BRYANT, MOORE, AND LOVER.* IF the reader observes that Lord
Beaconsfield's curious phrase, "Men of light and leading," is misapplied when used as a motto for these biographies, we shall not be inclined to dispute the question with him. Neither Moore nor Lover is a man who stands out before mankind as a luminary and a leader. Bryant, the venerable patriarch of American poetry, occupies, perhaps, a more prominent position than either, not because he was a man of extraordinary power, but because he was accounted "the most distinguished and most universally honoured citizen of the United States," and, as Mr. Symington justly observes, " had a large share both in originating and elevating its literature, and in shaping the course of its politics." Bryant's character was more weighty than his genius, but as a poet he was for- tunate in being born before the poetical literature of his country had .any well-defined existence. Bryant has been dead about four years, but his poetical life commenced in the early years of the century, for he had produced a volume of verse before Sir Walter Scott began his career as a novelist, and Mr. Longfellow, the most popular of American poets, who published his Voices of the Night forty years ago, regards Bryant as his master. Bryant was, indeed, eminent, not only for his genius and high attainments, but for his moral qualities.. His character in all the relations of life was eminently noble, and as a poet, he never "profaned the God-given strength."
The story of his life is well told by Mr. Symington, who appears to have been personally acquainted with him. Like Mr. Tennyson, he began his poetic career while a youth, and like our Poet-Laureate, proved that in old age he still possessed the incommunicable gift. " Thanatopsis " was written in his eighteenth year, and in his eighty-fourth year he published his " Ode " in honour of Washington's birthday. We do not think this " Ode " deserves the epithet of " noble " bestowed on it by the biographer. It appeared in the Sunday-School Times, and sounds just a little like a hymn by Dr. Watts, but it is interesting, as the last song of the poet. Washington's birth- day was on February 22nd, and after saying that no month has a prouder day since this chill season brings round the morn,—
" When, greatest of the sons of men,
Our glorious Washington was born," the aged poet adds,—
" Lo, where, beneath an icy abield, Calmly the mighty Hudson flows ! By snow-clad fell and frozen field, Broadening the lordly river goes, The wildest storm that sweeps through space, And rends the oak with sudden force, Can raise no ripple on his face, Or slacken his majestic course.
Thus 'mid the wreck of thrones, shall live Unmarred, undimmed, our hero's fame, And years succeeding years shall give Increase of honours to his name."
• Mat of Light and Leadisg. "Thomas Moore, the Poet, his Life and Works," by Andrew James Symington. "Samuel Lover a Biographical Sketch, with Selections from his Writings and Correspondence," by Andrew James Symington. "William C. Bryant : a Biographical Sketch, with Selections from his Poems
and other Writings," by Andrew James Symington. Edinburgh : Blackie and Son.
Like Mr. Longfellow, but perhaps in a lesser degree, Bryant owed much to culture and travel. Six times he went to Europe, and his journeys were not confined to that continent, for he visited the West Indies, and also made a tour through the Holy Land. With England and Scotland, too, he was familiar, and in his own land he was a great traveller. How far the know- ledge of foreign lands stimulates the genius of the poet is a question worthy of discussion. Certain it is that some considerable poets have seen but little of the world we Jive in—Shakespeare, as far as we know, was never out of England—and some who have travelled have added
little to their poetical resources. The delights of travel must, however, be keenly felt .by the poet, and Bryant no doubt enlarged extensively his range of knowledge, and thus increased indefinitely his capacity as a journalist. At home, in his beautiful house on Long Island, he lived the simplest and happiest of lives. Externally, all was charming and attrac- tive, and no eating care weighed down the buoyant spirits of this healthily-constituted man. The impression conveyed by Mr. Symington's narrative is a pleasant one, and readers un- familiar with Bryant's poetry may make acquaintance in these pages with his best pieces. The feeling of his verse is always good; he is a master, as Stedman has said, of the measures in which he elected to write, and he is never without imagination, but in spite of many fine qualities, his poems, with a few nota- ble exceptions, are better calculated, we think, to make us honour the man, than to love the poet.
Thomas Moore had more popular gifts than Bryant, and in spite of much that is meretricious and worthless in his poetry, possessed a true gift of song. That he had also great genius as a poetical satirist cannot for a moment be questioned, but his satires, admirable though they are, do not possess the universality of interest which makes such verses independent of time and place. Pope, the most personal of satirists and the most local, is at the same time the most popular. His lines are still familiar and are daily quoted, but even the most brilliant of Moore's satirical pieces, his attacks on George IV., are comparatively seldom recalled now. Moore, too, like Bryant, was a successful man, but his success did him harm. He sang for the drawing-room, and was spoilt by his admirers. The son of a Dublin grocer, he was not ashamed of his parentage ; but " Tommy," as Byron said, "dearly loved a lord ;" and dining out, to quote the words of Professor Morley, "did not deepen his character." As a society man, Moore was highly appreciated, as well he might be, but be was much too good for the position which he found so attractive. Scott recognised the sterling worth of the man. "There is," he wrote in his diary, "a manly frankness, with perfect ease and good-breeding, about him, which is delightful ;" and he saw in Moore a point of resemblance to himself :—" We are both good-humcured fellows, who rather seek to enjoy what is going forward; than to maintain our dignity as lions." In early life, Moore had sent Jeffrey a challenge for the opinion expressed by him in the Edinburgh, and had sent Byron a challenge for satirising him in English Bards and Scotch Beviewers. In the end, Byron and Jeffrey were the Irish poet's warmest friends, and when Moore's carelessness had involved him in pecuniary difficulties, Jeffrey, with the heartiest expres- sions of good-will, proffered 2500, to be repaid when Moore pleased, and another 2500, to be advanced "upon any reason- able security of repayment in seven years." Sir William Napier, the historian, also wrote, placing "several hundred pounds" at his disposal, until his affairs were arranged ; and when the poet's embarrassment was at its height, Lord Lansdowne came forward, to take the whole weight of it on himself. The man who had friends such as these in his time of need must have possessed solid worth, in addition to the attractions of talk and song, which made him so welcome in aristocratic parties. Moore ought never to have been in difficulties. He made large sums of money by his poems, receiving, in the course of his life, upwards of 230,000 for literary work ; for nearly-twenty years he had a pension of 2300, and his admirable wife under- stood, which her husband never did, the art of economy. While she was economising at home, he was spending abroad, and fond though he was of his "sweet Bessy," he left her too often alone in her country cottage, to enjoy a round of dissipation in London. His universal popularity, according to Earl Russell, was his chief enemy. He was a spendthrift to the last, and when he died, says his biographer, "had nothing to leave his wife—his sole survivor—but his diary in MS."
