THE NATURAL SON
Is perfectly intelligible, and has furnished us with not a few hearty laughs. Whether the author would have expected that precise demonstration of feeling, we are not prepared to say; for it will perhaps turn out, that we have been gayest where he has been most serious. He may, however, be one of those very demure wits that launch the sprightliest remarks with the most imperturbable gravity. The first Canto of the Natural Son alone has been printed: it • is put forth as a feeler. The First Canto is, as the writer says, sub- mitted for the opinion of the critics; and "should there be found sufficient merit in the poem to gain the attention of the reviewers; the work will be continued at intervals." But demerit as well as merit may engage the attention of critics; • and we would strongly advise the writer, in the course of a month or so, to consult Messrs. SIMPKIN and MARSHALL on the subject, who have surer tests to go by than any criticism whatever, be it weekly, monthly, or quarterly. The Natural Son is, without using any circumlocution, the his- tory of the Lady and the Policeman : she dwelt in Belgrave Square, and he was Sergeant of the C division of the Force, as it is emphatically termed by the author,—who, we doubt not, very well understands the technical appellation. But let us not plunge in medias res with a poem of the most orderly and methodical genus. The writer begins with the very beginning, the birth and parentage of his hero—
My hero was the luckless son of shame, Reared in a village near the town of Lynn, Entitled only to his mother's name; The chiki of Nature and the germ of sin."
His sire was noble, and (shame on the land o' Cakes!) a Soots- man and a Peer,
"Who better loved a lady's smiles to win, Than in St. Stephen's Chapelry to sit Enchanted by the master-mind of Pitt."
The mother, the unhappy victim of this nobleman's small pas:e sion for eloquence, died early-
" But she died early, in her twentieth year, Deeply lamented by the Scottish Peer."
So deeply indeed, that his Lordship is seized with a brain fever, and carried to his grave ; leaving his son, poor George Selwyn Short,—for
" His mother's name was Mary Selwyn Short,"—
a pensioner on the cold charity of the world. He is taken care of by some one who attended his father's funeral,—probably some one from the town of Lynn, and a relative of his mother.
" The sable hearse, by coal-black stallions drawn, Rolled onward to the precincts of the grave ; The glare upon the steeds, with manes unshorn, Gleamed like the silver foam upon the wave. Amongst the mourners o'er the Lord of Lorn Stood one—who came the orphan George to save He shook, but shed no tear, and seemed to find In voiceless prayer a power that lulled his mind."
George proceeds with the stranger
" To other lands afar—a pastoral home ;"
where he is "Classics taught," and otherwise prepared for his peculiar career. At school, the bend-sinister on his escutcheon is flung in his face ; and he determines, now that he is a young man, to "seek the ranks of war." The old gentleman, however, whom he consults, diverts his intentions upon the New Police, on the plausible ground of its being " demi-military."
" The curate shook his head—but answered not As one in anger. 'The police,' he said, Have democratic laurels newly got- • And they are demi-military bred:—
• Suppose, George, for a change, you try your lot— One pound per week will furnish daily bread ; Besides' thou hast a pension from the peer— Like himof Ross—of forty pounds a year.'" No sooner said than done. George starts on foot to the town through which the Red Rover passes, and mounts the heroic vehicle-
" Booked outside for our British Babylon."
Not, however, before he had an adventure on the road, even at the Greyhound Inn— • Where he, sans ceremonie, entered in,
• And rang the bell—doffing his garment upper, Calling out lustily for lights and supper.'
At this inn he is attended by a lady in guise of a barmaid; who, it seems, wanting something better to do, resolves upon doing the behests of George for the evening, by way of frolic. She is beautiful of course, and he is enraptured : they have got to the guitar together, and the poet is talking of " nearing the whirlpool of her arms," and the "melting softness of antelope's eyes,' "dewy light," and all that, when up drives a travelling chariot. The lady disappears, and George goes to bed to tempt its " tantal" charms. On his arrival in town, George repairs to Scotland Yard, and, in the manner no doubt laid down by the au- thor, procures his admission into the Force; where he speedily distinguishes himself. The story of his promotion is thus pithily told-
" George Short, in stature, sore belied his name, Standing six feet—with a proud, haughty mien; In carriage martial, muscular in frame,
Like one who had some foreign service seen ; And, being zealous in the cause' became,
Ere lie a constable six weeks had been, Entitled teetewards, and duly noted, And to a sergeant in the C promoted. Two feats of courage, on two several nights, From testy Birme forced a sour applause ; And yet his prowess was not shown in fights Against those democrats who spurn the laws, • Seeming to find a world of strange delights In demolition : sooth, it was because He saved a black boy, and a general's daughter, One from the fire—the other from the water."
But the -destiny of George Selwyn Short does not lie on the policeman's beat : an event takes place that changes the character of his duties. He meets the Circe of the Inn. Selwyn was in the Park one day, and is described as greatly gratified- " By the beauty
Which blazed around him on his day-light duty.
And oftentimes the sergeant paused, to scan The sea of parasols, that bowered away The sungod's scorching kiss—that fain would tan The cheek of Albion's daughters. Not the play,.
