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along pretty much as before. So the knight clove the whole affair in twain. It was of no use. The thing could not be convinced • that its vocation was not to walk over people.' No sooner did the little girl address herself to the task of procuring wings, than all three parts came bustling up, and if I had not in* terposed my weight between her and them, she would have • been trampled again under them. What was to be done ? Suddenly the right plan occurred to me. I tripped one of them up, and taking him by the legs, set him up on his head, with • his heels against a tree. I was delighted to find he could not ' move. Whenever one appeared, I followed the same plantripped him up
and set on his head.' Who or what are these singular monsters ? Of the critic species, we surmise ; human in rough outline, but without features, and composed of wood; prone, by irreversible bent of nature, to walk over any gentle child of beauty that looks for wings, that dares to soar; incapable of perceiving when they are logically cut down or cut up, and as active in their vocation when obviously in a state of logical dismemberment as before ; reducible to silence only by a right adjustment of the centre of gravity, and a planting of the skull, naturally ballasted with lead, upon the kind breast of mother earth. This is really an exhilarating contribution to the natural history of the critic species. There is too little of the like in the works of Mr. MacDonald.
Few living writers can compare with him in what is now one of the most highly-prized and carefully-cultivated capacities of the literary or pictorial artist—landscape painting His descriptive talent, enriched with poetic sympathy, and ever alive to the symbolism of nature, ranges with marvellous power and comprehensiveness over the phenomena of the visible universe, drawing forth varied tones of its orchestral music, His touch is now grand in its strength, now exquisite in its delicacy. From the glory of noontide, when every cloud has glided away and the temple of immensity is filled with God only, to the play of leaf shadows, in half-light of tender green, on tree trunk or weathered wall, -- from the implacable ocean, scowling beneath black thunderclouds like a dark eye beneath shaggy brows, to the sleeping well in the depths of the summer wood,—from the death-like peace of snow in winter to the rosy gleam of summer gardens, the golden glow of harvest fields, no appearance of nature has escaped him. Where there is so much to choose from, we have difficulty in selecting what will do justice to Mr. MacDonald. Here are a few sentences, thrown off in gay, sketchy manner, in which not a few touches will, we think, remind readers of Jean Paul :
The season went on, and the world, like a great flower afloat in space, kept opening its thousand-fold blossom. Hail and sleet were things lost in the distance of the year-storming away in some far-off region of the north, unknown to the summer generation. The butterflies, with wings looking as if all the flower-painters of fairyland had wiped their brushes upon them in freakful yet artistic sport, came forth in the freedom of their wills and the faithful ignorance of their minds. The birds, the poets of the animal creation—what, though they never get beyond the lyrical l-awoke to utter their own joy, and awake like joy in others of God's children. The birds grew silent, because their history laid hold upon them, compelling them to turn their words into deeds, and keep eggs warm, and hunt for worms. The butterflies died of old age and delight. The green life of the earth rushed up in corn, to be ready for the time of need. The corn grew ripe, and therefore, weary, hung its head, died, and was laid aside for a life beyond its own.'
More expressly pictorial, and vividly truthful in its rendering of one of nature's grander facts, is this description of aurora borealis on a clear, frosty night in Scotland :
It was a still, lovely night, clear and frosty, with-yes, there were —millions of stars overhead. Away in the north, the streamers were shooting hither and thither, with marvellous evanescence and regeneration. No dance of goblins could be more lawless in its grotesqueness than this dance of the northern lights in their ethereal beauty, shining, with a wild ghostly changefulness and feebleness, all colours at once ; now here, now there, like a row of slender organpipes, rolling out and in and along the sky. Or they might have been the chords of some gigantic stringed instrument, which chords became visible only when mighty hands of music struck their keys and set them vibrating ; so that, as the hands swept up and down the Titanic key-board, the chords themselves seemed to roll along the heavens, though, in truth, some vanished here and others appeared yonder. Up and down they darted, and away and back-and always in the direction he did not expect them to take. He thought he heard them crackle, and he stood still to listen; but he could not be sure that it was not the snow sinking and crisping beneath his feet. All around him was still as a world too long frozen : in the heavens alone was there motion. There this entrancing dance of colour and shape went on, wide beneath, and tapering up to the zenith ! Truly there was revelry in heaven! One might have thought that a prodigal son had just got home, and that the music and the dancing had begun, of which only the far-off rhythmic shine could reach the human sense ; for a dance in heaven might well show itself in colour to the eyes of men.'
And what a feeling of the moods of the sea is there in these sentences, which we find scattered over a page or two and put together!
*Clouds hung above the sea ; and above the clouds two or three disconsolate stars. They (Alec and Katie) climbed the steep, rugged steps, and stood on the broad wall, hearing the sea-pulses lazily fall at its foot. The wave crept away after it fell, and returned to fall again like a weary hound. There was hardly any life in the sea. How mournful it was to lie out there, the wintry night, beneath an all but starless heaven, with the wind vexing it when it wanted to sleep! The wind kept coming in gusts, tearing a white gleam now and then on the dark surface of the sea. Up the slope the waves rushed, and down the slope they sank again, with that seemingly aimless and resultless rise and fall, which makes the sea so dreary and sad to those men and women who are not satisfied without some goal in view, some outcome of their labours ; for it goes on and on, answering ever to the call of sun and moon, and the fierce trumpet of the winds, yet working nothing but the hopeless wear of the bosom in which it lies bound for ever.'
