For years, it has been our opinion, that Mr. Croly was not in possession of that degree of popularity to which, by his learning, his genius, and his talent, he was fairly entitled. It is the province of the million to admire, because they are told to admire; but the million have not been told to admire the writings of Mr. Croly. The venality of the diurnal and hebdomadal press has never been resorted to, for the purpose of unduly elevating his productions; their progress, however, though slow, has been sure; and, malgre the arts of petty detraction, they have procured for their author an enduring fame — a name that will not perish.
We are not amongst those, who regard genius and application, genius and judgment, genius and taste, as incompatible. In Mr. Croly we contemplate a noble instance of their combination. His genius is rich, vivid, and original; his taste is pure, as his genius is brilliant; his application is great; and the soundness of his judgment is such, as enables him to bring into play, with every possible advantage, all the varied stores of his highly cultivated mind. Traces of extensive reading, of indefatigable study, of profound and accurate observation, are apparent in all that Mr. Croly writes; yet it would be scarcely correct to say, that his works smell of the lamp. According to our perception, his mind is deeply imbued with what he has read — his mind, his literature, every acquirement of his studies, are blended, amalgamated, identified with himself. The diction of Mr. Croly's compositions, whether in prose or in verse, is rich and glowing. He possesses fertility of invention, splendour of fancy, commanding power of imagination. His imagery is striking, impressive, magnificently picturesque. To sustain this opinion, we might — and perhaps we shall hereafter — quote numerous passages from his "Angel of the World," "Sebastian," "Salathiel," &c. It is not one of his least merits, that his prose is correct as it is powerful, and lucid as it is brilliant. Even its correctness is rendered subservient to its power. Perhaps we should not materially err in saying, that, in prose, Mr. Croly is a greater master than in verse. In his recently-published romance of "Salathiel," we find all the force, and depth, and concentration of Godwin in his most successful efforts, with infinitely more fervour, and splendour, and magnificence. "Salathiel," though in prose, displays all the lofty grandeur, the commanding dignity, the sublime majesty, of verse.
Without paying much attention to the order of Mr. Croly's productions, we shall, in the first instance, briefly glance at his tragedy of "Catiline," published in the year 1822. In this piece, which, amongst its minor excellences, displays an accurate knowledge of stage effect, the writer has chosen to exhibit his hero "in the point of view suggested by Cicero; that of a man of conscious ability and violent passions, doubly stricken down by poverty and public defeat; lingering for awhile in the depression natural to a proud mind, shocked and benumbed by its fall, but gradually lifting himself into resistance, and finally girding up his strength for one grand effort of ambition and despair." This tragedy, although it contains much admirable writing — much originality, variety, and distinctness of character — several fine scenes and situations — is not, in its conduct, entirely satisfactory to our taste. We are not sure, whether it may not be somewhat deficient in action, and in varied character of action. At all events, the denouement, though melo-dramatic to excess, fails in dignity, and in general effect.
Some of the sentiments and emotions in "Catiline" are very happily expressed. The hero, after the dead body of his son has been brought in, exclaims:—
—There's my hope—
My tree cut down. Why struggle for a name,
That, when I perish, perishes! Pale boy!
My wealth, health, heart, my life are on thy bier!
Speaking of love, Aspasia says—
—We paint him as a child,—
When he should sit a giant on his clouds,
THE GREAT DISTURBING SPIRIT OF THE WORLD!
The nature of conspiracy is well pourtrayed:—
This is the curse of all conspiracy,
To mingle with the refuse of our kind,
To be the tool of tools, the slave of slaves,—
To patch up ruffian quarrel; — from his cups
To drag the dozing drunkard; tear the knife
From the assassin's hand; — stir up the base
To manly thoughts; degrade the swelling heart
To necessary villains, that the eye
Had loathed in daylight. Oh, Conspiracy!
To this disgrace thou'st damn'd me; aye, and all
That ever sank to thee!
We shall proceed to quote two passages; one, eminently beautiful in colloquy, narrative, and description; the other, as finely calculated to display the author's dramatic power, in its depth of energy. — The first passage embraces the story of Semele:—
She was a Grecian maiden; and, by some,
Was thought a daughter of the sky; for earth
Had never shaped such beauty: and her thoughts
Were, like her beauty, sky-born. She would stray,
And gaze, when morn was budding on the hills,
As if she saw the stooping pomp of gods—
Then tell her lyre the vision; nor had eve
A sound, or rosy colour of the clouds,
Or infant star, but in her solemn songs
It lived again....
