It was our intention to devote the present No. of “Contemporary Poets and Writers of Fiction” to the works of a deservedly popular novelist; but in offering an humble tribute to departed worth—to talent of a high and comprehensive order, which, from peculiar circumstances, has never been duly appreciated beyond the bounds of a favoured but select circle—we find ourselves in the performance of a far more gratifying task.
It is melancholy, it is deeply painful to the soul of sensibility, to see youth, genius, and virtue consigned to the tomb; yet far deeper would the survivors’ regret be, were it not for the Christian’s assured hope—a blessed immortality. A dear consciousness that the divine essence will survive and flourish eternally, soothes, at once, the spirit in the moment of its departure, and dries the “natural tears” of those who mourn its earthly loss. These feelings have been strongly excited by the early decease of Mrs. Franklin,1 a lady who has been better known to the literary world as Miss Porden.
In presenting an estimate of this young, but highly-gifted, writer’s powers—or rather in exhibiting materials from which an estimate may be formed—it accords not with our design to enter into the details of biography; yet, as it will be interesting to many to learn something of one from whom they have derived hours of instruction and delight, a line or two, introductory to remarks of a different character, may not be deemed irrelevant.
Eleanor Anne Porden was the youngest daughter of the late W. Porden, Esq., an architect of eminence, and highly esteemed in the literary world. She was born in 1795. Her education, which was private, and under the direction of her father, was of a superior, and rather uncommon description, as is evident from all her works.
Miss Porden’s first avowed production was “The Veils, or thе Triumph of Constancy, a Poem in Six Books,” published in 1815. The success of the fair writer upon this occasion does not seem to have urged her into any precipitate display of further efforts; as it is not till three years afterwards that we again find her before the public, as the author of “The Arctic Expeditions;” a slight, but interesting poetic tribute, to the gallant adventurers who had been engaged in one of the most perilous enterprizes by which the present age has been distinguished.
Another slight effusion of Miss Porden’s muse was an “Ode on the Coronation of his Most Gracious Majesty, George the Fourth, July 19, 1821;” but the circulation of this, we apprehend, was rather private than public. Her principal work—a most extraordinary labour for any pen, much more so for that of a woman—was “Cœur de Lion, or the Third Crusade, a Poem in Sixteen Books,” which came before the public, in two octavo volumes, in 1822.
Besides these poems, on the merits of which we shall presently enlarge, Miss Porden wrote several little pieces, occasionally inserted in the Literary Gazette, and other contemporary publications.
In the month of August, 1823, this amiable and accomplished young lady gave her hand to Captain Franklin, to whom she had been some time engaged, and who had then recently returned from one of the land expeditions employed to assist in exploring the Polar Regions of the North. Happy, but brief, was their union. In the circumstances of Mrs, Franklin’s death there was something unusually distressing. Constitutionally delicate, it has been generally, though erroneously, understood, that the fatal event was occssioned by grief, at her husband’s departure acting upon a previously debilitated frame. This, however, was not the case.
Mrs. Franklin, whose mind eagerly sought every kind of useful information, entered with great energy into the enterprizing spirit of her husband; and, notwithstanding her devoted attachment to him, and the severe trials and dangers attendant on the expedition, she evidently wished him to repeat the attempt, hoping that he might accomplish the object so much desired. With this delightful anticipation she looked forward to welcome his return; but, alas! a pulmonary complaint, from which she had suffered nearly two years, reached its crisis about the time that Captain Franklin received his orders to proceed on the expedition, and she was given over by her physicians five days previously to his quitting home.
Mrs. Franklin, who had not till then been considered in danger, expired on the evening of the 22d of February last, exactly one week after she had bidden her beloved husband an eternal farewell;2 leaving a daughter, eight months old, unconscious of the loss of so truly valuable a mother.
This painful part of our duty performed, we gladly proceed to one more pleasing. From her poem of “The Veils, or the Triumph of Constancy” the first in chronological order, it is clear that Miss Porden possessed much scientific knowledge: indeed, no one without such knowledge could have produced such a work. The incident which gave rise to the poem was simply this:— “A young lady, one of the members οf a small society which meets periodically for literary amusement, lost her Veil (by a gust of wind) as she was gathering shells on the coast of Norfolk.” The author, at that time attending the lectures on chemistry, geology, natural history, and botany, by Sir H. Davy, Mr. Brand, Dr. Roget, Sir J. E. Smith, &c, at the Royal Institution, was induced to combine those subjects with her story, the machinery of which “is founded on the Rosicrusian doctrine, which peoples each of the four elements with a peculiar class of spirits; a system introduced into poetry by Pope, and since used by Darwin, in the Botanic Garden.” Miss P., however, justly remarks, that the ideal beings of these two distinguished writers differ not more from each other than from those called into action in her poem. Her endeavour was—and we think she was completely successful—“to shew them as representing the different energies of nature, excited in producing the various changes tbat take place in the physical world.” The idea is thus poetically developed:—
“That Power Eternal, whose creative mind
This orb, and all yon wandering spheres design’d;
From nothing call’d yon source of life and light,
And all the starry splendours of the night;
To numerous spirits, in that awful hour,
Their portions gave of delegated power:
Four tribes who rule the orb with equal sway,
The Earth, the Fire, the Winds, and Waves obey;
In fire the Salamanders hold their reign,
The bold Hydidæ curb the azure main,
The Gnomes are guardians of the solid land,
And Sylphs th’ impassive realms of air command:
These jarring tribes in endless strife engage,
Foil and are foiled, with ineffectual rage;
Their mutual war their balanced reign secures,
And endless order ceaseless strife ensures.”
