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Her description of a winter morning is extremely true.
“I love to rise ere gleams the tardy light,
Winter's pale dawn :---and as warm fires illume
Miss Seward's poetry is sometimes florid and affected, and a great deal more attention seems paid to the expression and the sound than to the sentiments. She was admired, however, as a poetess and esteemed as a friend by Darwin and Hayley, and even Sir Walter Scott and the learned Dr. Parr. Sir Egerton Brydges fancies that the hand of Darwin is to be traced in many of her early poems. I think not. She was too self-satisfied to receive such assistance. The querulous and passionate strain of her correspondence with Henry Hardinge, who occasionally ventured to suggest improvements in her verses and to differ with her on certain points of poetical criticism, shows that she was not easily led by the advice or influenced by the judgment of others. Darwin, in fact, is more indebted to her than she was to him, for he is known to have used some lines of her composition as the introduction to his " Botanic Garden," and that without any acknowledgment.
As to Miss Seward's posthumous letters, which in obedience to her last will were edited by Sir Walter Scott, they are certainly the most artificial compositions of the kind in the English language, though they are at the same time amongst the most amusing, on account of their poetical criticisms and their literary anecdotes.
Nothing, however, can be more ludicrous than her extravagant admiration of the circle of Lilliputian poets, by whom she was surrounded. I do not allude to Hayley and Darwin, for though now out of fashion they were really eminent men in their day; but to that little clan of versifiers whose very names are now forgotten, though their productions, according to Anna's friendly predictions, were to last with the language. It was because Hardinge would not admire these sprats of Helicon that she was so exasperated at what she called his want of candour. What most surprises us, in the midst of her violent eulogies, is the quickness and accuracy of her microscopic eye in picking out the minutest beauties of these small writers. It is true that she always exaggerates the value of her discoveries to a most unconscionable extent; but she exhibits at the same time the nicest judgment in selection. If a critic of the severest taste were compelled to praise the same writers, he would inevitably fix upon the same passages for commendation. This seems to show extreme partiality rather than a want of critical acumen. Many of her remarks upon Milton are exceedingly judicious, and she enthusiastically maintained his claim to be considered a richly harmonious poet, when it was the fashion to pronounce his versification harsh and unpleasing.
Miss Seward's success as a reader argues her possession of a great delicacy of ear and quickness of apprehension, for without these qualities it is impossible she could have recited Shakspeare and Milton with even tolerable effect. If her reputation as a reader was well founded, and there is no reason to doubt that it was so, we need not wonder at the earnest entreaties of her friends (which she mentions in her letters) for the repeated exercise of her talent for recitation ; for nothing is more delightful than to hear fine poetry delivered by a reader perfectly equal to the task.
It is assumed that poets, from their peculiar sensibility to the beauties of verse and their more intimate familiarity with its har. monies, are better readers of poetry than other men. This is generally the case, but not always. A man may write
harmoni. ous verses, and yet be quite unable to do them justice by an accurate and pleasing recitation. Goldsmith once remarked in company, that poets were more likely to read verses well than other men ; but when he was called on to illustrate his remark by his own performance, he repeated a stanza of a ballad with such false emphasis that he was condemned by all present.
Davies, in his life of Garrick, tells us, that when Glover read his Boadicca to the actors, his voice was so harsh, and his elocu. tion so disagreeable, that he disgusted his auditors. Garrick politely offered to read it for him ; but Glover declined the favour, and appeared to think that he acquitted himself extremely well*. Corneille, Dryden, Addison, Akenside and Thomson were wretched readers. Of the latter, Dr. Johnson remarks, that
among his peculiarities was a very unskilful and inarticulate manner of pronouncing any lofty or solemn composition. He
once reading to Doddington, who being himself a reader eminently elegant, was so much provoked by his odd utterance, that he snatched the paper from his hands, and told him
Garrick's own recitation, however, was not perfect, and Dr. Johnson used to tell him that he often mistook the einphatic word in a sentence.
There was a line in Hamlet, the emphases of which he entirely misunderstood :
I will speuk daggers, but use none. Which he read:
I will speak daggers, but use none. When Dr. Johnson requested him to read the Seventh Commandment, Garrick pronounced it, “ Thou shalt not commit adultery." " You are wrong," said the Doctor, “it is a negative precept, and ought to be pronounced, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.'” But Johnson himself was in error here, for the proper emphasis is : “ Thou shult not commit adultery;" for the command is not in opposition to a contrary command, which would have required the emphasis on the word not alone.
