Page images
PDF
EPUB

n of Furopeut their receptiomended, than tore the

the excellence of many of their writings, and their early profi. ciency in criticism and the belles lettres, had indeed given a certain currency to most of their domestic favourites, and spread into the circulation of Europe, whatever had received the stamp of Parisian approbation. But their reception was more owing to the authority by which they were recommended, than to their own powers of universal fascination. Men wished to admire the poems of those, whose prose was in general so delightful; and seldom had courage to set up their own judgement in opposition to the sentence of a tribunal that was for the moit part so enlightened. French poetry was read, therefore, and applauded over all Europe, without being sincerely admired. Some pretended to be enchanted with it, and others imagined that they were fo; while all the men of letters spoke of it with deference, and condemned, without mercy, all that resembled it in the productions of their own countrymen. Although a poet, who had obtained reputation in France, was not sure, therefore, of pleafing all the rest of Europe, he came before his foreign readers with very considerable advantages. He was certain of being patiently and favourably listened to, and might assure himself, that many would applaud, and that the greater part would be willing to admire. As foon, therefore, as a French poet appeared, who was willing to lay aside the gaudy cofume of his country, and to accommodate himself to the taite of the other European nations, it was to be expected that his popularity would be at least equal to his merits. It was reserved for NI. de Lille to make this experiment; and we are really persuaded, that a very great share of his reputation is to be ascribed to its success.

It is chiefly from the modern poets of England, that M. de Lille bas borrowed the peculiarities of his manner. Belides the obvious and avowed imitations of Pope, Addison, Goldsmith, Cowper, and Darwin, that occur in the present publication, there is something in the whole teinper and complexion of liis compositions, that certainly does not belong to the genuine school of French poetry, The proíe of Rousseau and of Florian, may have afforded some instances of it; but if it had a poetical origin, it must have been borrowed from the poetry of England. The great vice of the French poets, was an affected magnificence of diction, and elesation of sentiment, that admitted of no relaxation, and precluded, in a great degree, all that was interesting or natural. The charm of easy and powerful expression was generally sacrificed to the support of a certain sonorous and empty dignity; the pictu. resque effect of individual description was lost in cold generalities; character was effaced, by the prevalence of one glittering uniform; and high-sounding sentiments were substituted for the lan

guage guage of nature and of passion. In this way, almost all the serious poetry of France had come to resemble the declamation of a hired pleader, in which' no imitation of nature was so much as attempted; but all kinds of reflections and antitheses were thrown together in a style of affe&ed passion, and falle elevation. Every English reader, we apprehend, must have felt how little painting there is in the poetry of France, and how much more it deals in thoughts than in images. It is full of reasoning and ingenuity, and abounds in all the graces of polite and elegant expression; but there is little that comes distinctly forward to the imagination or the heart; and we are never tempted, for a moment, to believe in the inspiration of the author.

M. de Lille has corrected a great number of 'these defects, and divested the poetry of his country of a great deal of that artificial ftateliness which was so fatad to its pathetic effect. Instead of vague and lofty declamation, he has presented his readers with minute and faithfui defcriptions of all that was interesting in his subjects; and has impressed them with the feelings he was defirous of communicating, not by running over all the verbs and interjections that were supposed to denote them, but by placing before their eyes a living picture of the Gituations in which they must arise. In another particular, too, M. de Lille may be con. sidered as an innovator in French poetry, and a follower of the English writers. He is the first, we believe, in that country, who has succeeded in embellishing his compositions with representations of rustic scenery, and rudic virtues and occupations. His predeceffors spoke, indeed, of groves and fountains, and paraded their muses, as of old, among thickets and upon lawns; but they spoke of them as they did of the tygers and lions which were found in their company in the writers of antiquity, and neither pretended to detain their readers among them, nor to delineate them with the fulness and precision of realities, M. de Lille has made them familiar, however, with cottages and farms, and sendered current in verse, the whole phraseology of planting and enclosing. He has dwelt, with great feeling and effect, upon the contemplative and innocent pleasures that a rural situation may afford, and has contrived to describe them in language fo pure and so elegant, that even the Parisians have perused them without derision or disgust. He has not only ventured to speak of the country, but has had the courage to take an interest in its inhabitants. The older French poets were utterly unacquainted with cottagers and husbandmen. Their only rustic personages were Mepherds and shepherdesses, who asked for nothing but sympathy, and laboured at nothing but singing. M. de Lille haş introduced the real peasant and laboures to the acquaintance of

[ocr errors]

with oitants.

his readers ; has represented their occupations, their pleasures, and their virtues; and has solicited relief for their sufferings, and respect for their services. All this is familiar to English poetry; but it was new to that of France.

M. de Lille, finally, is a much greater philanthropist than any of his predecessors we remember, and betrays, throughout, a sort of sentimental tenderness, and delicacy of feeling, that did not enter before into our conception of a French poet. His morality is perfe&tly pure ; and there is not a page in his writings, in which he does not labour to enforce it. There is no poetry, with which we are acquainted, indeed, that is so uniformly and zealously moral.

