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the latter relieves the uneasiness attendant upon protracted excitement of feeling. The religious zeal, which is the inspiring power of the work, is intense in the highest degree; it is impossible not to perceive that the writer is deeply and unfeignedly engrossed by his solemn and affecting subject; and it is not in the nature of man to remain unmoved by the ardent emotions of another. We may participate in his elevations, or we may feel humbled by our inability to accompany them; or we may treat them as altogether visionary; or, finally, we may be in state of harassing doubt and misgiving; but unaffected we cannot be. This is the preserving life of the poem; giving warmth and freshness to common-place; dignifying the ridiculous; rendering the extravagant less offensive; and diverting our attention from critical defects, by absorbing it in higher matters. It is this which has sustained us through a task, the immeasurable length of which, nothing less could have rendered endurable. True it is, that his religion is not, in all points, suited to poetry. Its merits, as well as its defects, in this respect, are, in part, owing to the theological school in which he was educated. There is a strongly Catholic cast in his piety; by which we understand what Protestants consider a disproportionate regard to the outward things of religion, a subservience to rule and prescription, even in trifles, and a blind and undiscriminating horror of all separation from the visible church, and of all dissent in doctrine, however unimportant. Such an approximation to Popery was not uncommon in the earlier ages of the church, while the separation was comparatively recent. Religion, like all other things, even where it is essentially the same, in passing through the mind of man, receives a colouring from the disposition and circumstances of the individual ; and, accordingly, while some of the fathers of our church approximate, in the style of their piety, to the great Puritan divines, others, of equal sincerity and fervour, and agreeing with the former in all the great points of faith and practice, bear a striking resemblance to the devouter Catholic writers. This is the case, even with many of those, who were, in their day, among the most decided and active opponents of the church of Rome. It is, indeed, curious, and, to one interested in the subject, highly gratifying and instructive, to observe, how similar are the features of genuine piety in men of hostile communions; men, who, to use Southey's words, must have been astonished, when they met each other in Paradise.
To return to Dr. Beaumont, we know no writer, in whom the character above described is more strongly, we had almost said so strongly, marked. With the exception of the title-page, and a few indirect notices, scattered through the volume, there is nothing from which it could be determined,
whether the writer was a Catholic or a Protestant. We mention this peculiarity, as it influences his poetry, in various ways. Hence, that proneness to embody religion in sensible forms, which frequently conduces to picturesque effect; and, hence, on the other hand, a narrowness of view, which contrasts disagreeably with the nobleness and grandeur of his aspirations. To this may be added, a propensity to obtrude petty points of dispute (owing, in part, to the polemical turn of his age) which renders him, like Cowper, occasionally too doctrinal for poetry. Poetry deals only with great general truths, not with their subdivisions and limitations. When once a poet descends to bandy subtleties with an opponent, and to raise and answer objections, his cause is lost. We are reminded that the truths, on which the superstructure of passion and imagination is founded, are, in certain particulars at least, not self-evident; doubts are suggested to our mind ; and the
very act of doubting is fatal to all illusion, even though the doubt should be susceptible of a satisfactory solution. This, however, can seldom be the case ; even when we agree with the disputant in the main, there is generally some minute point of difference, some peculium of private belief, some diversity in the form of the opinion, though the matter may be the same; we hold the doctrine, but are not to be compelled to hold it in his way. Such prepossessions are usually too deeply rooted to be overthrown by a syllogism in verse; so that the poet abandons his own vantage-ground, without attaining the object for which he made the sacrifice. This, however, is only an occasional blemish in Dr. Beaumont's poetry. We ought not to omit, as one of the most prominent characteristics of his work, that it is deeply imbued with that mysticism (so called) which was in his time extensively prevalent, but which the extravagancies of the more fanatical Puritans, and of their successors, have since rendered unpopular in this country, as causes nearly similar led to its decline in France. This propensity is in his favour as a poet; for poetry loves to reside in the dim light of those ideas, which, from their very immensity, can only be imperfectly discerned. Dr. Beaumont deserves an honourable place among the mystic poets, for the spirit and fullness with which he has developed their system.
He is, moreover, free from many of the besetting sins of his brethren; he incurs no superfluous obscurity by the use of technical terms; he never disjoins practice from meditation, nor does he introduce into devotion the language of sensual passion.
