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A History of English Romanticism in the Nineteenth Century
by Henry A. Beers
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"The hall-door shuts again and all is still."

Poems like "The Day Dream" and "The Princess" make it evident that Scott and Coleridge and Keats had so given back the Middle Ages to the imagination that any future poet, seeking free play in a realm unhampered by actual conditions—"apart from place, withholding time"—was apt to turn naturally, if not inevitably, to the feudal times. The action of "The Day Dream" proceeds no-where and no-when. The garden—if we cross-examine it—is a Renaissance garden:

"Soft lustre bathes the range of urns On every slanting terrace-lawn: The fountain to its place returns, Deep in the garden lake withdrawn."

The furnishings of the palace are a mixture of mediaeval and Louis Quatorze—clocks, peacocks, parrots, golden mantle pegs:—

"Till all the hundred summers pass, The beams that through the oriel shine Make prisms in every carven glass And beaker brimm'd with noble wine."

But the impression, as a whole, is of the Middle Age of poetic convention, if not of history; the enchanted dateless era of romance and fairy legend.

"St. Agnes" and "Sir Galahad," its masculine counterpart, sound the old Catholic notes of saintly virginity and mystical, religious rapture, the Gottesminne of mediaeval hymnody. Not since Southwell's "Burning Babe" and Crashaw's "Saint Theresa" had any English poet given such expression to those fervid devotional moods which Sir Thomas Browne describes as "Christian annihilation, ecstasies, exolution, liquefaction, transformation, the kiss of the spouse, gustation of God and ingression into the divine shadow." This vein, we have noticed, is wanting in Scott. On the other hand, it may be noticed in passing, Tennyson's attitude towards nature is less exclusively romantic—in the narrow sense—than Scott's. He, too, is conscious of the historic associations of place. In Tennyson, as in Scott,—

"The splendour falls on castle walls And snowy summits old in story"—[26]

but, in general, his treatment of landscape, in its human relations, is subtler and more intimate.

"St. Agnes" and "Sir Galahad" are monologues, but lyric and not dramatic in Browning's manner. There is a dramatic falsity, indeed, in making Sir Galahad say of himself—

"My strength is as the strength of ten Because my heart is pure,"

and the poem would be better in the third person. "St. Simeon Stylites" is a dramatic monologue more upon Browning's model, i.e., a piece of apologetics and self-analysis. But in this province Tennyson is greatly Browning's inferior.

"The Princess" (1847) is representative of that "splendid composite of imagery," and that application of modern ideas to legendary material, or to invented material arbitrarily placed in an archaic setting, which are characteristic of this artist. The poem's sub-title is "A Medley," because it is

"—made to suit with time and place, A Gothic ruin and a Grecian house, A talk of college and of ladies' rights, A feudal knight in silken masquerade, And, yonder, shrieks and strange experiments."

The problem is a modern one—the New Woman. No precise historic period is indicated. The female university is full of classic lore and art, but withal there are courts of feudal kings, with barons, knights, and squires, and shock of armoured champions in the lists.

