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low an outlawed murderer wherever fear and guilt shall drive him, deserves no imitation; and the experiment, by which Henry tries the lady's constancy, is such as must end either in infamy to her or in disappointment to himself.” We suspect none ever thought that the Poet meant to recommend Emma's conduct as a model, and few were likely to follow it even though he had. The story is simply an ingenious artifice, such as Malcolm, in Macbeth, employs in blackening his own character to Macduff; and the object of the Poet is to shew how love, in certain circumstances, spurns the bounds of prudence, and sets “infamy” at defiance. “Alma” is said, by Johnson, to be imitated from Butler's “Hudibras,” although Cowper, on the contrary, says, “They were both favourites of nine, and I often read them, but never saw in them the least resemblance to each other; nor do I now, except that they are composed in the same measure.” “Hudibras” has a story, although a very slight one, and one that fades away and is lost in the thick umbrage of the wit and learning. “Alma” has none. “Hudibras” laughs at religion—at least, the religion of the Puritans. “Alma” turns philosophy into ridicule. Butler has to repress and pack down his enormous mass of learned allusions, while Prior manages, by spreading his knowledge thin, to make it seem greater than in reality it is. “Butler pours out a negligent profusion, certain of the weight, but careless of the stamp. Prior has comparatively little, but with this little he makes a fine show.” The two poems resemble each other more in their faults than in their merits. Both are often obscure and recondite in their allusions, and sometimes offensively coarse in their language. Next to his “Tales,” however, “Alma" has been the most popular of Prior's works. It is ever lively, discursive, and entertaining. We are, perhaps, singular in our opinion; but we cannot help, along with Prior himself, preferring “Solomon,” to all his other productions. Heavy in parts, and in construction rather a planless paraphrase than a well-arranged story, with some broken lines and one egregiously absurd passage, in which Solomon is made to predict and describe the glories
of Great Britain, it is a grave, high-toned, and majestic poem. Its versification is in general rotund and rollingits moral excellent—and its descriptions terse and graphic. The whole story of Abra is admirable, and has touches of nature in it little inferior to Shakspeare, as in that exquisite line
“When I called another, Abra came,” In no poem, and in no prose work, we believe, has so much justice ever been done to the character of Israel's “ Grand Monarque”- the most splendid of sensualists — the most gorgeous of love poets—the most amiable of despots—the most sententious of moralists — whose magnificent wealth, commercial enterprise, love of peace and of pomp, wondrous wisdom, and, for his age, universal knowledge, errors, and faults, which, like his merits and virtues, were on a colossal scale, and were gilded, though not redeemed, by the gusto with which he entered on them—whose fame, as the builder of the temple and of the forest palace of Lebanon, as the husband of Pharaoh's daughter, as the admired of the magnificent Queen of Sheba-whose memorable estrangement from God, and still more memorable return, recorded by himself in the Book of Ecclesiastes, all taken together, rendered him, if not the most consistent or lovely, certainly the greatest, broadest, and most brilliant of Israel's monarchs; so that in the lustre of the glory of Solomon, that of the deep-hearted David, the holy Hezekiah, and the pious and ardent Josiah, fades and dwindles away. Nowhere, save in his own page, is this extraordinary person pictured in such life-like and vivid colours as in Prior's “ Solomon."
This production is one of the best of a particular, and we may add, a very ambitious class of poems—those, namely, founded on Scripture history or Scripture song. Such, besides many others, are Cowley's “ Davideis,” Giles Fletcher's “ Christ's Victory," Young's “Paraphrase of the Book of Job,” Smart's “David,” Moore's and Byron's “Hebrew Melodies," Croly's “Scenes from Scripture,” and Thomas Aird's “ Nebuchadnezzar,” and “ Demoniac.” These, while all belonging to one class of poetry, and attesting one primal
fount of inspiration, vary exceedingly in character; Cowley's poem being at once clumsy and fragmentary, although shewing prodigious powers of misdirected genius, and misapplied learning; Fletcher's being a grand but unequal production —the abortive “Faery Queen" of Christianity; Young's being a translation of the sublime of Hebrew into the elegant of English poetry; Moore's “Hebrew Melodies” being mawkish, and Byron's morbid renderings of their respective originals—while Croly, Aird, Smart, and Prior have all, in different degrees, entered into the soul of the Scripture writers. Croly, in his “Dothan,” recalling the very spirit of the scene when the “Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha; ” Aird, walking with emulous foot beside Ezekiel,
“Whose spirit stumbles on the corner-stones
Smart mating with the magnificent aberrations, as well as the lofty flights of the lord of Adullam's cave—and Prior (as if he had written or read the lost volume, “The Book of the Acts of Solomon,”) recalling from the “sepulchre of the kings of Israel,” the majestic form of the Great Man to whom “God gave wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and greatness of heart, even as the sand that is by the sea-shore.”
Prior's place as a poet, is in the second rank of the Pope and Dryden School—beneath these two masters, but on a level with Swift and Gay. His imagination is fertile but not creative—his language, except in his “Tales,” is copious rather than terse—his wit is Swift's, but with the gall diluted; possessing Swift's ease, without his malignant animus—he displays the unvarying good sense, coolness, and self-command of a man of the world, rather than the ardour and enthusiasm of a bard, and has been well called the “most natural of artificial poets.”
An Epistle to Fleetwood Shep-
Picture at Sir Godfrey Knel-
Celia to Damon.