The anonymous reviewer, likely Reginald Heber, praises Edmund Spenser and Mary Tighe: Spenser has made his stanza "sacred" to allegorical writing, and Tighe's versification compares favorably to that of Spenser and Thomson: "The most obvious characteristics of the poem before us, are, a pleasing repose of style and manner, a fine purity and innocence of feeling, and a delightful ease of versification" p. 478. But such success as Tighe has achieved has been accomplished in spite of, rather than because of, her adoption of Spenser's difficult stanza and his allegorical manner; rather she, like he, succeeds by dint of poetry alone. It is a curious fact that while allegorical poetry had seldom been more popular than in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it was thoroughly out of favor among critics. This review goes some way towards explaining why.
Allegory was largely incompatible with aesthetic psychology: "It can hardly be denied, therefore, that, so far as immediate and powerful impression is concerned, the effect produced on us by the productions referred to, is proportional, not to our perception and recognition of their emblematical character, but rather to our forgetfulness, or at least, to our neglect, of that circumstance. For the time, we surrender our minds to the belief of their actual and literal truth" p. 472. It could, of course, be very attractive solely as a visual medium, but even so Heber regards it as a clumsy tool for moral discourse: "To delineate in language the subtle essences and exquisite play of the more delicate among the mental affections, — to exemplify the principles of ethical wisdom in their application to the numberless exigences of social life, — is a task, at all events, sufficiently difficult of execution; but which it would be no more possible to accomplish by the gross machinery of continued personification, than to dissect an eye with a pick-axe" p. 475.
The attribution is based on John Murray's annotation, which merely says "Heber." The book-collector Richard Heber, the poet's brother, also reviewed for the Quarterly, though the review certainly seems to be the work of the future Bishop of Calcutta, who had himself composed an unpublished and fragmentary imitation of Spenser accords with the views expressed here. I have not identified the Norwich poet whose Psyche is quoted in the review.
James Silk Buckingham (?): "Knots of friends clubbed their half-crowns together to purchase the Edinburgh and Quarterly, and think as they thought, though they were sure to think differently on any given subject; and book-societies were formed to buy all the works that the Edinburgh and Quarterly praised, though whatever one praised the other was sure to abuse! The Edinburgh and Quarterly were admired and referred to in the senate; they were quoted at the bar, and read on the bench; they were praised or anathematised in the pulpit, as the case might be" "Periodical Literature of the Nineteenth Century" in The Oriental Herald 1 (February 1824) 229.
Oliver Elton: "Criticism in the Quarterly was taken seriously from the first; but many of its pronouncements were ill-stared. No one would turn to these old reviews to get any real picture of the condition or hopes of English letters between 1809 and 1830. This is not due to the ordinary blindness of contemporaries; for the few volumes of the London Magazine (1820-9) throw a flood of light on the living spirit of poetry and imagination in that age. Nor is it due to want of wits, which it would be absurd to impute to such a staff. There are, of course, exceptions; Scott's notices of Miss Austen (No. 27, Oct. 1815), or Ellis's of The Lord of the Isles and The Corsair, are still worth reading. On the other hand, Croker's treatment of Miss Owenson's stories, or the notorious review of Keats, are painfully instructive. Even where political bias does not rule, the Quarterly Reviewers seem curiously blank in the presence of artistic excellence; some organ is lacking, which is present not only in the greater critics of the time, but in lesser ones like Leigh Hunt and Darley, or even in Wainewright the poisoner. Neither is there the youth and flush of the writers for Blackwood's Magazine, which was founded in 1817, partly in order to supply this deficiency, and partly to provide a rallying point for the Scottish Tories" Survey of English Literature 1780-1830 (1912) 1:401-02.
The poem from which this volume takes its title, though hitherto unpublished, was, as the editors inform us, printed for private circulation some years ago. The death of the author very naturally suggested to her friends the idea of more widely diffusing these memorials of her taste and talents; and the admiration which the Legend of Love is known to have excited within the limited sphere of its previous existence, no less naturally renders it, on its public appearance, an object of curious attention to the critic.