She met a stately hunter on the hills,
Loved him, and wedded him: and passion's flame,
That had bewitched her loveliness, now burned
Richer in Hymen's lamp. But, one night came,
And with it came no husband — and she wept;—
Another, and she knelt to the cold moon,
Praying, in pain, the mother's deity,
That she might shew him but his babe, and die.
The thunder pealed at midnight, and he came—
And then she fell upon his neck, and kissed,
And asked him, why he left her desolate?
His brow grew cloudy — but at last she wrung
The lofty secret—
Woman's ancient arts!
The tale sounds true.
Of his inconstancy?
No; of her sex's teasing. Girl, say on;
Your voice has music in't. She conquered him?
He was a god; and to his throne in the stars
He must at times ascend. She dared not doubt:
But love will have wild thoughts; and so she pined,
And her rich cheek grew pale.
To prove his truth, at length, she bade him come
In his full glory.
And the lover came?
He long denied her, offered her all wealth,
Of mine or mountain — kissed away her tears—
All to subdue her thought.
And all in vain! Was she not woman?
Pity her! 'twas Love
That wrought this evil to his worshipper!
The deadly oath was sworn. — Then nature shook,
As in strange trouble — solemn cries were heard,
Echoing from hill to hill — the forests bowed,
Ruddy with lightnings — in the height of heaven
The moon grew sanguine, and the waning stars
Fell loosely through the sky. Before her rose,
On golden clouds, a throne; and, at its foot,
An eagle grasped the thunderbolt. The face
Of the bright sitter on the throne was bent
Over his sceptre — but she knew her lord!
And called upon him but to give one look,
Before she perished in the Olympian blaze—
He raised his eye — and in its flash — she died!
In the succeeding excerpt, Catiline, in a paroxism of phrenzy, imagines the apparition of Marius:—
Does not the chamber shake? — Look there — look there!
[Tottering, and pointing to the ground.
VALERIUS (supporting him).
His trouble has exhausted him.
CATALINE (starting up, and still pointing to the ground)—
Do you see nothing?
Take him to the gate.
No grave? — no giant form, laid at its length?
Look — look — it rises — Marius in his mail!
[As to a vision.
Thou mightiest and most awful summoner!
Death's majesty — life's terror — that hast come,
Passing the gates that none can see and live!
Is not thy visitation gracious; — Hark!
He groans — and, with a fearful heaviness,
His eye is cast upon the earth: — but speak!
Great spectre, demi-god! I know thou'rt come,
To give our lingering swords the lightning's edge,
And put a soul in our too-nerveless flesh,
Fit for Rome's final slaughter? — answer me!
He will not speak! — Then, demon, by thy bed
In burning hell, what wrath of fate is theirs,
Who war against their country? — See! he frowns—
His eye grows meteor-like — he rends his mail—
And, with his dagger, stabs his naked breast!
[He falls into their arms.
Bear him away — in mercy!
CATILINE (bursting from them, as following the vision).
He rises, darkening all the air! — He's gone!
[He falls — the Scene closes.
Before we close this portion of our subject, it may not be deemed incurious to point out the manner in which writers are sometimes disposed to apply the same materials to different uses. For the second scene in the tragedy, the stage directions are as follow: — "A Banquet in CATILINE'S Palace. Couches along the Sides. Statues of Jove, Juno, and Minerva, on Thrones at the extremity of the Hall. Singers and Slaves in the Distance. The Guests, crowned with Chaplets of Roses and Myrtle, lying on the Couches." This beautiful picture is, in "Salathiel," embodied in the following narrative:—
"The guests before me were fifty or sixty splendidly-dressed men, attended by a crowd of domestics attired with scarcely less splendour; for no man thought of coming to the banquet in the robes of ordinary life. The embroidered couch, itself a striking object, allowed the case of position, at once delightful in the relaxing climates of the south, and capable of combining with every grace of the human figure. At a slight distance, the table, loaded with plate, glittering under the blaze of a profusion of lamps, and surrounded by couches thus covered with rich draperies, was like a central source of light radiating in broad shafts of every brilliant hue. All that belonged to the ornament of the board was superb. The wealth of the patricians, and their perpetual intercourse with Greece, made them masters of the finest performances of the arts. The sums expended on plate were enormous. But its taste and beauty were essential to the refined enjoyment of the banquet. Copies of the most famous statues and groupes of sculpture in the precious metals: trophies of the victories of Greek and Roman; models of the celebrated temples, were mingled with the vases of flowers and lighted perfumes; and, covering and colouring all, was a vast scarlet canopy which combined the groups beneath the eye, and threw the whole into the form that a painter would love.
