John Critchley Prince: Biography (2)
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CHAPTER II.


WE left the poet engaged in the pleasant task of revising his first work for the press.

    Towards the end of 1840, or about the beginning of 1841, Prince left Hyde, and with his wife and two daughters removed to Manchester, that he might be better able to superintend the publication of his work, now almost ready for the press, and have greater facilities for obtaining subscribers, and for increasing its circulation.  He took up his abode in a small dwelling house in Long Millgate, between the Chetham College gates and the Grammar School, and almost facing the old "Sun Inn," in Hanging Ditch, wherein many of his happiest and probably many of his saddest hours were afterwards spent.  Here he opened a small shop for the sale of odds and ends, including cheap stationery, periodicals, song books, etc., and whilst his wife and daughters disposed of these sundry wares, Prince himself, aided by his devoted friend and brother bard, John Bolton Rogerson, and other kindred spirits, corrected and revised his poems, prior to their publication.

    At length, in July 1841, "Hours with the Muses" was published under the patronage of, and dedicated to, Mr. Joshua Procter Westhead, afterwards M.P. for York; and all Manchester resounded with the fame of the unpretentious poet who had quietly settled in its midst.  "Prince's maiden volume," says Mr. Dawson, "was a complete success, a most warm reception being accorded to it from all quarters.  Never, indeed, was a book of poems, by a local author, welcomed in Lancashire with such hearty expressions of entire satisfaction before or since.  Provincial and metropolitan journals alike combined in lauding the work, and making known the author; edition after edition was called for; and the artisan class, in particular, rallied round him in great force, hailing him, with acclamations loud and sincere, as a true poet of the people."

    This success of Prince's poems would not, perhaps, have been so remarkable, had they been heralded by prospective reports of their merit, eulogised by literary magnates, or published under the aegis of an illustrious patron; but the fact of their having enjoyed none of these advantages clearly proves that their own intrinsic excellence was the sole cause of their enthusiastic reception.  When we consider the peculiarly unpropitious and depressing circumstances in which they were written, and the deservedly high reputation which their publication secured, we question if such success, under similar circumstances, is not unexampled in the annals of modern poetic literature; and, although many others may have acquired still greater celebrity in even a shorter period, we are not aware of any preceding tentative efforts having been rewarded with such genuine appreciation, against influences so unmitigated and discouraging.

    The spirit of these remarks may be found in an able review of "Hours with the Muses," which appeared in "Bradshaw's journal" [3] for January 1843, and from which we now quote in continuation:—"Friends, undoubtedly, the poet met with, and their seasonable aid was of much service, especially in enabling him to give his productions to the world without incurring a responsibility which, in his situation, might have crushed him.  These kindnesses he abundantly acknowledges in the several prefaces to the successive editions of his work, and in some of the minor poems.  The expressions of his gratitude are equally fervent and graceful; he evidently feels deeply, and displays his feelings in forms as remarkable for their eloquence as for their sincerity and tenderness.  Still we claim for Prince, what we are convinced will be ultimately and universally awarded to him, the merit of being the independent architect of his own literary fame.  The gratitude of modest genius is not the standard by which we are to judge of the actual amount of the service rendered.  No meretricious celebrity can be long sustained; no patronage can invest inanity with the attributes of mental energy and life.  The clamours which precede, and the pomp which ushers in a false reputation, will soon be superseded by the calmer tones and the more righteous adjustments of independent criticism.  The level of intellect is, in the issue, as certainly found as that of water; and that reputation is likely to be the most permanent which springs almost unaided, and, by the elastic bound of its own energy, rises to the elevation which it seems destined to occupy."

    In estimating the character of Prince's genius, therefore, we have no desire to bespeak indulgence or to plead for large concessions on account of the sad story of his life; and, instead of submitting his works to any imaginary standard which it may be supposed he might ultimately have reached had he enjoyed the advantages of education and easy circumstances, we prefer to regard them according to their own intrinsic merits, to estimate the faculty of the poet by his actual achievements, and to do justice to the energy and independence by which he was enabled to manifest the power and excellence of his gift notwithstanding almost insuperable difficulties, and circumstances of almost unexampled suffering and endurance.

    There are, unfortunately, those who, in making a deep scrutiny into the errors of the man, allow themselves to be blind to the excellences of the poet; but, whatever differences of opinion may exist as to Prince's character, there can be no doubt as to his genius, nor can anything that may be said of his eccentricities of conduct affect the genuineness, the purity, and the high moral aim of his poetry.

    In one so highly yet so weakly constituted as Prince, some allowance should be made for his human frailty, especially when we remember that in almost every instance in which he erred the severity of his self-accusation and the intensity of his remorse were almost beyond expression. We are warranted in believing that the special weakness of his character was, to a great extent, inherited, and it behoves us all to " let the memory of the hard-fated bard be regarded with tenderness, and the veil of oblivion gently drawn over faults attended by consequences so fatal, and atoned by remorse so bitter and confessions so candid."

    Dr. Murdock, speaking of Thomson, observes that, "The life of a good writer is best read in his works;" and there can be little doubt but that these almost invariably indicate the individualities of the author, and reveal the characteristics of his mind and the governing passions and impulses of his nature. "The tendencies of the poet's temperament must be followed, and can neither be concealed nor suppressed; and though he may etherealise the features of his spiritual countenance, through their being habitually operated upon by the impressions of truth and beauty, they cannot be either altered or hidden, and may be readily discovered amid the creations of his genius."  Applying this test to the works of Prince we at once obtain an unclouded view of his inner and higher, in contradistinction to his outer life; and if the vocation of the poet, as some one says, is to teach the true dignity and worthiness of human nature, to be the champion of virtue and worth, and to have a heart especially open to the claims of misery and woe, then, indeed, must we regard Prince as a true and noble-hearted poet who has proved himself worthy of his vocation.

    We here desire it to be clearly understood that we do not claim for Prince to be classified amongst the highest orders of genius.  Mr. Dawson has so admirably alluded to this fact that we cannot refrain from quoting his words:—"Though his note was all but perfect within its own limited range, it was by no means a high note.  No one was more aware of this than was Prince himself; indeed, he knew his own position in the tuneful art as well or better than any of his critics.  He says himself, in the preface to one of his works, 'The power to think and utter great things belongs to few, and I am not of them.'  He is not to be ranked, nor did he ever claim to be ranked, with the great inspired ones of the earth—demi-gods of song, whose trumpetings herald themselves through all time and fill the mouths of the multitudes in all ages.  The emanations of his muse are not to be classed with their emanations, nor is it to be expected they can live with them.  Still they have a sweet, low singing of their own—a quiet brook murmur of music which cannot fail to make itself heard for a long time to come, simply by the force of its exquisite melodiousness.  The principal characteristics of Prince's writings are sweetness and simplicity.  His muse was always melodious as a meadow brooklet, singing to itself in the spring sunshine, half hidden in grass and flowers.

    "Another excellent quality which characterises his productions, and which forces itself particularly on the attention of the reader, is their sincerity.  This grand merit is apparent in all that he wrote.  No dawdling sentimentality is anywhere visible; all is truly and absolutely of the heart.  Records of real, not fictitious, joys and sorrows are what he indited.  He lived his poems before he wrote them, as all true poets to a certain extent must do.  No high-flown bard, he dealt only with subjects nearest at hand, and never looked for thoughts and images beyond the position in which he was himself placed in society.  He aimed low and hit the mark, content to give us the clear music that was floating around him in the actual world, and striving not to catch the indistinct pulses of melody vibrating in ideal regions, in the far-off mysterious distance."

    Professor Shairp, in his recent review of Shelley's lyrics, says:—"All true literature, all genuine poetry, is the direct outcome, the condensed essence of actual life and thought.  Lyric poetry may be said to be the vivid expression of personal experience.  It is only as poetry is founded on reality that it has any solid value; otherwise it is worthless."  Tested by this ruling, Prince possessed undeniable claim to be regarded as a true poet; he spoke what he felt, and in rapturous language described what he saw.  These were the secret springs of his inspiration.  He did not look upon Nature through "the spectacles of books," but by his own clear insight revealed her mysterious charms, and saw the Deity in all His works.

    It has been said that the reputation of an author is generally associated with one particular work; we might easily furnish proofs of this assertion amongst ancient and modern writers; and we may certainly apply it to the works of Prince, as his name and reputation are inseparably connected with his first volume, "Hours with the Muses."

    Before entering upon a brief critical analysis of these poems we may mention that altogether six editions of this first work were issued; three within a period of about two years, while Prince lived in Manchester—the other three editions being published subsequently; and we are informed that, in addition to these, several issues of the work were published in America, where many of his poems were very popular.  The first and second editions contain lists of subscribers, and amongst these it is interesting to find the names of Thomas Moore, Charles Dickens, James Montgomery, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, Richard Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton), the Countess of Blessington, Lord Francis Egerton, J. Allsop (author of "Letters and Conversations of Coleridge," etc.), Dr. Neale Arnott, Lord Ashley, Sir William Eden, Ebenezer Elliott, William Howitt, Lady Wilton, etc., in addition to those of his fellow-bards of Lancashire and the neighbourhood, and many admiring and distinguished friends.

