« VorigeDoorgaan »
he sheathed, as it were, the mortal anguish of the assassin's guilt in the fine imaginative scabbard of the poet's spiritual expression. No murderer could have said that, or put the feeling of the murderer sufficiently outside his own mind to conceive it. The poet who feels too keenly the griefs of other men who feels them too much as they feel them can never find the most adequate imaginative expression for them. Just conceive a real human being reproaching his mother in rhyme, as Hamlet does for her unfaithfulness to his father,
A bloody deed; almost as bad, good mother, As kill a king, and marry with his brother.
Yet the rhyme adds force and point to the imaginative presentation of the reproach, while it would be fatal to the impressiveness of such a reproach in real life. We shall never understand true poetry till we have grasped the uses of the various conventions by which the imaginative presentation of emotion is separated from its natural outpourings. For my part, I believe that Clough would have been a still greater poet than he was and he was a much greater poet than he is ordinarily believed to be if he had been able to put the life of what he sang more at a distance from him than he did to pass it on from his heart to his imagination, and there embody it in enduring forms. It is to this purpose that the conventional element in poetry is so useful. When Milton wrote of Lycidas, he hardly realized that it was Edward King of whom he was writing, or realized it only sufficiently to enable his fancy to play with his sense of loss. When Matthew Arnold sang of Thyrsis, he half concealed from himself that it was Arthur Clough, his old familiar friend, on whose death at Florence he was musing sadly amidst the meads and backwaters of the infant Thames.
Now Clough wrote, for the most part, of what was immediately pressing on his heart, and his poetry is, I think, to some extent injured by the very earnestness and constancy of his individual anxiety concerning the matters with which he dealt. When I first knew him a man of thirty, with splendid brow, which he would crumple, however, into the oddest folds and plaits, with shining light blue
eyes, and a somewhat florid complexion he had just thrown up his fellowship at Oriel, because at that time subscription to the Articles of the Church of England was the condition of all these Oxford preferments, and in deference to Carlyle's exhortation to admit no insincerities into one's life, Clough, who felt that he did not believe in the general teaching of the Thirty-nine Articles, thought himself bound to throw up a position inconsistent with his liberty of thought and speech. It was an act of pure conscience, for which every one must reverence him. But its immediate effect upon Clough's mind, character, and imaginaton, was not, I think, wholly fortunate. He had a great admiration for Carlyle; but, as I have told you, he used to say of him, with a touch of bitterness, "Carlyle led us out into the wilderness, and left us there." And for a time, certainly, Clough himself wandered in the wilderness into which Carlyle had led him lonely, perplexed, at odds with the society with which he lived, tinged with a Carlylian scorn for the conventional, and yet profoundly conscious of the fitness of the frame in which convention sets a great deal of our social life, desiring to fraternize with those who denounce the conventional, but not finding it very easy for convention is often the deposit of centuries of instinctive tact and taste, and no one breaks abruptly with convention without feeling naked and ashamed. He was a little Olympian in his manner with strangers and a little embarrassed by the sympathy of friends, for there appeared to be a great depth of pride in Clough. Moreover, he was full of hot thoughts cased in a deep reserve a dreamer of Utopian dreams, with far too vivid a sense of the strength of our actual habits and prepossessions ever to make a serious attempt at realizing them. He was a passionate foe of luxury and lover of simplicity, though he had a strain of self-consciousness that made his own manner somewhat too silent and stately for perfect simplicity. Another great friend of Clough's and of my own, Walter Bagehot, in whom the world lost too early a very original as well as a very subtle thinker, has incidentally painted Clough's manner so vividly in one of his essays, that I think I cannot do better than read the sentences I refer to. It is in an essay on Henry Crabb Robinson. Speaking of Crabb Robinson's inability to remember names, Bagehot says that in that excellent man's conversation Clough always figured as "that admirable and accom
plished man - you know whom I mean as Milton invoked her, though he once the one who never says anything." And invokes her in burlesque; he could never in referring to the delight which Crabb have commemorated Arnold, as Arnold Robinson took in reading poems of commemorated him, as a classical shepWordsworth's at his breakfast parties to herd. Clough was an idealist, but an his friends, Bagehot goes on, "There are idealist always pressing for greater reality some of Wordsworth's poems at which I in life, and he liked neither the fancy never look even now without thinking of dresses of fanciful poetry nor its vague the wonderful and dreary faces which abstractions. Once, I remember, when Clough used to make while Mr. Robinson I praised to him some book with a mystiwas reading them. To Clough, certain of cal turn in it, he spread out his hand and Wordsworth's poems were part of his in- called my attention to the fact that his ner being, and he suffered at hearing fingers widened, instead of tapering tothem obtruded at meal times, just as a wards the ends, remarking that men High Churchman would suffer at hearing whose fingers taper are disposed to symthe Collects of the Church. Indeed, these bolism and mysticism, but that men with poems were amongst the Collects of fingers like his cannot rest on anything Clough's