« AnteriorContinuar »
* In Praise of Virgil,"
BY ALFRED TENNYSON.
THE last of the Laureates—thus far—who has followed Wordsworth in restoring dignity to an office which in itself has no dignity, contributes to the September number of the Nineteenth Century, a poem written at the request of the Mantuans to celebrate the nineteenth centenary of Virgil's death.
Fifty years have passed since Tennyson's first-signed volume, “Poems, chiefly lyrical,” was given to the world in a little book of 150 pages. In these fifty years he has gained such a hold on the lovers of poetry in England as perhaps no other poet has enjoyed during his lifetime. Byron's great repute seemed the fashion of an hour; and had he lived out all the length of his days he would have seen it wane, though now it is slightly reviving: It was left for later ages, and for posterity, to recognise Chaucer and Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton. Scott's poetical renown was merged in his fame as a novelist: Keats and Shelley did not live to wear their laurels. Only Wordsworth and Tennyson seem to have had the great good fortune of watching their own renown grow and culminate through the space of half a century.
The poem to Virgil is worthy of Mr. Tennyson, and seems to us to possess more of the elements of a sound and wide popularity than any of the recent shorter products of his genius.
In spite of Macaulay's opinion to the contrary, no doubt poets are the born critics of poetry. Who can understand aright the promptings of the poet's soul but he who has himself experienced them? Who else can follow instinctively the creative movement of his hands, his swift and rare intuitions of the laws of that perfect union of thought and language and passion of which the poet's words are the sensible embodiment ? We rejoice, too, that our titular poet king has sung of the greatest Roman epic poet, because there is a danger among the representatives of English thought to-day of falling a little too readily under the influence of the Greek in preference to the Roman mind. Matthew Arnold, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and William Morris, owe much of their charm as poets to their full enjoyment of Greek literature. An extreme in either direction is bad, though it is far better to show an admiration for the fresh fancy of the Greeks, with depths of thought under its quick variety, than to offer blind worship to the Latins who wrote in or near the time of Augustus. Young Pope's
“Immortal Vida: on whose honour'd brow
The poet's bays and critic's ivy grow,” did not hesitate to place Virgil above Homer. “See,” he said, or Christopher Pitt said after him, in translation of his Latin verse
“ See how the Grecian bards, at distance thrown,
With rov'rence bow to this distinguished son.” Vocemque animumque Deo similis,” says Vida,“ He thought and spoke in every word a god.” At any rate Virgil has in our day lost his divine honours. The finest English Virgil scholar of our century, the
“IN PRAISE OF VIRGIL.” 15
late Professor Conington translated him, ten or twelve years ago, into what Scott called the “light horseman kind of measure” of the Lay of the Last Minstrel; a sort of rhyme that would have made an eighteenth century scholar's hair stand on end if his head had not been shaved to give the wig close fitting dignity. No doubt the great beauty of Virgil's style lies in the haunting music of his verse, in the rhythm and fall of his language. Mr. Tennyson seems to have caught this charm of expression when he writes:— “Roman, Virgil, thou that singest Ilion's lofty temples robed in fire;
Ilion falling, Rome arising,
Landscape lover, lord of language,
All the chosen coin of fancy
Thou that singest wheat and woodland,
Often flowering in a lonely word. . * + . + +
Thou that seest universal
Thou majestic in thy sadness
We may truly say of Tennyson himself that he, too, flashes out in many a golden phrase, and his charm is often seen in a lonely word. Take those lines in “the Princess” for example of many others which might be quoted, where he speaks of “Scraps of thundrous Epic lilted out By violet-hooded Doctors, elegies And quoted odes, and jewels five words long That on the stretch'd forefinger of all Time Sparkle for ever.”
Tennyson is nothing if he is not artistic; and we may truly say that one cause of his popularity lies in his magnificent word-painting. Passages like the one above quoted are treasured up as zealously in our minds as are the sweetly thoughtful words of Shakespeare, or the sprightly elegance of L'Allegro :— “married to immortal verse Such as the meeting soul may pierce
In notes, with many a winding bout
The last stanza of “the poem to Virgil” expresses genuine admiration from one who is in the fullest ripeness of his power:“I salute thee, Mantovano; I, that loved thee since my days began;
Wielder of the stateliest measure
We say no more lest, as Tennyson says in “The Sisters,”
“The critic's blurring comment make
ALFRED H. MooRE.
