Scribners Monthly (1876)

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Scribner's Monthly
an illustrated magazine for the people.

Volume 10, Issue 6
Published New York, October 1875



Edmund C.  Stedman



Edmund C. Stedman
Poet and critic (1803-1908)

    THE choral leaders are few in number, and it is from a blended multitude of voices that we derive the general tone and volume, at any epoch, of a nation's poetic song.  The miscellaneous poets, singly or in characteristic groups, give us the pervading quality of a stated era.  Great singers, lifted by imagination, make style secondary to thought; or, rather, the thought of each assumes a correlative form of expression.  Younger or minor contemporaries catch and reflect the fashion of these forms, even if they fail to create a soul beneath.  It is said that very great poets never, through this process, have founded schools, their art having been of inimitable loftiness or simplicity; but who of the accepted few, during recent years, has thus held the unattainable before the vision of the facile English throng?


    AT the beginning of the present reign Tennyson was slowly obtaining recognition, and his influence had not yet established the poetic fashion of the time.  Wordsworth shone by himself, in a serene and luminous orbit, at a height reached only after a prolonged career.  The death of Byron closed a splendid but tempestuous era, and was followed by years of reaction, almost of sluggish calm.  At least, the group of poets was without a leader, and was composed of men who, with few great names among them, utilized their gifts,each after his own method or after one of that master, among men of the previous generation, whom he most affected.  A kind of interregnum occurred.  Numbers of minor poets and scholars survived their former compeers, and wrote creditable verse, but produced little that was essentially new.  Motherwell had died, at the early age of thirty-eight, having done service in the revival of Scottish ballad-ministrelsy; and with the loss of the author of that exquisite lyric, "Jeanie Morrison," of "The Cavalier's Song," and "The Sword-Chant of Thorstein Raudi," there passed away a vigorous and sympathetic poet.  Soutbey, Moore, Rogers, Frere, Wilson, James Montgomery, Campbell, James and Horace Smith, Croly, Joanna Baillie, Bernard Barton, Elliott, Cunningham, Tennant, Bowles, Maginn, Peacock, poor John Clare, the translators Cary and Lockhart,all these were still alive, but had outlived their generation, and, as far as verse was concerned, were more or less superannuated.  What Landor, Hood, and Procter were doing already has passed under review.  Leigh Hunt continued his pleasant verse and prose, and did much to popularize the canons of art exemplified in the poetry of his former song-mates, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats.  Milman, afterward Dean of St.  Paul's, a pious and conventional poet who dated his literary career from the success of an early drama, "Fazio," still was writing plays that did credit to a churchman and Oxford professor.  Talfourd's "Ion" and "The Athenian Captive" also had made a stage-success; the poets had not yet discovered that a stage which the talent of Macready exactly fitted, and a histrionic feeling of which the plays of Sheridan Knowles had come to be the faithful expression, were not stimulating to the production of the highest grade of dramatic poetry.  Various dramas and poems, by that cheery, versatile authoress, Miss Mitford, had succeeded her tragedies of "Julian" and "Rienzi." It must be owned that these three were good names in a day of which the fashion has gone by.  At this distance we see plainly that they were minor poets, or that the times were unfriendly to work whose attraction should be lasting.  Doubtless, were they alive and active now, they would contend for favour with many whom the present delights to honour.

    Meanwhile a few men of genius, somewhat out of place in their generation, had been essaying dramatic work for the love of it, but had little ambition or continuity, finding themselves so hopelessly astray.  Darley, after his first effort,"Sylvia,".a crude but poetical study in the sweet pastoral manner of Jonson and Fletcher,was silent, except for some occasional song, full of melody and strange purposelessness.  Beddoes, a stronger spirit, author of "The Bride's Tragedy" and "Death's Jest-Book," wandered off to Germany, and no collection of his wild and powerful verse was made until after his decease.  Sir Henry Taylor, whose noble intellect and fine constructive powers were early affected by the teachings of Wordsworth, entered a grand protest against the sentimentalism into which the Byronic passion now had degenerated.  He would, I believe, have done even better work, if this very influence of Wordsworth had not deadened his genuine dramatic power.  He saw the current evils, but could not substitute a potential excellence or found an original school.  As it is, "Philip van Artevelde" and "Edwin the Fair" have gained a place for him in English literature more enduring than the honours awarded to many popular authors of his time.

    The sentimental feeling of these years was nurtured on the verse of female writers, Mrs.  Hemans and Miss Landon, whose deaths seemed to have given their work, always in demand, a still wider reading.  It had been fashionable for a throng of humbler imitators, including some of gentle blood, to contribute to the "annuals" and "souvenirs" of Alaric Watts, but their summer time was nearly over and the chirping rapidly grew faint.  The Hon.  Mrs.  Norton, styled "the Byron of poetesses," was at the height of her popularity.  A pure religious sentiment inspired the sacred hymns of Keble.  Young Hallam had died, leaving material for a volume of literary remains; if he did not live to prove himself great, his memory was to be the cause of greatness in others, and is now as abiding as any fame which maturity could have brought him.  Besides the comic verse of Hood, noticed in a previous chapter, other jingling trifles, like Barham's "Ingoldsby Legends," a cross between Hood's whimsicality and that of Peter Pindar, were much in vogue, and serve to illustrate the broad and very obvious quality of the humour of the day.  Lastly, Praed, a sprightly and delicate genius, soon to die and long to be affectionately lamented, was restoring the lost art of writing society-verse, and, in a style even now modem and attractive, was lightly throwing off stanzas neater than anything produced since the wit of Canning and the fancy of Tommy Moore.  All this was light enough, and now seems to us to have betokened a shabby, profitless condition.  From it, however, certain elements were gradually to crystallize and to assume definite purpose and form.  The influence of Wordsworth began to deepen and widen; and erelong, under the lead of Tennyson, composite groups and schools were to arise, having clearer ideas of poetry as an art, and adorning with the graces of a new culture studies after models derived from the choicest poetry of every literature and time. 


    THE cyclic aspect of a nation's literary history has been so frequently observed that any reference to it involves a truism.  The analogy between the courses through which the art of different countries advances and declines is no less thoroughly understood.  The country whose round of being, in every department of effort, is most sharply defined to us, was Ancient Greece.  The rise, splendour, and final decline of her imaginative literature constitute the fullest paradigm of a nation's literary existence and of the supporting laws.  I have more than once compared the recent British era to that active, critical, and learned Alexandrian period, which succeeded to the three creative stages of Hellenic song.  I have said that during this historical epoch the Hellenic spirit grew elaborately feeble; what was once so easily creative became impotent, and at last entirely died away.  Study could not supply the force of nature.  A formidable circle of acquirements must be formed before one could aspire to the title of an author.  Verbal criticism was introduced; researches were made into the Greek tongue; antique and quaint words were sought for by the poets, and, to quote from Schoell, "they sought to hide their defects beneath singularity of idea, and novelty and extravagance of expression; while the bad taste of some displayed itself in their choice of subjects still more than in their manner of treating them."

    In modem times, when more events are crowded into a decade than formerly occurred in a century, and when civilization ripens, mellows, and declines, only to repeat the process in successively briefer periods, men do not count a decline in national literature a symptom that the national glory is approaching its end.  Still, more than one recurring cycle of English literature has its analogue in the entire course of that of Ancient Greece.  And, when we come to the issue of supremacy in poetic creation, the question arises whether Great Britain has not recently been going through a period similar to the Alexandrian in other respects than the production of a fine idyllic poetsome years ago, in a criticism of a few recent poets, the writer pointed out the analogy between these two refined eras.  The reference is here made available for a consideration of the broader field now under review.   It is difficult to estimate our own time, so insensibly does the judgment ally itself to the graces and culture in vogue.  Take up any well-edited selection from English minor poetry of the last thirty years, and our first thought is,how full this is of poetry, or at least of poetic material! What refined sentiment! what artistic skill! what elaborate metrical successes! From beginning to end, how very readable, high-toned, close, and subtle in thought! Here and there, also, poems are to be found of the veritable cast,simple, sensuous, passionate; but not so often as to give shape and colour to the whole.  With the same standard in view, one could not cull such a garland from the minor poetry of any portion of the last century; nor, indeed, from that of any interval later than the generation after Shakespeare, and earlier than the great revival, which numbered Burns, Wordsworth, Byron, and Keats among the leaders of an awakened chorus of natural English minstrelsy.

    That revival, in its minor and major aspects, was truly glorious and inspiring.  The poets who sustained it were led, through the disgust following a hundred years of false and flippant art, and by something of an intellectual process, to seek again that full and limpid fountain of nature to which the Elizabethan singers resorted intuitively for their draughts.  But the unconscious vigour of that early period was still more brave and immortal than its philosophical counterpart in our own century.  Ah, those days of Elizabeth! of which Mrs. Browning said, in her exultant, womanly way,that "full were they of poets as the summer days are of birds.  Never since the first nightingale brake voice in Eden arose such a jubilee-concert; never before nor since has such a crowd of true poets uttered true poetic speech in one day.  Why, a common man, walking through the earth in those days, grew a poet by position."

    Now, have freshness, synthetical art, and sustained imaginative power been the prominent endowments of the recent schools of British minor poets? For an answer we must give attention to their blended or distinctive voices, remembering that certain of the earliest groups have recruited their numbers, and prolonged their vitality, throughout the middle and even the latest divisions of the period under review. 


