Front Page Titles (by Subject) MR. ROBERT MONTGOMERY. (April, 1830.) - Critical and Historical Essays, Vol. 1
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MR. ROBERT MONTGOMERY. (April, 1830.) - Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay, Critical and Historical Essays, Vol. 1 
Critical and Historical Essays contributed to the Edinburgh Review, 5th ed. in 3 vols. (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1848). Vol. 1.
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MR. ROBERT MONTGOMERY. (April, 1830.)
1. The Omnipresence of the Deity: a Poem. By Robert Montgomery. Eleventh Edition. London: 1830.
2. Satan: a Poem. By Robert Montgomery. Second Edition. London: 1830.
The wise men of antiquity loved to convey instruction under the covering of apologue; and though this practice is generally thought childish, we shall make no apology for adopting it on the present occasion. A generation which has bought eleven editions of a poem by Mr. Robert Montgomery may well condescend to listen to a fable of Pilpay.
A pious Brahmin, it is written, made a vow that on a certain day he would sacrifice a sheep, and on the appointed morning he went forth to buy one. There lived in his neighbourhood three rogues who knew of his vow and laid a scheme for profiting by it. The first met him and said, “Oh Brahmin, wilt thou buy a sheep? I have one fit for sacrifice.” “It is for that very purpose,” said the holy man, “that I came forth this day.” Then the impostor opened a bag, and brought out of it an unclean beast, an ugly dog, lame and blind. Thereon the Brahmin cried out, “Wretch, who touchest things impure, and utterest things untrue, callest thou that cur a sheep?” “Truly,” answered the other, “it is a sheep of the finest fleece, and of the sweetest flesh. Oh Brahmin, it will be an offering most acceptable to the gods.” “Friend,” said the Brahmin, “either thou or I must be blind.”
Just then one of the accomplices came up. “Praised be the gods,” said this second rogue, “that I have been saved the trouble of going to the market for a sheep! This is such a sheep as I wanted. For how much wilt thou sell it?” When the Brahmin heard this, his mind waved to and fro, like one swinging in the air at a holy festival. “Sir,” said he to the new comer, “take heed what thou dost; this is no sheep, but an unclean cur.” “Oh Brahmin,” said the new comer, “thou art drunk or mad!”
At this time the third confederate drew near. “Let us ask this man,” said the Brahmin, “what the creature is, and I will stand by what he shall say.” To this the others agreed; and the Brahmin called out, “Oh stranger, what dost thou call this beast?” “Surely, oh Brahmin,” said the knave, “it is a fine sheep.” Then the Brahmin said, “Surely the gods have taken away my senses;” and he asked pardon of him who carried the dog, and bought it for a measure of rice and a pot of ghee, and offered it up to the gods, who, being wroth at this unclean sacrifice, smote him with a sore disease in all his joints.
Thus, or nearly thus, if we remember rightly, runs the story of the Sanscrit Æsop. The moral, like the moral of every fable that is worth the telling, lies on the surface. The writer evidently means to caution us against the practices of puffers, a class of people who have more than once talked the public into the most absurd errors, but who surely never played a more curious or a more difficult trick than when they passed Mr. Robert Montgomery off upon the world as a great poet.
In an age in which there are so few readers that a writer cannot subsist on the sum arising from the sale of his works, no man who has not an independent fortune can devote himself to literary pursuits, unless he is assisted by patronage. In such an age, accordingly, men of letters too often pass their lives in dangling at the heels of the wealthy and powerful; and all the faults which dependence tends to produce, pass into their character. They become the parasites and slaves of the great. It is melancholy to think how many of the highest and most exquisitely formed of human intellects have been condemned to the ignominious labour of disposing the commonplaces of adulation in new forms and brightening them into new splendour. Horace invoking Augustus in the most enthusiastic language of religious veneration, Statius flattering a tyrant, and the minion of a tyrant, for a morsel of bread, Ariosto versifying the whole genealogy of a niggardly patron, Tasso extolling the heroic virtues of the wretched creature who locked him up in a mad-house, these are but a few of the instances which might easily be given of the degradation to which those must submit who, not possessing a competent fortune, are resolved to write when there are scarcely any who read.
