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ERY suggestive of musical and pleasant thoughts is the is the recollection of the manner in which these choice Wordpaintings have been contributed by the Authors, or their representatives; always with liberal promptness, and sometimes with expressions of personal good-will, to be gratefully treasured. Nor can I forget the generous enterprise of the Publishers, and the tasteful skill of the Brothers Dalziel, by whom the grace and the beauty of the pencil have been translated into the popular language of their own Art.
The Volume embraces a period of about eighty-five years, for the first Canto of the Minstrel appeared in 1771 ; Beattie survived Cowper only three years; while Percy, exchanging the friendship of Goldsmith for that of Scott, lived into the eleventh year of this century. The dates of these poets might seem to exclude them from our calendar ; but, in truth, the fancy of the present age was largely inspired and moulded by the past; and the sentiment of the Minstrel, the naturalness of the Task, and the simplicity of the Reliques, very strikingly reappear in Campbell, Wordsworth, and Scott. Nor has the embellished landscape of Darwin been without imitators; while the footprints of Rogers are easily traced in the trim garden-paths of Hayley. One member of the classic band will be less familiar to general readers : I allude to Professor Crowe, whose descriptive poem is written with fine taste and in choice numbers. The traveller, walking from Charmouth to Lyme, discovers Lewesdon Hill on the right hand, and forming one of the boundaries to a rich vale chequered by enclosures.
Our Poetry owes many beauties to womanly genius, and in the following pages some specimens of it will be found. The “Psyche" of Mary Tighe yet lives in the memory of Taste ; but Scotland furnishes a greater name: “If you wish to speak of a real poet,” Scott said to Ballantyne, " Joanna Baillie is now the highest genius of our country.” He numbered the description of Orra’s madness with the sublimest scenes ever written, and compared the language to Shakspeare's. The Songs of Mrs. Hemans afford a lively contrast. It was her misfortune that she wrote to live, instead of living to write. Her compositions, therefore, are unequal; but in her best pieces the eye is delighted by the glow and colour, and the ear is soothed by the varied cadence—often delicious, never harsh. The visionary tenderness and romance of Mrs. Radcliffe are breathed over the Address to Melancholy and the Song of a Spirit. The quotation from Hannah More was chosen for the subject which it offered to the Artist, who has so happily embodied it in his genre sketches. The chaste elegance of Mrs. Barbauld is of a higher order; and very true poetic feeling and utterance are conspicuous in the local pictures and the tender Sonnets of Charlotte Smith, which Miss Seward, clever in her spite, called “everlasting duns upon pity.”
One name in the tuneful Sisterhood has a home-interest for me. It seems but yesterday that the shutters were shut in “Our Village," and Mary Russell Mitford went from amongst us. While turning over the leaves of this book, I have thought of the kindly welcome with which she would have greeted the illustration of her own “Rienzi," if I had taken it to her on one of those soft autumn days which she loved so much, and when her familiar lanes and dingles wore their sweetest colours. She had compared her old abode to a bird-cage that might be laid on a shelf or hung upon a tree; and her latest dwelling was hardly less odd or dwarfish. But there, also, she had a cool retreat out-ofdoors, in the shade of her garden, and I see her sitting in it now, with table and book; constant to all her little heresies of taste; reading the interminable Richardson every year, preferring woodembers to the fairest moonbeams that ever lighted lovers, and panegyrising the nightingale's song, if accompanied by the moan of the pigeon.
But the Brotherhood has names also to be remembered by
me with very sincere regard. When I read the Voyage round the World of James Montgomery,- a description exquisite in conception, imagery, and language,-the author is before me as I saw him in early youth. Lisle Bowles is another name to be marked with a white stone. A delightful spot was Bremhillindeed, is still—with the quaint garden, and the swans, Snowdrop and Lily, sailing up to the parlour window to inquire after their dinner, and Peter the hawk, and the Vicar holding his watch to his ear, to make sure that he had not grown deaf since breakfast. Southey visited the Parsonage when the lovable old man was in his seventy-third year, and presented to the eye of his friend the most entertaining mixture that could be of untidiness, simplicity, benevolence, timidity, and good nature ; but nobody smiled at his oddities more heartily than the owner. The poetical merits of Bowles are great. His Sonnets delighted Coleridge, and even Byron acknowledged the excellence of The Missionary.
Of all the elder poets of our time, my examples are less numerous than I had hoped to give. The lines of Wordsworth on Tintern Abbey are omitted from want of room; and the most striking effort of Southey's imagination, the agony of Kailyal at her father's flight, was ill adapted for pictorial use. The fame of Coleridge, however, will not suffer loss by resting on Genevieve, who has caught a new grace from the hand of Millais. Among these earlier poenis, the reader will be attracted by the Legend of Kilmeny, which, for a moment, lifts the Shepherd to the side of Burns ; by the sunshiny morals of Praed, who reminds me of an Ariosto brought up in England; and by the sea-views and the Dutch painting of Crabbe.
If I could have turned my Preface into an illustrated catalogue, these poems would have furnished agreeable notes; for to many some little story is attached; as in the case of Keats, whose Ode to the Nightingale was written in the Spring of 1819, when the fatal disease lay so heavy at his heart, that Coleridge, meeting him in a lane near Highgate, remarked, “There is death in that hand.” The stanzas beginning “The sun upon the Weirdlaw Hill” become more affecting when we are told that Scott composed them during the languor of sickness, and that they mark the very spot of their birth, now clothed by rich woodlands,
the work of the Poet's hand. The Elm Tree might also claim a paragraph, to tell of the solemn avenue which inspired it; and certainly “ Umbrageous Ham” has not been mused in by a more genial visitor, since the frequent feet of Thomson broke the shadows. The noble verses “ Wine of Cyprus ” — should recall the memory of the blind Scholar to whom they were addressed ; and the compositions of Frances Brown will lose a charm if the shadow on her eyes be forgotten. But of living Poets I may not speak. They are here to speak for themselves in tones of harmony, grandeur, and pathos, to which few ears, I suppose, will be deaf. The list might have been enlarged, but a great Constituency can only be represented by a few Members.
R. A. WILLMOTT.
NOTE.—This new Edition of the “Poets of the Nineteenth Century” has been enlarged by some additions to the selections originally made ; and two new names worthy of the distinction have been united to those which it at first contained,-i.l., Robert Buchanan and Dora Greenwell. The present volume, therefore, embraces a period of about ninety-eight years, from 1771 to 1869.