That poetry, taken in its literal sense, is distinguished from prose by the peculiar formation of its language, rather than by the nature of its subjects or its modes of thought, is an opinion which, in a late number of this magazine, we have already ventured to advance, although we know that it is in direct opposition to that generally entertained on the subject. The majority of critics look upon language as having only a secondary influence in rendering the effusions of mind prose or poetry; and maintain that the primary and essential character of each, depends solely on the nature of the thoughts which it comprises. If these be bolder, warmer, more fanciful, or more romantic, than such as are suggested by the ordinary affairs of life — than such as are suited to the pursuits of business, arts, philosophy, religion, or government, it is the general opinion, that they are no longer prose, and that although they should be expressed in the common, every day forms of speech, they are to all intents and purposes poetry. Force and fervour of thought, not musical or measured arrangement of language, are what have been said, and said almost without contradiction, to be the intrinsic constituents of poetry. But in holding a different doctrine, we believe we shall be supported not only by the examples of the poetry and prose of every known language, but by the very nature of the two species of composition.
We know of but one quality in writing or speaking, nor do we believe that any critic can inform us of another, which is not the common property of both prose and poetry, we mean, a musical arrangement of words. Wherever composition possesses this, our ordinary senses inform its that it has avoided the structure of prose and become poetry. But these senses will give us no such information if a musical arrangement of the language be absent, although the piece may possess every other quality, or combination of qualities, that can be introduced into literary composition.
Do we not every day meet with eloquent productions which no one would dream of calling poetical, but which, in the qualities of force and fervour, no poetry ever excelled? Do we not read books in prose, in which all the ardour of imagination, the wildness of fancy and the fire of enthusiasm. combine to give us "thoughts that breathe and words that burn," and in which nature and passion are often depicted in colours as faithful and strong as even a Shakspeare could give? Yes. And what prevents the contents of these from being poetry? Nothing, assuredly, but the want of musical numbers. We shall add, that throwing the most common and contemptible ideas into harmonious measure, will always procure for them the title of poetry, as is exemplified in the productions of Wordsworth, some of Crabbe's, many of Byron's and Hogg's, not to mention those of the whole race of doggerlists, from Propertius to Hudibras, and from Hudibras to Peter Pindar and the croaking authors of the delectable Fanny, and her numerous brazen-voiced kindred of the Beppo family.
The mistake as to bold and fiery thoughts and accurate representations of nature alone constituting poetry, seems to have arisen from the circumstance, that writing in numbers is more favourable to the expression of such thoughts, and to the exhibition of such representations than writing in the common language of life, not only because the latter is somewhat degraded by its ordinary daily use, but because its being so, has rendered it necessary to confine it more within the bounds of logical precision and cool decorum. The measured or poetical structure of language is allowed a liberty which those who write in it, frequently exercise, sometimes even to excess, of uttering thoughts in a style of pomposity and gorgeousness, which it would be neither just nor judicious to grant to prose. The writers of prose may be occasionally ornamented; but they would subject themselves to ridicule if they would assume the stately and inflated style so willingly admitted to poets.
This limit set to the range of thought in prose composition, has formed a collateral and adventitious distinction between it and poetry, which has imposed itself on the minds of men, as the primary and essential distinction between them. But whoever reflects for a moment on the subject, will perceive that this distinction arises altogether from the greater latitude allowed to the fancy of the poet, in consideration of the shackles thrown upon him by the very nature of his art confining him to musical measures, and also on account of these musical measures serving to conceal, or at least, to overshade whatever appearance of absurdity might attend the flights of thought permitted by this indulgence. But that these flights of thought are not of themselves poetry, literally speaking, whoever reads the florid Meditations of Harvey, the pompous Orations of Philips, or the turgid Novels of Lady Morgan, Marturin, or John Neal, Esq. of Baltimore, will be sufficiently convinced — for no one can consider these works to be poems, and yet their flights are as extravagant, and their expressions as much overhung with ornament, as those of any legitimate poetry extant.
