THE POEMS OF LADY FLORA HASTINGS.
Tire most immediate interest of this volume having of necessity a personal character, it will be best to let the sister of Lady FLoai liasxmos speak for herself in explaining the circumstances which have induced its publication.
" Lady Flora (says the preface) had for many years been repeatedly urged to publish her poems; but she refused to listen to the solicitations of partial friends, as she shrank alike from anonymous authorship and from the notoriety attendant on being a professed poetess. In writing to me, however, in April 1839, she mentioned that she had been seriously and deeply considering the subject ; and that she had almost decided' on employing herself, 'when she returned home,' in their arrangement and publication, with the view of dedi- cating whatever profits might be derived from them to the service of God, in the parish where her mother's family have long resided. She died without, I believe, ever finally deciding ; and she never gave me any reason to think that she expected me to fulfil the intention, which the merciful wisdom of the Om- nipotent decreed she should not live to carry into effect herself; but, as a few days before her death she confided to my sole care the whole of her papers— a trust which a memorandum, subsequently found, more strongly imposes on me—I was thus left the unquestionable power of acting according to my sense of duty. And when I recall all that occurred while I was in attendance on her deathbed, there is that which makes me feel myself solemnly bound in the sight of God to fulfil her wish, and to lay the offering of her poetical talents on the altar of her Maker, as she would perhaps herself have done. It is under the influence of this feeling that I now send forth to the public this volume. • * " With the exception of three pieces, which were printed some years since, none were prepared for. publication ; and as there existed several copies of many of them, each varying in some particulars, I finally judged it best to prefer, in general, the version in my own possession. In the translation of 'The Lay of the Bell,' Lady Flora had herself informed me that she believed she had occa- sionally mistaken the sense of the technical phrases ; and I therefore deemed it but justice to the German text, and to the public taste, to place it in the hands of a competent judge, and to adopt the amendments kindly suggested to me, especially as they were few, and neither affected the originality of my sister's translation nor interfered with its beauty as an English poem.
"Beyond this I did not feel that I had any right to touch the original ma- nuscripts, and I preferred rather to trust to the lenient judgment of those who might peruse them. Had my sister lived to correct these poems herself, they would probably have been more critically finished, and thus rendered more worthy of the acceptance of the public."
For every posthumous volume great allowances are always to be made. The author has rarely given to the manuscript copy those reviving-touches which are so necessary to bring out ideas in the most favourable manner: those "blemishes of style," as Gianox remarks, which, "invisible in the manuscript, are discovered and corrected in the printed sheets," must always remain. Still greater must be the allowance when, as in the Poems before us, a variety of unfinished or imperfectly-finished copies furnish evidence that the writer had left her labours formally incomplete. After all these drawbacks, the Poems of Lady FLORA HASTINGS may be perused with pleasure ; and they exhibit qualities that may ask for criticism, apart from any extrinsic circumstances that give them a popular attraction. The contents of the volume consist of occasional poems transla- tions, a few tales imitative of ballad story or diablerie, and fragments from two tragedies. And we not only incline to rank the dramatic specimens as the best poetry in the volumes, but as exhibiting very favourable examples of the writer's dramatic power. Of the conduct of the plot, the strength and propriety of the characters, or even the displays of passion, no judgment can be formed from the mere disjecta membra that appear. But the dialogue has clear- ness and terseness; • the persons speak briefly and to the purpose ; and the scenes which exist indicate variety, individuality, and subordination in the dramatis persona. Lady FLORA is also devoid of the besetting weakness of playwrights, who compose to the dictation of players, and are compelled to furnish the principal people with all the principal "sentiments" and " situations." Her humbler characters seem as thoroughly conceived and finished, their feelings as intense, and their fortunes inspiring as much of sympathy in kind though not in degree, as her leading persons. Both her plays were founded on historical subjects ; and, whether by accident or design, appear to have possessed a domestic interest, over and above the history, arising from the anxiety and doubt of the females, through the connexion of t heir husbands or lovers with public events. Whether Lady FLORA could have arisen to the expression of passion, we have no evidence ; but she could describe its ex- ternal signs and its feelings. As an example, take this fragment of a scene from her fragment of" Fiesco"; founded on the conspiracy of the young, gifted, accomplished, and popular member of that noble house, against the aristocracy of Genoa.
