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lovely. The subject is mournful, but impressive. The poet, glancing down the vista of the past, sees the wrongs, the guilt, the massacres that have desolated a glorious world; sees faith wrested from its holy purpose to sanction deeds that descend to us like blood-drops on the page of history; sees empires, once glorious in liberty and power, crumbling in decay beneath the hand of avarice, tyranny, or faction; sees also noble deeds, each of which would serve to redeem a degencrate race from whole ages of crime. From all these sights and signs he infers peace at last for mankind, and concludes with the following apostrophe to his country:
"But thou, my country, thou shalt never fall,
But with thy children-thy maternal care,
Among the gallant sons that guard thee well,
This poem is screne, noble, and earnest; it is not didactic, but, by simply invoking the phantoms of the past, the author inculcates a deeper lesson than could possibly have been done by any other mode of treatment. In this we recognize the artist. We recognize the artist, too, in the skilful distribution of light and shade with which he has variegated his verse.
In many respects the poem of "The Ages" is worthy of Campbell; in point and polish it is seldom inferior to many of the compositions of that elegant poet, the resemblance in manner, and frequently in thought, only widening when the subjects are different.
The theory of Mr. Buckle, that the condition of mankind, both as regards the organization of society and the character of individuals, is influenced wholly by physical laws, seems to find at least no corroboration in the structure of the American intellect. Yet it is certainly strange that a nation whose actions and ceremonies are stamped with characteristics peculiarly their own, should be free from all singularity in the expression of its mind. Since actions are regulated by motives, and motives by thought, one would certainly fancy that, where the action is eccentric or at least novel, there must be a corresponding eccentricity or novelty in the thought; but their literature has not shown it. The only solution, therefore, of this enigma is, that
the action prompted by the thought is suffered to operate with freedom; whilst the thought itself, either from fear of ridicule or love of conservatism-which is the active principle of all republics-is forced from its natural bias into the well-worn channels of the Old World intellect. This slight digression is purposely made to lead us into a consideration of the influence of American nature over the American mind. Those who fancy that they will find in American poetry the reflection of the magnificent scenery of the West will be disappointed. A love of freedom, which is natural to man, and therefore not peculiar to the Americans, will there be found; but it is certainly not to be attributed to the effects of the boundless prairies, the miles of forests, the broad expanse of sky upon the imagination. It is rather an echo of the patriotic songs of Europe; it is a shout in the praise of liberty, not exulting because it is copied. This absence of the influence of the surrounding glories of American scenery upon the American intellect is conspicuous in Bryant. It is true that in "Thanatopsis" and the "Forest Hymn" he celebrates the praises of nature in lines stirring and poetical; but "Thanatopsis" and the "Forest Hymn" are the praises of an Englishman celebrating the scenery of Windsor, not the fervent hymns of an American inspired by that natural grandeur which is America's alone. He sings as Thomson or as Akenside would have sung, and be it confessed that, if he does not equal the former, he is generally superior to the latter. But this is not what is wanted. There should be in American description, American nature; there is expected an exposition of those sublime sights and scenes which a lavish naturc has accumulated upon the shores of the West. We care not whether the verse be rugged or not, so long as it is American. Posterity will polish the strains. Only let it be the care of the present to lay the foundation of a national poetry, which will then insure a national literature. Let the genius inspired by the prairie, the lake, and the mountain speak; his declamation will be grand, for the inspiring influence is grand.
But America yet wants her Chaucer.
