Modern Poets.


Literatur: anonym
Literatur: The Rambler


[186] Poems. By Alfred Tennyson, Poet-Laureate. Tenth Edition. London: Moxon. 1855. (First published 1830.)

In Memoriam. By the same. Seventh Edition. London: Moxon. 1856.

Maud. By the same.

Festus: a Poem. By Philip James Bailey. Fifth Edition. London: Chapman and Hall. 1854.

The Mystic, and other Poems. By the same. Second Edition. 1855. London: Chapman.

The Minor Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley. A new Edition. London: Moxon. 1855.

Poems. By Aubrey de Vere. London: Burns and Lambert. 1855.

May Carols. By the same. London: Longmans. 1857.

Poems. By Frederic William Faber, D.D. Second Edition. 1857.

The Poetical Works of Henry W. Longfellow. A new Edition, illustrated by Gilbert. London: Routledge. 1857.

The Masque of Mary, and other Poems. By Edward Caswall. London: Burns and Lambert. 1858.

"THERE was a time," says Dr. Brownson, in a late Number of his excellent Review," – there was a time when we read and loved poetry, when we even thought we really could tell poetry if we found it: but we find so much praised nowadays as poetry, so much passing for poetry of the first order which in our younger days would hardly have been regarded as respectable prose, that we no longer dare undertake to decide, even for ourselves, what is or is not poetry." Very many persons have much the same feelings regarding our recent poets as Dr. Brownson. The poets have of late become so wonderfully eccentric, that they have quite bewildered the poor critics who undertake to sit in judgment upon them; and if those clear-headed gentlemen begin to waver, and get misty and unsettled too, what is the public to think? Shall we say that there is no such thing as poetry? or that there is such a thing as poetry, but that it is ineffable, and beggars description or defies definition? or that poetry is simply subjective, as the German slang phrases it; so that [189] what is poetry to one man's mind is prose to another man's mind, and vice versâ? Shall we discard the voice of antiquity, and make a new ars poetica to suit these times? But if you wish for confusion worse confounded, go back to the Edinburgh Review of October 1856, where you may read as follows: "Poetry is an infinite subject; and an infinite number of clever things, true and false, have been said about it: 'It is the pleasure of a truth,' says Aristotle; 'It is the pleasure of a lie,' says Bacon. We, of course (the reviewer proceeds), side with Aristotle, who gave the Muse the worthiest praise she ever received when he wrote, 'Poetry is more philosophical and more deserving of attention than history; for poetry speaks more of universals, but history of particulars.'" However, Sir Philip Sidney seems, to our mind, to have given her greater praise still; for the article proceeds: "Sir Philip Sidney, in his defence of poetry, proves further that poetry is more philosophical than philosophy herself." The reviewer does not inform us how Sir Philip manages to establish his point; but goes on to tell us, in the words of " the poet," that "the spirit of poetry is in fact 'as broad and general as the casing air,' and that wheresoever there is interest properly human, there too may be poetry;" and having recorded the clever things of other men, he proceeds to give his own clever thing, that "whatsoever stands immediately and obviously in relation to universal truth, – be it action or suffering, thought or emotion, a psychological fact or a phenomenon of nature, – is perceived, by those who are able to appreciate that relation, to have within it a capability of being sung." Then at length comes a definition, which the reviewer calls a "rough definition," that "poetry is truth or fact of properly human, important, and general intelligibility, verbally expressed so as to affect the feelings." For instance, Smith says to his wife, "Dear me, what a horrible attempt this is which has just been made in Paris upon the life of the Emperor several persons seriously injured!" "Dear, dear, how shocking!" is the answer. And this is poetry, because Smith expresses verbally fact or truth of proper human import so as to affect Mrs. Smith's feelings. Nay, this expression of horror looks to something permanent; for as long as there shall be Smiths in the world, so long will the idea of assassination be a shock to their natural feelings: Smith is only an individual, but he speaks the sentiment of permanent humanity. We should not have mentioned this article, as it was published some time since, did it not express an opinion which has other supporters besides the reviewer. "We can hardly understand at the present day," says Mr. Matthew [190] Arnold, himself a poet, "what Menander meant when he told a man who inquired as to the progress of his poem, that he had finished it – not having yet written a single line – because he had constructed the action of it in his mind. A modern critic would have assured him that the merit of his piece depended upon the brilliant things which arose under his pen as he went along." Certainly it is an error to imagine that the poem is the brilliant things individually considered; but to go to the opposite extreme, and make the action of the poem to be poetry, is like avoiding Scylla to fall into Charybdis. Why, according to this notion of poetry, Shakespeare had finished his poem when he said, speaking of Othello, "I will write a poem, the moral of which shall be the evil effects of jealousy; and I will make a jealous husband fall a victim to the snares of some base intriguer, kill his wife and himself into the bargain: and this horrible catastrophe shall illustrate my position, that jealousy is an evil passion." Philosophy is philosophy, morality is morality, and poetry is poetry. Of course a poem may have a moral object, just as architecture may have a moral object; or it may have a philosophical object, just as history may, or ought to, have a philosophical object: but, as architecture is not therefore morality, nor history philosophy, so poetry is neither philosophy nor morality. Ut pictura poesis erit is a great poet's idea of poetry; nay, we are so thoroughly unsophisticated in this matter as to be satisfied with the definition which we got up from Blair in our schoolboy days, that poetry is the language of imagination, or excited feeling, generally expressed in measured lines, – such is at least the substance of the definition. Poetry and painting are twin sisters, for the poet paints in words on the imagination as the painter paints with colours on the canvas; and as a picture is one whole, and not this or that individual cloud, stone, shrub, or waterfall, so a poem is one whole, and is not the separate "brilliant things" which go to make up the poem. We shall, however, have to show hereafter, that the definition of a poem as a picture presented to the imagination, and of poetry as the art of depicting in words, has been sometimes misunderstood.