"But the true skill was shown in the constant prevention of that want of topic, which turns conversation into weariness. There was a perpetual succession of new objects and excitements. Even the common changes of the table were made to assist this purpose. The coming in of each course was announced by music, and the attendants were preceded by a procession of minstrels, dancing, chaplet-crowned, and playing popular melodies. Between the courses, a higher entertainment was offered in the recitations, pleasantries read or acted by a class of professional satirists of the absurdities of the day....
"The recitations again were varied, by a sportive lottery, in which the guests drew prizes; sometimes of value, gems and plate; sometimes merely an epigram, or a caricature. The banquet generally closed with a theatric dance by the chief public performers of the day; and the finest forms and most delicate art of Greece and Iberia displayed — the story of Theseus and Ariadne; the flight of Jason; the fate of Semele, or some other of the brilliant fictions of their poetry. In the presence of this vivid scene, sat, tempering its wildness by the majesty of religion, the three great tutelar idols of Rome, Jove, Juno, and Minerva, of colossal height, throned, at the head of the hall; completing, false as they were, the most singular and dazzling combination that man ever saw, of the delight of the senses with the delight of the mind."
Amongst the miscellaneous poems appended to the tragedy of "Catiline," is one, with which we were much struck, on seeing the bust of the late queen of Prussia, at Berlin, in the year 1812. The verses are professedly from the German; therefore we are not prepared to say whether the spirit of prophecy which they breathe may have originated with Mr. Croly or with some nameless continental bard. Buonaparte, it will be recollected, died in 1821: the lines here addressed to him, with reference to his brutal treatment of the amiable and unfortunate queen, were written, as we have said, in 1812:—
—the dark heart that dug thy grave
Shall die a recreant and a slave:
Not where his routed legions lie;
He must not die as brave men die!
But weary, wither'd, lost — his name;
Earth's scorn, the common mark for shame;
From fame, hope, empire, mankind driven!
As sure as there's a power in heaven—
That sin's not made to be forgiven!
Another dramatic production of Mr. Croly's, was a comedy, constructed somewhat upon the old English model, and entitled Pride shall have a Fall. This piece, charmingly written, interspersed with songs, and aided by adventitious circumstances, had a most successful run at Covent Garden theatre, in the spring of 1824.
We pass to a work of infinitely higher order — Salathiel, a Tale of the Past, the Present, and the Future — a work which, as we observed in our Monthly View for June, is throughout "powerfully, beautifully written, every page, every line, attesting the poet, in all his fire, in all his grandeur, and in all his sublimity." We have already endeavoured to convey a general idea of the character of this performance; it was our wish to sketch the story, and to analyse its conduct; but we shrink from the task: for no attempt of our's could satisfy the reader, or render justice to the subject. "Salathiel," to be duly estimated, must be read; and few, we apprehend, are they who will be satisfied with a single perusal. All that we have said in its praise, now, and in our former notice, will be more than justified, by the specimens we are about to offer; yet — to employ a hacknied mode of illustration — those specimens, gems as they are, can be regarded only as the loose, unset, and unconnected stones of some vast edifice, failing to picture forth the order, beauty, and magnificence of the whole.
The first that we select is an apostrophe to Freedom:—
"Freedom! twin sister of Virtue, thou brightest of all the spirits that descended in the train of Religion from the throne of God; thou that leadest up man again to the early glories of his being; angel, from the circle of whose presence happiness spreads like the sun-light over the darkness of the land; at the waving of whose sceptre, knowledge and peace, and fortitude and wisdom, stoop upon the wing, at the voice of whose trumpet the more than grave is broken, and slavery gives up her dead; when shall I see thy coming? When shall I hear thy summons upon the mountains of my country, and rejoice in the regeneration and glory of the eons of Judah?"
Mountainous scenery, and its impressions upon the human mind, are thus powerfully described:—
"Of all the sights that nature offers to the eye and mind of man, mountains have always stirred my strongest feelings. I have seen the ocean when it was turned up from the bottom by tempest, and noon was like night with the conflict of the billows and the storm, that tore and scattered them in mist and foam across the sky. I have seen the desert rise around me, and calmly, in the midst of thousands, uttering cries of horror, and paralysed by fear, have contemplated the sandy pillars, coming like the advance of some gigantic city of conflagration, flying across the wilderness, every column glowing with intense fire, and every blast death: the sky vaulted with gloom, the earth a furnace. But with me, the mountain-in tempest or in calm, the throne of the thunder, or with the evening sun painting its dells and declivities in colours dipt in heavenhas been the source of the most aborbing sensations: — there stands magnitude, giving the instant impression of a power above man — grandeur that defies decay — antiquity that tells of ages unnumbered-beauty, that the touch of time makes only more beautiful — use exhaustless for the service of man — strength imperishable as the globe — the monument of eternity — the truest earthly emblem of that ever-living, unchangeable, irresistible majesty, by whom and for whom all things were made."