    THE tone of the first of these divisions upon the whole was suggested by Wordsworth, while the poetic form had not yet lost the Georgian simplicity and profuseness.  Filtered through the intervening period of which we have spoken, its eloquence had grown tame, its simplicity somewhat barren and prosaic.  Still, both tone and form, continuing even to our day, are as readily distinguished, by the absence of elaborate adornment and of curious nicety of thought, from those of either the Tennysonian or the very latest school, as the water of the Mississippi from that of the Missouri for miles below their confluence.  The poets of the group before us are not inaptly thought to constitute the Meditative School, characterized by seriousness, reflection, earnestness, and, withal, by religious faith, or by impressive conscientious bewilderment among the weighty problems of modern thought.

    The name of Hartley Coleridge here may be recalled.  His poetry, slight in force and volume, yet relieved by half-tokens of his father's sudden melody and passion, is cast in the mould and phrase of his father's lifelong friend.  This mingled quality came by and early association.  The younger Coleridge (whose beautiful child-picture by Wilkie adds a touching interest to his memoirs) inherited to the full the physical and psychological infirmities of the elder, with but a limited portion of that "rapt one's" divine gift.  The atmosphere of his boyhood was full of learning and idealism.  He had great accomplishments, and had the poetic temperament, with all its weaknesses and dangers, yet without a coequal faculty of reflection and expression.  Hence the inevitable and pathetic tragedy of a groping, clouded life, sustained only by piteous resignation and faith.  Several moralistic poets date from this early period, Mitford, Trench, Alford, and others of a like religious mood.  Archbishop Trench's work is careful and scholarly, marked by earnestness, and occasionally rises above a didactic level.  Dean Alford's consists largely of Wordsworthian sonnets, to which add a poem modelled upon "The Excursion;" yet he has written a few sweet lyrics that may preserve his name.  The devotional traits of these writers gave some of them a wider reading, in England and America, than their scanty measure of inspiration really deserved.  Gradually they have fallen out of fashion, and again illustrate the truth that no ethical virtue will compensate us in art for dullness, didacticism, want of imaginative fire.  Aubrey de Vere, a later disciple of the Cumberland school, is of a different type, and has shown versatility, taste, and a more natural gift of song.  This gentle poet and scholar, though hampered by too rigid adoption of Wordsworth's theory, often has an attractive manner of his own.  Criticised from the artistic point of view, a few studies after the antique seem very terse when compared with his other work.  A late drama, "Alexander the Great," has strength of language and construction.  The earnestness and purity of his patriotic and religious verses give them exaltation, and, on the whole, the Irish have a right to be proud of this most spiritual of their poets, one who, unlike Hartley Coleridge, has improved upon an inherited endowment.  Returning on our course, we see in the verse of Thomas Burbidge another reflection of Wordsworth, but also something that reminds us of the older English poets.  As a whole, it is of middle quality, but so correct and finished that it is no wonder the author never fulfilled the dangerous promise of his boyhood.  He was a school-fellow of Clough, and I am not aware that he ever published any volume subsequent to that by which this note is suggested, and which bears the date of 1838.  The relics of Sterling, the subject of Carlyle's familiar memoir, like those of Hallam, do not of themselves exhibit the full ground of the biographer's devotion.  The two names, nevertheless, have given occasion respectively for the most characteristic poem and the finest prose memorial of recent times.  A few of Sterling's minor lyrics, such as "Mirabeau," are eloquent, and, while defaced by conceits and prosaic expressions, show flashes of imagination which brighten the even twilight of a meditative poet.  Between the deaths of Sterling and Clough a long interval elapsed, yet there is a resemblance between them in temperament and mental cast.  It may be said of Clough, as Carlyle said of Sterling, that he was "a remarkable soul, who, more than others, sensible to its influences, took intensely into him such tint and shape of feature as the world bad to offer there and then; fashioning himself eagerly by whatsoever of noble presented itself." It may be said of him, likewise, that in his writings and actions "there is for all true hearts, and especially for young noble seekers, and strivers toward what is highest, a mirror in which some shadow of themselves and of their immeasurably complex arena will profitably present itself.  Here also is one encompassed and struggling even as they now are." Clough must have been a rare and lovable spirit, else he could never have so wrapped himself within the affections of true men.  Though he did much as a poet, it is doubtful whether his genius reached anything like a fair development.  Intimate as he was with the Tennysons, his style, while often reflective, remained entirely his own.  His fine original nature took no tinge of the prevailing influences about him.  His free temperament and radical way of thought, with a manly disdain of all factitious advancement, made him a force even among the choice companions attached to his side; and he was valued as much for his character and for what he was able to do, as for the things he actually accomplished.  There was nothing second-rate in his nature, and his "Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich," which bears the reader along less easily than the billowy hexameters of Kingsley, is charmingly faithful to its Highland theme, and has a Doric simplicity and strength.  His shorter pieces are uneven in merit, but all suggestive and worth a thinker's attention.  If he could have remained in the liberal American atmosphere, and have been spared his untimely taking-off, he might have come to greatness; but he is now no more, and with him departed a radical thinker and a living protest against the truckling expedients of the mode.

    The poetry of Lord Houghton is of a modern contemplative type, very pure, and often sweetly lyrical.  Emotion and intellect blend harmoniously in his delicate, suggestive verse, and a few of his songsamong which "I wandered by the brookside" at once recurs to the memoryhave a deserved and lasting place in English anthology.  This beloved writer has kept within his limitations.  He has the sincere affection of men of letters, who all honour his free thought, his catholic taste, and his generous devotion to authors and the literary life.  To the friend and biographer of Keats, the thoughtful patron of David Gray, and the progressive enthusiast in poetry and art, I venture to pay this cordial tribute, knowing that I but feebly repeat the sentiments of a multitude of authors on either side of the Atlantic.

    Dr.  Newman has lightened the arduous labours and controversies of his distinguished career by the composition of many thoughtful hymns, imbued with the most devotional spirit of his faith.  As representing the side of obedience to tradition these "Verses of Many Years" have their significance.  At the opposite pole of theological feeling, Palgrave, just as earnest and sincere, seems to illustrate the laureate's saying:

"There lives more faith in honest doubt,
  Believe me, than in half the creeds.

    Nevertheless, in "The Reign of Law," one of his best and most characteristic pieces, he argues himself into a reverential optimism, that seems, just now, to be the resting place of the speculative religious mind.  He may be said to represent the latest attitude of the meditative poets, and in this closely resembles Arnold, of whom I have already spoken as the most conspicuous and able modern leader of their school.  Indeed, there is scarcely a criticism which I have made upon the one that will not apply to the other.  Palgrave, with less objective taste and rhythmical skill than are displayed in Arnold's larger poems, is in his lyrics equally searching and philosophical, and occasionally shows evidence of a musical and more natural ear.  The Biblical legends and narrative poems of Dr.  Plumptre are simple, and somewhat like those of the American Willis, but didactic and of a kind going out of vogue.  His hymns are much better, but it is as a classical translator that we find him at his best.  Among the later religious poets Myers deserves notice for the feeling, careful finish, and poetic sentiment of his longer pieces.  A few of his quatrain-lyrics are exceedingly delicate; his sonnets, more than respectable.  From the resemblance of the artist Hamerton's descriptive poetry to that of Wordsworth, I refer, in this place, to his volume, "The Isles of Loch Awe and Other Poems," issued in 1859.  This dainty book, with its author's illustrations, is interesting as the production of one who has since achieved merited popularity both as an artist and prose author, in either of which capacities he probably is more at home than if he had followed the art which gave vent to the enthusiasm of his younger days.  He may, however, be called the tourist's poet; his book is an excellent companion to one travelling   northward; the poems, though lacking terseness and force, and written on a too obvious theory, are picturesque, and, as the author claimed for them in an appendix, "coherent, and easily understood."

    Regarding Palgrave and Arnold, then, as advanced members of the contemplative group, I renew the question concerning the freshness and creative instinct of this recent school.  The unconscious but uppermost emotion of both is one of doubt and indecision: a feeling, I have said, that they were born too late.  They are awed and despondent before the mysteries of life and nature.  As to art, their conviction is that somehow the glory and the dream have left our bustling generation for a long, long absence, and may not come again.  Palgrave's "Reign of Law," after all, is but making the best of a dark matter.  It reasons too closely to be highly poetical.  The doubts and refined melancholy of his other poetry reflect the sentiment of the still more subtle Arnold, from whose writings many a passage such as this may be taken, to show a dissatisfaction with his mission and the time:

"Who can see the green Earth any more
 As she was by the sources of Time?
 Who imagine her fields as they lay
 In the sunshine, unworn by the plow?
 Who thinks as they thought,
 The tribes who then lived on her breast,
 Her vigorous, primitive sons
                     *         *         *        *
                                            What Bard,
 At the height of his vision, can dream
 Of God, of the world, of the soul,
 With a plainness as near,
 As flashing as Moses felt,
 When he lay in the night by his flock
 On the starlit Arabian waste?
 Can rise and obey
 The beck of the Spirit like him?
                    *         *         *         *

 And we say that repose has fled
 Forever the course of the River of Time," etc.

    Great or small, the meditative poets lack that elasticity which is imparted by a true lyrical period,whose very life is gladness, with song and art for an undoubting, blithesome expression.  The better class, thus sadly impressed, and believing it in vain to grasp at the skirts of the vanishing Muse, are impelled to substitute choice simulacra, which culture and artifice can produce, for the simplicity, sensuousness, and passion, declared by Milton to be the elements of genuine poetry.  They are what training has made them.  Some of the lesser names were cherished by their readers, in a mild and sterile time, for their domestic or religious feeling,very few really for their imagination or art.  At last even sentiment has failed to sustain them, and one by one they have been relegated to the ever-in-creasing collection of unread and rarely cited "specimen" verse.