Each of the three maidens, Maria, Miranda, and Leonora, whose constancy to their respective knightly lovers, Henry, Alfred, and Alonzo, is ultimately rewarded, has lost her veil, surreptitiously obtained by Albruno prince of the Gnomes, Marino prince of the Hydidæ, and Pyros prince of the Pyridæ. In consequence of their loss, the maidens are condemned to wed these princes, unless, by the skill and prowess of their knights, they can obtain the restoration of their veils. To effect this, tbey are taken under the special protection of Ariel, the prince of the Sylphs; and thus arise the adventures related in the poem. In the first Book, we find a magic castle, in which, through the artifices of its lord, one of the minions of the Gnome king, the ladies and their lovers are for a time immured; in the second, a grand battle of the Gnomes, Pyridæ, and Hydidæ is described; in the third, the escape of Henry from the thraldom of Albruno is effected; the fourth Book discloses the wonders of the sea; in the fifth, Stromboli and the regions of fire are glowingly depicted; in the sixth, the particulars ofa descent into the dominions of Albruno are related, the veils are restored, Henry is found to be a sylph in mortal form, and the parties are thus finally disposed of:—
“Great Ariel now appeared—his gentle look
Glanced on each lovely maid, as thus he spoke:
‘Hail! blooming nymphs, whose constancy restor’d
My lov’d Aurelio to his happy lord.
Your woes—a Sylph from human bondage freed—
Claim from his grateful king an ample meed,
For thee, Maria! now his chosen bride,
Nor less in virtue to our race allied:
Ne’er shall thy lips resign the vital breath,
Thy roses fade, or close thine eyes in death.
Not like Tithonus, doom’d to hear the strife
Of mortal weakness with immortal life;
Each circling year to that fair form and face
Shall add fresh lustre, more ethereal grace,
Till thy pure spirit shall spontaneous rise,
And seek its destin’d station in the skies;
As Alighieri, with his heavenly love,
Soar’d to yon round of silver light above,
A partner in thy joys, thy hopes, thy cares-
Till then, his human form Aurelio wears.
‘Miranda, Leonora, lovely pair!
And ye, brave knights, their mortal lot who share,
Yours be each joy that cheers the child of earth;
A blooming race shall deck your social hearth:
And when, as all of human lineage must,
Your breath expires, and dust returns to dust,
No widow’s eye shall weep her spouse’s doom;
One be your dying hour, and one your tomb.
Your spirits, rising in a train of light,
Shall with new splendours grace yon vaulted height.
In that vast space, ’twixt Jove’s imperial sphere
And fiery Mars, four smaller orbs appear:
Yours be the task to rule their course on high,
And guide the kindred worlds along the sky.
Join’d in your fates below, and joined above
In mystic intercourse of holy love,
To circle yon pure source of day, and bound
In one bright sphere your planetary round.”
With great modesty of pretension, this volume exhibits much that is curious in science and philosophy. The poetry, difficult and stubborn as the subject may seem, is elegant, graceful, and highly imaginative; and some of the descriptive passages, in particular, are rich in beauty. As it is our wish to devote as much of the remaining space in this paper as possible to extracts from Miss P.’s principal poem, “Cœur de Lion,” we cannot here enlarge: one sweet little picture, however, must be given—it is that of Marguerita, or the Pearl:
“But, lo! a maid advances o’er the plain,
Whose garb proclaims a daughter of the main.
Fair was her form; with pearls embroider’d round,
Her robe of snowy coral swept the ground.
Pearl was her zone—of pearl the wand she bore,
And pearl the splendid coronet she wore;
Loose flow’d her lucid veil of softest blue,
That shone by turns with every varying hue;
Like dew-drops to its filmy texture clung,
The scatter’d pearls around its border hung;
O’er the whole figure of the ocean maid,
Like Cynthia’s light, a silvery lustre play’d.”