With the poem, the editors have reprinted a preface, which the author originally prefixed to it, and which is explanatory of her general design. This was no other than to shadow forth, under the guise of a tale, altered from the ancient and beautiful apologue of Cupid and Psyche, the trials and triumphs of virtuous love. Mrs. Tighe here professes her despair of affording universal satisfaction even to the small and, as may be supposed, indulgent circle of readers whom she was addressing; and this, from her consciousness that there were some among them, to whom all allegorical writing was distasteful. She does not, however, stop to examine the justice of the prejudices entertained by persons of this disposition; nor are we, on our part, inclined to revive the discussion of a question which the commentators and critics on Spenser have discussed to satiety. At the same time, it appears to us that those writers afford few clear ideas on the manner in which an allegorical representation of moral truth may best aim to produce its effect; or, in other words, at the exact object and properties of this species of composition; and, since from the due resolution of that question must be derived the only test by which the merit of a particular individual of the species can be decisively tried, we may be pardoned for bestowing on it a few words.
According to popular conception, the fundamental principle of poetic allegories of the moral kind, is that they add fresh attractiveness to the lessons of virtue and practical wisdom, by clothing them in all the mingled fascinations of narrative and poetry. Pure and just sentiments, it is supposed, when thus set forth, recommend themselves to the fancy by the accompaniment, and to the memory by the association of complicated incident, and brilliant description. But, though it may be allowed that compositions of this class are not ill calculated to serve the general purpose of conveying pleasure and instruction, we greatly doubt whether the vulgar notion of the process by which the operation is effected, be correct. It is not quite apparent to us that the excellence of such compositions in practice, exactly coincides with their excellence in theory.
The perfection of allegorical poetry, as indeed of all ornamented narrative, must, to a great degree, obviously consist in its graphical truth and vigour: — in the creative and realizing faculty of the poet; — in the skill with which he infuses life and individuality into all his scenes and figures. It can hardly be denied, therefore, that, so far as immediate and powerful impression is concerned, the effect produced on us by the productions referred to, is proportional, not to our perception and recognition of their emblematical character, but rather to our forgetfulness, or at least, to our neglect, of that circumstance. For the time, we surrender our minds to the belief of their actual and literal truth. It is not meant to be affirmed that the illusion ever is, or can be complete; but merely, that, to the force of the illusion, whatever it be, the interest excited must generally bear a given relation; and, by consequence, that the poetical effectiveness of the story is, thus far, altogether independent of its didactic tendency. No man, of the most ordinary sensibility, ever read the noble description, in Spenser, of the single combat between the Redcross Knight and the Saracen Sansjoy, who could allow himself to reflect that, by this visible battle, with all its picturesque circumstances of prelude, was symbolized a conflict purely mental, or the struggle in the mind of a Christian between the principles of religion and infidelity. The same remark may be exemplified with respect to the splendid portrait of Prince Arthur, on his first rencounter with Una.
Upon the top of all his lofty crest,
A bunch of hairs discolour'd diversely,
With sprinkled pearl and gold full richly drest,
Did shake, and seem'd to dance for jollity
Like to an almond-tree ymounted high
On top of green Selinis all alone,
With blossoms brave bedecked daintily,
Whose tender locks do tremble every one
At every little breath that under heaven is blown.
Surely it is impossible that any mind, endowed with a capacity to feel the beauties of such exquisite imagery, or to appreciate the rest of the description, should divert its regards from this splendid picture of a knight of the old romance, to the abstract or mental quality of magnificence, which it was professedly designed to personify.
Passion, indeed, must have its pauses. The glow of enthusiasm will intermit or subside; and, in a lucid interval, we may exercise our curiosity in exploring the latent virtues of the "fairy-fiction" which has hitherto only delighted our senses. Yet, undoubtedly, it still remains a question whether the poetic interest produced by an allegorical composition has the effect of conciliating us to the moral lessons deposited beneath; nor does it furnish any answer to say that, after we have ceased to be interested by the composition as a narrative or a poem, we are at leisure to profit by it as a discourse on ethics. Even this remark, however, is less than the truth. The admiration inspired by the perusal of such a work, will generally remain in sufficient strength to indispose the mind for the business of torturing it by analysis. We shall always be slow to decompound a gem which, in its crystallized state, is of such eminent beauty.