    Fearful of incurring a responsibility which he was by no means able to bear, as he tells us in the preface to the second edition, the impression of the first edition was limited to almost the precise number of subscribers; but by the efforts of kind friends such a further addition of subscribers was obtained in the course of printing the volume that upon its issue the impression was found to fall short of the subscription list by upwards of three hundred copies.  The list was further increased after its publication to such an extent that the author was soon placed in a position to require another and a much larger edition; and further, was speedily relieved by the generous zeal of friends from the anxiety of a speculation so far beyond his own pecuniary means.

    With characteristic modesty he does not attribute this success to the merits of the poems themselves, but "to the design in the principal poems of advocating the rights and elevating the tastes and pursuits of his labouring fellow-countrymen, and to a generous desire on the part of the public to aid the author in those struggles with poverty and its many attendant evils which had so far been his portion through life."  This is all very praiseworthy, yet there can be no doubt that the success of the work was principally due to its own intrinsic merits, and in some degree to the colouring it received from the romantic circumstances of the author's life.  He had touched the hearts of his own class by faithfully transcribing the feelings and sentiments they cherished, and yet, in pleading the rights of the poor, he in no manner seeks to ignore those of the rich; but uprears his fabric of regeneration on the basis of existing institutions, and eloquently pleads for the moral and intellectual advancement of mankind.

    His mission is to preach the gospel of humanity, to cheer and encourage the hearts of the people with the evangel of truth and love, of faith and charity, whilst he earnestly strives to federalise his fellow-men in a brotherhood of manly worth and independence.  In his zeal for the welfare of man, and the happiness of the world he forgets the deplorable circumstances of his own life; and so unselfish are his earnestness and enthusiasm that, from first to last, no trace of repining or misanthropy is to be found anywhere in his writings.

    Thus far for the principles of his teaching; let us now notice the quality of his poetry, and linger for a little amid the exquisite sweetness of his thrilling numbers.

    "The poetry of Prince," says the able reviewer in "Bradshaw's Journal," "is scarcely to be compared with that of any particular writer.  He frequently reminds us of several, but in no instance is he the servile copyist of any.  There are passages in some of the poems, such as 'The Poet's Sabbath,' 'The Captive's Dream,' 'The Student of Nature,' 'The Voice of the Primrose,' the sonnets and stanzas written in North Wales, the 'Sick Man's Fancies,' and the 'Father's Lament,' which not only contain great varieties of excellence, but exhibit proofs of a very high order of poetical genius.  These poems, as well as many others in the volume, prove the author to be a man of acute observation and of intuitive taste.  He looks upon Nature with a deep and heartfelt delight, and treats her with a boldness and comprehensiveness of handling suited to her grander aspects, or with a tenderness resembling the delicacy of her own commingled hues.  He has marked well the operations of his own mind.  This profound page has been often and thoughtfully perused by him; the metaphysics of the spirit and of the heart have been closely analysed, and hence we have, not unfrequently, thoughts springing from his own mental evolutions, of equal depth and beauty.  He is keenly alive to the social affections; he responds to them with a man's heart, and depicts them with a poet's gentle fervency.  He is universally benevolent; he has a moral community with all that suffer.  He has been severely schooled, but has come out of the ordeal with a spirit as gentle as that with which he first encountered the wounds of adversity.  Most men would have felt, or have affected misanthropy, had they met with a thousandth part of what he actually suffered; they would have vented their vexation in querulous complaint or bitter epigram; but nothing of this kind characterises Prince's poems, and, if we could refuse our admiration to their excellence as compositions, we could scarcely avoid loving the spirit which pervades them.  To the modest, the peculiarly gifted author, might have been said what Hamlet addresses to his faithful and accomplished friend Horatio:—


                         .     .     .     .     thou hast been
As one in suffering all, that suffers nothing;
A man that fortune's buffets and rewards
Hast ta'en with equal thanks; and blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled,
That they are not a pipe for fortune's finger
To sound what stop she please.


    The most ambitious, and perhaps the most exalted, effort of Prince's muse is "The Poet's Sabbath," a poem of fifty-six Spenserian stanzas, characterised by emotional and moral fervour, replete with a genuine poet's intense love of Nature and true insight into her mysteries, while displaying an elasticity of thought and a felicity of expression which is nothing short of marvellous under the circumstances in which it was written.  The artisan poet hails the Sabbath as the red-letter day of the week, when, for a short season, life's toils and cares are laid aside if not forgotten, and its hallowed influences stealing tenderly into his enraptured soul, awake the diviner impulses of his being.

    In the appropriate and glowing introduction to the poem there is all the ardent and impassioned enthusiasm of a soul peculiarly susceptible to the outward forms of the beautiful, and endowed with a keen perception of the analogies existing between natural objects and the feelings of the human heart.

The following stanzas bear some analogy to Burns' "Cottar's Saturday Night"—


Hark! sweetly pealing in the arch of heaven,
The mingled music of the Sabbath bells;
A tide of varying harmony is driven,
In gentle wavelets, over streams and dells
Now 'tis a melting cadence, now it swells;
Full, rich, and joyous on the enamoured ear ;
While through the wond'rous halls where memory dwells,
A thousand visions of the past career,
A thousand joys and griefs in dreamy forms appear!

Now are the temples of a thousand creeds
Thronging with worshippers, where we may trace
Men known to fame by good or evil deeds,
As multiform in feeling as in face:
There Pomp is seated in his pride of place,
Cushioned, and carpeted, and curtained round;
There humbler Piety, with modest grace
Lists to the blessed Word's consoling sound,
Or breathes, subdued and low, her orisons profound.

There was a time (two thousand shadowy years
Have swept, since then, o'er earth's still changing ball),
When Christ, the Man of Sorrows and of tears,
Came to redeem our great, primeval fall;
And as he preached life; love, and truth to all—
A blessed lore which cannot be defiled—
Rude men and sinful gathered at his call,
Won by his healing words, his aspect mild,—
That God in human mould, yet humble as a child.

Mournful and meek, yet dignified, he came
Before stern Pilate's judgment-seat to hear
The Jewish hatred cast upon his name,
Yet breathed no murmur of reproach or fear!
Though smit by hands, he shed compassion's tear,
Bore on his brow the blood-extorting wreath,
And, having made the way of mercy clear,
Spent on the painful cross his latest breath
To save the human race from everlasting death!

Then Paul arose, the chosen of the Lord,
To nurse the seeds which Christ himself had sown;
To spread the living Spirit of the Word,
To hearts unborn, to lands as yet unknown
With simple majesty and earnest tone
He taught admiring multitudes to love;
His lips dropped manna, while his features shone
With holy light, reflected from above,
And God within his soul sat brooding like a dove.


    Reviewing briefly how the Scottish Covenanters and the Huguenots suffered for the religion that was dearer to them than even life itself, he cites their glorious example for the admiration of posterity; and, deploring the pride and custom which obtain in modern days,


The laboured sermon, and the gorgeous mass
With idle pageantry,


as all unworthy the "Eternal One of Heaven" he continues:—


Still we must own that there are some, in sooth
To God devoted, and to man sincere;—
Some whose calm souls are yearning after truth,
With all that holy hope that knows no fear;
Some who have ministered to virtue here,
Soothed the despairing, succoured the distressed,—
Breathed consolation in the mourner's ear,
And plucked the weed of sorrow from the breast,—
Swayed by the law of Love, the noblest, purest, best!


    That these broad views embody Prince's own religious opinions is, we think, sufficiently apparent, and that he had little sympathy with mere forms and ceremonies is fully attested in many of his poems; in the present instance, as if acknowledging the personal element in the last stanza we have quoted, he thus addresses the Deity in the one immediately succeeding:—


Oh God! my only hope of bliss above!
Soul of all being, human and divine!
Source of all wisdom! fountain of all love!
Oh, let Thy light around my footsteps shine!
Oh, teach my stubborn spirit to resign
Pride, passion, lust, and every vicious art!
Oh, make me truly and securely Thine!
Give me a lowly purity of heart,

That I may understand and choose the better part.


Further on, he is still more candid, and in the following lines affords us a still clearer insight into his religious belief:—


My heart's religion is an earnest love
Of all that's good, and beautiful, and true!
My noblest temple is this sky above—
This vast pavilion of unclouded blue;
These mountains are my altars, which subdue
My wildest passions in their wildest hours;
My hymn is ever many-voiced and new,
From bird and bee, from wind and wave it pours;

My incense is the breath of herbs, leaves, fruits and flowers.

