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The charm that crowns the matchless
Proportion, which the art can give
How spirit animates each feature
'Tis on that nether lip, and now
Come forth, Euphrosyne! I see
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FOR FEBRUARY, 1811.
FROM THE MONTHLY REVIEW.
The Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham, and late of St. John's College, Cambridge; with an Account of his Life. By Robert Southey. 4th Edition, corrected. 2 vols. 12mo. 14s. Boards. 1808.
IN the Temple of Fame, as in the Elysium of Virgil, a peculiar region ought to be consecrated to the victims of a premature destiny. Perhaps, indeed, our commiseration for the infantum anima who are snatched from the world in limine primo, and are deprived of an existence of which they can scarcely be said to have been ever conscious, "QUOS DULCIS VITÆ EXORTES, & ab ubere raptos Abstulit atra dies, & funere mersit
however congenial to the feelings of our nature, is in itself unreasonable: while it is impossible to conceive any thing more melancholy than the early dissolution of him who has lived just long enough to feel within him the highest intellectual endowments, and a full conviction that a prolonged life could alone be want ing to his attainment of a permanent and honourable reputation. The interesting subject of the volumes before us has bequeathed to us the most unquestionable proofs, not only of rare powers of mind, but of a disposition so gentle, amiable, beneVOL. V.
volent, and pious, that our regret for the loss of these talents and qualities is enhanced by the persuasion that they would have been zealously employed in promoting the happiness, the virtue, and all the best interests of his fellow-creatures.
He was born in 1785, at Nottingham. His father, by trade a butcher, designed to bring him up to his own business, but was dissuaded from this intention by his mother, who quickly discovered, and carefully cultivated, the talents of her remarkable offspring. From his earliest years, he was a most persevering and ambitious student; and, though not so perfectly regular in his school exercises as to gain the favour of all his instructers, his desultory leisure was devoted to the acquisition of richer and more diversified stores of learning and science, than many reach by constant attention during a life devoted to study. At the age of seventeen, he was placed, as a clerk, in the office of Messrs. Coldham and Enfield, attornies at Nottingham, and town-clerks to the corporation; the latter, we believe, the son of the late ingenious and amia
ble Dr. Enfield. The indulgence of these humane and judicious masters still allowed him many opportunities for pursuing his former studies, for increasing his stock of general information, and for improving his mind by elegant literature. He had access also to a good library: but he was unremittingly assiduous in his attention to the duties assigned to him, and (according to a letter from Mr. Enfield) particularly ready in acquiring the knowledge of them, as well as very useful in carrying them into execution. During several years he had been, and still continued to be, a favoured correspondent of some periodical publications, which hold out a laudable encouragement to the exertion of youthful minds, by offering books, medals, and other prizes, to the writers of the best essays on particular theses. The success of these smaller productions tempted him, in conformity to the advice of his friends, to prepare a volume of poems for the press, before he had completed his eighteenth year; in hopes that this publication might, either by its sale, or the notice which it might excite, enable him to prosecute his studies at college, and fit himself for the church:" for though he was still attached to the legal profession, and had even indulged the hope of one day rising to the degree of a barrister, an unfortunate and growing deafness destroyed all these views of advancement; "and his opinions, which at one time inclined to deism, had now taken a strong devotional bias."
This advice to publish, though undoubtedly conceived in the spirit of kindness, does not appear to us to display judgment equal to its good intention. Few are the circumstances under which we can deem it beneficial for a boy of seventeen to exhibit himself as a poet to the publick eye. At that age of sensibility, the powers of imagination should rather be repressed than encouraged, in one who is destined for a grave and laborious profession.
The regular prosecution of severe studies should by all means be promoted; and though an ingenious youth can perhaps never be persuaded entirely to refrain from verse making, it is surely going far enough to connive at this as the occasional diversion of his leisure, without recommending it as a proper occupation for his serious hours. The lite rary character ought in no degree, to be staked on the crude compositions of an unformed mind, however promising. On the one hand, the vanity of successful authorship may naturally beget a dislike for legi timate labour, and a too easy acquiescence in the degree of proficiency and celebrity which has been already attained: while, on the other, the mortification of publishing a work that failed to obtain praise might produce a still more fatal effect, by plunging the half-expanded faculties in listless and irrational despair.
