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Weep, Macedon, weep, o'er thine Hero's decay,
ON THE WRITINGS OF JAMES MONTGOMERY.
THE true spirit of criticism, as well as of poetry, has revived in our days; and when that spirit had once developed itself, it was not to be supposed that so fair and extensive, as well as peculiarly interesting a field for its exercise as that of modern poetry, should remain long unoccupied. Accordingly, it has been the fortune of our great contemporaries to have their characteristic excellencies illustrated, and the interior sources of those excellencies developed, by minds more or less qualified for the task,―minds of various capacity, and which have exerted themselves in very different ways, but all endued with a deep sense of the beautiful in poetry, and a power of embodying that sense in words. Of good criticism, indeed, as of other good things, we may have too much; and we are almost tempted to wish, that, like the Dutch in their Spice Islands, we could consume one half of the precious commodity, in order to make the rest more valuable. I only mention this circumstance, however, as exonerating me from pursuing the track in which so many maturer and more highly-endowed intellects are engaged; and as justifying me in confining my efforts to those little neglected corners of our contemporary literature, which, while the circumstance of their being yet untouched renders the task of their explorer more easy, may also, from the comparatively contracted grasp of mind which is required for their survey, appear more suited to the humble capacities of "The Etonian."
I mean not, however, to intimate, that the writings of James Montgomery have escaped the notice of the censors. It will be remembered that his earliest publication was the object of a severe criticism in the Edinburgh Review. This was answered by a just and spirited article in the Quarterly, which, from its style, appears to be the production of an individual, eminent for his efficient and unpretending patronage of youthful merit; an individual whose warm benevolence, no less than his unsullied integrity, his abilities, and his extraordinary learning, will be held
in honourable remembrance, when the clamour, which the spirit of party and his own indiscretion have raised against him, shall have died away. Since that period, however, though the popularity of Montgomery, before considerable, has continued, or even increased, I am not aware of the appearance of any adequate critique on his writings, nor have I seen his name mentioned by any of the modern critics, except occasionally in a census of our whole poetical population, or as one of a particular class of writers. Feeling, therefore, as I sincerely do, my incompetency to the task of a regular review, and declining any such attempt, I yet presume to hope that a summary of such detached remarks as have occurred to me on the writings of the author now before me may not be unacceptable to " The Etonian ;" and, in the retrospective view of his various works which this will include, I may be permitted to make my most copious quotations from the last volume, as being less generally known than the rest.
It is more easy to comprehend than to define the peculiar genius of a writer; and that of Montgomery, though inferior in magnitude to those of most of his contemporaries, is sufficiently original. The character of his mind seems to be rather that of delicacy than of strength; combining with a keen perception of the beauty inherent in the milder feelings of our nature, a power of embodying that beauty in language. There is a feminine beauty in his compositions, as well as a feminine weakness; and their effect, if I may be permitted to use a fanciful illustration, resembles the "sweet influences" of the evening star. All objects appear to him, through the medium of his own imagination, invested with a certain tender brilliancy peculiarly his own, and to which I have seen nothing exactly similar elsewhere. The Quarterly Reviewer happily compares him to Klopstock; but in his temper and sentiments, as displayed in his writings, he bears more resemblance to Cowper than to any other writer that I know. Differing from him in kind and degree of talent, almost as much as it is possible for one genuine poet to differ from another, he has all his delicacy, timidity, and acuteness of feeling, his high moral tone, his patriotic warmth, his enthusiastic love of nature, and his heartfelt and affectionate respect for the female sex. Like Cowper, too, a tinge of melancholy pervades his writings; but it is nothing more than a tinge: its effect is like a gentle shade diffused over all his works, chastening, and solemnizing, and resembling that so beautifully described in the picture of his antediluvian heroine :
It is of his poetry I speak. I have heard that his occasional articles in The Sheffield Iris (of which he is joint editor) are characterized by a vigour which is not visible in his poems. Of this I cannot judge.