It may perhaps be said that, after all, it is of some importance to preserve moral truth by embalming it in rich and immortal verse. Thus maxims of great practical importance, we shall be told, are potentially, though not actually, retained in the memory of mankind; and, though seldom sought, it is at least known where, when wanted, they may be found.
Those, however, who may be inclined to urge this argument, should reflect on the extreme simplicity even of the most refined morality which it is within the competence of allegory to inculcate. To delineate in language the subtle essences and exquisite play of the more delicate among the mental affections, — to exemplify the principles of ethical wisdom in their application to the numberless exigences of social life, — is a task, at all events, sufficiently difficult of execution; but which it would be no more possible to accomplish by the gross machinery of continued personification, than to dissect an eye with a pick-axe. Whenever, accordingly, allegory ventures beyond the limits of truism and common-place, it is found to become incomprehensible, and must consequently be useless. It has been made an objection to Spenser, that "his moral lies too bare;" yet it is not always easy to decypher the emblems even of Spenser, nor was that admirable writer himself unaware of their occasional obscurity. "Knowing," he observes in his letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, "how doubtfully all allegories may be construed; and this booke of mine, which I have entitled The Faery Queene, being a continued Allegory, or darke conceit; I have thought good, as well for avoyding of gealous opinions and misconstructions, as also for your better light in reading thereof, (being so by you commanded,) to discover unto you the general intention and meaning, which in the whole course thereof I have fashioned." If the quotation be in other respects unimportant, yet on the general subject at least of allegorical writing, the judgment of so illustrious a master of the art must be esteemed without appeal. In effect, the maxims which have ever been intelligibly enforced in this species of composition, will prove, on examination, to be not more momentous than they are trite. That the passions are good servants but had masters, — that it is dangerous to dally with temptation, — that it is the part of folly to sacrifice the future to the present, — such are the lessons taught by allegory; — lessons, which, indeed, no man sufficiently feels and values, but which, so far as the mere act of reminiscence is concerned, no man surely ever forgets; lessons, therefore, which, to impress on the minds of men, would be of the highest moment, but which, for the simple purpose of being preserved, hardly re quire so costly a repository as an epic poem.
Notwithstanding the remarks which we have offered, we are far from affirming the utter inefficacy of allegorical writing for the purposes which it professes to answer, although we conceive that it can answer those purposes only indirectly. It is within the option, as it appears to us, of the writer to apply it to the requisite use, by availing himself of the opportunities which this style of composition affords him, of digressing into reflections of a moral or sentimental cast. The attention of him who reads such productions, has, as we have already observed, its breathing-places. In the intervals of the narration, we become calm; and fully perceive, and not without a somewhat irksome feeling, the unsubtantial and fairy nature of the pageant at which we have been gazing. During these moments, should the fabulist employ himself in presenting us with a cold analysis of his own fictions, — should he compel us carefully to thrid back the mazes of allegory, — he would merely aggravate our dissatisfaction into disgust. But he may moralize, we apprehend, in a happier strain. Borrowing a hint from his subject, he may yet forget for a while his story; he may come home to our bosoms with some intimate and touching sentiment, and may thus sweetly lead us from the excitements of gorgeous description or perplexed action into the tranquil recesses of contemplation. By this device, when skilfully practised, he not only effects his main object of inspiring virtuous emotions and principles, but, at the same time, accomplishes the additional end of relieving and consequently invigorating our attention.
All poetry, we are sensible, furnishes scope for the occasional indulgence of the museful and moralizing mood. But the ethical allegory must, from its very nature, abound in these facilities beyond most other kinds of composition; and in no other, assuredly, are we supplied with so ready a transition from time splendid and picturesque delineation of visible objects to the developement of moral truth and the expression of just sentiment. On the side of allegory, the regions of sense immediately adjoin, if we may so describe it, to those of reason and philosophy, and, from the wild and Arabesque scenery of fairy-land, we may pass at once into the bowers of Academus.
