Edmund Gosse



A Plea for certain Exotic Forms of Verse.




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WHEN the poctess Louise Bertin put to Alfred de Musset the still unanswered question "What is poetry?" she received a celebrated rejoinder, the last and perhaps the happiest clause of which is:

D'un sourire, d'un mot, d'un soupir, d'un regard
Faire un travail exquis.

The answer was far from satisfying the demand of Mdlle. Bertin, but as a definition of, not poetry indeed, but the function of a post, it left little to be desired. To make immortal art out of transient feeling, to give the impression of a finite mind infinite expansion, to chisel material beauty out of passing thoughts and emotions, — this is the labour of the poet; and it is on account of this conscious artifice and exercise of constructive power that be properly takes his place beside the sculptor and the painter. To recognise in poetry one of the fine arts seems curiously difficult to an ordinary mind. The use of the same symbols which are employed for the interpretation of thought in prose is probably the origin of the habitual impression that poetry is rather allied to philosophy than to art. Yet every artist in verse, however humble, is conscious from the first time that he strives to fashion his inarticulate music, that the work he tries to accomplish is in its essence plastic. The very images that occur to the mind in considering the history of poetry prove its analogy with the fine arts. What poet can be said to resemble Hegel or Locke in the sense that Dante parallels Giotto or Tennyson reminds us of Mendelssohn? Whether the analogy in these particular cases be judged to exist or not, there is at least nothing unreasonable in such a suggestion. We feel that these men progressed in parallel arts, fashioning rather than reflecting, creators and not contemplators. If therefore, as we must, we regard poetry as one of the fine arts, it need not surprise us to have to dismiss the purely spontaneous and untutored expression of it as of little else than historical interest. In the present age the warblings of poetic improvisation cannot expect more attention than the equally artless impromptus of an untaught musical talent. In the last century, just after the long lyrical drought was breaking up, the attention of Europe was called to several poets who improvised with genius. The peculiar gift of Burns may be classed with these; a more singular instance was that of the Swedish Bellman, whose impromptus still take a high place in the literature of his country, while his laboured pieces have been forgotten for a century. As a rule, however, where little pains is taken little pleasure results; the poems of certain con[54]temporaries, composed with excessive facility, are doomed in their own lifetime to the fate that befell the tours de force of the painter Fa Presto. And among earnest writers of verse the question is not whether or not labour shall be expended on their work, but to what aim that labour should tend.

Every artist gifted with originality answers this question in his own way; but the history of literature proves that each age exercises a moulding influence on the whole group of its artists. Raphael, Milton, Beethoven did not appear like Stromboli, flaring out of a level sea of mediocrity, but rather as the final peak of an ascending range of talent; Shakspeare is more nearly approached by the smallest of the Elizabethan dramatists than by Sheridan or by Hugo. The same aims actuate, in a measure, all the artists of a vital period; and no one influence is exercised for a long time upon a group of active minds. It may be almost laid down as an axiom that no generation worships unmodified the gods of its immediate predecessor. If, therefore, we obtain a correct opinion of what is admired by the fathers, it is not paradoxical to take for granted that the same will not be admired by the sons. Let us consider, then, what were the technical characteristics of the English poetry of the beginning of this century. The philosophic simplicity of Wordsworth and the sensuous beauty of Keats, with a small admixture of Shelley's delicate music, were combined to form the basis upon which Tennyson stepped first into public notice. The worship of Milton by Keats, of Milton through Keats, pushed to an extravagant excess, set the Spasmodic School in motion; blustering blank verse, studded with unconnected beauties of fanciful phrase, formed the instrument for these brilliant discords. Style was utterly wanting, and the whole school passed into thin air, not without leaving a baneful influence, a tradition of formlessness behind it. In the Brownings the influence of Keats took another shape, and these great poets, surviving the wreck of the Spasmodists, were still bent more on vigour than grace, and worked in bronze rather than in silver. By a curious coincidence, however, all these writers, except in part Mrs. Browning, began to adopt blank verse as their favourite instrument; the Laureate, especially, laying aside one by one all the lyrical adornments of his youth, set himself to the construction of a system of blank verse, the lucidity, melody, and sweetness of which will be the wonder of posterity. At one time, so powerful was his personal example, there seemed a danger that our poetry would for a time abandon all other forms as completely as the age of Addison gave up all for the heroic couplet of Pope; the result being, of course, more disastrous in the modern instance, because it is so much easier to produce bad blank verse than had rhymed decasyllables. The delicacy of Mr. Tennyson and the vigour of Mr. Browning were aped by hundreds of imitators, who proceeded no further than effeminacy in the first instance and ruggedness in the second.

