grasp the elfin brand.
In the meantime the ship is borne, with her precious freight, prosperously home.
The air is calm; the sky serene,
Reflected on the waters sheen,
Throws its blue mantle o'er the deep,
And the scarce-heaving billows sleep.
Beauteous she wins her noiseless way,
Nor dashes from her poop the spray,
Nor lets in air her streamers play.
Around, the sun's last splendors fade,
And gently falls mild evening's shade.
Then, as she nears the Swedish shore,
Steals softly o'er the waters hoar,
Borne with sweet breath on dewy wing,
The fragrance of the blooming spring.
Young Asbiorn treads the yellow sand,
Where rippling surges bathe the land.
Long had he mark'd the silvery sail
Gliding beneath the moon-beam pale, &c.
He dreads to see Hialmar return victorious, whom, instead of defending, he had deceived, and vainly strove to rob of his affianced bride. But he soon discovers the gloomy banners of death, and sees the funeral pall. Struck with remorse and sorrow, he joins the funeral train, which proceeds to Helga's bower. As they approach, they hear her melancholy song rising on the breeze.
Hard is the hopeless damsel's lot,
At eve adored, at morn forgot!
Man reaps with pride the blissful hour,
Then leaves in woe the wither'd flower.
Nay, tell me nought of faithful loves,
Of joys that Heaven itself approves;
Nay, feign not tales of fond despair;
Man's faith is light as summer air.
O if you climb the mountain's height,
The quarry slain shall yield delight,
And, as ye rouse each lair with glee,
Blithe pleasure chase each thought of me!
O if you seek the greenwood gay,
Each lingering care shall melt away!
Where quivers ring and archers vie,
Frail passion's charm will quickly die.
The nymph forlorn shall mourn the hour
That gave to grief her short-lived flower;
In silent sorrow waste the day,
And pour by night her plaintive lay.
As the strain was hushed, Orvarod lifted the corpse from the bier, and bore it upright, in its shining armour, into Helga's bower, — but we must, in justice to the poet and the poem, and to our readers, give the remainder of the story in the original text.
He bore it, sheathed in warlike steel,
As if alive to breathe and feel,
Though ghastly was the hue, and dread
The visage, of the speechless dead.
Thus burthen'd, to the lone abode
Of that despairing nymph he strode,
And entering, sudden as the shock
Of Heaven that rives the senseless rock,
To the distracted mourner's side
With unrelenting purpose hied;
And, clinging to the firm belief
That woman's love is frail and brief,
Death's ghastly features he display'd
Unveil'd before the astonied maid;
Against her bosom, throbbing warm,
Placed the loved champion's lifeless form,
And, with appalling silence, press'd
The icy gauntlet to her breast.
It came upon her, like a blast
Withering life's blossom as it pass'd,
A frightful overwhelming flood,
Nor seen, nor felt, nor understood.
Then hot and sear'd the heart's blood burn'd,
As memory and sense return'd,
And like a horrid dream the past
Came rushing o'er her soul at last.
The dead stood there without his shroud,
Surrounded by the mourning crowd;
But she did not with one embrace
Her lord's beloved relics grace,
Nor dare to lay her cheek on his,
Nor print on his cold lips a kiss,
But slowly sunk unto the ground,
Unconscious of the forms around,
And horror-struck without a sigh
Gazed upon Asbiorn dreadfully.
It was a look that chill'd his blood,
And seem'd to freeze life's secret flood.
Her spirit paas'd without a groan,
And she was dead and cold as stone;
But her strange look and glazed eye
Still fix'd him as in agony;
Nor evermore was voice or word
Thenceforth from wretched Asbiorn heard.
They placed her on Hialmar's bier, and buried them in one grave.
Asbiorn followed, and when he saw the Runic stone placed on the monument,
Then on the gloomy mound he placed
The sword that long his side had graced,
And, falling on the edge, he press'd
Its death-point through his manly breast.
And now let us join the poet in his concluding reflections on this melancholy story, that in the morning rose so bright with hope and so rich in love, and which has ended in a night of ruined love and untimely death.
Well may old Ingva wail, and tear
The honors of his hoary hair;
While Sweden's loveliest Virgins spread
Fresh flowers to deck the honor'd dead,
And warlike Scalds bid gently flow
From golden harps their notes of woe:
Not that such duties sadly paid
May hope to soothe the silent shade:
Not that the plaint or pious wreath
Can charm the dull cold pow'r of death;
But that such tribute duly given
Lifts the weak mourners' thoughts to heaven,
And round the venerated tomb
Bids infant virtues rise and bloom.
