20 SEPTEMBER 1873, Page 19


Madonna's Child. By. Alfred Austin. (Blackwood..)—We know of no reason why Mr. Austin's friends should have advised him to publish his poem anonymously, on the ground that "no poem can at present hope for fair critical treatment to which his name was attached." Some un- happy persons are always fancying themselves the object of personal enmities, nor can any critical treatment seem fair to an author who cannot believe that he has any faults to be censured. Mr. Austin is a satirist who possibly thinks that a great part of the human race— especially the critics, on whom he has doubtless been exceedingly severe—have been stung to madness by the pain of his lash, and is eager to seize the opportunity of revenge. Thanks, it may be, to our obtuseness, we have escaped the smart, and Mr. Austin, though he will regret the failure of justice, will have the benefit of a judgment not distorted by painful recollections. Madonna's Child seems to us a poem of considerable beauty. It is written in ottava rima, with a vigour and fluency of expressien not unworthy of the great master, Byron, whom Mr. Austin, we believe, especially delights to honour. The plot of the story is of the simplest kind. An Italian girl tends a chapel of the Virgin somewhere, " where the tossed Alps subside all smilingly." A stranger finds his way to the shrine, and looks with admiration on its guardian. The two meet when the girl is gathering flowers for the altar ; the stranger lends his help, and so the acquaintance grows till it deepens into love. But as they come to know each other more, a chasm seems to open between them. She is a child of the simplest faith, he has learned to doubt. She cannot give herself to him. But there is yet a resource. Will he go with her to "where Milan's spires go up to heaven like prayer '? So to Milan they journey; both send up their prayers in the groat cathedral, he for faith, and she for him, —but all in vain, and they part. In his pictures of scenes and places, and in the more difficult task of portraying mental conflict, Mr. Austin is often very happy. Sometimes, we must say, his versa seems to have more sound than meaning; some- times he mixes his metaphors somewhat strangely,—as, for instance, in "you might have been my star but since you furl your wings and veil your light "—but the effect of the whole is satisfactory. The maiden is a graceful conception ; the man is less pleasing and loss real, talking with a sort of vague rhetorical magniloquence which is not attractive. Generally, we think, .Madonna's Child deserves the attention which the author's friends predicted for it. acre is a picture of the Madonna

Down from her flowing hair to sandal-shoon The mystic typo of maiden motherhood. Below her feet there curved a crescent moon, And all the golden planets were her hood: In comely folds her queenly garb was moulded, And over her pure breast her hands were folded.

" She looked the most immortal mortal being That ever yet descended from the skies, As one who seemed to see all, without seeing, And without care to hear our smothered sighs; With all earth's discords the one note agreeing, 'Mid death and hate, a love that never dies, A tranquil silence amid fretful din, And still the sinless conadant of sin"

And here one of an Italian landscape

And here and there with glistening lemon bowers The lower landward terraces were crowned, And shapely orange groves, whose fragrant flowers Make of the land a bride the whole year round. Pink petals from the almonds fell in showers, Weaving a vernal carpet for the ground; Whilst o'er the walls peered tufts of yellow broom, And rosy oleanders all abloom.

"And ever and anon some quiet town Came into view, and thro' it straight they passed, Though once perhaps its name had won renown In this strange world, where nothing great doth last. With braided hair, bronzed limb& and girded gown, Ranged round a fountain flowing clear and fast, Their eyes as bright as day, yet dark as night, Stood stalwart women, washing linen white. "And round the open thresholds children fair, Happy and lithe as lizards, romped and ran, Their grandams sitting by in sunny chair ; But in the ways never a sign of man. He was sway, driving the ox-drawn share, Trimming the vine-clasped elm to shapely span, Or through the fields, in many a trickling course Coaxing the rampant torrent's forward force."