This evil the progress of the human mind tends to remove. As a taste for books becomes more and more common, the patronage of individuals becomes less and less necessary. In the middle of the last century a marked change took place. The tone of literary men, both in this country and in France, became higher and more independent. Pope boasted that he was the “one poet” who had “pleased by manly ways;” he derided the soft dedications with which Halifax had been fed, asserted his own superiority over the pensioned Boileau, and gloried in being not the follower, but the friend, of nobles and princes. The explanation of all this is very simple. Pope was the first Englishman who, by the mere sale of his writings, realised a sum which enabled him to live in comfort and in perfect independence. Johnson extols him for the magnanimity which he showed in inscribing his Iliad not to a minister or a peer, but to Congreve. In our time this would scarcely be a subject for praise. Nobody is astonished when Mr. Moore pays a compliment of this kind to Sir Walter Scott, or Sir Walter Scott to Mr. Moore. The idea of either of those gentlemen looking out for some lord who would be likely to give him a few guineas in return for a fulsome dedication seems laughably incongruous. Yet this is exactly what Dryden or Otway would have done; and it would be hard to blame them for it. Otway is said to have been choked with a piece of bread which he devoured in the rage of hunger; and, whether this story be true or false, he was beyond all question miserably poor. Dryden, at near seventy, when at the head of the literary men of England, without equal or second, received three hundred pounds for his Fables, a collection of ten thousand verses, and of such verses as no man then living, except himself, could have produced. Pope, at thirty, had laid up between six and seven thousand pounds, the fruits of his poetry. It was not, we suspect, because he had a higher spirit or a more scrupulous conscience than his predecessors, but because he had a larger income, that he kept up the dignity of the literary character so much better than they had done.
From the time of Pope to the present day the readers have been constantly becoming more and more numerous, and the writers, consequently, more and more independent. It is assuredly a great evil that men, fitted by their talents and acquirements to enlighten and charm the world, should be reduced to the necessity of flattering wicked and foolish patrons in return for the sustenance of life. But, though we heartily rejoice that this evil is removed, we cannot but see with concern that another evil has succeeded to it. The public is now the patron, and a most liberal patron. All that the rich and powerful bestowed on authors from the time of Mæcenas to that of Harley would not, we apprehend, make up a sum equal to that which has been paid by English booksellers to authors during the last fifty years. Men of letters have accordingly ceased to court individuals, and have begun to court the public. They formerly used flattery. They now use puffing.
Whether the old or the new vice be the worse, whether those who formerly lavished insincere praise on others, or those who now contrive by every art of beggary and bribery to stun the public with praises of themselves, disgrace their vocation the more deeply, we shall not attempt to decide. But of this we are sure, that it is high time to make a stand against the new trickery. The puffing of books is now so shamefully and so successfully carried on that it is the duty of all who are anxious for the purity of the national taste, or for the honour of the literary character, to join in discountenancing the practice. All the pens that ever were employed in magnifying Bish’s lucky office, Romanis’s fleecy hosiery, Packwood’s razor strops, and Rowland’s Kalydor, all the placard-bearers of Dr. Eady, all the wall-chalkers of Day and Martin, seem to have taken service with the poets and novelists of this generation. Devices which in the lowest trades are considered as disreputable are adopted without scruple, and improved upon with a despicable ingenuity, by people engaged in a pursuit which never was and never will be considered as a mere trade by any man of honour and virtue. A butcher of the higher class disdains to ticket his meat. A mercer of the higher class would be ashamed to hang up papers in his window inviting the passers-by to look at the stock of a bankrupt, all of the first quality, and going for half the value. We expect some reserve, some decent pride, in our hatter and our bootmaker. But no artifice by which notoriety can be obtained is thought too abject for a man of letters.