Having thus premised on the nature of poetry, that the reader may understand upon what principle we are going to judge of the merits of our modern poets, we return to our reviewer, who, following up his idea that poetry is a certain subtle morality or philosophy, concludes that "the high places of English poetry are at this time unfilled." In different sense, both agree and disagree with this decision. Of course we have no living poets equal to Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, or [191] Milton; but that there is no "true poet," as people speak, that we have only minor poets and poetasters, is not at all true. It seems almost a paradox to say, but we think that at the present time we have good poets, but bad poems. There is no lack of poetical genius; but there is a great deficiency of judgment, tact, taste, or, in one word, of common sense, in our living poets, generally speaking. And if any one shall say, that surely judgment is a part of genius, we do not wish to quarrel about words, so that our meaning be understood; for by genius we understand the creative faculty, as distinguished from those more practical faculties of the mind which go commonly by the name of talents and abilities, – a sense which the word 'genius' bears often enough to warrant the use of it in this paper. Genius, however sublime, will not suffice alone to make a poem; the poet wants common sense. What if the ideas be sublime, if, on the other hand, as Dr. Brownson observes, they are expressed in language which would hardly have been considered as "respectable prose"? Elderly gentlemen do not read or appreciate our modern poets; but is the fault in themselves, or in the poets? We think it is in the poets; and we will proceed to enumerate the chief defects of the poetry of our age which are peculiar to our age, and to illustrate these as far as our limited space will allow: and, in so doing, we shall not confine ourselves to the living poets, but ascend to their sources in such writers as Byron and Wordsworth, with whom begins the epoch which we choose to designate as that of modern poetry. But let not the reader misunderstand us: if we do not always allude to the merits of our authors, it is not that we ignore them, but that simply it is not our object to deal with them, but with those defects which are proper to modern poetry.

A very common defect, then, of our living poets is an unhealthy spirit. Poetry springs from a kind of enthusiasm, or madness, as Plato calls it. "There is a third possession and madness, proceeding from the Muses; which, seizing upon a tender and chaste soul, and raising and inspiring it to the composition of odes and other species of poetry, by adorning the countless deeds of antiquity, instructs posterity. But he who, without the madness of the Muses, approaches the gates of poesy, . . . . . . . . both himself fails in his object; and his poetry, being that of a sane man, is thrown into the shade by the poetry of such as are mad." * It is quite true that poetry is the result of an exalted state of soul, and of a delicate organisation of body, which acts powerfully upon the imagination; and this is what is meant by the inspiration of [192] the poet, which is by no means a merely figurative expression. But the spirit of poetry by which a man is possessed may be healthy or unhealthy; and if the demon be a dark bilious fellow, he should be chained up, or rather "cast out" by mild purgatives, and the poet should await in peace the coming of a better spirit; for if this evil one be permitted to go abroad, he will certainly work mischief. Lord Byron was, as far as we know, the first who exhibited to the world the dark spirit of poetry, and by his extraordinary genius made the world in love with the monster. * He is, properly speaking, the father of those eccentric gentlemen whom the reviewers have happily nicknamed "the spasmodic school." Of course Byron never carried his delirium to such lengths as this new tribe; but he gave the idea of the spasmodic poet. He was fond of considering poetry as a kind of interesting malady. "Poetry," he writes to Mr. Hunt, "is very generally the result of an uneasy mind in an uneasy body: Collins mad, Chatterton, I think, mad, Cowper mad, Pope crooked, Milton blind," &c. Then, as the friends of Alexander imitated that immortal hero in his peculiar habit of nodding, so it was with the admirers of Byron, and the idea of a poet became fixed. He was to be an unhealthy, excitable, melancholy man; and the better to cherish this darling humour, it were well also if the poet had some secret woe locked up in his own bosom, never, never to be revealed to mortal ear, which should pale his face and keep him up at unseasonable hours of night, so as to alarm his relations about the soundness of his reason: nay, if a few matter-of-fact persons thought him absolutely mad, so much the better. But to be serious, Byron's melancholy was entirely due neither to a delicate organisation nor to a theatrical affectation. He was also a very wicked man (to call things by their right names); and when he wrote "All my madness none can know," he just meant that only himself and Almighty God knew what a very wicked man he was. Childe Harold is the wail of a soul which loathes itself; which attempts to escape from the horrors of remorse by investing them with an ideal beauty; and which, failing to [193] find a balm which poetry cannot give, caresses its own wounds and "eats the heart" in despair. Byron would have been ashamed to make so much of his personal miseries, but he saw how well it took with the public. We may suppose many other souls, who had drunk the cup of bliss till it palled, wanted the consolation of knowing that by so doing they had become heroes and ideals. We have dwelt thus upon the character of Byron, because poetry has its history, which must be studied in the history of poets.