    So active a literary period could not fail to develop, among its minor poets, singers of a more fresh and genuine order.  Here and there one may be discovered whose voice, however cultivated, has been less dependent upon culture, and more upon emotion and unstudied art.  One of the finest of these, unquestionably, is Richard Hengist Home, author of "Cosmo de' Medici," "Gregory the Seventh," "The Death of Marlowe," and "Orion." I am not sure that in natural gift he is inferior to his most famous contemporaries.  That he here receives brief attention is due to the disproportion between the sum of his productions and the length of his career,for he still is an occasional and eccentric contributor to letters.  There is something Elizabethan in Home's writings, and no less in a restless love of adventure, which has borne him wandering and fighting around the world, and breaks out in the robust and virile, though uneven, character of his poems and plays.  He has not only, it would seem, dreamed of life, but lived it.  Taken together, his poetry exhibits carelessness, want of tact and wise method, but often the highest beauty and power.  A fine erratic genius, in temperament not unlike Beddoes and Landor, he has not properly utilized his birthright.  His verse is not improved by a certain transcendentalism which pervaded the talk and writings of a set in which he used to move.  Thus "Orion" was written with an allegorical purpose, which luckily did not prevent it from being one of the noblest poems of our time; a complete, vigorous, highly imaginative effort in blank verse, rich with the antique imagery, yet modern in thought,and full of passages that are not far removed from the majestic beauty of "Hyperion." The author's "Ballad Romances," issued more lately, is not up to the level of his younger work.  While it seems as if Home's life has been unfruitful, and that he failedthrough what cause I know notto conceive a definite purpose in art, and pursue it to the end, it must be remembered that a poet is subject to laws over which we have no control, and in his external relations is a law unto himself.  I think we fairly may point to this one as another man of genius adversely affected by a period not suited to him, and not as one who in a dramatic era would be incapable of making any larger figure.  He was the successor of Darley and Beddoes, and the prototype of Browning, but capable at his best of more finish and terseness than the last-named poet.  In most of his productions that have reached me, amid much that is strange and grotesque, I find little that is sentimental or weak.

    Lord Macaulay's "Lays ofAncient Rome" was a literary surprise, but its poetry is the rhythmical outflow of a vigorous and affluent writer, given to splendour of diction and imagery in his flowing prose.  He spoke once in verse, and unexpectedly.  His themes were legendary, and suited to the author's heroic cast, nor was Latinism ever more poetical than under his thoroughly sympathetic handling.  I am aware that the lays are criticised as being stilted and false to the antique, but to me they have a charm, and to almost every healthy young mind are an immediate delight.  Where in modern ballad-verse will you find more ringing stanzas, or more impetuous movement and action? Occasionally we have a noble epithet or image.  Within his rangelittle as one who met him might have surmised itMacaulay was a poet, and of the kind which Scott would have been first to honour.  "Horatius" and "Virginius," among the Roman lays, and that resonant battle-cry of "Ivry," have become, it would seem, a lasting portion of English verse.  In the work of Professor Aytoun, similar in kind, but more varied, and upon Scottish themes, we also discern what wholesome and noteworthy verse may be composed by a man who, if not a poet of high rank, is of too honest a breed to resort to unwonted styles, and to measures inconsonant with the English tongue.  The ballads of both himself and Macaulay rank among the worthiest of their class.  Aytoun's "Execution of Montrose" is a fine production.  In "Bothwell," his romantic poem in the meter and manner of Scott, he took a subject above his powers, which are at their best in the lyric before named.  Canon Kingsley, as a poet, had a wider range.  His "Andromeda" is an admirable composition,a poem laden with the Greek sensuousness, yet pure as crystal, and the best-sustained example of English hexameters produced up to the date of its composition.  It is a matter of indifference whether the measure bearing that name is akin to the antique model, for it became, in the hands of Professor Kingsley and Dr.  Hawtrey (and of our own Longfellow and Howells), an effective and congenial form of English verse.  The author of "Andromeda" repeated the error of ignoring such quantities as do obtain in our prosody, and relying upon accent alone; but his fine ear and command of words kept him musical, interfluent, swift.  In "St.  Maura," and the drama called "The Saint's Tragedy," the influence of Browning is perceptible.  Kingsley's true poetic faculty is best expressed in various sounding lyrics for which he was popularly and justly esteemed.  These are new, brimful of music, and national to the core.  "The Sands o' Dee," "The Three Fishers," and "The Last Buccaneer" are very beautiful: not studies, but a true expression of the strong and tender English heart.

    Here we observe a suggestive fact.  With few exceptions, the freshest and most independent poets of the middle divisionthose who seem to have been born and not madehave been, by profession and reputation, first, writers of prose; secondly, poets.  Their verses appear to me, like their humor, "strength's rich superfluity." Look at Macaulay, Aytoun, and Arnold,the first an historian and critic, the others essayists and college professors.  Kingsley and Thackeray might have been dramatic poets in a different time and country, but accepted the romance and novel as affording the most dramatic methods of the day.  Walter Thornbury is widely known by his prose volumes, but has composed some of the most fiery and rhythmical songs in the English tongue.  His "Ballads of the New World" are inferior to his "Songs of the Cavaliers and Roundheads," and to his other lyrics of war and revolution in Great Britain and France, which are full of unstudied lyrical power.  Some of these remind us of Browning's "Cavalier Tunes;" but Browning may well be proud of the pupil who wrote "The Sally from Coventry" and "The Three Scars." He is hasty and careless, and sometimes coarse and extravagant; his pieces seem to be struck off at a heat,but what can be better than "The Jester's Sermon," "The Old Grenadier's Story," and "La Tricoteuse"? How unique the "Jacobite Ballads"! Read "The White Rose over the Water." "The Three Troopers," a ballad of the Protectorate, has a clash and clang not often resonant in these piping times:

"Into the Devil tavern
      Three booted troopers strode,
 From spur to feather spotted and splashed
      With the mud of a winter road.
 In each of their cups they dropped a crust,
      And stared at the guests with a frown;
 Then drew their swords and roared, for a toast,
      'God send this Crum-well-down!'"

    I have a feeling that this author has not been fairly appreciated as a ballad-maker.  Equally perfect of their sort are "The Mahogany-Tree," "The Ballad of Bouillabaise," "The Age of Wisdom," and "The End of the Play,"all by the kindly hand of Thackeray, which shall sweep the strings of melody no more; yet their author was a satirist and novel-writer, never a professed poet.  Nor can one read the collection made, late in life, by Doyle, another Oxford professor, of his occasional verse, without thinking that "The Return of the Guards," "The Old Cavalier," "The Private of the Buffs," and other soldierly ballads, are the modest effusions of a natural lyrist, who probably has felt no great encouragement to perfect a lyrical gift that has been crowded out of fashion by the manner of the latter-day school.

    The success of these unpretentious singers again illustrates the statement that spontaneity is an essential principle of the art.  The poet should carol like the bird:

"He knows not why nor whence he sings,
    Nor whither goes his warbled song;
 As Joy itself delights in joy,
    His soul finds strength in its employ,
 And grows by utterance strong."

    The songs of minstrels in the early heroic ages display the elasticity of national youth.  When verses were recited, not written, a pseudo-poet must have found few listeners.  In a more cultivated stage, poetry should have all this unconscious freshness, refined and harmonized with the thought and finish of the day.


    MANY of the novelists have written verse, but usually, with the foregoing exceptions, by a professional effort rather than a born gift.  The Brontë sisters began as rhymsters, but quickly found their true field.  Mrs. Craik has composed tender stanzas resembling those of Miss Procter, and mostly of a grave and pleasing kind.  George Eliot's metrical work has special interest, coming from a woman acknowledged to be, in her realistic yet imaginative prose, at the head of living female writers.  She has brought all her energies to bear, first upon the construction of a drama, which was only a succès d'estime, and recently upon a new volume containing "The Legend of Jubal" and other poems.  The result shows plainly that Mrs.  Lewes, though possessed of great intellect and sensibility, is not, in respect to metrical expression, a poet.  Nor has she a full conception of the simple strength and melody of English verse, her polysyllabic language, noticeable in the moralizing pas sages of "Middlemarch," being very ineffective in her poems.  That wealth of thought which atones for all her deficiencies in prose does not seem to be at her command in poetry.  "The Spanish Gypsy" reads like a second-rate production of the Byronic school.  "The Legend of Jubal" and "How Lisa loved the King" suffer by comparison with the narrative poems, in rhymed pentameter, of Morris, Longfellow, or Stoddard.  A little poem in blank verse, entitled "O may I join the choir invisible!"  and setting forth her conception of the "religion of humanity," is worth all the rest of her poetry, for it is the outburst of an exalted soul, foregoing personal immortality and compensated by a vision of the growth and happiness of the human race.