*            *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *

Man cannot stand beneath a loftier dome
Than this cerulean canopy of light—
The E
TERNAL'S vast, immeasurable home,
Lovely by day, and wonderful by night!
Than this enamelled floor so greenly bright,
A richer pavement man hath never trod;
He cannot gaze upon a holier sight
Than fleeting cloud, fresh wave, and fruitful sod—

Leaves of that boundless Book, writ by the hand of God!


    The last-quoted verses may be compared with the two following stanzas from "A Sketch among the Mountains":—


Oh! is it not religion to admire,
O God! what Thou hast made in field and bower,
And solitudes from man and strife apart?
To feel within the soul the wakening fire
Of pure and chastened pleasure, and the power
Of natural beauty on the tranquil heart,—
And then to think that our terrestrial home

Is but a shadow still of that which is to come!


This is the fitting temple of high thought
And glorious emotion,—the true place
Of adoration, silent and sincere;
For all that the Eternal Hand hath wrought,
Having the form of grandeur and of grace,
Reminds us of a happier, holier, sphere,—
Fills us with wonder, strengthens hope and love,

While the rapt soul aspires to brighter things above.


    Now lying down upon the verdant slope, and gazing around him with a loving eye, gentle Fancy wafts him to the golden age of man's primeval innocence:—


Blest Blest age of guiltless joy and cloudless truth!
Undimmed by human care, by human crime,—
When earth was in the gladness of her youth,
And man was in the glory of his prime!
Delicious lapse of golden-winged time!


    His mind revels amid the "fabled charms" which belong to the glorious time when


The world was one Arcadian realm, and rife
With graceful shape, soft tint, and pleasing sound;
Unwet by sorrow's tears, unstained by strife,
An Eden bloomed on every spot of ground;


and his glowing imagination pictures the reign of love, innocence, and purity, throughout the earth; when peace and piety, truth and charity, knew no decay; when men were bound in a mighty brotherhood by indissoluble ties, and when


Hate, passion, lust, ambition, falsehood, gain,
Pride and oppression, poverty and wrong,
Crime and remorse, disease, despair, and pain,—
A dark and unextinguishable throng,—
Were evils yet unknown to story or to song!


    Soon, however, the living present recalls the dreamer from the golden realms of fancy, and he exclaims:—


    Transcendent fiction! though we cannot find
That aught so beautiful hath ever been;
Though thou art but a vision of the mind,
Fancied, but felt not,—sought for, but unseen;
Yet hope is with us,—let us strive to wean
Our hearts from selfish influences, and go;
Together in the fields of truth, and glean
All it behoves the hungry soul to know,
Creating for ourselves a Paradise below.


    In the extracts which we have quoted from this remarkable poem we have been anxious not so much to exemplify its poetic beauties as to cite those passages which are calculated to throw some light upon the religious opinions of the poet, inasmuch as some reviewers have taken exception to what they consider the unorthodox views enunciated in "The Poet's Sabbath."  This is not the place to institute any polemical inquiry, or to discuss the burning questions involved in the consideration of man's relation to his God; nor have we any intention of entering into the subtle intricacies of theological dogma and doctrine, but we must protest against the narrow-minded objections of those who have taken exception to the religious opinions of Prince as presented in the poem now under consideration.  It is true that he had a wholesome repugnance of cant and shallow sectarianism, and preferred to enjoy communion with his Maker through the medium of Nature, rather than the various forms and ceremonies that distinguish the accepted creeds: but it is unjust to infer from what he has written that the longings of his spirit were satisfied with a cold materialistic form of Nature-worship.

    The design of the poem in question was simply to express the gratitude of the poor artisan for the hallowed ordinance of the sacred day of rest, and to record the poet's intense admiration of the beauties of Nature, which called forth his cordial and unrestrained sympathies, and lifted up his enraptured soul in praise and adoration to the bounteous Creator.

    The quotations we have given are at least conclusive that Prince was a devout believer in all the fundamental doctrines of the Christian verities, and, although his views on religious matters may have been broader and more tolerant than those which find favour with the innumerable sectaries representing orthodoxy in faith and morals, it is manifestly unfair even to insinuate unbelief, because, forsooth, the poet's impassioned strains are not sufficiently interlaced with the petty and prosaic details of narrow-minded and exclusive formularies.  Prince's nature was deeply religious, and in everything he wrote the reverential spirit was always prominent; in fact, the natural expression of his inner, higher life, as evidenced in his works, is characterised by a high morality, which contrasts all the more strongly with the weaknesses of his character.

    The teaching of Prince's poems is ever pure, earnest, and dignified, yet so simple that "he that runs may read;" Love is his ruling passion; love for the beautiful and the true, for all that is good and virtuous, and for all God's creatures.  And Charity!  How oft is charity the subject of his song?  Charity, which is the bond of perfectness:—"Love God, and thy neighbour as thyself:" "Do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you:" these are the themes on which his muse delights to dwell: and from first to last his poems abound with the spirit of kindness and tenderness, with loving sympathy and gentleness; and whilst the iris-tints of hope gleam from every tuneful page, every virtue which can ennoble mankind is communicated in "soulthrobs which beat grandly to the great heart of humanity."  Again we quote his own earnest words:—


The voice of Nature is a voice of power,
More eloquent than mortal lips can make;
And even now in this most solemn hour,
She bids my noblest sympathies awake.
Nature! I love all creatures for thy sake,
But chiefly man who is estranged from thee!
Oh! would that he would turn from strife, and take
Sweet lessons from thy lore, and learn to be

Submissive to thy laws, wise, happy, good, and free!


    The quotations we have given from "The Poet's Sabbath" especially manifest that high moral tone which everywhere pervades Prince's poetry; but that there is no lack of poetic imagery in this noble effort of his muse is evidenced by the following passages, selected almost at random:—


Now the lone twilight, like a widowed maiden,
Pale, pure and pensive, steals along the skies;
With dewy tears the sleeping flowers are laden—
The leaves are stirred by spiritual sighs;
The stars are looking down with radiant eyes,
Like hosts of watchful cherubim, that guard
A wide and weary world; the glow-worm lies
A living gem upon the grassy sward,

Uncared for and unsought, save by the wandering bard.


    Again—


Earth slumbers in the depth of summer dreams;
Mysterious murmurs stir the sultry air,

As if all Nature's breast throbbed with unuttered prayer.

*            *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *

Here lavish Music, dainty Ariel, flings
Mellifluous melody on every hand;
Here mild, and many-featured Beauty brings
Dim visions of that undiscovered land,

Where the unshackled soul shall boundlessly expand!


After alluding to "the golden age which blessed our fathers in the days of yore," and deploring the evil destiny that ended its reign, and destroyed its race of patriarchs, he says:—


Gone, like the spirit of a joyous friend—
Gone, like a melody that leaves no trace,

Or like a shattered star swept from the realms of space.


How suggestive of Arcadia is the following stanza:—


On aromatic leaves, with tranquil dreams,
They slept the shadows of the night away;
'Mid sunny mountains and rejoicing streams,
They watched and wandered with their flocks by day;
Down the deep valleys they were wont to stray,
Where yet a savage foot had never trod,
To glorify their Maker, and to pray;
Making the green and ever-flowery sod,

Which blessed them with its fruits, the altar of their God!


We might present many delightful passages from this hallowed composition, but a few lines, on clouds at sunset, must serve as our last quotation:—


Now they assume new shapes, wild, strange, and grand,
Touched by the breath of eve's ethereal gale:
Like burning cliffs and blazing towers they stand,
Frowning above an emerald-paven vale,

Such as my childhood found in Fancy's fairy tale!


    We cannot, as already stated, claim for Prince the possession of that sublime and prophetic genius which distinguished those who, at various times, have shone like planets in the firmament of mind; yet, if not of the highest, his genius was certainly not of a low order; and, in relation with those whose greater light will glow undimmed through all time, illumining the nations, Prince may be compared to a bright-orbed star, whose pure chaste rays steal into human hearts, unsealing the springs of love and joyfulness, and awaking the music of Life into new and charming melodies.

    Poetry, characterised by strength of imagination, may be more attractive, but is neither so rich nor so captivating as the poetry of the heart; and this is, in all probability, the key to Prince's recognition as a poet of the people.  His own love of Nature was as intense as it was enthusiastic, and he describes her charms with childlike earnestness and simplicity, sings of her beauties in impassioned strains, and is everywhere an eloquent exponent of her beneficent power.  His views of life and its duties are ever dignified, and his teaching always high-toned and ennobling.  He knew every string upon the lyre of life, and swept its chords with the hand of a master.

