Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

And from thy voice,- if music to my heart
Could healing bring,—the heavenly charm might flow:
But all within me now is dark and dread;
Mine eye in beauty findeth no delight,
Nor in sweet sounds mine ear: the bloody field,
Shouts, groans, and sights of pain, and ghastly death,
Torture my soul,--and comfort quite shut out:
And, for the days to come,-o'er them hangs night
With shapes of terror filled, that from the gloom
Look out and threaten. Leave me then alone ;
Music, nor soft discourse, for me hath charms,
But silence only, and this solitude.
Go thou unto thy couch,-and visions bright

To happier scenes thy gentle spirit bear.”—pp. 7–9. The King consults an astrologer, whose obscure answers afford no satisfaction to his soul. The entreaties of the fair Azubah, and the counsel of his minister, the prudent Salamenes, induce him to offer to, what he calls, the rebellious armies, time to bury the slain, and also an amnesty if they would submit to his authority, and surrender into his hands, alive or dead, Arbaces and the priest Belesis. The royal messenger, Nebaioth, appears before the Median chieftains, who had already debated in the old Homeric way upon a variety of plans for peace or war. Upon proclaiming to the assembled hosts the proposals with which he was charged, he was received with tumultuous expressions of the fiercest anger. Mr. Atherstone has, we think, been particularly successful in depicting the effect which the words of the herald produced upon the three hundred thousand warriors by whom he was surrounded.

As when, at sultry noon, the thunderous clouds,
Dark, motionless, and silent, threatening hang,-
No wind is felt, and not a sound is heard,
If then th' etherial bolt, with sudden glance,
The black mass fire,-out roars the awful peal,-
Cloud calls to cloud,-air quivers, and earth shakes,-
Even so,-dark lowering, with amazement mute,
His vehement words to hear, the inultitude
Stood motionless,-even so at once out burst
On that dead stillness the tremendous shout.
A thousand swords leaped forth,—ten thousand tongues,
With dreadful accents, for the Assyrian's blood
Called out. Like waters that their mounds have burst,
In rushed the vengeful throng. Nebaioth saw,-
He thought death coming,—and was proud to die :
His left arm stretching forth, to heaven he looked,
And, with a smile, invited them to strike.

But,—as when loudest roars the hurricane,
When pines bow down, and stubborn oaks are rent,
With yet a louder voice the thunder god
From the opening cloud doth call, -- so, o'er the din
Of furious myriads, the tremendous shout

Rose of Arbaces. With the speed of thought,
Behind Nebaioth leaping,-his huge shield,
To guard him, he thrust forth, and, with raised sword,
Death threatened on the dastard who dared strike.
Belesis too, and Abdolonimus,
And every captain,-from their leader's eye
The generous fervour catching called aloud,
And bade the soldiers back. Wild hubbub reigned.
Like ravencus wolves, whom from their slaughtered prey
The lion drives,—so raged the frantic host.
But the terrific weapon of their chief
To tempt none ventured; and his angry voice
Into their hearts struck terror. When, at length,
The storm was sinking, --in the sheath his sword
Arbaces thrust,--and to the heralds said :
“ Proclaim ye silence now, that all may hear:
And, when there shall be stillness, take ye then
The herald of the king,—and unto all
Let him this thing make known ; and let no man
His hand uplift to harm him,-for, if God
In this great enterprise do lead us on,
What arm can touch us? Surely a great shame
Had fallen upon us had this blood been shed.”

Then, as he bade, the heralds made proclaim :
And, when the noise was hushed, and, with loud voice,
The herald of the king through all the host
His mission had made known,—then thus again
Arbaces, to Nebaioth turning, spake :
What thou hast seen and leard, that to the king
Tell faithfully,-so shall our trust in Heaven,
And in ourselves, to all be manifest;
And, of his strength, and ours, in juster scales
He may the issue weigh. But he is proud,
Fierce, headlong, boastful,-nor will wisdom learn,
Nor charity, nor justice, but more deep
In guilt and foolishness, headlong will rush,
And in the foul food perish! On his head
The bloody price might we not also put ?
That bid him ponder. For thyself, one word
Of counsel lastly hear. With speech o'erbold,
Twice our impetuous soldiers hast thou chafed ;-
The third time tempt them not, lest not, as now,
Unharmed thou leave us; and, even now, with haste
I warn thee, go, -for, like to lions caged,
Fiercely they glare upon thee.”

Speaking thus,-
Nor time for answer leaving,—toward his horse
He led Nebaioth; and two heralds charged
Untouched from out the press to lead him forth :
Then with Belesis and the Arabian king
Briefly conferred ; and to the captains cried.

66 Gather ye now your squadrons in array
Of battle,-lest, at our bold words incensed,
Even though the day decline, the furious king
May rush upon us." At his word outspake
The signal trumpets,—and the standards high

Were lifted,—and for combat all prepared.'-pp. 51-54. There is, perhaps, a tinge of Mr. Atherstone's early disposition to bombast, to be traced by nice criticism through these lines; but it cannot be questioned that they exhibit the possession of no inconsiderable poetic power.

Sardanapalus, who, with his ten hundred thousand fighting men, -a tolerably good number by the way, considering the statistics of Assyria, anno mundi 3200, or thereabouts,—was encamped beyond the walls of Nineveh, receives the answer of the rebel hosts with fury, and both armies burn for the contest. Morning rises, and the din of preparation is heard in either camp. The march of the Assyrian host in advance upon the enemy is gorgeously described. On the other side the Medes hold to their ground in firm array, and preliminaries being arranged, Arbaces obtains an interview with the king. We hardly know of what politics we are at present, for there is such a singular determination in this ministry of ours to trample down the banners of every party, and to act for the public good alone, that we should not be surprised if they would sometimes side with the radicals, sometimes with the Tories, sometimes with the Whigs. Had we lived in the days of Sardanapalus, however, which we bless the stars was not the case, as we should not then have had the felicity of reviewing this poem, we should, undoubtedly, have been in the rebellious camp of Arbaces. He was a noble, brave, considerate warrior, a capital fellow for leading a host of insurgents. There is nothing very new in the idea of his attempting alone to confer with the king, with the view of averting further hostilities. But the reader will, perhaps, admit that it is worth his while to look at the glowing and picturesque verses in which Mr. Athersone relates this parley.