By a figure of speech, indeed, not only has prose of a certain stamp acquired the epithet of poetical, but feelings and actions have metaphorically acquired the same epithet. Enthusiasm has been metaphorically styled the poetry of feeling, chivalry the poetry of manhood, and sensibility the poetry of womanhood — nay, if we mistake not, one of the authors just mentioned, Lady Morgan, calls dancing the poetry of motion. But all these expressions at mere tropes, and have no power whatever to alter the true philosophy of things. Composition, according to this philosophy, it destitute of musical numbers, must be prose, and if possessed of them, must be poetry, in spite of metaphors.
Such then, it appears evident, at least to us, is the true distinction between the two kinds of writing and, while the nature of the human mind, and the forms of human speech continue to be what they are such will continue to be the distinction.
If harmonious measure, therefore, constitutes poetry, it must follow that the goodness of the poetry will depend very much on the degree of its harmony. That a good taste, however, will require something besides mere harmony of verse, to give it satisfaction, is freely admitted. But we are not at present investigating the various ingredients that may be admitted into a poem to heighten its flavour; we are only enquiring after that ingredient which forms its intrinsic character, and without ingredient and without which it ceases to exist. Wine is naturally distinguished from water by the spirit it contains, but wine itself is more or less excellent according to the absence or presence of many other adventitious qualities, such as the sacharine principle, fixed air, &c. Without spirit, however, it is not wine, and with spirit it is not water — neither is composition, poetry, without harmony of numbers, and with harmony of numbers it cannot be prose.
We have dwelt on this subject longer than we should have done, had we not been introducing to the notice of our readers, the works of a poet, who has obtained more praise among our literati than any other votary of the Muses that ever sang in this country. Our responsible situation as conductor of a public Journal, we presume, gives us a right to enquire into the justice of the praises so abundantly bestowed on this poet; and requires us to elucidate, to the best of our ability, the true extent of his claims upon the admiration of the world. To do this fairly, and with effect, we considered it proper to point out what we believe to be the principle constituent quality of poetry, and because many, at present, affect to doubt the utility of its possessing that quality at all, to detail some of the leading reasons for our belief.
We have said enough to show that, necessary as we think harmony to be to the constitution of poetry, we do not conceive that its presence alone is sufficient to render a poem worthy of approbation. Other qualities, qualities that indicate force of mind and warmth of feeling, as well as delicacy of taste, are necessary to make pleasing poetry: but these are also necessary to make pleasing prose. Every quality, in fact, that is advantageous to one of these species of composition, is advantageous to the other, except musical numbers, which would be absolutely ruinous to prose.
Inattention, or rather perhaps, a studied disregard, to the harmonious — a word which, if our doctrine be true, is synonymous with the poetical — structure of our language, is one of the faults, which we have to allege against Dr. Percival; although he does not exhibit it so uniformly, nor carry it to such an excess as to render it the principal one. But as many people who profess to be judges of poetry, and among others, no doubt, Dr. Percival himself, may not consider this a fault, we thought it but fair, since we intend to pronounce it such, to advance some reasons for our opinion.
Dr. Percival, however, as a writer offends in a more essential point than this, by enwrapping his ideas, especially in his longer poems, in such clouds of obscurity that there is frequently no penetrating to his meaning. This is chiefly owing to the intolerable mass of verbiage in which his thoughts are clothed. A fondness for orientalisms and prettinesses of expression seems to be the besetting sin which he can never resist. It would appear to a reader of an unhacknied understanding, as if he thought poetry consisted altogether in metaphors: that simplicity and perspicuity of expression were beneath the dignity of the Muses and that harmony of cadence, and musical numbers were mere incumbrances upon the wild freedom with which the nine deities should be permitted to drag us through all the entanglements and confusion of an ill-assorted, unconnected, and heterogeneous mass of cogitations, conglomerated into one indefinable collection, by the wonderous instrumentality of that mighty father of discordance and grotesque originality, known by the name of "haphazard."
We have, indeed, something more than conjecture for believing that Dr. Percival disdained to confine his Muse, when composing the greater part of the volume before us, within the bounds of accuracy, perspicuity and plain sense. We have it from under his own hand, recorded in one of his prefaces, that he would look upon it as "a mournful task to distil off the 'vivida vis' that comes out in the happy moments of excitement, and reduce the living materials to a 'caput mortuum' of chaste and sober reason."