It is amusing to think over the history of most of the publications which have had a run during the last few years. The publisher is often the publisher of some periodical work. In this periodical work the first flourish of trumpets is sounded. The peal is then echoed and re-echoed by all the other periodical works over which the publisher, or the author, or the author’s coterie, may have any influence. The newspapers are for a fortnight filled with puffs of all the various kinds which Sheridan enumerated, direct, oblique, and collusive. Sometimes the praise is laid on thick for simple-minded people. “Pathetic,” “sublime,” “splendid,” “graceful,” “brilliant wit,” “exquisite humour,” and other phrases equally flattering, fall in a shower as thick and as sweet as the sugar-plums at a Roman carnival. Sometimes greater art is used. A sinecure has been offered to the writer if he would suppress his work, or if he would even soften down a few of his incomparable portraits. A distinguished military and political character has challenged the inimitable satirist of the vices of the great; and the puffer is glad to learn that the parties have been bound over to keep the peace. Sometimes it is thought expedient that the puffer should put on a grave face, and utter his panegyric in the form of admonition. “Such attacks on private character cannot be too much condemned. Even the exuberant wit of our author, and the irresistible power of his withering sarcasm, are no excuses for that utter disregard which he manifests for the feelings of others. We cannot but wonder that a writer of such transcendent talents, a writer who is evidently no stranger to the kindly charities and sensibilities of our nature, should show so little tenderness to the foibles of noble and distinguished individuals, with whom it is clear, from every page of his work, that he must have been constantly mingling in society.” These are but tame and feeble imitations of the paragraphs with which the daily papers are filled whenever an attorney’s clerk or an apothecary’s assistant undertakes to tell the public in bad English and worse French, how people tie their neckcloths and eat their dinners in Grosvenor Square. The editors of the higher and more respectable newspapers usually prefix the words “Advertisement,” or, “From a Correspondent,” to such paragraphs. But this makes little difference. The panegyric is extracted, and the significant heading omitted. The fulsome eulogy makes its appearance on the covers of all the Reviews and Magazines, with “Times” or “Globe” affixed, though the editors of the Times and the Globe have no more to do with it than with Mr. Goss’s way of making old rakes young again.
That people who live by personal slander should practise these arts is not suprising. Those who stoop to write calumnious books may well stoop to puff them; and that the basest of all trades should be carried on in the basest of all manners is quite proper and as it should be. But how any man who has the least self-respect, the least regard for his own personal dignity, can condescend to persecute the public with this Rag-fair importunity, we do not understand. Extreme poverty may, indeed, in some degree, be an excuse for employing these shifts, as it may be an excuse for stealing a leg of mutton. But we really think that a man of spirit and delicacy would quite as soon satisfy his wants in the one way as in the other.
It is no excuse for an author that the praises of journalists are procured by the money or influence of his publishers, and not by his own. It is his business to take such precautions as may prevent others from doing what must degrade him. It is for his honour as a gentleman, and, if he is really a man of talents, it will eventually be for his honour and interest as a writer, that his works should come before the public recommended by their own merits alone, and should be discussed with perfect freedom. If his objects be really such as he may own without shame, he will find that they will, in the long run, be better attained by suffering the voice of criticism to be fairly heard. At present, we too often see a writer attempting to obtain literary fame as Shakspeare’s usurper obtains sovereignty. The publisher plays Buckingham to the author’s Richard. Some few creatures of the conspiracy are dexterously disposed here and there in the crowd. It is the business of these hirelings to throw up their caps, and clap their hands, and utter their vivas. The rabble at first stare and wonder, and at last join in shouting for shouting’s sake; and thus a crown is placed on a head which has no right to it, by the huzzas of a few servile dependents.