Church." And Clough remained but broad and homely fact. At the same to the last a silent, reserved, and some- time his nature was deeply religious, in what perplexed man, a too anxious scan- spite of his craving to satisfy equally the ner of his own heart, a contemptuous demands of the intellect and the emotions. critic of the comfortable middle-class so- of the heart. The consequence was, that ciety of his time, and a kind of Don though in pathos and delicacy of feeling Quixote whenever he saw a chance of some few of Clough's lyrics have rarely really serving any human being, whether been surpassed, his whole poetic mind in his own social sphere or not all the needed a freer and larger medium for its more if in one beneath it-though no one expression than any which had been comknew better the difficulties of rendering monly used in English poetry. Somesuch services truly. In one of his Scotch times he used blank verse, as in that most tours he walked two days over the moun- characteristic complaint of his that God tains from a house by the side of Loch appears not to encourage us, in these Ericht to Fort William, and two days modern days, to spend much time in back again, only to get the proper medi- purely devotional attitudes of feeling: cines for a forester's child who was lying sick of a fever at the former place, beyond the reach of medical help. But it was not often that so strong a man could see his way to serving his fellow-men effectually amidst the perplexities of this complicated world; and hence he moved uneasily about, half inclined to reproach the great spiritual Captain for not sounding the advance in a manner more audible to ears in which so many strange sounds are ringing. It is obvious, I think, that a man with his mind constantly concentrated, as Clough's was, on the desire to make human society more real in its understanding of its duties, and in his conscientious laboriousness to fulfil them, could never be a pastoral poet; and in spite of Clough's love for the simplicities, or rather, perhaps, by reason of it, for pastoral poetry is conventional in its simplicities, and he was ardent for over-riding conventionalities by the help of some truer insight into nature, he never was a pastoral poet in any true meaning of the term. There is sometimes a humorous, sometimes a passionate, directness in his manner, which pastoral poets eschew. He could never have invoked the Muse |
We should not think of Him at all, but turn,
It seems His newer will
a remark to which he returns again and again, with a sort of heavy groan, in his correspondence. But blank verse was not really a medium suited to Clough's genius, which was, if I may say so, a genius for moving buoyantly under a great weight of superincumbent embarrassment. I have already quoted from Mr. Bagehot a description of the plaits and furrows in his forehead when he listened to those with whom he could not agree, and yet from whom he did not know how to express his difference. I remember, too, how, when I endeavored, in twilight talks with him, to lay any of my youthful perplexities before him, he, in the kindliness of his heart and the extreme embarrassment of his intellect as to whether he should do more harm than good by his answers, would pick up with the tongs one little mite of coal after another from the grate and put it on the fire, as a mere physical relief to his perplexed and rather inarticulate feelings towards a junior
the impression of an eager, cordial, and embarrassed speech.
Again, it would be difficult to find a better rhythm than this for the purpose of Clough's peculiar humor. Take another instance, in the description of one of the pupils, the elaborate dresser of the party, as he comes down prepared to go the Highland banquet:Airlie descended the last, cffulgent as god of Olympus;
Blue, perceptibly blue, was the coat that had
Waistcoat blue, coral-buttoned, the white-tie
whom he only half understood, and was very anxious not to lead into the rather dreary wilderness in which he himself was wandering. Well, this sense of embarrassment, this inertia about him, which was very real and constant, was bound to get some sort of expression in his more intellectual poetry; and he found in the English hexameter, varied, as he varied it, with frequent spondees-i.e., with frequent feet of two protracted syllables, instead of one protracted and two unaccented just the medium that he desired. For this metre expresses easily not only the resisting medium, but the buoyancy that makes itself felt through the resisting medium. I know no rhythm so effective as the rhythm of Clough's English the fourwheel for ten minutes already hexameters for the purpose of expressing He, like a god, came leaving his ample Olymhad stood at the gateway, at once indomitable buoyancy of feeling and the inert mass of the resistance which that buoyancy of feeling has to encoun- In a subsequent part of the poem, a ter. I can illustrate what I mean very Scotch damsel, with whom the poet and simply. In the opening of his "Long hero has flirted - but not so as to endanVacation Pastoral" there is a passage ger her peace is "consoled" by this describing the speech of the Highland gorgeous youth in the mazes of the Scotch chieftain not a very grammatical speech, reel:— but a thoroughly hearty speech, encountering difficulties at every word, and at every word boldly overcoming them: Spare me, O great Recollection! for words to the task were unequal,
Spare me, O mistress of Song ! nor bid me re
All that was said and done o'er the well-mixed tempting toddy;
How were healths proposed and drunk "with
all the honors,"
Glasses and bonnets waving, and three-timesthree thrice over,
Queen, and Prince, and Army, and Landlords all, and Keepers;
Is it, O marvel of marvels! he too in the maze of the mazy,
Skipping, and tripping, though stately, though Airlie, with sight of the waistcoat the goldenlanguid, with head on one shoulder, Katie, who simple and comely, and smiling haired Katie consoling?