But the special service of Tennyson to romantic poetry lay in his being the first to give a worthy form to the great Arthurian saga; and the modern masterpiece of that poetry, all things considered, is his "Idylls of the King." Not so perfect and unique a thing as "The Ancient Mariner"; less freshly spontaneous, less stirringly alive than "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," Tennyson's Arthuriad has so much wider a range than Coleridge's ballad, and is sustained at so much higher a level than Scott's romance, that it outweighs them both in importance. The Arthurian cycle of legends, emerging from Welsh and Breton mythology; seized upon by French romancers of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, who made of Arthur the pattern king, of Lancelot the pattern knight, and of the Table Round the ideal institute of chivalry; gathering about itself accretions like the Grail Quest and the Tristram story; passing by translation into many tongues, but retaining always its scene in Great or Lesser Britain, the lands of its origin, furnished the modern English romancer with a groundwork of national, though not Anglo-Saxon epic stuff, which corresponds more nearly with the Charlemagne epos in France, and the Nibelung hero Saga in Germany, than anything else which our literature possesses. And a national possession, in a sense, it had always remained. The story in outline and in some of its main episodes was familiar. Arthur, Lancelot, Guinivere, Merlin, Modred, Iseult, Gawaine, were well-known figures, like Robin Hood or Guy of Warwick, in Shakspere's time as in Chaucer's. But the epos, as a whole, had never found its poet. Spenser had evaporated Arthur into allegory. Milton had dallied with the theme and put it by.[27] The Elizabethan drama, which went so far afield in search of the moving accident, had strangely missed its chance here, bringing the Round Table heroes upon its stage only in masque and pageant (Justice Shallow "was Sir Dagonet in Arthur's show"), or in some such performance as the rude old Seneca tragedy of "The Misfortunes of Arthur." In 1695 Sir Richard Blackmore published his "Prince Arthur," an epic in ten books and in rimed couplets, enlarged in 1697 into "King Arthur" in twelve books. Blackmore professed to take Vergil as his model. A single passage from his poem will show how much chance the old chivalry tale had in the hands of a minor poet of King William's reign. Arthur and his company have landed on the shores of Albion, where

"Rich wine of Burgundy and choice champagne Relieve the toil they suffered on the main; But what more cheered them than their meats and wine, Was wise instruction and discourse divine From Godlike Arthur's mouth."

There is no need, in taking a summary view of Tennyson's "Idylls," to go into the question of sources, or to inquire whether Arthur was a historical chief of North Wales, or whether he signified the Great Bear (Arcturus) in Celtic mythology, and his Round Table the circle described by that constellation about the pole star.[28] Tennyson went no farther back for his authority than Sir Thomas Malory's "Morte Darthur," printed by Caxton in 1485, a compilation principally from old French Round Table romances. This was the final mediaeval shape of the story in English. It is somewhat wandering and prolix as to method, but written in delightful prose. The story of "Enid," however (under its various titles and arrangements in successive editions), he took from Lady Charlotte Guest's translation of the Welsh "Mabinogion" (1838-49).

Before deciding upon the heroic blank verse and a loosely epic form, as most fitting for his purpose, Tennyson had retold passages of Arthurian romance in the ballad manner and in various shapes of riming stanza. The first of these was "The Lady of Shalott" (1832), identical in subject with the later idyll of "Lancelot and Elaine," but fanciful and even allegorical in treatment. Shalott is from Ascalot, a variant of Astolat, in the old metrical romance—not Malory's—of the "Morte Arthur." The fairy lady, who sees all passing sights in her mirror and weaves them into her magic web, has been interpreted as a symbol of art, which has to do properly only with the reflection of life. When the figure of Lancelot is cast upon the glass, a personal emotion is brought into her life which is fatal to her art. She is "sick of shadows," and looks through her window at the substance. Then her mirror cracks from side to side and the curse is come upon her. Other experiments of the same kind were "Sir Galahad" and "Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinivere" (both in 1842). The beauty of all these ballad beginnings is such that one is hardly reconciled to the loss of so much romantic music, even by the noble blank verse and the ampler narrative method which the poet finally adopted. They stand related to the "Idylls" very much as Morris' "Defence of Guenevere" stands to his "Earthly Paradise."

Thoroughly romantic in content, the "Idylls of the King" are classical in form. They may be compared to Tasso's "Gierusalemme Liberata," in which the imperfectly classical manner of the Renaissance is applied to a Gothic subject, the history of the Crusades. The first specimen given was the "Morte d'Arthur" of 1842, set in a framework entitled "The Epic," in which "the poet, Everard Hall," reads to his friends a fragment from his epic, "King Arthur," in twelve books. All the rest he has burned. For—

"Why take the style of those heroic times? For nature brings not back the Mastodon, Nor we those times; and why should any man Remodel models? these twelve books of mine Were faint Homeric echoes."