Meantime,
The corning of their enemy renowned
Through all th' Assyrian squadrons was made known:
And death the doom proclaimed on him whose hand
Against him should be lifted. Every eye
For his approach was greedy,—so his deeds
Had made him glorious,—every tongue was mute.
Upon a gentle mound, o'er all the plain
Conspicuous, in his chariot sat the king:
His nobles and chief captains, on their spears
Leaning, stood nigh, and o'er the plain looked out:
Nor long awaited. Soon a glittering car
Outshooting from the hostile ranks was seen.
Like to a meteor o'er a swampy vale,
Swiftly and smoothly gliding, on it burned.

A hum of expectation through the host,
As it drew near, arose ; and every eye
To view the heroic Mede strained anxiously.
Him to conduct, th' attendant heralds then
Went forth ; and, as they went, their trumpets blew.
Arrived,—from out his car Arbaces leaped ;
And through the gazing ranks,with steadfast brow,
And lightning eye, to this side and to that
Alternate glancing,—walked. In his right hand
A ponderous lance he bore ; his golden shield
Behind him hung; his sword was on his thigh.
Mighty and dreadless as a battle-god,
To every eye he seemed : his ardent face,
On the beholder turned, like fire shone out,-
Fearfully beautiful. From far beheld,
Above the glittering ranks his snow-white plume,
Like some sea bird upon the sparkling waves,
Majestically sailed. Him, drawing nigh,
The king beheld; and in his bosom felt
Envy, and admiration,-not with awe
Mysterious quite unmixed, though unavowed,
And instantly shook off. To anger next,
And fierce disdain, his haughty heart awoke,
As, in his presence now, all unabashed,
With look imperial the lofty Mede
To him, as to an equal, proudly bowed ;
And to his chiefs not less,— with rapid eye

Glancing on all.'—pp. 70–72. Among the faults of versification which we have to charge against Mr. Atherstone, we apprehend he must himself acknowledge that his accentuation is often very peculiar. If he be a Scotchman he may, perhaps, plead his privilege to pronounce English words in any outlandish way that may best suit the conformation of his organs of speech. In the passage just quoted, there is only one instance of the licence which he claims in this respect :

With look imperial the lofty Mede. Here, in order to make out the metre, we must pronounce “ imperial” imperial, dividing into four syllables a word 'which, at this side of the Grampians, is usually pronounced as if it consisted only of three. “Vehemently” is also sometimes to be read with the accent on the second syllable, to suit Mr. Atherstone's taste in elocution; and, above all things, our dialectician seems to think it a great beauty in writing to terminate his lines not only with an adverb, but very frequently with one favourite adverb, which is neither more nor less than that horrid word utterly." We have not taken the trouble to count the number of lines which are thus musically ended; but we guess that they are not many under a hundred in the seven books now before us.

In most of his battle scenes, we regret to say, Mr. Atherstone appears to us to have failed. They are indistinct, monotonous, and feeble imitations of Homer's general or personal combats ; they evince no trace of that genius for which, in other parts of his poem, we are inclined to give Mr. Atherstone credit. For what purpose, except as convenient occupiers of the metre, he has introduced such names as Jerimoth, Menahem, Rabsaris, Nehushta, and, above all, Jehoshaphat, we are at a loss to conjecture. It is amusing to observe how often the first and last of these melodious sounds come together.

““ Haste ! turn your steeds, upon Jehoshaphat

Drive,-and shout out aloud, that Jerimoth
May hear us, and turn back.” '-p. 85.

at alem, Rabe metresit,

• By fiery Jerimoth,
And fierce Jehoshaphat, unequal pressed.'—p. 87

• Him,-'gainst Jehoshaphat and Jerimoth

Hasting—Arbaces called.'—p. 89. In short, Tom and Jerry were not more inseparable companions than Jehos-haphat and Jerry Moth, although at opposite sides in the combat. If we could get over the ludicrous associations of his name, we might, however, admire his heroism. He is the Tancred of the war, as the following scene, closely imitated from Tasso, will shew:

But Jerimoth, the while,-
Though long the fire of battle raged around, --
As in a deep sleep lay; nor, when to sense
Slowly returning, did he well as yet
The fight remember: a faint sound of wheels
Rushing,-a tramp of steeds was in his ear:
And in his brain disjointed images,
Like clouds first forming in a vacant sky,
Gathered, and grew to shape :—a strife of hosts
He saw,-chariots, and horsemen,-fight, pursuit,-
Victors, and vanquished,—and he inly said,
“ It is a dream.” But on his face the air
Blew freshening; and his thoughts, though dimly yet,
Brought back the past; and then again he said,
“ Yet no! I dream not,-feel I not the shaft
Still rankling in me?” Musing thus, his eyes
He opened,-and the darkness passed away.
Within Meshullam's arms he found himself,-
And in his chariot borne. His feeble head
From the steel pillow raising, wildly then
Around he looked,-and, far behind him, saw
The battle's stormy ocean,-and, before,
The imperial city. With faint utterance then,
To turn the steeds he cried, and instantly
The battle seek again : but from his mouth,

« ZurückWeiter »