C[ox], E[dward] W[illiam]. "Poetry and the Drama" [Germ review]. Critic 15 Feb. 1850: 94-95.

full text

The Germ: Thoughts towards Nature in Poetry, Literature, and Art. Nos. I. and II. London: Aylott and Jones.

We depart from our usual plan of noticing the periodicals under one heading, for the purpose of introducing to our readers a new aspirant for public favour, which has peculiar and uncommon claims to attention, for in design and execution it differs from all other periodicals. The Germ is the somewhat affected and unpromising title given to a small monthly journal, which is devoted almost entirely to poetry and art, and is the production of a party of young persons. This statement is of itself, as we a re well aware, enough to cause it to be looked upon with shyness. A periodical largely occupied with poetry wears an unpromising aspect to readers who have learned from experience what nonsensical stuff most fugitive magazine poetry is; nor is this natural prejudice diminished by the knowledge that it is the production of young gentlemen and ladies. But when they have read a few extracts which we propose to make, we think they will own that for once appearances are deceitful, and that an affected title and an unpromising theme really hides a great deal of genius; mingled, however, we must also admit, with many conceits which youth is prone to, but which time and experience will surely tame.

That the contents of The Germ are the productions of no common minds, the following extracts will sufficiently prove; and, we may add, that these are but a small portion of the contents which might prefer equal claims to applause.

"My Beautiful Lady," and "Of My Lady in Death," are two poems in a quaint metre, full of true poetry, marred by not a few affectations–the genuine metal, but wanting to be purified from its dross. Nevertheless, it is pleasant to find the precious ore anywhere in these unpoetical times.
First for

A SKETCH FROM NATURE

The air blows pure, for twenty miles,

  Over this vast countrie:

Over hill and wood and vale, it goeth,

  Over steeple, and stack, and tree:

And there’s not a bird on the wind but knoweth

  How sweet these meadows be.

The swallows are flying beside the wood,

  And the corbles are hoarsely crying;

And the sun at the end of the earth hath stood,

And, through the hedge and over the road,

  On the grassy slope is lying:

And the sheep are taking their supper-food

  While yet the rays are dying.

Sleepy shadows are filling the furrows,

  And giant-long shadows the trees are making;

And velvet-soft are the woodland tufts,

And misty-gray the low-down crofts;

But the aspens there have gold-green tops,

  And the gold-green tops are shaking;

The spires are white in the sun’s last light;–

And yet a moment ere he drops,

Gazes the sun on the golden slopes

Two sheep, afar from fold,

  Are on the hill-side straying,

With backs all silver, breasts all gold;

  The merle is something saying, Something very very sweet:–

  "The day–the day–the day is done:"

There answereth a single bleat–

The air is cold, the sky is dimming,

And clouds are long like fishes swimming. Sydenham Wood, 1849.

To our taste the following is replete with poetry. What a picture it is. A poet’s tongue has told what an artist’s eye has seen. It is the first of a series to be entitled "Songs of One Household."

MY SISTER’S SLEEP

She fell asleep on Christmas Eve,

  Upon her eyes’ most patient calms

  The lids were shut; her uplaid arms

Covered her bosom, I believe

Our mother, who had leaned all day

  Over the bed from chime to chime,

  Then raised herself for the first time,

And as she sat her down, did pray.

Her little work-table was spread

  With work to finish. For the glare

  Made by her candle, she had care

To work some distance from the bed.

Without, there was a good moon up,

  Which left its shadows far within!

  The depth of light that it was in

Seemed hollow like an altar-cup.

Through the small room, with subtle sound

  Of flame, by vents the fireshine drove

  And reddened. In its dim alcove

The mirror shed a clearness round.

I had been sitting up some nights,

  And my tired mind felt weak and blank;

  Like a sharp strengthening wine, it drank

The stillness and the broken lights.

Silence was speaking at my side

  With an exceedingly clear voice:

  I knew the calm as of choice

Made in God for me, to abide.

I said "Full knowledge does not grieve:

  This which upon my spirit dwells

  Perhaps would have been sorrow else:

But I am glad ‘tis Christmas Eve."

Twelve struck. That sound, which all the years

  Hear in each hour, crept off; and then

  The ruffled silence spread again,

Like water that a pebble stirs.

Our mother rose from where she sat.

  Her needles, as she laid them down,

  Met lightly, and her silken gown

Settled: no other noise than that.

"Glory unto the newly born!"

  So, as said angels, she did say!

  Because we were in Christmas-day.

Though it would be still long till dawn.