The "fragment" is thus put forward tentatively and with apologies—apologies which were little needed; for the "Morte d'Arthur," afterwards embedded in "The Passing of Arthur," remains probably the best, and certainly the most Homeric passage in the "Idylls." Tennyson's own quality was more Vergilian than Homeric, but the models which he here remodels were the Homeric epics. He chose for his measure not the Spenserian stanza, nor the ottava rima of Tasso, nor the octosyllables of Scott and the chivalry romances, but the heroic blank verse which Milton had fixed as the vehicle of English classical epic. He adopts Homer's narrative practices: the formulated repetitions of phrase, the pictorial comparisons, the conventional epithets (in moderation), and his gnomic habit—

"O purblind race of miserable men," etc.

The original four idylls were published in 1859.[29] Thenceforth the series grew by successive additions and rearrangements up to the completed "Idylls" of 1888, twelve in number—besides prologue and epilogue—according to the plan foreshadowed in "The Epic." The story of Arthur had thus occupied Tennyson for over a half century. Though modestly entitled "Idylls," by reason of the episodic treatment, the poem when finished was, in fact, an epic; but an epic that lacked the formal unity of the "Aeneid" and the "Paradise Lost," or even of the "Iliad." It resembled the Homeric heroic poems more than the literary epics of Vergil and Milton, in being not the result of a single act of construction, but a growth from the gradual fitting together of materials selected from a vast body of legend. This legendary matter he reduced to an epic unity. The adventures in Malory's romance are of very uneven value, and it abounds in inconsistencies and repetitions. He also redistributed the ethical balance. Lancelot is the real hero of the old "Morte Darthur," and Guinivere—the Helen of romance—goes almost uncensured. Malory's Arthur is by no means "the blameless king" of Tennyson, who makes of him a nineteenth-century ideal of royal knighthood, and finally an allegorical type of Soul at war with Sense. The downfall of the Round Table, that order of spiritual knight-errantry through which the king hopes to regenerate society, happens through the failure of his knights to rise to his own high level of character; in a degree, also, because the emprise is diverted from attainable practical aims to the fantastic quest of the Holy Grail. The sin of Lancelot and the Queen, drawing after it the treachery of Modred, brings on the tragic catastrophe. This conception is latent in Malory, but it is central in Tennyson; and everywhere he subtilises, refines, elevates, and, in short, modernises the Motivirung in the old story. Does he thereby also weaken it? Censure and praise have been freely bestowed upon Tennyson's dealings with Malory. Thus it is complained that his Arthur is a prig, a curate, who preaches to his queen and lectures his court, and whose virtue is too conscious; that the harlot Vivien is a poor substitute for the damsel of the lake who puts Merlin to sleep under a great rock in the land of Benwick; that the gracious figure of Gawain suffers degradation from the application of an effeminate moral standard to his shining exploits in love and war, that modern convenances are imposed upon a society in which they do not belong and whose joyous, robust naivete is hurt by them.[30]

The allegorical method tried in "The Lady of Shalott," but abandoned in the earlier "Idylls," creeps in again in the later; particularly in "Gareth and Lynette" (1872), in the elaborate symbolism of the gates of Camelot, and in the guardians of the river passes, whom Gareth successively overcomes, and who seem to represent the temptations incident to the different ages of man. The whole poem, indeed, has been interpreted in a parabolic sense, Merlin standing for the intellect, the Lady of the Lake for religion, etc. Allegory was a favourite mediaeval mode, and the Grail legend contains an element of mysticism which invites an emblematic treatment. But the attraction of this fashion for minds of a Platonic cast is dangerous to art: the temptation to find a meaning in human life more esoteric than any afforded by the literal life itself. A delicate balance must be kept between that presentation of the concrete which makes it significant by making it representative and typical, and that other presentation which dissolves the individual into the general, by making it a mere abstraction. Were it not for Dante and Hawthorne and the second part of "Faust," one would incline to say that no creative genius of the first order indulges in allegory. Homer is never allegorical except in the episode of Circe; Shakspere never, with the doubtful exception of "The Tempest." The allegory in the "Idylls of the King" is not of the obvious kind employed in the "Faery Queene"; but Tennyson, no less than Spenser, appeared to feel that the simple retelling of an old chivalry tale, without imparting to it some deeper meaning, was no work for a modern poet.