Thus, chaste and sober reason is to be banished from the regions of poetry, and branded with the degrading name of "caput mortuum," which in English means, almost literally, blockheadism. But the Doctor's antipathy to correct poetical writing is still more pointedly asserted in the same preface. "I do not like," says he, "that poetry which bears the mark of the file and the burnisher." Well, indeed, would it be for all slovenly and lazy verse-makers, if the world should be infected with the same dislike for polished versification, and intelligible and solid sense. Then the prolix mystifications of the Haphazard poems might have some chance of becoming popular. Then might they write on ceaselessly, and with as much carelessness and prolixity as they please, without being obliged, as Dr. Percival in his peculiar mystical way, expresses it, "when there is a quick swell of passion, to press it down to its solid quintessence." No, no, this would be utterly incompatible with the sublimity of the poet's function. Whatever flowers or fruits his productions may happen to bear, the weeds which cover them from sight, and the thorns which guard them from detection, must be cleared away by no hand but the reader's own, who must submit to the task without regard to either fatigue or danger, before he can reach the fruit, which, after all his pains, it is probable he will find worth nothing.
But this writer goes on still more boldly to express his admiration of that confused and unsystematized style of poetry where meaning, when it can be found, is so difficult to be followed, that common patience cannot endure the toil; and of which the volume he has lately published affords too many examples. He says, "I like" (this elegant word like seems to be a favourite with him) "to see something savage and luxuriant in works of imagination, throwing itself out like the wild vines of the forest, rambling and climbing over the branches, and twining themselves into a maze of windings." Since such happens to be Dr. Percival's taste, he will meet with abundant gratification in the rhapsodical productions of John Neal, Esq. and some parts of Counsellor Philips's Speeches.
With such sentiments, it would be wrong to expect that Percival should treat us, in his effusions, with much of that polish, terseness, perspicuity, and neatness of composition, of which, we are old fashioned enough to confess ourselves admirers; and perhaps we should not blame him for not doing what he does not intend. But with his intentions we have no business. Here is his book before us. It is a tolerably large volume of poems, we have undertaken to criticise it, and we must do so as impartially as we can, without reference to the author's view's, intentions, prospects, connexions, or any other earthly consideration, except our duty to our own conscience and the public.
The first poem in time collection is in blank verse, and is entitled "The Wreck, a Tale." It contains many beautiful passages, which sufficiently demonstrate that nature intended Dr. Percival for a poet; but the fostering of a bad taste has almost defeated her intentions, by leading him into a quaint and careless habit of versification, which renders the reading of his longer poems in particular, rather a task, than a recreation.
Dr. Percival must be sensible that poetry is generally read for pastime and pleasure, in times of relaxation from severer studies. The readers of it are, in consequence, rapid and frequently somewhat negligent in its perusal: at least, it is not one in ten of them, that can bear to have their faculties kept on the stretch in order to penetrate the poet's meaning. Force and ease, and, above every thing else, perspicuity, should be studied both in the thoughts and the language. Now, although "the Wreck" does not offend quite so much in these particulars as the poem which follows it, called "Prometheus," yet in perusing it, we felt under the unpleasant necessity of pausing in our progress and reperusing several passages, before we could exactly comprehend their meaning. That this was not altogether owing to our stupidity, we have reason to believe, from the circumstance of more than one of our friends whose acuteness of understanding is above the common level, having acknowledged to us in the experiencing a similar difficulty. We do not deny that there is meaning in every passage of this poem, for we have always succeeded in detecting it when we were careful to bend our faculties to the task. What we complain of is, the necessity that obliged us to undertake this task, for like most other readers of poetry, we wish to read it at our ease.
