The Living Age (1861)

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A new edition with illustrations.
Published by Routledge, Warne, and Routledge.


A NEW edition of the Poetical Works of Gerald Massey, the son of the canal boatman in Herts, and himself successively silk-mill worker, errand-boy, and journalist, will be welcomed by the less fastidious readers of poetry.  Those who sympathize with fine feelings and delicate susceptibilities, who delight in profuse imagery and florid diction, will assuredly find much in this volume which they will regard, and which in some sense they will rightly regard, as poetry.  But those who demand imaginative conception, who require, first, that the poet have something to sing, and then that he sing it with purity, simplicity, and proportion, will not find here the poetry which they seek.  Mr. Massey is not an original writer.  He is scarcely a copyist indeed, but he reproduces, perhaps unconsciously, the impressions which the poetry he admires have left on his sensitive nature.   In the very first page of his book we read,

When DanaŽ-earth bares all her charms,
And gives the God her perfect flower

surely an echo of a line in The Princess, "Now lies the Earth all DanaŽ to the stars." In fact, the whole of the Ballad of Babe Christabel, from which these verses are taken, perpetually suggests its great precursor, the In Memoriam of Tennyson, which we cannot but regard as, in this instance, the immediate source of inspiration to Mr. Massey's muse.    We are far, however, from saying that this very poem is not instinct with beautiful thoughts and fancies clothed in melodious language.  For instance,ó

"When beauty walks in bravest dress,
    And, fed with Aprils mellow showers
    The earth laughs out with sweet May-flowers,
That flush for very happiness;

"And Puck his web of wonder weaves
    O' nights, and nooks of greening gloom
    Are rich with violets that bloom
In the cool dark of dewy leaves."

In this last verse the picturesque expression of "greening gloom" would be more admired if it did not remind us of the "greening gleam" of one of Mr. Tennyson's fine psalms.  And a little below, Mr. Gerald's "Song like a spirit sits i the trees" is too like the greater poet's "The lark became a sightless song" for us to feel satisfied that it is not a resetting of the same thought.
    Perhaps Mr. Massey's best poem is that which idealizes a sad experience, "The Mother's Idol Broken."  It is graceful and touching; and once at least nobly pathetic.

"This is a curl of our poor  Splendid's hair!
 A sunny burst of rare and ripe young gold,"

is a true and natural introduction to the "babe-wanderings and little tender ways," to "the wee wax face that gradually withdrew and darkened into the great cloud of death," to the three words of human speech

"One for her mother, one for me, and one
 She crowed with for the fields and open heaven.
 That last she sighed with a sweet farewell
 A minute ere she left the house of life,
 To come for kisses never any more.
 *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *
 And there our darling lay in coffined calm:
 Beyond the breakers and the moaning now!
 And o'er her flowed the white eternal peace:
 The breathing miracle into silence passed
 Never to stretch wee hands, with her dear
 As soft as light-fall on unfolding flowers:
 Never to wake us crying in the night
 Our little hindering thing forever 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,
 Naught there of our poor Splendid but her

    We doubt if Mr. Massey has written any thing better than that.  His Craigbrook Castle is often musical, and is prodigally fanciful.  Fancy indeed is his most prominent attribute.  The third section of the poem last mentioned contains a succession of mental coruscations that dazzle, rather than delight, "the wondering eyes of men."
    Of Mr.  Massey's political poems we say nothing.  He does not value them highly himself, retaining them only "as memorials of the past, as one might keep some worn-out garment because he had passed through the furnace in it." One or two of his rhyming compositions are slightly humorous, that for example about the lion who shook his incredulous head, and wagged his dubious tail.  There is one, too, on England and an illustrious living personage, which, without going the whole way with the sarcastic poet, we can read with some degree of satisfaction.  It begins,ó

"There was a poor old woman once, a daughter
        of our nation,
 Before the Devils portrait stood in ignorant
 You re bowing down to Satan, maam, said
        some spectator civil,
 Ah sir, it s best to he polite, for we may go
        to the Devil,
                    Bow, how, bow,
 We may go the Devil, so it is just as well to

     The edition of Mr.  Gerald Massey's poems from which we are now quoting contains a biographic sketch, which is not without interest, and the poets own preface to the third issue of "Babe Christabel." This poem, as now published, thus appears for the fourth timeóa proof of the author's popularity.  If we admire his productions less than others, it is that our standard is higher than that of others.  Let Mr. Massey write more slowly, take more pains with his versification, be less with Queen Mab, and dwell more among the great central facts of human life, with its perennial joys and griefs, and we shall not be backward to recognize his superiority.  But let us have no more stars and flowers, no more "Titan pulses" and "purple rondures." The highest poetry can afford to dress plainly.


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