Well may the serfs o'er them that sleep
Uprear the monumental heap,
Gigantic mound, which there shall raise
Its structure to Earth's latest days.
A huge memorial! not to tell
How bled the brave, how beauty fell;
But that, as cold Oblivion's hand
Blots their frail glories from the land,
The great, the fair, whate'er their lot,
Sleep undistinguish'd and forgot.
The mound, the massive stones, remain
To frown on the surrounding plain;
The peasant oft shall check the plough
To gaze upon its lofty brow,
To think of wars and beacon fires,
Strange tales transmitted by his sires;
But none shall live, in sooth to tell
Who sleeps within that gloomy cell.
This poem, Mr. Herbert informs us, will be found to contain a faithful picture of the manners and superstitions of the period which it represents. "I have (he says) attempted to give it the colouring of poetry, and to temper with chaster ornaments the rude wildness of Scaldic fiction." The poem required simplicity of plot, and characters marked with the strong and simple lines of rude nature; the poet has introduced various passages of description and reflection to relieve the savage features of his heroes and their deeds, and we think succeeded in forming a tale of interest accordant to the manners of the age and the people he has chosen, yet so softened and shaped as to please both by the train of incidents that are described, and the persons who act the various parts in the historic fable. Our only doubt is whether Asbiorn's crime is necessary to the full development of the story, and the proper effect to be produced. Supposing the intended perpetration of the crime to be deferred till after Hialmar's death, could not his spectre have appeared in the proper juncture, and stopped the shameful deed. Helga might still have died of misery, and her base ravisher of shame. We do not know whether our alteration would square into the framework of the fiction with propriety, not knowing how far, in the Northern mythology, ghosts of dead warriors are allowed to appear at conjunctures that particularly need them; — but, if it will not, then we would omit Helga's song entirely, fill her brow with double gloom and melancholy, and only show her after her injuries, for one moment, when the corse of Hialmar is introduced. We think the effect left on the mind at the conclusion of Canto five is weakened by the song, which, if sung at all, should be in strains of deeper affliction. Scholar as well as poet, as Mr. Herbert is, we did not expect to find his verse less polished and exact than it is, leaving little room for critical observation. Yet, in one or two instances, we think there is a flatness in the expression, that might easily be amended, as v. 394:
Not that its glare could give offence,
Or scare the doves of innocence.
again, v. 777.
Shall e'er these languid beauties stir
Or Heaven's pure light revisit her?
Or is she thus enveloped quite?
Say, does her fate for pity cry,
Or were it best to sink and die.
and v. 2478.
The champion bleeds apace, but still
Hialmar seems to fare as ill.
Our objection to any single words, or particular expressions, is very confined, yet it would extend to l. 661
She spread her white arms sheen!
for the unusual position of the word, as well as for its being a little antiquated, and out of use.
She spread her white arms shining,
would hardly be idiomatic or pleasing to ears polite, and if so, "sheen" still adds to the irregularity. At l. 872 we read,
Should chase the thoughts of "yestrene's" fray.
This word is familiar to us in Scottish, or Old English ballads, but not in poetry of a higher order, or more regular form; and we do not like the accent on the first syllable, which seems to shorten the second, that is naturally long. At v. 1059 we do not like "Jove demented." Whether words are correctly used is to be known by authority, by usage, by the idiom and structure of language; but whether they please is another thing, and is to be decided by taste; it is on this ground that we object to the word "demented," though, in our place as critics, we are fortunately not obliged to find another to fill up its vacant place. We do not approve the following rhyme at v. 2457
Writhing upon the barren "moor"
They lie in blood to rise no "more."
Why not preferably thus:
Writhing in blood upon the plain
They lie, nor e'er shall rise again.