Whether Dr. Percival had any model for his blank verse in view, when he first formed its structure, we cannot tell. From the predilection for metaphysics and the Spenserian stanza, which he has manifested in the long poem of "Prometheus," and from his avowed as well practical disregard of neat and correct versification, we might have supposed that he had Byron's style in view. But he differs from Byron in being less perspicuous, while he is more uniformly quaint and stately. He approaches nearer to the heavy, moralizing strain of Cowper. Indeed the tone of gloomy discontent, and morbid sensibility which pervades the whole of this volume indicates a closer resemblance to the genius of the hypochondriacal Cowper, than to that of the cynical vituperative bard of the "Age of Bronze." The blank verse of Cowper, however, although seldom mellifluous, is almost uniformly accurate in respect to number, and seldom lays the accent on short and unemphatic syllables, a practise of Percival dreadfully destructive of harmony. Besides, Cowper is seldom so very abstract or figurative as to involve his meaning in obscurity, a fault which is the very worst that a writer, who designs to write sense at all, can commit, and one of which Dr. Percival's best friends acknowledge that he is often guilty. Cowper also, with all his seriousness, often indulges in a sprightly satirical vein of humour, which relieves the reader from the plodding contemplations induced by the graver passages, and prevents him from becoming fatigued in their perusal. But we cannot recollect in the whole of the three hundred and ninety-six pages of which the volume before us consists, one single deviation into any thing like humour or wit, that can afford the mind relief from the horrors of the never ceasing melancholy and despondency, that continue their doleful lamentations from one end of the book to the other.
We must not, from these remarks, be supposed to have any hostility to grave and pathetic poetry. On the contrary, that poetry which pleases us more than any other, is the poetry of feeling: and we would not give up the parting of Hector and Andromache for the most sublime and fiery description of a battle or a debate in the whole Iliad. But then before it can please, the poetry of feeling must be given to us in strains both impressive and perspicuous. We cannot bear it when it is shrouded in metaphors or buried in metaphysics, and for the plain reason that we have then to search for its meaning.
To show our readers that we have good grounds for what we have said concerning the obscurity, and want of melody and force in Percival's blank verse, we extract the following brief sentence of only forty seven lines, from the "Wreck," with the assurance that it is, by no means the worst constructed that this poem contains.
But nature still was in her, and she soon
Felt, that the fond affection of her sire,
And her lov'd tasks — the study of high thoughts,
Poured out in sainted volumes, which had been
Stamped in the mint of genius, and had come
Unhurt through darkest ages, bright as gems
That sparkle though in dust — the skilful touch
Of instruments of music, and the voice
Sweet in its untaught melody, as birds
Clear warbling in the bushes, but attuned
To the just flow of harmony — the hand
That woke the forms of pencill'd life, and gave
Its colour of the violet, and its fire
To the dark eye, its blushes to the cheek,
And the lip its sweetness; or that drew
O'er the pure lawn the silken thread, and wove
The full leafed vine, and the luxuriant rose,
All petals and vermillion — or the walk
On the rude shore, to hear the rushing waves,
Or view the wide sea-sleeping — on the hill
To catch the living landscape, and combine
The miracles of nature in one full
And deep enchantment — or to trace the brook
Up to its highest fountain in the shade
Of a thick tuft of alders, and go down
By all its leaps and windings gathering there
The forest roses, and the nameless flowers,
That open in the wilderness and live
Awhile in sweetest loveliness, and die
Without an eve to watch them, or a heart
To gladden in their beauty, or in that,
The fondest to the pure and delicate,
The gentle deed of charity, the gift
That cheers the widow, or dries up the flow
Of a lone orphan's bitterness, the voice
The melting voice of sympathy, which heals,
With a far softer touch, the wounded heart,
Than the cold alms dropped by the scornful hand,
That flings the dole it grudges — such but tears
Anew the closed wound open; while the friend,
Who smiles when smoothing down the lonely couch,
And does kind deeds which any one can do,
Who has a feeling spirit, such a friend
Heals with a gentle balsam; — though her days
Passed on in such sweet labours, still she felt
Alone, and there was in her virgin heart
A void that all her pleasures could not fill.
Whoever can with satisfaction wade through such a mass of irrelevant and tautological clauses as this mamoth sentence exhibits, and, without fretting, suspend his curiosity to know its meaning until he arrives at the end of it, by which time he must have a truly miraculous memory, if he has not forgotten its beginning, must possess a degree of patient endurance with which, we confess, we are not gifted. We must also say, that whoever can discover in verses like the following, the accurate measurement of the five iambic feet, so essential to every line of blank verse where harmony is intended, must greatly surpass us in the knowledge of English prosody.
