صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

on a similar occasion, the poet here calls Billy by the appropriate epithet "false.' There is an elegance and simplicity perfectly Homeric in the repetition of the line," valking vith his lady gay."

"Straight she call'd for swords and pistols,
Brought they vas at her command."

Let not the sceptical reader sneer, and ask where she got, or who brought the swords and pistols. Some kind deity, willing to assist the purposes of her just revenge, interposed, and brought her arms. Surely Horace would allow that this was dignus vindice nodus."-But to proceed:


"She fell on shooting Billy Taylor,
Vith his lady in his hand."

Here is an interesting incident! here a melancholy subject! what a scene for a picture! On one side, a lady, impelled by jealousy, with a discharged pistol in her hand, and a face expressive of the triumph of revenge; on the other, Billy Taylor, stretched on the cold ground, with his hand in that of his lady, now we may suppose no longer gay, and perhaps weeping! (Observe, Billy died in the situation in which Tibullus wished to die: he held his mistress, "deficiente manu.") O! come here all ye young men! ye Billy Taylors, for the world is full of you! ye deserters of true lovers, ye walkers with ladies gay, come here and contemplate! Taylor, who a few days before was gay like you, is now, alas!" dead, gone dead," or, to use the pathetic and expressive language of Falstaff,-who, by the by, was like Billy, a gay deceiver-is now no better than a "shotten herring!"

"When the captain he kim for to know it,

He very much applauded her for what she had done."

From this passage, some have taken occasion to accuse the captain of a connivance with Billy's escape and connexion with a lady gay, that he might enjoy Billy's first mistress. But surely this is unfounded: the cap



tain saw this mistress of Billy's by chance alone; and could not therefore be supposed to have a longing for a lady whom he had never seen till Billy had left the ship. Some have also accused the captain of cruelty, for applauding the lady for killing her lover: but these are unfounded and calumnious charges: it was a love of justice which induced the captain to applaud her: not that I positively say, that he might not also be swayed by the lady's beauty. The vehemence of the captain's applause is admirably displayed by the quantity of dactyls in the second line of this stanza. Let us proceed:


"And he made her first lieutenant
Of the valiant Thunder-bomb."

Many are shocked at the apparent indifference of the lady; and foolishly condemn the poet for inconsistency. Such ignorant critics know nothing of the matter. Our poet, who is the poet of nature, did not mean to draw a perfect character, a "sine labe monstrum," but, like Homer and Euripides, which latter he greatly resembles in his tenderness of expression, draws men and women such as they are. Still there is another objection started: how could a woman be made a lieutenant? It must be confessed that though such things are not entirely unprecedented, that they are very singular: some have therefore thought this a decent allegory of the poet to express that she was the captain's chief mistress, his Sultana; and we must remember that she was a free lady, and after the murder she had committed glad of the protection of a captain. I hope the ladies will not be offended at this interpretation, and, since a recent inquiry, will pardon me the expression that conveys it.

It remains now to say something concerning the sentiments, characters, incidents, moral, and diction of the poem, and, πρώτον απο πρώτων, let us speak of the sentiments. These, as I observed before, are not, like Lucan's, obtruded upon the reader, but suggested by incidents. For instance, does not the circumstance of the lady's going to sea after her true-love suggest more than the most laboured declamation on the force of


When the captain is melted by the pathetic address, and lily-white breast of the lady, is it not clearly and expressively intimated how great is the power of weeping beauty, pleading in a good cause, over even the boisterous nature of a sailor? Again, when the lady shoots Billy Taylor, what a fine sentiment is to be discovered here of the power of jealousy! and in the death of Billy contrasted with his former gaiety, who is there whose soul is of so iron a mould as not to be touched by the implied sentiment of the short-livedness of human pleasure and enjoyment, when even the gay Taylor is overtaken by fate? This is a most masterly piece of nature; and I venture to pronounce that the man who is uninterested by it must have been born on Caucasus, and nursed by she-wolves. I come now to the characters; and here it is that the chief art of the poet is displayed. It is wonderful to observe how many and how different characters are to be found in this short poem. To say nothing of the four and twenty " fellers," who are admirably characterized by the epithet "brisk;" we have the mirthful Taylor and the rugged sea-captain, the lady fair and free, and the lady gay. It may be objected that there is too great a sameness in the female characters: but no; the lady fair and free is brave and revengeful; the lady gay is simply gay, a mere insipid character, and introduced by the poet no doubt as a contrast to the turbulent and busy character of the other lady. The boisterous captain is a well-drawn and well-supported character. He is rugged, honest, blunt, illiterate, and gallant. But it is the character of the hero Taylor, which is drawn and sustained with the most art and nature. In the first place he is brave, although some have contradicted this, by saying that he did not go to sea voluntarily, but was pressed, and then run away the night before the engagement. But I will not believe he was a coward; no; let the critics remember that Ulysses did not go voluntarily to the Trojan war, and was always willing to escape when he could; and yet surely he was a hero-Thus have. I proved the