She stood a moment with her hands

  Kept in each other, praying much;

  A moment that the soul may touch

But the heart only understands.

Almost unwittingly, my mind

  Repeated her words after her;

  Perhaps though my lips did not stir;

It was scarce thought, or cause assign’d.

Just then in the room over us

  There was a pushing back of chairs,

  As some who had sat unawares

So late, now heard the hour, and rose.

Anxious, with softly stepping haste,

  Our mother went where Margaret lay,

  Fearing the sounds overhead–should they

Have broken her long-watched for rest!

She stooped an instant, calm, and turned;

  But suddenly turned back again;

  And all her features seemed in pain

With woe, and her eyes gazed and yearned.

For my part, I but hid my face,

  And held my breath, and spake no word:

  There was none spoken; but I heard

The silence for a little space.

Our mother bowed herself and wept,

  And both my arms fell, and I said:

  "God knows I knew that she was dead."

And there, all white, my sister slept.

Then kneeling, upon Christmas morn

  A little after twelve o’clock

  We said, ere the first quarter struck,

"Christ’s blessing on the newly born!"

What a sweet little lyric is this:

THE SEASONS

The crocus, in the shrewd March morn,

  Thrusts up his saffron spear;

And Paril dots the sombre thorn

  With gems, and loveliest cheer.

Then sleep the seasons, full of Might;

  While slowly swells the pod,

And rounds the peach, and in the night

  The mushroom bursts the sod.

The winter comes: the frozen rut

  Is bound with silver bars;

The white drift heaps against the hut;

  And night is pierced with stars.

Although wanting the originality which marks the previous extracts, there is a pleasant strain of sentiment and gracefulness of composition in the following:

A TESTIMONY

I said of laughter: it is vain;–

  Of mirth I said: What profits it?–

  Therefore I found a book, and writ

Therein, how ease and also pain,

How health and sickness, every one

Is vanity beneath the sun.

Man walks in a vain shadow; he

  Disquieteth himself in vain.

  The things that were shall be again.

The rivers do not fill the sea,

But turn back to their secret source;

The winds, too, turn upon their course.

Our treasures, moth and rust corrupt;

  Or thieves break through and steal; or they

  Make themselves wings and fly away.

One man made merry as he supp’d,

Nor guessed how when that night grew dim,

His soul would be required of him.

We build our houses on the sand

  Comely withoutside, and within;

  But when the winds and rains begin

To beat on them, they cannot stand;

They perish, quickly overthrown,

Loose at the hidden basement stone.

All things are vanity, I said;

  Yea vanity of vanities.

  The rich man dies; and the poor dies;

The worm feeds sweetly on the dead.

Whatso thou lackest, keep this trust;

All in the end shall have but dust.

The one inheritance, which best

  And worst alike shall find and share.

  The wicked cease from troubling there,

And there the weary are at rest;

There all the wisdom of the wise

Is vanity of vanities.

Man flourished as a green leaf,

  And as a leaf doth pass away;

  Or, as a shade that cannot stay,

And leaves no track, his course is brief;

Yet doth man hope and fear and plan

Till he is dead;–oh foolish man!

Our eyes cannot be satisfied

  With seeing; Nor our ears be fill’d

  With hearing; yet we plant and build,

And buy, and make our borders wide;

We gather wealth, we gather care,

But know not who shall be our heir.

Why should we hasten to arise

  So early, and so late take rest?

  Our labour is not good; our best

Hopes fade; our heart is stayed on lies;

Verily, we sow wind; and we

Shall reap the whirlwind, verily.

He who hath little shall not lack;

  He who hath plenty shall decay;

  Our fathers went; we pass away;

Our children follow on our track;

So generations fall, and so

They are renewed, and come and go.

The earth is fattened with our dead;

  She swallows more and doth not cease;

  Therefore her wine and oil increase

And her sheaves are not numbered;

Therefore her plants are green, and all

Her pleasant trees lusty and tall.

Therefore the maidens cease to sing,

  And the young men are very sad;

  Therefore the sowing is not glad,

And weary is the harvesting.

Of high and low, of great and small,

Vanity is the lot of all.

A king dwelt in Jerusalem;

  He was the wisest man on earth;

  He had all riches from his birth,

And pleasures till he tired of them;

Then, having tested all things, he

  Witnessed that all are vanity.

We have not space to take any specimens of the prose, but the essays on art are conceived with an equal appreciation of its meaning and requirements. Being such, The Germ has our heartiest wishes for its success; but we scarcely dare to hope that it may win the popularity it deserves. The truth is, that it is too good for the time. It is not material enough for the age.

E. W. C.


This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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