The case of Byron resembles that of Tennyson, inasmuch as they are both fond of stirring up their own feelings and looking at them, – that is, they are subjective poets. The poem which gives us the deepest insight into the mind of Tennyson is his In Memoriam. Byron filled his writings with gloom, which arose from a strong conviction and an intense feeling of his moral wretchedness. Tennyson moans through a whole volume for want of a settled faith, and the consolations which a settled faith engenders, and the equanimity of mind which it is calculated to produce. The loss of a dear friend produces upon the sensitive mind of our poet a kind of disease which is only known to certain temperaments, and which Father Faber, if we remember rightly, terms theomania. With religious-minded men, who have faith, the perpetual thought about God, a keen sense of the awfulness of moral responsibility, the anxiety about their acceptance in the end, and the overwhelming idea that their abode hereafter is already prepared in the fore-knowledge of God, produce sometimes a state of morbid sadness and despondency, which is best cured, on the one hand, by simply ignoring its existence and attending to our actual duty, as a judicious confessor would advise; and, on the other hand, since the body also has its share as cause of the disease, by taking a little medicine, as the medical man would advise. Now if holy monks and nuns, who are striving at every sacrifice to gain eternal life, are sometimes visited by the permission of Almighty God with this cruel disorder, it would seem strange if a poor poet, who makes his religion out of his own head, should enjoy peace of mind and tranquillity of the nervous system; and we understand (for the poet tells us so) that he sometimes suffers a severe twinge of anxiety regarding his relations with the next world. We once tried to convert an unbelieving acquaintance, with whom we found it difficult to make a beginning, since he believed nothing which could serve as a basis on which we might build our arguments; till at length we inquired, "For what end was man created?" There was a pause; and then, "To propagate his kind, and then die like the other animals," [194] was the answer. Alfred Tennyson has written down this sentiment in some pretty lines of the In Memoriam:

"Be with me when my faith is dry
    In men, – the flies of latter spring,
    That lay their eggs and sting and sing,
And weave their pretty cells and die."

No wonder that this beautiful poem leaves a gloomy impression on the mind, – for beautiful it is, in spite of its gloom, – since it deals with such horrible doubts about the foundation of all religion. Happy monks and nuns! when troubled with a little despondency, and tempted to look at the dark side of things, you have the confessional and the medicinechest; but the poor poet, when he is tempted to believe just nothing at all, why, he must not cure it, even if he can. O no, it will be so interesting to be afflicted with these thoughts, and write a poem about them. "I should like to die of consumption," said Byron, "because then the ladies would say, 'Look at poor Byron; how interesting he looks now he is dying!' " Byron and Tennyson are just alike in this respect; both think a poet, to be a poet, should have something the matter with him in soul or body, and, if possible, in both. We understand that the real spasmodic poet has recourse to opium in order to encourage the sacred mania; but we hope this is a calumny invented by the enemies of that school. We will mention but another instance of our poet's theomania, – his difficulty about the origin of evil. A grave difficulty it is, no doubt, and just the one a poet should choose if he wishes to exhibit to the world a really fine species of gloom, – a noble gloom, – the religious gloom. Some people are distressed beyond measure at the very idea of the number of souls which will freely choose destruction, despite of God's mercy, and be damned for ever. Sad indeed! But, after all, such souls dare to contend with God: and a poet of healthy mind would take God's part against His enemies; remembering, that if the wicked shall be damned for ever, which is an awful punishment, yet they will also have deserved damnation, which is therefore a just punishment. But the spasmodic poets take the devil's part against God. Others, again, are distressed at the physical evils of the universe, like Dr. Arnold, who said that the sufferings of the brute creation was a subject fraught with such pain to him that he could hardly bear to think about it. Physical evil, in its widest sense, is Tennyson's difficulty; and here again one may take the part of God, or take the part of the devil. God made the world, and He saw that it was "good." No doubt the devil or a bilious poet would give a different decision; so Tennyson looks with a jaundiced eye [195] upon the beautiful universe which the All-Wise and All-Good has created, and sees only horrors and monsters where a healthy poet like Longfellow finds sunshine and gaudy colours, or lights up the darkness, where it is found, with the bright sunshine of his own warm bosom. But of fifty seeds cast into the earth, our poet observes that only one produces, and the forty-nine perish in their barrenness. Nature, he says, cares, indeed, for the species of man and beast; but she is utterly careless of the single life, and heeds not that this or that particular animal may have a wretched life of it, nor of what happens to the individual, – whether it thrive or perish, – provided only that the types of things are preserved. Nay, she cares for types neither. "I care for nothing, – all shall go," he makes her say; for look at the fossil remains of whole genera and families of beasts, birds, and plants now extinct, which she has "cast as rubbish to the void." Nay, the poet carries his sentiment to a blasphemous extent; for man, he says,

".... trusted God was love indeed,
   And love Creation's final law;
   Though Nature, red in tooth and claw
 With ravine, shriek'd against his creed."

And lastly, man himself, – poor man, with all his weakness and fickleness, with all his inconsiderateness and shortsightedness, with all his ignorance and grossness, – he fares no better; he is soon despatched in brief words, but to the point. He is

        "A monster then, a dream,
  A discord.   Dragons of the prime,
  That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow-music match'd with him."

Then why did God make the world, considering that, after all, it is such a bad world? Or why did He not create a better world? Or, supposing that it is all good, just, and harmonious, – could we only know the whole state of the case, – why, O why are we left in ignorance as to the whole state of the case? Why cannot we see plainly that it is all good, just, and harmonious; and why is the poet

"An infant crying in the night,
 An infant crying for the light,
And with no language but a cry?"

Well, well, unfortunately there were no spasmodic poets to be consulted when the world was created, or of course the human race in that case would find all things arranged so as to meet their perfect satisfaction; as it is, we endeavour, as far as we can, to put up with the existing order of things, and make the most of it, simply because we cannot change it [196] even if we would; and this is the advice which we give to the gloomy poet.