    Bulwer was another novelist-poet, and one of the most persistent.  During middle age he renewed the efforts made in his youth to obtain for his metrical writings a recognition always accorded to his ingenious and varied prose romance; but whatever he did in verse was the result of deliberate intellect and culture.  The fire was not in him, and his measures do not give out heat and light.  His shorter lyrics never have the true ring; his translations are somewhat rough and pedantic; his satires were often in poor taste, and brought him no great profit; his serio-comic legendary poem of "King Arthur" is a monument of industry, but never was labour more hopelessly thrown away.  In dramas like "Richelieu" and "Cromwell" he was more successful; they contain passages which are wise, eloquent, and effective, though rarely giving out the subtle aroma which comes from the essential poetic principle.  Yet Bulwer had an honest love for the beautiful and sublime, and his futile effort to express it was almost pathetic.

    Many of his odes and translations were contributed, I think, to "Blackwood's Magazine." This suggests mention of the ephemeral groups of lyrists that gathered about the serials of his time.  Among the Blackwood writers, Moir, Aird,a Scotsman of some imagination and fervour,Simmons, and a few greater or lesser lights, are still remembered.  "Bentley's" was the mouth-piece of a rollicking set of pedantic and witty rhymsters, from whose diversions a book of common ballads has been compiled.  "Fraser's," "The Dublin University," and other magazines, attracted each its own staff of verse-makers, besides receiving the frequent assistance of poets of wide repute.  I may say that throughout the period much creditable verse has been produced by studious men who have given poetry the second place as a vocation.  Among recent productions of this class, the historical drama of "Hannibal" by Professor Nichol, of Glasgow, may be taken as a type and a fair example.

    With respect to poetry, as to prose, the coarser and less discriminating appetite is the more widely diffused.  Create a popular taste for reading, and an inferior article comes to satisfy it, by the law of supply and demand.  Hence the enormous circulation of didactic artificial measures, adjusted to the moral and intellectual levels of commonplace, like those of Hervey, Tupper, and Robert Montgomery; while other poets of the early and middle divisions, who had sparks of genius in them, but who could not adapt themselves to either the select or popular markets of their time, found the struggle too hard for them, and have passed out of general sight and mind.  At the very beginning of the period Thomas Wade gave promise of something fine.  A copy of his "Mundi et Cordis" lies before me, dated 1835.  It is marked with the extravagance and turgidity which soon after broke out among the rhapsodists, yet shows plainly the sensitiveness and passion of the poet.  The contents are in sympathy with, and like, the early work of Shelley, and various poems are of a democratic, liberal stripe, inspired by the struggle then commencing over Europe.  As long ago as 1837 Alfred Domett was contributing lyrics to "Blackwood" which justly won the favour of the burly editor.  From a young poet who could throw off a glee like "Hence, rude Winter, crabbed old fellow!"  or "All who've known each other long," his friends had a right to expect a brilliant future.  But he was an insatiable wanderer, and could "not rest from travel." His productions were dated from every portion of the globe; finally he disappeared altogether, and ceased to be heard from, but his memory was kept green by Browning's nervous characterization of him,"What's become of Waring?"  After three decades the question is answered, and our vagrant bard returns from Australia with a long South Sea idyl, "Ranolf and Amohia," a poem justly praised by Browning for varied beauty and power, but charged with the diffuseness, transcendentalism, defects of art and action, that were current among Domett's radical brethren so many years ago.  The world has gone by him.  The lyrics of his youth, and chiefly a beautiful "Christmas Hymn," are, after all, the best fruits, as they were the first, of his long and restless life.  But doubtless the life itself has been a full compensation.  There also was Scott, who wrote "The Year of the World," a poem commended by our Concord Brahmin for its faithful utilization of the Hindoo mythology.  The author, a distinguished painter and critic, is now one of the highest authorities upon matters pertaining to the arts of designWilliam Bell Scott has now collected his miscellaneous ballads, studies from nature, etc.  (many of them written years ago) in a volume to which his own etchings, and those of Alma Tadema, give additional beauty.

    There were women too; among them, Mrs.  Sarah Flower Adams, author of remembered hymns, and of that forgotten drama of "Vivia Perpetua," a creature whose beauty and enthusiasm drew around her the flower of the liberal party; the friend of Hunt and Carlyle and W.  J.  Fox, and of Browning in his eager youth.  Of many such as these, in whom the lyrical aspiration was checked by too profuse admixture with a passion for affairs, for active life, for arts of design, or for some ardent cause to which they became devoted, or who failed, through extreme sensibility, to be calm among the turbid elements about them,of such it may be asked, where are they and their productions, except in the tender memory and honour of their early comrades and friends? Art is a jealous mistress: she demands life, worship, tact, the devotion of our highest faculties; and he who refuses all of this and more never can be, first, and above his other attributes, an eminent or in any sense a true and consecrated poet.


    WE come to a brood of minstrels scattered numerously as birds over the meadows of England, the rye-fields of Scotland, and the green Irish hills.  They are of a kind which in any active poetic era it is a pleasure to regard.  They make no claims to eminence.  Their work, however, though it may be faulty and uneven, has the charm of freshness, and comes from the heart.  The common people must have songs; and the children of a generation that had found pleasure in the lyrics of Moore and Haynes Bayley have not been without their simple warblers.  One of the most lovable and natural has but lately passed  away: Lover, a versatile artist, blitheful humorist and poet.  In writing of Barry Cornwall I have referred to the essential nature of the song, as distinguished from that of the lyric, and in Lover's melodies the former is to be found.  The office of such men is to give pleasure in the household, and even if they are not long to be held of account (though no one can safely predict how this shall be), they gain a prompt reward in the affection of their living countrymen.  We find spontaneity, also, in the rhymes of Allingham, whose "Mary Donnelly" and "The Fairies" have that intuitive grace called quality,a grace which no amount of artifice can ever hope to produce, and for whose absence mere talent can never compensate us.  The ballads of Miss Downing, J.  F.  Waller, and MacCarthy, all have displayed traces of the same charm; the last-named lyrist, a man of much culture and literary ability, has produced still more attractive work of another kind.  Bennett, within his bounds, is a true poet, who not only has composed many lovely songs, but has been successful in more thoughtful efforts.  A few of his poems upon infancy and childhood are sweetly and simply turned.  Dr.  Mackay, in the course of a long and prolific career, has furnished many good songs.  Some of his studied productions have merit, but his proper gift is confined to lyrical work.  Among the remaining Scottish and English song-makers, Eliza Cook, the Howitts, Gilfillan, and Swain, probably have had the widest recognition; all have been simple, and often homely, warblers, having their use in fostering the tender piety of household life.  Miller, a mild and amiable poet, resembling the Howitts in his love for nature, wrote correct and quiet verse thirty years ago, and was more noticeable for his rural and descriptive measures than for a few conventional songs.

    It will be observed that, as in earlier years, the most characteristic and impressive songs are of Irish and Scottish production; and, indeed, lyrical genius is a special gift of the warm-hearted, impulsive Celtic race.  Nations die singing, and Ireland has been a land of songof melodies suggested by the political distress of a beautiful and unfortunate country, by the poverty that has enforced emigration and brought pathos to every family, and by the traditional loves, hates, fears, that are a second nature to the humble peasant.  All Irish art is faulty and irregular, but often its faults are endearing, and in its discords there is sweet sound.  That was a significant chorus which broke out during the prosperous times of "The Nation," thirty years ago, and there was more than one tuneful voice among the patriotic contributors to the Dublin newspaper press.  Griffin and Banim, novelists and poets, flourished at a somewhat earlier date, and did much to revive the Irish poetical spirit.  Read Banim's "Soggarth Aroon;" in fact, examine the mass of poetry, old and recent, collected in Hayes's "Ballads," with all its poverty and riches, and, amid a great amount of rubbish, we find many genuine folk-songs, brimming with emotion and natural poetic fire.  Certain ballads of Lady Dufferin, and such a lyric as McGee's "Irish Wife," are not speedily forgotten.  Among the most prominent of the song-makers were the group to which I have referredIngram, Davis, Duffy, Keegan, McGee, Linton (the English Liberal), Mrs.  Varian, Lady Wilde, and others, not forgetting Mangan, in some respects the most original of all.  These political rhymers truthfully represented the popular feeling of their own day.  Their songs and ballads will be the study of some future Macaulay, and are of the kind that both makes and illustrates national history.  Their object was not art; some of their rhymes are poor indeed; but they fairly belong to that class of which Fletcher of Saltoun wrote: "If a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation."

    Here, too, we may say a word of a contemporary tribe of English democratic poets, many of them springing from the people, who kept up such an alarum during the Chartist agitation.  After Thom, the "Inverury poet," who mostly confined himself to dialect and genre verses, and young Nicoll, who, at the beginning of our period, strayed from Scotland down to Leeds, and poured out stirring liberal lyrics during the few months left to himafter these we come to the bards of Chartism itself.  This movement lasted from 1836 to 1850, and had a distinct school of its own.  There was Cooper, known as "the Chartist poet." Linton, afterward to become so eminent as an artist and en graver, was equally prolific and more poetical,a born reformer, who relieved his eager spirit by incessant poetizing over the pseudonym of "Spartacus," and of whom I shall have occasion to speak again.  Ebenezer Jones was another Chartist rhymer, but also composed erotic verse; a man of considerable talent, who died young.  These men and their associates were greatly in earnest as agitators, and often to the injury of their position as artists and poets.


by Edmund C.  Stedman


    FEW of the minor poets belonging to the middle division of our period have been of the healthy and independent cast of Home, Kingsley, Thackeray, Thornbury, or Aytoun.  Some have servilely followed the vocal leaders, or even imitated one another,—the law of imitation involving a lack of judgment, and causing them to copy the heresies rather than the virtues of their favourites; and we are compelled to observe the devices by which they have striven, often unconsciously, to resist adverse influences, or to hide the poverty of their own invention.


