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In 1804 he published a volume of metrical tales; the following year " Madoc," another epic, saw the light; and in 1810 appeared his greatest poetical work, " The Curse of Kehama."
Coleridge's recipe for an epic is this: "I would take," says the poet, " twenty years for the production of an epic, — ten to familiarize me with the subject chosen, to travel and gain a personal knowledge of the locale, and acquaint myself thoroughly with history pertaining thereto. I would wish also to be somewhat a man of science, to understand botany, geplogy, mineralogy, astronomy, geography, ichthyology, conchology, medicine and chemistry, mechanics, mathematics, etc., etc. I would then devote five years to the composition of the poem, and five to its revision." If such be the process requisite to the production of an epic, what shall we say of a man who turned off four in fourteen years? We must, in charity, imagine that he suffered under what Milton calls " the disea-se of making books." Southey wrote not wiseby, but too much; he is said to have written more than even Scott, and to have burned more verses between his twentieth and thirtieth year than he published in his whole lifetime!
A scholar, antiquary, critic, and historian; gifted with a remarkable memory, which enabled him to command a vast supply of materials for whatever subject he was employed upon, and always, it is said, collecting for his subject an infinitely greater quantity of materials than he ever made use of; yet with all his ingenuity and fertility, lacking " the vision and the faculty divine,"— Southey is not an original poet. His genius was rather imitative than creative. He could only put forth his strength while moving in a beaten track. And moreover, he lacks spontaneity. He is a poet by profession, not one by divine right,—one who carols like the bird, and —
"Knows not why nor whenco he sings,
In the " Curse of Kehama," his most elaborate poem, there is much splendor and beauty, yet in parts it is both tame and monotonous. The story is founded upon the Hindu mythology, "which" (as Sir Walter Scott observes) "is the most gigantic, cumbrous, and extravagant system of idolatry to which temples were ever erected." Kehama is a Hindu rajah — an Oriental Dr. Faustus — who obtains and sports with supernatural power. The scene is alternately laid in the terrestrial Paradise, under the sea, in the heaven of heavens, and in hell itself. Of the principal actors, one is almost omnipotent, the other, by a strange and fatal malediction, is exempted from the ordinary laws of nature. A good genius, a sorceress, a ghost, and Hindustan deities of various ranks, figure in the work; the only being that retains the usual attributes of humanity is gifted with immortality before the curtain drops; surely weird invention could no farther go! The poem displays a wild imagination and vivid scene-painting, which has the merit of fidelity, Southey being too diligent a student to omit whatever was characteristic in the landscape or the people. In manners, sentiment, scenery, and costume it is distinctly and exclusively Hindu.
"The Curse of Kehama" is redundant in description, and has the rare merit of being terrible without being revolting. The poem is remarkable for sustained dramatic ingenuity, and evinces the hand and eye of the true scholar. If Southey is not a great poet, he is a great story-teller. No modern sensation novel is more enchanting to the lover of fiction; and the moral tone of the poem is unquestionable. Southey, both in prose and verse, is thoroughly and unaffectedly English. His versi
fication is sometimes abrupt and affected. His power lies chiefly in fancy and the invention of his subject. In description he is often striking and impressive; yet notwithstanding an ambition of originality which led him to Arabia and Hindustan for his models, he cannot, I think, lay claim to true creative genius. "The Curse of Kehama" embodies what is best in Soulhey, as well as his peculiar idiosyncrasies. There is much splendor and beauty in his description of Ereeuia, the Glendoveer, or pure spirit; yet it will be seen that conciseness would have made it far more admirable. It is a fair example of Southey's style:
"' And never yet did form more beantiful,
Nor like a vision of delight
Of human form divine was he,
In those blest stages of our onward race,
When no infirmity,
Deface the semblance of our heavenly sire.
"The wings of eagle or of cherubim
Had seemed unworthy him;
Richer than robes of Tyrian dye, that deck
Their colour like the winter's moonless sky,
When all the stars of midnight's canopy
Reflecting back to heaven a brighter blue.
"Snch was their tint when closed; but when outspread,
Shed through their substance thin a varying i,' le;
Now bright as when the rose,
From Douro's generous vine;
The orient, like a shrine,
And, heralding his way,
Few authors have written so much and so well, with so little real popularity, as Southey; his poetry is unsuited to the taste of the present generation, and his name and fame, with his joys and his griefs, are vanishing like a cloud from Skiddaw's top.
Some of Southey's youthful ballads — which were in their day extremely popular — and his "Battle of Blenheim" are examples of his "Lake poetry."
With "little Peterkin " in the latter poem, we are often puzzled, in view of the "thousand bodies rotting in the sun," to find —
"... what good came of it at last?"
CAMPBELL AND SCOTT.
ABOUT the year 1799 a select circle assembled at the dinner-table of Walter Scott. A stranger had, unintroduced, taken his seat among the guests. At length, when the cloth was removed and the loyal toasts were disposed of, Scott stood up, and with a handsome and complimentary notice of the "Pleasures of Hope," proposed a bumper to the author. "The poem," he added, "is in the hands of all our friends; the poet"— pointing to the young stranger on his right — "I have now the high honor of introducing to you as my guest." Since then Campbell's " Pleasures of Hope" has passed through nearly one hundred editions, been translated into all the chief Continental languages, and has become a model for imitation in school and college.
That precious pedigree, dear as the apple of his eye to the Scotchman's heart, was the birthright of Campbell. His father was the youngest son of a laird, and could trace his descent as far back as the first Norman lord of Loch — something! The poet was born in the city of Glasgow, July 27, 1777. Though a partially ruined merchant, the elder Campbell had, not without effort, given to his son a careful and liberal education.
From his cradle Campbell became skilled in sweet sounds and the power of flowing numbers. His mother had a strong taste for music, and delighted in singing