The opinion of the great body of the reading public is very materially influenced even by the unsupported assertions of those who assume a right to criticize. Nor is the public altogether to blame on this account. Most even of those who have really a great enjoyment in reading are in the same state, with respect to a book, in which a man who has never given particular attention to the art of painting is with respect to a picture. Every man who has the least sensibility or imagination derives a certain pleasure from pictures. Yet a man of the highest and finest intellect might, unless he had formed his taste by contemplating the best pictures, be easily persuaded by a knot of connoisseurs that the worst daub in Somerset House was a miracle of art. If he deserves to be laughed at, it is not for his ignorance of pictures, but for his ignorance of men. He knows that there is a delicacy of taste in painting which he does not possess, that he cannot distinguish hands, as practised judges distinguish them, that he is not familiar with the finest models, that he has never looked at them with close attention, and that, when the general effect of a piece has pleased him or displeased him, he has never troubled himself to ascertain why. When, therefore, people, whom he thinks more competent to judge than himself, and of whose sincerity he entertains no doubt, assure him that a particular work is exquisitely beautiful, he takes it for granted that they must be in the right. He returns to the examination, resolved to find or imagine beauties; and, if he can work himself up into something like admiration, he exults in his own proficiency.
Just such is the manner in which nine readers out of ten judge of a book. They are ashamed to dislike what men who speak as having authority declare to be good. At present, however contemptible a poem or a novel may be, there is not the least difficulty in procuring favourable notices of it from all sorts of publications, daily, weekly, and monthly. In the mean time, little or nothing is said on the other side. The author and the publisher are interested in crying up the book. Nobody has any very strong interest in crying it down. Those who are best fitted to guide the public opinion think it beneath them to expose mere nonsense, and comfort themselves by reflecting that such popularity cannot last. This contemptuous lenity has been carried too far. It is perfectly true that reputations which have been forced into an unnatural bloom fade almost as soon as they have expanded; nor have we any apprehensions that puffing will ever raise any scribbler to the rank of a classic. It is indeed amusing to turn over some late volumes of periodical works, and to see how many immortal productions have, within a few months, been gathered to the Poems of Blackmore and the novels of Mrs. Behn; how many “profound views of human nature,” and “exquisite delineations of fashionable manners,” and “vernal, and sunny, and refreshing thoughts,” and “high imaginings,” and “young breathings,” and “embodyings,” and “pinings,” and “minglings with the beauty of the universe,” and “harmonies which dissolve the soul in a passionate sense of loveliness and divinity,” the world has contrived to forget. The names of the books and of the writers are buried in as deep an oblivion as the name of the builder of Stonehenge. Some of the well puffed fashionable novels of eighteen hundred and twenty-nine hold the pastry of eighteen hundred and thirty; and others, which are now extolled in language almost too high-flown for the merits of Don Quixote, will, we have no doubt, line the trunks of eighteen hundred and thirty-one. But, though we have no apprehensions that puffing will ever confer permanent reputation on the undeserving, we still think its influence most pernicious. Men of real merit will, if they persevere, at last reach the station to which they are entitled, and intruders will be ejected with contempt and derision. But it is no small evil that the avenues to fame should be blocked up by a swarm of noisy, pushing, elbowing pretenders, who, though they will not ultimately be able to make good their own entrance, hinder, in the mean time, those who have a right to enter. All who will not disgrace themselves by joining in the unseemly scuffle must expect to be at first hustled and shouldered back. Some men of talents, accordingly, turn away in dejection from pursuits in which success appears to bear no proportion to desert. Others employ in self-defence the means by which competitors, far inferior to themselves, appear for a time to obtain a decided advantage. There are few who have sufficient confidence in their own powers and sufficient elevation of mind to wait with secure and contemptuous patience, while dunce after dunce presses before them. Those who will not stoop to the baseness of the modern fashion are too often discouraged. Those who stoop to it are always degraded.