    THE Chartist or radical poets, of whom we have just spoken, were the forerunners of a more artistic group, whose outpourings the wits speedily characterized by the epithet "spasmodic." Their work constantly affords examples of the knack of substitution.  Mention of Aytoun reminds us that he did good service, through his racy burlesque, "Firmilian," in turning the laugh upon the pseudo-earnestness of this rhapsodical school.  Its adherents, lacking perception and synthesis, and mistaking the materials of poetry for poetry itself, aimed at the production of quotable passages, and crammed their verse with mixed and conceited imagery, gushing diction, interjections, and that mockery of passion which is but surface deep.

    Philip James Bailey was one of the most notable of this group, and from his earliest production may be termed the founder of the order.  "Festus" certainly made an impression upon a host of readers, and is not without inchoate elements of power.  The poet exhausted himself by this one effort, his later productions wanting even the semblance of force which marked it and established the new emotional school.  The poets that took the contagion were mostly very young.  Alexander Smith years afterward seized Bailey's mantle, and flaunted it bravely for a while, gaining by "A Life Drama" as sudden and extensive a reputation as that of his master.  This poet wrote of

 "A Poem round and perfect as a star,"

      but the work from which the line is taken is not of that sort.  With much impressiveness of imagery and extravagant diction that caught the easily, but not long, tricked public ear, it was vicious in style, loose in thought, and devoid of real vigour or beauty.  In after years, through honest study, Smith acquired better taste and worked after a more becoming purpose.  His prose essays were charming, and his "City Poems," marked by sins of omission only, may be rated as negatively good.  "Glasgow" and "The Night before the Wedding" really are excellent.  The poet became a genuine man of letters, but died young, and when he was doing his best work.  Gerald Massey, another emotional versifier, came on (like Ernest Jones,—who went out more speedily) in the wake of the Chartist movement, to which its old supporters vainly sought to give new life with the hopes aroused by the continental revolutions of 1848.  He made his sensation by cheap rhetoric, and the substitution of sentiment for feeling, in an otherwise laudable championship of the working classes from which he sprang.  Sympathy for his cause gained his social verses a wide hearing; but his voice sounds to better advantage in his songs of wedded love and other fireside lyrics, which often are earnest and sweet.  He also has written an unusually good ballad, "Sir Richard Grenville's Last Fight."

    The latest of the transcendental poets is George MacDonald, who none the less has great abilities as a preacher and novelist, and in various literary efforts has shown himself possessed of deep emotion and a fertile, delicate fancy.  Some of his realistic, semi-religious tales of Scottish life are admirable.  "Light," an ode, is imaginative and eloquent, but not well sustained, and his poetry too often, when not commonplace, is vague, effeminate, or otherwise poor.  Is it defective vision, or the irresistible tendency of race, that inclines even the most imaginative North-Country writers to what is termed mysticism? We have seen that a "Celtic glamour" is vailing the muse of Buchanan, so that she is in danger of confusing herself with the forgotten phantoms of the spasmodic school.  The touching story and writings of poor David Gray—who lived just long enough to sing his own dirges, and died with all his music in him—reveal a sensitive temperament unsustained by coordinate power.  Possibly we should more justly say that his powers were undeveloped, for I do not wholly agree with those who deny that he bad genius, and who think his work devoid of true promise.  The limitless conceit involved in his estimate of himself was only what is secretly cherished by many a bantling poet, who is not driven to confess it by the horror of impending death.  His main performance, "The Luggie," shows a poverty due to the want of proper literary models in his stinted cottage home.  It is an eighteenth-century poem, suggested by too close reading of Thomson and the like.  Education, as compared with aspiration, comes slowly to low-born poets.  The sonnets entitled "In the Shadows," written during the gradual progress of Gray's disease, are far more poetical, because a more genuine expression of feeling.  They are, indeed, a painful study.  Here is a subjective monody, uttered from the depths, but rounded off with that artistic instinct which haunts a poet to the last.  The self-pity, struggle, self-discipline, and final resignation are inexpressibly sorrowful and tragic.  Gray had the making of a poet in him, and suffered all the agonies of an exquisite nature contemplating the swift and surely coming doom.


    AFTER the death of Wordsworth the influence of Tennyson and that of Browning had more effect upon the abundant offerings of the minor poets.  In the work of many we discover the elaboration and finesse of an art method superadded by the present laureate to the contemplative philosophy of his predecessor; while not a few, impressed by Browning's dramatic studies, assume an abrupt and picturesque manner, and hunt for grotesque and medieval themes.  Often the former class substitute a commonplace realism for the simplicity of Tennyson's English idylls, just as the latest aspirants, trying to cope with the pre-Raphaelite leaders, whose work is elevated by genius, carry the treatment beyond conscientiousness into sectarianism, and divide the surface of nature from her perspective, laying hold upon her body, yet evaded by her soul.  Balzac makes a teacher say to his pupil: "The mission of Art is not to copy Nature, but to express her.  You are not a vile copyist, but a poet! Take a cast from the hand of your mistress; place it before you; you will find it a horrible corpse without any resemblance, and you will be forced to resort to the chisel of an artist, who, without exactly copying it, will give you its movement and its life.  We have to seize the spirit, the soul, the expression, of beings and things." Many of Blake's aphorisms express the same idea.  "Practice and opportunity," he said, "very soon teach the language of art.  Its spirit and poetry, centred in the imagination alone, never can be taught; and these make the artist.  Men think they can copy Nature as correctly as I copy the imagination.  This they will find impossible.  Nature and Fancy are two things, and never can be joined; neither ought any one to attempt it, for it is idolatry, and destroys the soul."

    Coventry Patmore, not fully comprehending these truths, has made verses in which, despite a few lovely and attractive passages, the simplicity is affected and the realism too bald.  A carpet-knight in poetry, as the younger Trollope latterly is in prose, he merely photographs life, and often in its poor and commonplace forms.  He then falls short of that aristocracy of art which by instinct selects an elevated theme.  It is better to beautify life, though by an illusive reflection in a Claude Lorraine mirror, than to repeat its every wrinkle in a sixpenny looking-glass, after the fashion of such lines as these:

"Restless, and sick of long exile
    From those sweet friends, I rode to see
 The church repairs; and, after a while,
    Waylaying the Dean, was asked to tea.
 They introduced the Cousin Fred
    I'd heard of, Honor's favourite: grave,
 Dark, handsome, bluff, but gently bred,
    And with an air of the salt wave.
 He stared, and gave his hand, and I
    Stared too," etc.

      This is not the simplicity of Wordsworth in his better moods, nor of the true idyllists, nor of him who was the simplest of all poets, yet the kingliest in manner and theme.

    Sydney Dobell, a man of an eccentric yet very poetic disposition, had the faults of both the spasmodic and realistic modes, and these were aggravated by a desire to maintain a separate position of his own.  His notes were pitched on a strident key, piping shrill and harsh through all the clamour of his fellow-bards.  "Balder" is the very type of a spasmodic drama.  "The Roman" is a healthier, though earlier, production, at least devoid of egotism and gush.  His lyrics constantly strive for effect.  In "How's My Boy?"  and "Tommy's Dead," he struck pathetic, natural chords, but more often his measures and inversions were disagreeably strange, while his sentiment was tame and his action slighted.  "Owen Meredith,"— what shall be said of the author of "The Wanderer," "Clytemnestra," and "The Apple of Life"? Certainly not that "Chronicles and Characters," "Orval," and others of his maturer poems are in advance upon these early lyrics which so pleased young readers half a generation ago.  They are not open to criticism that will apply to "The Wanderer," etc., but incur the severer charge of dullness, which must preclude them from the welcome given to his first books.  "Lucile," with all its lightness, remains his best poem, as well as the most popular; a really interesting, though sentimental, parlour-novel, written in fluent verse,—a kind of production exactly suited to his gift and limitations.  It is quite original, for Lytton adds to an inherited talent for melodramatic tale-writing a poetical ear, good knowledge of effect, and a taste for social excitements.  His society-poems, with their sensuousness and affected cynicism, present a later aspect of the quality that commended "Ernest Maltravers" and "Pelham" to the young people of a former day.  Some of his early lyrics are tender, warm, and beautiful; but more are filled with hot-house passion,—with the radiance, not of stars, but of chandeliers and gas-lights.  The Bulwers always have been a puzzle.  Their cultured talent and cleverness in many departments have rivalled the genius of other men.  We admire their glittering and elaborate structures, though aware, of something hollow or stuccoed in the walls, columns, and ceilings, and even suspicious of the floor on which we stand.  Father and son,—their love of letters, determination, indomitable industry, have commanded praise.  The son, writing in poetry, as naturally as his father wrote in prose, has the same adroitness, the same unbounded ambition, the same conscientiousness in labour and lack of it in method.  In his metaphysical moods we see a reflection of the clearer Tennysonian thought; and, indeed, while interesting and amusing us, he always was something of an imitator.  His lyrics were like Browning's dramatic stanzas; his blank-verse appropriated the breaks and cadences of Tennyson, and ventured on subjects which the laureate was long known to have in hand.  The better passages of "Clytemnestra" were taken al most literally from Æschylus.  Those versed in Oriental poetry have alleged that his wanderings upon its borders are mere forays in "fresh woods and pastures new." His voluminous later works, in which every style of poetry is essayed, certainly have not fulfilled the promise of his youth, and those friends are disappointed who once looked to him for signs of a new poetical dawn.