From “The Arctic Expeditions,” a spirited sketch, of 200 lines, not originally intended for the public eye, we feel it unnecessary to make any extract. The patriotic feeling of Miss Porden’s “Ode on the Coronation” as well as the character of its verse, is well displayed in its opening stanza:
“England! thou whose beacon ray
Shone through a night of doubt and dread;
The rock which kept the storm at bay;
The hold to which the sinking fled:
If there be one who dares to deem
Thy Star bath spent its zenith beam.
Speak! let the awful sound
His recreant heart confound;
Teach him, though Age on Age successive roll.
Time shall not quench one heaven-born my of thine:
There is an Orb which, by th’ unchanging Pole,
Hangs like agent, and knows not to decline.”
For her great work, “Cœur de Lion,” Miss Porden never enjoyed the due meed of praise, her fair portion of popularity, the just guerdon of her merit. This, in the present age of light and flimsy reading, is to be attributed solely to its length, extending to nearly 15,000 lines; yet, long as it is, we have found our labour abundantly repaid in perusal, by its numerous merits and its lively interest. “Cœur de Lion” is, strictly speaking, an epic poem, the main action of which is never once lost sight of, although it abounds with episodes, tender, touching, and beautiful. To produce such a work, the writer must have gone through an extensive and varied course of reading, in history, poetry, and romance; of all of which she has, indeed, made ample and judicious use. The character of her hero she has elevated far beyond the standard of truth, but that was necessary for the dignity of the poem. The comparatively modern air which she has imparted to the narrative, and to the persons of the poem, is also a great advantage in point of effect. Throughout, the diction is distinguished by propriety and grace, and, when required, by true poetic energy. Sometimes, it is true, though very rarely, the verse is a little loose in its structure; and the writer scarcely seems to have been aware of the fastidiousness of the age, respecting the use of triplets and alexandrines, in which, it must be confessed, she has, in “Cœur de Lion” as well as in “The Veils” somewhat too freely indulged. This, however, in a poem of such length as the former, is only a minor defect. The machinery is happily characteristic of the time and country in which the scene is chiefly bid; and, throughout, the character and conduct of Maimoune, the fallen Peri, are managed with the most pleasing effect. The interest rises charmingly, and so does the excellence of the poetry, in the sixth book, and both are fully sustained to the close.
It is time, however, to submit a few extracts—to enter into any detail of the story is impossible. We commence, therefore, with the opening of the second book, relating to the voyage of Richard to Acre:—
“But England’s king becalm’d on treacherous seas,
Remote from Acre, mourns the failing breeze;
His martial band, to toil and strife inured,
Ill the dull languor of repose endured,
And envied Frederic’s host, though fraud and force
And famine, mark’d its long laborious course.
Day after day, upon the glassy main
Rose the broad sun, and crost, and sunk again;
Night after night, the moon unclouded shone
On waves detested, under stars unknown.
Oh! for some rock, some island’s distant form;
Oh! fir the change, th’ excitement of the storm.
It comes!—the storm—clouds darken all the heaven,
The raging billows roar—the sails are riven;
From every point the winds contending meet,
Disperse, destroy, or whelm the struggling fleet.
Alone the regal bark, with steady prow,
In crimson splendour scorns the waves below;
Proud of her freight, she bends not to the blast,
And her red flag flews freely from the mast:
That power divine which guards the life of kings,
Spreads o’er the vessel its protecting wings.”
Richard’s arrival in Palestine is equally deserving of a place:—
“It was an eastern night of loveliest calm,
Each wave was music, and each zephyr balm:
No mist the placid lace of ocean knew,
No cloud obscured the aether’s deepening blue;
And though no moon-beams played, a ruddier glow
In grandeur clothed majestic Carmel’s brow,
And those devoted towers that shone so bright,
Like victims, lovelier in tbeir funeral light.
No chilling blasts, no fatal dews were there,
To mar enjoyment of that tranquil air,
So lately heavy with the damps of death,
Now pure and fragrant as an infant’s breath,
Or that blest eve, whose sacred dews arrest.
With drops of healing power, the raging pest.3
Disease and pain, and wounds and famine, seem
From every bosom vanished like a dream;
While as the fleet rows nearer to the shore,
The billows blush beneath each glittering oar,
That dashes jots of living flame on high,
To shine and fade amid the lurid sky.
The rivers glitter in the spreading beam,
The brightening ocean seems a flood of flame?
From every brow has pass’d its hopeless gloom,
And answering fires the Christian camp illume.”
