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Fared gaily through the sleeping town,
The bee hummed in the eglantine,
And the breeze swayed the curls of the young woodbine,
The May scented the hedges along,
Some of the rhymes in this extract are unbearable, as "town,' "alone;""eglantine," "woodbine;" whilst the two last lines are very defective in versification and poetry; and the last but two is both fanciful and obscure. Other faults there are, but we have pointed out a sufficient number.
Whilst we are in the croaking strain, we may as well indulge our vein a little further. In a short poem suggested by the fine expression of Schiller, "Death cannot be an evil for it is universal,”-occurs the line
They own that Death is God."
The idea is as repulsive as it is false. The theology of Mr. Keene is equally defective when he says :—
"In His sight how little differ
"The burden of the world's old song
The word "long" in the following lines looks too much as if it had been introduced to make a rhyme; the inversion of language moreover is unpleasant:
That the most honoured life and long
The least effective and satisfactory performance in the volume, we consider to be a short drama on "the Origin of Caste." There is an air of flippancy and levity about it which strikes us as being quite incompatible with the frightful evil whose rise it professes to relate. But it really does not explain to us, in any way that can be called satisfactory, how this curse of India arose. Satan would be ashamed of such a meagre contrivance as Mr. Keene attributes to him.
The most carefully conceived and best executed of the longer
poems is, "The Twins; a Rosicrucian mystery." The story is a very complicated one, but it is full of deep interest, and the air of mystery and romance which is thrown over it, is made the more attractive because of the skill with which the natural and supernatural are combined. Albertus an Alchemist at length has his wish gratified by being told that he shall have two sons. The sylph who conveys to him this information, points him to two stars, the symbols of his children's destiny
As he gazed
Two stars shone forth, where clouds had been before;
The father rightly interpreted the sign
Albertus' brain was troubled, for he knew
To hang dependent one upon the other,
That when one erred, the other straight should mourn,
When one did good, the other fall away;
And fear there was, if one should die in peace,
The other should receive extreme despair
In their chequered lives this alternation of good and evil occurs. As the one is visited with emotions of fraternal love, the other as surely is possessed with feelings of fratricidal hate. Their lives are ever in juxtaposition.
We have said enough to exhibit the prevailing qualities of "Ex Eremo," but notwithstanding its length we cannot refrain from extracting one of Mr. Keene's best poems. We hope the sentiments it unfolds are not rare amongst us :—
As on her faithful Edward's breast Emilia's head reclined,
O for the breeze so pure though chill, the sun, though weak, so kind,
We were not born for happiness in this stern world of toil,
We come now to the last of the works before us. For more than one reason, Miss Leslie's poems have stronger claims on our notice as Calcutta Reviewers than the others we have noticed. She has lived, we believe, from her childhood in India. She has had no opportunity of observing nature, save as it is presented to us in Bengal; she is besides a young writer, and we may therefore expect from her apparent love of "the gentle art," that her first appearance as an authoress will not be her last. The publication in Calcutta of a good-sized volume of poetry, which really proves that the writer is endowed with the "gift divine" and which gives promise of yet further progress in excellence, is of importance in the history of Anglo-Indian literature. We are prepared therefore to bid Miss Leslie welcome, and whilst we recognise her merits, we wish not to hide her defects.
A reviewer's task is never so responsible as when he takes in hand the first productions of a young poet. He may kill, as the Quarterly did Keats; he may envenom, as the Edinburgh did Byron; or he may mislead, as a somewhat extravagant Scottish critic now living is said to have misled half a dozen of our young English poets. It is perfectly natural that young writers should wish to know what opinions are formed of their productions; these productions constitute in their estimation a standard by which their reputation is to be judged: to them judicious advice may be of essential service, whilst on the other hand, indiscriminate laudation may confirm them in error, or undue severity may crush and blight minds of great worth and power.
"Ina" is a dramatic narrative, occupying two-thirds of the volume before us. Its perusal at once suggests the enquiry, is ability to conceive a skilful and elaborate plan an essential attribute of a poet? We reply in the negative; at the same time let us add that no one will be a poet of the first order, unless to perfection of detail in the composition of poetry he unite the
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,
Life is a white and silver basket, void
Take another extract on a different theme :
"Ay, and young children scarce believingly
Fort walls with ivy shall be mantled o'er,