It was obvious that a reaction must come, and it came in the simultaneous appearance of several learned and enthusiastic poets, whose [55] technical methods differed in almost every instance from those of the generation before them. I am not now concerned to defend or even to examine the revolution they effected in any but a technical sense. I do not anticipate that any one will deny that this last was needful. The dignity and service of rhyme, strangely neglected in the last generation, were insisted upon by the younger writers, who fed the exhausted sources of music with new combination of old forms and with a happy reproduction of ancient measures. The dactylic rhythms of Mr. Swinburne, often incorrectly spoken of as anapæstic, have undoubtedly given a classic grace and precision to a form too often dedicated in the last century to vulgar and trivial music. Mr. William Morris has indued the heroic measure, which had been thrown aside as a worn-out instrument, with a new spirit and unfamiliar if somewhat languid cadences. Mr. D. G. Rossetti in the sonnet, and his sister in the song, have added new wealth to our traditional heritage of melody. The verse of these writers is rich in colour, supple, vehement; their iambics, so far from lagging, are apt to overflow into a kind of running dactyl. Their aim, sometimes only too prominently expressed, is evidently to escape triviality and poverty of phrase; they recognise the value of unhackneyed words, whether realistically homely or pedantically ornate. It is in the nature of things that such a reaction in favour of form should be violently opposed and enthusiastically embraced; and also that, after a brief period of success, its popularity should be provisionally threatened by a revival of the elder manner. We have accordingly seen of late more than one writer of talent recur to the severer or less exacting style of thirty years ago. But the spirit of the time is against such a resuscitation of the past. Tennyson's mantle has not fallen upon his disciples, and they cannot hope to succeed him in fame. This seems especially the case in the matter of narrative blank verse; those who write epics of Heaven on Hell in this perilous measure do so at the risk of their reputation: such poems are certain of oblivion, weighed down irremediably by the burden of their facility.

The actual movement of the time, then, appears certainly to be in the direction of increased variety and richness of rhyme, elasticity of verse, and strength of form. The invertebrate rhapsodies of Sydney Dobell, so amazing in their beauty of detail and total absence of style, are now impossible. We may lack his inspiration and his insight, but we understand far better than he the workmanship of the art of verse. The sonnet, reduced by Sidney and Daniel — its original importers — to a weak quatorzain ending in a couplet, and first redeemed in its pure beauty by Milton, had fallen again into irregularity in spite of the revival of Wordsworth and Keats. Dobell, who is the very helot of stylistic depravity, wrote sonnets of fifteen, sixteen, eighteen lines, and rhymed them as seemed good in his own eyes. In the present generation we write sonnets on the pure Petrarchan model, and when, the other day, an elderly sonnetteer published a sonnet of thirteen lines and with [56] one poor rhymeless line, the publication of such a piece in a prominent magazine was felt to be a thorough anachronism, and its shortcoming was presently apologised for.

