1821 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry Neele

Anonymous, "News from Parnassus" The Monthly Magazine 50 (January 1821) 516-19.



The present month has not ushered any original poetry into the world, of unusual pretensions, an assertion which might be disputed, had not a portion of the just published volume of Mr. NEELE, entitled Odes and other Poems, appeared partly in a former very circumscribed edition. On that occasion the writer of this article, impressed with the fine tone of mind and feeling evinced by the young author involuntarily regretted that the poetical school of his adoption, was necessarily a bounded one. His species of composition is, in fact, decidedly that of glowing, but of very abstract personification, of which COLLINS is the great English head. A slight consideration will shew, that however vivid the flashes of mind produced by conceptions so intense and exclusive, so much is shut out, that the poet of the higher class of ode can seldom be very fruitful. Is this truth to be exemplified by Mr. NEELE? — Without the slightest indulgence of the gothic notion, that quantity is an efficient substitute for quality, we hope not. On the contrary, we trust that he may be induced, in the words of the gifted bard whom he has so evidently studied, "to court" Observance — "Youth of the quick uncheated sight,"

And learn, where Science true is
From Nature as she lives around:

—In other words, from Man. The whole of Ode of "The Manners," from which the forgoing lines are quoted, shews his perception of the truth just stated, and a sort of latent resolution to attend more to the humours and affections of his fellow creatures. This observation is by no means made in disparagement of the walk preferred by Mr. Neele, but simply from a desire that the possessor of so conspicuous a share of poetical feeling and general power, should be induced to leap across the boundary of a narrow but favourite enclosure, and occasionally cultivate a field of more diversified culture.

Pursuant to the simple plan we have laid down for our guidance, we proceed to the contents of the volume before us, with a view to the selection of a few characteristic passages. The first Ode in the book is, to "Time," a subject which precludes originality from the very obvious nature of much of the suggested allusion. The merit must be therefore in the handling, which is very delicate, exhibiting a pathos peculiarly tender and appropriate. Who can help thinking of Kirke White, when reading Mr. NEELE'S beautiful lines?—

Oh! he has many borne away,
Who seem'd not meant to go so soon,
Who might have hop'd for closing day,
But fell before th' approach of noon.
Scarce had their fame been whisper'd round,
Before its shrill and mournful sound
Was whistling o'er their tomb:
Scarce did the laurel 'gin to grow
Around each early honoured brow,
Before its grateful bloom
Was changed to cypress sear and brown,
Whose garlands mock the head they crown.

Pope somewhere mournfully exclaims, that the sun will shine as brightly, the fields be equally green, and all nature equally gay, the morning after his death, as at that moment. Dr. Johnson sarcastically remarked, that however great the poet deceased, this was just as it should be. This joke is very well; but where is the man of reflection to be found, who has not indulged in a soliloquy of this nature, when led to pause on the idea of death, and the mysterious link which connects his own being with the universe? In the concluding stanza of this ode, Mr. Neele tinges a train of kindred anticipations to those of Pope, with very pleasing melancholy.

A few more lays be sung and o'er,
The hand is cold, the harp unstrung:
The hand that swept shall sweep no more,
The harp that rang no more be rang.
The sun that warm'd the minstrel's heart,
And kindred fervour would impart,
Then gleams upon his sod;
The breeze that used around him wave,
Shakes the lorn thistle o'er his grave,
But cannot wake the clod:
Tir'd Nature nestles in the shroud,
Tho' requiem winds are piping loud.

Hope is next addressed, and then Memory, both in a somewhat sombre strain. The following contrast between the delusive pleasures of the one, and the certain pains of the other, possesses great poetical merit.

Tho' Hope's bright scenes be false and vain,
Her's is the beauty of deceit;
Tho' Pleasure's cup hold dregs of pain,
One sip upon the brim is sweet:
Yes, they have charms, tho' false and few,
Tho' soon they vanish from the view,
Impalpable as air:
But Memory soothes not, charms not, brings
No balm, or true or false, for stings
Inflicted by Despair;
But still some new device mill find
To torture more the suff'rer's mind.

She, worm obscene, her form will roll
Beneath the rose-bed where he lies,
Or crawl from out the jovial bowl,
And coil before his eyes:
Or find him as he lies asleep,
That waking, he may wake to weep,
And chide the coming day:
A poisoned shaft once fix'd by her,
'Tis vain to soothe, 'tis pain to stir,
'Tis death to pluck away,
And ev'ry struggle, ev'ry start,
But sends it deeper to the heart.

The Ode to "Horror," is ambitious and powerful. The following exclamatory passage, although a little artificial, is very forcible.

Oh! she has gaz'd on unholy rite,
Till her cheek it grew pale, and her eye lost its light;
And she has danc'd by the light of the moon,
With the spectres that shrink from the lustre of noon.
She blasts in the desert, she whelms in the sea;
The spirit that raves on the night-wind is she.
She rides on the thunder,
When tempests roll under,
With the beldams of darkness she sits and confers;
The sigh and the languish,
The pang and the anguish,
The heave, and the start, and the death-shriek are hers.

But we still more particularly recommend the following Ode to "Despair," which in our opinion, affords an example of the very highest order of poetical description, both in conception and expression. We strain a point to give the whole of it.

It was Despair,
He roll'd his large red eye around,
And laid his wither'd hand upon the lyre;
Then woke that strain so wildly terrible,
That Madness
Ceas'd for awhile her idiot grin, and Fear
Call'd Disappointment from his iron cell,
To pause and listen while his own pale cheek
Grew paler.

It was Despair:
The man of dark imaginings,
Who sits him sullen on some blasted heath,
Which the pale moon-beam saddens, not relieves;
There raving,
Fashioning shapes huge, strange, and horrible,
And starting wild, he points at vacancy,
And to the spirits of the night-blast tells
His sorrows.