The sum, then, of our remarks on this head, is, that the capabilities of moral fable are limited; that we must not ask of the fabulist, profound lectures on human duty, for we should ask more than he has the means of giving; nor an elaborate decomposition of his own inventions into their moral elements, for we should repent of our request if granted; but that we may fairly require him to intersperse his relation with general and interesting reflections on the great truths which form its subject. It gives its pleasure to add that, so far as we can judge from the execution of the work before us, Mrs. Tighe, guided perhaps rather by taste than by principle, seems to have formed, respecting the nature of moral allegory, notions similar to our own. Her conception was, we are persuaded, just; and, during the course of the farther strictures which we are about to offer on her work, we shall have the opportunity of exemplifying, by an instance or two, the manner in which she has carried that conception into effect.
The fable, which forms the basis of the present poem, is, beyond doubt, universally known to our readers. On the particular application of it to the pains and pleasures of love, we would observe that though not, we believe, new, this mode of adapting the story yet seems of modern origin. In what sense time fable was construed by the ancients, does not appear to be very exactly known; but it is generally supposed to have figured some species or state of intercourse between the human soul and the Deity. The romance, therefore, or, as we might almost venture to call it, the poem, of Apuleius on the subject, ranks with that mystical order of writings, in which the various workings of the religious passion are typified by the hopes and fears of all amatory attachment; — a style of composition, which has, in all ages, captivated the luxuriant imaginations of the Oriental rhapsodists, from the Vedanti-philosophiers of Hindostan, to the Sufi-sect of Persia. A poetic version of the fable of Psyche, constructed on this principle, appeared in English about twenty years ago. It had the credit of having been penned, if we mistake not, by a gentleman of Norwich, and, though decidedly inferior to the poem before us, does not want merit.
Little doubt, however, can be entertained, that a better use is made of the allegory by Mrs. Tighe, than if she had adopted it in its original sense. That it is possible for the mystical poetry to be in fact, as it is in profession, devotional, we are fully inclined to admit. But by many of those who have cultivated it, the veil of sanctity has unquestionably been employed, like the secresy and seclusion of the ancient mysteries, only to conceal the indulgences which it was ostensibly designed to exclude. The hierophant has lighted up his altar with fires, not only less holy than those of heaven, but also less vestal than the chaste though cold flame of fancy; and, for histories of devotion in the disguise of love, have been substituted histories of love in the disguise of devotion. If, in some cases, this abuse has been the effect of design, we are persuaded that, in others, the poet, instead of intending to deceive others, has in effect deceived himself, and, perhaps, has been the only person deceived. On the whole, therefore, this is a style, of which the general use can scarcely be encouraged, and which, even where there exists the most unimpeachable purity of purpose, can be managed only by a firmness and delicacy of hand rarely possessed in combination. If, however, the experiment is, after all, to be made, then a question seems to arise whether fitter machinery may not be found for the substratum of the allegory than mythology can furnish. Among the legendary stores of polytheism, many fables doubtless exist, which are either sublime or beautiful; but even these — connected as they are, always with falsity, generally with a mass of extravagance, folly, meanness, and impurity, and bearing no very equivocal features of such connection — are little worthy to be employed as the vehicles of the most awful truths that can engage the attention, command the reverence, or exercise the hopes, of mankind. A mixture is thus effected, by which not only all our notions of congruity and propriety in writing are shocked, but which is revolting to a far deeper set of feelings and principles than those which constitute taste. In strictness, all modern or, at least, Christian use of mythology, is, perhaps, liable to the same objection; but it is evidently liable to the objection in incomparably different degrees, according to the manner in which the fable is applied.
Declining the consecrated ground of the mystics, Mrs. Tighe is content to become the poetess of love; of "such love as the purest bosom might confess." She betrays, however, some apprehension lest the subject should incur the frown of severer moralists. Of this timidity we do not profess altogether to understand the grounds: nor can conceive why innocent love should be frowned on by any moralist whose frown is worth deprecating. The author quotes, indeed, on the occasion, a portentous sentiment from La Rochefoucault; "Les jeunes femmes, qui ne veulent point paroitre coquettes, ne doivent jamais parler de l'amour comme d'une chose on elles puissent avoir part." But the remark of Mrs. Tighe on this maxim, is equally just and acute. "I believe" (she says) "it is only the false refinement of the most profligate court which could give birth to such a sentiment, and that love will always be found to have had the strongest influence where the morals have been the purest." After all, the only tolerable objection to the subject of love, is that it is a common favourite with all writers; and to this objection the answer seems to be, that it is a common favourite with all readers. Having every other charm, it may dispense with that of novelty.