And here we will conclude the subject of unhealthy poetry; for although the In Memoriam is not the only unhealthy poem of Tennyson, nor Tennyson the only unhealthy poet, yet the breadth of our subject only allows us to exhibit specimens of our authors, and the In Memoriam appeared to us the very poem which would best convey to the reader our idea of unhealthy poetry. We have good reason to hope that the rising influence of Longfellow will finally succeed in banishing this black demon from the poetical world. How significant of revolutions in taste are sometimes even such trifling things as the frontispieces of books! At the head of Byron's Poetical Works, how often have we seen the noble bard reclining against a rock, his face set to that peculiar sentimentally-subdued Byronic scowl, his cravat loose and neck exposed (with a storm brewing overhead), utterly regardless of bronchitis! How often have we seen the ideal face of Shelley peering from out the blackest background, gazing on vacancy, with no cravat at all, the breast partially bared, and in his shirt-sleeves too, unless our memory betray us! And O, the contrast! Here is lying before us a beautiful edition of Longfellow's poems, with a neatly-executed frontispiece representing the poet clad in the costume of the period, and after the fashion of the period, – collar erect, cravat unexceptionable, and – whiskers! He who runs may read. The modern garb and air of the American poet signify, gentle reader, that henceforward, the dark spirit who has so long obstructed their union being put to flight, genius shall be married to common sense.

Another pretty general defect of modern poetry, and a defect again peculiar, we think, to modern poetry, is its occasional obscurity, – a fault which very few of our recent writers have avoided; and here, again, is an evil which confirms many a good-natured elderly gentleman in his rash conclusion that all modern poetry is mere stuff and nonsense. The unhealthy spirit of poetry, as it is natural to suppose, has a good share in rendering a poem obscure, because it urges the poet madly forward, driving him into abrupt transitions, half-defined images, and very oblique modes of expression. Let any man take up the In Memoriam, and endeavour to connect the links which join the little dirges one with another, or strive to understand the drift of the hobbling stanzas which open the beautiful but extravagant poem of Maud; or, again, let any man read (if he can and dare) Mr. Bailey's Festus, and inform us what is the argument of the book, and how the different scenes look to the general plan, and he will know what we [197] mean. But why attempt to prove that the poets are obscure? they own it. It is the poet's boast: it is his privilege to soar up and "be hidden in the light of thought," till we do not see but "feel he is there;" whilst we feel that we, alas, are nowhere! But if you dare to charge the poet with obscurity, as a rash reviewer once charged the poet Coleridge, he is very soon upon stilts, and talks down upon you "easy words to understand." "If any man expect from my poems," he says, "the same easiness of style which he admires in a drinking-song, for him I have not written: Intelligibilia non intellectum adfero." *

"My song [says Shelley], I fear that thou wilt find but few
 Who fitly shall conceive thy reasoning,
 Of such hard matter dost thou entertain;
 Whence, if by misadventure chance should bring
 Thee to base company (as chance may do),
 Quite unaware of what thou dost contain,
 I prithee comfort thy sweet self again,
 My last delight.   Tell them that they are dull,
 And bid them own that thou art beautiful."

Dull! Base company! O, but these high-flown gentlemen know how to express themselves in good round English when it suits them. But, jesting apart, we are sorry to find that a genuine poet like Mr. De Vere has not avoided this snare. At the risk of being considered dull, we select a specimen:


Sing the old song, aniid the sounds dispersing
      That burden treasured in your hearts too long;
          Sing it with voice low-breathed, but never name her.
She will not hear you, in her turrets nursing
      High thoughts, too high to mate with mortal song:
          Bend o'er her, gentle Heaven, but do not claim her!

In twilight caves and secret lonelinesses
      She shades the bloom of her unearthly days: –
          The forest winds alone approach to woo her.
Far off we catch the dark gleam of her tresses;
      And wild birds haunt the wood-walks where she strays,
          Intelligible music warbling to her.

That Spirit charged to follow and defend her,
      He also, doubtless, suffers this love-pain;
          And she perhaps is sad, hearing his sighing.
And yet that face is not so sad as tender;
      Like some sweet singer's, when her sweetest strain
          From the heaved breast is gradually dying." (p. 25.)

[198] Compare with the above the following exquisite lines, which, if we did not understand, we should be dull indeed:


Love thy God, and love Him only,
And thy breast will ne'er be lonely:
In that one great Spirit meet
All things mighty, grave, and sweet.
Vainly strives the soul to mingle
With a being of our kind;
Vainly hearts with hearts are twined:
For the deepest still is single,
An impalpable resistance
Holds like natures at a distance.
Mortal, love that Holy One,
Or dwell for aye alone!" (p. 195.)

And why should not all poetry be as intelligible as the above lines? Of course we agree that if a poem be engaged about astronomy or botany, the reader should know astronomy or botany in order to understand it; and on that ground we do not object that Festus is obscure where some parts of that poem exhibit the philosophy of Hegel, mingled with other miscellaneous schools, because we consider that these parts are addressed to students who have mastered the philosophy of Hegel, together with divers other schools, and the particular lingo in which these metaphysicians render themselves intelligible or unintelligible, as the case may be, to each other. But when a poet treats of subjects properly human, which every man can conceive who has imagination, or feel who has a heart, then he should use a style of expression which may render his ideas not merely intelligible, but easily intelligible, to an educated man; otherwise his poem will be like a picture, beautiful perhaps, but painted in such dim colours that we have to strain our eyes to make it all out.