    His fervour of expression is never so deep as when he is communing with Nature or appealing on behalf of the suffering and the poor; and there is a spirit of earnest devotion and genuine social sympathy diffused through his works which shows the large-heartedness and generosity of his aims and the purity and sincerity of his motives.  His love for the people was characterised by the purest philanthropy, and his advocacy of their rights and liberties was as discreet as vehement; yet his sympathies were nowhere circumscribed by the exigencies of class or creed, and he strove ever and solely for the moral and social elevation of the masses, and for the welfare and happiness of all ranks and conditions of men.  And although what he had himself so keenly felt is reflected in that fine melancholy which permeates his verse, yet few have sung so sweetly and so well of contentment and happiness, and of better days to come.

    In addition to the admirable union of moral truth with all the exquisite imagery of poetry, Prince's muse is pre-eminently characterised by fineness and delicacy of rhythm and exquisite sweetness of cadence. From beginning to end they are


               .     .     .     . Musical as is Apollo's lute,
And a perpetual feast of nectar'd sweets
Where no crude surfeit reigns;


and, read where we may, we find no imperfect metre, no halting lines, but everywhere the same soft euphonious sweetness, like the low mellow murmuring of a crystal brook.

    Sweet simplicity is perhaps the principal charm of Prince's poetry, but the all-pervading tenderness and purity of sentiment, the graceful elegance of expression, and the gentle play of fancy which distinguish it, are so many evidences that the mind of the poet was illuminated by


"The light that never was on sea or land."


    The vivid accuracy of delineation, the truthfulness of detail, and the warmth of colour and tone which characterise his charming word pictures, incontestably prove that he possessed all the qualifications of a gifted artist.

    "The Captive's Dream" is a poem of thrilling power, complete in detail; and whilst bristling in concise, illuminating portraiture, is replete with a spirit of deep pathetic tenderness.  The frame-work of the poem consists of some twenty-five Spenserian stanzas, surrounding four charming lyrics, which represent the Voices of the Seasons as calling the captive out of captivity, and in its main features is in many respects analogous to Byron's "Prisoner of Chillon."  As in all Prince's poems, we find here no archaic or mystical phrases, but the utmost simplicity of form and expression, and the clearest utterance in the sweetest music.

    Having reviewed the Captive's life and labours in the cause of virtue and humanity, the high and holy aims he cherished for the welfare of mankind, the hallowed mission in which he had engaged, and which at length won for him


"A felon's fare, and worse than felon's doom,"


the poet tells us that


The manly victim of oppression's law,
Faint with the nightly vigil he had kept,
Sunk down supine upon his couch of straw,
And, lapped in brief forgetfulness, he slept.
Enchanting visions through his memory swept,
Flushed his pale cheek, and heaved his weary breast;
Fair forms and faces round his pillow crept,
Which he in early youth had loved and blest,

And voices such as these stole through his troubled rest.


    To this succeeds the four tuneful lyrics personifying the four Seasons, each differing in tone and rhythm according to the poet's conception of their respective characters, and all replete with minor beauties and the charms of lyrical poetry.  We quote the introductory stanza of the first three, and prefer to give the "Voice of Winter" entire, if only on account of its gracefulness and easy-flowing melody.


THE VOICE OF SPRING.


Come, Captive, come, let us joyfully roam
O'er the green and reviving earth;
While the skies are fair, and the vocal air
Resounds with the voice of mirth:
The dew-drop lies in the violet's eyes,
And the primrose gems the grass;
On verdurous brinks, the cowslip drinks
Of the brooklets as they pass:
But Summer is near, and I must not stay,—

Come away, man of grief—Come away, come away! "

*            *            *            *            *            *            *            *

 


THE VOICE OF SUMMER.


Come away from the gloom of the dungeon forlorn,
And escape from the thraldom of sorrow or sleep;
Come and catch the first hues on the cheek of the morn,
From the pine-covered mountain's precipitous steep;
For the lark hath his matin-hymn newly begun,
And the last star that lingered hath melted away;
Every shadow falls back from the face of the sun,
And the world is awake in the fulness of day.

*            *            *            *            *            *            *            *

 


THE VOICE OF AUTUMN.


Thou lonely man of grief and pain,
    By lawless power oppressed,
Burst from thy prison—rend thy chain,
    I come to make thee blest;
I have no springtide buds and flowers—
I have no summer bees and bowers;
But oh! I have some pleasant hours,
To soothe thy soul to rest!

*            *            *            *            *            *

 

THE VOICE OF WINTER.

 

Lone victim of Tyranny's doom,
    Bowed down to his pitiless will,
I come o'er the earth with my grandeur and gloom,
And though I have nothing of freshness and bloom,
    I know that thou lovest me still.

With a spirit unwearied and warm,
    Thou hast sported with me from a child;
Thou hast watched my career on the wings of the storm,—
Thou hast fearlessly followed my shadowy form
    Over mountain, and valley, and wild.

In the depths of some desolate vale,
    Thou hast given thy breast to the blast,
As I built up my snow-drift, and scattered my hail;
Thou didst hear my stern voice in the sweep of the gale,
    And shouted with joy as I passed.

Young Spring may be tender and bland,
    With her flowers like the stars of the sky;
Bright Summer may breathe his warm soul o'er the land,
And Autumn may open a bountiful hand;—
    But none are so mighty as I.

Through the silent dominions of night
    I go to my wonderful play;
While the tremulous pole-star burns piercingly bright,
I cover the earth with a mantle of light,
    To dazzle the dawning of day.

There's a silvery crisp on the grass,
    And a cluster of gems on the thorn;
The boughs of the forest grow still as I pass,—
The reeds stand erect in the frozen morass,
    Unstirred by the breath of the morn.

On the uttermost verge of the year,
    As I sit on my crystalline throne,
I send out my frost spirit, cloudless and clear,
And the rivers are stayed in their onward career—
    The cataracts stiffen to stone.

But when my vast power hath begun
    To lessen the comforts of men,
I withdraw my dim veil from the face of the sun,
And the floods, and the streams, and the rivulets run,
    On—on to the ocean again.

But though I am savage and strong,
    And though I am sullen and cold,
I have hearth-stones encircled by many a throng,
Who awaken the jest, and the dance, and the song,
    As if they would never grow old.

Sad Captive, awake from thy thrall,—
    Come back to the home of thy birth!
Festivity ringeth in cottage and hall,
Where the holly and mistletoe garland the wall,
    And shake to the music of mirth.

Fair forms which thou canst not forget—
    Fond hearts with affection that burn—
The true and the tender are cheerfully met,
Where the wine-cup is filled, and the banquet is set
    To welcome thy happy return.

The face of thy father is bright—
    Thy child is awake on his knee—
The wife of thy bosom is mad with delight,
Oh! fly to her faithful embraces to-night,
    For liberty waiteth for thee!"


    Here the voice of Winter ends, and the Captive awakes to find his glorious vision, alas! but a dream.  The poet continues:—


Such were the visions that his grief beguiled;
And as the last voice to his fancy spoke,
He sprang to clasp the mother of his child,—
And, in the frenzy of his joy-awoke!
Brief was that joy! For on his senses broke
The dread, dark, cold reality of pain:
He heard the midnight bell's discordant stroke,—
He heard the clank of his unbroken chain,

And knew that he had dreamed of liberty in vain!
*            *            *            *            *            *            *            *


But Death had been his latest, kindest friend,
And snatched the Captive from his earthly thrall;
Though brief his course, and desolate his end,
Freedom was strengthened by her martyr's fall.
Ten thousand souls have answered to his call,
And sown the seeds of truth, which soon shall grow
To fair and full maturity for all;
And Man that hour of happiness shall know,

When universal love shall blend all hearts below!


    Dr. Southey, quoting from the Welsh Triads, says in a note to "Madoc," "The three primary requisites of poetical genius are—An eye that can see Nature, a heart that can feel Nature, and a resolution that dares follow Nature."  How far Prince possessed this elemental trinity will be best seen by grouping together a few poems in which he not only portrays Nature's objective beauty and sublimity, but demonstrates in her ever-varying forms types of human thought and life.  Taking some of the poems of this class in the order in which they occur in "Hours with the Muses," the first is a graceful and melodious lyric addressed "To an early Primrose," from which we quote the following stanzas:—


You are herald of the Spring, pale primrose flower,
Peering so sweetly from the frozen earth,
Why art thou blooming in this sunless hour,
When not a daisy in the field or bower
                            Has sprung to birth;
When Nature sleepeth in her wintry thrall,
Leafless, and verdureless, and silent all?
*            *            *            *            *            *            *
Welcome thou art, though like a poor man's child,
Brought without joy into a home of gloom;
'Mid mournful sounds and tearful tempests wild,
Thou comest forth, fresh, fair, and undefiled
                            From Nature's womb,
Baring thy breast to the inclement sky,
To brave its storms or prematurely die.

