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His novels are the most striking of his works, and perhaps afford the fairest proofs of his talents, as well as of his peculiarities. They certainly baffle the powers of criticism. They are like nothing of the kind ever before seen, being alike remarkable for incoherence and wildness in plan, and for occasional passages of great splendor and eloquence.
The Battle of Niagara and Goldau, are his chief poems. There is not much of story in either. The narrative is altogether subordinate to the description, and has no precision or distinctness of outline. The narrative, however, is not what the author mainly relied upon for the interest of his poety. His strength is laid out on the appendages of the tale, and the descriptive passages which his poems afford in abundance, are uncommonly bold and sometimes magnificent. They are high wrought, brilliant and striking, and the objects are surrounded with every possible association of rich and dazzling imagery. His fancy however, is apt to run riot, and his conceptions are often invested in such a cloudy assemblage of thoughts, that his pictures have a confused, vague, and dreamy character. He overloads them with an exuberance of metaphor and similitudes, in such a manner as to obscure, rather than illustrate them; we cannot see heaven for the very stars. His fervor and impetuosity take away the faculty of seeing with distinctness the objects before him, and he is therefore perpetually deviating from the straight-forwardness of his direction; he is blinded by the swiftness of his course, like a charioteer wrapt in a cloud of smoke from his own axletree. The faults indeed of his poetry, are the faults of the man, of his constitution. We have his own words upon this point“ It is no merit in me to compose rapidly. I claim no praise for it. I wish I could move more slowly, less capriciously ; but I cannot. Had I a dozen hands, I could keep them all employed when I am writing poetry. I know such things only expose me to the reiterated charge of vanity, and perhaps folly; but I cannot help saying, that when fairly absorbed in the contemplation of a subject, my whole soul is in a tu
mult. I feel myself shut out from the world ; a strange kindling comes over me, a kind of mental exhilaration, a drunkenness of heart that I cannot describe, scarcely wish to experience again; but hope I shall never lose the memory of.”
Mr Neal's poetry has not been so popular as that of many others who never possessed his power. The circumstance may be partly ascribed to the false taste in which his works are mostly composed, and partly to this, that it is addressed to the fancy, rather than the feeling; not that he wants poetical sensibility, or a delicate and refined conception of what is beautiful and tender and moving in the works of nature, or the emotions in the human bosom, for he has all thése; and he has besides a passionate and overpowering sense of grandeur and sublimity. But his poetry is wanting in natural sentiment ; it does not touch the heart-it does not awaken our sensibilities, or stir up from their recesses the " thoughts that lie too deep for words.” If he is less read, however, than he might seem to deserve, he has been fully aware of the peculiar quality in his poetry, which has occasioned it.
“ I know its faults,” says he, they are innumerable and great. It has no calm, tranquil prettiness of character. It is no neutral, no hermaphrodite-such as you cannot blame, 't is true, but you may sleep over in reading. It is poetry, or it is the most outrageous nonsense; one or the other it must be.” Poetry it is, doubtless, and with all its blemishes, poetry of a high rank. It is not, however, in a sufficiently close accordance with those models which will continue to direct public taste, to enjoy a great degree of favor. It is still true, in our opinion, that Neal's finest passages have seldom been excelled.
THERE's a fierce gray bird—with a sharpen'd beak;
Where the fountains are mute, or in secrecy flow--
And kindling eye—as if her prey
Had-suddenly—been snatch'd away-
Or a lion that springs—with a roar--froin his lair !
With the neighing of steeds! and the streaming of hair Above where the silvery flashing is seenThe striping of waters, that skip o'er the green, And soft, spongy moss, where the fairies have been, Bending lovely and bright in the young Morning's eye Like ribands of flame-or the bow of the sky : Above that dark torrent-above the bright streamThe gay ruddy fount, with the changeable gleam, Where the lustre of heaven eternally playsThe voice may be heard-of the thunderer's bird, Calling out to her god in a clear, wild scream, As she mounts to his throne, and unfolds in his beam;
While her young are laid out in his rich red blaze;
And their winglets are fledged in his hottest rays: Proud bird of the cliff! where the barren-yew springsWhere the sunshine stays—and the wind-harp sings, Where the heralds of battle sit-pluming their wings
A scream! she's awake-over hill-top and flood;
The Bird that laves Her sounding pinions in the sun's first gushDrinks his meridian blaze and sunset flush: Worships her idol in his fiercest hour: Bathes her full bosom in his hottest shower: Sits amid stirring stars, and bends her beak, Like the slipp'd falcon—when her piercing shriek Tells that she stoops upon her cleaving wing, To drink anew some victim's clear-red spring. That monarch Bird ! that slumbers in the night Upon the lofty air-peak’s utmost height: Or sleeps upon the wing-amid the ray Of steady-cloudless-everlasting day! Rides with the Thunderer in his blazing march : And bears his lightnings o'er yon boundless arch: Soars wheeling through the storm, and screams away Where the young pinions of the morning play.
BATTLE OF NIAGARA.
THE SOLDIER'S VISIT TO HIS FAMILY.
And there the stranger stays: beneath that oak,
Beneath its venerable vault he stands :
His warrior-helm and plume, his fresh-dyed blade
Hark !--that sweet song !-how full of tenderness
A youthful mother! God of heaven!
A single bound! our chief is standing by