"What is insanity, but a more vivid and terrible dream? It has the dream like tumult of events, the rapidity of transit, the quick invention, the utter disregard of place and time. The difference lies in the sterner intensity. The madman is awake; and the open eye administers a horrid reality to the fantastic vision. The vigour of the senses gives a living and resistless strength to the vagueness of the fancy; it compels together the fleeting mists of the mind, and embodies and inspirits them into shapes of deadly power....
"The moon, the ancient mistress of the diseased mind, strongly exerted her spells an mine. I loved her light; but it was only when it mingled softly with the shadows of the forest and the landscape. I welcomed her return from darkness, as the coming of some guardian genius to shed at once beauty and healing on its path. Darkness was to me a source of terror; daylight overwhelmed me: but the gentle splendour of the crescent had a dewy and refreshing influence on my faculties. I exposed my feverish forehead to her beams, as if to bathe it in celestial balm. I felt in her gradual increase, an increase of the power to soothe and console. This indulgence grew into a kind of visionary passion. I saw in the crescent, as it sailed up the ether, a galley crowded with forms of surpassing loveliness, faces that bent down and smiled upon me, and hands that showered treasures to be collected by mine alone. But excess even of this light always disturbed me. From the full splendour of the moon there was no escape; the rays smote upon me with merciless infliction: I fled to the woods as a hunted deer; a thousand shafts of light penetrated the shade. — I hid myself in the depths of my chamber; flames of lambent silver, curling and darting in forms innumerable, shot round my couch. — Upon the inequalities of the ground, or the waves of the fountain and the river, serpents of the most inimitable lustre, yet of the most deadly poison, coiled and sprang after me with a rapidity that mocked human feet. — If I dared to glance upwards, I beheld a menacing visage distending to an immeasurable magnitude, and ready to pour down wrath; or an orb, with it mountains and oceans, swinging loose through the heaven, and rolling down upon my solitary brow....
"I was driven out to sea in a bark that let in every wave. I struggled to reach the land — I tore my sinews with toil — I saw the hills, the trees, the shore, sink in slow, yet sure succession — I felt in the hands of an invisible power, bent on my undoing. The storm subsided, the sun shone, the ocean was without a surge. Still I struggled; with the strength of despair I toiled to regain the land — to retard the viewless force that was perpetually urging me further from existence. I began to suffer thirst and hunger. They grew to pain, to torture, to madness. I felt as if molten lead were poured down my throat. I put my arm to my mouth, and shuddering, quenched my thirst in my own veins. It returned instantly with a more fiery sting. There was nothing in the elements to give me hope — to draw off thought from my own fate — to deaden the venomed sensibilities that quivered through every fibre. The wind slept — the sky was cloudless — the sea smooth as glass: not a distant sail — not a wandering bird — not a springing fish — not even a floating weed, broke the terrible monotony. The sun did not pass down the horizon. All above me was unvaried, motionless sky — all around, unvaried, motionless ocean. I alone moved — still urged further from the chance of life; still undergoing new accessions of agony that made the past trivial. I tasted the water beside me: it added fire to fire. I convulsively darted out my withered hands, as if they could have drawn down the rain, or grasped the dew: I withered piece-meal, yet with a continuing consciousness in every fragment of my frame."
There is much more of the same character, but this must suffice.
"Imagination, that strongest and most imperious of our faculties, whose soarings from earth to heaven may be among the indications of power beyond the grave, disdains to linger on the realities of our being. It delights in the commanding, the bold, the superb. In my instance it had the wildness of disease; but who has ever felt its workings, even in the dream of health, without wonder at its passion for the richer and more highly-relieved remembrances; its singular skill in throwing together the brilliant portions of life and nature, to the total disregard of the level: its subtlety in the seizure of the circumstances of pain, its pointings and sharpenings; its fabrication of adventure, at once of the most regular consecutiveness, and the wildest originality; and all characterized by the same spontaneous swiftness of change, and illimitable command over space and time, a power of instant flight from continent to continent, and from world to world; — the transit that would actually fill up years and ages, the work of a moment! — the actual moment expanding into years and ages! What are those but the infant attributes of the disembodied spirit! — the imperfect developments of a state of being to which time and space are nothing; when man, shaking off the covering of the grave, shall be clothed with the might of angels! — the splendid denizen of infinitude and eternity!"