Gazing on thee, association brings
A thousand golden intervals of time,
A thousand pleasant, unforgotten things,
Which memory colours with her magic wings,
                            Bright and sublime:
Old loves and friendships, happy hearts and faces,
Old songs and tales, and old romantic places.

I feel thy breath, and fancy leads the way
To many a solitude of youthful choice,
Where the glad lark, his tribute hymn to pay,
Hails the aurora of returning day
                            With merry voice,
When the faint starlight of the night-time yields
To the sweet floral starlight of the fields.

Green forest haunts come back to me, where I
Feasted my soul with man's immortal words;
And winding lanes, where dewy roses sigh
Their odours out to breezes passing by,—
                            Where happy birds
Sing to the sparkling waters, as they creep
Brightly and blithely, onward to the deep.
*            *            *            *            *            *            *
Fair, fragrant promiser of brighter hours,
Like hope thou smilest on my weary eye:—
Fairer, because the firstling of the flowers,
Dearer, because a shade of sadness lowers
                            Along the sky,—
Richer, because thou teachest from the sod,
A lore which lifts my musings unto God!


    How extremely sensitive the lyre of the poet is to the lightest touches of beauty, and how true to Nature his artistic word-portraiture, is evidenced in his glowing description of "A Summer's Day."  How fine the opening lines:—


Scared at the aspect of advancing day,
Stern night puts on his starry robe, and flies:


and again, in the same stanza,—


Look down upon this laughing valley here,
Where stream and pool are kindled into gold,
And on the summer vesture of the year,
Flowers of all hues their balmy eyes unfold.


    We may compare this poem to a charming picture, divided into four panels, representing respectively, Morn, Noon, Evening, and Night, each of which is characterised by boldness of expression, delicacy of touch, and an almost infinite variety of tone and tint.  The sonnets on Evening and Night reveal the realistic power of the poet-artist:—


Like the warm hectic flush on beauty's cheek,
The hues of sunset linger in the sky;
But lo! as treacherous, they but brightly speak
The hastening close of Day's expiring eye.
All richly now yon western glories die,
Quenched in the shadows of approaching night;
The quiet moon hath hung her lamp on high,
And Hesper's star breaks sweetly on the sight;
The flowers are close, yet Zephyr in his flight
Bears living fragrance on his wanton wings;
Meanwhile, a pure uncertainty of light
Steals calm and soft athwart the face of things;
Enchanting Eve! mild promiser of rest!
How dear thy presence to the mourner's breast!
*            *            *            *            *            *            *            *
Sweet is the smile of dewy-footed Morn,—
Sweet the bright ardour of the lusty Noon,—
Sweet are the sighs of Evening, when the tune
Of flute-toned voices on the air is borne:—
But sweeter still, when living gems adorn
His awful brow, is philosophic Night:—
Then Contemplation takes a boundless flight,
Thro' realms untainted by this world of scorn.
What peace to sit beneath this shadowy thorn,
Where the lone wave steals by with gentle sound,—
The wan moon's soft effulgence slumbering round,—
And drink from Fancy's ever-flowing horn!
What joy, when forth the unshackled spirit springs
To hold high converse with all nobler things!


    There is a spirit of mournful tenderness in "Stanzas, written after a Winter's Walk in the Country," and the pathetic sweetness with which the poet draws analogies between the changed aspect of Nature under the influence of Winter, and the vicissitudes of his own life, is very touching and effective.  In a pensive mood he seeks the solemn shades of patriarchal trees, under whose giant leaf-clad branches he had in former years spent many happy precious hours in silent communion with Nature; now the icy hand of Winter has stripped them of their foliage, he tramples the dead leaves under his feet, and, flying back to memories of the past, he grieves for the saddened lapse of time which he has spent away from their embracing bowers.  Now Hope whispers again to his saddened spirit, and he sings:—


But summer sunlight and the summer breeze
Shall bring your sylvan majesty again:—
So may the renovating hand of Time

Give to my broken mind its former strength and prime!


    Anon he stands beside the "bright waters of the solitude" to catch their silvery voices as they flow, but the spell of the Frost King is upon them, they are dumb; and


                    Sleeping beneath a coverlet of snow,
          Their flowers are withered, and their waves at rest,
Their springs of gladness closed like those within his breast.


Still looking forward hopefully, however, he exclaims,


But southern airs shall melt your icy sleep,
And send ye singing on your devious way;
And bright, fresh verdure to your sides shall creep,
And flowers bend listening to your liquid lay;—
May my lorn soul throw off its pall of gloom,
And rise, renewed in power, from Care's oppressive tomb!


    The remaining verses [4] contain a painful retrospect of the poet's chequered experiences during his residence "in the dark labyrinths of yonder town," where he now feels he had tarried too long, debasing the proud aspirations of his soul amid the seductions of injudicious and prolonged conviviality, and he returns as a repentant prodigal to the ever-open arms of Nature, sorrowing and weary, and seeking once more for pleasures "pure and undefiled."  How applicable are the following lines to the flattery that often assailed and humiliated him!


Would we admire the lark's melodious glee,
Yet dispossess him of his skyward wings?

Alas!   We pluck the wildflower with a smile,
Inhale its fragrant breath, but stain its leaves the while!


    The next poem in the group under consideration—"A Sketch among the Mountains," [5]—will serve as a favourable example of the picturesque character of the poet's muse, and, in addition to the purity of its language, its glowing fervour and impassioned music, is replete with the choicest imagery, presenting a succession of highly-wrought poetic pictures, worthy the pencil of the artist.

    The poet stands upon Kinder's


                                                    Whin-clad side,
Where storm, and solitude, and silence dwell,
And stern sublimity hath set his throne,


and, on the glorious Sabbath morn—


                                             A blessed hour
To those who have to struggle with a lot
Which clouds the mind, and chains the languid limb


he rejoices in the brief respite from


The toil that fetters, and the care that kills
The purest feelings of the human breast,


while he abandons himself to the enrapturing influences of the glorious scenes around him.  Reflecting upon the trials and vicissitudes of life, "the peasant's earliest hymn" is wafted


"From yon low temple bosomed in the bower,"


and, wondering if the soft sweet sounds ascend from happy hearts, he moralises on the misery and crime which are abroad in the world, until, at length, the sadness of his spirit is subdued by the surrounding beauties of Nature, and he exclaims:—


Away, away with these reflections now!
The natural colours of a pensive mind
Yearning for liberty, and truth, and love!
For, standing upon Kinder's awful brow,
Breathing the healthy spirit of the wind,
Green lands below, and glorious skies above,—

I deem that God, whose hand is ever sure,
Will break the rankling chain that binds the suffering poor!


    The following brief but suggestive quotation might fitly form a theme for the painter's art:—


Like Heaven-invading Titans, girt with gloom,
The mountains crowd around me, while the skies
Stoop to enfold them in their azure sheen.


And again, in the passages which we now select from the poet's description of a storm, how many glowing word-pictures await the interpretative power of the artist!


I look before me,—lo! how wild a change
Hath come upon the scene!   Yon mountain wall
    Wears a vast diadem of fiery gloom;
A lurid darkness, terrible and strange
Spreads o'er the face of heaven its sultry pall
    As though earth trembled on the verge of doom.
  *            *            *            *            *            *            *   
The storm's first drops fall tinkling on the trees,
Heavy, but few, as though 'twere hard to wring
Such painful tears from out its burning breast.
  *            *            *            *            *            *            *   
        And now a deep, reverberated groan
Is heard amid the span of Heaven's unbounded zone,
  *            *            *            *            *            *            *   
The lightning leapeth from the riven cloud,
Vivid and broad upon the startled eye,
Wrapping the mountains in a robe of fire;
The voice of thunder follows long and loud,—
Hot rain is shaken from the troubled sky,—
The winds rush past me with redoubled ire.


    How full of grandeur, passion, and mournful tenderness are the following stanzas:—


Flash hurries after flash with widening sweep,
And peal meets peal, resounding near and far,
As though some veil of mystery were rent;
The headlong torrent boundeth from the steep
Where I enjoy the elemental jar,
Nor fear its rage, nor wish its passions spent.
But now God curbs the lightning,—stills the roar,
And earth smiles through her tears more lovely than before.

How sternly fair ! how beautifully wild,
To the sad spirit, is the war of storms,
When thought and feeling mingle with the strife!
Nature, I loved thee when a very child,
In all thy moods, in all thy hues and forms,
Because I found thee with enchantment rife;
And even yet, in spite of every ill,
I feel within my soul that thou art glorious still!


    Some chaste sweet verses, suggested by the Rhaidr Mawr, in the Vale of Conway, tell of the poet's love for the grand and majestic, and exemplify the power he possessed of delineating the charms of natural objects.  After an animated description of the great waterfall, he moralises thus:—


So have I travelled o'er the waste of life,
A weary journey, with afflictions rife,
    Which stung and tortured me along the way;
But after waging this unequal strife,
May I go down in quietude like thee,
And find, in regions which I cannot see,
                                             A calmer day!