"Darts on a dove, and with a 'motionless' wing."
But the poem of the "Wreck" contains some beautiful passages, which show that Percival has the faculty of thinking as a true poet, however much the influence of bad taste may have prevented him from expressing himself as such. We select the following.
—Youth is the time of love,
All other loves are lifeless, and but flowers
Wreathed round decay, and with a livid hue
Blowing upon a grave.
The following description of a stormy ocean, is equal to any thing of the kind in poetry.
The waves still rolled tremendously and burst
Loud thundering on the rocks, they tossed the foam
High up the hills, and ploughed the moving sands,
Sweeping the fragments forth, then rushing back
With a devouring strength that cleared the shore.
The image which follows, is both beautiful and perspicuous; but placing the accent on such an unimportant word as the article "a," injures the harmony, and it is a species of injury which Percival is too much in the habit of inflicting on his verses.
A few short steps, she paused, and then sank down.
As a flower sinks upon the new-mown turf.
The following easy change in the arrangement of the words would have obviated this awkwardness in the sound.
As sinks a flower upon the new-mown turf.
We admit that the former style is sometimes useful for the purpose of variety, as an occasional discord is agreeable in music; but discords too often repeated become intolerable, whether in music, poetry, or life: and Dr. Percival hesitates not to repeat them with unmerciful frequency in his verses.
We have laboured at the poem of "Prometheus" with heroic determination to read it through. It is divided into two parts, the first of which we managed to get over with great perseverance; but the second completely knocked us up, and we abandoned the task in despair. Indeed, who that is made of flesh and blood, could bear to tug at upwards of two hundred such metaphysical, and almost unintelligible Spenserians as the following?
Love is attraction, and attraction, love—
The meeting of two fond eyes, and the beat
Of two accordant pulses are above
Planets, that always tend, but never meet:
To us, that have a feeling, love is sweet,
The life of our existence, the great aim
Of all our hope and beauty — but they fleet,
Moments of fond endearment — years will tame
The electric throb, of bliss, and quench the spirit's flame.
But yet there is to us a purer light
And that is in the beautiful unfading,
The mould, wherein all phantoms of delight
Are fashion'd into loveliness; the shading
Of earth may give it softness, kindly aiding
The weakness of our feebler nature, while
Mind has not fledg'd its pinions; soon pervading
Space in its daring, as a long-sought isle,
It turns with naked gaze to that Eternal smile,
Whose charm is on the Universe, the blue
Mellow'd with light's full essence on the sphere
Wrapping us in its mantle, whence the dew
Falls clear and pearly, like a tender tear
Shed on the hues, that fade so quickly here,
But are awhile so beautiful — the sea,
That smooths its gold, or as the light winds veer,
Crisps it, or decks it o'er with stars — the sea
Takes all it hath to charm, Eternal Love! from thee.
The great fault of this poem is its heaviness and obscurity of expression. This is partly owing to its unfortunate versification, and partly to the author's evident predilection for the profound in poetry, which, according to Martinus Scriblerus, delights in darkness.
There is in this volume, a doleful poem of nearly a hundred and fifty Elegiac stanzas, entitled the "Suicide," which no one of weak nerves ought to attempt reading. We are, we believe, as seldom assailed by the "Azure Demons," to use a polite phrase, as most of our neighbours, but really we could not peruse this gloomy production without quivering under their torturing grip. As a poem, however, we think this superior to "Prometheus," because it is less mystical and diffuse, and because in the structure of its verses there are fewer violations of the laws of prosody. We extract some stanzas which really possess much poetic merit.
'Twas where a granite cliff high beetling towered
Above the billows of the western main,
Deep in a grot, by sable yews embowered
A youth retir'd to ponder and complain.
Dark, sullen, gloomy as the scene around,
The soul that harbour'd in that youthful breast,
To him the wild roar was a soothing sound,
The only one could hush his woes to rest.
There was a savage sternness in his breast;
No half-way passion could his bosom move,
None e'er by him was scorn'd and then caressed;
His was all gloomy hate or glowing love.