Much of Moore's fame as a poet is already lost. So much of his verse is tawdry in expression and false in sentiment, that one is surprised to find how genuine and beautiful his _song can sometimes be. A single Irish melody is worth a score of " Lalla Rookhs " and "Loves of the Angels," but the popu- larity of those poems was amazing. For the former, Messrs.
Longman agreed to give three thousand guineas, before they had seen a line. For the "Loves of the Angels," in which, to the biographer's surprise, Moore's angels "actually fell over head and ears in love with the fairest of earth's daughters," he re- ceived, we believe, a still larger sum. We cannot agree with Mr. Symington that these are "simple stories." Simplicity, indeed, was not Moore's forte, and it is only, as it were, by acci- dent, that he escapes sometimes from the florid diction that he loved. Moore was, probably, more of a musician than a poet, and confessed, in the preface to the Irish Melodies, that he could answer for the sound of his songs with more confidence than for their sense. We all of us read those Melodies with the music sounding in our ears, and the result is delightful; but judged apart from the music, these songs, which beyond all else that he has written, except his satirical verses, will sustain the fame of Moore, are but rarely of first-rate quality. The best of them are quoted by Mr. Symington, and some also which, like the "Young May Moon," have no claim to such a title, but are perhaps still more characteristic of the poet. The volume, com- piled from a variety of sources, is eminently readable, and con- tains, perhaps, as much of Moore's poetry as people in our day will care to read.
The volume devoted to Lover is something better than a com- pilation. Mr. Symington was intimate with the poet, and writes of him with affection and enthusiasm. Lover had many endear- ing qualities. He had a warm heart, a happy, cheerful nature, and accomplishments of no mean order. His highest achieve- ments in painting, according to the biographer, were his Minia- ture Portraits, but he is known chiefly by his Irish songs, which are quite original, and smack more of the soil than Moore's. His sense of humour was great, and it was always the humour of an Irishman. Everybody knows "Rory O'Moore," and "Molly Carew," and "Widow Machree," songs the flavour of which is unmistakable. The following lines, too, are in Lover's most characteristic style :-
"I'll be not myself at all,
Molly dear, Molly dear, Till you my own I call!
Since a change o'er me there came, Sure you might change your name,— And 'twould just come to the same, Molly dear !
'Mould just come to the same; For if you and I were one, All confusion would be gone, And 'twould simplify the matther intirely.
And 'twould save us so much bother,
When we'd both be one another,—
So listen now to rayson, Molly Brierly ; ! I'm not myself at all !"
This reminds us of Lover's story of the two Irishmen who, thinking they knew each other, crossed the street to shake hands. "On discovering their error, I beg your pardon,' cried the one. 'Oh! don't mention it,' said the other ; it's a mutual mistake ; you see, I thought it was you, and you thought it was me, and after all, it was neither of us.'" Mr. Symington considers that Lover had more imagination than Moore. He had probably more genuine feeling; but in both these poets, as in Irish poetry generally, fancy is more evident than imagination. Lover thought "The Road of Life, or Song of the Irish Post-boy," the most characteristic poem which he had written, and it was his favourite. There is senti- ment in it, and there is fancy, but the imagination is wanting which illumines a poet's work with the light that never was on sea or land :—
" 0 youth, happy youth ! what a blessing
Is thy freshness of dawn and of dew !
When hope the young heart is caressing, And our griefs are but light and but few.
Yet in life, as it swiftly flies o'erus, Some musing for sadness we find ; In youth—we've our troubles before us; In age—we leave pleasure behind.
Ay! Trouble's the post-boy that drives us. Bp-hill till we get to the top, While Joy's an old servant behind us We call on for ever to stop. Oh, put on the drag, Joy, my jewel !
As long as the sunset still glows, Before it is dark 'twould be cruel To haste to the hill-foot's repose.
But there stands a hill we must stop at,
An extinguisher swings for the sign, That house is but cold and but narrow, But the prospect beyond it,—divine !
And there, whence there's never returning, When we travel, as travel we must, May the gates be all free for our journey, And the tears of our friends lay the dust !"
There are poets who are seen to the best advantage in selections, and this is the case with the three chosen to head this series. The editor has done his work honestly-and with sympathy, and the volumes afford excellent reading. If Mr. Symington is sometimes disposed to over-estimate his heroes, the fault is too common among biographers to call for the censure of the