Page images

power of original design. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Spenser and Milton have based their fame on poems which display wonderful genius in the conception of them. Perhaps no equal number of fine lines and passages could be collected from any other four of our English poets as could be gathered from their writings; but yet it is not on these excellencies in detail that their fame rests, so much as on the great genius exhibited in the conception of their poems. The two conjoined lead to supreme excellence. But great poetic power may exist where there is no genius to conceive an original and elaborate plan. Horace, with all his exquisite beauty and taste, was, we believe, incapable of writing a tolerable epic, or a respectable play. No higher quality than great skill is exhibited in the outlines of any of Dryden's poems or plays. Tennyson, unquestionably the greatest poet of our day, has failed, as did Wordsworth, when he has attempted the dramatic and the narrative forms of composition. No one cares for “the Princess," or “Maud” as entire

poems, but who does not delight in the minute excellencies they so profusely exhibit! Where original power exists in the conception of a great poem like the Paradise Lost, or a fine play like Othello, there will generally be found the genius requisite to work it out perfectly even in the minutest details. The greater power implies the lesser ; but there may exist the ability to write perfect sonnets, lyrics and descriptive pieces, where there is no epic or dramatic power. When therefore a poem of any length comes before us, we adopt the most complete mode of investigation, if we test it both as a work of art and a poetical composition. Judging “ Ina" then in the former aspect of it, we are bound to say, that it is found wanting; it is deficient in plot, incident and design. The reader is not borne onward to some clear and deep conclusion. At its close he is conscious of having had intercourse with some very agreeable and accomplished persons—who by the way are too much alike—with having read some fine lyrics, and had presented to his attention some beautiful imagery, but he has to think much before he can say what it is all about; and if at last he discovers a plan, he feels that it is deficient in moral earnestness and literary ingenuity. In fact, we suspect Miss Leslie of a species of literary vagrancy. She was absorbed in a passionate love of flowers, sunbeams, musicmurmuring brooks" and all that sort of thing," so that, like the child in the story, who forgot the business on which he was sent in the ardour of his pursuit after a butterfly, she has been so intent on the separate details of her poem as to overlook design. She has strung her pearls on an ordinary thread, which is not sufficiently strong to bear their weight.

But let us examine “Ina ” in detail. Being a dramatic

narrative, it is easily separated into distinct parts. Suppose we take it then entirely to pieces,- we will unstring the necklace, and examine the various stones of which it is composed. Are they separately of any poetic value ? Suppose they were put, with some degree of adaptation, into a volume of poetry with befitting titles--and we are not sure but Miss Leslie would act wisely if she were to do this, should she publish, as we hope she will, any other poems-would they be recognised as possessing some merit? We certainly think they would, and some of them merit of a high order. We would instance several of her lyrics, and two scenes-p. 161-suggested, we imagine, by the noble heroism of Florence Nightingale, the first of a lady in England, amidst the luxury and refinement which wealth can there purchase in such perfection as can be exhibited in no other land; the second of the “ Lady Ermengarde,” who moves like an angel amidst the sick and wounded, pining in an hospital on the banks of the Euxine. These are too long for quotation, but the following passages exhibit Miss Leslie's capability both of thinking and writing, nor would it be difficult to cite others equally good :

“Life is like that fair Queen of Portugal,
Bright Inez of the beautiful, glad smile,
Whom after death her royal husband robed
In regal tire, and bound her brow with gold,
And made her sit upon a gorgeous throne,
And while most rich and lordly music swelled,
Caused his proud nobles to kneel down and kiss
The dead cold hand, stiff and impassible;
Her ears heard not the music's thrilling gush,
Her hand felt not the kisses of the lords,
Her eyes looked not upon her husband's face.
Thus in our love, we act toward this life,
Robe it in purple, kneel in reverence down
Before it throned upon a seat of gold;
And all the while it is a deathly thing
Meet only for the lightless sepulchre.
Life is a white and silver basket, void
Of fruits and flowers; man's earthly work it is
To gather all the sweetest flowers of Time,
And all its richest, ripest summer fruits,
And fill the basket ere his days are o'er,
Then shall it stand before his sovereign's face,
Lightened with splendour from the azure skies,

Struck over by Eternity's great light." Take another extract on a different theme :“Ay,

young children scarce believingly
Shall hear of battle-fields where man met man
In deadly, inextinguishable strife,
Fort walls with ivy shall be mantled o'er,

And birds shall build their small nests 'mid the leaves.
Cannon shall lie along the grass, and flowers
Shall twine around them in long, starry wreaths;
Ball pyramids shall scatter, and each shot
Shall be encradled tenderly in moss,
'Mid cowslips and young purple violets.
O cease not, Lady, thy low voiced prayers,
For this morn's advent companied with joy,
And songs, and smiles, and glad thanksgiving words :

Surely it shall come though it tarry long." There is fine appreciation exhibited in the following lines, as well as noble sentiment :

thank Him daily for the wise, the brave,

The true, the loving and the beautiful,
With whom He glorifies and gladdens Life.
The earth is fair and rich with lustrousness,
The sweet reflection of God's holy smile
Yet lingers on blue sea, and rippling stream,
And lake surrounded by deep summer green,
Aye shining with a wondrous loveliness.
Each full-blown flower seems as if wrought in Heaven,
In presence of the splendoured sanctities,
And the sweet budding of the trees in spring,
Might make glad flushes light a seraph's cheek.
But richer, rarer than each glorious thing
Which glows and glitters on this rounded earth,
Is man's great, deathless soul. Therefore the heart
Exulteth more at meeting of an heir
Of immortality, than at the sight
Of earth's most fair and beauty-lighted scenes, –
Fields flushed with roses on a summer's morn,
White lilies floating on a dark, deep pool,