The succeeding is yet finer of its kind: it indicates Richard's high feelings on the capture of Acre:—
“Slight is the joy that shines in smiles alone;
In silent tears is warmer rapture shewn:
But there’s a higher agony of bliss,
That knows nor tears nor smiles,—and such was this,
Such Richard felt;—so many conflicts past,
His prayer, his nightly dream fulfill’d at last.
And was She his, that city, dearly won
As Jove-propp’d Ilion, she whose every stone
Had cost a martyr’s blood, whose impious pride
For three long years the Christian world defied?
Defiled the Cross, blasphemed each holiest name,
And gave her captive foes to lingering flame!
In one long upward look his thanks were given,
His silent gratitude communed with heaven.”
The following appear to be the natural reflexions of a European lover, during his sojourn in the eastern hemisphere:—
“Remote from thee, how slow the moments move!
Increasing distance adds new force to love.
If but to Europe’s neighbouring shores I roam,
Less keen the pang,—still something breathes of home:
But in these wilds not man alone is strange,
Beasts, birds, and plants, e’en hours and seasons change;
Each moment gives the sad reflection birth,
I see another heaven, another earth;
I cannot think that now thy dewy eyes
Watch yon bright planet through the purple skies;
No! when thou turn’st to court the placid moon,
On burning sands we dread the sultry noon;
And when thy landacape sparkles in the morn,
Here start unknown the stranger-heaven adorn.
I feel the lavish dews of night descend,
I see the skies unwonted radiance lend:
But vain their lustre, from thy presence driven
I long for Europe’s less refulgent heaven,
And thy soft smile, more pleasing to my sight
Than all the splendours of a Syrian night”
The subjoined exquisite description of Maimoune, and we draw towards a close. The loves and adventures of Pardo and Amina constitute one of the sweetest episodes of the poem. Pardo, thrown by magic into the power of Hassan, Prince of the Assassins, is conveyed into the paradise of that tyrant, and left in charge of the Peri.
“The knight in thought had vanquish’d all the joys
Voluptuous Moslems hope in Paradise,
But lo! his sylph-like guard his breast alarms
With no exuberance of obtruded charms;
Her braided hair, her starry circlet bright,
Her zone, her vesture of embodied light,
That changed through every hue—Oh! could a form
That awed assembled demons, fail to warm
Such youth as his? through his delighted soul,
With every glance insidious passion stole,
So calm, so pure, that nor his virtuous pride.
Nor e’en Amina’s image, rose to chide;
Such love it seem’d as pious vestals feel
For Saint or Angel watching o’er then weal.
The pensive languor of Maimoune’s eye,
The breathing perfume of her gentle sigh,
Charm’d more than smiles by earthly beauty given;
They look’d, they whisper’d of her native heaven.”
One little song will convey an adequate idea of the writer's talents in lyric verse:—
“The Bulbul sings in the distant bower,
Far, far from his Rose’s anxious ear;
But the Zephyr may waft to the drooping flower
The sigh of the heart that she holds most dear.
“And hid in this garland of mystic bloom,
She may feel the breath of that sacred sigh
In the scentless amaranth’s rich perfume,
In the pale acacia’s deepening dye.
“Let it fan the blush on her faded cheek,
Till it glow as though her lover were near;
For even this silent wreath may speak
The wish of his soul to a faithful ear.”
We have purposely refrained from offering any critical comment on these extracts, convinced that their beauties are too obvious to escape even the most unpractised eye. They will operate, we trust, as stimuli to a perusal of the entire poem, pervaded as it is with a fine spirit of chivalric loyalty, without which, next to religion, Woman, all potent as she is, loses more than half her charms.
Vide page 138. (Deaths: In Devonshire Street, the lady of Capt. Franklin, who only a few days before had left London to embark at Liverpool for the arctic land expedition. This amiable and highly gifted woman, who had been some time in a declining state of health, was distinguished in the literary world, previously to her marriage, as Miss Porden, author of The Veils, and Richard Cœur de Lion,” poems of the highest order. It is our hope to offer an acceptable tribute to her memory and attainments in our next.) ↩
Captain Franklin, Lieutenant Back, Dr. Richardson, and Mr. Kendall, with eight other persons, composing the overland expedition to the Arctic Regions, embarked at Liverpool on the 16th of February, on board the Columbia packet, for New York. From New York they are to proceed to Upper Canada, and thence to Fort Chepewyan, on their way to the Polar Sea, by the Mackenzie River. On reaching its northern extremity, Captain Franklin and Lieutenant Back, with part of the expedition, proceed to the westward, in the hope of reaching Behring's Straits; while Dr. Richardson and Mr. Kendall, with the other party, proceed to the eastward, tracing the coast of America, if possible, to the Copper-Mine River. ↩
“The eve of St. John; the dews of which are believed, in the East, to stay the progress of the plague.” ↩