But darling Opera—ah ! that charming place—
He heard a voice in gentle accents say ; The thrilling tones reminded him of Lynn :
He turned—and met the dreamer of the inn—
The lyrist Circe—with her luckless knight; Young and luxurious, and richly clad ; Her jewelled armlet drank the streams of light, And a large buckle of pure gold that had A hawk enamelled, with spread wings for flight, Girt her attire: her uncle's eyes shone glad, Sparkling with pride, for never bridal dress Furled round a figure of more loveliness."
The position this young lady occupies in her uncle's household appears at least equivocal; and we fear more is meant than meets the ear. Her conduct as regards George Short is assuredly very indiscreet; and we trust that in the future Cantos it will be visited with poetical justice. She absolutely whispers the word "Follow" in his ear; and, thus luring him from his beat, sends him out a letter recommending him to the place of her uncle's secretary. Thus, in the shortest possible space of time, we have got up a jot:: petit minage,—an uncle of singular appetites, a lady of sus- picious motives, and a policeman in the character of secretary. The denouement of the comedy is in the womb of time, or the breast of the author ; and whether we shall ever be made partakers of its secrets, remains as obscure as an oracle. The stanzas which follow may, however, help us to a solution.
" And ere another day was passed arid sped, Our hero was installed a secretary : He found Sir Joseph a true courtier bred, Studious to please, yet distant, cold, and wary: Sad Circe lingered near, with her light tread, A magic creature, from the land of fairy ;
With voice as sweet as an _Eolian lute—
Her face a passion-flower, her breast its root.
'I here is a fondness round young hearts will cling, Born with desire, and nurtured in our clay, As in the mountain's breast a hidden spring Gushes perpetual ; day after day, Love idly loitered, fanning with his wing The infant fire, that grew a giant ray In Circe's bosom—quenchless as the sun ;— For all her passions centered into one ; Wild and absorbing, restless as a stream ; Kindling with extacy, then melting deep
Into the drowsy languor of a dream—
Voluptuous as the drooping lids of sleep : It was not lust, nor was it fond esteem, That through her veins deliciously would creep ; That wrung in solitude the secret sigh, And caused the tenderness that dimmed her eye."
This writer is not without some power of description, wherever he may have got it—in the Force or out of it: but, whether from want of education or of society, or from a habit of mixing with bad folk and studying few good models, he is absolutely destitute of taste, and sometimes of decorum. The objects of description which he selects are usually those which he should avoid; and when he is succeeding best with them, such as they are, he ruins all by some bald or ridiculous phrase, some sudden letting down to prose of the most prosaic description, or some attempt at humour, which is either a failure or out of place. The whole design of his work is ill-judged, and the manner in which it is conducted im- moral. That the author is not without a certain kind of power, may be gathered from some of the stanzas quoted ; and it may be worth while to give one more specimen of it. It is the description of a suicide, observed by the policeman on his rounds, and its re- sults. The subject is horrible; but let us give the man a chance.
" One bitter night, he paced near Whitehall Stair :
The bridge looked lone and tenantless; the lamps
Cast o'er the murky stream a fitful glare,
Paling the gathered gloom; the vapoury damp
Condensed upon his brow ; whilst lonely there, In dirt-bedabbled drapery, that stamps
The carnal sinner, some poor straggler roved- Heart-struck and faint—a victim that had loved.
It was a bitter night—a bleak March night;
Rainy and raw—the fog crept to the hone: In the dim haze, she faded from his sight,
Leaning her head in anguish on the stone
Of the cold granite block; her brow—how white—
How marble pale ! why droops she there alone
Sad and forlorn? moaning as one in dread,—
Her clouded eyes fixed on the river-bed, Sullen and glazed, and bloodshot,—with the tear
Quenched in their sockets ; such a look of care, So wild and wo-begone, seemed past all fear
Of mortal sufferance ; for black Despair Coiled round her bosom, desolate and drear,
Blasting the founts of hope; she staggered there, Struck by an icy pang, and bowed her knee, And gasped and shuddered in her agony. The veins upon her brow rose purple deep,
Yet ghastly pallid was her lip and skin, As if her gore grew stagnant : then the steep
She dotal, and strove the parapet to win;
The last cold shivers through her bosom creep ;- She shrinks—she hides her face, down plunging in A stifled shriek, a plash upon the river, A struggle, and her breath is quenched for ever. The gushing waters carried her away, And whirled her, in an under-current strong, Beneath a stranded barge; there, white she lay, Fretting for weeks : in vain the exploring throng, The men of the Humane, the livelong day, Dragged for the sunken corse with their life-prong One arm was fiercely driven by the flood
• Under the keel, and fettered in the wood.
They dragged another day—yet vain the search—
That sand-bank was her burial-place : then darted Forth from their gulfy pools the pike and perch, And glanced in circles round the corse, then started_ Back to the glassy depths—till, with a lurch, The river-shark dashed at it, and disparted A portion from the breast—and bit away, A finny glutton, at the human prey.
Then slime, and mud, and shells, fast settled o'er The decomposing body, and the scent Gathered together, from the sewer and shore, The land-rats fierce, and down the element Greedy they dived, and with their keen tusks tore- The clotted eyeballs, and the nostrils rent ; And fish, and vermin and the conger eel, Fed ravenous, and daily made their meal."