페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

his excellent quality, we should hardly treat him as a claimant for poetic honours. The Saint's Tragedy' we may put aside ; it is half prose, and even when in verse it seems to lay no stress on its own assumption of the clothes of Poetry. 'Andromeda' is constrained and stunted, as every subject must be which, classic in origin, suffers doubly from being treated in a classic metre. Modern readers fight shy of Greek subjects, and there they are wrong; still less will they attack Greek metres, but there they are right. Kingsley strikes a tenderer and more alluring note in his ballads. The Sands of Dee,' The Three Fishers,' "The • Starlings,'• Airly Beacon,' the two poignant stanzas of ' A

Lament,' and Earl Haldane's Daughter,' which in the volume of the collected poems is only called 'A Song,' are each and all delightful. He is careless in rhyme and metre, but his is not a vulgar carelessness. Wise people, who value true pathos, and welcome the reappearance, even en déshabillé, of the good old ballad forms, will take the best of Charles Kingsley's little poems to their hearts, and keep them there.

Macaulay is another commanding figure to whom poetry was merely 'parergon '—to Anglicise a convenient Greek word—but whose sparse produce, like the widow's famous cruse, will last a long time. His · Lays of Ancient Rome' are undeniable. We have been told that we may call them what we please, so long as we do not call them poetry. But what are they, then? They are written in admirable verse, and verse which is in itself a perfectly fresh mood of ballad metre; and they are hardly the worse for a smoothness which does not destroy their swing or their virility. Roman spirit and the religion of old Rome, set in true Italian scenery, pervade them; and pathos, though kept in hand almost throughout, is occasionally let loose in them; while the whole group is made to subserve modern feeling and purpose. These qualities have made them popular, and if they do not also together make up poetry, it is not easy to say what does. Still, Macaulay cannot be called a poet in the broader sense, for he was but a brief sojourner, a tourist in the realms of song; his native soil and natural habitat was prose.

Very much apart from his fellows, and that owing to a mental loneliness which was to him half a creed, worked Coventry Patmore. A speculator almost fantastic upon spiritual things; a mystic theorist upon life and conduct proud and soaring, with a touch of the saint in him, and

snap of the eagle, too; manly in talk, and at times almost tyrannous in attitude; such he was, and such he would have claimed to be. His poetry was gentle and refined to a fault, and it spent itself so largely upon the delineation of over-delicate shades of feeling, and within so circumscribed a range of scenery and incident, that it was voted tasteless by the multitude. But he was a poet of a high order. If constricted, he was from the first conscious of his limitations, and when he bad exhausted the vein which he set himself to work, he ceased to produce altogether. Then the mental solitude in which he had long elected to live brought about in him something of that sterility which comes of isolation. The Angel in the House' is full of beauty; so are · Amelia' and Tamerton Church Tower.' In the last two the influence of Coleridge is traceable, whom, when at his best and highest, and that unhappily was but seldom, Patmore was wont to extol. The Unknown Eros' lacks charm, because it is without that explicability which, after all, is essential to charm. But the character of Jane, Frederick Graham's humble little wife, in the ‘Angel in the ' House,' forms one of the clearest and most pathetic studies in modern fiction, prose or verse.

An episode in the literary firmament of the fifties' was the rising and setting of Alexander Smith. That a young man should have written such a first book, and afterwards nothing half so good, was a bewilderment. Perhaps, however, we do not allow a sufficient analogy between man's mind and material phenomena. A morning dawns blazing with sunlight and the beauties that are born of it; long ere noon there comes an eclipse of mist and gloom, and the day never recovers itself. So it is sometimes with genius; it dawns, flushes, and dies out in dulness. But was Alexander Smith's vein genius after all ? A late re-reading of 'A Life . Drama' begets doubt. Was there more than a great receptiveness? Is not the whole thing a series of echoes crossing and recrossing one another, now of Keats, now of Byron, and now of Tennyson? Was there more than an extreme facility of picking up and imitating methods of fancy, moods of feeling, turns of expression—in fact, the tricks of the poet's trade? Whatever it was, it was well done enough to deceive the very elect, not excepting the last Master left alive from whom the inspiration of imitation came.

As we float down the stream let us not forget to turn our bont into the pleasant backwater whereby dwells the simple,

genuine, unambitious, and unobtrusive Barnes. Local he was, even to the dialect which makes him difficult to many and impossible to more; but to the few who overcome he is undeniably precious. After all, Theocritus was provincial in speech and subject, and Wordsworth eminently local; and Barnes had some of the qualities of both those masters. Like them, he saw the poetry in rural poverty, and was not above being the evangelist of rural life, manners, humour, and feeling. He saw with, felt with, jested with, wept with the rustics of Dorsetshire, just as did Theocritus with the peasants of Sicily and Peloponnesus, and Wordsworthexcept the jesting—with the statesmen and farmlabourers of Cumberland and Westmoreland. He had not, indeed, the genius of the other two; but, all the same, we take leave to doubt whether either of them ever wrote a better little poem than ‘Woak Hill.'