We have of late observed with great pleasure some symptoms which lead us to hope that respectable literary men of all parties are beginning to be impatient of this insufferable nuisance. And we purpose to do what in us lies for the abating of it. We do not think that we can more usefully assist in this good work than by showing our honest countrymen what that sort of poetry is which puffing can drive through eleven editions, and how easily any bellman might, if a bellman would stoop to the necessary degree of meanness, become “a master-spirit of the age.” We have no enmity to Mr. Robert Montgomery. We know nothing whatever about him, except what we have learned from his books, and from the portrait prefixed to one of them, in which he appears to be doing his very best to look like a man of genius and sensibility, though with less success than his strenuous exertions deserve. We select him, because his works have received more enthusiastic praise, and have deserved more unmixed contempt, than any which, as far as our knowledge extends, have appeared within the last three or four years. His writing bears the same relation to poetry which a Turkey carpet bears to a picture. There are colours in the Turkey carpet out of which a picture might be made. There are words in Mr. Montgomery’s writing which, when disposed in certain orders and combinations, have made, and will again make, good poetry. But, as they now stand, they seem to be put together on principle in such a manner as to give no image of any thing “in the heavens above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth.”
The poem on the Omnipresence of the Deity commences with a description of the creation, in which we can find only one thought which has the least pretension to ingenuity, and that one thought is stolen from Dryden, and marred in the stealing;
The all-pervading influence of the Supreme Being is then described in a few tolerable lines borrowed from Pope, and a great many intolerable lines of Mr. Robert Montgomery’s own. The following may stand as a specimen:
The last two lines contain an excellent specimen of Mr. Robert Montgomery’s Turkey-carpet style of writing. The majestic view of earth is the mirror of God’s presence; and on this mirror Mr. Robert Montgomery paints God’s presence. The use of a mirror, we submit, is not to be painted upon.
A few more lines, as bad as those which we have quoted, bring us to one of the most amusing instances of literary pilfering which we remember. It might be of use to plagiarists to know, as a general rule, that what they steal is, to employ a phrase common in advertisements, of no use to any but the right owner. We never fell in, however, with any plunderer who so little understood how to turn his booty to good account as Mr. Montgomery. Lord Byron, in a passage which every body knows by heart, has said, addressing the sea,
“Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow.”
Mr. Robert Montgomery very coolly appropriates the image, and reproduces the stolen goods in the following form:
So may such ill got gains ever prosper!
The effect which the Ocean produces on Atheists is then described in the following lofty lines:
If Mr. Robert Montgomery’s genius were not far too free and aspiring to be shackled by the rules of syntax, we should suppose that it is at the nod of the Atheist that creation staggers. But Mr. Robert Montgomery’s readers must take such grammar as they can get, and be thankful.
A few more lines bring us to another instance of unprofitable theft. Sir Walter Scott has these lines in the Lord of the Isles:
This is pretty taken separately, and, as is always the case with the good things of good writers, much prettier in its place than can even be conceived by those who see it only detached from the context. Now for Mr. Montgomery:
The comparison of a violet, bright with the dew, to a woman’s eyes, is as perfect as a comparison can be. Sir Walter’s lines are part of a song addressed to a woman at daybreak, when the violets are bathed in dew; and the comparison is therefore peculiarly natural and graceful. Dew on a bramble is no more like a woman’s eyes than dew anywhere else. There is a very pretty Eastern tale of which the fate of plagiarists often reminds us. The slave of a magician saw his master wave his wand, and heard him give orders to the spirits who arose at the summons. The slave stole the wand, and waved it himself in the air; but he had not observed that his master used the left hand for that purpose. The spirits thus irregularly summoned tore the thief to pieces instead of obeying his orders. There are very few who can safely venture to conjure with the rod of Sir Walter; and Mr. Robert Montgomery is not one of them.
Mr. Campbell, in one of his most pleasing pieces, has this line,
“The sentinel stars set their watch in the sky.”