Montano. Ficsco's bride !
My lovely one, my child, I cannot brook To see thee wither'd by the cold neglect
Of him who loved thee once. Fresco's bride—
The peerless flower of Genoa, the descendant Of a long line of heroes—was not born To meet the cold glance of indifference, Or the offensive pity of the crowd.
Vitiora. Nor meets she it, nor needs it : my loved father, Fiesco's wife needs not the vulgar meed Of pity, or degrading sympathy,
Were she despised : but while the faithful heart., Of him she loves is hers immutably— While every glance, and every word of his Comes breathing fond fidelity and hope— When every zephyr on his downy wings Bears the celestial and entrancing sweets Of odours from Love's Araby—isq strange That tears of ecstasy will sometimes gush From the full fountains of her eyes ?
Montano. Away I Thy tears are not of ecstasy. They fall Here in the silence of thy lonely bower :
While the wild shouts of loud and dissolute mirth
Ring throughout the halls of Count Fiasco's palace, I find thee prostrate at Our Lady's shrine, Thy hair dishevell'd, thy cheek pale and wan;
Thy lips, so rosy once—
The other unfinished drama was founded upon the tale of
"Joanna of Naples." WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR has tried his
hand (and less successfully, as far as we can judge) on the same story; but took a different time, choosing the murder of Joanna's first husband, Andrea ; whilst Lady FLORA, with more dramatic per- ception, has selected the closing scenes in the life of that question- able Queen, when Dorazzo's successful rebellion deprived her of her throne and eventually of life. The following scene, though perhaps somewhat too rhetorical for the business-like brevity of the drama, has power, pathos, and fulness. The present is filled up, and something is shown beyond it.
Joanna and Era Agostino. Joan. Tell me, father, Can grief-wrung groans—can ceaseless prayers—can wo,
Treasured within the heart an honour'd guest—
Can deep remorse that asketh not relief,
Inly consuming me, and wasting me—
Can aught atone for bygone sins ? Can tears
Flowing from night till morn—from morn till night—
Can they from my sad spirit wash away The stain of blood?
E Agog. Of what?
Joan. Of innocent blood.
F. Agost. Pardon, 0 God of Vengeance! 'tis Andrea's! Joan. Oh! no, no, no, thank God! No! not Andrea's !
Blood is upon my soul ; but ! not his. God! who dost search all spirits, Thou dost see me, I stand before thee a most guilty thing; But from my true love to my murder'd lord, From the deep faith and firm fidelity My early vow plighted before Thine altar, Thou know'st I swerved never. Father, no l Crave thou no pardon for thy bard rude thought. The chasten'd spirit of thy penitent Can brook and suffer all; and even in this Can see thy pity for an erring soul, And thank thee that thou cardst Heaven's mercy down On one thou deem'dst so vile—and vile indeed The sin that blots my memory. There was one,
The nursing-mother of my bright young years—
She loved me, father, with a parent's love ; Loved me ! ay, loved me like her only child, The bright-hair'd maiden, with the smiling eyes, Who grew beside me into womanhood. Father, that girl's fair image haunts me yet, Her glad and musical laughter, and the songs We rang together in that sunny time. We were so blithe, that I have even wept For idleness—the o'erflow of too much joy.
She grew beside me, and a truer heart A gentler being, lived not on the earth. I gave the maiden with a princely dower, Such as beseem'd Joanna's dearest friend, To one right worthy of her : they were happy ; Their life flew onward like a summer's day. Father, I gave theca all—all three—to death ; And they were innocent ! My cruel brother Charged them with having wrought Andrea's death : But it was false—her latest accents said so.
E'en to the last they stood in conscious virtue, Pronouncing" " We are innocent." They died, But breathed no curses on Joanna's name.