"Who shall tell the limit of the risen spirit? over what worlds, or worlds of worlds, he may be sovereign! What resistless strength — what more than regal majesty — what celestial beauty maybe in his frame! — what expansion of intellect, what ever-flowing tides of new sensation, what shapes of glory and loveliness — what radiant stores of thought, and mysteries of exhaustless knowledge may be treasured for him! What endless ascent through new ranks of being, each as much more glorious than the last, as the risen spirit is above man."
We turn to a softer, a more tender theme. Mr. Croly's pictorial skill — and we know not a more accomplished artist — is admirably displayed in the succeeding exquisite sketch. It is the portrait of Esther, one of the daughters of Salathiel.
"Her large uplifted eye glowed with the brightness of one of the stars on which it was fixed. Her hands fell on the harp in almost the attitude of prayer; and the expression of her lofty and intellectual countenance, crimsoned with the theme, told of a communion with thoughts and beings above mortality. The hymn was done; the voices had ceased; yet the inspiration still burned in her soul; her hands still shook from the chords harmonies, sweet, but of the wildest and boldest brilliancy; bursts and flights of sound, like the rushing of the distant waterfall at night, or the solemn echoes, and mighty complainings of the forest in the first swell of the storm."
Woman, in general:—
"There is a spell in woman. No man, not utterly degraded, can listen without delight to the accents of the guileless heart. Beauty, too, has a natural power over the mind; and it is right that this should be. All that overcomes selfishness, the besetting sin of the world, is an instrument of good. Beauty is but melody of a higher kind; and both alike soften the troubled and hard nature of man. Even if we looked on lovely woman, but as on a rose, an exquisite production of the summer hours of life, it would be idle to deny her influence in making even those summer hours sweeter.
"But as the companion of the mind, as the very model of a friendship that no chance can shake, as the pleasant sharer of the heart of heart, the being to whom man returns after the tumult of the day, like the worshipper to a secret shrine, to revive his nobler tastes and virtues at a source pure from the evil of the external world, and glowing with a perpetual light of sanctity and love; where shall we find her equal! or what must be our feeling towards the mighty Disposer of earth, and all that it inhabit, but of admiration and gratitude to that disposal which thus combines our highest happiness with our purest virtue!"
Here is another picture — that of a minstrel in his tent — surrounded by soldiers and shepherds from the Galilees, sitting over their cups:—
"He touched his little harp with elegance, to a voice that reminded me of the sportiveness and wild melody of a bird in spring. The moonlight shone through the tent; and, as the boy sat under the large white folds in the fantastic dress of his art, a loose vermilion robe, belted with sparkling stones, and turban of yellow silk, that drooped upon his shoulder like a golden pinion, he resembled the Persian pictures of the Peri embosomed in the bell of the lily. The rude and dark-featured listeners round him might well have sat for the swart demons submissive to his will."
We could extract three-fourths of the work; but we have room for only one more passage: it refers to what is termed "the last and most wondrous sign that marked the fate of rejected Israel." Just before the conflagration of the Temple of Jerusalem, Salathiel, with the view of leading a band of fugitives to die within the hallowed boundaries of that edifice, attempts to ascend Mount Moriah, but is swept downward by a gust of wind that tore the rocks in a flinty shower around him:—
"While I lay helpless, I heard the whirlwind roar through the cloudy hill, and the vapours began to revolve. A pale light, like that of the rising moon, quivered on their edges; and the clouds rose, and rapidly shaped themselves into the forms of battlements and towers. The sound of voices was heard within, low and, distant, yet strangely sweet. Still the lustre brightened; and the airy building rose, tower on tower, and battlement on battlement. — In awe that held us mute, we knelt and gazed upon this more than mortal architecture, that continued rising and spreading, and glowing with a serener light, still soft and silvery, yet to which the broadest moon-beam was dim. At last, it stood forth to earth and heaven, the colossal image of the first temple, of the building raised by the wisest of men, and consecrated by the visible glory. All Jerusalem saw the image; and the shout that in the midst of their despair ascended from its thousands and tens of thousands, told what proud remembrances were there. But a hymn was heard, that might have hushed the world beside. Never fell on my ear, never on the human sense, a sound so majestic, yet so subduing; so full of melancholy, yet of grandeur and command. The vast portal opened, and from it marched a host, such as man had never seen before, such as man shall never see but once again; the guardian angels of the city of David! — they came forth glorious; but with woe in all their steps; the stars upon their helmets dim; their robes stained; tears flowing down their celestial beauty. 'Let us go hence,' was their cry of sorrow. — 'Let us go hence,' was answered by the sad echoes of the mountains. — 'Let us go hence,' swelled upon the night, 'to the furthest limits of the land.' The procession lingered long on the summit of the hill. The thunder pealed; and they rose at the command, diffusing waves of light over the expanse of heaven. Their chorus was heard, still magnificent and melancholy, when their splendour was diminished to the brightness of a star. Then the thunder roared again; the cloudy temple was scattered on the winds; and darkness, the omen of her grave, settled upon Jerusalem."