and blushing as ever,
What though she wear on that neck a blue Seems in her maidenly freedom to need small kerchief remembered as Philip's,
consolement of waistcoats!
Or take this, again, in which one of the party-generally supposed to have been the same who afterwards became a Tory chancellor of the exchequer, now, alas! Long constructions strange and plusquam-fitting Highland costume: no more- is described dancing in his illThucydidean,
Bid me not, grammar defying, repeat from grammar-defiers
Him rivalling, Hobbes, briefest-kilted of heroes,
Enters, O stoutest, O rashest of creatures, mere fool of a Saxon,
Skill-less of philibeg, skill-less of reel, too, —
Under brief curtain revealing broad acres —
I do not think it would be possible for
But this peculiar metre suited Clough for better reasons than these. I may say that there is no verse like the hexame
ter managed as Homer managed it, nay, ticability of the Carlylian doctrine which managed even as Clough, with his much he desired to urge upon the world in this less liquid medium, managed it, for group." Long Vacation Pastoral The Bothie ing in one impressive picture the rhythmic of Tober-Na-Vuolich," as he called his motion and the stubborn massiveness of first hexameter poem. nature's greatest scenes. If there was a great buoyancy and a great inertia in his own heart which this rhythm strangely echoed, so there is a great buoyancy and a great inertia in the external scenery of the universe, which, by this metre, he harmonizes for us, and frames in one magnificent whole. Take, for instance, this grand description of Highland scenery, and notice at once how the mighty natural forces and great diurnal changes are brought before our eyes in it, and yet with them we are made to see the colossal massiveness of the earth's vast bulk and walls: :
Clough, as I have said, was saturated with Carlyle's general principles, and not only saturated by them, but, in some degree at least, exhausted by their categorical and rather impossible imperative. But in this poem he had not reached the stage of exhaustion. He still felt all the inspiration of Carlyle's paradoxes, all the charm of his peculiar democracy, which exalts the sacredness of labor, and the sacredness of faculty, and the sacredness of beauty, and the sacredness of almost every real human gift and talent you can imagine, except the results of what he treated as mere circumstance, while it species of indignity. The hero of the tramples these last under foot with every poem begins by preaching, what, indeed, he ends by accepting, that the highest feminine fascinations are enhanced, and not diminished, by participation in homely post-labor. He tells how his heart was struck for the first time with the sense of the mysterious charm of woman, when he saw some damsel in a potato-field, engaged in potato-uprooting.
But, O Muse, that encompassest Earth like the
Swifter than steamer or railway or magical
Belting like Ariel the sphere with the star-like
Thou with thy Poet, to mortals mere
There is it, there, or in lofty Lochaber,
Visibly whitening at morn to darken by noon in the shining,
Rise on their mighty foundations the brethren huge of Ben-nevis ?
One day sauntering "long and listless," as
Long and listless strolling, ungainly in hob-
Chanced it my eye fell aside on a capless, bonnetless maiden,
There, or westward away, where roads are un-Bending with! three-pronged fork in a garden
known to Loch Nevish,
And the great peaks look abroad over Skye to the westernmost islands?
There is it? there? or there? we shall find our
Here, in Badenoch, here, in Lochaber, anon
Here I see him and here: I see him; anon I
Even as cloud passing subtly unseen from
mountain to mountain,
Leaving the crest of Ben-more to be palpable
soars in its hunting,
Seen and unseen by turns, now here, now in
That shows how finely Clough's hexameter expressed the swift velocities and the solid strength of nature. But Clough's hexameters were also singularly well suited to express at once the aggressiveness and the almost mock-heroic imprac
Was it the air? who can say? or herself, or the charm of the labor?