In the adaptation of the literal to the figurative story, the maintenance of a perfect accuracy would be extremely difficult; and we have already observed that it is wholly unnecessary. Some slight incoherencies may be admitted into the narrative, if the intended moral may, by these means, be more fully or more exactly brought out. On the other hand, the descriptions may be allowed to contain some circumstances which shall be purely ornamental, and shall have no antitype in the object personified. The poetry must be indifferent indeed, which leaves the reader leisure to notice with curious criticism these petty faults. At the same time, the rule of consistency has its claims; nor can any worse accident befal an allegory, than that the war between its direct and its typical signification should become so fierce and open, as to force on our attention both of them at once, and that in a state of raging enmity. The lamentable aberrations of Spenser in this respect, are well known; and we may therefore the less wonder, that Mrs. Tighe is not entirely unexceptionable. In a literal view, her Cupid is a beautiful, amiable, and valiant youth, the husband of Psyche; figuratively, he represents the sentiment of virtuous love; but the story does not always hold in both senses. The first part of it is copied, with considerable fidelity, from Apuleius. To have endured, however, the allegorical superstructure here designed for it, what was thus borrowed should have undergone somewhat more of modification; for, on the plan of Mrs. Tighe, what emblematical meaning can possibly be attached to the envy with which the beauty and conquests of Psyche inspire Venus, to the incident of the oracular prophecy which Psyche receives of her future husband, and, indeed, to several of the adjoining incidents? Nor are these, let it be remembered, mere excrescences from the narrative, but important parts of it. Even where the author relinquishes her model and invents for herself, her allegory is not always sufficiently correct. When Cupid masters Passion who is described as bearing the shape of a lion, or conquers Ambition who is imaged as a knight, both the characters with which he is invested, are preserved. Not so, when he flies from Psyche in consequence of her suspicions of his constancy, or when he resents her wishes for a life of celibacy. Actions are here attributed to him, which, as applied to a mere sentiment of attachment in the mind of Psyche, seem incapable of any rational explanation.
The most obvious characteristics of the poem before us, are, a pleasing repose of style and manner, a fine purity and innocence of feeling, and a delightful ease of versification. Passages certainly occur, distinguished by force of expression, or by considerable descriptive energy; but these are not predominant, and their effect is quenched by the not uncommon intervention of languor. With several individual exceptions, therefore, the poem is, on the whole, pleasing rather than great, amiable rather than captivating. In the judicious and affectionate address prefixed to it by the editor, we are told that, even in the life-time of the author, it was borrowed with avidity and read with delight; and that the partiality of friends has already been outstripped by the applause of admirers. Whether the future progress of its fame will correspond with the past, we will not undertake to determine; but of this we are confident, that no reader, who has sufficient taste and feeling to bestow on it the applause of an admirer, will be able to help regarding the memory of the author with the partiality of a friend.
We cannot dismiss the versification of Mrs. Tighe with a single complimentary sentence. She has chosen the stanza of Spenser, a metre, now considered as sacred to allegory, and at once the richest and the most difficult of any that have been familiarly used in English. She complains that the management of it has cost her infinite trouble; and, undoubtedly, we sometimes detect, in her pages, evidence of that fact. But occasional instances of tautology, abruptness, and quaintness or violence of expression, may be found in the most elaborate poems which have been composed in this stanza, and are, in effect, inseparable from a metrical system which, of all others, makes the most immense demands at once on the copiousness and the melody of the language. Even the great father of the system has multitudes of lines which are too evidently the offspring of necessity, and which accordingly, like necessity, seem to have no law. Making allowance for these human failings, the author before us has done full justice to the structure of her verse. Her strains are sounding and numerous, without constraint or excessive complication; nor would it be difficult to extract from the poem many passages as flowing and as musical as the finest in the Fairy Queen or the Castle of Indolence.