Yes, we must hazard a few lines more. Here is the situation of the hero — Salathiel — the Wandering Jew — at the close of the third volume. The Romans had torn down the Veil of the Temple, and the Holy of Holies stood open:—
"The blaze melted the plates of the roof, in a golden shower above me. It calcined the marble floor; it dissipated in vapour the inestimable gems that studded the walls. All who entered, lay turned to ashes. So perish the profaners! But on the sacred ark the flame had no power. It whirled and swept in a red orb round the untouched symbol of the throne of thrones. Still I lived; but I felt my strength giving way: the heat withered my sinews — the flame extinguished my sight. I sank upon the threshold, rejoicing that death was inevitable. Then, once again, I hear the words of terror; "TARRY THOU TILL I COME!" — The world disappeared from before me."
The ship in flames — the burning of Rome — the Ethiopian slave amongst the ruins — the Christian martyr — the combats with beasts, &c., are all splendid, all powerful passages. Certainly, in all the higher attributes of mind and imagination, Salathiel is one of the very first works of the age: in fact, we are not aware of any that would not sink into insignificance by comparison with it. Its lofty tone is fully sustained throughout; and, superadded to its other excellences, it possesses the distinguishing merit of exciting, in an eminent degree, the noblest, the most elevated, the most sublime and holy feelings of our nature. Our only serious objection lies against the introduction of magic — the admission of supernatural influence and power, drawn from unhallowed sources. Mr. Croly informs us, in the person of Salathiel, that he has "more to tell; strange, magnificent, and sad." It is our's to await, howsoever impatiently, the moment of his inspiration.
Mr. Croly's "Paris in 1815," is a spirited poem, picturing the great city at the period to which it refers, and glancing retrospectively, with the eye of a philosopher and a satirist, at the sanguinary horrors of the Revolution. The poet approaches Paris, at sunrise, by the Mont Martre road:—
How sweet it is at early morn to spring
From sleep and its bewilder'd fantasies;
To catch the rose's fragrance on the wing,
Ere the first dews have faded from its dyes;
To trace the changeful tissue of the skies,
The purple stealing on the tender gray.
Then the streak'd red — the long, gold line that lies
Fringing the hill that seems to check its way;
Then the broad, surging flame, and lo! the king of day!
Lovely — but lovelier still, when that bright morn
Unfolds the vision of some first seen land;
And as the twilight clouds are upwards borne,
Foreign the hills, the vales, the streams expand;
Charming the wanderer's foot, suspense to stand,
As like a young creation, round him rise
Its thousand shapes of soft, and bright, and grand;
All strange, all spell-touch'd; ev'n the wild wind's sighs,
The peasant's call, to him, romantic melodies!...
'Tis dawn upon Mont Martre! O'er the plain,
In flake and spire, the sunbeam plunges deep,
Bringing out shape, and shade, and summer stain;
Like a retiring host the blue mists sweep.
Looms on the farthest right Valerian's steep,
Crown'd with its convent kindling in the day;
And swiftly sparkling from their bowery sleep,
Like matin stars, around th' horizon play
Far village vanes, and domes, and castle-turrets gray.
Of the stronger portion of the poem, describing revolutionary scenes of blood, we have room for only one brief excerpt. Here is one of the murders of the Abbaye, in September, 1792:—
And now a prisoner stood before them, wan
With dungeon damps and woe — an aged man,
But stately; — there was in his hoary hair
A reverend grace that murder's self might spare.
Two of the mob, half naked. freshly dyed
In crimson clots, waved sabres at his side.
He told his tale — a brief, plain, prison tale—
Well vouch'd by those faint limbs and features pale:
His words were strong, the manly energy
Of one not unprepared to live or die.
His judges wavered, whispered, seemed to feel
Some human touches at his firm appeal.
He named his king! — a burst of scoff and sneer
Pour'd down, that even the slumberers sprang to hear;
Startled to every grating, round the room
Sprang visages already seal'd for doom;
Red from their work without, in rush'd a crowd,
Like wolves that heard the wonted cry of blood.
