Craigcrook Castle (1856)

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No. 1513, October 25, 1856


(David Bogue, London)

IN the 'War Waits' of Mr. Gerald Massey an obvious improvement, in mastery and art, on his 'Babe Christabel' was remarked.  In many points, the volume before us will he found better still.  Be the reader as Augustan in his requirements as those who are unreconciled to Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats (and such readers of poetry still exist),—be he as transcendental as that American sage who the other day arraigned English poets, old and young, from Chaucer to Tennyson, "as having no fancy, never being surprised into a covert or witty word" (qućre, because they are intelligible?),—he will hardly deny the author of 'Craigcrook Castle' his letters of enrolment among the Poets,—seeing that with him the light has not died out after the first flash, and that the spring, it is obvious, flows freely.  There are "single­lyric" minstrels as well as "single-speech" orators,—but Mr. Massey is not one of the company.—What there is yet for him to do is, not so much to polish as to select.  His new book is a book of the time, inasmuch as some of its highest strains have been inspired by the war from which we have just issued, our poet thinks, ingloriously; it is a page, too, from the book of his own life,—a page steeped in the real tears of a great sorrow: the sorrow of a father weeping for a child, and "who will not be comforted."  But it is not against the choice of either theme military or theme domestic that we remonstrate.  In both we hear the earnest, sad, passionate voice which would constrain us to stop and listen,—were the years ever so gay, were our own hearts ever so ignorant of yearnings for those who will come no more.  But the framework in which these things are set has been carelessly or infelicitously contrived,—at least, if we are to accept our author's permission to read 'Craigcrook Castle' as a continuous poem.  The connexion of the author's "perfect day" with the broken, stirring, angry War pictures of siege and suffering, and with a parent's bitter, yet holy, tears over a child's grave, is awkwardly wrought out.  The Poet's musings in and about Craigcrook Castle close with a richly-coloured evening picture.—

Now Sunset burns.   A sea of gold on fire
Serenely surges around purple isles:
O'er billows and flame-furrows Day goes down.
Far-watching clouds with ruby glimmer bloom;
A scattered crowd, that on its face still wears
The splendid light and life of some brave show,
Dews swarm upon the flowers like silent bees,
And quiet fire-flies glittering in the grass.
Husht woods grow solemn dark; the blue peaks fade
Weird mists rise white, and gracious Twilight comes.
Sweet is the mystery of her loveliness;
And all things feel her dim divinity.

—Companions and guests have been sketched, and after sunset,—

"Now for a rouse within the house, and there
  Shake off the purple sadness of the night,"
  Cried one: "Come let us a Symposium hold,
  And each one to the banquet bring their best
  In song or story; all shall play a part."

    The first contribution to the "Symposium" is 'The Mother's Idol Broken,'—a series of series of death-poems, which no mother will read without tears.  Surely, there can hardly be worse sacrilege than bringing forth the funereal urns from the sanctuary of Sorrow to figure at the feast,—though the feast be not an impious one.  We will not conceive Mr. Massey, in so doing, untrue to his own deep and real feelings so much as thoughtless and bewildered by the example of those whom he does well to honour, but whom be will do very ill to imitate.    This binding up as a whole his fugitive thoughts and discrepant emotions and bright fragments is a fashion of the moment, on the increase.  As a fashion, not an inevitable development of Art, it is to be deprecated.  The breaks, gaps, chasms in 'The Princess' and in ' Maud' may pass in the case of one accepted artist without reckoning.  Mr. Tennyson might be less than he is, possibly, if not freakish and fantastic, were he not licensed to play when he is in earnest, and to be earnest when he bids us play with him.  But let the Laureate's way of working once become the rule,—and allure others to follow it,—and the fruits of such rule, whether it be followed by servile obedience or adopted by unconscious sympathy, are not and cannot come to good.

    Mr. Massey, too, has yet to learn selection in language, no less than in form, if he will make the progress which we have a right to require from him.  Such lines as those marked below in italics are inadmissible.—

Young Earth putteth forth the lovely things
She hath been dreaming through long winter nights;
Taking the May-tide in a golden swim,
Her blithe heart singing for the flooding cheer

    What means such verbiage as the following?—

In the green quiet of a neighbouring knoll
There sat and sang a beauteous company;
Surging a soul-ache of deliciousness.

