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- POEMS - 3/52 -


art. There are some sorts of composition which may be wrought out of eager feeling and the foam of excited passions; and which are therefore to a large extent within the reach of earnest sensibilities and an ambitious will; others are the spontaneous outflow of the heart, to whose perfection, turbulence and effort are fatal. Of the latter kind is the song. While the ode allows of exertion and strain, what is done in it must be accomplished by native and inherent strength.

Speaking with that confidence which may not improperly be assumed by one who, having looked with some care at the foundations of the opinion which he expresses, supposes himself able, if called upon by denial, to furnish such demonstration of its truth as the nature of the matter allows of, we say that, in our judgment, there is no professed writer of songs, in this day, who has conceived the true character of this delicate and peculiar creation of art, with greater precision and justness than Mr. Morris, or been more felicitous than he in dealing with the subtle and multiform difficulties that beset its execution. It is well understood by those whose thoughts are used to be conversant with the suggestions of a deeper analysis than belongs to popular criticism, that the forms of literary art are not indefinite in number, variable in their characteristics, or determined by the casual taste or arbitrary will of authors: they exist in nature; they are dependent upon those fixed laws of intellectual being, of spiritual affection, and moral choice, which constitute the rationality of man. And the actual, positive merit of a poetical production--that real merit, which consists in native vitality, in inherent capacity to live--does not lie in the glitter or costliness of the decorations with which it is invested--nor in the force with which it is made to spring from the mind of its creator into the minds of others--nor yet in the scale of magnitude upon which the ideas belonging to the subject are illustrated in the work; but rather, as we suppose, obviously, and in all cases, upon the integrity and truth with which the particular form that has been contemplated by the artist, is brought out, and the distinctness with which that one specific impression which is appropriate to it, is attained. This is the kind of excellence which we ascribe to Mr. Morris; an excellence of a lofty order; genuine, sincere, and incapable of question; more valuable in this class of composition than in any other, because both more important and more difficult. For the song appears to us to possess a definiteness peculiarly jealous and exclusive; to be less flexible in character and to permit less variety of tone than most other classes of composition. If a man shall say, "I will put more force into my song than your model allows, I will charge it with a greater variety of impressions," it is well; if he is skilful, he may make something that is very valuable. But in so far as his work is more than a song, it is not a song. In all works of Art--wherever form is concerned--excess is error.

The just notion and office of the modern song, as we think of it, is to be the embodiment and expression, in beauty, of some one of those sentiments or thoughts, gay, moral, pensive, joyous, or melancholy, which are as natural and appropriate, in particular circumstances, or to certain occasions, as the odor to the flower; rising at such seasons, into the minds of all classes of persons, instinctive and unbidden, yet in obedience to some law of association which it is the gift of the poet to apprehend. Its graceful purpose is to exhibit an incident in the substance of an emotion, to communicate wisdom in the form of sentiment; it is the refracted gleam of some wandering ray from the fair orb of moral truth, which glancing against some occurrence in common life, is surprised into a smile of quick-darting, many colored beauty; it is the airy ripple that is thrown up when the current of feeling in human hearts accidentally encounters the current of thought and bubbles forth with a gentle fret of sparkling foam. Self-evolved, almost, and obedient in its development and shaping to some inward spark of beauty which appears to possess and control its course, it might almost seem that, in the out-going loveliness of such productions, sentiment made substantial in language, floated abroad in natural self-delivery; as that heat which is not yet flame, gives forth in blue wreaths of vaporous grace, which unfold their delicateness for a moment upon the tranquil air, and then vanish away. It is not an artificial structure built up by intellect after a model foreshaped by fancy, or foreshadowed by the instincts of the passions; it is a simple emotion, crystalled into beauty by passing for a moment through the cooler air of the mind; it is merely an effluence of creative vigor; a graceful feeling thickened into words. Its proper dwelling is in the atmosphere of the sentiments, no the passions; it will not, indeed, repel the sympathy of deeper feelings, but knows them rather under the form of the flower that floats upon the surface of meditation, than of the deeper root that lies beneath its stream. And this is the grievous fault of nearly all Lord Byron's melodies; that he pierces them too profoundly, and passes below the region of grace, charging his lyre with far more vehemence of passion than its slight strings are meant to bear. The beauty which belongs to this production, should be in the form of the thought rather than the fashion of the setting: that genuineness and simplicity of character which constitute almost its essence, are destroyed by any appearance of the cold artifices of construction, palpable springs set for our admiration, whereby the beginning is obviously arranged in reference to a particular ending. This is the short-reaching power of Moore--guilty, by design, of that departure from simplicity, by which he fascinated one generation at the expense of being forgotten by another. The song, while it is general in its impression, should be particular in its occasion; not an abstraction of the mind, but a definite feeling, special to some certain set of circumstances. Rising from out the surface of daily experience, like the watery issuings of a fountain, it throws itself upward for a moment, then descends in a soft, glittering shower to the level whence it rose. Herein resides the chief defect of Bayly's songs; that they are too general and vague--a species of pattern songs--being embodiments of some general feeling, or reflection, but lacking that sufficient reference to some season or occurrence which would justify their appearing, and take away from them the aspect of pretension and display.