He gazed above, — the torch's downward flame
Flash'd o'er his cheek; — 'twas red — it might be shame,
Shame for his country, sorrow for her throne;—
'Twas pale — the hectic of the heart was gone.
His guards were shaken off; — he tore his vest,
A ribbon'd cross was on his knightly breast,—
It covered scars; — he deigned no more reply;
None but the scorn that lighten'd from his eye,
His huddled, hurried judges dropp'd their gaze;
The villain soul's involuntary praise!
He kiss'd his cross, and turn'd him to the door—
An instant, — and they heard his murderer's roar!
The Angel of the World is, probably, the most splendid of Mr. Croly's productions. The subject indeed is such as to admit of all that is brilliant, and splendid, and even gorgeous, in description. The poem is founded upon the story told by Mohammed as a warning against wine. The Angel, having just terminated his mission on earth, is on the point of returning to his native skies, when the Evil Spirit, in the form of a woman, appears to tempt him. He resists her blandishments, until she has prevailed on him to drink wine: he then yields to all excesses at once, and completes the measure of his guilt by revealing the words that can raise men to angels. Each of the attempts upon his firmness is accompanied by a warning that justifies the final punishment of exclusion from Paradise.
What can be more truly beautiful than this description?—
The angel sat enthroned within a dome
Of alabaster, raised on pillars slight,
Curtained with tissues that the earthly loom
Had never equalled, web of blossoms bright,
Of all the flowers that drink the morning light.
The roof was starred with buds, the flower festoon,
Waved from the columns of translucent white,
Breathing fresh odours to the mystic throne,
That in their purple shade, one glorious diamond shone.
And still at night, round pedestal and plinth,
Those dewy flowers were lamps before the throne,
All-coloured radiance; there, the hyacinth
Beamed amethyst; the broad carnation shone
In circling rays of pearl and ruby stone
The myrtle buds poured down a diamond shower;
The tulip was the opal's changeful moon;
An urn of lovely lustre every flower,
Burning before the king of that illumined bower.
The Spirit's first appearance is as a female pilgrim, veiled, in distress. Her veil having been raised, and her beauties disclosed to the wondering eye of the Angel—
He looked upon her, and her hurried gaze
Was at his look dropped instant on the ground;
But o'er her cheek of beauty rushed a blaze,
Her bosom heaved above its silken bound,
As if the soul had felt some sudden wound.
He looked again; the cheek was deadly pale;
The bosom sank with one long sigh profound;
Yet still one lily band upheld her veil,
And one still pressed her heart — that sigh told all its tale.
The Spirit offers wine: the Angel repels it in wrath:—
She stood; she shrank; she tottered, flown he sprang,
With one hand clasped her waist, with one upheld
The vase — his ears with giddy murmurs rang;
His eye upon her dying cheek was spelled
He glanced upon the brim — its bright draught swelled
Like liquid rose, its odour touched his brain.
He knew his ruin, but his soul was quelled;
He shuddered — gazed upon her cheek again,
Pressed her pale lip, and to the last that cup did drain.
We pass over the intermediate alarms and terrors, suspicions and agonies, of the Angel:—
Again, she was all beauty, and they stood
Still fonder clasped, and gazing with the eye
Of famine gazing on the poisoned food
That it must feed on, or abstaining, die.
There was between them now nor tear nor sigh;
Their's was the deep communion of the soul;
Passion's absorbing, bitter luxury;
What was to them or heaven or earth, the whole
Was in that fatal spot, where they stood sad and sole.
The "sin of sins" having been committed — "the first, last crime, in earth and heaven, unnamed, unnameable" — that of "revealing the words that raise men to angels" — the fatal discovery is made;—
Th' Enchantress stood before him; two broad plumes
Spread from her shoulders on the burdened air;
Her face was glorious still, but love's young blooms
Had vanished for the hue of bold despair;
A fiery circle crowned her sable hair;
And, as she looked upon her prostrate prize,
Her eye-balls shot around a meteor glare,
Her form towered up at once to giant size;
'Twas EBBIS, king of Hell's relentless sovereignties!
Our extracts fail in conveying to the reader even an outline of this fine oriental fable; but they are valuable, as presenting some of its isolated beauties. In the progress of the poem, passion — but it is the passion of the human bosomis most powerfully, most impressively, painted. If there be aught that can detract from the warm interest which it excites, it is that we cannot enter fully into the idea, that an angel — a being of a spiritual and higher order — could conceive a passion for what appeared to him to be a mere daughter of earth. Did the author intend a covert compliment to the fair — that even angels cannot resist the witchery of woman?