It is now incumbent on us to submit to the reader a few specimens of Mrs. Tighe's performance; and we know not that we can begin better than with the first of the introductory stanzas. It will remind the reader of Ariosto and Spenser, and is thrown off with much spirit and gaiety.
Let not the rugged brow the rhymes accuse,
Which speak of gentle knights and ladies fair,
Nor scorn the lighter labours of the muse,
Who yet, for cruel battles would not dare
The low-strung chords of her weak lyre prepare;
But loves to court repose in slumbery lay,
To tell of goodly bowers and gardens rare,
Of gentle blandishments and amorous play,
And all the lore of love, in courtly verse essay. — p. 5.
Psyche is, by the command of the oracle, abandoned on a rock, and Zephyrs convey her to the palace of Cupid, in the island of pleasure. We transcribe a portion of the stanzas descriptive of this celestial residence and its wonders.
Increasing wonder filled her ravished soul,
For now the pompous portals opened wide,
There, pausing oft, with timid foot she stole
Through halls high domed, enriched with sculptured pride,
While gay saloons appeared on either side
In splendid vista opening to her sight;
And all with precious gems so beautified,
And furnished with such exquisite delight,
That scarce the beams of heaven emit such lustre bright.
The amethyst was there of violet hue,
And there the topaz shed its golden ray,
The chrysoberyl, and the sapphire blue
As the clear azure of a sunny day,
Or the mild eyes where amorous glances play;
The snow white jasper, and the opal's flame,
The blushing ruby, and the agate grey,
And there the gem which bears his luckless name
Whose death by Phoebus mourned ensured him deathless fame. — pp. 31, 32.
Now through the hall melodious music stole,
And self-prepared the splendid banquet stands,
Self-poured the nectar sparkles in the bowl,
The lute and viol touched by unseen hands
Aid the soft voices of the choral bands;
O'er the full board a brighter lustre beams
Than Persia's monarch at his feast commands:
For sweet refreshment all inviting seems
To taste celestial food, and pure ambrosial streams. — p. 33.
After the nuptial ceremony, the following passage occurs, to which, as we believe, few rivals in delicacy of sentiment, style, or versification, can be found.
Oh, you for whom I write! whose hearts can melt
At the soft thrilling voice whose power you prove,
You know what charm, unutterably felt,
Attends the unexpected voice of Love:
Above the lyre, the lute's soft notes above,
With sweet enchantment to the soul it steals
And bears it to Elysium's happy grove;
You best can tell the rapture Psyche feels
When Love's ambrosial lip the vows of Hymen seals. — p. 34.
On the subsequent visit of Psyche to her sisters, those most unamiable and ill-conditioned ladies not only contrive to fill her mind with suspicions of her newly acquired lord, but insist on her assassinating him. The picture of Psyche, under the press of the contradictory feelings which now assail her, is expressive and true.
Oh! have you seen, when in the northern sky
The transient flame of lambent lightning plays,
In quick succession lucid streamers fly,
Now flashing roseate, and now milky rays,
While struck with awe the astonished rustics gaze?
Thus o'er her cheek the fleeting signals move,
Now pale with fear, now glowing with the blaze
Of much indignant, still confiding love,
Now horror's lurid hue with shame's deep blushes strove. — p. 52.
One of the most interesting points in this fable is the first discovery, by Psyche, of her hitherto invisible lover. We subjoin the passage in which Mrs. Tighe delineates the scene in question. With some mixture of feebleness and laxity, it has yet much merit.
Twice, as with agitated step she went,
The lamp expiring shone with doubtful gleam,
As though it warned her from her rash intent:
And twice she paused, and on its trembling beam
Gazed with suspended breath, while voices seem
With murmuring sound along the roof to sigh;
As one just waking from a troublous dream,
With palpitating heart and straining eye,
Still fixed with fear remains, still thinks the danger nigh
Oh, daring Muse! wilt thou indeed essay
To paint the wonders which that lamp could shew?
And canst thou hope in living words to say
The dazzling glories of that heavenly view?
