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Europe that it has been marked by two apparently contradictory characteristics. It has been at once derivative and individual. Derivative, because with Homer and such of his followers as have come down either in fragment or tradition, the Attic Tragedians, the Lyrists, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Dante, and Petrarch, all soliciting imitation and supplying models, it was impossible not to accept and digest the grand result of time. Individual, because with such a wilderness of choice before him, a poet was almost bound to follow his own bent, and to become epic, dramatic, lyric, classic, medieval, romantic, mystic, or a compound of some or all of these, as Nature made and bade him. And a capricious diversity was made all the easier because there was no academic and conservative public audience with its powerful traditions to coerce him, as at Athens, and no Imperial coterie to dictate his taste and subject-matter, as in Augustan Rome. Leaving out Shakespeare, who stands alone, as incapable of imitation as of approach, Marlowe, Jonson, Ford, Milton, Marvell, Denham, Congreve, Addison, Dryden, Swift, Pope, Goldsmith, to say less of Prior, Beattie, Collins, and the rest, had by the close of the eighteenth century provided their successors with a variety of native type and model, both in motive and treatment, unparalleled in the literature of any country. As it was with Adam and Eve on leaving Paradise, when
The world was all before them where to choose Their place of rest,
so it was with the poetical aspirants of the nineteenth century, and they accordingly scattered themselves over the whole domain. From the start onwards we have had satire, unalloyed, or as sauce to didactics; we have had tragedy, melodrama, comedy, lyrics,
one epic at least, a pretty natural daughter of the middle ages, in classic name and fancy dress, and thinking to dance her steps under the tuition of Apollonius Rhodius; we have also had a most remarkable series of epical cameos, most properly named Idylls, but esteemed by some as an Arthurian cycle; besides scores of truncated narrative, that sometimes recall the limits, and occasionally the topics, of Theocritus; and, lastly, we have had didactic gossip by the square yard, and introspective stanzas by the cartload.
For the multitudinous and no less multifarious poetic production of the last hundred years the spread of education has been largely responsible; and this through one of its thousand consequences, good and bad, that selfesteem which is apt to mistake taste for power, and the desire of achievement, which is so common a possession, for creative instinct, with which so few are dowered. The repeal of the paper duties, and the mechanical appliances which have cheapened production, have been contributory and facilitating causes. Something also must be laid to the charge of the many forms and devices of unscrupulous advertisement, to the recklessness, the lack of sense, and occasionally of conscience, in inferior criticism, not to do more than mention the pernicious habit of a group of authors reviewing one another in turn. But, just as true merit was never permanently obscured either by hostility or neglect, so no mediocrity has ever been made illustrious in the long run by unmerited laudation. It is certain, however, that after we have swept away the piles of rubbish which vanity has produced, and incompetence or dishonesty has recommended, the poetic work of the nineteenth century remains very splendid. A mere review of it, even without anything like an attempt to classify it or to account for it, is of supreme interest. Crabbe,
Campbell, Rogers, Southey, and Wordsworth may be said to have led off the procession. Two out of these five, Crabbe and Wordsworth, were something more than "considerable," and both of them may, one certainly will, prove to be immortal. It is a few of his small pieces such as "Hohenlinden," "The Mariners of England," "Lord Ullin's Daughter," "O'Connor's Child," and "The Battle of the Baltic," which give Campbell his chief title to renown. Of these "Hohenlinden" approaches nearest to greatness. Of "Lord Ullin's Daughter" it may almost be said that it is saved by its theme in spite of its treatment. "O'Connor's Child" is fantastic and secondary, and little better than a vamped-up reproduction of rags and tags from the store closets of the old ballads. As to the "Pleasures of Hope," what are they? Blameless no doubt, with a strong smack of the school exercise, and such a prophetic forecast of the Prize Poem as illustrates his own well-repeated dictum that
Coming events cast their shadows before.
Patches they have, and many, which are hardly purple, and filled they are with facile generalities, touches of conventional landscape and morality; they abound in platitudes most remotely connected with the pleasures of hope; and lastly they are interspersed with occasional flashes of outrageous hyperbole, of which one specimen is enough:
On Erie's banks where Tigers steal along,
And the dread Indian chaunts a dismal song; Where human fiends on midnight errands walk,
And bathe in brains the murderous tomahawk.
We trust that we may be forgiven for our italics.
The chief merit of Campbell is his blamelessness, and the literary modesty which saved him from such disastrous failures of over-vaulting ambition as made Southey the laughingstock of every good judge from Porson and Byron until now. Of Rogers it is unnecessary to say more than that he was a cultivated gentleman who chose to employ a strenuous leisure in writing tolerable verse.