After all that we have said, however, the best, the finest, the nearest to perfection of Mr. Croly's poems, in our estimation, is Sebastian; — a tale of love — of woman's love and constancy — accompanying The Angel of the World. Throughout, it breathes and burns with life; — throughout, it is redolent of the sweetest, the tenderest, the most exquisite pathos. Nor is it deficient in grandeur:—
Where are thy pomps, Alhambra, earthly sun,
That had no rival, and no second! gone!
Thy glory down the arch of time has rolled,
Like the great day-star to the ocean dim,
The billows of the ages o'er thee swim,
Gloomy and fathomless; thy tale is told.
Where is thy horn of battle? that but blown,
Brought every chief of Afric from his throne;
Brought every spear of Afric from the wall;
Brought every charger barded from the stall,
Till all its tribes sat mounted on the shore;
Waiting the waving of thy torch to pour
The living deluge on the fields of Spain.
Queen of earth's loveliness, there was a stain
Upon thy brow — the stain of guilt and gore,
Thy course was bright, bold, treacherous — and 'tis o'er.
The spear and diadem are from thee gone;
Silence is now sole monarch on thy throne!
One passage we must give entire, and we have done. Why has not Pickersgill, unquestionably the first poetic painter of the age, as his Medora, Oriental Love Letter, Minstrel of Chamouni, &c. abundantly testify, seized upon the bright, the brilliant, the glowing beauties of the scene?—
The sound came from a large and lofty tent,
Tissued with emblems of Spain's ancient wars;
Through the slight silk the myrtle breathed its scent,
And pour'd their beams, the blue and midnight stars.
Raised like an idol, on time slight ascent
Of a low central tripod, sat a Moor,
The young magician of those sounds: the door,
The waving walls, were touched with tender gloom.
She was unveiled, and yet the shawl of green,
That wreathed its thick pearled fringe her locks between,
Threw shadow, dim and deep, upon her bloom;
But slight the tinge the Afric sun had thrown
Upon her cheek, the eye dark diamond shone.
She sat beneath a lamp of figured gold,
That on her turban poured a dazzling flame.
Her minstrel tale of wonder had been told,
Her hand was resting on the harp's rich frame
She gave one glance: her cheek seemed flushed with shame;
She cast upon the ground her startled eye;
She swept the harp — no song accordant came;
Her bosom through its caftan panted high;
But all her voice was one deep painful sigh.
The high assemblage, sympathizing, gazed
On her strange beauty, and her sudden pain.
Their plaudits proud her sinking spirit raised,
She bowed, and blushing, she renewed the strain.
Her red lip smiled as if in sweet disdain
Of its late check; she lightly touched the string,
And tried an air of sportiveness again:
Again her hand, her voice seemed wandering;—
She dried a tear, and gave her prisoned anguish wing.
Farewell, my gentle harp, farewell.
Thy task shall soon be done,
And she who loved thy lonely spell,
Shall like its tones be gone.
Gone to the bed where mortal pain
Pursues the weary heart in vain.
I shed no tears, light passes by
The pang that melts in tears:
The stricken bosom that can sigh,
No mortal arrow bears.
When comes the heart's true agony,
The lip is hushed, and calm the eye.
And mine has come, no more I weep,
No longer passion's slave,
My sleep must be th' unwaking sleep,
My bed must be the grave.
Through my wild brain no more shall move,
Or hope, or fear, or joy, or love.
She droop'd upon the harp; still paused the crowd,
Witched by the thrilling sweetness of her song,
And tears bad fallen on many a bosom proud;
For music has the key of memory,
And thoughts and visions buried deep and long,
Come at the summons of its sweetness nigh,
The silence broke with one relieving sigh.
At length the loud applause arose, but she,
Before whose feet the gems and gold were flung,
Still on the harp, dejected, drooping, hung.
She strove to rise — and fell; her breath was gone,
Her eye was palely closed, her cheek was stone.
Sebastian caught her sinking: she had heard
And seen what plunged his soul in reverie,
And, now, he held her dying! From her eye
A slow tear stole: her startled glance was reared
To his stoop'd brow. He felt a shudder run
Through her faint frame: — his chilled clasp was undone,
His sick heart sank! he left her to the care,
That press'd around with balm, and essence rare,
Gave one wild glance, and fled, and was alone.
If, by this paper, we shall have succeeded in directing the attention of even a single reader, who might have been unacquainted with them before, to the works of Mr. Croly, we shall deem our labour abundantly repaid.