We now pass to an error of a different kind, but an error characteristic also of modern poetry. We have defined poetry to be the art of depicting in words; but this very definition being frequently misunderstood, leads many writers into the notion that they are not writing poetry unless every word, or at least every phrase, conveys a separate image. The origin of this defect is as follows: the poet, on seeing a resemblance between the down of a thistle or dandelion and the locks of old age, expresses this similitude by an epithet, and speaks of the bearded thistle or of "the dandelion's hoary locks." Now the poetaster conceives that if he can only accomplish this sort of thing (and it seems easy enough), he will become in no time a great poet. So he sets to work: but, alas, he only falls into a bad habit of attempting conceits, to use the [199] old word; which too often fail for the very reason that they are not natural, but the result of effort. It is like punning. How very easy, when you have analysed the process, to make a pun! but how difficult to make a good pun! What a wretched piece of work is a bad pun! and what a miserable habit, to be perpetually straining at puns! Now it is the constant attempt at images which makes up the artificial appearance of a great deal of our modern poetry; but of course we except such writers as Burns, who avoids this defect, and Cowper and Wordsworth, who often fall into the opposite extreme of puritanical simplicity. On the other hand, Shelley is artificial, even in some of his finest pieces; and Tennyson very frequently is excessively artificial. As specimens of our meaning, take the following lines:

     "Prithee weep, May Lilian!
         Gaiety without eclipse
      Wearieth me, May Lilian:
Through my very heart it thrilleth
      When from crimson-threaded lips
Silver-treble laughter trilleth:
      Prithee weep, May Lilian."

It will be seen that the endeavour to make the separate words into images encourages an extensive use of the hyphen, which is a growing defect, and peculiarly modern; as, for instance,

"Eyes not down-dropt, nor over-bright,
    With the clear-pointed flame of chastity;
Clear without heat, undying, tended by
    Pure vestal thoughts in the translucent fane
Of her still spirit: locks not wide-dispread,
Madonna-wise, on either side her head."

Then in the poem of "Madeleine" we have "perfect-sweet," light-glooming," "sun-fringed," "golden-netted," "love-lore," "sudden-curved;" and in "Lilian" (besides what we have quoted), "innocent-arch," "cunning-simple." Then her eyes are are "black-beaded," and her cheeks "baby-roses." It is curious to trace the influence of one poet upon another: we found in Festus, "I am but the 'under-queen' of beauty," Jove's "free-love skies," a "sun-bright" braid of hair, the "boy-god" Cupid, and the "world-known," – and all within the space of a few lines. Now we have no wish to be considered hypercritical, and have no objection to a little of this if the words be nicely married together; but we complain of the excess of it, and also that the effort at making each word or phrase as much as possible a separate image betrays an ignorance of one of the chief sources of graphic power, which we shall call suggestion. Suggestive writing proceeds upon this [200] principle, that thought is a more subtle thing than language; and that if you only suggest an outline, the mind will soon fill it up with more vivid images than you could make with words. Take these lines of Byron, which, trite though they be, will suit our purpose:

"He heard it, but he heeded not; his eyes
 Were with his heart, and that was far away.
 He reck'd not of the life he lost, nor prize;
 But where his rude hut by the Danube lay,
 There were his young barbarians all at play,
 There was their Dacian mother: – he their sire,
 Butchered to make a Roman holiday!
 All this rush'd with his blood."

Now these lines have won their author universal applause, and yet there are no separate pictures conveyed by any separate word or phrase – there is no hooking with hyphens, nothing striking, no conceits; but the poet wishes to impress upon his readers the idea that the poor gladiator, thus "butchered to make a Roman holiday," was yet a man, and felt as men feel so, whilst the hum of thousands was around him in the crowded amphitheatre, he did not hear – he did not see; but he thought of his rude hut by the Danube, of his wife and children. That is enough. Shelley or Tennyson would have ransacked the universe to find something in the earthquake or the whirlwind, in the thunderbolt or the hurricane of the desert, which might, however faintly, resemble this man's feelings; and yet would find nothing in earthquake or whirl-wind, thunderbolt or hurricane, which would carry the reader beyond the pathos suggested by these simple words:

"There were his young barbarians all at play."

We must, however, admit that one of the most beautiful of Shelley's poems, "The Skylark," is a tissue of little conceits almost from beginning to end; and yet the finest stanzas in the whole poem are the one or two without them, as for instance:

                        "We look before and after,
                            And pine for what is not:
                        Our sincerest laughter
                            With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought."

The same may be said of Tennyson. Compare him with himself in such poems as "Mariana," "The Lord of Burleigh," "The Brook," "St. Simeon Stylites," &c., which want his usual characteristic, and yet are nothing deficient in graphic power. Not that we admire all these poems in every [201] respect; but we mean, they do not betray the mannerism which we have attempted to describe, and are better without it. Longfellow is the master of suggestive poetry, and seems to know better than most of our recent poets what will suffice to call up in the mind of the reader a flow of images and associations of which the detailed description would fail if attempted; for instance,


River, that in silence windest
  Through the meadows bright and free,
Till at length thy rest thou findest
  In the bosom of the sea:

Four long years of mingled feeling,
  Half in rest and half in strife,
I have seen thy waters stealing
  Onward, like the stream of life.

Thou hast taught me, silent river,
  Many a lesson deep and long;
Thou hast been a generous giver:
  I can give thee but a song.

Oft in sadness and in illness
  I have watch'd thy current glide,
Till the beauty of its stillness
  Overflowed me like a tide.

