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NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW
ART. I. Lalla Rookh, an oriental Romance. By Thomas Moorė.
WHATEVER may be Mr. Moore's rank, in this age of
Vol. VI. No. 1.
Further than this, he is thought by some to be a wild, luxurious bard, who is to pass through a generous and yet repressing culture, from the frolicks of blooming time, to a full, rich, and sober maturity--whose early licentiousness shews a leaning after the better affections'--whose impurity has its redeeming graces,--whose errours deserve merciful allowances, because they are on the side of sentiment and greatness. Now he is almost the last poet, for whom we should have thought of setting up the apology of a violent, overrunning nature. We have never lamented in him the oppression or waste of genius, nor the perversions of a fine spirit, whose abandoned gayety would one day mellow into warm-hearted cheerfulness, and its voluptuous excesses end in singleness and purity of love. He discloses no warm and eager aspiring after something higher and purer, with a promise of lending by and by to goodness, the graces and enthusiasm he had wasted upon vice. His mind never seems to be unconsciously wrong, from rapture, spontaneous overflow and impulses that will not be ruled. We can discover no depth in his contrition, nor desertion in his grief, nor involuntary glow and tenderness in his friendship.
And we may be allowed to express a doubt, whether his transgressions are quite consistent with powerful genius and deep feeling, with fine moral sensibility, and a religious love of nature. His voluptuousness appears to be the coldest thing in the world, as remote as pessible from sudden and momentary fervour. It has not the spirit of wild, careless, social frolick, which burns and goes out in a night; the gay and passing frivolity of a mind in idleness. It is the business of his leisure and retirement, the creature and plaything of his imagination. He is at home and most beartily at work, when his subjects are licentious. His mind, instead of withering, seems freest and happiest in fine elaborations of impurity, in soiling what is fair, and then garnishing it. He sometimes ventures upon a loathsome anatomy and exposure; and if he had always done so, the mischief would have been less to himself and the reader, as both would have been shortly disgusted. There is no fear that truth will ever do harm. The evil is, that when vice is brought into poetry, its grossness and vulgar sufferings are kept very much out of sight. It is rarely picked up in the strects, and placed before you, with all the plain tokens of decay and dishonour
which nature has set upon it. Guilt is associated with kindly feelings, and placed in the midst of honourable dangers and sacrifices; it passes through deep intellectual agonies, and is made to exert a constant influence upon the happiness of the pure and lovely, whose affections it contrives to secure. The licentious appear merely to have thrown off the imprisonment of the staid and narrow prejudices of an earlier age, and to come out now into the open world, with free hearts, to feast upon its pleasures. The senses and appetites take the place of passion and sentiment, but the old phrases and allusions, which were so sweet and heart-breathing with the innocent, are still preserved by the impure. Though they renounce the severer morals and decencies, they have still an easy, flaunting virtue and romantick devotedness to beguile you with.. You will hear of heaven in all their raptures; the eye, and smile, and blush are still eloquent. There are unkind wrongs and tender forgiveness, with tears and laments for a mistress in heaven. Even nature, with all its coolness and loveliness, must minister to impurity. Its fine forms and hues serve as images of personal beauty, its odorous winds for the fragrance of sighs, its holy seclusions for shelter from the eye and sun; and as for evening, when poetry and soberness were once allowed to walk forth, as if the hour were theirs, why
'None but the loving and the loved
You would suppose that the world was turning to Eden again, as man became the indolent worshipper of love, reposing in cool vallies, and piping voluptuous lays under bowers of myrtle. And all this illusion is managed with exquisite skill and delicacy. Sufficient care is taken to refine and set off the coarsest indulgences, without removing their earthiness-to mingle sensual and poetical joys till they shall qualify each other, that the one may not be too gross nor the other too pure--to throw over every thing one of Mr. Moore's luxurious twilights, which shall dim or soften whatever is holy or disgusting, and give it at the same time a hue of voluptuousness. It must not be supposed that this lovepoetry tends to make men coarse by making them impure.
It would teach you rather, that vice loses half its evil by losing all its grossness.' It even countenances shame, though only enough to keep up a vicious eagerness for pleasure, by a faint consciousness that it is not quite blameless, and therefore must be secret. It allows of remorse too, so far as it may remind one vividly of the scenes and excesses he has gone through, without strengthening or forcing him to abandon them.
Mr. Moore may be very adroit at this work-he may call it poetry if he pleases; but he must allow us to infer from the pleasure he takes in it, that his mind is not of the loftiest character, nor ever under the influence of genuine enthusiasm and rapture. There does seem to be a natural alliance between genius and purity. A man, who can pass through his earliest years, with no love of intellectual dignity, no regret for the sins of his race, nor wish to make them better, unmoved, unchastened by the sweet influences of nature, and deliberately and almost perpetually employed, in disfiguring and degrading every thing pure in sentiment, or fair in creation, must be essentially wanting in some of the higher powers and perceptions of a truly poetical mind. He will never be lifted from the ground, nor forget for a moment the incumbrances of flesh and blood. Let him write upon any topick, the most heavenward in its influences, as simple and delicate as infancy itself, and there will be a stain of earth over the whole-It is the custom with most criticks, who undertake Mr. Moore, first to read him a lecture upon his sins, and proceed forthwith to congratulate him upon his reformation. We should certainly follow their example throughout, did we not feel, even with the Gospel Melodies before us, that he is not yet quite restored. We may almost take up the words of his Peri against him
• Some flowrets of Eden ye still inherit,
But the trail of the serpent is over them all.'
We have intimated that Mr. Moore is artificial. With the most graceful facility of expression, with verse that sparkles and warbles through volumes, he is always exact, and polished,* never loose but in sentiment. A sort of
* We must except the slovenly versification of the first poem in Lalla Rookh. Mr. Moore appears here to have fallen into a childish imitation of the errours of cotemporary bards, who, he should have remembered, are much less indebted than himself to outward grace.