    What can be worse in its eccentricity than this?—

"Around me rose the phantoms of the dark,
  The Grave's Somnambules troubled in their dream,
  Who walk and wander in the sleep of Death,
  And cannot rest, they were so wronged in life.
  The crownless Martyrs of the marriage ring!
  Meek sufferers who walkt in living hell,
  And died a life of spiritual suttee

    The above examples will make clear to Massey of what discipline we conceive him yet to stand in need.  Let us turn to the pleasanter task of showing that the plainness our counsel is in proportion to the value of him to whom it is offered.  How pictorial are such lines as these from 'Craigcrook Castle'!—

The path runs down and peeps out in the lane
That loiters on by fields of wheat and bean,
Till the white-gleaming road winds city-ward.
Afar, in floods of sunshine blinding white,
The City lieth in its quiet pride.
With castled crown, looking on Towns and Shires,
And Hills from which cloud highlands climb the heavens.

    Here are a few lines from a later page of the same poem, as full of Midsummer music as Coleridge's 'Inscription for a Fountain on a Heath':—

A summer soul is in the Limes; they stand
Low murmuring honied things that wing forth Bees;
Their busy whisperings done, the Plane-trees hush! .
But lo, a warm wind winnowing odour-rain
Goes breathing by.

    If we exchange these genial open-air pictures for the house darkened by sorrow, we shall find the music of the song grow truer, deeper, and more impassioned.  There are few more touching revelations of Bereavement than the following:—

O ye who say, "We have a Child in heaven;"
Who have felt that desolate isolation sharp
Defined in Death's own face; who have stood beside
The Silent River, and stretcht out pleading hands
For some sweet Babe upon the other bank,
That went forth where no human hand might lead,
And left the shut house with no light, no sound,
No answer, when the mourners wail without!
What we have known, ye know, and only know.
            *             *             *             *             *
The mornings came, with glory-garland on,
To deck heaven's azure tent with hangings brave;
Birds, brooks, and bees, were singing in the sun,
Earth's blithe heart breathing bloom into her face,
The flowers all crowding up like Memories
Of lovelier life in some forgotten world,
Or dreams of peace and beauty yet to come.
The soft south-breezes rockt the baby-buds
In fondling arms upon a balmy breast;
And all was gay as universal life
Swam down the stream that glads the City of God.
But we lay dark where Death had struck us down
With that stern blow which made us bleed within,
And bow while the Inevitable went by.

And there our Darling lay in coffined calm;
Dressed for the grave in raiment like the snow,
And o'er her flowed the white, eternal peace:
The breathing miracle into silence passed:
Never to stretch wee hands, with her dear smile
As soft as light-fall on unfolding flowers;
Never to wake us crying in the night:
Our little hindering thing for ever gone,
In tearful quiet now we might toil on.
All dim the living lustres motion makes!
No life-dew in the sweet cups of her eyes!

    This, again, though less perfect, and very painful, is full of true feeling:—

To-day, when winds of winter blow,
And Nature sits in dream of snow,
With Ugolino-look of woe;

Wife from the window came to me,
Now leaves were fallen she could see
The little grave thro' shred elm-tree.

With wintriness all life did ache
For that dead darling's sainted sake;
And lips might kiss, but hearts would quake

Ho, ye who pass her narrow house,
By which the dark Leith sea-ward flows;
O clasp your pretty darlings close;

And if some tender bud of light
Is drooping, as the snowdrop white,
With looks that weird wild heartstrings smite;

Think of our babe will never wake,
And fold your own till fond hearts ache,
Sweet souls, for little Marian's sake.

    It is not impossible but that 'Lady Laura,' a love-story according to the new fashion,—which forms another division of Mr. Massey's volume,—may have been meant for its principal feature.  It has been wrought with the most care; yet (not forgetting what has been said) we like it the least of any portion of the new volume: for it is the least natural.  It is impossible while reading the tale of the lovely lady and the lowly working-man, "her equal and much more," whom she wedded, not to be reminded, by a hundred turns and changes, of other poets,—impossible to forget how Mrs. Browning gave utterance to the cry of the Factory Children,—how the Author of 'Locksley Hall' looked from a distance towards London-of-the-many-sins-and-many-struggles.  But here is a verse of a love-lyric, too sweet to be passed by:—

We cannot lift the wintry pall
    From buried life; nor bring
Back, with Love's passionate thinking, all
    The glory of the Spring.
But soft along the old green way
    We feel her breath of gold;
Her radiant vesture ripples gay,—
    She comes! and all is told.

