Its coloring is rich and varied, while its state of ruin is precisely that in which the eye of the painter delights, sufficient to destroy all hardness or angularity, yet not so great as to rob it of one element of grandeur. The building called the Monument of Philopappus, despite its somewhat fantastic elaboration of detail, is very remarkable and interesting; it was created either during the lifetime, or as a memorial immediately after his death, to Caius Julius Antiochus Philopappus, a descendant of the royalty of Syria, and an adopted citizen of Athens.
It consists of a basement supporting a pilastrade of semi-circular form, and presenting upon its concave surface three niches, containing sitting statues, and three recesses richly ornamented with the representation in strong relief of a Roman triumph. Upon the basement also were various sculptures in honor of the Emperor Trajan.
The two remaining statues are much dilapidated. From this point a magnificent view of the Acropolis is obtained, and few are the sights presented to the traveller, which surpass in historic interest or actual beauty that meeting his eye, to whichever point of the compass he may turn when standing at the foot of this remarkably picturesque monument. The ages which produced these marvellous works in architecture had other and different glories.
Painting and sculpture reached the highest perfection; and poetry exhibited all the grace and vigor of the Athenian imagination. And though time has effaced all traces of the pencil of Parrhasius, Zeuxis, and Apelles, posterity has assigned them a place in the temple of fame beside Phidias and Praxiteles, whose works are, even at the present day, unrivalled for classical purity of design and perfection of execution.
And after the city had passed her noon in art, and in political greatness, she became the mother of that philosophy at once subtile and sublime, which, even at the present hour, exerts a powerful influence over the human mind. This era in her history has been alluded to by Milton:. Such is an outline of the remains of the chief Athenian edifices, which link ancient times with the present, and which, as long as there is taste to appreciate or genius to imitate, must arrest the attention and command the admiration of all the generations of mankind.
We have placed these names together, not on account of any fancied resemblance between the two poets, but for the very opposite reason.
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We wish to trace the contrasts which may be exhibited by writers living in the same age, the same country, and under the same system of social relations. Stoddard's volume is dedicated with evident warmth of feeling to Bayard Taylor, and the natural conclusion is that the poets are personal friends; yet so far from the intellectual nature of the one having influenced that of the other, they are as strikingly opposed in thought, feeling, and manner of expression, as two men well can be.
The time has gone by when a volume from the pen of Mr. Taylor can be dismissed with a careless line or two. Few writers of our day have made more rapid advances into popular favor, and no one is more justly entitled to the place which he holds. If we are to trust contemporary criticism, a goodly army of what are called "promising young poets" might be raised from any state in the Union.
But what becomes of them? It is one thing to promise, and another to perform, and we fear that this suggestion contains a hint at the whole mystery. It seems to be comparatively easy for educated men, blinded to their incapacity by an unwholesome passion for notoriety which is never the inspiring motive of a real poet, to reach a certain degree of excellence which may be denominated "promising.
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We shall not describe Mr. Taylor with the epithet. We see nothing to justify it in his volume, on every page of which there is actual performance. Maturity may indeed add to his powers, and further increase his poetical insight; but there is no necessity for waiting, lest we commit ourselves by a favorable opinion, and no fear that such an opinion will be falsified by succeeding efforts. Richard Henry Stoddard doubtless has been styled a promising young poet by half the newspaper press; therefore if we venture to say that Mr.
Stoddard has performed, and that the promising season is over with him, it is not because we do not think that his future poems will exhibit new and greater excellencies, but because we recognize merits in his present collection which eminently entitle him to respectful consideration.
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The evident source of Mr. Stoddard's inspiration is a love for ideal beauty, in whatever form it may be manifested. Like all admirers of ideal beauty, he has a strong sensual element in his composition.
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He is not satisfied with the mere dreams of his imagination, but he must also attempt to realize them through the medium of imitative art. Among the various modes for expressing the same feelings and ideas, painting, poetry, [Pg 14] sculpture and music, he has chosen poetry as the one best adapted to his purpose. We would not be understood to assert that an artist may, at will, express his emotions in any of the arts; for a man may be insensible to an idea expressed in sculpture or music, which is perfectly clear to him in poetry or painting; but we assert that all the arts are but different languages to convey the same ideas.
True art addresses itself to the moral, the intellectual, or the sensual man; and by the predominance of one of these qualities in the artist, or by various combinations of the three, all the radical differences between men of genius can be accounted for, and all the seeming mysteries explained.
This truth is the groundwork of genuine criticism; and the critic who busies himself about the accidental circumstances, which have influenced an artist, is only prying into his history, without sounding the depth of his nature. At least let criticism start here: it may afterward indulge in microscopic comparisons of style, and in worn-out accusations of imitation: but it is a sorry thing to see persons assuming the dignified office of the critic magnifying molehills into mountains, and similarities into thefts.
All men are gifted with various faculties, but it is not in the superiority of any or all of them that we can account for the existence of the poet, who has something of the divine nature in him, having a creative energy that is not a result of the degree in which he possesses one or more of the ordinary faculties, but is a special distinction with which he is clothed by the deity.