bravery of Taylor. He had also other requisites for à hero; he was amorous, like Achilles and Æneas, and he deserted his love like the same Æneas. Then he was brisk and gay. I do not remember any hero exactly of this character. To be sure, Achilles laughs once in the Iliad, and Æneas in the Eneid; but it does not appear to have been the general character of either of them, and especially of the latter, who was a whimpering sort of hero. It does not appear that Taylor resembled Æneas in piety; but that is a silly kind of antiquated virtue, of which heroes of modern days would be ashamed, and which our poet has most judiciously omitted in the catalogue of Billy's qualities. Again, he resembles the heroes of antiquity in his untimely end, and in the cause of it-a woman. Thus Achilles was shot in the heel; Ulysses was killed, though not very prematurely, by his son; Enea drowned like a dog, in a ditch; and Alexander was poisoned. Then as to the cause: Samson (though to be sure the polite reader will call that fabulous, and think me a fool for quoting such an old wife's tale), owed his death to a woman; Agamemnon was even killed by a woman; Hippolitus lost his life by a woman; so did Bellerophon; and Antony lost the world, and his life too, by a woman. Upon the whole Billy's is a mixed sort of character, composed of good and bad qualities, in which, according to the established character of heroes, the bad predominate. Thus, in the character of Achilles, it would be difficult to find a single good quality: he is" impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer,' and a great deal more of the same sort. Æneas is indeed pious; but then he is a perfidious deserter of an injured lady; he invades a country where he has no right, and kills the man who has the audacity to oppose the usurper of his own throne, and the ravisher of his own wife. And, as to Alexander, he was a mere brute: he overthrew cities, as children overthrow houses made of cards, for his mere amusement; and, like the same children, wept when he had no more to knock down: he killed some millions of


men, for the same reason that country 'squires shoot swallows, for exercise, and because they have nothing else to do: and, in the time of peace and conviviality, he slew two of his best friends, merely to keep his hand in practice. Compared to these heroes, Billy is a perfect saint: and indeed I have often thought that he is too good for a hero; and that a few rapes, and thefts, and murders, would have made a very proper and interesting addition to his character. As to the incidents, I shall merely observe that they are numerous, well-chosen, interesting, and natural. Let me next speak of the moral to be drawn from the poem. Whether the poet, according to Bossu's rule, and Homer's and Æsop's practice, chose the moral first, I cannot pretend to say, though some, who resolve the whole poem into an allegory, favour that opinion. Certain it is, the moral is excellent, the ill effects of inconstancy; and I am sure the fair sex will be obliged to the poet's gallantry. There are also some of what I may call collateral truths to be derived from the poem; such as not to trust too much to prosperity, exemplified in the mirth and downfall of Taylor; and the reward of virtue, in the lady's being made a first lieutenant. I shall conclude with a few remarks on the diction, or, to speak metaphorically, the dress in which the story is clothed. It has all the requisites of a good style; it is concise, perspicuous, simple, and occasionally sublime. The poetry is not of that tumid nature which Pindar uses, but of the graceful simplicity of Homer's verse. The poet has diversified the language by the intermixture of the Doric dialect, in imitation of the Greek tragedians; of this kind are the expressions, vat, vind, diskivered, I be kim, and for to know. But what strikes me most is, the solemn, mournful, and pathetic beauty of the chorus, Tol lol de rol de riddle iddle ido. The A, al, and pɛu, peu, of Euripides and Sophocles, the ε εεε and oτό το τοι τόποι of Eschylus, are comparatively frigid and tasteless. Yes; this Tol lol de rol de riddle iddle ido is so exquisitely tender, and so musically melancholy, that I dare affirm, that the mind and ear that are not sensibly af

« السابقةمتابعة »