Very characteristic is this little visionary picture of lovers in the moonlight:
"It was all moon--the air with the moon-core in it; the trees confused into each other by the sleep of her light; the bits of water, so many moons over again ; the flowers, all pale phantoms of flowers : the whole earth, transfused with reflex light, was changed into a moon-ghost of its former self. They were walking in the moonworld.'
Perhaps, on the whole, there is a little too much of moonlight and of dreamlight in Mr. MacDonald's works. His landscape is occasionally deficient in that distinctness and force—in one word, that articulateness—which is so remarkable in the scenes of Scott;
which makes us feel that we could lay down in a map the massive promontory on which hung the wood of Warroch, and the very rock at the foot of which, as Dirk Hatteraik’s vessel crowded sail round the headland, the battered corpse of Kennedy fell. But we ought to respect the idiosyncrasy of genius, and there can be no doubt that the dreamy and aërial medium in which MacDonald's delineations appear at times to float is connected essentially with his greatest gifts. If his landscapes seem occasionally to swim and waver before the eye rather than to remain fixed in definite, well-arranged breadths of light and shade, we are fain to admit that the prevalence of the subjective in his habit of thought-his thorough domiciliation in the world of ideas and abstractions and spiritual things—to which this vagueness may be due, gives him a singular power of describing mental realities and the interplay of thought and feeling. The bodiless creatures of the brain glow into visibility under his touch ; he can depict every mood, and humour, and capricious change in the soul's atmosphere ; and his skill in
making the most delicate shade of thought perceptible might be contemplated by metaphysicians with admiring despair. But he requires careful reading. To a hasty glance, the most elaborate reasonings of his Unspoken Sermons may seem obscure and cloud-like; 'pageantry of mist on an autumnal stream ;' the gorgeous sweep of the vestments of Truth as she passes by rather than the very lineaments of her face. But if you look long enough and carefully enough, you will find that MacDonald's most fine and evanescent touches have a meaning, and that the thought, though difficult to grasp, is there.
His fame as a prose writer has thrown partially into the shade his claims to distinction as a poet, and we are not prepared to maintain that his genius is so essentially poetical as to render it advisable on his part to relinquish prose. But the laurel already round his brows must, we think, prove imperishable. There is hardly, of its kind, in the language, a more beautiful poem than his Mother-child. It has the truthfulness of Cowper, with more than Cowper's tenderness of sentiment; it has the homeliness of a lyrical ballad by Wordsworth, without that studied flatness to which Wordsworth, in the perverseness of his theory, condemned himself while composing his lyrical ballads. Tennyson's Dora belongs to the same class, but it is still finer, being, without exception, the loveliest pastoral in the English language. MacDonald's poem, however, will stand comparison with anything except the very best work of Tennyson. The figure of the child-mother, true as a photograph to English life, and yet with tender, idealising lights playing round her and lifting her into the region of art, rises before us in homely beauty, and is at once accepted into that sacred chamber of the mind, where memory guards those forms on which the heart delights to dwell. The solicitudes, mishaps, alarms of the nurse of nine, as she carries her baby brother, almost as big as she,' are narrated with a graceful, smiling, earnest gaiety-with a sincere and happy sympathy-with an aroma, faintly perceptible, of the kindliest humour—which lend a singular fascination to the piece._Here is a true heroine, real-ideal, in the blue frock of a Iittle English girl ; and such heroism is to be found among the poor-perhaps more, though this is a sad thought, among the young poor than the old. There is a pathos indefinablesomething between a smile and a tear-in the account of the proceedings of the child-mother when she returns home after her misfortunes, and her deliverance.
"At home at last, lo! scarce a speck
But she was sorely mired;
Nor gave she proof of grief's unrest,
She wept till she was tired.
“But,"—here her wet cheeks glow-
I never let him go.” Others of Mr. MacDonald's earlier poems were distinguished by a profound thoughtfulness, a peculiar but beautiful vein of sentiment and a linguistic power, which might be regarded as sure prognostics of the rise of a new star on the horizon of letters. In the Hidden Life, the effect of one great emotional experience in modifying the character and in determining the course of life, is delineated with a beautiful tenderness of sympathy, and the softest glow of quiet colour. The subject was unpromising, and it was probably impossible to handle it so as to produce a popular poem, but the piece will long continue to afford delight to gentle and reflective minds, and is a thoroughly characteristic performance of the author. Its one incident is the meeting of the hero and a beautiful woman. Her loveliness stamped itself upon heart and brain, and that one gleam of radiant beauty became to him his destiny.
"I cannot tell
His bosom—burned it clean in word and thought.' He died early, and when he found himself dying, he wrote a letter to the lady, who occupied a different station in life from his, and whom he had never seen a second time, telling her what an influence she had exerted upon his life. Pensive resignation and serene sadness, smiling sometimes, laughing never--this is the spirit of the work.
'God, give us heaven. Remember our poor hearts.
We find no spring, except in winter prayers.' Another remarkable poem of Mr. MacDonald's early time is a Dream within a Dream. Little as the title is adapted to suggest the fact, the descriptions are sternly realistic. Here is a picture of a town on a wet morning in the Black Country, and of two operatives, a man and a woman, going to their work, which seems to us marked by great and various power :
'It was a drizzly morning where I stood.