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thinks for himself, and is not content to express trite ideas and traditionary images in that ordinary and common-place language of poetry, which has been chimed over and over to different tunes, till at length the manufacture of verses has become as mechanical as the turning of a hand organ. Dryden, in speaking of one of the fathers of English verse, has some lines which are singularly applicable to the earlier poetry of Clifton.
“O early ripe! to thy abundant store
But in his later poems this mist of obscurity seems rapidly elearing away. The epistle to Mr. Gifford, which appears to be the only piece in the collection which had undergone any very scrupulous revision, for spirit and animation, for rich luxuriance of poetical ornament and diction, for vigorous condensation of brilliant thought and happy boldness of phrase, as well as for purity and richness of versification, may be fairly placed in competition with any of the satiric poetry of the age.
This poem, having been originally published anonymously in the first American edition of Mr. Gifford's poems, and afterwards reprinted in several fugitive publications, is better known than any other of Mr. Clifton's productions, and has been read and admired by many to whom the name of the author is probably altogether unknown. The following similes are selected, not for their peculiar beauty, for the whole poem is of a very uniform and sustained excellence, but as a fair specimen of its general style and manner.
After describing the severe intellectual discipline by which the ancient scholars were formed, when
Patience and perseverance, care and pain,
and placing it in vivid contrast with the mushroom precocity, with which authors now spring up, he adds,
“So the sage oak, to nature's mandate true,
“ Then, if some thoughtless Bavius dared appear,
As the other pieces in this collection are very little known, most of my readers will probably be gratified by a selection of a few of his happier effusions; and although these and some other pasages of equal excellence stand in very bold relief among many careless and inferior verses which accompany them, they will yet, I trust, be sufficient to show us how much of poetical talent and taste was lost to the world by the untimely death of this young poet, who, haply, had he survived, might, under more favourable auspices, have proved the American Dryden.
In the Chimeriad, the genius of false philosophy is personified with much spirit and boldness of imagination under the character of the witch Chimeria. The following passage is brilliant in fancy and rich in thought, though in some of the lines the idea is not brought out with sufficient distinctness, and the expression is occasionally harsh and obscure.
“ In times of old, ere yet the sacred page Display'd its treasures to a graceless age,
When from his fields and flocks first urg'd to roam
And pass’d on banks of bad delight the day,
It is doubtless remembered that the adjustment of differences with France, in 1799, whatever may now be thought of the policy of the measure, was at the time received with great disgust by many generous spirits to whom the honour of their country was dearer than its immediate interests. Among this number was Mr. Clifton. The following lines, alluding to that event, contain a very fine burst of poetical indignation. The simile, "So Satan," &c. will probably recall to the memory some celebrated couplets in Otway's Orphan, which it strongly resembles in spirit and flow of versification. The bitter smile of angry contempt which the poet assumes in the last lines, their mixture of sprightly sarcasm, and lofty indignation, are in the very spirit of Juvenal.
“ Infatuate men, ah! what avails your boast,
With you the frolick and the seast is found,
In a little poem entitled “A Flight of Fancy" he appears in pleasing contrast in a very different character. With the exception of one or two stanzas, which are a little tarnished by that Della Cruscan tinsel, which he had himself joined in ridiculing, it is altogether filled with delicate sentiment and some of the sweetest images of rural beauty and domestic happiness. He pictures, with exquisite taste and great gayety of imagination, an imaginary scene of pastoral felicity, where
“ Spring shall laugh at winter's frown,
And summer blush for gamesome spring,
His stores to hungry winter bring.
66 'Tis mine! 'tis mine! this sacred grove,
Where truth and beauty may recline,
Monimia come and make it thine.
“For thee the bursting buds are ripe,
The whistling robin calls thee here,
Will not my lov'd Monimia hear?
“A fawn I'll bring thee, gentle maid,
To gambol round thy pleasant door;