Where powerful and uncontrollable genius directs the youthful mind to poetry, it will naturally seize on all those animating objects which stir the spirits and fascinate the ardent imagination, at that happy period: but, when the muse is courted rather from a general love of poetry and belles lettres, than from the inspiration of high poetical talent, a certain round of ideas is extremely apt to fill up. the whole compass of the unvaried song. Churchyard scenes and cypress groves at the dreadful noon of night, silence, darkness, solitude, contemplation, and egotism, with overpowering melancholy, and fast approaching death--such is the funereal train that walks in sad procession round the sleepless pillow of the sentimental bard. Without insisting on the perfect exhaustion which this kind of poetry has undergone, particularly in our own language, let us consider, for a moment, what probable benefit can be expected from its supplying familiar employment to a boy first starting into active life. If such feel
ings are not habitual to his mind, we might truly claim at the time of but are merely assumed to give effect writing the review, it really appears to his sonnets, can there be a more that the expectations of this young unpleasing verbiage ?-if they are man must have been somewhat ungenuine, can we conceive a more reasonably excited by the injudicious deplorable calamity ? On the latter encomiums of his friends, since he consideration, much of melancholy was severely mortified and disapillustration might be thrown from pointed by our remarks. He adthe memoir now before us: but we dressed to us at the time an affect. decline to do more than suggest a ing remonstrance; to which, in our hint to those, who, from the most following number, we replied with benevolent motives, extend their evident anxiety to heal his wounded patronage to youthful, self-instruct. feelings, but without deviating froin ed, and necessitous men of talents. our opinion. With sincere regret,
As soon as the little volume of and, we must add, with astonishpoems was ready for publication, ment, we find that our effort to calm the writer's friends, anxious to pro- his mind was unsuccessful; and that cure for it the protection of some a critique, which we continue to reexalted female character, succes- gard as extremely mild, but by sively thought of the late dutchess which he thought that his talents of Devonshire, the countess of Der. were much undervalued, still gave by, and the margravine of Anspach. . him pain, and was actually consider. It was ultimately dedicated, by her ed by him as “ an instrument in the grace's permission, to the lady first hands of Satan to drive him to dismentioned; to whom the book, when traction!” This feeling, no doubt, we published, was sent, but from whom share in common with all his readno answer was ever returned. Let- ers, though it is heightened in our ters were also despatched to periodi- minds by the circumstance of having jeal criticks, stating the age, the dis- been the instruments, yet the innoadvantages, the prospects, and the cent and well-intentioned instru. hopes of the author, and requesting ments, of inflicting pain on a mind an indulgent notice. Our opinion of thus profoundly and thus lamentably the poems was given in our number sensible: but we desire Mr. Southey, for February, 1804; to which, or to who has condescended to direct this biographical memoir, where it against us some coarse and comAs reprinted at p. 17, we refer our mon-place language, to be most poreaders. We commended the talents sitively assured, that we maintain and application of the young lite- our former judgment, and that our rary advocate, his exertions, and his regret is wholly uninixed with a sinlaudable endeavours to excel; and, gle feeling of self-accusation, or any thinking that the case privately laid consciousness of injustice. before us.would plead strongly in This unfortunate youth persuaded the author's favour with a liberal himself that his strong displeasure publick, we suggested the propriety against us was not awakened by our of a subscription with a similar literary strictures, but that our restatement, and expressed our wish commendation to him to make his that he might obtain some respecta- case publick « affected his respecble patron: while we did not disguise tability,” and that it represented our doubts, from the specimen then him as a “ beggar.” Yet the avowed before us, whether the poems were object of his work was, by obtaining calculated to win their way by their notoriety and credit for its author, ówn intrinsick merit. Tous, although to ensure such a circulation and such we certainly cannot now boast so a sale as should enable him to raise much impartiality on this subject as a sufficient suin of money for a par