And thou, arch moral murd'rer, hear my verse,
Go — gorge and wallow in thy priestly sty,
Than what thou art, I cannot wish the worse,
There with thy kindred reptile crawl and die!
We agree with Dr. Johnson that the ten syllable quatrain is too stately in its march, and susceptible of too little variety in its tone to be agreeable in a long poem. Next to the unwieldy and monotonous Spenserian stanza we dislike this unbending quatrain, which, on account of its gloominess has obtained the appropriate appellation of the Elegiac stanza. Our language affords but one poem successfully written in it, namely Gray's Elegy, the artist of which, however, did not disdain to employ in its manufacture a great deal of that care and labour which Dr. Percival professes to hold in such contempt. Gray's poem has also another unspeakable advantage for a production of this nature over Percival's, in not being one fifth so long.
We may here observe, that as there is only one Elegiac quatrain poem in the language that we can read with unqualified approbation, so there is only one Spenserian that can afford us pleasure, that is Burns's "Cotter's Saturday Night." In this delightful production there is no prolixity to fatigue, no metaphysical wandering to perplex, no meretricious ornaments to overcloud, nor any straining at hyperbolical pomp to excite disgust. Every sentiment is natural, simple, and appropriate, and every expression easy, following, perspicuous, and harmonious; nor should it be forgotten among its other recommendations, that it occupies no reader more than ten minutes in the perusal. Would to Apollo, that we could say the same of every Spenserian poem in our language! But, ah! — what would then become of "The Faery Queen," of the Elder Bard, which it has been so long the fashion to praise, but never to read? What would become of it! — Why, we sincerely think that it is immaterial to the interests of English literature, what would become of it. There are few who derive any benefit from its perusal, for we really believe that there is not one individual in half a million who reads it at all, and the absurd fashion of praising it, has been, of late, extremely detrimental to the ease, harmony and elegance of our poetic style. Perhaps we have ventured too much in asserting that Spenser is so little read — but we are willing to abide by the expression. Dr. Percival, at least, cannot, with any good grace object to it; for should it be somewhat overstrained, we can point out a thousand expressions in the volume before us incomparably more so. But we will go further and venture to assert that Dr. Percival himself, with all his admiration for the quaint inaccuracies of the Elizabethan bard, never read him through — as to Lord Byron, who is the dubbed champion of Spenser's Muse, we do not think that he would take a thousand pounds to peruse the whole "Faery Queen." We really believe that he would rather write five thousand stanzas in imitation of it.
Want of room prevents us from saying much of the smaller poems in this volume. There are some of them very beautiful, and some of them very metaphysical, and consequently very dull. The latter are principally in blank verse, a species of composition which no man of similar talents, ever wrote so awkwardly as Percival. In one or two pieces, he has adopted a most clumsy description of verse — one which even the genius of Burns could not make tolerable. The Scottish Bard indeed tried it but once namely, in his lamentation for the "Wounded Hare" — and finding that it limped almost as painfully as even the object of his commiseration, he never tried it again. This measure is undeserving of a name; we shall therefore, give it none; and we ardently wish that it were eternally banished from the precincts of our poetry. The following is a specimen of it from Percival.
There is a voice, and there is only one,
Thrilling my bosom, as if tuned on high
Amid the spheres revolving round the sky,
Whose roll is temper'd to the sweetest tone,
Whose blended harmonies are heard at night,
Now falling distant, now ascending nigh,
And with the saffron burst of dawning light,
Peal like the long loud clarion swell of fight,
When columns in the deadly charge rush by.
Whoever can discover in these lines either the sweetness of regular rhyme, or the majesty of well written blank verse, must have sensations extremely different from ours.
In some of his smaller pieces, however, where he has adopted a consistent and regular mode of rhyming, Percival is transcendently excellent. We here give a few specimens. They will shew that nature has endowed the author with the highest talents for poetry, and that cherishing an unfortunate taste for abstract sentimentalizing and uncouth versification alone has prevented him from equalling, if not surpassing the most pleasing and classical poets of our age.