If it be asked what is the use of these limits, and why sonnets should of necessity have fourteen lines with four rhymes, in decasyllabic iambics, duly arranged? the answer is, because it has been proved in the history of literature that law is better than anarchy, and that the exact shape universally conceded to a form of verse by our ancestors is practically found, in spite of or because of its very difficulties, useful in the production of a certain kind of art. Those who are impatient of rules and prefer to be a law unto themselves, may turn elsewhere. Poetry offers a myriad branches in which they may exercise their liberty; they are not obliged to compose sonnets, but we have a right to demand that if they do so they should follow in the time-honoured footsteps of Petrarch and Milton. I have remarked, however, that the literary opinion of the time is generally in favour of exact form in literature, and I will take the liberty of supposing that those who do me the honour of following my argument unite in this opinion. It is on this assumption that I build the proposal which I am about to make. We allow that the revival of the old pure form of the sonnet is one which was indubitably required. That the rhymes of the octett must be two instead of four, instead of appalling us by its difficulty encourages us to brilliant effort. We acknowledge that the severity of the plan and the rich and copious recurrence of the rhyme serve the double end of repelling the incompetent workman and stimulating the competent. This being so, why should we not proceed to the cultivation of other fixed forms of verse, which flourished in the earliest days of modern poetic literature, and of which the sonnet, if the finest, is at least but one?

In point of fact, the movement I advocate has begun on all sides, with the spontaneity of an idea obviously ready to be born. I myself, without suggestion from any acquaintance, but merely in consequence of reading the early French poets, determined to attempt the introduction of the ballade and the rondeau. But, to my great surprise, I found that I had no right to claim the first invention of the idea. First on one hand, then on the other, I discovered that several young writers, previously unknown to me and to one another, had determined on the same innovation. For some time the idea was confined to conversation and private discussion. But these forms are now being adopted by a still wider circle, and the movement seems so general that the time has come to define a little more exactly what seems to be desirable in this matter and what not. In doing so I shall be as conservative as possible, laying no bondage on others, but pointing out, for the amusement of those who have not the opportunity to go minutely into the history of verse, what are the traditional and unique characteristics of the exotic forms which it seems desirable to adopt into English poetry. And in so doing I shall consider the six most important of the poetic creations of old France, the [57] rondel, the rondeau, the triolet, the villanelle, the ballade, and the chant royal. These six poems, with the sonnet, form a group which comprises in the earliest and latest literature of France a large proportion of what is most precious, most lyrical, and most witty in the national verse. Each has a fixed form, regulated by traditional laws, and each depends upon richness of rhyme and delicate workmanship for its successful exercise. The first three are habitually used for joyous or gay thought, and lie most within the province of jeu-d'esprit and epigram; the last three are usually wedded to serious or stately expression, and almost demand a vein of pathos.






The Cornhill Magazine.
Bd. 36, 1877, Juli, S. 53-71.

Unser Auszug: S. 53-57.

Gezeichnet: E. W. G.

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

The Cornhill Magazine   online
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000522322
URL: https://archive.org/advancedsearch.php

The Cornhill Magazine   inhaltsanalytische Bibliographie
The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, 1824-1900.
Hrsg. von Walter E. Houghton. Bd. 1. Toronto 1966.







Werkverzeichnis: Gosse


Thwaite, Ann: Edmund Gosse. A Literary Landscape 1849-1928.
London: Secker and Warburg 1984.
S. 513-517: Bibliography ("of first seperate editions only").

Gosse, Edmund: The Poems of Edgar Poe.
In: The Examiner.
1875, 30. Januar, S. 137-138.

Gosse, Edmund: {Rezension zu:]
Les Poésies de Catulle Mendès (Paris: Sandoz et Fischbacher).
In: The Academy. A Weekly Review of Literature, Science, and Art.
1877, 16. Juni, S. 526-527.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006791517

Gosse, Edmund: A Plea for certain Exotic Forms of Verse.
In: The Cornhill Magazine.
Bd. 36, 1877, Juli, S. 53-71.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000522322

Gosse, Edmund: [Rezension zu:]
Gérard de Nerval, Poésies complètes (Paris: Calmann Lévy 1877).
In: The Academy. A Weekly Review of Literature, Science, and Art.
1878, 2. März, S. 180-181.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006791517