“MAKE haste with that biography,” wrote a publisher some years ago, to a literary man. “It must be out within the next three weeks, or it'll be of no use. The world soon forgets its heroes, and buries even its greatest men out of sight with fearful haste.”
Yet in this memoir of DANIEL MACMILLAN, by Thomas Hughes, we have the story of a man who has been in his grave twenty-five years. Confessedly that is not an every day occurrence. You might count on your fingers the biographies of men who lived twenty or twenty-five years ago that are still read for the sake of any permanent interest they contain, or any help they afford in the keen and eager life of to-day. Many men died in 1857, and many have left us since. It was the year of the tragic Indian Mutiny. Sir Henry Barnard, Hugh Wheeler, Mr. Colvin, and Mr. Croker, and many others, passed over to the majority in that year, but not one of them arrests, even for a moment, the attention of the busy and throbbing young manhood of this hour. “All flesh is as grass: and all the glory thereof as the flower of the grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth. Werily the people are grass.”
Why is it, then, that this long since faded flower is picked up, baptized in the waters of living human sympathy, and set in our midst to give out its fragrance as in the days of its summer luxuriance 2 Wherefore does the diver recover this shining pearl from the oblivious past? Is it haphazard that presides over and secures this issue? Is it that a diver of more than ordinary daring has appeared and brought up this treasure ?
No doubt much credit is due to the vigour and ability, clear vision, wise arrangement, and forcible style of the famous author of “Tom Brown's School-days”; but it is not the skill of the biographer that is the living charm and fascination of this memoir, and that gives its subject a fresh opportunity of pursuing his chosen task, and advancing his ideal of life 1 No; it is the Man who allures the story teller, and holds his listenors. The magnetisim is in him; and his resurrection is the result of the splendid purpose, noble courage, and high spiritual vitality of his brief career.
What, then, is this man What the qualities of his character 7 What the excellence of his work 2 Is he a being of preternatural powers of mind or body ? No; he is a life-long invalid; a fighter, always a fighter with disease; not possessed of any phenomenal force of reasoning, of the artist's eye, or the poet's fancy, or the prophet's inspiration. Is it from his position in life he draws the strength that perpetuates his life and renews his lease of work? No! He is a peasant, born in a peasant's home, reared with the narrow means of a peasant's cupboard, and started out in the world with the scant stock of a peasant's treasure. His father was godly, devout, DANIEL MACMILLAN, THE PUBLISHER. 17
* DANIEL MACMILLAN, Publisher. A Memoir by Thomas Hughes.—Macmillan and Co.
and hardworking, caring for nothing but the welfare of his family and the glory of God; a Celt, strong in conscience and in faith and reverence; but so weak in body that he dies before Daniel is ten years old. The mother, according to Daniel, “is the most perfect lady in all Scotland.” Fine prophecy that of the lad's futurel Robertson says, “the rocks on which men split are—God and woman.” Let a man profoundly love and reverence his mother, and he is not likely to split on either. Daniel Macmillan felt his mother's presence an all protecting atmosphere, and her strong, quiet, but deeply religious nature a perennial inspiration.
But his father is dead, and he must go to work; and he is, therefore, put apprentice, and for seven years he is receiving his drill for life in the business of Maxwell Dick, bookseller and bookbinder, in Irvine; receiving for his wage one shilling and sixpence a week for the first year, and a “rise” of one shilling for each of the remaining six years. In Glasgow, first, and then in what Professor Seeley calls the first University of the World, our metropolis, his business education is further developed, during the period that he, as he told Archdeacon Hare, “is only one of the clerk species”—a shopman—a man who knows all about the backs of books, and some little about their insides. His “position,” in starting life, thus merely gave him the opportunity to work, and by work to fit himself for making the best and most of any fortunate “offers” the days might bring him. Position, in short, was little or nothing. He, the man, was all and in all.
