These beauties we have taken, almost at random, from the first part of the poem.
The second part is a series of descriptions of various events, a battle, a
murder, an execution, a marriage, a funeral, and so forth. Mr. Robert Montgomery
terminates each of these descriptions by assuring us that the Deity was present
at the battle, murder, execution, marriage or funeral in question. And this
proposition which might be safely predicated of every event that ever happened
or ever will happen, forms the only link which connects these descriptions with
the subject or with each other.
How the descriptions are executed our readers are probably by this time able to
conjecture. The battle is made up of the battles of all ages and nations:
"red-mouthed cannons, uproaring to the clouds," and "hands grasping firm the
glittering shield." The only military operations of which this part of the poem
reminds us, are those which reduced the Abbey of Quedlinburgh to submission, the
Templar with his cross, the Austrian and Prussian grenadiers in full uniform,
and Curtius and Dentatus with their battering-ram. We ought not to pass
unnoticed the slain war-horse, who will no more
"Roll his red eye, and rally for the fight";
or the slain warrior who, while "lying on his bleeding breast," contrives to
"stare ghastly and grimly on the skies." As to this last exploit, we can only
say, as Dante did on a similar occasion,
"Forse per forza gia di' parlasia Si stravolse cosi alcun del tutto Ma io nol
vidi, ne credo che sia."
The tempest is thus described:
"But lo! around the marsh'lling clouds unite, Like thick battalions halting for
the fight; The sun sinks back, the tempest spirits sweep Fierce through the air
and flutter on the deep. Till from their caverns rush the maniac blasts, Tear
the loose sails, and split the creaking masts, And the lash'd billows, rolling
in a train, Rear their white heads, and race along the main"
What, we should like to know, is the difference between the two operations which
Mr. Robert Montgomery so accurately distinguishes from each other, the fierce
sweeping of the tempest-spirits through the air, and the rushing of the maniac
blasts from their caverns? And why does the former operation end exactly when
the latter commences?
We cannot stop over each of Mr. Robert Montgomery's descriptions. We have a
shipwrecked sailor, who "visions a viewless temple in the air"; a murderer who
stands on a heath, "with ashy lips, in cold convulsion spread"; a pious man, to
whom, as he lies in bed at night,
"The panorama of past life appears, Warms his pure mind, and melts it into
a traveller, who loses his way, owing to the thickness of the "cloud-battalion,"
and the want of "heaven-lamps, to beam their holy light." We have a description
of a convicted felon, stolen from that incomparable passage in Crabbe's Borough,
which has made many a rough and cynical reader cry like a child. We can,
however, conscientiously declare that persons of the most excitable sensibility
may safely venture upon Mr, Robert Montgomery's version. Then we have the "poor,
mindless, pale-faced maniac boy," who
"Rolls his vacant eye To greet the glowing fancies of the sky."
What are the glowing fancies of the sky? And what is the meaning of the two
lines which almost immediately follow?
"A soulless thing, a spirit of the woods, He loves to commune with the fields
How can a soulless thing be a spirit? Then comes a panegyric on the Sunday. A
baptism follows; after that a marriage: and we then proceed, in due course, to
the visitation of the sick, and the burial of the dead.
Often as Death has been personified, Mr. Montgomery has found something new to
say about him:
"0 Death! thou dreadless vanquisher of earth, The Elements shrank blasted at thy
birth! Careering round the world like tempest wind, Martyrs before, and victims
strew'd behind Ages on ages cannot grapple thee, Dragging the world into
If there be any one line in this passage about which we are more in the dark
than about the rest, it is the fourth. What the difference may be between the
victims and the martyrs, and why the martyrs are to lie before Death, and the
victims behind him, are to us great mysteries.
We now come to the third part, of which we may say with honest Cassio, "Why,
this is a more excellent song than the other." Mr. Robert Montgomery is very
severe on the infidels, and undertakes to prove, that, as he elegantly expresses
"One great Enchanter helm'd the harmonious whole."
What an enchanter has to do with helming, or what a helm has to do with harmony,
he does not explain. He proceeds with his argument thus:
"And dare men dream that dismal Chance has framed All that the eye perceives, or
tongue has named The spacious world, and all its wonders, born Designless,
self-created, and forlorn; Like to the flashing bubbles on a stream, Fire from
the cloud, or phantom in a dream?"
We should be sorry to stake our faith in a higher Power on Mr. Robert
Montgomery's logic. He informs us that lightning is designless and self-created.