Crabbe, as he was infinitely superior to Campbell, so he more vividly recalls their common poetic ancestry. He is of the race of Pope, Dryden, Swift, Goldsmith, and Cowper. He may lack the philosophic insight, the neatness, the antithesis of the first, the rollick and burliness of the second, the causticity, wit, and political grasp of the third, the grace of the fourth; but then, to make up for these deficiencies, he has been spared the matchless dreariness of the fifth, and there are moments when he shares the qualities of all. But he poured new wine into their old bottles, and he has a characteristic which differentiates him: his purpose was his own. It was at once sad and solemn; he was the first of our moderns to take seriously to heart, and consciously to write about, the suffering, temptations, difficulties, and degradation of the poor, urban and rural, as he knew them. This he did in no vague or reflective fashion, but in narratives drawn from concrete experiThe population of the Eastern Counties among whom he was bred, half agricultural and half seafaring, perhaps also in an especial degree the victims of material poverty and spiritual neglect, were eminently likely to awaken his sympathy and rouse his sense of wrong; while his opportunities of knowledge as he went among them, first as doctor and afterwards as clergyman, accentuated the influence of their condition upon his heart and brain. The outcome was such a
string of poems as "The Village," "The Parish Register," and "The Borough." These may not have added much to the graces of English poetry, any more than the pictures of Teniers did to the æsthetic beauty of painting. But they have directness of incident, firmness of touch, and distinctness of portraiture. In fact Crabbe was a serious, purposeful Teniers in verse; and so has perpetuated for us some of the many contemporary phases of poverty for which the generation among whom they were manifested will be held unwontedly responsible at the bar of history. His intent was somewhat akin to that of Wilkie in painting, and still more to that yearning towards the delineation of her own class and neighborhood which so soon afterwards produced the novels of Miss Austen. But no poems like his have since been attempted, and their predecessors, "The Deserted Village" and "Gray's Elegy," were both so far removed from them that we may fairly say of them that there is nothing "quid prius dicamus, nec viget quicquam simile aut secundum." Crabbe's powers were undoubtedly great enough to make his literary work permanently valuable as a picture of manners and a record of sentiment, although perhaps they were not great enough to place him very high among the poetic expositors of man's nature to man.
The contribution of Coleridge to the permanent literature of England is in very poor proportion to his genius. He must be classed among the first poets of the second order, that is to say of the order which comes next after the four Giants of Epic, Shakespeare and the three great Athenians; and yet he will be remembered by less of his work than will any undeniable master. It is indeed deplorable that the soul from which could emanate "Christabel," "Kubla Khan," "The Ancient Mariner," and the two great adaptations of Schiller, should have shed so
niggard a lustre upon the world. But so it is, and Coleridge can only be mourned as a shattered, half-redeemed prodigal, whose very creations cry out against him, and who for his wandering and self-waste must ever demand pardon of his kind.
Sir Walter Scott is an illustrious example of a man endowed with the highest genius who, having tried both, came to the conclusion that his natural vehicle of expression was prose, not verse. It would be incorrect to say that he never wrote a poem after the production of "Waverley," but his occasional relapses do not interfere with the fact of his resolve. And after all, as might be expected, it was wise. The world would not be so very much the poorer if "Marmion," "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," and "Rokeby" were to perish, but it will remain infinitely richer so long as "Old Mortality," "The Antiquary," "The Monastery," "The Legend of Montrose," "Quentin Durward," and a score at least of the other novels survive. Considering the swing and rapidity of the verse in his longer poems, it sounds strange to say that he perpetually fails to produce music in his shorter lyrics, but it is stranger still that nobody seems to have noticed the extreme clumsiness of many a line in some of the best known of them. To take one only, though dozens might be collected: can anything be worse than
"Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances"?