We will proceed to examine our two poets by the principles before stated, not forgetting to compare or contrast them, as there may be opportunity. In Mr. Taylor there is a just equipoise of the moral and intellectual natures, while the sensual nature, if not so strong as the former two, is at least calmed and subdued by their united power. With fine animal spirits, he has but little taste for gross animal enjoyments; and the mischief which his unlicensed spirits might commit, is foreseen by a sensitive conscience, and checked by a mind that sees the end in the act, and provides to-day against the future.
Taylor's inclinations are for scenes of grandeur. Sublime human actions, nature in her awful revolutionary states, the wild desolation of a mountain peak or a limitless desert, the storm, the earthquake, the cataract, the moaning forest—these are the chief inspirations of his powers. Whatever is suggestive of high emotions, that act upon his moral nature, and in turn are acted upon by it, forms an unconquerable incentive to his poetical exertions.
Mere word-painting he has no affection for.
A scene of nature, however beautiful, would be poetically valueless to him, unless it moved his feelings past the point of silent contemplation. The first poem in his volume affords a striking illustration of his apprehension of intellectual bravery. Through fasting that approaches starvation, unanswered prayers, and repeated discomfitures, the soul of the hero burns undimmed, and his eyes remain steadily fixed on his purpose. Physical suffering only strengthens his resolution, and defeat only nerves him to renewed efforts.
Round these ideas the poet lingers with a triumphant emotion, that proves his sympathies to be centred less in the outward action of the poem, than in the power of human will—a power which he conceives to be capable of overcoming all things, even the gods themselves. We have before stated that nature, unless suggestive of some intellectual emotion, is nothing to Mr. To arouse himself to song, he must vitalize the world, must make it live, breathe and feel, must find books in the running brooks, and sermons in stones, or brooks and stones are to him as if they had not been. In the "Metempsychosis of the Pine," this characteristic is finely displayed.
The poet imagines himself to have been a pine, and retraces his experiences while in that state of being. The pine becomes a conscious creature, revelling in the joys of its own existence, feeling the sap stir in its veins, and pour through a heart as susceptible as man's. Many poets have recalled the memories which linger around a particular tree, or, apostrophising it, have bid it relate certain histories; but in Mr.
Taylor's poem the tree speaks from within its own nature—not with the feelings of a man, not with what we might suppose would be the feelings of a common tree, but as a pine of many centuries—and no one can mistake its voice. A nobler use of the dramatic faculty, in lyrical poetry, is not within our recollection.
As may be supposed, Mr. Taylor's poetry is written under the excitement of passion, and does not proceed from that laborious process of constructing effects, to which a large number of poets owe their success. The consequence is that his language is vividly metaphorical, only dealing in similes when in a comparative repose, and never going out of the way to hunt up one of those eternal likes , which have emasculated our poetic style, and are fast becoming a leading characteristic in American verse, to the utter destruction of every thing like real passion. Taylor is an instructive study in this respect.
He uses ten metaphors to one simile. His ideas come forth clothed in their figurative language, and do not bring it along neatly tied up in a separate bundle. From this cause there is a sturdy strength and genuine feeling about his poems, that more than compensate for the ingenious trinkets which he despises, and leaves for the adornment of those who need them.
In him imagination predominates over fancy, and the latter is always sacrificed to the former. We do not intend to say that Mr. Taylor is without fancy. Far from it—he has fancy, but it never leads him to be fanciful. His versification [Pg 15] is polished, correct and various, but more harmonious than melodious; that is to say, the whole rhythmical flow of his verse is more striking than the sweetness of particular lines. We have not mentioned all the phases of Mr.
Taylor's genius. Some of the smaller poems in his volume border on the sensuous; and in "Hylas" he has paid a tribute to ancient fable worthy of its refined inventors; but scenes of moral and natural sublimity are those in which he succeeds best, and by them he should be characterized. Stoddard is the precise opposite to his friend.
In him the sensual vastly outranks the moral or the intellectual quality. Let it not be supposed that we wish to hold the two latter elements as superior to the former for poetical purposes; nor do we by asserting the greater preponderance of any one, deny the possession of the other two. To the sensuous in man we are indebted for the great body of Grecian poetry, and Keats wholly, and Tennyson in part, are modern instances of what may be achieved by imbibing the spirit of the ancient classics.
Shallow critics have professed to discover a resemblance between these English poets and Mr. Stoddard, and Mr.
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Taylor has also fallen under the same accusation, for no better reason, that we can conceive, than that all four have drunk at the same fountain, and enjoyed its inspirations. Stoddard's sympathies are almost entirely given up to ancient Grecian art. He can scarcely realize that the dream has passed forever. He sees something vital in its very ruins. These things Mr.
Stoddard feels while the locomotive shrieks in his ears, while the omnibus, speeding to the steamship, rattles the glass of his window, while the newsboy cries his monotonous advertisement, or his servant hands to him a telegraphic dispatch; and he is right. The body in which Grecian art existed, is indeed dead, but the spirit which animated it is indestructible.