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sure with utility and moral improvement ought to be the aim of the sacred poet; he will come amongst us with garments breathing of the Bowers of Imagination, with Contemplation leading Fancy, and Wisdom shining in the Cestus of Beauty. But we are not entitled to measure the efforts of a writer by our own theory. Young has expressly declared the difference of his poem "from the common mode of poetry, which is from long narrations to draw short morals. Here, on the contrary, the narrative, and the morality arising from it, makes the bulk of the poem." It thus becomes ennobled by the dignity of a religious exhortation. Warburton condemned the Night Thoughts with the usual intemperance of his censure :— "I hope," he wrote to Doddridge, Feb. 9, 1743, "that the MS. poem* you mention in your last will be more in the Christian spirit, than Dr. Young's Night Thoughts, a dismal rhapsody, and the more dismal for being full of poetical images, all frightful, without design or method; so that I have thought, as the motto to Mr. Pope's Essay on Man was, 'Know thyself,' so the motto on this should be, Go hang thyself;' for what has any man to do else under the perturbation of mind which the author seems be in ?"
Southey, also, disapproves of his dreary delineation of life, and of the severity with which he roots up every consolation that his own belief does not supply. But his rejection of all topics of comfort, except those derived from the promises of the Gospel, forms, in reality, one of the most important features of his poetical character. The efficacy of Christian Faith is demonstrated with irresistible fervour and by unanswerable arguments. With this
Alluding, I conclude, to Blair's Grave, which had been submitted to Dr. Doddridge.
mighty engine he batters down the ghastly precipice of Sin, which flings so terrible a shadow over the Valley of Death. It has been objected to the Elegy of Gray, that we cannot read it without despondency; that there is no sunshine in his churchyard. But the Muse of Young is of a different order; the sweetest tones of her harp accompany the departing Christian; the fairest flowers of her garden are scattered upon his tomb. An Angel of Peace ever sits in his verse by the pillow of the righteous, and the chamber of sickness becomes the vestibule of immortality. He converts our dying friends into pioneers "to smooth the rugged pass to death," and break down the "bars of terror and abhorrence" that nature throws in our path*. In all his works the same sublime and tremendous feeling predominates; it is the link that attaches all his thoughts and images. In his Contemplations, his Tragedies, his prose Essays, even in his Satires, Death is never far distant; sometimes visible, sometimes behind a cloud. Like Donne, he looks upon churchyards as "the holy suburbs" to which the City of Everlasting Rest stretches out its utmost gates. Amidst the wreck of everything lovely and precious, he points to one Rock against which the storm cannot prevail; and along the troubled waters of life, he is always, to employ his own beautiful metaphor, steering to the crystal Ports of Light. To the youthful and inexperienced reader he will appear a melancholy writer; for who is willing to be roused from pleasure, though it be in a dream?
But every step we take in the path of life, and the more familiar we grow with its sorrows, the voice of his poetry will speak to our hearts with a more endearing
* Night the Third.
persuasion, and affecting tenderness. He hews down, indeed, many clusters of tempting fruit, beautiful to behold, but only ashes upon the lip; and he waves the sword, not before a garden of innocence, but of misery and death*.
* The reader may be pleased to read the opinion-temperately and elegantly expressed-of a distinguished living poet, upon the genius of Young.
"He has been well described in a late poem, as one in whomStill gleams and still expires the cloudy day
Of genuine poetry.
The above remarks have been made with no desire to depreciate what is genuine in his beauties. The reader most sensitive to his faults must have felt, that there is in him a spark of originality which is never long extinguished, however far it may be from vivifying the entire mass of his poetry. Many and exquisite are his touches of sublime expression, of profound reflection, and of striking imagery. It is recalling but a few of these to allude to his description, in the eighth book, of the man whose thoughts are not of this world; to his simile of the traveller at the opening of the ninth book; to his spectre of the antediluvian world, and to some parts of his very unequal description of the conflagration; above all, to that noble and familiar image,—
When final ruin fiercely drives
Her ploughshare o'er creation.
It is true that he seldom, if ever, maintains a flight of poetry long free from oblique associations, but he has individual passages which Philosophy might make her texts, and Experience select for her mottoes."- -THOMAS CAMPBELL.
A MEMOIR of Blair has been written by Dr. Anderson*, who derived his information from the poet's son, and his cousin Dr. Hugh Blair, the professor of rhetoric. To this sketch I am indebted for the following particulars. ROBERT BLAIR was the eldest son of the Rev. David Blair, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, and chaplain to the king. He was born at the beginning of the eighteenth century, but the date is not mentioned. Having received, we are informed, a liberal education in the university of Edinburgh, he visited the continent, and soon after his return, was ordained to the parish of Athelstaneford, in East Lothian, January 5, 1731. "As his fortune was easy," says his biographer, "he lived very much in the style of a gentleman, and was greatly respected by Sir Francis Kinloch, of Gilmerton, patron of the parish, and by all the gentlemen in the neighbourhood. He was a man both of learning, and of elegant taste and manners. He was a botanist and a florist, which he showed in the cultivation of his garden; and was also conversant in optical and microscopical knowledge, on which subjects he carried on a correspondence with some learned men in England. He was a man of sincere piety, and very assiduous in discharging the duties of his clerical function. As a preacher, he was serious and warm, and discovered the imagination of the poet.
* Prefixed to the Poetical Works of Blair, 1792.
To this brief summary of his life, I have nothing to add, except that he died of a fever, Feb. 4, 1746, in the 47th year of his age, and was succeeded by Home, the author of the tragedy of Douglas.
The reputation of Blair is founded upon The Grave, a poem original in its beauties and its faults. Southey alludes to it as the only imitation produced by the Night Thoughts; but this supposition is not supported by the authority of the author, who, in his letter to Doddridge, observed, that the greater portion of the poem had been composed several years before his entrance into the ministry*. It was printed in London, by the assistance of Doddridge, in 1743. His opinion of it was very favourable. Writing to Dr. Clark, he says, "If you have not seen Mr. Blair's poem on The Grave, I will venture to recommend it to you. Its chief fault is, that most of the thoughts are too trite; some of the descriptions are great, and written much in the spirit of Shakspeare. You will probably find many lines which contain very little poetry, and have a peculiarity of expression which I cannot approve. It passed through my hands in manuscript, and received considerable alterations; yet, after all, I wish I had presumed to give it more, though, perhaps, it was altered in at least fifty places, which would have been judged either dead or low t."
Between 1747 and 1785, The Grave had passed through eight editions, according to Pinkerton, without being mentioned in any critical work. In the letters which he published under the name of Heron, a chapter was devoted to an exposition of its beauties. The diction was pronounced "frugal and chaste," and the of the very
Doddridge's Correspondence, vol. iv., p. 73. † April 5, 1743.