But, thank Heaven, the fame of Sir Walter has been otherwise won. Might it not be true to suggest that one reason why his poetry remained below his natural level was that he is one of the very few men who have risen to the height of literary greatness without fully belonging to, or being in keen sympathy with, their epoch? Far otherwise was it with the two poets whose
and-we say it with deference to those who might think otherwise their poetry was largely influenced by their rank, though in varying extent and fashion. They were both, too, what one of them called "exiles of the heart" as well as of the home. The conjunction of these two accidents added recklessness to Byron, intensity to Shelley. It wrung "Alastor" and "Prometheus" from the one, "Manfred" and "Don Juan" from the other. These were indeed widely sundered products, but it must be remembered that Shelley also wrote "Swellfoot the Tyrant," just as Byron wrote "The Vision of Judg. ment," and that if Shelley gave us his delicate Laments and Romances we are all much the richer for "The Dream." Social isolation was in both of them the cause of a common defect, in which, however, we once more see the difference of their temperament conspicuously working. Each of them in his own way from lack or contempt of criticism fails in style. In Byron this is most apparent in the want of what is called "finish," and in the vain facility with which he allowed his "rubbish" to go forth to the world. It is impossible to charge such a worker as he was with commonplace idleness, and so it seems better to lay to his account a moral lethargy which made him careless of his true fame. He never seemed to treat his creative faculty, or what came of it, as a reserved chamber of his nature to be kept swept and garnished, whatever came of the rest. He wrote indeed:
names stand next on the roll. Byron and Shelley were set on fire by the French Revolution. It illumines "Manfred," "Childe Harold," and "Cain," "Prometheus Unbound" and "The Revolt of Islam," and is the cause of many another less valuable effort of the two masters, especially of each in his more palpably satirical mood. It is questionable whether either Byron or Shelley has had, or ever will have, accurate justice done to him. The lightning of their genius was too highly tinted by the more unpopular and less abiding colors of an epoch whose effervescence was checked by a reaction which wreaked vengeance upon all the most openly avowed products of the period against which it set itself to war. It was the cant of the "twenties" and "thirties" to dismiss Byron as false and sensual, and Shelley as a dangerous atheist. To the half-blind preachers of this unwarranted rejection the lordly self-presentment of such a nature as Byron's, its alternate flash and gloom, its masterly grasp of Nature in her most stupendous moods, the rhetoric which could roll audible thunder among the summits of Alps, fling sunbeams adown their valleys, sparkle over their falls and torrents, and sweep along their clouds, were all as naught. They could see nothing but what their littleness left them free to ridicule or dislike, loathe or dread; and their position is all the more provoking because they were right in their judgment of what they could see. Among things that irritate, it is as prominent as it is true that the lower nature which looks at the higher from below is apt only to catch sight of its baser parts and qualities; but it does catch those. The names of Byron and Shelley have been more commonly associated than those of any two other poets. The reasons for this are obvious. They were both of them, to begin with, of gentle birth,
I hope to be remembered in my line With my land's language,
but the desire was not fervent enough to carry him beyond the poorer result inevitable to his native powers. If only the conscientious labor of a Tennyson had been possible to him, what a manifestation he would have made!
The social isolation of Shelley was
even more complete than that of Byron. Byron was at least in correspondence with Rogers, Moore, Broughton, John Murray, and a host of others from whom he had to endure valuable protest and counsel which were not altogether without fruit. But Shelley had no one to criticise or advise him. His circle was small, and it only lifted hands of adoration. His main defect was exuberance, and he had no one to apply or even to recommend the pruning-knife. How infinitely the "Prometheus" would have gained if somebody could have persuaded him to reduce it by at least one-fourth of its mere bulk. There is too much of everything after the first act, which, however, is faultless; too much Zeus, too much Demogorgon, too many pine trees singing interminably "old songs with new gladness," too many "voices of spirits o'er land and o'er sea." There are even too many of the lyrics in the fourth act, divine as are some of them; and there is far too much of an ill-defined, half-imagined millennium, which might be rest to an over-fatigued Titan, but which only takes casual account of anybody else. But may we be forgiven for seeming to complain that these two great human bestowals were not better than they were.
Near to them in the "Castello," but somewhat apart, like "the lonely Saladin," there sits a quieter figure. He left the world so soon, and with so little done, though some of that little be of the highest, that the world can hardly estimate him. It may mourn him, but it cannot judge him. The promise of his "Endymion" gleams through its faulty shape, and survives its frequent clumsiness of epithet and its crude versification. If it contained nothing else of value than that splendid symphony in words of which the first theme begins:
Oh, sorrow, why dost borrow,
and after two other magnificent measures comes back at last to the melody with which it started, the poem itself would be stamped with immortality. Half a dozen of the "Sonnets," "Lamia," the lines to "Autumn," "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," and beyond all these the "Ode to a Nightingale," and "Lines on a Grecian Urn," are credentials enough for a youth who died at twenty-six. But, as we have already said, you cannot place Keats, because you cannot tell what would have become of him.
It would be gross ingratitude to one of the caterers for the delight of his boyhood if a survivor of the last generation were to forget to mention with affectionate remembrance the name of Thomas Moore. If a schoolboy were to try to picture the sort of regard which the thought of him calls up in his elders, it would resemble that which he himself might feel for a family friend who was wont to confer upon him occasional sovereigns. Dear, chubby, little old Anacreon! He could sing to us of love and wine without doing us any harm. How we felt for him when he sang
The days are gone when Beauty bright My heart-strings wove.
The more, perhaps, because we could not quite realize the operation. And how glad we were to hear-our own locks being still brown and our cheeks ruddy that it was possible for him and his olden contemporaries, although
The snowfall of Time might be stealing
over their brows,
Like Alps in the sunset, when lighted' by wine
To wear the gay tinge of Youth's roses. again.
And how thoroughly we agreed with him, having some grumpy mathemati