A herd of red deer in a forest's gloom,-
Long, western shadows in a wooded park, -
Stars shining near a mountain's white-snowed peak,-
Palm-shaded islands in a sapphire sea, -
Pure springs encircled with green, mossy stones, –

And valleys among mountains rainbow-arched.” But perhaps Miss Leslie will be more fairly judged by the miscellaneous pieces prefixed to “ Ina.” Embodying as they do single incidents or special thoughts, she has not to contend with the difficulty of conceiving an elaborate plan, and her attention being fixed chiefly on the partial treatment of a simple subject, she is more at liberty to display her power. These miscellaneous pieces exhibit more diversified ability than the mere readers of * Ina” would expect. The descriptiveness of several passages in “ the Death of Moses,” the pathos of “ Died at Sea,” and Tintoretto and his Daughter”—which we think one of the best of Miss Leslie's productions ;—the quiet imaginativeness of “ the Ruined house ;" the war-like vigour of Christmas night” and “the War-farewell,” and the bold symbolism of "Eastern voices” give proof of genuine poetic power. We regret that all these pieces are too long to be extracted.

But we will enter somewhat more particularly into the characteristics exhibited in this volume. Its author's forte is evidently the descriptive. Had she possessed the power of narrating, we think she would have seized the opportunities of displaying it, which often occur in “Ina.” Perhaps she may hereafter disclose, what she certainly has not yet exhibited, a power to pourtray individual character; experience and observation may do this and much more, but recording what we observe, it strikes us that Miss Leslie's mind runs strongly in the direction we have indicated, and we are the more assured of this from the marvellous instinct with which she can describe scenes with which she cannot be familiar, and of which we suspect she can know little by means of analogy and inference. Everywhere we meet with fine touches like the following:

“Look, father, at my basket heaped with flowers,
And half-oped buds, and green leaves feathery,
I've sought for them in still and hidden nooks,
. Neath over-shadowing trees, in corners known
Only to little birds which on the mould
Have left faint traces of their sınall, red feet,
And from their leaf-enshrined nests bave won
The sweetest treasures of this golden morn.
See these white wax-like buds, and spicy flowers,
Ringed as the royal tiger of the woods;
So purely are they fashioned, that the light
Of angel-fingers seems yet visible

In their surpassing beauty-moulded forms." This volume exhibits great imaginativeness on the part of its author. She writes as if she often looked at objects not so much to see what they are in themselves, as to observe what they resemble, and how many analogies they can suggest. Hence it is that she is not content with one figure, but must have several : occasionally indeed she seems so intent on their multiplication, as to forget the idea which suggested them; the stalk of the tree is almost hidden beneath the rich foliage, and the golden blossoms which it supports. This love of imagery exhibits itself often in a delight in personification, thus :

“ Summer, with large and jetty eyes steals on,
Bearing upon her head a loose thick crowu
Of open roses white and golden-hued
And tinged with pink, and crimson as the sky
After the gorgeous setting of the sun.
Evening, a maiden with a rosy flush
Upon her rounded cheeks, her golden hair
Falling about her in long glossy curls,
Her purple robe thrown round her in rich folds,
Comes up the west with a majestic tread.

Morning brings with her a rich urn of gold,
Filled with clear dew-drops, which she scatters round
On flower and leaf, and her high brow is wreathed
With rosebuds washed in dew and glittering stems.
Twilight, a matron with a diadem
Of large, dim planets, and a countenance
Ethereal in its beauty, and a look
Of solemn tenderness in her grey eyes.
Night, with a black veil o'er her star-crown flung,
In mean disguise comes to the silent earth,
As to a foeman's camp a fearless queen :
Yet through the shrouding dark her jewels shine,

And men confess the present majesty." More frequently it is seen in the creation of what are termed figures. Some of them are so fine that we cannot forego the pleasure of laying two or three of them before our readers :-

"O rich, rich gift of life, white marble block !
Why hast thou been entrusted to my hand ?
I am too weak to hew grand statuary
For earth's bright golden halls, wherewith the souls
Of gazers-on may throb with spirit-joy.
Eternity is as the marriage-ring
Pure, bright, and golden, where with God unites
For ever more his ransomed to Himself.
Death comes unto us, as at midnight came
The angel to the guarded prison-house,
Where calmly the apostle doomed to death
Slept dreaming dreams of beauty, and he bids
Our clay chains drop adown, and with a touch
Flings wide the massy portals of the earth,
And leading our still wondering spirits out
Into the star-streets of the universe
Departs, and leaves us to seek out our own.
Oft-times I feel like to a little child,
Aboard some huge black ship upon the sea ;
The vessel rocks, the billows dash and moan,
The sea-bird screams, around me dismally,
And I - I know not what the crash and stir,
The straining of the masts and cordage mean;

But terrified I sit me down and weep. Occasionally the imagery is obscure, and now and then it is drawn from sources that are too familiarly known; but we should withhold from Miss Leslie her just meed, if we did not add that it is always such as a refined and cultivated taste will approve. A similar remark indeed will apply to the whole volume; it exhibits great purity of taste and of feeling. We may not always be able to approve of the mere language as an exhibition of rhythmic power, though usually it is harmonious and very

« PreviousContinue »