The thought is good, and has a very striking propriety where Mr. Campbell has placed it, in the mouth of a soldier telling his dream. But, though Shakspeare assures us that “every true man’s apparel fits your thief,” it is by no means the case, as we have already seen, that every true poet’s similitude fits your plagiarist. Let us see how Mr. Robert Montgomery uses the image:
Certainly the ideas of eloquence, of untroubled repose, of placid eyes, on the lambent beauty of which it is sweet to gaze, harmonize admirably with the idea of a sentry.
We would not be understood, however, to say, that Mr. Robert Montgomery cannot make similitudes for himself. A very few lines farther on, we find one which has every mark of originality, and on which, we will be bound, none of the poets whom he has plundered will ever think of making reprisals:
We take this to be, on the whole, the worst similitude in the world. In the first place, no stream meanders, or can possible meander, level with its fount. In the next place, if streams did meander level with their founts, no two motions can be less like each other than that of meandering level and that of mounting upwards.
We have then an apostrophe to the Deity, couched in terms which, in any writer who dealt in meanings, we should call profane, but to which we suppose Mr. Robert Montgomery attaches no idea whatever.
No field-preacher surely ever carried his irreverent familiarity so far as to bid the Supreme Being stop and think on the importance of the interests which are under his care. The grotesque indecency of such an address throws into shade the subordinate absurdities of the passage, the unfurling of whirlwinds, the unrolling of thunder, and the upheaving of worlds.
Then comes a curious specimen of our poet’s English:—
We should be glad to know what the word “For” means here. If it is a preposition, it makes nonsense of the words, “Thy mercy tempers.” If it is an adverb, it makes nonsense of the words, “Thy cares provide.”
These beauties we have taken, almost at random, from the first part of the poem. The second part is a series of descriptions of various events, a battle, a murder, an execution, a marriage, a funeral, and so forth. Mr. Robert Montgomery terminates each of these descriptions by assuring us that the Deity was present at the battle, murder, execution, marriage, or funeral in question. And this proposition, which might be safely predicated of every event that ever happened or ever will happen, forms the only link which connects these descriptions with the subject or with each other.
How the descriptions are executed our readers are probably by this time able to conjecture. The battle is made up of the battles of all ages and nations: “red-mouthed cannons, uproaring to the clouds,” and “hands grasping firm the glittering shield.” The only military operations of which this part of the poem reminds us, are those which reduced the Abbey of Quedlinburgh to submission, the Templar with his cross, the Austrian and Prussian grenadiers in full uniform, and Curtius and Dentatus with their battering-ram. We ought not to pass unnoticed the slain war-horse, who will no more
“Roll his red eye, and rally for the fight;”
or the slain warrior who, while “lying on his bleeding breast,” contrives to “stare ghastly and grimly on the skies.” As to this last exploit, we can only say, as Dante did on a similar occasion,
The tempest is thus described:
What, we should like to know, is the difference between the two operations which Mr. Robert Montgomery so accurately distinguishes from each other, the fierce sweeping of the tempest-spirits through the air, and the rushing of the maniac blasts from their caverns? And why does the former operation end exactly when the latter commences?
We cannot stop over each of Mr. Robert Montgomery’s descriptions. We have a shipwrecked sailor, who “visions a viewless temple in the air;” a murderer who stands on a heath, “with ashy lips, in cold convulsion spread;” a pious man, to whom, as he lies in bed at night,
a traveller, who loses his way, owing to the thickness of the “cloud-battalion,” and the want of “heaven-lamps, to beam their holy light.” We have a description of a convicted felon, stolen from that incomparable passage in Crabbe’s Borough, which has made many a rough and cynical reader cry like a child. We can, however, conscientiously declare that persons of the most excitable sensibility may safely venture upon Mr. Robert Montgomery’s version. Then we have the “poor, mindless, pale-faced maniac boy,” who
What are the glowing fancies of the sky? And what is the meaning of the two lines which almost immediately follow?