Bryant's power is not objective. He is never dramatic. He himself is the analyst; he does not permit his creations to analyze themselves. But the subjective tendency visible in his writings is unaccompanied by that ex cathedra declamation against which Shelley so vigorously protested: "Didactic poetry is my abhorrence; nothing can be equally expressed in prose that is not tedious and supererogatory
in verse." Bryant assumes no position of teacher. What he sees, and believes in, and loves, he endeavours to express. There is little passion; there is little imagery. It is a calm exposition of things which to the vulgar eye will always be considered as phenomena, but which to the poet has been made familiar long ago. There is the serene eloquence of a mind conscious of its power, and never transgressing the limits it has assigned to itself. This is a pity. There is enough in his works to fully justify the belief that, had he permitted himself a wider field of action, he would have attained a nobler end. Compelled thus to embrace the nature around him, he would have converted himself into a medium for its communications with the public mind. The public intelligence thus enlarged by its newlycreated sympathy, would, by its development, have rendered more practicable its exposition by poetry. Its caprice would have been less frequent, its idiosyncracy, more marked, its disposition more stable. It is thus that national characters are formed. A more vivid communion with nature than such as can be gained by the mere senses, broadens the intelligence, whilst it calls into action each latent sympathy. Men then begin to recognize the validity of nature's claims, and their own powers to appreciate them. They trace that wondrous connection which, when discovered, is the secret of all emotional and intellectual culture. The poet, therefore, is the apostle of nature, preaching the utterings of the embosomed spirit. Such an apostle Bryant might have been. Had his powers failed him, his endcavours would have served, at least, to indicate the only means by which a national literature in its noblest sense can possibly be created.
There is a lyric in Bryant's poems, entitled "June," a fragment of which we have but to quote, to convince our readers that the man whom we have ventured to commend is worthy of all the admiration bestowed on him :
"I know, I know I should not see
The season's glorious show:
Nor would its brightness shine for me,
But if around my place of sleep
The friends I love should come to weep,
They might not haste to go.
Soft airs and song, and light and bloom,
Should keep them lingering by my tomb.”
It is in such simple songs as these that his real power is proclaimed.
Of all literary achievements, the ars celare artem is the most difficult. This, though a platitude, it is necessary to repeat here, in order fully to exhibit the strength of our author. Many a poet has ere now found a refuge for a trite or dull thought by clouding it in phraseological obscurity. He whose meaning, without being obvious, is easily comprehended, can have his merit estimated with little difficulty. What is not at once seen in poetry is readily granted. The fault is not the poet's, but ours. On the other hand, when a thing is plainly put, it stands to reason that it must be good to please. Now, Bryant pleases, and is simple. This be his merit.
America, within the last forty years, has produced some very eminent poets. Poe, Lowell, Dana, Longfellow, Sigourney, Emerson, Walt Whitman are names that will occur to all. To Bryant, however, must be accorded the praise of being the first of American poets. This may sound strange to the admirers of Poe and Longfellow; but before it can be disputed, it is necessary, first of all, to come to a clear understanding as to the nature of poetry. It would be presumptuous, however, to attempt to define that which, having been already defined fifty thousand times, yet wants a definition. It is useless to create standards of art by which poetry is to be judged; for every great poet creates a new taste, and genius leaps beyond the limits assigned to it by art. True taste is unquestionably to be estimated by its catholicity. The Beautiful is protean; and it is the doctrine of aesthetics that has taught, or is teaching us, how rightly to appreciate the Beautiful, no matter in what form it may be presented to us. Had any one of the American poets converted himself into an exponent of the sublime nature that lies around him, it is certain that, however poor might have been his expression, his interpretation would have rendered him the poet of America. But since it is by the success of their imitation of old masters that the American poets hold themselves up to be judged, then it is evident that, from the polish and music of his verse, from the wisdom of his fancy, from the earnestness of his purpose, from the deep poetic meaning that is perceptible in his songs like the perfume in flowers, William Cullen Bryant merits the praise of being the first of American poets. To insist upon this would be idle, without illustration, and for illustration we have no room. To satisfy our readers, we can only refer them to his works.
LET'S have it out, then, Cousin Flo,
Long since you promised me a sitting,
A meditation to outlive them,
I somehow fancy you'll forgive them.
'Tis humming but a hackney'd tune
And cheered the darkness of December;
The rhymes I read you at your feet,
The lonely hours, till morning's grey-light,
Our songs and rides, the window-scat,
Where we have watch'd the dying daylight.
That's over now, and you've to play
And how about my future life?
Where maybe I shall take a wife,
Or maybe I shall take to brandy;