And in better hours and brighter,
  When I saw thy waters gleam,
I have felt my heart beat lighter,
  And leap onward with thy stream.

Not for this alone I love thee,
  Nor because thy waves of blue
From celestial seas above thee
  Take their own celestial hue:

Where yon shadowy woodlands hide thee,
  And thy waters disappear,
Friends I love have dwelt beside thee,
  And have made thy margin dear.

More than this, thy name reminds me
  Of three friends, all true and tried;
And that name like magic binds me
  Closer, closer to thy side.

    *         *         *         *         *         *

'Tis for this, thou silent river,
  That my spirit leans to thee;
Thou hast been a generous giver,
  Take this idle song from me."

"A Hymn to the Night," "Footsteps of Angels," "The [202] Day is done," and many parts of Evangeline, are also admirable instances of suggestive power. Of course there may be an extreme of this style; and the reader will probably remember poems which, like some of Turner's pictures, are so highly suggestive that they suggest nothing: but we pass by this fault, as coming under the head of obscurity.

There are two defects of "modern poetry" which, as they are mutually opposed, we shall for contrast-sake mention together these are, on the one hand, where unusual graphic power is united to defective judgment and depraved taste; and, on the other hand, where exquisite taste and judgment are found with only a scanty supply of graphic power, or poetical genius properly so called. Mr. Bailey, in his Festus and The Mystic, is an instance of what results when genius is divorced from judgment; and let it be borne in mind what we mean by genius, which warrants us in viewing it as distinct from judgment. Mr. Bailey, then, has genius, – nay we will go so far as to say that he has genius above the average of modern poets; and, however curious the fact may be, considering what a genius he is, he has no common sense, or rather, he has made no use of his common sense. This view of the intellectual character of the author of Festus, – a genius without common sense, – is the only one which will fully satisfy the facts, first, that the reviewers have laughed at Mr. Bailey, and pooh-poohed Mr. Bailey, and for ever damned (as they perhaps think) both Mr. Bailey and Festus; and secondly, that Festus has gone through five editions, and even The Mystic (a still more outlandish production) has gone through two editions. But we might demonstrate our position from the author's great work itself. Take the following extracts from the devil's sermon as instances of Mr. Bailey's best manner:

                              "Naught is great
Nor small with God – for none but He can make
The atom indivisible, and none
But He can make a world: He counts the orbs,
He counts the atoms of the universe,
And makes both equal – both are infinite.
Giving God honour, never underrate
Yourselves: after Him ye are every thing.
But mind! God's more than every thing – He's God.
And what of me?   No, us? no, I mean the devil!
Why, see ye not he goes before both you
And God?   Men say, As proud as Lucifer.
Pray, who would not be proud with such a train?
Hath he not all the honour of the earth?
Why, Mammon sits before a million hearths,
Where God is bolted out from every house.
Well might He say, He cometh as a thief;
[203] For He will break your bars and burst your doors,
Which slammed against Him once, and turn ye out,
Roofless and shivering, 'neath the doom storm; Heaven
Shall crack above ye like a bell in fire,
And bury all beneath its burning shards.
He calls ye hear not.   Lo! He comes: ye see not.
No; ye are deaf as a dead adder's ear.
No; ye are blind as never bat was blind,
With a burning bloodshot blindness of the heart,
A swimming swollen senselessness of soul.

    *         *         *         *         *         *

And as ye sink in sin, ye rise in hope: –
'And let the worst come to the worst,' you say,
'There always will be time to turn ourselves,
And cry for half an hour or so to God.
Salvation sure is not so very hard –
It need not take one long; and half an hour
Is quite as much as we can spare for it –
We have no time for pleasures.   Business! business!'
No, ye shall perish sudden and unsaved.

    *         *         *         *         *         *

The judge, while dooming unto death some wretch
Shall meet at once his own death, doom and judge;
The doctor, watch in hand and patient's pulse,
Shall feel his own heart cease its beats – and fall.
Professors shall spin out, and students strain
Their brains no more; art, science, toil shall cease.
The world shall stand still with a rending jar,
As though it struck at sea.   The halls where sit
The heads of nations shall be dumb with death.

    *         *         *         *         *         *

The wanton temporising with decay,
And qualifying every line which vice
Writes bluntly on the brow, inviting scorn,
Shall pale through plastered red; and the loose low sot
See clear for once, through his misty o'erbrimmed eye,
The just, if there be any, die in prayer."