The shorter poems have less strength, if not less merit, than
these dramatic fragments. They are all, however, animated by poetical spirit, displaying itself in various modes,—lively, mildly satirical, and with occasional touches of humour, but each quality tempered and restrained by a deep religious feeling. There was also in Lady FLORA'S mind a strong instinctive percep- tion, which led her to form a true judgment of things, and taught her, that as the business of poetry is to describe nature, no undue importance should be assigned to artificial modes or habits of life. Hence no prominence is given to adventitious distinctions : when mentioned, they are mentioned slightly, or satirically—as in the clever rhymes called "Ashby de la Zona," descriptive of James the First's sponging visit to Huntingdon. "The bells did ring;
The gracious King Enjoy'd his visit much ; And we've been poor- Er since that hour, At Ashby de la Zouch."
Many of the more familiar subjects afford glimpses of the Hew- n:GS family, and exhibit them in a kindly and very respectable light. The following extract from some infantile poems, written for the children of her brother the Marquis of HASTINGS, pre- sents a picture of an amiable domestic character, independent of the literary merit, in the adaptation of the images and diction to childish comprehensions.
INFANTILE POEMS, WRITTEN FOR LORD HASTINGS' CHILDREN.
Get up, little sister : the morning is bright, And the birds are all singing to welcome the light ; The buds are all opening—the dew's on the flower;
If you shake but a branch, see there falls quite a shower.
By the side of their mothers, look, under the trees,
How the young fawns are skipping about as they please ;
And by all those rings on the water, I know The fishes are merrily swimming below The bee, I dare say, has been long on the wing. To get honey from every flower of the spring; For the bee never idles, but labours all day,
And thinks, wise little insect, work better than play.
The lark's singing gayly ; it loves the bright sun, And rejoices that now the gay'spring is begun; For the spring is so cheerful, I think 'twould be wrong If we did not feel happy to hear the lark's song.
Get up ; for when all things are merry and glad, Good children should never be lazy and sad; For God gives us daylight, dear sister, that we May rejoice like the lark and may work like the bee.
The only two poems that have a direct personal interest are "Farewell my Home," and " Verses written in May 1839." The former, besides its dusions to her mother and sisters, has an in- terest, as being the last or all but the last time that Lady Punts quitted that home, till she returned in her coffin. But it is too long to quote. We extract the second ; written after her persecutions began, and not long before her death.
VERSES WRITTEN IN MAT 1839.
Break not by heedless word the spell With which that strain bath bound me; For the bright thoughts of former years Are thronging fast around me.
Voices long hush'd are heard again; Smiles that have pass'd away Beam on my memory, as once They bless'd mine early day ; Hopes that have melted into air, And sorrows that have slept ; And, bending from the spirits' laud, The loved—the lost—the wept.
My very heart is young again, As in the days of yore ;
I feel that 1 could trait—alas! As I may trust no more.
A very considerable part of the interest these Poems will in- spire, or at least of the attraction they possess, is undoubtedly due to extrinsic circumstances. The question for criticism to decide is, what are their real characteristics and value ? That Lady FLORA HASTINGS possessed poetical spirit there is no question ; perhaps as little that she possessed poetical power. She seems also to have had considerable judgment in the selection and management of her topics ; or, what in its results is just the same, she generally fol- lowed the bent of her nature, and treated those subjects to which she was inclined, and with which she had become familiarized by observation and reflection. But her works are deficient in art and labour. She sometimes overdoes her subject, by introducing things which do not essentially pertain to it ; as in "The Dying Sybil," a sort of autobiographical soliloquy, in which all that is uttered might be said of an ancient enthusiast, but it is not what the dying woman herself would say, and therefore it becomes tedious. But more frequently her pieces want working-up; as wholes, they fall short of the perfect finish which is necessary to poetry, and which Lady Fume, we believe, was capable of giving them. She seems to have written what struck her, but to have been undetermined to undergo the preparation and labour of a long flight. And this will explain the excellence of her dramatic fragments, as well as the cause of her unfinished dramas. Had she been more favourably circumstanced in regard to intellectual exertion, she would probably have taken a high place amongst female poets ; but we question whether she would have attained it by a longer life. A thing to be done well must be done daily, and pursued as a business: an amateur rarely attains more than a social excellence ; but personal circumstances, especially if they touch the common feelings of our nature, operate for years. The unfeminine and indecent persecution in the Queen's Palace, that embittered the closing days of Lady FLORA HASTINGS, if it did not hasten her end, will attach an interest to her name, which the productions of her mind, as exhibited in the volume before us, would not of themselves have commanded.