    THE merits and weakness of the idyllic method as compared with that of a time when a high lyric or epic feeling has prevailed, can best be studied in the productions of the laureate's followers, rather than in his own verse; for the latter, whatever the method, would derive from his intellectual genius a glory and a charm.  The idyll is a picturesque, rather than an imaginative, form of art, and calls for no great amount of invention or passion.  It invariably has the method of a busy, anxious age, seeking rest rather than excitement.  Through restrained emotion, music, and picturesque simplicity, it pleases, but seems to betoken absence of creative power.  The minor idyllists hunt for themes,—they do not write because their themes compel them; they construct poems as still-life artists paint their pictures, becoming thorough workmen; but at last we yearn for some swift heroic composition whose very faults are qualities, and whose inspiration fills the maker's soul.

    Frederick Tennyson, for example, treats outdoor nature with painstaking and curious discernment, repeating every shadow; but the result is a pleasantly illustrated catalogue of scenic details.  It is nature refined by a tasteful landscape-gardener.  Few late poets, however, have shown more elegance in verse-structure and rhythm.  An artistic motive runs through his poems, all of which are carefully finished and not marred by the acrobatism of the rhapsodic school.  Charles Turner (another of the Tennyson brothers) is utterly below the family standard.  His sonnets do not conform to either the Italian or English requirements and have little poetical value.  Edwin Arnold's verse is that of a scholarly gentleman.  The books of Roden Noel may pass without comment.  "My Beautiful Lady," by Thomas Woolner, is a true product of the art-school, with just that tinge of gentle affectation which the name implies.  It has a distinct motive,—to commemorate the growth, maintenance, and final strengthening by death, of a pure and sacred love, and is a votive tribute to its theme; a delicate volume of such verse as could have been produced in no other time.  William James Linton's "Claribel and Other Poems," 1865, distinctly belongs to the same school, and is noteworthy as an early specimen of a method frequently imitated by the latest poets.  At the date of its appearance, this pretty volume was almost unique; the twofold work of the author, as artist and poet, and dedicated to William Bell Scott, a man of sympathetic views and associations.  We have seen that Linton's early writings were devoted to liberal and radical propagandism.  The volume before me is a collection of more finished poetry, imbued with an artistic purpose, and with beauty of execution and design.  Few men have so much individuality as its author, or are more versatile in acquirements and adventure.  He is a famous engraver, and his work as a draughtsman and painter is full of meaning.  These gifts are used to heighten the effect of his songs; fanciful and poetical designs are scattered along the pages of this book; nor can it be said that such aids are meretricious, in these latter days, when poetry is addressed not only to the ear but also to the eye.  Some of the verse requires no pictures to sustain it.  A "Threnody" in memory of Albert Darasz is an addition to the few good and imaginative English elegiac poems; and it maybe said of whatever Linton does, that, if sometimes eccentric, it shows a decisive purpose and a love of art for its own sake.  Thomas Westwood's "The Quest of the Sancgreall" marks him for one of Tennyson's pupils.  His minor lyrics are more pleasing.  All these poets turn at will from one method to another, and may be classed as of the composite school.  George Meredith's verse is a further illustration; he is dramatic and realistic, but occasionally ventures upon a classical or romantic study.  He often fails of his purpose, though usually having one.  The "Poems of the English Roadside" seem to me his most original work, and of them "Juggling Jerry" is the best.  Thomas Ashe is one of those minor poets who catch and reflect the prevailing mode: he belongs to the chorus, and is not an independent singer.  His "Poems," 1859, are mildly classical and idyllic; but in 1867 he gave us "The Sorrows of Hypsipyle,"—after "Atalanta in Calydon" had revived an interest in dramatic poetry modelled upon the antique.


    OF those patrician rhymes which, for want of an English equivalent, are termed vers de société, the gentle Praed, who died at the commencement of the period, was an elegant composer.  In verse under this head may also be included, for the occasion, epigrammatic couplets, witty and satirical songs, and all that metrical badinage which is to other poetry what the feuilleton is to prose.  During the first half of our retrospect it was practiced chiefly by scholarly and fluent wits.  In the form of satire and parody it was cleverly employed, we have seen, by Aytoun, in his "spasmodic tragedy" of "Firmilian;" merrily, too, by Aytoun and Theodore Martin in the "Bon Gualtier" ballads; by Thackeray in "Love-Songs made Easy," "Lyra Hibernica," the ballads of "Pleaceman X.," etc.; by Hood in an interminable string of mirth and nonsense; and with mock-heroic scholarship by the undaunted Irish wit, poet, and Latmist, "Father Prout," and the whole jovial cohort that succeeded to the foregoing worthies in the pages of the monthly magazines.  But with the restrained manners of the present time, and the finish to which everything is subjected, we have a revival of the more select order of the society-verse.  This is marked by an indefinable aroma which elevates it to the region of poetic art, and owing to which, as to the imperishable essence of a subtle perfume, the lightest ballads of Suckling and Waller are current to this day.  In fine, true vers de société is marked by humour, by spontaneity, joined with extreme elegance of finish, by the quality we call breeding,—above all, by lightness of touch.  Its composer holds a place in the Parnassian hemicycle as legitimate as that of Robin Goodfellow in Oberon's court.  The dainty lyrics of Frederick Locker not infrequently display these characteristics: he is not strikingly original, but at times reminds us of Praed or of Thackeray, and again, in such verses as "To my Grandmother," of an American,—Dr.  Holmes.  But his verse is light, sweet, graceful, gaily wise, and sometimes pathetic.  Charles Stuart Calverley and Austin Dobson are the best of the new farceurs.  "Fly-Leaves," by the former, contains several burlesques and serio-comic translations that are excellent in their way, with most agreeable qualities of fancy and thought.  Dobson's "Vignettes in Rhyme" has one or two lyrics, besides lighter pieces, equal to the best of Calverley's, which show their author to be not only a gentleman and a scholar, but a most graceful poet,—titles that used to be associated in the thought of courtly and debonair wits. Such a poet, to hold the hearts he has won, not only must maintain his quality, but strive to vary his  style; because, while there is no work, brightly and originally done, which secures a welcome so instant as that accorded to his charming verse, there is none to which the public ear becomes so quickly wonted, and none from which the world so lightly turns upon the arrival of a new favourite with a different note.

    Society-verse, then, has been another symptom of cultured and refined periods,— of the times of Horace, Catullus, Theocritus, Waller, Pope, Voltaire, Tennyson, and Thackeray.  The intense mental activity of our own era is still more clearly evinced by the great number of recent English versions of the poetic masterpieces of other tongues.  Oxford and Cambridge have filled Great Britain with scholars, some of whom, acquiring rhythmical aptness, have produced good work of this kind.  Modern translations differ noticeably, in their scholastic accuracy, from those of earlier date,—among which Chapman's are the noblest, Pope's the freest, and those by Hunt, Shelley, and Frere, scarcely inferior to the best.  The theory of translation has undergone a change, the old idea having been that, as long as the spirit of a foreign author was reproduced, an exact rendering need not be attempted.  But to how few it is given to catch that spirit, and hence what wretched versions have appeared from time to time! Only natural poets worked successfully upon the earlier plan.  The modern school possibly go too near the extreme of conscientiousness, yet a few have found the art of seizing upon both the spirit and the text.  The amount produced is amazing, and has given the public access, in our own language, to the choicest treasures of almost every foreign literature, be it old or new.

    In the earlier division, Sir John Bowring was the most prolific, and he has also published several volumes of a very recent date.  His excursions into the fields of continental literature have had most importance; but his versions, however valuable in the absence of better, rarely display any poetic fire.  The elder Lytton was a fair type of the elegant Latinists and minor translators belonging to the earlier school.  His best performance was a recent version of Horace, in meters resembling, but not copied from, the original —a translation more faithful than Martin's paraphrases, but not approaching the latter in elegance.  Theodore Martin's Horace has the flavour and polish of Tennyson, and plainly is modelled upon the laureate's verse.  Of all classical authors Horace is the Briton's favourite.  The statement of Bulwer's preface is under the truth when it says: "Paraphrases and translations are still more numerous than editions and commentaries.  There is scarcely a man of letters who has not at one time or other versified or imitated some of the odes, and scarcely a year passes without a new translation of them all.  "Upon Homer, also, the poetic scholars have expended immense energy, and various theories as to the proper form of measure have given birth to several noble versions—distinguished from a multitude of no worth.  Those of Wright, Worsley, Professor Newman, Professor Blackie, and Lord Derby, may be pronounced the best; though admirable bits have been done by Arnold, Dr.  Hawtrey, and the laureate.  I do not, however, hesitate to say—and believe that few will deny—that the ideal translation of Homer, marked by swiftness, simplicity, and grandeur, has yet to be made; nor do I doubt that it ultimately will be, having already stated that our Saxon-Norman language is finely adapted to reproduce the strength and sweetness of the early Ionic Greek.  Professor Conington's Virgil, in the measure of "Marmion," was no advance, all things considered, upon Dryden's, nor equal to that of the American, Cranch.  Some of the best modern translations have been made by women, who, following Mrs.  Browning, mostly affect the Greek.  Miss Anna Swanwick, and Mrs.  Augusta Webster, among others, nearly maintain the standard of their inspired exemplar.  Maurice Purcell Fitz-Gerald's versions of Euripides, and of the pastoral and lyric Greek poets, may be taken as specimens of the general excellence now attained, and I will not omit mention of Calverley's complete rendition of Theocritus, —undoubtedly as good as can be made by one who fears to undertake the original meters.  Among medieval and modern writers, Dante and Goethe have received the most attention; but Longfellow and Taylor, in their translations of the Divine Comedy and of Faust—and Bryant, in his stately version of the Iliad and the Odyssey—bear off the palm for America in reproduction of the Greek, Italian, and German poems.  Of Rossetti's exquisite presentation of the Early Italian Poets, and Morris's Icelandic researches, I have spoken elsewhere, and can only make a passing reference to Denis Florence MacCarthy’s extended and beautiful selections from Calderon, rendered into English asonante verse.  Martin has made translations from the Danish, and,together with Aytoun, of the ballads of Goethe.  Of modem Oriental explorations, altogether the best is a version of the grave and imaginative Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, by Edward Fitz-Gerald, who has made other successful translations from the Persian, as well as from the Spanish and the Attic Greek.