"Time had but touch'd her form to finer grace,
Another feature of resemblance between Cowper and his successor is that which distinguishes the latter from all his contemporary poets-his peculiar religious system, which I allude to on account of the influence which it exerts upon his writings. must be allowed that this system is, in some parts at least, highly favourable to poetry. The sublime purity, and, if I may so speak, absoluteness of its moral precepts, the devotional feeling which it inculcates, and the mysterious beauty which it throws around the most ordinary things, when viewed in its own light, are among its poetical features. We may observe everywhere, in the writings of our author, how a familiarity with religious subjects tinges the stream of the imagination, and converts the feelings of the mind and the beauties of nature into reflections and remembrances of the "things unseen." To him the graces and glories of creation appear invested with an awful sanctity; she is, as it were, a chaste and transcendently beautiful bride, separate and consecrated to one. Amidst scenes which, to another mind, would suggest classical or romantic recollections, he is reminded of the marvellous histories and the sublime theology of Scripture. "O'er eastern mountains seen afar,
With golden splendor, rose the morning star,
As if an Angel-centinel of night,
From earth to heaven, had winged his homeward flight,—
And lost insensibly in higher day."
"The smiling Star, that lights the world to rest,
"From the east the moon with doubtful gleams
"Oft o'er these cliffs the transient storm
And partial darkness lower,
In like manner, the charms and enjoyments of domestic life acquire a new and nameless endearment, when consecrated by religion; and the cause of liberty assumes additional dignity from the express interposition of the God of Justice in its behalf.
And even where the effect of an habitual communion with religious thoughts and feelings is not thus palpable, it may be discerned in its collateral manifestations, pervading the whole of the writer's moral system, and diffusing a visible purity and benevolence wherever it extends. Even his melancholy seems transmuted by its influence; deep and perennial as its springs appear to be, it never darkens into despondence or repining; the spirit of hope, and thankfulness, and humble rejoicing, is perpetually breaking forth through the incumbent gloom,
66 Turning the dusky veil Into a substance glorious as her own."
We are reminded of Cowper's description of David in the Wilderness :
"Hear the sweet accents of his tuneful voice,
Hear him, o'erwhelm'd with sorrow, yet rejoice;
No, not a moment, in his royal heart;
Whether these advantages may not be counterpoised by features of a different nature; whether the influence of this particular system may not be such as to produce an habitual timidity of mind, unfavourable to the full developement of the faculties; or whether, from a certain austerity and over-scrupulousness, it may not circumscribe the poet unnecessarily in his choice of subjects, and hang a dead weight upon his imagination; are points which I do not feel myself qualified to discuss, and which, indeed, I have not time to enter upon; although they form part, as I think, of a curious and interesting subject.
I had prepared to survey the poems before me in various other points of view; my time, however, allows me only to advert in general to what I have more than once noticed already, the noble tenor of his sentiments, in which he has proved himself no unworthy successor of the eminent reformer in poetry and poetical morals, with whom I have in some respects compared him. He has truly said of himself,
"No!-to the generous Bard belong
-To sing in numbers boldly free
These are the Bard's sublimest views,
That o'er his morning slumbers shine;
Mr. Montgomery's first publication, "The Wanderer of Switzerland," was written to commemorate the gallant resistance of the Swiss patriots to the aggressions of revolutionary France; and is an instance of that true consistency, common to our author with many greater men, who, like him, were in early youth seduced into an acquiescence in the great delusion of the world. With this poem I am not ashamed to own myself almost totally unacquainted; having perused it at an age when I was incapable of understanding its beauties, and having never since re-perused it. From my indistinct recollections, however, and the opinions of others, I gather that it was brilliant, animated, and enthusiastic, overflowing with high-wrought sentiment and youthful tenderness, and all the luxuriances of heart and intellect, which characterise the productions of a poet whose genius is not yet fully developed. The "Edinburgh Review" entitled it "a mixture of the epic, lyric, and dramatic;" this is a description which would more aptly apply to Milman's" Samor;" it is certain, however, that Montgomery's strong lyrical propensities, as in the case of Campbell's "Gertrude of Wyoming,' gave a tinge to his narrative style. As a lyrical writer, indeed, he is superior to almost all his contemporaries. Of this the poems annexed to the "Wanderer of Switzerland" give signal proofs; to these, however, as to the work itself, I can only at present refer my readers.
His next poem, "The West Indies," was written on occasion of the abolition of the slave trade. This work will be best characterized by observing, that those who read it with the express purpose of being pleased, will be greatly disappointed, but that if read as a task, it will afford them much gratification; seeing that the pleasures which we meet with in the performing of a laborious duty, are to us so much clear gain, and have accordingly the more effect. Its great deficiency is a want of plan, and a consequent want of interest; it has less the air of a system than of a succession of parts. Its descriptions are brilliant, its language