Dr. Beaumont's poetical faculty may be defined in few words, as a power of conceiving vividly, and of embodying his conceptions with facility, by the aid of a rich store of expressive words, and a fancy inexhaustibly fruitful in illustrative imagery. This, we own, is a somewhat vague description, and contains little in it to distinguish him from many other poets of his class, all bearing the same family face. There is, in fact, little distinction among them. Our sagacious readers, however, will be able to form a better notion of Dr. Beaumont from the subjoined extracts, than from any thing we could say. In“ Psyche” every thing, however slight in itself, is presented in a lively and palpable form. Minute touches are beyond his art, but his colours are gorgeous and glowing, and his figures, though rudely drawn, stand out distinct and striking. His power of language is considerable, and frequently comes in aid of deficient matter.* He had his full share in the prevailing rage for uncommon and far-fetched combinations of ideas, called, in the language of criticism, conceits; that propensity which marred the happy genius of Cowley, and which the sturdy intellect of Donne, unable to escape, contented itself with bending to its own purposes. Such an inclination was not likely to starve for want of food, in so fertile a brain as Beaumonts. Accordingly, his poem is full of the most fantastic conceptions, both in the way of occasional metaphor and detailed allegory; although the gravity of his subject preserves him from falling into the extreme absurdities of some of his contemporaries, and religious passion gives to his conceits' a life and meaning of which they would otherwise be destitute. The allegorical fancy-pieces, above alluded to, are among the most elaborate parts of the poem. They are, in general, personifications of evil passions, such as are common in most of our old narrative poets; a species of portrait, of which Ovid, in his description of Envy and Famine, supplied the idea, and Sackville, in his Induction, the immediate model. Those who remember the picture of Cruelty, in Crashaw's translation of Marino, may form a tolerable notion of Dr. Beaumont's style of delineating these subjects. He delights in heaping together images of terror and disgust, and tasks his invention for additional circumstances of deformity. It was among the peculiarities of his school of religionists, not merely to draw a broad and indelible distinction between moral good and evil (a distinction which must exist under every form of religion worthy of the name) but to inculcate the doctrine of a mysterious union between moral and physical good, and vice versa. Hence, the strong and decisive colours which writers of this class employ, when they embody their conceptions, whether of
Pope's remark on “ Psyche” is exceedingly characteristic of its author. “There are in it a great many flowers well worth gathering, and a man who has the art of stealing wisely will find his account in reading it.”
good or evil, in a visible shape. Milton is cited as an example of the contrary tendency; nor can these remarks be better illustrated than by a comparison of Milton's hell, as well as of his Satan, with that of Dante. To Dr. Beaumont, of course, the above observations apply in all their force. With him, whatever is evil, is evil in every way, and in all degrees. We are reminded of the good and bad man in the story-books; or of Swedenborg's definition of hell, as what this earth would be, if all moral good were withdrawn from it, and the evil left to puțrefy; or of the sublime conception, on the same subject, in Marlow's Faustus,
when all the world dissolves, And every creature shall be purified,
All places shall be hell which are not heaven.” The most striking instance of this, is the picture of Heresy, in the eighteenth canto, stanza clxxxv. a piece of combined horror and loathsomeness, too disgusting to be quoted here, and which might be supposed the joint production of Dante and Dean Swift.
Our readers, probably, think that we have allotted a disproportionate space to the discussion of Beaumont's merits, and it is not impossible that they may consider us equally unconscionable in the quantity of our extracts. It ought, however, to be recollected, that they are made from a poem of forty thousand lines, and which, from the peculiar cast of the author's talent, abounds with producible passages. The poem opens with a grand infernal council
, in which Satan proclaims his designs against Psyche, and arranges the entire plan of the campaign. We quote the description of the infernal palace and its lord.
“Hell's Court is built deep in a gloomy vale,
With all envenom'd herbs and trees, more rank
The gate, where Fire and Smoke the porters be,
Them by a summoning hiss, haste down her throat
'The hall was roof'd with everlasting Pride,
Great Satan's arms stamp'd on an iron shield,
A crowned dragon, gules, in sable field.
His mace, on which ten thousand serpents knit,
With restless madness goaw'd themselves, and it.
Two comets staring in their bloody stream,
Two beacons boiling in their pitch and flame.
His grizly beard a sing'd confession made
What fiery breath through his black lips did trade.
Their awed mouths : the silent peers, in fear,
Hung down their tails, and on their Lord did stare."
“ When this last night had sealed up mine eyes,
And trimm'd with every star; on his soft wing
Quite through the store-house of the air I past