1836 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Fitz-Greene Halleck

Edgar Allan Poe, in Review of Halleck, Alnwick Castle, with other Poems; Southern Literary Messenger 2 (April 1836) 334.



Alnwick Castle is an irregular poem of one hundred and twenty-eight lines — was written, as we are informed, in October 1822 — and is descriptive of a seat of the Duke of Northumberland, in Northumberlandshire, England. The effect of the first stanza is materially impaired by a defect in its grammatical arrangement. The fine lines,

Home of the Percys' high-born race,
Home of their beautiful and brave,
Alike their birth and burial place,
Their cradle, and their grave!

are of the nature of an invocation, and thus require a continuation of the address to the "Home, &c." We are, consequently disappointed when the stanza proceeds with—

Still sternly o'er the Castle gate
Their house's Lion stands in state,
As in his proud departed hours;
And warriors frown in stone on high,
And feudal banners "flout the sky"
Above his princely towers.

The objects of allusion here vary, in an awkward manner, from the castle to the Lion to the towers. By writing verses thus the difficulty would be remedied.

Still sternly o'er the castle gate
"Thy" house's Lion stands in state
As in his proud departed hours;
And warriors frown in stone on high,
And feudal banners "flout the sky"
Above "thy" princely towers.

The second stanza, without evincing in any measure the loftier powers of a poet, has that quiet air of grace, both in thought and expression, which seems to be the prevailing feature of the Muse of Halleck.

A gentle hill its side inclines,
Lovely in England's fadeless green,
To meet the quiet stream which winds
Through this romantic scene
As silently and sweetly still,
As when, at evening, on that hill,
While summer's wind blew soft and low;
Seated by gallant Hotspur's side,
His Katharine was a happy bride,
A thousand years ago.

There are one or two brief passages in the poem evincing a degree of rich imagination not elsewhere perceptible throughout the book. For example—

Gaze on the Abbey's ruin'd pile,—
Does not the succoring Ivy, keeping
Her watch around it, seem to smile
As o'er a loved one sleeping?

and,

One solitary turret gray
Still tells, in melancholy glory,
The legend of the Cheviot day.

The commencement of the fourth stanza is of the highest order of Poetry, and partakes, in a happy manner, of that quaintness of expression so effective an adjunct to Ideality, when employed by the Shelleys, the Coleridges and the Tennysons, but so frequently debased, and rendered ridiculous, by the herd of brainless imitators.

Wild roses by the Abbey towers
Are gay in their young bud and bloom,
"They were born of a race of funeral flowers,"
That garlanded, in long-gone hours,
A Templar's knightly tomb.

The tone employed in the concluding portions of Alnwick Castle, is, we sincerely think, reprehensible, and unworthy of Halleck. No true poet can unite in any manner the low burlesque with the ideal, and not be conscious of incongruity and of a profanation. Such verses as

Men in the coal and cattle line,
From Teviot's bard and hero land,
From royal Berwick's beach of sand,
From Wooller, Morpeth, Hexham, and
Newcastle upon Tyne,

may lay claim to oddity — but no more. These things are the defects and not the beauties of Don Juan. They are totally out of keeping with the graceful and delicate manner of the initial portions of Alnwick Castle, and serve no better purpose than to deprive the entire poem of all unity of effect. If a poet must be farcical, let him be just that, and nothing else. To be drolly sentimental is bad enough, as we have just seen in certain passages of the Culprit Fay, but to be sentimentally droll is a thing intolerable to men, and Gods, and columns.