There's a voice that is heard in the depth of the sky,
Where nothing is seen, but the blue-tinted Heaven,
That voice with the wind rolls its mellowness by,
And a few notes alone to our fond ears are given:
The spirit, who sings it, still hastens away,
He is doom'd round the wide earth for ever to roam,
He may settle a moment, but never will stay,
For he ne'er found and will never find here a home.
O! that voice is the dirge, that for ever is sung,
O'er the wreck and the ruin of beauty and love,
But in ears that are deaf, is its melody flung,
There are none, who will listen, but pure ones above;
O! Earth is not place for the spirit, who feels
Every sound of the heart with the pang of despair,
He will mourn and be never at home till he steals
To the skies, and the bright world, that welcomes him there....
There are hours, there are minutes, which memory brings
Like blossoms of Eden, to twine round the heart;
And as time rushes by on the night of his wings,
They may darken awhile, but they never depart:
O! these hallowed remembrances cannot decay,
But they come on the sould with a magical thrill,
And in days that are darkest, they kindly will stay,
And the heart in its last throb will beat with them still....
My heart was a mirror, that showed every treasure
Of beauty and loveliness life can display;
It reflected each beautiful blossom of pleasure,
But turned from the dark looks of bigots away;
It was living and moving with loveliest creatures,
In smiles or in tears as the soft spirit chose;
Now shining with brightest and ruddiest features,
Now pale as the snow of the dwarf mountain rose....
These visions of sweetness forever are playing,
Like butterflies fanning the still Summer air;
Some sported a moment, some never decaying,
In deep hues of love are still lingering there;
At times some fair spirit descending from Heaven,
Would shroud all the rest in the blaze of its light;
Then woodnymphs and fays, o'er the mirror were driven,
Like the fire-swarms that kindle the darkness at night....
But the winds and the storms broke the mirror and severed,
Full many a beautiful elf in the train;
And the tempest raged on till the fragments were shiver'd
And scattered, like dust as it rolls o'er the plain:
One piece which the storm in its madness neglected
Away, on the wings of the whirlwind to bear,
One fragment was left, and that fragment reflected
All the beauty that MARY threw carelessly there....
Our eagle shall rise 'mid the whirlwinds of war,
And dart through the dun cloud of battle his eye—
Shall spread his wide wings o'er the tempest afar
O'er spirits of valour that conquer or die.
And ne'er shall the rage of the conflict be o'er,
And ne'er shall the worm blood of life cease to flow,
And still 'mid the smoke of the battle shall soar
Our Eagle — till scattered and fled be the foe,
When peace shall disarm war's dark brow of its frown,
And ruses shall bloom on the soldier's rude grave—
Then honour shall weave of the laurel a crown,
That Beauty shall bind on the brow of the brave.
It was the appearance of such effusions as these in the public prints of the Union, that deservedly gained for Percival a poetical reputation which the contents of this volume will by no means exalt. We are solicitous for the poetic fame of America, and we think that Percival possesses powers which, under the regulation of good taste, would not fail to raise it to an envied height. He has a vivid imagination, a brilliant fancy, and a warm and feeling heart. He possesses, also, a readiness of conception, and an evident rectitude of moral principle of which many of our present writers cannot boast. These qualities, if combined with a classical taste and brought to the task of poetic composition, could not fail to produce strains which would delight, the world and render their author's fame as immortal as literature itself.
We seriously wish that Percival would render himself master of the ten syllable couplet of Dryden and Pope. Let him explore the causes of its varied and never-tiring harmony, its sweetness of cadence and its majesty of movement; and he will become convinced that it is the most appropriate of all English verses for subjects of length and dignity. Let him also endeavour to be less metaphysical and sombre in his ideas and discipline his muse to perspicuity ease and melody of diction. He will then delight all his readers. We could then wish him to select some important subject of universal interest in the annals of his country, on which to employ his pen; and while he is working at it, let him not disdain to alter, to condense, to polish and refine; let him not he ashamed to exhibit in his manuscripts the "variae lectiones," for which, in the preface already mentioned, he affects to sneer at Pope — and he will then, we have not the smallest doubt, produce a standard poem, no matter whether it be called an epic or not, (although it would add to our gratification if it deserved that title,) which will remain an everlasting monument both to his own and his country's honour.