How can a soulless thing be a spirit? Then comes a panegyric on the Sunday. A baptism follows; after that a marriage: and we then proceed, in due course, to the visitation of the sick, and the burial of the dead.
Often as Death has been personified, Mr. Montgomery has found something new to say about him.
If there be any one line in this passage about which we are more in the dark than about the rest, it is the fourth. What the difference may be between the victims and the martyrs, and why the martyrs are to lie before Death, and the victims behind him, are to us great mysteries.
We now come to the third part, of which we may say with honest Cassio, “Why, this is a more excellent song than the other.” Mr. Robert Montgomery is very severe on the infidels, and undertakes to prove, that, as he elegantly expresses it,
“One great Enchanter helm’d the harmonious whole.”
What an enchanter has to do with helming, or what a helm has to do with harmony, he does not explain. He proceeds with his argument thus:
We should be sorry to stake our faith in a higher Power on Mr. Robert Montgomery’s logic. He informs us that lightning is designless and self-created. If he can believe this, we cannot conceive why he may not believe that the whole universe is designless and self-created. A few lines before, he tells us that it is the Deity who bids “thunder rattle from the skiey deep.” His theory is therefore this, that God made the thunder, but that the lightning made itself.
But Mr. Robert Montgomery’s metaphysics are not at present our game. He proceeds to set forth the fearful effects of Atheism.
Mr. Robert Montgomery is fond of personification, and belongs, we need not say, to that school of poets who hold that nothing more is necessary to a personification in poetry than to begin a word with a capital letter. Murder may, without impropriety, bare her arm, as she did long ago, in Mr. Campbell’s Pleasures of Hope. But what possible motive Rebellion can have for weltering in her storm, what avenging crime may be, who its spirits may be, why they should burst from their bonds, what their bonds may be, why they should battle with the time, what the time may be, and what a battle between the time and the spirits of avenging crime would resemble, we must confess ourselves quite unable to understand.
Whether Rebellion shakes her own hand, shakes the hand of Memory, or shakes the hand of France, or what any one of these three metaphors would mean, we know no more than we know what is the sense of the following passage:
What is the distinction between the foul orgies and the raging havoc which the foul orgies are to picture? Why does Fright go behind Rebellion, and Murder before? Why should not Murder fall behind Fright? Or why should not all the three walk abreast? We have read of a hero who had
Gray, we suspect, could have given a reason for disposing the allegorical attendants of Edward thus. But to proceed, “Flower of Austria” is stolen from Byron. “Dropp’d” is false English. “Perish’d in the storm” means nothing at all; and “thy look obedience” means the very reverse of what Mr. Robert Montgomery intends to say.
Our poet then proceeds to demonstrate the immortality of the soul:
The soul is a fountain; and therefore it is not to die, though dust and darkness lie round its temple, because an ethereal fire has been breathed into it, which cannot be quenched though its breath expire. Is it the fountain, or the temple, that breathes, and has fire breathed into it?
Mr. Montgomery apostrophizes the
“Immortal beacons, — spirits of the just,” —
and describes their employments in another world, which are to be, it seems, bathing in light, hearing fiery streams flow, and riding on living cars of lightning. The deathbed of the sceptic is described with what we suppose is meant for energy. We then have the deathbed of a Christian made as ridiculous as false imagery and false English can make it. But this is not enough. The Day of Judgment is to be described, and a roaring cataract of nonsense is poured forth upon this tremendous subject. Earth, we are told, is dashed into Eternity. Furnace blazes wheel round the horizon, and burst into bright wizard phantoms. Racing hurricanes unroll and whirl quivering fireclouds. The white waves gallop. Shadowy worlds career around. The red and raging eye of Imagination is then forbidden to pry further. But further Mr. Robert Montgomery persists in prying. The stars bound through the airy roar. The unbosomed deep yawns on the ruin. The billows of Eternity then begin to advance. The world glares in fiery slumber. A car comes forward driven by living thunder.