    The foregoing are but a few of the host of translators; but their labours fairly represent the richness and excellence of this kind of work in our time, and are cited as further illustrations of the critical spirit of an age in which it would almost seem as if the home-held were exhausted, such researches are made into the literature of foreign tongues.  I again use the language of those who describe the Alexandrian period of Greek song: men “of tact and scholarship greatly abound,” and by elegant studies endeavour to supply the force of nature.  Early and strictly non-creative periods of English literature have been similarly characterized,— notably the century which included Pitt, Rowe, Cooke, West, and Fawkes, among its scholars and poets.

    In glancing at the lyrical poetry of the era, its hymnology should not be overlooked.  Religious verse is one of the most genuine forms of song, inspired by the loftiest emotion, and rehearsed wherever the instinct of worship takes outward form.  Written for music, it is lyrical in the original sense, and representative, even more than the domestic folk-songs, of our common life and aspiration.  We are not surprised to find the work of recent British hymn-writers displaying the chief qualities of contemporary secular poetry, to wit, finish, tender beauty of sentiment and expression, metrical variety, and often culture of a high grade.  What their measures lack is the lyrical fire, vigour, and passionate devotion of the earlier time.  Within their province they reflect the method of Tennyson, and, with all their polish and subtlety of thought, write devotional verse that is somewhat tame beside the fervid strains of Watts, at his best, and the beautiful lyrics of the younger Wesley.  In place of strength, exaltation, religious ecstasy, we have elaborate sweetness, refinement, emotional repose.  Many hymn-writers of the transition period have held over to a recent time, such as James Montgomery, Keble, Lyte, Edmeston, Bowring, Milman, and Moir, and the stanzas of the first-named two have become an essential portion of English hymnody.  The best results accomplished by recent devotional poets—and this also is an outgrowth of the new culture—have been the profuse and admirable translations of the ancient and medieval Latin hymns by the English divines, Chandler, Neale, and Caswall—the last-named being the deftest workman of the three, although the others may be credited with equal poetic glow.  Among the most successful original com- posers, Dr.  Bonar should be mentioned, many of whose hymns are so widely and favourably known; Faber, also, is one of the best and most prolific of this class of poets, notable for the sweetness and beauty of his sacred lyrics.  Others, such as Dr.  Newman, Dean Trench, Dean Alford, Palgrave, and Mrs.  Adams, have been named elsewhere.  I will barely refer, among a host of lesser note, to Miss Elliott, that pure and inspired sibyl; to Dr.  Wordsworth, Dean Stanley, and Baring-Gould.  Bickersteth, whose longest poem, like the writings of Tupper, has had a circulation strictly owing to its theme and in inverse proportion to its poetic merits, has composed a few hymns that have passed into favour.  Excellent service also has been rendered by those who work the German field, and it is noticeable that, while the strongest versions from the Latin have been made by the divines before named, the most successful Germanic translators have been women.  Among them, Miss Winkworth, who in 1855 and 1858 published the two series of the “Lyra Germanica;” Miss Cox, editor of “Sacred hymns from the German,” 1841; and the Bothwick sisters, whose “Hymns from the Land of Luther” appeared in several series, from 1854 to 1862.  Edward Massie, translator of “Luther’s Spiritual Songs,” 1854, has been the chief competitor of these skilful and enthusiastic devotees.  With respect to English hymnology, I may add that probably there never was another period when the sacred lyrics of all ages were so carefully edited, brought together, and arranged for the use and enjoyment of the religious world. 

    The success of the dialect-poets is a special mark of an idyllic period.  Thenovel and pleasing effect of the more musical dialects often has been used to give an interest to mediocre verse, and close attention is required to discriminate between the true and the false pretensions of lyrics composed in the Scotch, that liquid Doric, or even in the rougher phrases of Lancashire, Dorsetshire, and other counties of England.  Several Scottish bards, of more or less merit,—Thom, James Ballantine, Alexander Maclagan,—figured early in the period.  More lately, Professor John Campbell Shairp's highland and border lyrics, faithful enough and painstaking, scarcely could be ranked with natural song.  In England, Lancashire maintains her old reputation for the number and sweetness of her provincial songs and ballads.  Edwin Waugh is by far the best of her recent dialect-poets.  To say nothing of many other little garlands of poesy which have their origin in his knowledge of humble life in that district, the "Lancashire Songs have gained a wide reception by pleasing, truthful studies of their dialect and themes.  Rev.  William Barnes, an idyllic and learned philologist, has done even better work in his bucolic poems of Dorsetshire, and his "Poems of Rural Life" (in common English) are very attractive.  The minor dialect-verses of England, such as the street-ballads and the sea-songs of many a would-be Dibdin, are unimportant and beyond our present view.


    LEAVING the specialists, it is observable that the voices of the female poets, if not the best-trained, certainly are as natural and independent as any.  Their utterance is less finished, but also shows less of Tennyson's influence, and seems to express a truly feminine emotion, and to come from the heart.  As the voice of Mrs.  Browning grew silent, the songs of Jean Ingelow began, and had instant and merited popularity.  They sprung up suddenly and tunefully as skylarks from the daisy-spangled, hawthorn-bordered meadows of old England, with a blitheness long unknown, and in their idyllic underflights moved with the tenderest currents of human life.  Miss Ingelow may be termed an idyllic lyrist, her lyrical pieces having always much idyllic beauty, and being more original than her recent ambitious efforts in blank verse.  Her faults are those common to her sex—too rapid composition, and a diffuseness that already has lessened her reputation.  But "The High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire" (with its quaint and true sixteenth-century dialect), "Winstanley," "Songs of Seven," and "The Long White Seam," are lyrical treasures, and their author especially may be said to evince that sincerity which is poetry's most enduring warrant.  The gentle stanzas of Adelaide Anne Procter also are spontaneous, as far as they go, but have had less significance as part of the literature of the time Yet it is like telling one's beads, or reading a prayer-book, to turn over her pages,—so beautiful, so pure and unselfish a spirit of faith, hope and charity, pervades and hallows them.  These women, with their melodious voices, spotless hearts, and holy aspirations, are priestesses of the oracle.  Their ministry is sacred; in their presence the most irreverent become subdued.  I do not find in the lyrics of Isa Craig, the Scottish poetess, anything better than the ode in honour of Burns, which took the Centenary prize.  Christina Georgina Rossetti demands closer attention.  She is a woman of genius, whose songs, hymns, ballads, and various' lyrical pieces are studied and original.  I do not greatly admire her longer poems, which are more fantastic than imaginative; but elsewhere she is a poet of a profound and serious cast, whose lips part with the breathing of a fervid spirit within.  She has no lack of matter to express; it is that expression wherein others are so fluent and adroit which fails to serve her purpose quickly; but when, at last, she beats her music out, it has mysterious and soul-felt meaning.  Another woman-poet is Mrs.  Webster, already mentioned as a translator.  For many poetic qualities this lady's work is nearly equal, in several departments of verse, to that of the best of her sister artists; and I am not sure but her general level is above them all.  She has a dramatic faculty unusual with women, a versatile range, and much penetration of thought; is objective in her dramatic scenes and longer idylls, which are thinner than Browning's, but less rugged and obscure; shows great culture, and is remarkably free from the tricks and dangerous mannerism of recent verse.


    THE minor poetry of the last few years is of a strangely composite order, vacillating between the art of Tennyson and the grotesqueness of Browning, while the latest of all illustrates, in rhythmical quality, the powerful effect Swinburne's manner already has had upon the poetic ear.  We can see that the long-unpopular Browning at length has become a potent force as the pioneer of a half-dramatic, half-psychological method, whose adherents seek a change from the idyllic repose of the laureate and his followers.  With this intent, and with a strong leaning toward the art-studies and convictions of the Rossetti group, a Neo-Romantic [the remainder of this section is damaged - Ed.]

    In order to test the new method, let us study it when carried to an extreme.  This is done by Theophile Marzials, whose poems are the result of Provencal studies.  In "The Gallery of Pigeons and Other Poems," he turns his back upon a more serene deity, and vows allegiance to the Muse of Fantasy, or (as he prefers to write it) "Phantasy." At first sight his volume seems a burlesque, and certainly would pass for as clever a satire as "Firmilian." How else can we interpret such a passage as this, which is neither more nor less affected than the greater portion of our author's work?

"They chase them each, below, above,—
 Half maddened by their minstrelsy,—
 Thro' garths of crimson gladioles;
 And, shimmering soft like damoisels,
 The angels swarm in glimmering shoals,
 And pin them to their aurioles,
 And mimick back their ritournels."

