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coming. If the sun had not risen, the day was dawning. Beattie, Blair, and Gray belong to the same class. And Crabbe's earliest publication must be placed in the same rank, although, from his subsequent writings, after long pause, he stands, in point of time, and also of merit, among the poets of the present day. So, most decidedly, does Cowper, though he wrote in the last century. His writings are far in advance of those of his cotemporaries, and mix naturally with those of persons some of whom were only children when he died. If, in regard to the time of authorship, he must be considered as belonging to the transition school, in regard to the character of his productions he may be said to have rendered the transition complete. All who came after him belonged evidently to a new order.
The characteristics of this new order we shall have the opportunity of showing, when we consider, separately, the members who belong to it. But what we again call the transition school, should never be overlooked by the student of English poetry. However general were painful elaboration, coldness, and what we may turn theatrical, to distinguish it from natural, poetry, (we do not refer, in using the phrase, to dramatic composition, but to what is affected in opposition to what is genuine, there were yet writers, whose names could never be omitted from the list of national poets without gross injustice. Their faults they inherited from those who preceded them: their merits were their own. In some instances those merits were great, and exerted a strong influence on their successors.
That illustration and example may not be altogether absent from the present paper, we will add a few remarks on a writer who has left us only one piece, and that, one of very unequal merits. We now speak of Blair, the author of “The Grave;”a production well known to the readers of religious poetry. Sentiment may be correct, though expressed very unpoetically. That which is true and important will so occupy the attention, that what, under another aspect, is deficient, will be overlooked. Prosaic truth and virtue are incomparably better than poetical falsehood and vice.
Blair's biography comprises little more than the usual references to dates, circumstances, and character. He was born in Scotland in 1699 ; ordained a Clergyman in 1731 ; and died fifteen years afterwards, aged only forty-seven. He is represented as a truly pious man, devoting his whole attention to the duties of his profession. Indeed, the greater part of the “Grave,” though so short a poem, was written before his ordination. He was personally acquainted with Col. Gardiner, and corresponded with Dr. Watts, and Dr. Doddridge. To Dr. Watts his poem was shown before publication. It was first printed at London, in 1743.
The chief character of Blair's versification is its strength. He wrote as he thought and felt; and provided he gave adequate expression to his mental conceptions, he was sometimes careless in regard to their form. His vigour is sometimes rough; and sometimes the thought was so plain and commonplace, that his language is below the usual dignity of verse, and becomes even tame. His delineation, however, is often powerful. Appearances, thoughts, feelings, he describes with accuracy and boldness. His imagery is frequently minute, but seldom fails to be correct. Along with the principal object of his pictures there will be particular adjuncts, perhaps in themselves ordinary, but which, apparently without management, but naturally, are so arranged as to form harmonious parts of the whole, and to heighten the general effect, as well as contribute to produce it. He evidently did not so much think what, supposing he had to write upon such a subject, he ought to say, as, how the subject, already strongly conceived by his mind, and steadily placed before him in mental vision, might be so transferred to his paper, as that, when read, the mind of the reader might be brought into the same state. His poetry is natural, not theatrical. Even when least poetical, he is always natural and serious. They who read only for the sake of the poetry, will often find something to fix their attention : they who read for the usual effect of the composition, will never be disappointed. Dr. Johnson said of the poetry of Dr. Watts, that youth and ignorance might safely be pleased with it. We may not only say as much of Blair's, but add that such ignorance as Johnson meant, that is, ignorance, not absolute, but in relation to literature, will be sure to be pleased with it. Nor is this low praise. It will be long before this class ceases to be large; and why should they not have a poetry which, without being vulgar, bombastic, and calculated to keep their taste as low as it found it, shall meet and gratify their almost undeveloped poetical feeling, and at the same time profit them in subjects of the highest importance? Wherever there is religion, there is mental activity, though it may not have been applied to literary subjects ; and where there is mental activity which religion stimulates, the view of poetry natural to man will be laid bare. Religion is always found connected with a love of poetry, even where the judgment has had little instruction, and the taste no cultivation. In Blair, even where there is least poetry, there is always sense and piety; and where there is most, sense and piety are still present.
Our quotations cannot be numerous; but we will give the opening passage entire, as it illustrates the character of the whole composition, both in its excellencies and defects.
“ Whilst some affect the sun, and some the shade,
Here is quite a picture, in which the rugged plainness of the object seems transferred to the verse. Still, a picture it is; and if not actually drawn from nature, every reader will see that it might have been. Of such objects he can easily form a conception. He speaks of the old churches,
“Quite round the pile, a row of reverend elms,
Coeval near with that, all ragged show,
That scarce two crows could lodge in the same tree." Everybody, almost, knows the lines about the school-boy running through the churchyard at night, “whistling aloud to keep his courage up,” and starting off at some fancied noise. The passage, also, about “the man at ease in his possessions," when seized by death. This last is one of the most nervous pieces in English poetry, and often is heard from the pulpit. The comparison of death to the “ staunch murderer, steady to his purpose,” is as vigorously expressed as it is strongly conceived. It is almost too literal. The reader is terrified, even to shuddering; and the effect is increased by the boldness of the language, bordering on carelessness. The writer seems to have had no time for weighing his words, but pours them rapidly forth just as they occurred.
We impose no difficult task on our readers in sending them to a work so easy of access, and withal so short, as Blair's “Grave.” They have, we doubt not, read it more than once. After these remarks, let them give it another, and an attentive, perusal. They will soon find instances both of beauties and defects. The best of Blair is, that such are his subjects, and such his manner of treating them, that the composition, if read seriously, even if it should not much interest the critic, will profit the Christian.
CHRONICLES OF THE KINGS OF NORWAY. [How true is it that sin, in mankind, is “the work of the devil'” He was a murderer from the beginning. His spirit is a spirit of strife and hatred. No sooner had he set up his usurped dominion in the world, than the first-born of mankind was animated with hatred to his own brother, and the first
murder was fratricide. Common as war has been, the moment we reflect on it, or, as the French say, envisage it, set it before us,-look in its face, so as to see what it is, its awful, terrible horrors become apparent. Nothing proves the fall of man more completely than the passion for war; for bloodshed and destruction. Our own language, at least, is expressive of the natural indignation felt at that which itself is natural. The two natures thus are seen in opposition to each other. Man instinctively condemns that, which, stimulated into the activity of his whole heart, he instinctively does. Man, wandering, and untaught, we call savage man,—man in a state of savagism. And to cruel man we give the same name, saying that he is savage. To his wrath we give the same name that we do to the condition of nature. He is taught to be merciful ; untaught he is cruel. He shows his strength by bearing cruelty ; his courage by inflicting it. Even when they had begun to emerge from their savage state, our ancestors brought much of their old savagism with them. And even in our days of boasted civilization, how much of the savage remains! Look at the massacres of the French Revolution. Look at the blood-soaked battle-fields of Europe for some twenty years before the peace. Are the lines of the Christian poet too strong ?
“Where men like fiends each other tear,
In all the hellish rage of war." Do we thank God for civilization? Yes, when guided by Christianity. That, and that alone, can fully deliver man from savagism, can make him meek and benevolent, instead of being fiery, proud, wrathful, and ferocious.
How graphically does the chronicler describe the savages of the north! What a horrible picture does he set before us! Men—brethren to their conquerors-sitting bound on a log of wood, while some savagissimus, some captain-savage, cuts them down in cold blood. Cold blood ? Sin seems to make hot blood the natural temperature. Missionary Collectors, see an additional reason for your zeal. Pray, and act consistently with the prayer :
“ Prince of universal peace,
Destroy the enmity;