    In the division of poems called 'Glimpses of the War' will be found not a few fiery stanzas and noble lines.  As a specimen of the former, take the following:—

Our old War-banners on the wind
Were dancing merrily o'er them;
Our half world husht with hope behind—
The sullen Foe before them!
They trode their march of battle, bold
As death-devoted freemen;
Like those Three Hundred Greeks of old,
Or Rome's immortal Three Men.
Ah, Victory! joyful Victory!
Like Love, thou bringest sorrow;
But, O! for such an hour with thee,
Who could not die to-morrow?

With towering heart and lightsome feet
They went to their high places;
The fiery valour at white heat
Was flashing in their faces!
Magnificent in battle-robe,
And radiant, as from star-lands,
That spirit shone which girds our globe
With glory, as with garlands!
Ah, Victory! joyful Victory!
Like Love, thou bringest sorrow;
But, O! for such an hour with thee,
Who could not die to-morrow?
      *             *             *             *
Brave hearts, with noble feeling flusht,
In ripe and ruddy riot
But Yesterday! how are ye husht
Beneath the smile of Quiet!
For us they poured their blood like wine,
From life's ripe-gather'd clusters;
And far thro' History's night shall shine
Their deeds with starry lustres.
Ah, Victory! joyful Victory!
Like Love, thou bringest sorrow;
But, O! for such an hour with thee,
Who could not die to-morrow?

We laid them not in Churchyard home,
Beneath our darling daisies:
But to their rude mounds Love will come,
And sit, and sing their praises.
And soothly sweet shall be their rest
Where Victory's hands have crown'd d them;
To Earth our Mother's bosom prest,
And Heaven's arms around them.
Ah, Victory! joyful Victory!
Like Love, thou bringest sorrow;
But, O! for such an hour with thee,
Who could not die to-morrow?

    The second of the two following lines marks the presence of the poet as surely as "the print of a man's foot on the sand" announced a neighbour to break up the security of Robinson Crusoe.—

O wily are the Russians, and they came to their wild work—
Their feet all shod for silence in the best blood of the Turk!

And here is a dirge with a music in its wail which reminds us of some wild national keen or coroanach.—

Sitting in her sorrow lone,
Still our Mother makes her moan

For the Lost; and to the Martyrs' Hill our thoughts in
        mourning go.

O, that desert of the Dead,
Who lay down in their death-bed,

With their winding and wreath of winter snow!

Into glory bad they rode
When the tide of triumph flowed,

Not a tear would we shed for the heroes lying low,

But our hearts break for the Dead,
In their desolate death-bed,

With their winding-sheet and wreath of winter snow.

Praying breath rose white in air,
Eyes were set in a stern stare,

Hands were stretcht for help that came not as they sank in
        silence low:

Our grand, our gracious Dead,
Who lay down in their dead-bed,

With their winding-sheet and wreath of winter snow.

Now the winter snows are gone,
And Earth smiles as though the Dawn

Had come up from it in Flower—such a light of grace
        doth glow

All about our darkened Dead,
Who lay down in their death-bed,

With their winding-sheet and wreath of winter snow.

But, never, never more,
Comes the Spring that will restore

To their own love, their own land, the dear ones lying low

On the Martyrs' Hill, our Dead
Who lay down in their death-bed,

With their winding-sheet and wreath of winter snow.

Many more lines, entire verses, and short poems,—some ripe in beauty, some rich in pro­mise,—could be cited from this volume; but the above will lead many readers to read it, and justify the enjoyment and the hope we have found in the appearance of one so full of some of Poetry's most gracious gifts.—We trust that Mr. Massey will at no distant period redeem the promise which closes the Dedication to this volume, by treating some grave or graceful subject, as a whole, to use his own words, with "a touch more certain, and a larger reach, upon a harp of tenser strings."


Editor: the author of this review was Henry Fothergill Chorley. 

Chorley (1808-1872) was, principally, a music critic. He began to write for the Athenćum in 1830, and remained its music critic for over a generation.  He was also music critic for The Times.  In these positions he had much influence; he had strong views, and was a persistent opponent of innovation.  In addition to music criticism, he wrote voluminously on literature and art, besides novels, dramas and verse, and various librettos; and he published several books, including Modern German Music (1854), Handel Studies (1859), and Thirty Years Musical Recollections (1862).


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