The secret was here. All through his life, with its painful difficulties and severe trials, Daniel Macmillan's soul was in his work. He loved books as well as sold them; and belonged in spirit and achievement to the great publishing Confessors—and is worthy to take his stand in the same rank as Frederic Perthes, Charles Knight, and their intelligent and fine-spirited comrades. Carlyle visited Arnold at Rugby a little before his death, and the Chelsea seer said of the historian of Rome and model for teachers, “Arnold is a hero of a school-master; knows his work, and does it.” So Daniel Macmillan was a hero of a bookseller and publisher. He knew his work and did it; did it in the face of the most pathetic difficulties; did it with a stout heart and a grand aim; did it with a living faith in the loving God, and a generous and sympathetic interest in his brothers: and doing it thus it was in itself a daily reward to him, and so became to those who followed him, and to the Englishspeaking world at large, a lasting good.
The spirit of the youth and of the man is clearly expressed in these words, “We may attain all the excellence of which humanity is capable while, doing the simplest daily duties. The great thing is to feel that God has placed us at our several posts, and resolve to do the duty that lies nearest us. Thus shall we gather strength. His heart was not in his till, but in the excellence of his work; and in its double effect, as an intellectual and spiritual agent, on himself and on the world.
Young men, get this book; read it again and again. Fill your mind with its ideas; fill your work with its spirit; fill your heart with the love of God and of human duty and human good it everywhere breathes.
JoHN CLIFFORD. 2
Twelbe Talks with our Girls.
No. I.-ON DISCONTENT.
ONE evening, long ago, my niece Ethel, and I were sitting together, when suddenly, after a long silence, Ethel said, “ Aunt May, is it wrong to be discontented ?"
Now I knew what answer the child expected; therefore, as I enjoy giving some people a surprise, I replied cheerfully, “Not at all, Ethel. I never knew a contented man or woman yet who was worth anything.” Ethel sat bolt upright, and opened her eyes very wide, as I continued, “Paul was one of the most discontented men-discontented with himself—for that is the only healthy kind of discontent. Do you remember how he says, 'I press toward the mark'— not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect— Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended.' These words breathe a noble discontent with his own character and attainments,-a discontent which led him to seek something higher and better. Was that what you were thinking of little one ?"
Ethel blushed, and spoke in a lower tone, as she replied, “No, auntie ; I meant this: Can we help, sometimes, being dissatisfied with our circumstances ? May we not wish that our lives were different from what they are ? Is there any harm in that ?”
“Three questions at a time, Ethel ! I will try to answer them, nevertheless. To begin with number two. Every one, I suppose, at some time or other, has wished that circumstances were other than what they are. I can see no harm in that, provided that wishing does not lead to discontent with actual realities. This is a danger which besets girls, perhaps more than boys. Girls are less practical, and more addicted to castle-building, so that they often grow into the habit of living in an ideal world, peopled with imaginary beings of whom they have read in novels. They do not find the real world around them correspond at all to their ideal, and so become dissatisfied with life.”
“But, aunt,” interposed Ethel, “ I'm sure I don't live in an ideal world. I know a girl who does, though. She does everything just as if she were in a dream; gets through it anyhow, and never seems to think of anything but how to finish as quickly as possible. It is just here, auntie; I can't help thinking, sometimes, when I have spent the whole day in household work, 'Could I not do something better? Am I not wasting in sewing, baking, and ironing, the strength and energy that might be employed in some higher work?”
“Now, Ethel, we are coming to the root of the matter. Here is the grand mistake which so many people make. Do you not see that in all these little details of household drudgery (if you choose to call it so) you minister to the comfort of others, and therefore, serve God in serving your family? If you only remember this, how differently you will look upon your daily work. If you do every service cheerfully and earnestly you are continually following in His footsteps, who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. We read much, now-a-days, of woman's sphere and woman's work. Depend upon it, woman's kingdom, in most cases, is home. There she is the undisputed queen, and there she may do