The Life and Death of Jason
A Poem. By Roberts Brothers.. Boston :
WHETHER the reader shall enjoy and admire this poem or not, depends almost solely upon the idea with which he comes to its perusal. If he expects to find it a work of genius, with an authentic and absolute claim upon his interest, he will be disappointed. If he is prepared to see in it a labor of the most patient and wonderful ingenuity, to behold the miracle of an Englishman of our day writing exactly in the spirit of the heroic ages, with no thought or feeling suggested by the experience of the last two thousand years, it will fully answer his expectations. The work is so far Greek as to read in many parts like Chapman’s translation of the Odyssey; though it must be confessed that Homer is, if not a better Pagan, at least a greater poet than Mr. Morris. Indeed, it appears to us that Mr. Morris’s success is almost wholly in the reflected sentiment and color of his work, and it seems, therefore, to have no positive value, and to add nothing to the variety of letters or intellectual life. It is a kind of performance in which failure is intolerably offensive, and triumph more to be wondered at than praised. For to be more or less than Greek in it is to be ridiculous, and to be just Greek is to be what has already perfectly and sufficiently been. If one wished to breathe the atmosphere of Greek poetry, with its sensuous love of beauty and of life, its pathetic acceptance of events as fate, its warped and unbalanced conscience, its abhorrence of death, and its conception of a future sad as annihilation, we had already the Greek poets ; and does it profit us that Mr. Morris can produce just their effects and nothing more in us ?
We are glad to acknowledge his transcendent talent, and we have felt in reading his poem all the pleasure that faultless workmanship can give. He is alert and sure in the management of his materials ; his descriptions of sentiment mid nature are so clever, and his handling of a familiar plot so excellent, that he carries you with him to the end, and leaves you unfatigued, but sensible of no addition to your stock of ideas and feelings.