Gosse, Edmund: Is Verse in Danger?
In: The Forum.
1891, January, S. 517-526.
URL: http://www.unz.com/print/Forum/

Gosse, Edmund: Questions at Issue.
London: Heinemann 1893.
URL: https://archive.org/details/questionsatissu00gossgoog
URL: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000392854

Gosse, Edmund: Stéphane Mallarmé
In: The Academy. A Weekly Review of Literature, Science, and Art.
Bd. 43, 1893, Nr. 1079, 7. Januar, S. 5-7. [PDF]
Mit Änderungen aufgenommen in
Edmund Gosse: Questions at Issue.
London: Heinemann 1893; hier S. 217-234 (u.d.T. "Symbolism and M. Stéphane Mallarmé").
URL: https://archive.org/details/questionsatissu00gossgoog
URL: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000392854

Gosse, Edmund: Christina Rossetti.
In: The Century Magazine.
Bd. 46, 1893, Juni, S. 211-217.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/012508493
URL: https://www.unz.com/print/Century

Gosse, Edmund: A Note on Walt Whitman.
In: The New Review.
Bd. 10, 1894, Nr. 59, April, S. 447-457.
wiederholt in
The Living Age.
1894, 26. Mai, S. 495-501.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/011827682

Gosse, Edmund: Walter Pater: a Portrait.
In: The Contemporary Review.
Bd. 66, 1894, Dezember, S. 795-810. [PDF]

Gosse, Edmund: A First Sight of Verlaine.
In: The Savoy. An Illustrated Quarterly.
1896, Nr. 2, April, S. 113-116.
URL: https://archive.org/details/savoy01symo
Mit Änderungen aufgenommen in
Edmund Gosse: French Profiles.
London: Heinemann 1905; hier S. 182-188.
URL: https://archive.org/details/frnchprofiles00gossiala
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/007680073

Gosse, Edmund: Current French Literature.
Cosmopolis. Revue internationale.
Bd. 2, 1896, Nr. 6, Juni, S. 660-677.
URL: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb327493131/date

Gosse, Edmund: Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly.
In: The Pageant.
1897, S. 18-31.
URL: http://www.1890s.ca/Default.aspx
Aufgenommen in
Edmund Gosse: French Profiles.
London: Heinemann 1905; hier S. 92-107.

Gosse, Edmund: Current French Literature.
Cosmopolis. Revue internationale.
Bd. 6, 1897, Nr. 18, Juni, S. 637-654.
URL: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb327493131/date

Gosse, Edmund: Ten Years of English Literature.
In: North American Review.
Bd. 165, 1897, Nr. 489, August, S. 138-148.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/004528837
URL: https://www.unz.com/print/NorthAmericanRev/

Gosse, Edmund: Stéphane Mallarmé.
In: The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art.
Bd. 86, 1898, 17. September, S. 372-373. [PDF]
Mit Änderungen aufgenommen in
Edmund Gosse: French Profiles.
London: Heinemann 1905; hier S. 305-312.
URL: https://archive.org/details/frnchprofiles00gossiala
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/007680073

Gosse, Edmund: Some Recent Literature in France.
In: The Contemporary Review.
Bd. 74, 1898, Dezember, S. 890-900.
URL: https://archive.org/details/contemporaryrev14unkngoog

Gosse, Edmund: L'Influence de la France sur la poésie anglaise,
conférence faite le 9 février 1904, à Paris, sur l'invitation de la Société des conférences,
traduite par Henry-D. Davray.
Paris: Société du "Mercure de France" 1904.
URL: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k54430215

Gosse, Edmund: French Profiles.
London: Heinemann 1905.
URL: https://archive.org/details/frnchprofiles00gossiala
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/007680073

Gosse, Edmund: The Influence of France upon English Poetry.
In: Edmund Gosse: French Profiles.
London: Heinemann 1905; hier S. 330-363.
URL: https://archive.org/details/frnchprofiles00gossiala
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/007680073