If he can believe this, we cannot conceive why he may not believe that the whole
universe is designless and self-created. A few lines before, he tells us that it
is the Deity who bids "thunder rattle from the skiey deep." His theory is
therefore this, that God made the thunder, but that the lightning made itself.
But Mr. Robert Montgomery's metaphysics are not at present our game. He proceeds
to set forth the fearful effects of Atheism
"Then, blood-stain`d Murder, bare thy hideous arm And thou, Rebellion, welter in
thy storm: Awake, ye spirits of avenging crime; Burst from your bonds, and
battle with the time!"
Mr. Robert Montgomery is fond of personification, and belongs, we need not say,
to that school of poets who hold that nothing more is necessary to a
personification in poetry than to begin a word with a capital letter. Murder
may, without impropriety, bare her arm, as she did long ago, in Mr. Campbell's
Pleasures of Hope. But what possible motive Rebellion can have for weltering in
her storm, what avenging crime may be, who its spirits may be, why they should
be burst from their bonds, what their bonds may be, why they should battle with
the time, what the time may be, and what a battle between the time and the
spirits of avenging crime would resemble, we must confess ourselves quite unable
"And here let Memory turn her tearful glance On the dark horrors of tumultuous
France, When blood and blasphemy defiled her land, And fierce Rebellion shook
her savage hand."
Whether Rebellion shakes her own hand, shakes the hand of Memory, or shakes the
hand of France, or what any one of these three metaphors would mean, we, know no
more than we know what is the sense of the following passage
"Let the foul orgies of infuriate crime Picture the raging havoc of that time,
When leagued Rebellion march'd to kindle man, Fright in her rear, and Murder in
her van. And thou, sweet flower of Austria, slaughter'd Queen, Who dropp'd no
tear upon the dreadful scene, When gush'd the life-blood from thine angel form,
And martyr'd beauty perish'd in the storm, Once worshipp'd paragon of all who
saw, Thy look obedience, and thy smile a law."
What is the distinction between the foul orgies and the raging havoc which the
foul orgies are to picture? Why does Fright go behind Rebellion, and Murder
before? Why should not Murder fall behind Fright? Or why should not all the
three walk abreast? We have read of a hero who had
"Amazement in his van, with flight combined, And Sorrow's faded form, and
Gray, we suspect, could have given a reason for disposing the allegorical
attendants of Edward thus. But to proceed, "Flower of Austria" is stolen from
Byron. "Dropp'd" is false English. "Perish'd in the storm" means nothing at all;
and "thy look obedience" means the very reverse of what Mr. Robert Montgomery
intends to say.
Our poet then proceeds to demonstrate the immortality of the soul:
"And shall the soul, the fount of reason, die, When dust and darkness round its
temple lie? Did God breathe in it no ethereal fire. Dimless and quenchless,
though the breath expire?"
The soul is a fountain; and therefore it is not to die, though dust and darkness
lie round its temple, because an ethereal fire has been breathed into it, which
cannot be quenched though its breath expire. Is it the fountain, or the temple,
that breathes, and has fire breathed into it?
Mr. Montgomery apostrophizes the
"Immortal beacons,--spirits of the just,"--
and describes their employments in another world, which are to be, it seems,
bathing in light, hearing fiery streams flow, and riding on living cars of
lightning. The deathbed of the skeptic is described with what we suppose is
meant for energy. We then have the deathbed of a Christian made as ridiculous as
false imagery and false English can make it. But this is not enough. The Day of
Judgment is to be described, and a roaring cataract of nonsense is poured forth
upon this tremendous subject. Earth, we are told, is dashed into Eternity.
Furnace blazes wheel round the horizon, and burst into bright wizard phantoms.
Racing hurricanes unroll and whirl quivering fire-clouds. The white waves
gallop. Shadowy worlds career around. The red and raging eye of Imagination is
then forbidden to pry further. But further Mr. Robert Montgomery persists in
prying. The stars bound through the airy roar. The unbosomed deep yawns on the
ruin. The billows of Eternity then begin to advance. The world glares in fiery
slumber. A car comes forward driven by living thunder,
"Creation shudders with sublime dismay, And in a blazing tempest whirls away."
And this is fine poetry! This is what ranks its writer with the master-spirits
of the age! This is what has been described, over and over again, in terms which
would require some qualification if used respecting Paradise Lost! It is too
much that this patchwork, made by stitching together old odds and ends of what,
when new, was but tawdry frippery, is to be picked off the dunghill on which it
ought to rot, and to be held up to admiration as an inestimable specimen of art.