Ah! well I ween, that if with pencil true
That splendid vision could be well exprest,
The fearful awe imprudent Psyche knew
Would seize with rapture every wondering breast,
When Love's all potent charms divinely stood confest.
All imperceptible to human touch,
His wings display celestial essence light,
The clear effulgence of the blaze is such,
The brilliant plumage shines so heavenly bright
That mortal eyes turn dazzled from the sight;
A youth he seems in manhood's freshest years;
Round his fair neck, as clinging with delight,
Each golden curl resplendently appears,
Or shades his darker brow, which grace majestic wears.
Or o'er his guileless front the ringlets bright
Their rays of sunny lustre seem to throw,
That front than polished ivory more white!
His blooming cheeks with deeper blushes glow
Than roses scattered o'er a bed of snow:
While on his lips, distilled in balmy dews,
(Those lips divine that even in silence know
The heart to touch) persuasion to infuse
Still hangs a rosy charm that never vainly sues.
The friendly curtain of indulgent sleep
Disclosed not yet his eyes' resistless sway,
But from their silky veil there seemed to peep
Some brilliant glances with a softened ray,
Which o'er his features exquisitely play,
And all his polished limbs suffuse with light.
Thus through some narrow space the azure day
Sudden its cheerful rays diffusing bright,
Wide darts its lucid beams, to gild the brow of night. — pp. 55, 57.
In comparison with this sketch, we are tempted to exhibit another of the same subject. It is extracted from the poem of "Cupid and Psyche," which we have already mentioned as having appeared some years ago; and the reader will discern, in some of the expressions, traces of the mystical manner of interpreting the tale.
Now trembling, now distracted; bold,
And now irresolute she seems;
The blue lamp glimmers in her hold
And in her hand the dagger gleams.
Prepared to strike she verges near,
The blue light glimmering from above,
The HIDEOUS sight expects with fear,
And — gazes on the GOD OF LOVE!
Not such a young and wanton child
As poets feign, or sculptors plan;
No, no, she sees with transport wild,
Eternal beauty veil'd in man.
His cheek's ingrained carnation glow'd
Like rubies on a bed of pearls,
And down his ivory shoulders flow'd
In clustering braids his golden curls.
Soft as the cygnet's down his wings;
And as the falling snow-flake fair,
Each light elastic feather springs,
And dances in the balmy air.
The pure and vital stream he breathes,
Makes e'en the lamp shine doubly bright,
While its gay flame enamour'd wreathes
And gleams with scintillating light.
In the latter cantos of Mrs. Tighe's poem, there is a manifest declension, both of spirit and of care. Yet they contain some very beautiful verses. Those pre-existent elements of fine thoughts, and visions of yet unembodied beauty, which float round the imagination of a poet, those forms
—that glitter in the Muse's ray,
With orient hues, unborrow'd of the sun—
have seldom been pourtrayed with a more chaste and tender pencil than in the two following stanzas which open the fifth canto.
Delightful visions of my lonely hours!
Charm of my life and solace of my care!
Oh! would the muse but lend proportioned powers,
And give me language, equal to declare
The wonders which she bids my fancy share,
When rapt in her to other worlds I fly,
See angel forms unutterably fair,
And hear the inexpressive harmony
That seems to float on air, and warble through the sky.
Might I the swiftly glancing scenes recal!
Bright as the roseate clouds of summer's eve,
The dreams which hold my soul in willing thrall,
And half my visionary days deceive,
Communicable shape might then receive,
And other hearts be ravished with the strain:
But scarce I seek the airy threads to weave,
When quick confusion mocks the fruitless pain,
And all the fairy forms are vanished from my brain. — pp. 145, 146.
This passage reminded us of a description in Thompson, which, if it be coloured with somewhat more mellowness, yet seems to lose in delicacy nearly all that it gains in splendour. We shall insert it, and, admiring it greatly, yet do not think that Psyche has reason to dread the comparison.
And hither Morpheus sent his kindest dreams,
Raising a world of gayer tinct and grace,
O'er which were shadowy cast Elysian gleams,
That play'd, in waving lights, from place to place,
And shed a roseate smile on Nature's face.