Tennyson has made the Arthur Saga, as a whole, peculiarly his own. But others of the Victorian poets have handled detached portions of it. William Morris' "Defence of Guenevere" (1858) anticipated the first group of "Idylls." Swinburne's "Tristram of Lyonesse" (1882) dealt at full length, and in a very different spirit, with an epicyclic legend which Tennyson touched incidentally in "The Last Tournament." Matthew Arnold's "Tristram and Iseult" was a third manipulation of the legend, partly in dramatic, partly in narrative form, and in changing metres. It follows another version of Tristram's death, and the story of Vivian and Merlin which Iseult of Brittany tells her children is quite distinct from the one in the "Idylls." Iseult of Brittany—not Iseult of Cornwall—is the heroine of Arnold's poem. Thomas Westwood's "Quest of the Sancgreall" is still one more contribution to Arthurian poetry of which a mere mention must here suffice.

For our review threatens to become a catalogue. To such a degree had mediaevalism become the fashion, that nearly every Georgian and Victorian poet of any pretensions tried his hand at it. Robert Browning was not romantic in Scott's way, nor in Tennyson's. His business was with the soul. The picturesqueness of the external conditions in which soul was placed was a matter of indifference. To-day was as good as yesterday. Now and then occurs a title with romantic implications—"Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," e.g., borrowed from a ballad snatch sung by the Fool in "Lear" (Roland is Roland of the "Chanson"). But the poem proves to be a weird study in landscape symbolism and the history of some dark emprise, the real nature of which is altogether undiscoverable. "Count Gismond," again, is the story of a combat in the lists at Aix in Provence, in which a knight vindicates a lady's honour with his lance, and slays her traducer at her feet. But this is a dramatic monologue like any other, and only accidentally mediaeval. "The Heretic's Tragedy: A Middle Age Interlude," is mediaeval without being romantic. It recounts the burning, at Paris, A.D. 1314, of Jacques du Bourg-Molay, Grand Master of the Templars; and purports to be a sort of canticle, with solo and chorus, composed two centuries after the event by a Flemish canon of Ypres, to be sung at hocktide and festivals. The childishness and devout buffoonery of an old miracle play are imitated here, as in Swinburne's "Masque of Queen Bersabe." This piece and "Holy Cross Day" are dramatic, or monodramatic, grotesques; and in their apprehension of this trait of the mediaeval mind are on a par with Hugo's "Pas d'armes du Roi Jean" and "La Chasse du Burgrave." But Browning's mousings in the Middle Ages after queer freaks of conscience or passion were occasional. If any historical period, more than another, had special interest for him, it was the period of the Italian Renaissance. Yet Ruskin said: "Robert Browning is unerring in every sentence he writes of the Middle Ages."

Among Mrs. Browning's poems, which, it needs hardly be said, are not prevailingly "Gothic," there are three interesting experiments in ballad romance: "The Romaunt of the Page," "The Lay of the Brown Rosary," and "The Rime of the Duchess May." In all of these she avails herself of the mediaeval atmosphere, simply to play variations on her favourite theme, the devotedness of woman's love. The motive is the same as in poems of modern life like "Bertha in the Lane" and "Aurora Leigh." The vehemence of this nobly gifted woman, her nervous and sometimes almost hysterical emotionalism, are not without a disagreeable quality. With greater range and fervour, she had not the artistic poise of the Pre-Raphaelite poetess, Christina Rossetti. In these romances, as elsewhere, she is sometimes shrill and often mannerised. "The Romaunt of the Page" is the tale of a lady who attends her knight to the Holy Land, disguised as a page, and without his knowledge. She saves his life several times, and finally at the cost of her own. A prophetic accompaniment or burden comes in ever and anon in the distant chant of nuns over the dead abbess.

"Beati! beati mortui."