Yes, Mr. Bailey has genius; but as for good judgment, perspicuity of style, and propriety of expression, very many persons look so little for that kind of thing since the In Memoriam, Maud, and such-like effusions, that possibly they would admire the impetuosity, the abrupt transitions, the inflated language, and the general aimlessness of Festus as beauties and evidences of the real poetic fire. We have given an idea of the fair side of Festus; we abstain from samples of an opposite description: suffice it to say that Festus is a highly extravagant poem; that it is besides an unhealthy poem; that it teaches the most absurd form of pantheism possible, – the pantheism of Hegel; that it teaches almost every other form of error, mingled with a good deal of Catholic truth; that it is offensively bombastic, and offensively silly, by turns; and that in the object or aim of [204] the poem it looks every where in general and nowhere in particular. Add to all this that occasionally you fall upon passages of exquisite beauty, and you will form a very fair idea of Festus, which is one of the most curious poems that possibly ever was penned since the world was created. An the real source of all this extravagancy is an unhealthy spirit of poetry. O, if Alexander Pope, or "glorious John," as Scott calls Dryden, – if they could revisit the world, go through a page or two of Festus, read on the title-page the announcement, "fifth edition;" and if they saw in addition (as we did the other day) a little volume of poems dedicated to James Bailey, Esq., as to one of some standing in the poetical world, – what would they think? "Well, well," we fancy some one objecting, "Mr. Bailey is an extravagant writer; but it is hardly fair to hold up his writings as specimens of the poetry of our age: he has even a certain popularity perhaps, but no well-educated man would make much of him compared with such writers as Shelley or Tennyson." And yet such writers as Shelley and Tennyson are in great measure accountable for Festus; for every writer who succeeds in attaining popularity, assists in creating the ethos of the age, and becomes accountable in some degree for what the ethos of the age produces. To gain a fair view of the state of poetry in any age, the poets must be considered in their bearings upon each other. Festus, and the popularity of Festus, are accounted for by the writings of Tennyson, just as the writings of Tennyson are accounted for by the writings of Shelley and Byron. Who can read Mr. De Vere's May Carols without being reminded of the In Memoriam? or again, who can read Father Caswall's poems without remembering both Cowper and Wordsworth? But this is saying nothing against these writers. All praise to them where they have assimilated what is sound and healthy, and eschewed what is corrupt and pernicious, in the spirit of their masters. We are all imitators: and as Lord Macaulay has influenced the style of reviews and newspapers, so eminent poets have influenced the poetry of their age; and Tennyson is accountable for Festus, and Festus is an instance of the extravagancy of modern poetry.

Now for the opposite defect, into which writers are often driven by simple abhorrence – but, be it said, a very just abhorrence – of the prevailing tendency. Those who disrelish Byron and Tennyson have a natural admiration for Wordsworth, sometimes mistaking his classical simplicity and elegance of style, which is merely the dress of his poetry, for the poetry itself. And, we must say it, much of this fault [205] is due to Wordsworth himself; who, although possessing the highest imaginative powers, has written very many pieces which, in our judgment, have no other claim to be considered poetry than the mere propriety and finish of expression which is the characteristic of their author. Hence it is that Wordsworth has created either, on the one hand, a passionate worship, or, on the other, a superficially conceived contempt. Those who only glance at his writings, often rise up disgusted; whilst those who persevere in the perusal are first gratified, then admire, and often end in downright enthusiasm. But perhaps we had better illustrate our view of Wordsworth's genius by comparing him with himself as the poet and the mere classical versifier. As an instance of his powers of imagery, we subjoin the following lines:

               "A COMPLAINT.

There is a change, and I am poor:
    Your love hath been, nor long ago,
A fountain at my fond heart's door
    Whose only business was to flow; –
And flow it did, not taking heed
Of its own bounty nor my need.

What happy moments did I count;
    Blest was I then all bliss above!
Now for this consecrated fount
    Of murmuring, sparkling, living love,
What have I – shall I dare to tell? –
A comfortless, a hidden well.

A well of love. – It may be deep;
    Perhaps it is, and never dry:
What matter, if the waters sleep
    In silence and obscurity!
Such change, and at the very door
Of my foud heart, hath made me poor!"

It is such lines as the above which account for the enthusiasm of Wordsworth's disciples; whilst such verses as the following, which are of too frequent occurrence, fully account likewise for the coldness of the opposite school, who read Byron, Shelley, and Tennyson, and shrink from Wordsworth:


Woe to you, prelates! rioting in ease
And cumbrous wealth – the shame of your estate;
You, on whose progress dazzling trains await
Of pompous horses, whom vain titles please,
Who will be served by others on their knees,
Yet will yourselves to God no service pay:
Pastors who neither take nor point the way
[206] To heaven; for either, lost in vanities,
Ye have no skill to teach, or if ye know,
To speak the word.   Alas, of fearful things,
"Tis the most fearful when the people's eye
Abuse hath cleared from vain imaginings,
And taught the general voice to prophesy
Of justice armed, and pride to be laid low!"

It goes hard with us to find a fault with Father Caswall; but in the golden little volume which he has lately given to the public he has earned such a reputation as a genuine poet, that he will bear any amount of impartial criticism. We feel free, then, to find the very fault with him (although it is not often that he commits it) which we have found with Wordsworth, viz. he sometimes writes elegantly and chastely and thoughtfully without writing poetry. Let us compare him with himself, as we have done with Wordsworth. His odes present specimens of imagery such as we are happy to meet with in the greatest poets, as:

"The peacock next,
Fanning his goodly plumes,
His aureole display'd.
     Upon a broken urn,
     Relic of ancient days,
Graceful he stood, the rainbow amid birds!"


    "Then came the mystic dove,
Her silvery feathers all bedropp'd with gold,
Sliding she came, down the smooth circling stair
Of yielding atmosphere, nor stirr'd a breath
     With her becalmed wing!"


"I see the dolphin on the stormy wave
     Taking his morning roll."


"Before me lay the bottom of the deep,
     A region unexplored, –
Where never yet the storm was heard to rave, –
Stirless abode of solitude profound!"

Then how fine is the description of the great "fish" which swallowed the prophet Jonas –

            "With fear I saw
A mighty monster of an unknown fish,
      Dozing and motionless,
      Thy wond'rous work, O Lord!
    Thick-ribb'd and strong he seem'd,
With skin more rugged than the corky rind;
On whom no sooner had I fix'd my glance,
            Than seems to shoot
    An Angel down, and whisper in his ear.
          Forthwith his fins strike out,
[207] And, as an arrow from the bow, he darts
    Upon his order'd course."

