VIRGIL has beautifully described Fame as a mischievous deity, (Aeneid, IV.) and it may truly be said that it operates as such towards living authors. It is indeed peculiarly unfortunate, when a writer attains celebrity by a first production, for it rarely happens that any subsequent ones are judged with candour. They are no longer estimated intrinsically, but by the standard of their predecessor: and it is not enough that they equal their elder brother, they must absolutely surpass him, or we are not contented.
Somewhat in this predicament we conceive Mrs. Opie to stand. Her novels procured her some sort of reputation, and her first poetical publiction added to it. But we do not think that the present volume will have that effect; for, though containing some pretty pieces, it seems to consist of the refuse of her writing desk, collected together simply for the purpose of making a volume. We are justified in this supposition by the declaration of Mrs. Opie herself, who says in her preface, that “the poems which compose this little volume, were written, with two or three exceptions, several years ago: and to arrange and fit them for publication has been the amusement of many hours of retirement.”
The first poem, and which gives the title to the volume, is founded upon a sufficiently interesting circumstance; but many of the stanzas are exceptionable. The cacophony of the last line in the following is remarkable:
For terror now whisper’d, the wife he had left,
Full fifteen long twelvemonths before,
The child he had clasp’d in his farewell embrace,
Might both then, alas! Be no more.
Mrs. Opiew has a great deal of turgidity and inversion in style. She seems not to be aware that the most natural mode of expression is the nearest to poetry and that the latter differs from prose in an harmonious collocation of the words, than in an unnatural disposition of them. It is not easy to conceive any thing more pompously obscure than the following:
But should he not live! – To escape from that fear
He eagerly spurr’d his bold steed:
Nor stopped he again, till his own castle moat
Forbade on the way to proceed.
* * * *
On Julia’s softly dimpled cheek,
Just bloom’d to view youth’s opening rose,
When proudly stern, her father bade
St. Claire’s dark walls her bloom enclose.
The “Song,” at p. 51, has a line in it that is irresistibly ludicrous:
I am wearing away like the snow in the sun.
It reminds us of the preposterous and absurd similies which modern dramatists put into the mouths of stage Irishmen. Mrs. Opie, however, meant to be serious.
As a favourable specimen, we select the flowing: --
[quotes “To Lorenzo”]
Mrs. Opie seems to have felt the power of love, and of hopeless love: and as the language of nature soars infinitely beyond that of art, so the amatory verses of the present volume are the best. The various pieces addressed to “Henry,” which paint in delicate colours the feelings of unrewarded passion, are written with all the peculiar merit of Mrs. Opie’s manner. The following is one of them:
[quotes “Love Elegy to Henry]
The remaining pieces in this volume do not rise above mediocrity: they are merely nugae canorae.