Even so it seemeth with the child of song,
His very fretfulness doth make him strong,
    Awaking fancies which he must reveal;
And as he strives with wretchedness and wrong,
Enduring agony without a choice,
He gains a power, a grandeur, and a voice,
                                             Which myriads feel!


    "The Voice of the Primrose" is full of imaginative beauty and delicacy of feeling and fancy, reminding one of those minor poems of Shelley's, whose melody lingers in the ear like the echoes of sweet voices from the dear Long Ago.  Sparkling with originality, felicitous in conception, and sweet as the softest breathings of an Eolian harp, this exquisite composition is, perhaps, one of the choicest of Prince's productions; and, as extracts can give no adequate idea of its beauty as a whole, we refer the reader to the work itself.

    Of this class also is "The Sick Man's Fancies," a poem of much merit, embodying, as may be inferred from the title, the delirious dreams and hallucinations of a fever-stricken invalid: "the horrible visions of the agonised spirit," the legions of terrible forms which assailed the fevered poet in his mental wanderings.  In it the alternating "scenes of delicious fascinations" through which he passed are depicted with considerable vigour and genuine artistic effect.

    As manifesting Prince's intense love of Nature, and his power of describing her beauties, as well as showing how lovingly he appreciated the efficacy of her hallowed ministry in his own soul, and how earnestly he strove to elevate the hearts and lives of others, by teaching them as she had herself instructed him, we might multiply quotations indefinitely, but will only cite two further examples from this group of subjects, in the belief that those we have selected will suffice to prove that Prince was indeed a priest of Nature, an inspired interpreter of her glorious power and purpose.

    Describing his ascent of Snowdon, in a poem entitled "The Mountain Spring," and giving a vivid account of his upward progress, he continues:—


                                 More wild and steep,
More terrible and strange, more silent yet,
Became the scene of grandeur I had sought;
And as I gained the goal of my desires,—
The utmost summit of the place of storms,
The highest stone in Cambria's magic land,—
The granite diadem on Snowdon's head,—
A whirl of wonder, and a gush of joy,
A mingled sense of terror and of love
Came o'er my soul, and, languid as a child,
I sat in speechless ecstasy and awe.
      *            *            *            *            *            *
Thirsting and faint, and feeble with excess
Of pleasure and amazement, I essayed
To find some herb wherewith to cool my lips,
And stay the pangs of agonising thirst.
Long was my search in vain; a scanty grass,
Brown, dry, and seared, was all I found,—anon
A line of glittering moisture on the stones
Caught my expectant eye; soon, soon I traced
The silvery promise to its source, and lo!
A cool delicious spring,—a tiny well
Scarce broader than a maiden's looking-glass,
Displayed its crystal bosom to my sight,
And wooed my willing lip.   With eager haste
I stooped to quaff its nectar, while a thrill
Of exquisite delight ran through my veins,
Imparting strength and gladness.   On its brink
I sat exulting in my loneliness,
Feeding my soul with poesy.   Afar
The dim blue circle of the level sea
Zoned the unbounded prospect: lakes and streams,
Gleaming and glittering in the valleys fair,
Mixed in the mighty picture; mountains vast,
Enclosing regions sterile, dark, and stern,
Bristled on every side, as if the world,
Tortured and tossed, like tempest-trodden waves,
To fury inconceivable, had turned
To sudden stone,—a monument of power
Built by the Eternal's wonder-working hand!


    The poet then describes the sublime grandeur of what his eye surveys, and before descending, apostrophises "The Well of the Mountain Wild," in a charming lyric, from which we quote the following lines:—


Thou art old giant Snowdon's tranquil eye!
His one unsleeping eye without a veil,
Gazing for ever on the changeful sky,
To watch the clouds career before the gale;
Undimmed by lightning or the tempest's frown,
Thou art a gem on Snowdon's lonely crown!


From a fragment entitled "The Student of Nature," we might select many passages of genial fancy; the subjoined verses will, however, suffice to show the high finish, purity of sentiment, and melodious rhythm which characterise the poem. Having rapturously described the beautiful and sublime in Nature's vast domain, he hies away


On Fancy's world-exploring pinions
To Araby's wide wilderness;


and thus vividly portrays the scenes which passed before his mental vision:—


'Tis eve, and hark! the camel-bell is ringing;
The caravan, with perilous toils oppressed,
Stays where the tree-girt well is sweetly springing,
To snatch some fleeting hours of blessed rest.
The sun is set, and twilight, like a veil,
Floats o'er the cooling skies ; the stars are pale,
But, ere another hour, the breath of night
Shall fan them till they burn intensely bright;
While the lone wanderers of that desert plain

Shall dream of hope and home till morn return again!


In thought I sojourn in the solitudes,
The silent regions of the western star,—
The awful, dark, interminable woods,
The level prairies, stretching fair and far;
The uninvaded mountain peaks that stand
Like the stern barriers to an unknown land;
And mighty hollows, where the storm alone
Hath dared to plant his footsteps and his throne,—
Caverns of gloomy grandeur, where the power
Of art hath never triumphed to this hour;
And all the thousand mysteries sublime,

Which rose when earth began,—the co-mates of old Time.


    The more one peruses Prince's poetry the more is one charmed with his unbounded catholicity of spirit.  Ever true to his own order, he never seeks to libel those placed above it in the social scale.  Well would it be if every toiler would listen to his melodious and spirited hymnings; for there is scarcely one stanza that does not contain some lesson which they would gain by learning, some sentiment which they might become all the nobler by making their own.

    It has been said that the poems of a man are beaten out upon the anvil of his life; and there are comparatively few poetic works to which this aphorism is more applicable than those of John Critchley Prince.  In those poems which are especially written for, and addressed to, the people, and which are associated more with the music of the heart than with any brilliancy of imagination, his individuality and earnestness are expressed in life tones which are sternly and terribly realistic.  He had lived over and over again every poem he wrote, and the knowledge he had gained in the sad school of adversity taught him not only what the people had to suffer and endure, but enabled him to recognise, and with no uncertain sound to advocate, those means which were best calculated to promote the moral and intellectual elevation of the order to which he himself belonged.

    Humanity is the glorious cause for which he does battle; he is ever actuated by a spirit of true philanthropy, and, whilst striving zealously for the welfare and happiness of the poor, his appeals, however fervid and impassioned, are always couched in the language of intercession rather than of imprecation.  An earnest student of human nature, he influences the minds of those whom he addresses by first touching their hearts; and, having an intense hatred of all narrowness and conventionality of thought and feeling, he pleads for a higher standard of manly worth and independence; and, whilst cordially sympathising with what may be denominated the conservative elements of society, contends for mutual interaction between all ranks and classes for the common good.

    The late William Howitt did not hesitate to describe these noble appeals as "The true poetry of the people and the time;" and whilst regretting our inability to quote some of this group of poems in extenso, we must content ourselves by selecting a few passages, from which their general character may be inferred:—
 

                                      Who are the free?
They who have scorned the tyrant and his rod,
And bowed in worship unto none but God:
They who have made the conqueror's glory dim,
Unchained in soul, though manacled in limb;
Unwarped by prejudice, unawed by wrong,—
Friends to the weak, and fearless of the strong;
They who would change not with the changing hour,
The self-same men in peril and in power;
True to the law of right,—as warmly prone
To grant another's as maintain their own—
Foes of oppression wheresoe'er it be :
                                      These are the proudly free!
      *            *            *            *            *            *            *
                                      Who are the blest?
They who have kept their sympathies awake,
And scattered good for more than custom's sake;
Stedfast and tender in the hour of need,
Gentle in thought,—benevolent in deed;
Whose looks have power to make dissension cease,—
Whose smiles are pleasant and whose words are peace;—
They who have lived as harmless as the dove,
Teachers of truth, and ministers of love,—
Love for all moral power, all mental grace,
Love for the humblest of the human race,—
Love for that tranquil joy which virtue brings,—
Love for the Giver of all goodly things;
True followers of that soul-exalting plan
Which Christ laid down to bless and govern man:
They who can calmly linger at the last,
Survey the future and recall the past;
And with that hope which triumphs over pain,
Feel well assured they have not lived in vain,
Then wait in peace their hour of final rest:—
                                      These are the only blest!


    The following verses are from "A Vision of the Future," and speak for themselves:—


Grieved at the crimes and sorrows of mankind,
My soul grows sick of this unquiet world:
When shall the links of error be untwined,
And withering falsehood from her seat be hurled?
When shall pure truth pour sunshine on the mind,
And love's unspotted pinions be unfurled?
When shall oppression's blood-stained sceptre fall,
And freedom's wide embrace encircle all?
     *             *             *             *             *             *
Celestial Hope! on thine eternal wings,
Through all thy boundless regions let me fly:
Remembrance of the past no comfort brings,
Oh, give the future to my anxious eye!
      *             *             *             *             *             *
'Tis done! and lo, some prophet-spirit flings
The mantle of its power; and I descry,
Through the vast shadows of advancing time,
A cheery vision, lovely and sublime.