    The long poem of which this is a specimen is aptly named "A Conceit." Then we have a pastoral of "Passionate Dowsabella," and her rival "Blowselind".  Again, "A Tragedy," beginning,


 The barges down in the river flop,"
 and ending,

 Plop, flop.

     Were this written by a satirist, it would be deemed the wildest caricature.  Read closely, and you see that this fantastic nonsense is the work of an artist; that it has a logical design, and is composed in serious earnest.  Throughout the book there is melody, colour, and much fancy of a delicate kind.  Here is a minstrel, with his head turned by a false method, and in very great danger, I should say.  But lyrical absurdities are so much the fashion just now in England, that reviewers seem complacently to accept them.  It is enough to make us forgive the Georgian critics their brutality, and cry out for an hour of Jeffrey or Gifford! To see how these fine fellows plume themselves! They intensify the mannerism of their leader, but do not sustain it by his imagination, fervour, and tireless poetic growth.

    Every effort is expended upon decoration rather than construction, and upon construction rather than invention, by the minor adherents of the romance school.  In critical notices, which the British publishers are wont to print on the fly-leaves of their books of verse, praise is frequently bestowed upon the contents as "excellent scholar's work in poetry.  ''Poetry is treated as an art, not as an inspiration.  Moreover, just as in the Alexandrian period, researches are made into the early tongue; "antique and quaint words" are employed; study endeavours to supply the force of nature, and too often hampers the genius of true poets.  Renaissance, and not creation, is the aim and process of the day.


    IN the foregoing review of the course of British minor poetry during the present reign I have not tried to be exhaustive, nor to include all the lesser poets of the era.  The latter would be a difficult task, for the time, if not creative, has been abundantly prolific.  Of modern minstrels, as of a certain class of heroes, it may be said, that "every year and month sends forth a new one;" the press groans with their issues.  My effort has been to select from the large number, whose volumes are within my reach, such names as represent the various phases considered.  Although I have been led insensibly to mention more than were embraced in my original design, doubtless some have been omitted of more repute or merit than others that have taken their place.  But enough has been said to enable us to frame an answer to the questions implied at the outset: The spirit of later British poetry—is it fresh and proud with life, buoyant in hope, and tuneful with the melody of unwearied song? Again; has the usage of.  the time eschewed gilded devices and meretricious effect? Is it essentially simple, creative, noble, and enduring?

    Certainly, with respect to what has been written by poets of the meditative school, the former question cannot be answered in the affirmative.  With much simplicity and composure of manner, they have been tame, perplexed, and more or less despondent.  The second test, applied to those guided by Tennyson, Browning, and Swinburne,—and who have more or less succeeded in catching the manner of these greater poets,—is one which their productions fail to undergo successfully.  It may be said that the characteristics of the early Victorian schools—distinguished from those of famous poetic epochs—have been reflective, sombre, metaphysical, rather than fruitful, spontaneous, and joyously inspired; while those of the later section are more related to culture and elegant artifice, than to the interpretation of nature or the artistic presentation of essential truth.  The minor idyllists, romancers, and dramatic lyrists have possessed much excellence of expression, but do not subordinate this to what is to be expressed.  They laboriously, therefore, hunt for themes, and in various ways endeavour to compromise the want of virile imagination.  Ruskin, who always has made an outcry against this frigid, perverted taste, established a correct rule in the first volume of "Modern Painters," applying it to either of the fine arts: "Art," he said, "with all its technicalities, difficulties, and particular ends, is nothing but a noble and expressive language, invaluable as the vehicle of thought, but by itself nothing.  Rhythm, melody, precision, and force are, in the words of the orator and poet, necessary to their greatness, but not the tests of their greatness.  It is not by the mode of representing and saying, but by what is represented and said, that the respective greatness either of the painter or writer is to be finally determined.  It is not, however, always easy, either in painting or literature, to determine where the influence of language stops and where that of thought begins.  But the highest thoughts are those which are least dependent on language, and the dignity of any composition and the praise to which it is entitled are in exact proportion to its independency of language or expression." Ruskin's own rhetorical gifts are so eminent, formerly leading him into word-painting for their display, that he pronounces decisively on this point, as one who doe penance for a besetting fault.  He might have added that the highest thought naturally finds a noble vehicle of expression, though the latter does not always include the former.  To a certain extent he implies this, in his statement of a difference (which frequently confronts the reader of these late English poets) between what is ornamental in language and what is      expressive: this distinction "is peculiarly necessary in painting; for in the language of words it is nearly impossible for that which is not expressive to be beautiful, except by mere rhythm or melody, any sacrifice to which is immediately stigmatized as error." Upon this point Arnold well calls attention to Goethe's statement that "what distinguishes the artist from the amateur is architectoniké in the highest sense; that power of execution which creates, forms, and constitutes not the profoundness of single thoughts, not the richness of imagery, not the abundance of illustration."

    The rule of architecture may safely be applied to poetry,—that construction must be decorated, not decoration constructed.  The reverse of this is practiced by many of these writers, who are abundantly supplied with poetical material, with images, quaint words, conceits, and dainty rhymes and alliteration, and who laboriously seek for themes to constitute the ground-work over which these allurements can be displayed.  Having not even a definite purpose, to say nothing of real inspiration, their work, however curious in technique, fails to permanently impress even the refined reader, and never reaches the heart of the people,— to which all emotional art is in the end addressed.  Far more genuine, as poetry, is the rude spontaneous lyric of a natural bard, expressing the love, or patriotism, or ardour, to which the common pulse of man beats time.  The latter outlasts the former; the former, however acceptable for a while, inevitably passes out of fashion,—being but a fashion,—and is sure to repel the taste of those who, in another age, may admire some equally false production that has come in vogue.

    Judged by the severe rule which requires soul, matter, and expression, all combined, does the character of recent minor poetry of itself give us cause to expect a speedy renewal of the imaginative periods of British song? To apply another test, which is like holding a mirror up to a drawing, suppose that the younger American singers were wholly devoted to work of the scholastic dilettante sort, would not their poetry be subjected to still more neglect and contumely than it has received from English critics? On the whole, our poets do not occupy themselves with medieval and classical studies, with elaborate alliterations, curious measures, and affected refrains.  Yet they have a perfect right to do this,—or, at least, every right that an English poet possesses, under the canon that the domain of the artist is boundless, and that the historic themes and treasures of all ages and places are at his disposal.  America has no traditional period, except her memories of the motherland.  She has as much right to British history, antedating Queen Anne's time, as the modern British poet.  Before that.  epoch, her history, laws, relations, all were English, and her books were printed across the sea.  The story of Mary Stuart, for instance, is as proper a theme for an American as for the author of "Bothwell." Yet even our most eminent poets do not greatly avail themselves of this usufruct, and the minor songsters, who are many and sweet, sing to express some emotion aroused by natural landscape, patriotism, friendship, religion, or love.  There is much originality among those whose note is harsh, and much sweetness among those who repeat the note of others.  And the notes of what foreign bard do they repeat with a servility that merits the epithet of "mocking-birds," applied to them by a poet whom I greatly admire, and often hinted at by others? There is far less imitation of Tennyson, Browning, and Swinburne in the minor poetry of America than in that of Great Britain; the former always has sweetness, and often strength, —and not seldom a freshness and simplicity that are the garb of fresh and simple thoughts.  America has been passing through the two phases which precede the higher forms of art: the landscape period, and the sentimental or emotional; and she is now establishing her figure-schools of painting and song.  A dramatic element is rapidly coming to light.  The truth is that our minor poetry, with a few exceptions, is not well known abroad; a matter of the less importance, since this is the country, with its millions of living readers, to which the true American bard must look for the affectionate preservation of his name and fame.  After a close examination of the minor poets of Britain during the last fifteen years, I have formed, most unexpectedly, the belief that an anthology could be culled from the miscellaneous poetry of the United States equally lasting and attractive with any selected from that of Great Britain.  I do not think that British Poetry is to decline with the loss of Tennyson, Arnold, Browning, and the rest.  There is no cause for dejection, none for discouragement, as to the imaginative literature of the motherland.  The sterility in question is not symbolical of the over-ripening of the historical and aged British nation; but is rather the afternoon lethargy and fatigue of a glorious day,—the product of a critical, scholarly period succeeding a period of unusual splendour, and soon to be followed by a new cycle of lyrical and dramatic achievement.  England, the mother of nations, renews her youth from her children, and hereafter will not be unwilling to receive from us fresh, sturdy, and vigorous returns for the gifts we have for two centuries obtained from her hands.  The catholic thinker derives from the new-born hope and liberty of our own country the prediction of a jubilant and measureless art-revival, in which England and, America shall labour hand to hand.  If we have been children, guided by our elders, and taught to repeat lispingly their antiquated and timorous words, we boast that we have attained majority through fire and blood, and even now are learning to speak for ourselves.  I believe that the day is not far distant when the fine and sensitive lyrical feeling of America will swell into floods of creative song.  The most musical of England's younger poets—those on whom her hopes depend—are with us, and inscribe their works to the champions of freedom and equality in either world.  Thus our progress may exert a reflex influence upon the mother country; and to the land from which we inherit the wisdom of Shakespeare, the rapture of Milton, and Wordsworth's insight of natural things, our own shall return themes and forces that may animate a new-risen choir of her minstrels, while neither shall be forbidden to follow melodiously where the other may be inspired to lead.


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