And what must we think of a system by means of which verses like those which we
have quoted, verses fit only for the poet's corner of the Morning Post, can
produce emolument and fame? The circulation of this writer's poetry has been
greater than that of Southey's Roderick, and beyond all comparison greater than
that of Cary's Dante or of the best works of Coleridge. Thus encouraged, Mr.
Robert Montgomery has favored the public with volume after volume. We have given
so much space to the examination of his first and most popular performance that
we have none to spare for his Universal Prayer, and his smaller poems, which, as
the puffing journals tell us, would alone constitute a sufficient title to
literary immortality. We shall pass at once to his last publication, entitled
This poem was ushered into the world with the usual roar of acclamation. But the
thing was now past a joke. Pretensions so unfounded, so impudent, and so
successful, had aroused a spirit of resistance. In several magazines and
reviews, accordingly, Satan has been handled somewhat roughly, and the arts of
the puffers have been exposed with good sense and spirit. We shall, therefore,
be very concise.
Of the two poems we rather prefer that on the Omnipresence of the Deity, for the
same reason which induced Sir Thomas More to rank one bad book above another.
"Marry, this is somewhat. This is rhyme. But the other is neither rhyme nor
reason." Satan is a long soliloquy, which the Devil pronounces in five or six
thousand lines of bad blank verse, concerning geography, politics, newspapers,
fashionable society, theatrical amusements, Sir Walter Scott's novels, Lord
Byron's poetry, and Mr. Martin's pictures. The new designs for Milton have, as
was natural, particularly attracted the attention of a personage who occupies so
conspicuous a place in them. Mr. Martin must be pleased to learn that, whatever
may be thought of those performances on earth, they give full satisfaction in
Pandaemonium, and that he is there thought to have hit off the likenesses of the
various Thrones and Dominations very happily.
The motto to the poem of Satan is taken from the Book of Job: "Whence comest
thou? From going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it." And
certainly Mr. Robert Montgomery has not failed to make his hero go to and fro,
and walk up and down. With the exception, however, of this propensity to
locomotion, Satan has not one Satanic quality. Mad Tom had told us that "the
prince of darkness is a gentleman"; but we had yet to learn that he is a
respectable and pious gentleman, whose principal fault is that he is something
of a twaddle and far too liberal of his good advice. That happy change in his
character which Origen anticipated, and of which Tillotson did not despair,
seems to be rapidly taking place. Bad habits are not eradicated in a moment. It
is not strange, therefore, that so old an offender should now and then relapse
for a short time into wrong dispositions. But to give him his due, as the
proverb recommends, we must say that he always returns, after two or three lines
of impiety, to his preaching style. We would seriously advise Mr. Montgomery to
omit or alter about a hundred lines in different parts of this large volume, and
to republish it under the name of Gabriel. The reflections of which it consists
would come less absurdly, as far as there is a more and a less in extreme
absurdity, from a good than from a bad angel.
We can afford room only for a single quotation. We give one taken at random,
neither worse nor better, as far as we can perceive, than any other equal number
of lines in the book. The Devil goes to the play, and moralizes thereon as
"Music and Pomp their mingling spirit shed Around me: beauties in their
cloud-like robes Shine forth,--a scenic paradise, it glares Intoxication through
the reeling sense Of flush'd enjoyment. In the motley host Three prime
gradations may be rank'd: the first, To mount upon the wings of Shakspeare's
mind, And win a flash of his Promethean thought, To smile and weep, to shudder,
and achieve A round of passionate omnipotence, Attend: the second, are a sensual
tribe, Convened to hear romantic harlots sing, On forms to banquet a lascivious
gaze, While the bright perfidy of wanton eyes Through brain and spirit darts
delicious fire The last, a throng most pitiful! who seem, With their corroded
figures, rayless glance, And death-like struggle of decaying age, Like painted
skeletons in charnel pomp Set forth to satirize the human kind! How fine a
prospect for demoniac view! 'Creatures whose souls outbalance worlds awake!'
Methinks I hear a pitying angel cry."
Here we conclude. If our remarks give pain to Mr. Robert Montgomery, we are
sorry for it. But, at whatever cost of pain to individuals, literature must be
purified from this taint. And, to show that we are not actuated by any feeling
of personal enmity towards him, we hereby give notice that, as soon as any book
shall, by means of puffing, reach a second edition, our intention is to do unto
the writer of it as we have done unto Mr. Robert Montgomery.
Critical And Historical Essays, Volume II
Critical And Historical Essays, Volume II, Thomas Babbington Macaulay,