It was our intention to have given a similar abridgment, with specimens of the original text, of the tragedy of "The Wanderer of Jutlaud" (vol. 1. p. 75), but want of space preventing the fulfilment of our purpose, we can only refer our readers to it, with the promise that it will well repay the perusal, by many passages of fine poetical composition and munch eloquence of language. It is founded on a Danish ballad, and a play has been formed on it by Ingemann, called, "Loveredderen, or the Lion Knight," in which he has adhered to the traditional story, judiciously departed from by Mr. Herbert, in order better to adapt it to the purpose of tragedy. It will be seen that the Wanderer, on whom the agency of the plot centres, was a character very difficult to pourtray; for, to give it effect, it was necessary to keep within certain defined lines, that would on one side prevent it being wildly and savagely unnatural and shocking, and on the other fantastic and ineffectual. The only defect, as it appears to us, in the plot, though a matter of no further importance than the advantage of adhering to nature and natural feelings, is the quiet and undisturbed manner in which Bertha the Queen receives from her husband the confession of his baseness and guilt towards the former object of his affections. Where we expected a scene of distress and reproach she suddenly leaves the stage, saying, "Tarry not, my loved Lord," with no mark of diminished respect or attachment.
Among the shorter poems, one of the most spirited is the Prophecy of the Tajo, from the Spanish of Fray Luis de Leon, a poem, if we rightly recollect, that has also been translated by Russell, and more lately by the present Laureate. As a pleasing specimen of the lighter kind of poetry we shall give "The Waterfall, from Gesner."
Is this the vale, whose shadowy wood
Breathed o'er my bosom strange delight?
Is this the rock, whose sparkling flood
Plunged lightly from the wood-crown'd height?
Lo! where the foaming stream from high
Dash'd on its mossy couch below,
A frozen column meets my eye,
Suspended from the beetling brow.
How bare, how naked, frowns the glade;
Where late in thick o'er-arching bow'rs
Soft Zephyrs thro' the foliage stray'd,
And gently waved the scented flowers.
Where late the glancing sunbeams play'd
On the bright waves and mossy bed;
Or gleam'd along the checker'd shade,
Which leafless now o'erhsngs my head.
Soon, soon, sweet Spring will warm the sky,
And deck the groves with livelier hue,
Awake each floweret's sparkling eye,
And melt the frost with genial dew.
O then receive me in your shade,
Ye rocks that crown the valleys deep,
Ye woods, that deck this watery glade,
And wave beneath the rocky steep.
No cares shall here my bosom pain;
No fearful thoughts my heart alarm;
From hill, from grove, and flowery plain.
Shall sweetly steal a soothing charm.
And wherefore envy those that shine,
And bask in fortune's transient beam?
While with my flask of jovial wine
I lay me by the rippling stream.
While sweet success may crown my lays
Amid these cool delicious bow'rs
And future ages learn to praise
The pastime of my harmless hours.
The English poems are followed by a sonnet in Spanish, and by an Italian canzone and sonnets. These are succeeded by some poems taken from those printed by Mr. Herbert in his edition of the Musae Etonenses. The Greek contains a translation into hexameter of sonnets of Ossian, and into Swabian of the Witch Scene in Macbeth (Act. iv. sc. 1), followed by other specimens. The Latin contains the "Rhenus," the poem which gained the prize at Oxford in 1797, and others, written for the most part with classical elegance and correctness. As a short specimen of the Greek Translations we will give the one of Collins's beautiful ode, "How sleep the brave," &c. [Greek characters]
The second volume consists of reflective works in prose, or, as he calls it, "Horae Pedentus." These may be divided into Critical Dissertations and Sermons. The former show much critical learning, extensive knowledge of languages, both ancient and modern, and familiarity, far beyond common attainment, with the literature of Europe. The review of Mr. Mathias's Componimenti Lirici, will be very useful as a guide to those who would make themselves acquainted with the best productions of the Italian poets; that of Mitford's Harmony of Language, shows how much attention Mr. Herbert has paid to the grammatical structure of languages, and evinces his power of discrimination in points often difficult to discuss, especially as regards the laws of accent, both in modern and ancient languages; a point most important indeed to the true knowledge of the structure of versification, and at the same time much neglected and widely misunderstood. The notes on the Horatian metres, will show to those studious of such interesting inquiries, more than any previous work, the great delicacy and exactness of the laws which governed them; while the review of Mr. Gifford's Massinger, as respects the writer's system of versification, cannot be read without profit. The Sermons at the conclusion of the volume are for the most part on what may be called occasional subjects; they are written elegantly, impressively; and on disputed points, as in the one before the Bishop of Chester, temperately, and with due allowance for difference of opinion, as a churchman equally pious and conscientious, though taking particular doctrines or duties under different points of view, and drawing conclusions and inferences from them more widely apart than can be looked on by some without disquiet and alarm.