Not Titian's pencil e'er could so array,
So fleece with clouds the pure ethereal space;
Nor could it e'er such melting forms display,
As loose on flowery beds all languishingly lay.
No, fair illustions! Artful phantoms, no!
My muse will not attempt your fairy-land:
She has no colours that like you can glow;
To catch your vivid scenes, too gross her hand.—
Castle of Indolence, Canto I.
We will add, from Psyche, yet one other extract, as a specimen of the manner in which, consonantly to the ideas thrown out in the former part of this article, Mrs. Tighe fills the interstices of her story with contemplative effusions suggested to her mind by her subject. It should be premised, however, that much less than justice is done to such a passage by exhibiting it in a detached state. Neither the pertinence, nor the full effect of a digression can be appreciated by any but those who arrive at it in the course of a progressive perusal of the entire piece.
When vexed by cares and harassed by distress,
The storms of fortune chill thy soul with dread,
Let Love, consoling Love! still sweetly bless,
And his assuasive balm benignly shed:
His downy plumage o'er thy pillow spread
Shall lull thy weeping sorrows to repose;
To Love the tender heart hath ever fled,
As on its mother's breast the infant throws
Its sobbing face, and there in sleep forgets its woes.
Oh! fondly cherish then the lovely plant,
Which lenient Heaven hath given thy pains to ease;
Its lustre shall thy summer hours enchant,
And load with fragrance every prosperous breeze,
And when rude winter shall thy roses seize,
When nought through all thy bowers but thorns remain,
This still with undeciduous charms shall please,
Screen from the blast and shelter from the rain,
And still with verdure, cheer the desolated plain.
To Psyche are added, in the volume before us, a number of minor poems, not intended by the author for publication. They are of various merit; but mostly bear marks of haste or carelessness. Some of these, however, did not our limits warn us against proceeding, we should be happy to transcribe; and as to one, we cannot refuse ourselves that satisfaction. It was the last production of the author, penned only three months before her death, and under the pressure of an illness plainly prophetic of the worst. How much of the interest, which it seems calculated to excite, must be ascribed to the circumstances amidst which it was composed, we are not able, and not very willing, to determine; but, most assuredly, the reader to whose bosom it conveys no emotion, is incompetent to feel the true charm of poetry. We have only to add, that the twelve last lines, being of very inferior execution to the rest, we shall take the liberty to omit.
ON RECEIVING A BRANCH OF MEZEREON, WHICH FLOWERED AT WOODSTOCK, DECEMBER, 1809.
Odours of Spring, my sense ye charm
With fragrance premature;
And, 'mid these days of dark alarm,
Almost to hope allure.
Methinks with purpose soft ye come
To tell of brighter hours,
Of May's blue skies, abundant bloom,
The sunny gales and showers.
Alas! for me shall May in vain
The powers of life restore;
These eyes that weep and watch in pain
Shall see her charms no more.
No, no, this anguish cannot last!
Beloved friends, adieu!
The bitterness of death were past,
Could I resign but you.
But oh! in every mortal pang
That rends my soul from life,
That soul, which seems on you to hang
Through each convulsive strife,
Even now, with agonizing grasp
Of terror and regret,
To all in life its love would clasp
Clings close and closer yet.
Yet why, immortal, vital spark!
Thus mortally opprest?
Look up, my soul, through prospects dark,
And bid thy terrors rest;
Forget, forego thy earthly part,
Thine heavenly being trust
Ah, vain attempt! my coward heart
Still shuddering clings to dust.
Oh ye! who sooth the pangs of death
With love's own patient care,
Still, still retain this fleeting breath,
Still pour the fervent prayer. — pp. 307-309.
We shall close our strictures with an interesting advertisement which the editor has subjoined to this melancholy and striking poem.
"The concluding poem of this collection was the last ever composed by the author, who expired at the place where it was written, after six years of protracted malady, on the 24th of March, 1810, in the thirty-seventh year of her age. Her fears of death were perfectly removed before she quitted this scene of trial and suffering; and her spirit departed to a better state of existence, confiding with heavenly joy in the acceptance and love of her Redeemer." — p. 311.