But though, in these and fome other particulars, M. de Lille bears a much greater resemblance to the poets of England, than to those of his own country, we must not imagine, by any means, that he has entirely renounced his national tafte, or conducted himself in every thing according to our notions of propriety.' In examining more minutely the structure of the poem before us, we shall have occasion to point out feveral passages, and turns of. expreifion, that are certainly very foreign to our habits of compolition. Nor are we, on the other hand, to conceive that M. de Lille is a writer of a warm and enthusiastic imagination, who has been hurried into a disregard of his national models, by the impuise of a bold and creative imagination, or from any ardour of temperament that disdained the controul of authority. He is, in truth, a great deal more distinguished for correctness and delicacy of talte, than for original or inventive genius ; and; while he has done us the honour of preferring our authors to his own, he has not copied any thing that could not be justified by classical usage, or the most rigorous canons of criticism. He has prudently abftained, therefore, from attempting to imitate those higher graces of composition, which no imitator is ever permitted to attain; and has confined himself to those accomplishments of fine writing that may always be reached by the union of elegant talte and diligent application. Although most of his writings, therefore, recal to us the general manner of English poetry, we shall be but seldom reminded of the loftier flights of Milton, the luxuriant tenderness of Thomson, or the fairy fancy and magical facility of Shakespere. We shall find more of the pointed polish and claborate elegance of Pope, the dignified and correct tenderness of Goldsmith, and the dazzling amplifications of Darwin. M. de Lille, in short, is a refined, studied, polite, and accomplished writer, who never forgets himself in the ardour of compofition, and seldom lets the reader forget him ; who culls out the nicest phrases, and most unexceptionable images; and oftener reminds us that the description is beautiful, than he imposes upon us withi the belief of its reality. He belongs to that class of poets that may be said to be of secondary formation, and that could not have existed, if a hardier race had not existed before them. He does not wander in the pathless places of Parnassus, nor gather flowers where no poetical foot had ever trodden before him. He has the praise of judicious selection, artful disposition, and dignified imi. tation. He has reached the eminence upon which he stands, by following with attention the footsteps of those who have mounted ftill higher. He has become a poet by reading and patient discipline; and probably could not have written' les jardins,' if he had not begun with a translation of Virgil.

. The subject of M. de Lille's poems do not naturally carry him into the higher regions of poetry, and he does not seek for occasions of elevation. The art of laying out pleasure-grounds, and of passing one's time agreeably in the country, might be discussed, no doubt, without trespassing on the provinces of the Epic or the Tragic writer ; but admitted, at the same time, of a great deal of pathetic imagery, and a great variety of embellishment. It would be improper to enter upon any particular criticism of these poems, in this place; but there is one remark suggested by them, which applies so obviously to the general character of M. de Lille's genius, that no apology can be necessary for its insertion. The greater part of the pleasure derived from poetical representations of rustic scenery and occupations, consists in a pleasing illusion of the imagination, that carries us back to the golden age of the poets, and soothes us into a temporary forgetfulness of all the vice and the artifice, the cares and perplexities of real life. There is some period in every man's life, in which he has fancied that happiness and inno. cence were to be found among cottages and paftures, and desired to retire from the bustle and corruption of the world, to fome elegant and simple seclusion; and, as often as spleen or disap. pointment turn back his thoughts to this vision of his childhood, the difsipation and constraint of a city life always present themfelves as objects of scorn and detestation. Whatever tends, therefore, to recal our thoughts to those incongruous objects, is misplaced in such a poem; it difpels the illusion, by the help of which alone, such themes are capable of pleasing, and diftracts the imagination from the train of images that engrofled: it. Now, this fault, which is not chargeable either upon Vire gil or Thomson, M. de Lille has certainly committed. He begins his encomium on a country life, with some critical remarks on the regulation of private theatres, and entertains his readers with a long enumeration of pompous villas, and great princes that inhabit them. He is constantly intersperling sarcastic

and

and pointed reflections upon the diffipated and luxurious, and has composed the greater part of his poem in such an epigrama matic and courtly style, as is altogether unsuitable to the subjects, upon which he is employed. Although enamoured of rural objects and employments, he seems anxious to convince his courtly readers, that he is as familiar as they can be with the language and occupations of the polite world ; and that, though he chooses, to fhew his fenfibility to obscure and sentimental pleasures, he poffefses all the urbanity and accomplishments of a gentleman, and a courtier. His whole style is infected with this peculia. rity; he cannot avoid an ingenious turn, or a brilliant antithefis; and instead of the simple and enthusiastic votary of nature and virtue, he frequently appears like a fine gentleman paying compliments to the sylvan goddesses.

Upon the whole, we think that the genius of M. de Lille is, rather of a pleasing, than a powerful character; and that the delicacy of his taste, and the elegance of his language, are a. good deal more remarkable, than the force of his imagination, or the originality of his invention. He will be relished most, we conceive, by those who admire rather the art, than the nature of poetry, and though he will give delight to almost all who have been trained to the admiration of elegance, by the habitual study of fine writers, he will scarcely ever be found speaking in that universal language, by the use of which, Shakespere has found his way, from the closet of the student, into the worksaops of our manufacturers, and the cottages of our peasantry. It is now proper, however, to leave those general observations upon the poetical character of the author, and to inquire how, he has acquitted himself in the publication now before us.

There is something fingular in the history of this publication. M. de Lille emigrated from France soon after the beginning of the Revolution, and took refuge, several years ago, in England. There he composed that edition of the present poem, the title of which stands first at the head of this article, and sent the manuscript to be printed, under the care of his friend M. de Mervé. While the work was going through the press, however, in the beginning of the present year, the impaired state of his health, as we are informed, made him yield to the solicitations of the Confular cabinet, and consent to return to his native country. Soon after his establishment at Paris, and before the London booksellers, had been able to complete the first publication, they were surprised to find that an edition had been published in France, under the immediate inspection of the author; in which several passages that might have given offence to the new government, are sup

- preflid,

« PreviousContinue »