Enchanting picture of that happy scheme,
Whose blessings few have known, yet all shall know!
I hail thy coming, for thy dawning beam
Shall fill the world with its unclouded glow!
Ere long the patriot's hope, the poet's dream,
Shall change to sweet reality below;
And man, the slave of ignorance and strife,
Wake to a birth of intellectual life.


    Here Fancy leads him through an Arcadian realm, the domain of Beauty and Liberty, wherein is neither tyranny nor priestcraft, falsehood nor oppression, war nor poverty, misery nor intemperance; with graphic power he describes the Elysium into which Fancy has conducted him, and thus continues:—
 

To healthful, moderate, and mutual toil,
Yon sons of Industry go forth at morn,
Take from indulgent earth a lawful spoil
Of juicy fruitage and nutritious corn.
Thus all the children of the common soil
Draw rich supplies from Plenty's flowing horn;
There is no bondage, no privation there,

To heave the breast, and dim the eye with care.


There Woman moves with beauty-moulded form,
First inspiration of the Poet's song,
Her heart with fondest, purest feelings warm,—
Soul in her eyes, and music on her tongue:
Esteemed and taught, she lives above the storm
Of social discord, poverty, and wrong;
Graceful and good, intelligent and kind,

The loveliest Temple of the mighty mind!


Her offspring, too, unfettered as the fawn,
With elfin eyes, and cheeks that mock the rose,
Chase the wild bees on many a flowery lawn,
Or gather pebbles where the brooklet flows;
A little world of purity is drawn
Around their steps; a moral grandeur glows,
Serene in majesty, before their eyes,

Moulding their thoughts and feelings as they rise.


Oh blest Community! calm spot of earth!
Where Love encircles all in his embrace;
Where generous deeds and sentiments have birth,
Warming each heart and brightening every face;
Where pure Philosophy and temperate Mirth,
The lore of Science, and the witching grace
Of never-dying Poesy combine

To feed the hungry soul with food divine!

      *            *            *            *            *            *            *
My flight is finished, and my fitful
Muse Descends to cold reality again!
Yet she hath dipped her garments in the hues
Of hope and love, and she shall aid my pen,
With firm though feeble labour to diffuse
The love of truth among the sons of men;
And when her powers shall tremble and decay,

May loftier harps sustain the hallowed lay!


A thousand systems have been formed and wrought,
Where man hath looked for good, but looked in vain;
A thousand doctrines writ, diffused, and taught,
Adding new links to Error's tangled chain:
But, oh! the Apostles of unfettered Thought,—
Unwearied foes of Falsehood and her train,—
Shall lift the veil of mystery at last,

And future times atone for all the past!


    Of this class of poems "Hours with the Muses" contains "The Poor Man's Appeal," and "A Plea for the Uneducated," which we might define as noble themes most nobly wrought; also "A Call to the People," "The Slave," "A Song of Freedom," etc., all characterised by flowing melody, purity of thought, and dignified views of life and conduct.

    Of the poems just alluded to, "The Poor Man's Appeal" and "The Slave," were considerably altered from their original form in compliance with the request of Mr. Westhead, Prince's patron and friend.  The former first appeared in the "Manchester Guardian," and the latter, then styled "The Factory Slave," became an expression of sympathy with the "Ten Hours' Factory Act."  A series of poems entitled "Lyrics for the People," are appended to the volume, but do not call for any special notice, although they are euphonious and spirited in composition, and moderate in tone.

    Prince had a large loving heart, which was peculiarly sensitive to the slightest touches of pure and refined feeling, and so, amongst the many devout aspirations and ennobling sentiments which, upspringing from his heart, have flown into life through the medium of thrilling verse, we should expect to find many varied phases of domestic life and character, and many records of the affections which hallow and beatify humanity.  Nor shall we be disappointed; for love was the ruling passion in his soul; and sorrow and suffering had so heightened and intensified the tender susceptibilities of his sympathetic nature, that his poetry literally teems with melodious hymnings expressing the feelings and the affections of the human heart.

    There is a purity about all his poetry, as though, to borrow the beautiful simile of Wordsworth in his noble sonnet on Izaak Walton's "Lives,"


                            The feather, whence the pen
Was shaped . . . .
Dropped from an angel's wing.


All that is fair and lovable both in outward nature and in the soul of man is not merely treated with proper respect, but "put to worship" with the earnest devotion of a true poet, whose ardent aspirations are to elevate and ennoble.

    A striking feature of Prince's poetry is his love of female purity; and we might cite many instances showing how fondly he dwelt on that domestic happiness which can only spring from connubial fidelity and devotion.  There is not a line in all that he wrote to bring a blush to the chastest cheek; and how thoroughly he appreciated the truly civilising influence of good women may be inferred from the following lines:—


Hushed be the tongue that flatters to betray
Confiding Woman in the tender hour;
Sad be the heart that will not own the sway
Of her ennobling, soul-refining power,
She, of life's stormy wild, the only constant flower.


    Again, in his charming little "Domestic Melody:"—


Though my lot hath been dark for these many long years,
And the cold world hath brought me its trials and tears;
Though the sweet star of hope scarcely looks through the gloom,
And the best of my joys have been quenched in the tomb;
Yet why should I murmur at Heaven's decree
While the wife of my home is a solace to me?
      *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *
Let the libertine sneer, and the cold one complain,
And turn all the purest of pleasures to pain;
There is nothing on earth that can e'er go beyond
A heart that is faithful, and feeling and fond:
There is but one joy of the highest degree,
And the wife of my soul is that blessing to me.


    Prince's passionate love of children is evidenced in his prose writings as well as in his poems, as will be seen in his "Rambles of a Rhymester," etc.; but from "Hours with the Muses " we might select many loving allusions, fraught with the fondest affection for children—the most tender devotion to everything associated with and appertaining to childhood.  To one of his quiet pleasures he thus alludes:—


My joyous little ones press round the while,
And take their wonted places on my knee;


and some beautiful lines, entitled "The Poet to his Child," are brimful of this healthy, fatherly feeling.  What an agony of love there is in "A Father's Lament," which could only come from the heart torn and bleeding, as it were, with the bereavement of a beloved child; and in his stanzas to the child of his poet-friend, John Bolton Rogerson, how feelingly he says—


I had a child,—and such a child,
O God!—Can I forget!
So fair, so fond, so undefiled,—
I see his image yet;
With breaking heart, but tearless eye,
I watched my spring-flower fade and die,
My lode-star wane and set;
And still I wrestle with my grief,
For time hath brought me no relief.

I mingle with the thoughtless throng,
But even there I feel;
I breathe some sorrow in my song,
But may not all reveal;
I know that naught of worldly ill
Can agonise my lost one, still
My wound I cannot heal,
But wander musing, mourning on,
As though my every hope were gone!


In his autobiographical address to Mr. J. P. Westhead, he tells us,
 

Joyless I struggled on, till I became
A husband and a father; and the name
Fell like the sound of music on my ear;
For spite of indigence and worldly wrong,
The guileless prattle of an infant's tongue
Touched my sad heart and made existence dear.

My troubles grew apace; my hopes grew less,
And, for my precious children's sake, distress
Entered my spirit with a keener sting.
*            *            *            *            *            *            *


We might linger long over the beauties which abound in these delightful poems of the affections, but from the few selections we have made it will be seen how sweetly and naturally his love of children finds expression in his graceful numbers.  In the same category are some exquisite lines "On seeing a Picture of two Children," "The Poet at the Grave of his Child," etc.; also the poem, "Written at the Grave of Shakespeare," the latter especially burning with a fervour of thought and a depth of feeling which reach a high standard of poetic eloquence.

    The remainder of the volume is occupied by some fifty Sonnets, Songs, and Lyrics, of varying poetic power and beauty, but all manifesting the sweetness and simplicity, felicity of expression, and purity of sentiment, which are the invariable characteristics of Prince's unaffected muse.