He asks not aid,
Nor does the big sigh heave his breast,
Nor does the sorrowful tear suffuse his eyes,
For sighs and tears bespeak a spirit worn,
Not withered
Bended, not broken; they are like the rains
That bless the plains they deluge, when the flow'rs
E'en while they bend beneath their weight, are seen
Reviving.

There was a light,
That us'd to flit across his path,
Lonely, yet lovely, and it cheer'd his soul,
And he would cherish it, and call it Hope:
That vanish'd—
And he must wander now despairingly,
Where never taper lends its little ray,
Where never moon must soothe, and never sun
Shall gladden.

Despair is Death:
And though he come not in the storm
That blasts the roses, yet he lurks unseen,
Eating their core away, and o'er them sheds
His mildew:
While of such sad, sad change, the cause and cure
Alike unknown, we can but mourn the flow'rs
That look less beautiful and count the leaves
That wither.

Thou Sun of heaven!
Tho' thou art cheerful, and he dull
As blackest night, Despair resembles thee
Fierce as thou art, and lusting as thou seem'st,
His sorrows Thy setting sees the same pale marble cheeks,
Thy rising radiance vainly strove to gild;
The some dull eye's fix'd glare, the same wild steps,
Still wand'ring.

Yet he can smile
With seeming careless jollity,
And o'er the goblet gay will join the laugh,
And strive to play the courtier deftily.
But vainly—
The worm that fattens in the dead man's socket,
Looks not less like the life that glitter'd there,
Than that faint smile, the heart-exulting mirth
It mimics.

O saddest lot!
Thus barely doom'd to breathe and be,
To wander up and down this care-bound sphere,
And only know we live, because we feel
Life's sorrows;
And only shrink from death, because we fear
The grave itself may bold some dream like life,
And even that dark slumber may not be Unbroken.

The remaining Odes are to the Moon, Enthusiasm, the Harp, Fancy, on the Power of Poetry, Pity, and Allegory. They all display considerable imagination and feeling, qualified at times, by a too visible analogy of manner to that of Collins. As a proof, we select some very elegant lines in the Ode to Allegory.

Hail, Truth and Fiction! loveliest pair,
Best, brightest, most divine, most fair,
Long, long, each ranked in adverse throng,
And shunned, and scorned, and hated long:
At length she came, the dark-haired maid,
In robes of cloudy blue arrayed,
With girdle formed of wandering rays,
Caught from the sun's refulgent blaze,
And that mysterious veil, so wrought
By artful spirits heavenly taught,
Its mystic beauties only yield
To the fair features it concealed.
Th' Enchantress came, she came in pow'r,
Mistress of that transforming hour.
She breath'd a wild mysterious lay,
And sang and smiled their hate away.
O'er Truth's fair form a robe she threw,
To clothe her with attraction new,
And pluck'd from Fiction's pinions gay,
The vainer, gaudier plumes away,
Then bade her re-assume her pride,
And soar as lofty, not as wide:
Each paused, each strange affection knew,
And wondered whence their hatred grew,
Felt fresh delight, beheld new charms,
And sunk into each other's arms.
Since then together will they stray's
And sing the same impassioned lay,
The flower that Fiction's garden drest,
Blushes on Truth's celestial breads
The wires that Truth has strung rejoice,
In unison with Fiction's voice;
They seek the same romantic groves,
Each loves the haunts the other loves;
They climb the steep, explore the dell,
Together roam, together dwell.

Besides the Odes, this volume contains sonnets and various other poems, all, however, of a description similar in character to the foregoing extracts. We will, however, do him justice, and afford our readers gratification by transferring his lines written on seeing a model, in the possession of J. Britton, Esq. from the monumental bust of Shakspeare, in Stratford church.

His was the master spirit; at his spells
The heart gave up its secrets; like the mount
Of Horeb, smitten by the Prophet's rod,
Its hidden springs gushed forth. Time, that grey rock
On whose bleak sides the fame of meaner bards
Is dashed to ruin, was the pedestal
On which his Genius rose; and, rooted there,
Stands like a mighty statue, reared so high
Above the clouds, and changes of the world
That Heaven's unshorn and unimpeded beams
Have round its awful brows a glory shed
Immortal as their own. Like those fair birds
Of glittering plumage, whose heaven pointing pinions
Beam light on that dim world they leave behind.
And while they spurn, adorn it; so his spirit,
His "dainty spirit," while it soared above
This dull, gross compound, scattered as it flew
Treasures of light and loveliness. And these
Were "gentle SHAKSPEARE'S" features; this the eye
Whence Earth's least earthly mind looked out, and flashed
Amazement on the nations; this the brow
Where lofty thought majestically brooded,
Seated as on a throne; and these the lips
That warbled music stolen from heaven's own choir
When seraph-harps rang sweetest. But I tempt
A theme too high, and mount like Icarus,
On wings that melt before the blaze they worship.
Alas! my hand is weak, my lyre is wild!
Else should the eye, whose wondering gaze is fixed
Upon this breathing bust, awaken strains
Lofty as those the glance of Phoebus struck
From Memnon's ruined statue; the rapt soul
Should breathe in numbers, and in dulcet notes
"Discourse most eloquent music."

The muse of Mr. Neele is pensive; but for the greater part, the melancholy is of that order which Ossian so well compares to the Memory of Past Joys, "pleasant though mournful." With respect to the "Dramatic Fragment," at the end of the volume, it has obviously been inspired by emulation of Mr. Barry Cornwall. It exhibits the famous reported interview between Oliver Cromwell, and his favourite daughter Mrs. Claypole.