And this is fine poetry! This is what ranks its writer with the master-spirits of the age! This is what has been described, over and over again, in terms which would require some qualification if used respecting Paradise Lost! It is too much that this patchwork, made by stitching together old odds and ends of what, when new, was but tawdry frippery, is to be picked off the dunghill on which it ought to rot, and to be held up to admiration as an inestimable specimen of art. And what must we think of a system by means of which verses like those which we have quoted, verses fit only for the poet’s corner of the Morning Post, can produce emolument and fame? The circulation of this writer’s poetry has been greater than that of Southey’s Roderick, and beyond all comparison greater than that of Cary’s Dante or of the best works of Coleridge. Thus encouraged, Mr. Robert Montgomery has favoured the public with volume after volume. We have given so much space to the examination of his first and most popular performance that we have none to spare for his Universal Prayer, and his smaller poems, which, as the puffing journals tell us, would alone constitute a sufficient title to literary immortality. We shall pass at once to his last publication, entitled Satan.
This poem was ushered into the world with the usual roar of acclamation. But the thing was now past a joke. Pretensions so unfounded, so impudent, and so successful, had aroused a spirit of resistance. In several magazines and reviews, accordingly, Satan has been handled somewhat roughly, and the arts of the puffers have been exposed with good sense and spirit. We shall, therefore, be very concise.
Of the two poems we rather prefer that on the Omnipresence of the Deity, for the same reason which induced Sir Thomas More to rank one bad book above another. “Marry, this is somewhat. This is rhyme. But the other is neither rhyme nor reason.” Satan is a long soliloquy, which the Devil pronounces in five or six thousand lines of bad blank verse, concerning geography, politics, newspapers, fashionable society, theatrical amusements, Sir Walter Scott’s novels, Lord Byron’s poetry, and Mr. Martin’s pictures. The new designs for Milton have, as was natural, particularly attracted the attention of a personage who occupies so conspicuous a place in them. Mr. Martin must be pleased to learn that, whatever may be thought of those performances on earth, they give full satisfaction in Pandæmonium, and that he is there thought to have hit off the likenesses of the various Thrones and Dominations very happily.
The motto to the poem of Satan is taken from the Book of Job: “Whence comest thou? From going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it.” And certainly Mr. Robert Montgomery has not failed to make his hero go to and fro, and walk up and down. With the exception, however, of this propensity to locomotion, Satan has not one Satanic quality. Mad Tom had told us that “the prince of darkness is a gentleman;” but we had yet to learn that he is a respectable and pious gentleman, whose principal fault is that he is something of a twaddle and far too liberal of his good advice. That happy change in his character which Origen anticipated, and of which Tillotson did not despair, seems to be rapidly taking place. Bad habits are not eradicated in a moment. It is not strange, therefore, that so old an offender should now and then relapse for a short time into wrong dispositions. But to give him his due, as the proverb recommends, we must say that he always returns, after two or three lines of impiety, to his preaching style. We would seriously advise Mr. Montgomery to omit or alter about a hundred lines in different parts of this large volume, and to republish it under the name of “Gabriel.” The reflections of which it consists would come less absurdly, as far as there is a more and a less in extreme absurdity, from a good than from a bad angel.
We can afford room only for a single quotation. We give one taken at random, neither worse nor better, as far as we can perceive, than any other equal number of lines in the book. The Devil goes to the play, and moralises thereon as follows:
Here we conclude. If our remarks give pain to Mr. Robert Montgomery, we are sorry for it. But, at whatever cost of pain to individuals, literature must be purified from this taint. And, to show that we are not actuated by any feelings of personal enmity towards him, we hereby give notice that, as soon as any book shall, by means of puffing, reach a second edition, our intention is to do unto the writer of it as we have done unto Mr. Robert Montgomery.