MR. CLARK KENNEDY'S "ROBERT THE BRUCE." PATRIOTISM is a great
virtue, but is not of itself sufficient to make a man poeticaL It may arouse and quicken poetical gifts, but it can do no more. We are prepared to admit that Mr. Clark Kennedy is patriotic, but the proof of high poetical genius is not apparent in his poem. He has chosen a great theme. To Scotchmen at least, Robert the Bruce is a name to conjure with. Surrounded by the halo of romance, a hero who had really done a great historical work, his name has been the theme of song and story ever since Scotland has found a voice. Where tradition has done so much, and romance—the romance of many generations—has elevated the figure of a man to colossal proportions, it is difficult for any ordinary man to deal satisfactorily with such a theme. Tennyson's Idylls of the King had at least this great advantage, that King Arthur is a legendary character. Though Robert the Bruce is the theme of legends also, yet he is real and historical, and our pictures .of him must conform to history.
Apart from these considerations, the theme chosen by Mr. Clark Kennedy provokes comparisons which few poets can stand. He has been bold enough to take as his motto the words of Burns :—
" Scots, wha hae we Wallace bled; Scots, whom Bruce has often led."
The high sustained feeling, measured march, and melodious rhythm of Burns's song gives one a standard and a measure for all spoken words, and particularly for all poetic words, about the Bruce. It is not too much to say that this higher note is never reached is the present poem. If Mr. Clark Kennedy were to complain that the standard is too high, we have a lesser measure whereby we may try the merit of his work. He will not complain if we compare his work with that of Sir Walter Scott. In truth, the comparison is unavoidable. For Sir Walter has himself written on Robert the Bruce, and the poem is the least successful of all his poems. The poem of Mr. Clark Kennedy is an echo of Sir Walter's least successful work. For Scott's work has the merit of being an interesting story, which keeps the attention of the reader. It is clear as sunlight, and every word tells. The description of scenery, the setting-forth of ancient life, and the rapid flow of narrative, combined with the fact that every verse is intelligible
R•brrt the Bruce: a Poem. &Work. J1 and Romantic. By Alexander W. M. Clark Kennedy, late Captain, Coldstream Guards. Illustrated by James Feed, jun. London : Kogan Paul, Trench, and Co.
,at a glance, conspire to make Scott's poetry universally popular.
The range of poetic emotion is not wide, nor the reach of poetic thought great, yet it is true poetry that Scott has given us.
Mr. Kennedy has chosen the vehicle of expression which Scott used so deftly : octo-syllabic couplets, with occasional variations. It is a form of poetry which lends itself easily to rapid action, vivid description, or any other mood of mind in which movement of some sort is present. But even the easy virtues of this style of verse are not attained by Mr. Kennedy. Sometimes, indeed, we seem to be reading Scott, when he is in his most listless mood. But the swing and rush of words, the swift flow which makes us read faster and faster, and the hurried movement to a climax, are never felt in reading this poem. Nor has Mr. Kennedy the art of the story-teller, nor the clear in- telligibility of his prototype.
Not only has he chosen the form of verse which Scott made so popular; he has adopted the complicated machinery which Scott used. Each canto begins with a dedication to some lady. There are four cantos, and each canto has an introduction dedicated to a countess. The Countess of Dalkeith (now Duchess of Buccleuch), the Countess of Stair, the Countess of Galloway, the Countess of Selkirk, are the fair and titled ladies to whom the respective parts of the poem are dedicated. None of lesser rank would seem to be equal to the weighty responsibility. Nor have we any reason to complain of the high honour done us in bringing us into their gracious presence ; yet we might venture to submit to the author whether it was altogether wise to invite guests so great to a banquet of this sort. We shall, however, let Mr. Kennedy speak to the ladies :-
" Fair ladies, at thy kind command My harp shall feel its master's hand ; An' if I have my way and will, Your gentle breasts shall wildly thrill At tales of knightly valour told, As Scotland thriled in days of old ; And fain would I your bosoms move, And fill them full of patriot love ; Yet let me ask you, ladies gay, Ere is commenced my longer lay— Can Scotland's soil again produce A patriot staunch as Robert Bruce ?"
This is a fair sample of the work of Mr. Kennedy. And our opinion is that he will not succeed in filling those bosoms full of patriot love.
We have quoted a sample of the ordinary verse; we shall now quote one of the songs, and we have honestly chosen one which seems to us the best. The theme is a shipwreck :-
" Her timbers creaked, the tempest shrieked,
But the gallant, noble crew Cut clear the mast, and she righted fast, And fought for life anew.
Bat we saw her still at the tempest's will
Float on before the blast,
All useless now was human skill When Ailsa's rock was passed.
For pour'd the sea o'er the vessel's lea, Then came a deafening shock ; And aid was vain, for sheer in twain She split on a mighty rock.
As sunk the brave beneath the wave, Their life of toil was o'er, And the breakers grey have cast their prey High up on the Carrick shore.
And o'er and o'er we search'd that shore When morning's sun did shine, But all we found were corpses drowned And these kegs of ruby wine.
Then bush the laugh the while we quaff
In silence those mariners brave,
Where they peacefully sleep 'neath the ocean deep,
While o'er them mourns the wave."
Let any one read this song, observe where and how the accents fall, and mark the liberty Mr. Kennedy permits himself to take with the quantity of the vowels, and he will inevitably come to the conclusion that the elements of poetic diction have still to
be learned by Mr. Kennedy. Perhaps the author might add a note descriptive of the process of " quaffing" a mariner. To us it seems rather a difficult operation.
By us the great figure of the Bruce cannot be seen in this poem. A vague and shadowy being, who wields a battle-axe, is dimly
visible. His speech is common-place, and his wisdom or skill is nowhere made manifest. There is no clear outline of his form, or character, or action ; and for all that appears, the poem ought to be called " Bruce in Galloway." We may state that paper, type, illustration, and binding are all of the best kind.