Gosse, Edmund: Art. Lyrical Poetry.
In: The Encyclopædia Britannica.
Eleventh Edition. Volume XVII. Cambridge, England; New York, NY 1911, S. 180-181.
URL: https://archive.org/details/encyclopaediabri17chisrich

Gosse, Edmund: French Profiles.
New Edition. London: Heinemann 1913.
URL: https://archive.org/details/frenchprofiles00goss
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001790429

Gosse, Edmund: The Future of English Poetry.
[Oxford: H. Hart, Printer to the Univesity] 1913.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009979369

Gosse, Edmund (Hrsg.): Les Fleurs Du Mal and Other Studies.
By Algernon Charles Swinburne.
London: Printed for Private Circulation 1913.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/002781737

Gosse, Edmund: The Life of Algernon Charles Swinburne.
New York: The Macmillan company 1917.
URL: https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.211007
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001112871

Gosse, Edmund: Baudelaire.
In: The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs.
Bd. 31, 1917, Nr. 175, Oktober, S. 131-134. [PDF]

Gosse, Edmund: Mr. Hardy's Lyrical Poems
In: The Edinburgh Review.
Bd. 227, 1918, Nr. 464, April, S. 272–293.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009663369
aufgenommen in
Edmund Gosse: Some Diversions of a Man of Letters.
London: Heinemann 1919; hier: S. 231-258 (u.d.T. "The Lyrical Poetry of Thomas Hardy").
URL: https://archive.org/details/somediversionsof00goss
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000393057

Gosse, Edmund: Some Diversions of a Man of Letters.
London: Heinemann 1919.
URL: https://archive.org/details/somediversionsof00goss
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000393057

Brugmans, Linette F. (Hrsg.): The Correspondence of André Gide and Edmund Gosse, 1904-1928.
Edited, with translations.
London: Owen 1959.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001212533





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.

Cunningham, Valentine: Darke Conceits: Churton Collins, Edmund Gosse, and the Professions of Criticism. In: Grub Street and the Ivory Tower. Literary Journalism and Literary Scholarship from Fielding to the Internet. Hrsg. von Jeremy Treglown u. Bridget Bennett. Oxford 1998, S. 72-90.

Dobson, Austin: A Note on some Foreign Forms of Verse. In: Latter-day Lyrics. Being Poems of Sentiment and Reflection by Living Writers. Selected and Arranged with Notes by W. Davenport Adams. With a Note on some Foreign Forms of Verse by Austin Dobson. London 1878, S. 331-349.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006516721
URL: https://archive.org/details/latter-daylyrics00kohlrich

Mallett, Phillip: Edmund Gosse. In: Nineteenth-Century British Literary Biographers. Hrsg. von Steven Serafin (= Dictionary of Literary Biography, Bd. 144). Detroit, MI 1994, S. 127-146.

Martus, Steffen u.a. (Hrsg.): Lyrik im 19. Jahrhundert. Gattungspoetik als Reflexionsmedium der Kultur. Bern u.a. 2005 (= Publikationen zur Zeitschrift für Germanistik, 11).

Rath, Brigitte: "Our knowledge petrifies our rhymes." Edmund Gosse im Kontext der Institutionalisierung von English Literature. In: Poeta philologus. Eine Schwellenfigur im 19. Jahrhundert. Hrsg. von Mark-Georg Dehrmann u.a. Bern u.a. 2010 (= Publikationen zur Zeitschrift für Germanistik; N.F., 22), S. 195-218.

Temple, Ruth Z.: The Critic's Alchemy. A Study of the Introduction of French Symbolism into England. New York 1953.
S. 185-228: Edmund Gosse.

Thain, Marion: The Lyric Poem and Aestheticism. Forms of Modernity. Edinburgh 2016.
S. 91-112: Parnassus and Commodity Time.

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Woolf, James D.: Sir Edmund Gosse. An Annotated Bibliography of Writings about Him. In: English Literature in Transition 1880-1920. 11 (1968), S. 126-172.



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