(To James Russell Lowell.)
Not from the ranks of those we call
Philosopher or Admiral,--
Neither as LOCKE was, nor as BLAKE,
Is that Great Genius for whose sake
We keep this Autumn festival.
And yet in one sense, too, was he
A soldier--of humanity;
And, surely, philosophic mind
Belonged to him whose brain designed
That teeming COMIC EPOS where,
As in CERVANTES and MOLIÈRE,
Jostles the medley of Mankind.
Our ENGLISH NOVEL'S pioneer!
His was the eye that first saw clear
How, not in natures half-effaced
By cant of Fashion and of Taste,--
Not in the circles of the Great,
Faint-blooded and exanimate,--
Lay the true field of Jest and Whim,
Which we to-day reap after him.
No:--he stepped lower down and took
The piebald PEOPLE for his Book!
Ah, what a wealth of Life there is
In that large-laughing page of his!
What store and stock of Common-Sense,
Wit, Wisdom, Books, Experience!
How his keen Satire flashes through,
And cuts a sophistry in two!
How his ironic lightning plays
Around a rogue and all his ways!
Ah, how he knots his lash to see
That ancient cloak, Hypocrisy!
Whose are the characters that give
Such round reality?--that live
With such full pulse? Fair SOPHY yet
Sings Bobbing Joan at the spinet;
We see AMELIA cooking still
That supper for the recreant WILL;
We hear Squire WESTERN'S headlong tones
Bawling "Wut ha?--wut ha?" to JONES.
Are they not present now to us,--
The Parson with his Æschylus?
SLIPSLOP the frail, and NORTHERTON,
PARTRIDGE, and BATH, and HARRISON?--
Are they not breathing, moving,--all
The motley, merry carnival
That FIELDING kept, in days agone?
He was the first who dared to draw
Mankind the mixture that he saw;
Not wholly good nor ill, but both,
With fine intricacies of growth.
He pulled the wraps of flesh apart,
And showed the working human heart;
He scorned to drape the truthful nude
With smooth, decorous platitude!
He was too frank, may be; and dared
Too boldly. Those whose faults he bared,
Writhed in the ruthless grasp that brought
Into the light their secret thought.
Therefore the TARTUFFE-throng who say
"Couvrez ce sein," and look that way,--
Therefore the Priests of Sentiment
Rose on him with their garments rent.
Therefore the gadfly swarm whose sting
Plies ever round some generous thing,
Buzzed of old bills and tavern-scores,
Old "might-have-beens" and "heretofores";--
Then, from that garbled record-list,
Made him his own Apologist.
And was he? Nay,--let who has known
Nor Youth nor Error, cast the stone!
If to have sense of Joy and Pain
Too keen,--to rise, to fall again,
To live too much,--be sin, why then,
This was no pattern among men.
But those who turn that later page,
The Journal of his middle-age,
Watch him serene in either fate,--
Philanthropist and Magistrate;
Watch him as Husband, Father, Friend,
Faithful, and patient to the end;
Grieving, as e'en the brave may grieve,
But for the loved ones he must leave:
These will admit--if any can--
That 'neath the green Estrella trees,
No Artist merely, but a MAN,
Wrought on our noblest island-plan,
Sleeps with the alien Portuguese.