The only satisfactory method of criticism is by means of clinical lectures; and we feel regret that our limits do not suffer us--to any great degree--to illustrate what we deem the vigorous simplicity, and genuine grace of Mr. Morris, by that mode of exposition. We must refer to a few cases, however, to show what we have been meaning in the remarks which we made above, upon the proper character of the song. The ballad of "Woodman, spare that tree"--one of those accidents of genius which, however, never happen but to consummate artists--is so familiar to every mind and heart, as to resent citation. Take, then, "My Mother's Bible." We know of no similar production in a truer taste, in a purer style, or more distinctly marked with the character of a good school of composition. Or take "We were boys together." In manly pathos, in tenderness and truth, where shall it be excelled? "The Miniature" posses the captivating elegance of Voiture. "Where Hudson's Wave" is a glorious burst of poetry, modulated into refinement by the hand of a master. Where will you find a nautical song, seemingly more spontaneous in its genial outbreak, really more careful in its construction, than "Land-ho!" How full of the joyous madness of absolute independence, yet made harmonious by instinctive grace, is "Life in the West!" That the same heart whose wild pulse is thrilled by the adventurous interests of the huntsman and the wanderer, can beat in unison with the gentlest truth of deep devotion, is shown in "When other Friends are round Thee." "I love the Night" has the voluptuous elegance of the Spanish models. Were we to meet the lines "Oh, think of me!" in an anthology, we should suppose they were Suckling's--so admirably is the tone of feeling kept down to the limit of probable sincerity--which is a characteristic that the cavalier style of courting never loses. "The Star of Love" might stand as a selected specimen of all that is most exquisite in the songs of the "Trouveurs." "The Seasons of Love" is a charming effusion of gay, yet thoughtful sentiment. The song, "I never have been false to thee," is, of itself, sufficient to establish General Morris's fame as a great poet--as a "potens magister affectuum"--and as a literary creator of a high order. It is a thoroughly fresh and effective poem on a subject as hackneyed as the highway; it is as deep as truth itself, yet light as the movement of a dance. We had almost forgotten, what the world will never forget, the matchless softness and transparent delicacy of "Near the Lake." Those lines, of themselves, unconsciously, court "the soft promoter of the poet's strain," and almost seem about to break into music. It is agreeable to find that, instead of being seduced into a false style by the excessive popularity which many of his songs have acquired, General Morris's later efforts are in a vein even more truly classic than his earlier ones, and show a decided advance, both in power and ease. "The Rock of the Pilgrims," and the "Indian Songs," are a very clear evidence of this. We would willingly go on with our references, as there are several which have equal claims with these upon our notice, but--"claudite jam rivos."

Such are some of the compositions, original in style, natural in spirit, beautiful with the charm of almost faultless execution, which may challenge for their author the title of the lauraete of America....

A writer in "Howitt's and the People's Journal" furnishes the following sketch of General Morris and his Songs, which was copied and endorsed by the late Dr. Rufus W. Griswold, in his International Magazine:--

"Before us lies a heap of songs and ballads, the production of the rich fancy and warm heart of George P. Morris. Not many weeks since, at a public meeting in London, a gentleman claimed to be heard speak on the ground of his connection with the public press from the time when he was seven years of age. We will not undertake to say that General Morris ran his juvenile fingers over the chords of the lyre at so very early a period; but it is certain he tried his hand at writing for the newspapers when he was yet but a mere boy. While in his teens, he was a constant contributor to various periodicals. Many of his articles attracted notice. He began to acquire a literary reputation; and at length, in 1823, being then in his twentieth year, he became editor of the 'New York Mirror.' This responsible post he continued to hold until the termination of the paper's existence in 1834.

"Morris accomplished an infinity of good in the twenty years during which he wielded the editorial pen. Perhaps no other man in the United States was so well qualified for the noble task he set himself at the outset of his career as editor. American literature was in its infancy, and subject to all the weaknesses of that period. Morris resolved to do his utmost toward forming a character for it, and looked abroad anxiously for such as could aid him in his endeavor. The 'Mirror" will ever be fondly remembered by the American literary man, for it has been the cradle of American genius.

"To him a writer in 'Graham's Magazine' attributes the present flourishing condition and bright prospects of transatlantic literature. He evidently possesses a personal knowledge of General Morris, and discourses right eloquently in his praise. Nor do we think that he overrates his merits in the least. From other sources we have ourselves learned much of the genial nature of George P. Morris, and his gigantic labors as a literary pioneer. Considering its juvenility as a nation, republican America, indeed, has been


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