    Of the foregoing, many are occasional, many general.  That the sonnet was a favourite form of expression with the poet when addressing his friends in verse, is evidenced by many of the sonnets in "Hours with the Muses " being dedicated to brother-bards and kindred spirits, viz., to John Bolton Rogerson; Sylvan (R. W. Procter), George Richardson, Quintus Hortensius (G. F. Mandley), John Dickinson, Julius (Mr. J. Minter Morgan), etc.  Many of these sonnets are almost Wordsworthian in their carefully-chiselled beauty and exquisite finish.  We quote the two following, not necessarily as the choicest in the casket, but as fair examples of the whole collection.  The first, in point of order, is entitled "May:"—


Bride of the Summer! gentle, genial May!
I hail thy presence with a child's delight;
For all that poets love of soft and bright,
Lives through the lapse of thy delicious day:
Glad earth drinks deep of thine ethereal ray;
Warmed by thy breath, up spring luxuriant flowers;
Stirred by thy voice, birds revel in the bowers,
And streams go forth rejoicing on their way;
Enraptured childhood rushes out to play,
'Mid light and music, colours and perfumes;
By silent meadow paths, through vernal glooms,
The enamoured feet of low-voiced lovers stray:
In thee Love reigns with Beauty, whose control
Steals joyful homage from the poet's soul.


Again, how chastely sweet is the following, "Written in the Castle of Caernarvon:"—


How glorious is thy fall, rich summer's day!
How deeply tender is thy dying hour!
Lonely I linger on this crumbling tower,
And watch with silent joy thy sweet decay.
Upon the blushing bosom of the bay
Thy last kiss trembles, and the clouds that lie
In beautiful disorder round the sky,
Absorb the latest vestige of thy ray.
But now the chill of twilight doth betray
The coming of the night; yon mountain range
Hath put the garb of darkness on; a change
Creeps o'er the deepening.   Who may say
How many griefs, or hopes, or dreams sublime
Awake the human soul in this mysterious time!


    Amongst the songs and lyrics are many little graceful tissues of feeling and fancy into which the poet has subtly interweaved the heart's own music; and, like a skilful musician, improvising soft melodies in the pensive twilight, his hand wanders lovingly over the keys of Life and Love, as he plaintively sings of joys and sorrows, which, alternating, like the lights and shadows of an April day, thrill the heart with gladness, and linger sweetly in the ear of memory.

    As an example of these minor poems, we quote the first stanza of a lyric entitled "There is Beauty;" also the first verse of an "Evening Song:"—


There is beauty o'er all this delectable world
Which wakes at the first golden touch of the light;
There is beauty when morn hath her banner unfurled,
Or stars twinkle out from the depths of the Night;
There is beauty on Ocean's vast, verdureless plains,
Though lashed into fury, or lulled into calm;
There is beauty on Land and its countless domains,—
Its corn-fields of plenty—its meadows of balm:
Oh, God of Creation! these sights are of Thee!
Thou surely hast made them for none but the free!

   *            *            *            *            *            *


'Tis wearing late, 'tis wearing late, I hear the vesper bell,
As o'er yon misty hill the sun hath looked a bright farewell;
The bee is in its honey-home, the bird is in its nest,
And every living being yearns for solace and for rest;
The household gathers round the hearth, and loving souls draw near,
Young mothers rock, young mothers rock, oh rock your children dear.


    If poetry is to be estimated according to its originality, and if this forms, as some one says, the real and only criterion of poetic merit, we must frankly own that Prince's muse cannot be said to have reached a very high standard; but, as we have already pointed out, there are degrees of poetic genius, as there are varieties and grades of excellence in poetic composition; and we must expect to find its expression partaking largely of the individuality of its possessor.  Thus, for example, we recognise Milton's sublimity, Byron's fiery sentiment, the deep mysticism of Shelley, and the passive dreaminess of Wordsworth; and so, notwithstanding the comparative absence of


"Beautiful things made new"


in Prince's poems, his genius is characterised by great naturalness and simplicity of expression, and music subtly and unsurpassably sweet.  While we cannot, therefore, claim for Prince genius of a very high order, yet the gift of genius, in contradistinction to mere poetic taste, he certainly possessed, and for purity and tenderness in no ordinary degree.  His poetry is the outward expression of a gifted nature, and demanded utterance.  He looked on Nature with a lover's eyes, sang of her beauties in numbers as natural and sweetly-thrilling as the song of a nightingale, and painted her charms with all the fidelity and boldness of an enthusiastic artist.

    We have hitherto referred only to the charms of Prince's poetry, but we cannot shut our eyes to occasional faults and weaknesses which, indeed, are to be found in poems of a far more pretentious character, and which, in the case of Prince, are for the most part the natural result of the circumstances in which they were written.  As literary compositions these blemishes undoubtedly mar the beauty of the poems in which they occur, but the gentle spirit pervading everything that he ever wrote far more than atones for trivial imperfections of style and expression, which, after all, are but the deficiencies of inexperienced authorship, arising out of circumstances peculiarly and deplorably unpropitious.

    Perhaps the weakest characteristic of the lyrical compositions of Prince is his continuity of description, without that skilful introduction of passages of sentiment and passion which constitute the grace and charm of the highest order of poetry.  A mere descriptive poem may weary by its very brilliancy, if not relieved by appeals to the heart as well as to the imagination; nevertheless, there run through all Prince's poems a deep plaintiveness and a sorrowful sadness which were the echoes of his own consciousness, and which seldom fail to awaken within us the spirit of condoling sympathy.

    Prince had drunk deeply of "the well of English undefiled," and had been familiar with the works of our choicest English poets from his boyhood; it is little to be wondered at, therefore, that in his own poems we find him unconsciously imitating in thought, style, and diction, passages from the works of his favourite authors, and in some instances so closely as to render him almost liable, however unjustly, to a charge of plagiarism.  For example, the introductory stanzas to Prince's "Farewell to Poesy," bear a strong resemblance to those prefacing Burns' eloquent poem, "The Vision;" and his sonnet "To the Cricket" is very similar to Cowper's translation of Vincent Bourne's lines on the same subject.  In the "Poet's Sabbath," also, there is a stanza in which the ideas certainly seem borrowed from a passage in Cowper's "Task."  Cowper says,


How soft the music of those village bells,
Falling at intervals upon the ear
In cadence sweet, now dying all away,
Now pealing loud again, and louder still,
Clear and sonorous, as the gale comes on!
With easy force it opens all the cells
Where Memory slept.   Wherever I have heard
A kindred melody, the same recurs,
And with it all its pleasures and its pains.
                                                         "Task," Book vi.


Prince's lines are as follows:


Hark! sweetly pealing in the arch of heaven,
The mingled music of the Sabbath bells!
A tide of varying harmony is driven
In gentle wavelets over streams and dells;
Now 'tis a melting cadence—now it swells
Full, rich, and joyous on the enamoured ear;
While, through the wondrous halls where Memory dwells,
A thousand visions of the past career,
A thousand joys and griefs in dreamy forms appear.
                                            "The Poet's Sabbath," Tenth Stanza.


    We might adduce many other instances, yet, as Prince's reviewer says, [6] "there is sufficient originality, and a sufficient variety in handling that which is coincident, to convince a candid critic that the imitations have been unconsciously adopted.  Coincidence of thought there will always be in minds somewhat similar in structure and temperament, and when the resemblance is continued through two or three stanzas, or is sufficiently long to form a part of the plan of the whole poem, it is difficult to persuade suspicious criticism that the imitation is not intentional; but the memory, as all who have been in the habit of watching the operation of their own minds must know, retains the shadowy and faint reflections of things, or trains of thought, when the writer has forgotten their sources, and, therefore, regards them as the legitimate offspring of his own mental creations."

    Prince is also too apt to present the same idea in various forms, and thus runs the risk of self-repetition; and the reiterated presentation of the same images, however original and beautiful in themselves, forcibly suggests poverty of thought and diction.  Few things more easily provoke ill-will towards an author, especially a poet, than self-quotation; and on this account alone he should be most careful to avoid this danger.  Prince's faults, however, in this direction are by no means numerous, and are fairly attributable to his inexperience; and although it is a somewhat perilous argument to speculate upon what an author might have attained to in future, judging from his past achievements, yet we have every reason to believe that such blemishes as we have thus briefly indicated would not have existed in the subsequent products of his genius had nothing occurred to retard, and ultimately to arrest its development.

    We must now bring our rather discursive notice of "Hours with the Muses " to a conclusion.  Prince's first volume proved his genius as a true and noble-hearted poet, but the circumstances arising out of its success were, to some extent, the causes of his humiliation as a man.  Let us trust, however, that his poetry will live when his errors and his weaknesses have been long forgotten!



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FOOTNOTES.


3.    A literary journal started in Manchester in 1842, and edited by Mr. George Falkner.

4.    This poem does not appear in "Hours with the Muses" before the third edition; subsequently, therefore, to the poet's residence in Manchester.

5.    The ridge of hills running northward and eastward from Hayfield is the highest in Derbyshire:—Kinder-Scout is the summit, and commences that tract of picturesque scenery which spreads itself over Edale, the Woodlands, Hopedale, and the valley of the Derwent.  This charming locality is the scene of "A Sketch among the Mountains."—Vide "Black's Guide to Derbyshire."

6.    "Bradshaw's Journal."

 



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