Abbildungen der Seite

racteristic of the literature of our times, that the genius of woman has shared largely and honourably in it. It has been


from the share which Joanna Baillie had in the restoration of a more truthful tone of poetic feeling, and the delightful fictions with which Maria Edgeworth used to charm our childhood, down to the later company of women who still adorn both prose and poetic literature. There have been instances of female authorship in such modest retirement that the world has not known them well enough. There is much that illustrates the gracefulness and delicacy of the womanly mind, but over and above all this, and combined with it, the literature of our times has developed an energy which womanly authorship had not shown before: I do not mean a masculine energy, but a genuine womanly power. Those writers who are, I think, chiefly distinguished for such power, as well as beauty of genius, are Mrs. Jameson, as a prose-writer, and especially in her admirable criticisms both on art and literature; Mrs. Kemble, Mrs. Norton, and Mrs. Browning, formerly Miss Barrett. Indulge me with a few minutes more for an illustration or two of the poetic power I speak of. Every

Ι person, probably, after youth is passed, is conscious at some time of a deep craving for repose, for a tranquillity inward and outward : this universal feeling is thus expressed in these lines :

“But to be still! oh, but to cease a while
The panting breath and hurrying steps of life,
The sights, the sounds, the struggle, and the strife,
Of hourly being; the sharp biting file
Of action fretting on the tightened chain
Of rough existence; all that is not pain,
But utter weariness! oh! to be free,
But for a while, from conscious entity!


To shut the banging doors and windows wide
Of restless sense, and let the soul abide,
Darkly and stilly, for a little space,
-Gathering its strength up to pursue the race;
Oh, heavens! to rest a moment, but to rest,
From this quick, gasping life, were to be blest!"*

It is an honourable and characteristic distinction of the female authorship of the day that it has devoted itself, in several forms, to the cause of suffering humanity.

“Some there are whose names will live

Not in the memories, but the hearts of men,
Because those hearts they comforted and raised;
And where they saw God's images cast down,
Lifted them up again, and blew the dust
From the worn features and disfigured limb." +

Would you know what might there is in the voice that speaks from a woman-poet's full heart, what power of imagination no less than of sympathy and pity, find that earnest plea which Elizabeth Barrett uttered against the horrid sacrifice to Mammon, which was once the shame of Britain's factories. It is entitled The Cry of the Children.I quote only the opening and closing stanzas:

“Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers,

Ere the sorrow comes with years ?
They are leaning their young heads against their mothers,

And that cannot stop their tears.
The young lambs are bleating in the meadows,

The young birds are chirping in the nest,
The young fawns are playing with the shadows,

The young flowers are blowing toward the West;

* Poems by Frances Anne Kemble, p. 151.

+ Landor's Lines to “The Author of Mary Barton," in the Examiner, March 17, 1849.


But the young, young children, 0 my brothers,

They are weeping bitterly;
They are weeping in the playtime of the others,

In the country of the free.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

They look up with their pale and sunken faces,

And their look is dread to see,
For you think you see their angels in their places,

With eyes meant for Deity;
How long,' they say, 'how long, O cruel nation,

Will you stand, to move the world, on a child's heart,
Stifle down with a mailed heel its palpitation,

And tread onward to your throne amid the mart?
Our blood splashes upwards, 0 our tyrants,

And your purple shows your path:
But the child's sob curseth deeper in the silence

Than the strong man in his wrath !!” I am loth to leave so stern a strain of impassioned verse the last in your minds : she speaks with as genuine, but a gentler, voice of poetic power in the lines entitled “ Patience Taught by Nature:"

“O dreary life !' we cry, 0 dreary life!
And still the generations of the birds
Sing through our sighing, and the flocks and herds
Serenely live, while we are keeping strife,
With heaven's true purpose on us, as a knife
Against which we may struggle. Ocean girds,
Unslackened, the dry land: savannal swards
Unweary sweep: hills watch unworn; and rife,
Meek leaves drop yearly from the forest trees,
To show, above, the unwasted stars that pass
In their old glory. O thou God of old !
Grant me some smaller grace than comes to these ;
But so much patience, as a blade of

grass Grows by, contented through heat and cold.”*

* Mrs. E. Barrett Browning's Poems, vol. i. p. 342.

[blocks in formation]

Contrast of subjects, serious and gay–Tragic poetry—Illustrated in his

tory-Death of the first-born-Clarendon's raising the standard at Nottingham-Moral use of tragic poetry-Allston's criticism-Elegiac poetry—Its power not mere sentimentalism-Gray's Elegy, an universal poem-Philip Van Artevelde-Caroline Bowles—“Pauper's Death Bed”—Wordsworth’s Elegies-Milton's Lycidas-Adonais—In Memoriam-Shelley's Poem on Death of Keats—Tennyson -In Memoriam reviewed.

THE two lectures I am about to deliver relate to subjects aside from the continuous course just completed. They are, however, illustrative of it, though not part of it; and therefore, I hope, not inappropriate or unwelcome. The first lecture relates to the literature of tragedy and sorrow, the second to the literature of wit and humour; whether I shall add another to this brief supplementary course will depend on personal considerations which I need not now refer to. It is not necessary, I hope, for me to disclaim, in this arrangement of two of these lectures, all attempts at the mere effect of contrast, for it is no ambi

* The course of lectures delivered in 1850 terminated with the Ninth, on Contemporary Literature. Those that follow, together with one on Wordsworth’s Prelude, were prepared in March, 1851. I have thought it best to add them to this course, as, in a certain degree, illustrative of the general subject of English Literature. The one on the Prelude was rather the introduction of a new poem to those who had never read it, than a criticism on one that was familiar. It mainly consisted of extracts, with brief comment. On this account I do not think it worth while now to reproduce it. W. B. R.


tion of mine to catch the attention of my hearers by any such artifice, or to startle them with an antithesis of subjects. My purpose in placing, immediately after the serious subjects of the first lecture, the literature of Wit and Humour, was rather to show that the transition need not be a violent one; that there may be found in literature a response to the sad and solemn feelings of our nature, and also for its happy and joyous emotions; and that over both these departments of letters there


be seen shining the same moral light. I have set these subjects, apparently so different, in close continuity, in the hope of thus proving the completeness of such companionship as books can add to that between living human beings—a companionship for life, in shadow or in sunshine; in the hope of showing that there is a wisdom in books which holds genial and restorative communion with tears and a sorrowing spirit, and no less genial and salutary with that other attribute of humanity, smiles and a cheer ful heart. Thus there may be a discipline for faculties and powers too often fitfully or unequally indulged or cultivated-a discipline of the thoughts and feelings which are associated with the sorrows of life, and no less of those which have fellowship with its joys and merriment: for those who are docile to receive, or sedulous to seek them, there are lessons which teach a sanity of sadness and also a sanity of gladness. It is, too, a ministry of human sympathy; for as it explores the sources of genuine grief and joy, it not only helps us the better to know our own hearts, but to enter into the feelings that are in the hearts of our fellow-beings, and thus to "rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”

Tragic poetry has been well described as "poetry in

« ZurückWeiter »