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THE

ECLECTIC REVIEW,

FOR NOVEMBER, 1834.

Art. I. The Deity. A Poem, in twelve Books. By Thomas Ragg.

With an Introductory Essay by Isaac Taylor. 12mo. pp. 330. Price 8s. London, 1834.

WE have a very gratifying duty to perform in bringing this

remarkable production under the notice of our readers. The tenth book was published last year, as a specimen of the entire poem, under the title of “ The Incarnation", the Author's means being too scanty to allow of his taking upon himself the risk of a larger adventure. In reviewing that modest shilling publication*, we expressed our hope, that such a man would not be left without the means of gratifying his honourable ambition, and something better than ambition, -his pious desire to bear his eloquent and feeling testimony, as a converted infidel, against the abounding infidelity of the age. We rejoice to say that our appeal was not made in vain. From two different quarters we received generous tenders of assistance to the Poet, whose name and wants we had been instrumental in making known, of which we were requested to become the medium. We should not have felt at liberty to disclose the name of either gentleman, had it not already been stated in an article which recently appeared in The Times, that the Author had found a friend in Mr. Mann, a solicitor of Andover, who has gratuitously undertaken all the risk of failure in the present edition. The other gentleman also is resident in the west of England. Nor are these the only friends whom Mr. Ragg's modest merit shave commanded. Mr. Montgomery, to whom the volume is dedicated, with his characteristic kindliness of feeling, readily consented to inspect the

* Eclectic Rev. 3rd Series, Vol. X. p. 241. Sept. 1833. VOL, XII.N.S.

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manuscript, prior to its being committed to the press; and Mr. Taylor, of Stanford Rivers, the Translator of Herodotus, &c., has contributed an Introductory Essay which does as much honour to his heart as to his intellect. We cannot refrain from transcribing the following admirable remarks.

· His proper merits apart, (of which the public have already agreed to think highly,) the author of the poem now given to the world, will be hailed by enlightened lovers of their country, and by every philanthropist, as coming forward to furnish implicit yet conclusive evidence on the question, whether the British manufacturing economy, evidently as it presses upon the operative class, is actually as incompatible as it may seem with that personal dignity, intelligence, and feeling of which we must mourn to see any of our fellow men and brethren hopelessly deprived. The tremendous manufacturing system of modern times, still untried as it is in the whole of the influence it may exert over our national destinies, does not (as we see) necessarily degrade and vilify the parties whose physical agency puts it in movement. Even if we had no other proof, we have one now, not merely that A MECHANIC may think and feel as a poet and a philosopher, but (which is of more moment) that MECHANICS may do so; and that many who ply the shuttle or urge the furnace, are members of the intellectual and literary commonwealth ; and, moreover, stand ready to receive the benefit of any generous and well-concerted endeavours that might be made for laying open to them the intellectual wealth with which the English language is fraught.'

Mr. Taylor contends, that it is a fair presumption, that the class, whether high or low, which produces poets, contains also many more who are, or ought to be, readers of poetry ;-that wkere there is one poet, there are hundreds of lovers of verse.

· A Burns, a Bloomfield,' (an Elliott, a Hogg, a Clare, a Millhouse,) • and others easily named, prove what one would fain believe, that among

the tens of thousands crowded round the steam-engine, as well as among our rural population, toil, privation, and care have not altogether crushed fine sensibilities, nor prevented the expansion of delicate and ennobling tastes.

“Our fellow-countrymen of the labouring class, let us believe it, are more of men than we, in our self-conceit and pride, may have thought them. Burdened indeed, and care-worn, but not crushed, they would communicate with us in whatever cheers, refines, and ennobles existence; nay, would perhaps generously contend with us for the laurel of literary and philosophic fame. Far from wishing jealously to repress their ambition, those competent to do so would use every means in their power to cherish it. If we would fain abate the fruitless and dangerous vehemence of political feeling, and would gladly soften the ferocity belonging to impatient penury and despair, let intellectual tastes be awakened, and let the mild pleasures of the imagination be copiously supplied with materials.

• The zealous friends of religion need not fear lest, in such undertakings, Christianity should be superseded or forgotten. Christianity is in peril on many sides rather than on the side of popular intelligence ; and our solicitude for truth might be better directed than in anxiously watching the advance of knowledge. Knowledge must advance, and our only reasonable fear is, lest it should be poisoned at the spring. To preclude so fatal a mischief, prompt and efficacious encouragement should be offered to whatever is found to be free from the taint we dread, and much more to whatever breathes the purity of truth.'

Never was such efficacious encouragement better deserved than by this noble effort of a gifted son of toil and penury, to invest the argumentative evidence of the Christian revelation with the attractions of poetic diction and the melody of rhythm, and to communicate, by the electric medium of genius, his own deep conviction of the certainty and excellence of the faith to which he has become a convert. The aim and purpose of the Author would give dignity to the poem, even if its literary merit were far inferior; but his success is in every respect most extraordinary. We confess that, on first learning that the poem, of which the tenth book was published as a specimen, was to extend to twelve books,—and this a didactic poem in blank verse,--we trembled for the result. It seemed to us so bold, so rash an enterprise, as to excite a distrust of the author's judgement. How few didactic poems of any length are readable—or, at all events, are read through ! The subject, too, had been repeatedly attempted without success; and had Thomas Ragg possessed tenfold the poetical talent he has exhibited, but only the inspiration of natural genius, he would but have added one more to the catalogue of failures, from Prior, Blackmore, and Boyce, down to Robert Montgomery. But the most extraordinary feature of the present poem is, the instructive manner in which the argument, and the interest of the argument, are carried on and sustained throughout; so that the poetry is felt to be subsidiary to the main design ; and the mind of the reader, which soon tires of rhetoric and declamation, is held captive by the genuine interest and authority of truth. The argumentative skill which is displayed, and the sound, clear, scriptural views which light up the poetry with the light of heaven, are still more surprising than the cultivated taste, the command of diction, and the well-tuned ear which the Author must be acknowledged to possess. The arguments are for the most part confessedly borrowed; but this circumstance detracts nothing from the merit of the admirable ingenuity with which they are handled and applied, the clearness and perspicuity of the reasoning, the force and beauty of the illustration. Should any reader suspect us of forming a too favourable estimate, we will presently afford him the means of judging for himself; but in the mean time, to shew that we are not singular in our opinion, we shall adduce the judgement passed upon the poem in the ar