Dr. Taylor told Boswell another anecdote of Dr. Johnson's triumphing over his old pupil. Garrick and Giffard (also an actor) were called on to repeat the Ninth Commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” Both tried it and both mistook the emphasis, which Johnson explained was on the not and false witness. Sheridan in his Lectures on the Art of Reading places the emphasis wholly on the word false ; but neither he nor Johnson, I think, are quite right, because they both omit some emphases that are obviously required. Besides the emphasis on the word not, there should be an equal emphasis on the words shalt not and false witness : Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. There is no direct opposition understood that would require an exclusive emphasis on not or fulse. Such an emphasis would not be less absurd than an emphasis on the word no in the Sixth Commandment : “Thou shalt commit no murder," instead of “ Thou shalt commit no murder.”
that he did not understand bis own verses.” Dr. Johnson him. self was an indifferent reader. His recitation is said to have been at once monotonous and violent. We learn from Miss Seward that Walter Scott's reading was cqually imperfect* : though Scott has praised hers very handsomely. “ The tone of her voice,” he says, was melodious, guided by excellent taste, and well suited to reading and recitation, in which she willingly exercised it.” Southey also speaks in high terms of her mode of reading She tells Cary (the Translator of Dante) that he is almost the only poet she is acquainted with whose reading is entirely just to his Muse.
Byron is said to have read with feeling, but to have had a “ Northumbrian burr in his speech.” Campbell reads very like a Methodist parson. His matter, and the choice of his expressions, in a formal speech, are always worthy of the poet and the patriot ; but his manner is a sad disappointment to his admirers. Those who are familiar with him as a poet, and have felt the magic of his fine eye and his sweet though somewhat restrained smile, could not easily conceive that he would injure the effect of noble sentiments by such an extremely disagreeable delivery.
Amongst the clergy of the Church of England there are many correct and impressive readers of the Scriptures; but when they descend from the pulpit they are too apt to bring its atmosphere along with them, and to turn a poem into a sermon. The Dissenters also, notwithstanding the many eloquent men amongst them, are generally still greater sinners in this respect, and in the most cheerful drawing-room make us fancy ourselves in a conventicle. There is a monotonous whine in their recitation of poetry that is perfectly intolerable. They regularly raise the voice
Lockhart gives a very different account of Scott's mode of reading.
* He read aloud high poetry with far greater simplicity, depth and effect than any other man I ever heard; and in Macbeth or Julius Cæsar, or the like, I doubt if Kemble could have been more impressive.”- Lockhurt's Life of Scott.
at the beginning of every line, and drop it into inaudible whispers at the close.
There are perhaps a greater number of good readers amongst actors than in any other profession. Mrs. Siddons used to be in. vited to read Shakspeare at Court*. Perhaps histrionic orators do not read other kinds of poetry so well as they read the Drama. They are too much inclined to act. Quin, however, was exception. He is said to have read Milton with " marvellous propriety.” Joseph Fawcett also was a beautiful general reader. Hazlitt tells us that his repeating some parts of Comus with his fine, deep, mellow-toned voice, particularly the lines, I have oft heard my mother Circe, with the Syrens three,” &c. and the enthusiatic comments he made afterwards, were a treat to the ear and to the soul. Henderson was a splendid reader; according to the testimony of Boaden his reading was superior to that of Kemble or Mrs. Siddons.
A good reader may even blind us to the faults of an author by the charm of his delivery. Spence, on the authority of Richardson, tells us that “ Mr. Hooke read some speeches of his Roman History to the Speaker Onslow (who piqued himself upon his own reading), and begged him to give his opinion of the work : the Speaker answered in a passion, he could not tell what to think of it; it might be nonsense for aught he knew ; for that his manner of reading had bewitched him.”
• After Mrs. Siddons had retired from the stage, she gave public readings of poetry at the Argyle Rooms in London. It was observed that her reading of Shakspeare was far more effective than her reading of Milton. Mr. Campbell attributes this to the supposed circumstance that the poetry of Milton is too spiritual to be susceptible of any improvement from elocution. I confess that I do not agree with him. The glorious music of Milton must be doubly delight. ful when worthily expressed by that divinest of all instruments-the human voice. In the case of Mrs. Siddons, we are to recollect that that Queen of Ac. tresses was on her own strong ground in dramatic poetry, and that the sympathies and associations of the audience were naturally most at her command, when she was uttering the words of Shakspeare.