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“ The rapt one of the godlike forehead,
The heaven-eyed creature, sleeps in earth ;
Has vanish'd from his lonely hearth.
“ Like clouds that rake the mountain-summit,
Or waves that own no curbing hand,
From sunshine to the sunless land!”
The early poetical pieces of Lamb were first published with Coleridge's; and it was Coleridge, he said, who first kindled in him, if not the power, yet the love, of poetry, and beauty, and kindliness. Poetry was gradually given up by them both. You,” said Lamb to his friend, now devoted to his philosophy, “now write no ‘Christabels' nor ' Ancient Mariners,' and I have dwindled into prose and criticism.” One of the most pleasing pieces in the small collection of Lamb's poems may illustrate both the depth and tenderness of his feelings and the peculiarity of his way of thought. The verses have the merit of giving currency to a very feeling phrase, -one of those happy combinations of words which poetry frequently incorporates into the language, serving to express some universal sentiment, and, therefore, soon acquiring the familiarity of a proverb. It cannot fail to be recognised, I think, as an expression of a feeling which has been experienced probably by every one who is now listening to me,—that painfully hollow sense of destitution when there comes across us the memory of faces familiar to some former period of life—that desolate craving after the departed,—the missing of something which had been a portion of our very selves. Several of the stanzas go on to mention the memory of what has been and never more will be, and in language as simple as possible,-just such words as the feeling would express itself in, finding natural utterance in earnest conversation; but, as it is dwelt on, suddenly the imagination expands, and, as the shadowy recollections of childhood-memories of the old familiar faces—throng around him, the living man, moved by a stronger sympathy with the past than with the present, -nearer of kin, as it were, to the dead than the living,-feels spectre-like visiting the scenes of his childhood, and, in the intensity of his loneliness, the earth becomes a very desert to him. The allusion in the latter part of the verses is to Coleridge:
“I have had playmates, I have had companions,
In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-days :
“ I have been laughing, I have been carousing,
Drinking late, sitting late, with my bosom cronies
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.
Like an ingrate I left my friend abruptly,–
Left him to muse on the old familiar faces !
Earth seem'd a desert I was bound to traverse,
Seeking to find the old familiar faces.
Why wert not thou born in my father's dwelling?
So might we talk of the old familiar faces !
And some are taken from me: all are departed :
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces ! ” There is another set of verses of Lamb's, which very gracefully and feelingly, and with admirable truth and a certain indescribable sort of playful pathos, express the emotion, not amounting to strong grief, occasioned by the death of one who had been pleasantly known, and the perplexity of mind in associating the lately living with the grave :
“ When maidens such as Hester die,
Their place ye may not well supply,
With vain endeavour.
Yet cannot I by force be led
And her together.
A rising step, did indicate
That flush'd her spirit.
I shall it call, if ’t was not pride ;
She did inherit.
Which doth the human feeling cool;
Nature had blest her.
“ A waking eye, a prying mind,
A heart that stirs, is hard to bind :
Ye could not Hester.
“My sprightly neighbour, gone before
Some summer morning ?
Hath struck a bliss upon the day,-
A sweet forewarning."
and criticism into which Lamb describes himself as having dwindled are those delightful essays which have given such a pleasant popularity to his assumed title of “Elia.” I know of no essay-writing comparable to them, so full are they of an inimitable blending of thoughtfulness and playfulness,-that half-serious, half-sportive habit of mind, far more agreeable than wit, described by our word,—without, I believe, any equivalent in other languages,-our English word, humour.
I pass now to a name of high worth in English literature,—the poetlaureate, Robert Southey. His life has been one of extraordinary literary industry, ,-a career of most honourable authorship, actuated by the most ardent impulses, and never lowered to the flattery of mean tastes or temporary fashions, but steadily devoted to the purpose of instructing, improving, and innocently pleasing his fellow-beings. I am not able to recall the name of any author who has accomplished so many, such varied, and such laborious literary plans. In prose he will be remembered as the historian of Brazil, of the Peninsular War, of the Church of England, as the biographer of Nelson, of Wesley, and of Cowper, and as the writer of various miscellaneous works and essays and translations. The excellence of his prose style is distinguished : such is its native purity and ease, that you may
after page with scarce a thought of the transparent veil of words interposed between your mind and his. But my present duty is with his poetry alone.
Three or four years ago Mr. Southey, at the age of sixty-three, undertook what he regarded as a kind of testamentary task,—the collecting, arranging, and editing his complete poetical works. The task has been well fulfilled, with becoming modesty and an equallybecoming manly spirit of self-assurance. More than forty years had passed over some of the early poems; and, with the memory of the distant days revived and the present thought of the approach of the
evening of his life, truly does he exclaim, “What is this task but to bring in review before me the dreams and aspirations of my youth, and the feelings whereto I had given that free utterance which by the usages of the world is permitted to us in poetry, and in poetry alone ? Well may
it be called a serious task thus to resuscitate the past. But, serious though it may be, it is not painful to one who knows that the end of his journey cannot be far distant, and by the blessing of God looks on its termination with sure and certain hope.” The honourable ambition of occupying a permanent place in the literature not only of his own country, but of all lands where the English language is spoken, could not fail to animate the breast of one whose gratitude was as deep as Southey’s to the wise and good of other ages who had bequeathed their recorded thoughts and inspirations. The strong and placid feelings of the true-hearted man of letters were never better told than by him :
• My days among the dead are past :
Around me I behold,
The mighty minds of old :
With whom I converse day by day.
And seek relief in woe ;
How much to them I owe,
I live in long-past years ;
Partake their hopes and fears,
My place with them will be ;
Through all futurity,
That will not perish in the dust.” That trust will not be frustrated: the name of Southey will not perish in the dust, whatever clouds may have gathered round the evening of his days. If his strength has departed from him, it has not been wasted by slothful neglect or by unworthy uses. A life of unwearied and unintermitted industry and of pure and honourable aim has been his; he has done a giant's work in his generation; and it is a very sad thing to think that now, when he has not quite reached the limit of his threescore years and ten, powers so well cultivated and so well employed should, by an inscrutable visitation, be impaired. I do not know of any piece of literary intelligence that has grieved me more than that the faculties of Southey's fine mind have been shattered.
“What sight can sorrow find
Sad as the ruins of the human mind?" The poetical fire inborn in Southey's heart began to make the motions of its first flames very early. Ardent in his feelings, and of a happy, buoyant temper, literary ambitions began very early to cross his mind. His passion for poetry happily took a fortunate and safe direction. At an age when it was thought the antiquated diction of the “Fairy Queen” must be unintelligible to him, he obtained a copy of that poem, on which his imagination at once fastened as most congenial ; and from that early day Spenser was the acknowledged master of his poetic life. The taste thus acquired was confirmed by the reading of Chaucer and Shakspeare and the old ballads, and the study of Homer and the Bible. He is well justified in adding, significantly, “It was not likely to be corrupted afterwards.”
Southey's poetic impulses were strong in childhood, and the quickness of his apprehensions raised high and flattering hopes of his success in life, as he tells us in the lines on his miniature-picture taken in very early life :
“They augur'd happily
Spirit of Spenser, was the wanderer wrong?” There is scattered throughout Southey's poetry much of that personal interest which is communicated when the poet employs his imagination to express his own individual thoughts and feelings, speaking in his own person, and not with the more purely-imaginative voice of his creations.