We now come to two poets, William Morris and Rossetti, whom we class together because they both represent that yearning 'reculer pour mieux sauter' which started the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in painting, and such poems as their own in literature. As painters and poets both, they illustrate each phase of the movement. We should be unaffectedly sorry for the person who could tell us after trial that he did not enjoy · The Life and Death of Jason' and “The Earthly Paradise,' or the songs and ballads in Morris's first volume. How "The Tune of Seven Towers,'

The Eve of Crecy,' "The Sailing of the Sword,' and a dozen other sweet things hold one's memory! And what a promise—perhaps not quite fulfilled—was there in the fragment called “Sir Peter Harpdon's End. It may be said that all bis poems, great and small, are but reproductions, even if they can be trusted to be that, of gone forms of life and feeling, and even of affectations that were superseded by a healthier renascence. It may be that there is too much of what we may dub Botticellism in the composition of Morris, as there was in that of many of those who felt and worked with him. We may blame him for never having extricated himself from his medievalism, for having reculé' but never having sauté.' But what he has given us is very beautiful, and, for ourselves, we accept it with gratitude. We acknowledge the presence of the pearls, and we decline, because they may not be altogether fit for daily food, to wish that they had been barleycorns. To our thinking the worst charge against Morris is his pessimism, his hate and dread of the inevitable end, and the hopelessness with

which he persists in looking on life as the vestibule of death.

If genius might be said to consist in doing what a man sets himself to do surpassingly well, as well perhaps as it could have been done, then Rossetti had genius of the first order. But if it be truer to say that genius consists in doing with supreme excellence things that are of enduring benefit to mankind, then Rossetti must be relegated to & lower level. We all remember how we were dazzled by · The Blessed Damozel,' Sister Helen,' 'Troy Town,' and. the Sonnets. Nor have we forgotten • The White Ship,'

Rose Mary,' or 'The King's Tragedy, For The House of Life,' in spite of its fine handicraft, and its delicate shades of thought and feeling, we have a slighter sense of gratitude. Throughout almost all of Rossetti's work, however, there runs one and the same unpleasant influence, the sense of moral and nervous decadence. We think that this must be confessed, though we are far from admitting the charge to the extent to which it is urged by an eminent foreign critic. Still the canker is there. It is a vice akin to the pernicious theory of Art for Art's sake, which seems to us to be the begetter of things abominable in literature, sculpture, and painting alike. We may all enjoy Rossetti's work from "The Blessed Damozel' down to 'Jenny '-alas, we are but mortal and are prone to feast where we should not--but how many really wholesome dishes has he offered us besides • The King's Tragedy'?

Each of the gifted women who wrote their novels under the names of George Eliot, and Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, yielded to the charm which compels so large a troop of sensitive natures. In Jubal' and The Spanish Gypsy George Eliot made two serious attempts to justify a claim to the coreted name of poet. Of Jubal' nothing need be written. As to The Spanish Gypsy' one may permit oneself an expression of regret that instead of a story manacled in rerse which is seldom more than tolerable, which never Sury, and is too often pedestrian, the writer did not use her materials to give us, as she might have done, in her native fashion, #glorious novel in admirable prose. George Eliot, peeing as # poet, provides a literary analogue to the peris among inds: she has everything but the wings, and

New Afr. As to the verse of the sisters Brontë, it was on its first appewrence not unnaturally overvalued. None of us

wiki fywe the novels, and but few of us were not aware in We measure of the sadness and dreary romance of the

three lives. Sympathy often passes into admiration, and in many a loving heart the two are confused from the first.

But after a careful re-perusal, it is impossible to see much more in the collection than might have been achieved by dozens of cleverish daughters of rural clergymen; and, strangely enough, Currer Bell's pieces seem to be the least meritorious.

Both Jean Ingelow and Miss Rossetti have done more interesting and distinctive work. The first named, especially, treats from time to time her delicately chosen and daintily handled subjects with a gentleness and womanly grace that go far to subdue the reader. For instance, overprolonged as it is, 'High Tide on the Coast of · Lincolnshire' is a monument of pathos, and instinct with the dreary life of the people of the fens.

If George Meredith were as victorious over us with his verse as he is with his prose, he would be the most triumphant of our Conquerors. But as a poet he falls into one of two pits : he either loses his idiosyncrasy, and becoming clear he is tame, or else, beginning to speak in his own tongue, he is untamable. We bear with him in his prose because what his style partly veils is so splendid. His wit, his wisdom, his plastic power and his own joy in it, all gleam out on us through the interjected photosphere of his perversities. These we forgive to him, and only greet an unusually tough paragraph or chapter with an affectionate oath. But though we can bear that our prose should be somewhat over purée, we must have the turtle of our poetry clear; so we say to him, we hope not ungratefully, • Introduce us to more Egoists, let Richard Feverel undergo

fresh ordeals, make Shagpat shave himself afresh, negotiate 'for us another Marriage however Amazing, but let "“ Modern Love” and “ The Joys of Earth" alone.

Probably few poets of any age, certainly none among our moderns, have started upon the path of fame with so fair a promise as that which was given by “ Atalanta in Calydon.' Mr. Swinburne took us by storm. The youth who could present a famous but very difficult old myth with the fearlessness and good faith which illumined his poem, and who was capable of writing the best passages in its choruses, to say nothing of a great deal of the blank verse, fully justified the acclamations which greeted him. If Mr. Swinburne has not developed quite commensurately, it is not because he was chilled, like Keats, by want of welcome. There was no frost in his May. Even the wayward drift and over-frank

Introdo we serbe, we must bear that with an aime greet

« 이전계속 »