But a new thing was in me; and longing delicious possessed me,
Longing to take her and lift her, and put her away from her slaving.
But soon the youth awakens to the charm of the aristocratic lady, and then he preaches that there is no injustice in all the labor and toil of the "dim, common as the lovely Lady Maria, with whom he populations," if only it bear such fruits has been dancing in her father's castle. Finally, he rises to his completest statement of the Carlylian doctrine on this subject, which appears to be the following. It is contained in a correspondence between the "poet and Radical, Hewson "
a Carlylese Radical, remember, not a Radical as most of us understand the word
and his tutor, on the arrangements of the universe as they are, and as they ought to be:
This is a letter written by Philip at Christmas to Adam.
There may be beings, perhaps, whose vocation it is to be idle.
Idle, sumptuous even, luxurious, if it must be: Only let each man seek to be that for which nature meant him.
If you were meant to plough, Lord Marquis, out with you, and do it;
If you were meant to be idle, O beggar, behold, I will feed you.
If you were born for a groom, and you seem by your dress to believe so,
Do it like a man, Sir George, for pay, in a livery stable;
Yes, you may so release that slip of a boy at the corner,
Fingering books at the window, misdoubting the eighth commandment.
Ah, fair Lady Maria, God meant you to live and be lovely;
Be so then, and I bless you. But ye, ye spurious ware, who
Might be plain women, and can be by no possibility better !
Ye unhappy statuettes, and miserable trinkets, Poor alabaster chimney-piece ornaments under glass cases,
Come, in God's name, come down! the very French clock by you
Puts you to shame with ticking; the fire-irons deride you.
You, young girl, who have had such advan
tages, learnt so quickly,
Can you not teach? O yes, and she likes Sunday school extremely,
Only it's soon in the morning. Away! if to teach be your calling,
It's no play, but a business: off! go teach and be paid for it.
Lady Sophia's so good to the sick, so firm and so gentle.
Is there a nobler sphere than of hospital nurse and matron?
Hast thou for cooking a turn, little Lady
Clarissa? in with them,
In with your fingers! their beauty it spoils, but your own it enhances; For it is beautiful only to do the thing we are
This was the answer that came from the Tutor, the grave man, Adam. When the armies are set in array, and the battle beginning,
Is it well that the soldier whose post is far to
Say, I will go to the right, it is there I shall do best service?
There is a great Field-Marshal, my friend, who arrays our battalions;
Let us to Providence trust, and abide and work in our stations.
44 This was the final retort from the eager, impetuous Philip.
I am sorry to say your Providence puzzles me sadly;
Children of Circumstance are we to be? You answer, On no wise!
Where does Circumstance end, and Provi dence, where begins it?
What are we to resist, and what are we to be friends with?
If there is battle, 'tis battle by night, I stand in the darkness,
Here in the mêlée of men, Ionian and Dorian on both sides,
Signal and password known; which is friend and which is foeman?
Is it a friend? I doubt, though he speak with the voice of a brother.
Still, you are right, I suppose; you always are, and will be;
Though I mistrust the Field-Marshal, I bow to the duty of order.
Yet it is my feeling rather to ask, where is the battle?
Yes, I could find in my heart to cry, notwithstanding my Elspie,
O that the armies indeed were arrayed! O joy of the onset !
Sound, thou Trumpet of God, come forth, Great Cause, to array us,
King and leader appear, thy soldiers sorrowing seek thee.
Would that the armies indeed were arrayed, O where is the battle!
Neither battle I see, nor arraying, nor King in Israel,
Only infinite jumble and mess and dislocation, Backed by a solemn appeal, "For God's sake do not stir, there!"
Yet you are right, I suppose; if you don't attack my conclusion,
Let us get on as we can, and do the thing we are fit for ;
Every one for himself, and the common success for us all, and
Thankful, if not for our own why then for the triumph of others,
Get along, each as we can, and do the thing we are meant for.
I think in that passage it will be clear enough that Clough's form of Carlyle's democracy was not working itself out very clear, and that we need not wonder at his being reported soon after as saying that Carlyle had led us out into the wilderness, and left us there. But is it possible to conceive a rhythm better adapted for the express purpose of conveying buoyancy of feeling and hope moving through a medium of "infinite jumble and mess and dislocation which is Clough's edition of Carlyle's gospel than the rhythm of the hexameters of the passage I have just read you?
But the sense of desolation and halfdisdainful bewilderment is not at its height in the "Long Vacation Pastoral." In 1849, after its publication, Clough went to Rome, and was there during the siege of Rome by the French, and its defence by the triumvirate. It was there that he