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ticle already referred to, in The Times of Aug. 11, and which cannot be mistaken for ordinary newspaper criticism.

" The works of uneducated poets are usually esteemed less for intrinsic excellence than on account of their rarity, and criticism is called upon to make large abatements in its demands on this score ; but in the present case few or no such allowances need be claimed. Many an individual decorated with academical triumphs would think it no degradation to own this poem with its petty blemishes. Every page discovers proofs of a vigorous understanding, a correct taste, great stores of fancy, a wonderful flow of elegant and appropriate language,

and
very
considerable powers

of versification. Mr. Ragg, must, indeed, be classed amongst uneducated poets with some reservation ; his mind has evidently ranged over at least a surface of learning of some extent.

A severe and parsimonious critic might probably find nothing in the poem, either in argument or illustration, which is positively original ; but the powers of the author are evinced in the use of the materials he has borrowed, and especially in his comprehension and judicious selection of his arguments, often profound and philosophical, which he manages with great precision and perspicuity. He may not have invented or fashioned the arms he wields, but it is no slender merit to be able to use them with such ease and dexterity. Above all, the skill he displays in the difficult art of “reasoning in poetry,” an art in which, according to Johnson, Pope himself was deficient, entitles Mr. Ragg to high praise; and this quality obviates an objection as to the extent of assistance the humble poet may have received from others, because it is a strong evidence that the fabric of the poem, the web and the woof, must be his own.

The name of Johnson recalls the absurd opinion expressed by that acute, but rash and capricious critic, that sacred subjects are unfit for poetry, unsusceptible of poetical embellishment;an opinion sufficiently refuted by the fact, that a considerable portion of the volume of Revelation is poetry--poetry of the sublimest kind. But we recur to the opinion, for the sake of remarking, that, if the sentiment had not already been amply disproved, since Johnson's day, by the rich accessions which have been made to our religious literature, such a volume as the present would alone prove it to be false. There are some profound remarks on this subject in Mr. Taylor's introductory essay, which are well worthy of being dwelled upon as a text for meditation. In speaking of the perfections of the Deity, ‘it may be, ' he remarks, (and he gives the reason, that the poet shall approximate to the eternal glory nearer than the most exact philosopher can do ;' because he bends at once upon the contemplation the whole of his faculties and affections.

• At least, it is certain, that the combination of the reasoning faculty with imaginative tastes and the poetic sentiment, peculiarly favours the apprehension of those sublime doctrines wherein the highest abstractions are intimately blended with conceptions of vastness, harmony, felicity, and goodness. The poet then perhaps shall outstrip the theologian and the philosopher, in essaying the attributes of Him, whose perfections indissolubly combine whatever reason can grasp, whatever the imagination can conceive, and whatever the moral sense apprehends.'

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Mr. Ragg's poem divides itself naturally into three parts. Part I. has for its general argument, the being of God asserted by Creation and Providence, occupying the first four books. Part II., comprising the next four, treat of the nature of God, or the manner of the Divine subsistence. Part III. has for its subject, 'A God revealed.'

in the First Part, the Author combats the cavils of the Atheist. The principal assistance of which he has availed himself in this portion of the poem, he has derived, he says, from the writings of Messrs. Allin, Unwin, Drew, and Barclay. The poem opens with the following invocation, which evidently proceeds from no feigned lips: the reference to the Author's former state of moral blindness is becoming one who feels, that by the grace of God he is what he is.

Great Power Supreme! of life the fountain-spring,
Of life and all things; whose almighty hand
Has decked immensity with countless worlds,
To tell of thine existence;-increate,
Ineffable 1 AM ! assist my tongue
To sing, and on me shed thine influence down
In rich profusion; while my daring Muse,
Though young, and unsupplied with classic lore,
From those full stores of learning, where the youth
Of Britain bask in its delightful beams,
Uplifts itself to Thee. To Thee my song
Aspires. Thy kindly hand, great God of love,
That reach'd from th' empyrëal realms of bliss
To hell, and manhood in its grasp upbore,-
Snatch'd me, a rebel, from destruction's jaws,
When I denied thee. And shall I be dumb,
And look with cold indifference on the scene,
While thousands still run wildly in the paths,
Where late my footsteps moved ; blaspheme Thy name,
And seek for knowledge of all else but Thee?
Ah, no; the great, th' exalted task be mine,
To shew from nature its primeval source ;
Through finite things to trace the infinite;
To testify His word's unfailing truth,
Despite th' aspersions of its vaunting foes;
And sing His praise who taught me first to sing.'

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