But the following is mere verse-prose:


My friends, ye use a solemn seeming tone,
   And teach a truth sublime;
Christ present in His Eucharist ye own,
   And count denial a crime.

Be honest; if Him truly there ye hold,
   When next the Feast ye share,
Bow down before the Mystery untold, –
   Bow down, and worship there!

What, ye refuse!   O men unreal, I see
   Ye have your words belied!
Farewell, such teaching will not serve for me;
   I seek a surer guide."

Homer sometimes nods, and so does Father Caswall; but it is hardly fair that the nod should constitute by itself a little poem, though we can excuse several nods in a long one. The same remark applies to "Unreality."

We had put Father Faber's volume at the head of our list; but our space, we find, is too limited to enable us to enlarge upon its merits, and we prefer saying nothing to being forced to say too little. We only observe, therefore, that to Father Faber and Father Caswall falls naturally a destination which cannot be too highly esteemed, for it is theirs to form a Catholic literature. The errors of the modern poets are for the most part such as spring from the unhealthy atmosphere of Protestantism which surrounds them. There is no lack of poetry in our country; but it is a mischievous principle, active indeed, and beautiful sometimes, but fatally beautiful. The poet is by turns morbid, frantic, sullen, and ecstatic; and he affects his readers with his spirit as with a disease, and they become unfitted for life and discontented with their lot.

A Catholic literature is what all who have the welfare of our youth at heart are looking anxiously forward to. A rich foretaste we have had already; but we expect greater things yet from Father Faber and Father Caswall.



[Die Anmerkungen stehen als Fußnoten auf den in eckigen Klammern bezeichneten Seiten]

[191] * Phædrus.   zurück

[192] We speak of English poetry. We are not unaware of the influence of Goethe and Schiller in Germany, nor of the "storm-and-stress" school which sprung up from the Robbers of the latter poet, – when versifiers tried to be Tyrtean by huddling helmets, swords, and prancing steeds together, and by supplying their halting verses with ohs and ahs; when there was one universal shout for natur ( which was supposed to be a compound of volcanoes and moonlight), her force explosion, her beauty, sentiment; when the true signs of genius were to be insurgent and sentimental, murderous and lachrymose; when every thing established was voted humdrum, and genius, abhorrent of humdrum, would neither spell correctly, nor write correctly, nor behave correctly, but would be German, lawless, rude, natural. Lawless and rude it certainly was; but let us hope, for nature's sake, not natural.   zurück

[197] * "I tell you things that may be understood, but I cannot give you understanding."   zurück





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The Rambler.
NS Bd. 9, 1858, März, S. 188-207.


Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

The Rambler   online
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/011569765

The Rambler   inhaltsanalytische Bibliographie
The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, 1824-1900.
Hrsg. von Walter E. Houghton. Bd. 2. Toronto 1972.







Literatur: anonym

Armstrong, Isobel: Victorian Scrutinies. Reviews of Poetry 1830-1870. London 1972.

Brandmeyer, Rudolf: Poetiken der Lyrik: Von der Normpoetik zur Autorenpoetik. In: Handbuch Lyrik. Theorie, Analyse, Geschichte. Hrsg. von Dieter Lamping. 2. Aufl. Stuttgart 2016, S. 2-15.

Christ, Carol T.: Victorian Poetics. In: A Companion to Victorian Poetry. Hrsg. von Richard Cronin u.a. Malden, MA 2002, S. 1-21.

Laporte, Charles / Rudy, Jason R. (Hrsg.): Spasmodic Poetry and Poetics [Special Issue]. In: Victorian Poetry 42.4 (2004).
URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/i40000164

Laporte, Charles: Victorian Poets and the Changing Bible. Charlottesville u.a. 2011.

Kete, Mary L.: The Reception of Nineteenth-Century American Poetry. In: The Cambridge Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Poetry. Hrsg. von Kery Larson. Cambridge 2011, S. 13-35.

Peterfy, Margit: Imagined and Memorialized Fame: Longfellow and Lowell in England. In: Symbiosis. Transatlantic Literary and Cultural Relations 25.1 (2021), S. 75-93.

Shattock, Joanne: Reviewing. In: A Companion to Victorian Poetry. Hrsg. von Richard Cronin u.a. Malden, MA 2002, S. 378-391.



Literatur: The Rambler

Altholz, Josef L.: The Liberal Catholic movement in England. The "Rambler" and its Contributors, 1848 - 1864. London 1962.

Crumb, Lawrence N.: The Oxford Movement and Its Leaders. A Bibliography of Secondary and Lesser Primary Sources. 2. Aufl. Lanham, Md. u.a. 2009.

Ehnes, Caley: Victorian Poetry and the Poetics of the Literary Periodical. Edinburgh 2019.

King, Andrew / Plunkett, Andrew (Hrsg.): Victorian Print Media. A Reader. Oxford 2005.

King, Andrew u.a. (Hrsg.): The Routledge Handbook to Nineteenth-Century British Periodicals and Newspapers. London u. New York 2019.

Palmegiano, E. M.: Perceptions of the Press in Nineteenth-Century British Periodicals. A Bibliography. London u.a. 2012.

Zwierlein, Anne-Julia: Viktorianische Zeitschriften als multimediale, polyvokale und außerparlamentarische Plattformen. In: Handbuch Zeitschriftenforschung. Hrsg. von Oliver Scheiding u. Sabina Fazli. Bielefeld 2023, S. 273-288.
DOI: 10.14361/9783839451137-018



Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer