« PreviousContinue »
- Mihi visus eram lato spatiarier agro :-
I seem'd to wander in a spacious field ;
In the ninth number of these Essays, and in the letter which I have there inserted as written by Mr. Eastburn, my readers will, no doubt, recollect a slight notice of Mr. HILLHOUSE, as the author of a poem entitled “ The Judgment, a Vision,” to which was annexed, on my part, a promise of taking it into consideration in a subsequent portion of these volumes. It is with no small pleasure that I now enter upon the redemption of this pledge, fully satisfied,
that, in so doing, I shall gratify many beside myself.
The subject, indeed, seems naturally to introduce itself here, for we have just closed the preceding number by a very striking passage on the necessity of a Day of Retribution, both in a moral and religious point of view; and the poem I am about to expatiate upon, places the scene before us with a strength and distinctness of imagination, with a vividity and force of colouring, which cannot but excite emotions at once intensely interesting and awfully sublime.
A theme, however, more arduous, or, from preceding associations, more difficult to execute with propriety and effect, could scarcely have been chosen ; for, as the author has observed in a short notice prefixed to his work, “beside its intrinsic difficulties the subject labours under a disadvantage too obvious to have escaped notice. It has so generally occupied the imaginations of believers in the Scriptures, that most have adopted respecting it their own notions: whoever selects it as a theme, therefore, exposes his work to criticism on account of its
theology, as well as its poetry; and they who think the former objectionable, will not, easily, be pleased with the latter. The object, however, was not to declare opinions; but simply to present such a view of the last grand spectacle as seemed the most susceptible of poetical embellishment."
Yet undeterred by the extreme hazard which must unavoidably attend the choice of a topic so hallowed and momentous in its nature, several of our own poets have ventured to essay their powers in describing the horrors and the mercies of the Last Day. Among these, Young and Ogilvie may be mentioned as taking the lead in the couplet metre, and Glynn and Bruce, in blank verse. Of the production of the first of these poets, Johnson has remarked, that while
many paragraphs are noble, and few are mean, yet the whole is languid; the plan is too much extended, and a succession of images divides and weakens the general conception; but the great reason why the reader is disappointed is, that the thought of the Last Day makes every man more than poetical, by spreading over his mind à general obscurity of sacred horror,
that oppresses distinction and disdains expres
Of the languor and extension here noticed, no reader of the “ Last Day” of Young can be insensible; for it is, in fact, only in the third book of his poem that the subject properly commences; but I cannot yield assent to the opinion, that, however awful and sacred be the theme, it is on that account the more insusceptible of poetical imagery. The aversion of Dr. Johnson to scriptural and devotional poetry is well known, and the example of Milton is of itself sufficient to prove, that, let the subject be ever so exalted, it may, where grandeur of conception and simplicity in design are united, admit, if we exclude the too daring attempt at personifying the Deity, of additional interest when embodied in the colours of poetic inspiration.
A more condensed, and, therefore, a more vivid and energetic representation of the scene, has been given us by Ogilvie, and often in versification of great sweetness and brilliancy, but with less perhaps of simplicity and pathos than may
* Lives of the most eminent English Poets. Sharpe's Edition, vol. vii. p. 112.
be found in the more diffuse delineations of Young
The short sketch by Glynn is struck off with spirit and vigour, and in some of its imagery approaches the true character of the lofty and sublime; while the Vision of Bruce, on the same subject, more copious and narrative in its detail, is, as might be expected from the youth and circumstances of the poet, inferior in classical strength of diction and splendor of effect.
Like the productions of Glynn and Bruce, the poem of Mr. Hillhouse is written in blank verse, and with a skill in its construction, which evidently proves him to have studied the best masters in this difficult style of versification with singular assiduity and success. In the grouping and management of his subject, however, he has a claim to originality, and has given to his poem a character, which, as distinguishing it from the works of his predecessors, may be termed the picturesque. So fully and so forcibly, indeed, has he brought forth his figures from the canvass, and frequently, with such grace and beauty of effect, as to impart an interest to