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قراءة كتاب The 'Blackwood' Group

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The 'Blackwood' Group

The 'Blackwood' Group

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 3

class="x-ebookmaker-pageno" title="{16}"/> we find Wilson writing to a friend of his need of an anchor in life. 'I do not, I hope, want either ballast, or cargo, or sail,' he writes, 'but I do want an anchor most confoundedly, and, without it, shall keep beating about the great sea of life to very little purpose.' This 'anchor' he was fated to find in the person of Miss Jane Penny, the daughter of a Liverpool merchant, a favourite partner of his own at the local dances, and at that time the 'leading belle of the Lake Country,' to whom he was happily married on the 11th May 1811.

His marriage had the effect of somewhat delaying the publication of a volume of poetry which he had previously been preparing for the press, and it was not until February of the following year that The Isle of Palms, and Other Poems made its appearance—having been shortly preceded by an anonymously-published elegy on the death of James Grahame, author of The Sabbath.

The Isle of Palms tells in mellifluous numbers the story of a pair of lovers, shipwrecked on an island paradise in tropic seas, who espouse each other in the sight of Nature and Heaven. Of course the idyll irresistibly recalls Bernardin's masterpiece, and, judging between the two, it must be acknowledged that in originality and artistic perfection the Frenchman's prose has greatly the advantage. But it is noticeable and must be counted to Wilson's credit that, whilst profoundly influenced by pre-Revolutionary thought, he never, even at this early period of his life, allows himself to be led away from the paths prescribed by virtue and religion. His healthy instinct, fortified by excellent training, sufficed to show him that anarchy in the moral world is no more a part of nature's scheme than is habitual excess; and thus the worship of Liberty and the State of Nature, which afterwards led to such questionable results in the cases of Byron and of Shelley, left him entirely unharmed. It is true that rigid formalists have been found to object to the 'natural marriage' of the lovers in the poem, deploring the absence of a clergyman on the island. But with these we need not concern ourselves.

The success of the poems was but moderate; yet it sufficed to bring the author into notice in Edinburgh, where he and his wife were spending the season with his mother and sisters, and whence Sir Walter Scott wrote of him, in a letter to Joanna Baillie, as 'an excellent, warm-hearted, and enthusiastic young man,' adding that, 'Something too much, perhaps, of the latter quality' placed him upon the list of originals.

Dividing his time between Edinburgh and Elleray, the young poet now continued to vary his active open-air life by the plotting and composition of new poems, and in these pursuits, had his affairs continued prosperous, it is quite possible that the remainder of his life might have been spent. For it is a truism that any large measure of happiness is unfavourable to enterprise, and what young Wilson now really stood in need of was some stimulus to exertion from without. Such stimulus duly arrived, taking the form of what in a worldly sense is known as ruin. To speak more circumstantially, in the fourth year after his marriage, the unencumbered fortune of £50,000 which he had enjoyed from the time of his father's death, was, through the dishonesty of an uncle who had acted as steward of the estate, entirely lost to him.[1] But, severe as this blow was, his biographers are agreed in pronouncing it to have been a blessing in disguise, and the means of bringing out much that was in the man, which would otherwise in all probability have been lost to the world.

It was now, of course, necessary for him to put his shoulder to the wheel, and, with the exception of Sir Walter Scott, perhaps no man ever rose more manfully or uncomplainingly to the occasion. But between these parallel cases there was one great difference; for Scott's misfortunes fell upon him when he was advanced in years and worn with toil, whilst Wilson was able to bring the prime of youth and strength to bear upon his troubles. He now took up his abode altogether in Edinburgh, being gladly received into the house of his mother,—a lady who to a fine presence and strong and amiable character added notable house-keeping talents, which enabled her during several successive years to accomplish the somewhat difficult and delicate task of making three separate families comfortable and happy under one roof. In the same year, 1815, Wilson was called to the Scots Bar. But, though for a year or two to come he seems to have made a point of staying in Edinburgh whilst the Courts were sitting, a short experience sufficed to convince him that his vocation did not lie in that direction. It was some time before he succeeded in settling down to congenial work, and, indeed, what we hear most of during the next year or so are pedestrian and fishing excursions to the Highlands. Whilst on these expeditions great would be the distances which he compassed on foot, immense the baskets of fish which he brought home. On one of them, he had his wife as his companion, when the happy Bohemianism of the young couple—or, as some would have it, the poet's eccentricity of conduct—led them into some queer experiences. Among his adventures we may specify a contest in the four manly arts of running, leaping, wrestling, and drinking, with a local champion nicknamed King of the Drovers, in which Wilson came off victorious.

In March 1816 appeared his second volume of verse, entitled The City of the Plague. This poem forms a startling contrast to the Isle of Palms, for, in place of nature at its softest and sentiment sweet to the point of cloying, we are now presented with the gloomiest and ghastliest of studies in the charnel-house style. Several of the scenes depicting the madness of the London streets at the period of the great pestilential visitation are by no means without a certain power, which, however, inclines to degenerate into violence. Two young sailors—certainly most unlike to all preconceived notions of the seamen of the age of Blake—help to supply the necessary relief and 'sentiment,' of which there is no lack. But, from beginning to end, there is little or nothing truly poetical in the tragedy. The movement of its blank verse is most frequently harsh and jolting, and serves to confirm one in the opinion that the author was well-inspired when he abandoned poetry, as he was now to do. Nor do the minor poems which make up the remainder of the volume show cause for altering this judgment. Certainly they abound, even to excess, in evidence of the love of nature; but that alone never yet made a poet.

The transition which now lay before the author was an abrupt and violent one. From the world of nature and sentiment in which he had hitherto dwelt undisturbed, he found himself summoned to pass into the arena of periodical literature, and that in an age when not only was it the misfortune of such literature to be before all things political, but when political feeling ran to a pitch of which at the present day it is difficult even to form a conception,—when the mere designations Whig and Tory, as mutually applied, were regarded less as party distinctions than as terms of abuse or reproach. And, to add to the contrast which lay before Wilson, the place in which he was called to take this step was precisely that in which the war of periodicals was destined to be waged most keenly. In order properly to understand the circumstances which led to this warfare, it is necessary to go back some years.

The horrors of the French Revolution had been followed in Edinburgh by a