"The Lay of the Brown Rosary" is a charming but uneven piece, in four parts and a variety of measures, about a girl who, while awaiting her lover's return from the war, learns in a dream that she must die, and purchases seven years of life from the ghost of a wicked nun whose body has been immured in an old convent wall. The spirit gives the bride a brown rosary which she wears under her dress, but her kiss kills the bridegroom at the altar. The most spirited and well-sustained of these ballad poems is "The Rime of the Duchess May," in which the heroine rides off the battlements with her husband. "Toll slowly," runs the refrain. Mrs. Browning employs some archaisms, such as chapelle, chambere, ladie. The stories are seemingly of her own invention, and have not quite the genuine accent of folk-song.

Even Matthew Arnold and Thomas Hood, representatives in their separate spheres of anti-romantic tendencies, made occasional forays into the Middle Ages. But who thinks of such things as "The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies" or "The Two Peacocks of Bedfont" when Hood is mentioned; and not rather of "The Bridge of Sighs" and "The Song of the Shirt"? Or who, in spite of "Balder Dead" and "Tristram and Iseult," would classify Arnold's clean-cut, reserved, delicately intellectual work as romantic? Hood was an artist of the terrible as well as of the comic; witness his "Last Man," "Haunted House," and "Dream of Eugene Aram." If he could have welded the two moods into a more intimate union, and applied them to legendary material, he might have been a great artist in mediaeval grotesque—a species of Gothic Hoffman perhaps. As it is, his one romantic success is the charming lyric "Fair Ines." His longer poems in this kind, in modifications of ottava rima or Spenserian stanza, show Keats' influence very clearly. The imagery is profuse, but too distinct and without the romantic chiaroscuro. "The Water Lady" is a manifest imitation of "La Belle Dame sans Merci," and employs the same somewhat unusual stanza form. Hood—incorrigible punster—who had his jest at everything, jested at romance. He wrote ballad parodies—"The Knight and the Dragon," etc.—and an ironical "Lament for the Decline of Chivalry":

"Well hast thou cried, departed Burke, All chivalrous romantic work Is ended now and past! That iron age—which some have thought Of mettle rather overwrought— Is now all overcast."

And finally, "The Saint's Tragedy" (1848) of Charles Kingsley affords a case in which mediaeval biography is made the pretext for an assault upon mediaeval ideas. It is a tendenz drama in five acts, founded upon the "Life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary," as narrated by her contemporary, Dietrich the Thuringian. Its militant Protestantism is such as might be predicted from Kingsley's well-known resentment of the Romanist attitude towards marriage and celibacy; from his regard for freedom of thought; and from that distrust and contempt of Popish priestcraft which involved him in his controversy with Newman. "The Middle Age," says the Introduction, "was, in the gross, a coarse, barbarous, and profligate age. . . . It was, in fact, the very ferocity and foulness of the time which, by a natural revulsion, called forth at the same time the Apostolic holiness and the Manichean asceticism of the mediaeval saints. . . . So rough and common a life-picture of the Middle Age will, I am afraid, whether faithful or not, be far from acceptable to those who take their notions of that period principally from such exquisite dreams as the fictions of Fouque, and of certain moderns whose graceful minds . . . are, on account of their very sweetness and simplicity, singularly unfitted to convey any true likeness of the coarse and stormy Middle Age. . . . But really, time enough has been lost in ignorant abuse of that period, and time enough also, lately, in blind adoration of it. When shall we learn to see it as it was?"

Polemic in its purpose and anti-Catholic in temper, "The Saint's Tragedy" then seeks to dispel the glamour which romance had thrown over mediaeval life. Kingsley's Middle Age is not the holy Middle Age of the German "throne-and-altar" men; nor yet the picturesque Middle Age of Walter Scott. It is the cruel, ignorant, fanatical Middle Age of "The Amber Witch" and "The Succube." But Kingsley was too much of a poet not to feel those "last enchantments" which whispered to Arnold from Oxford towers, maugre his "strong sense of the irrationality of that period." The saintly, as well as the human side, of Elizabeth's character is portrayed with sympathy, though poetically the best thing in the drama are the songs of the Crusaders.

Kingsley, in effect, was always good at a ballad. His finest work in this kind is modern, "The Last Buccaneer," "The Sands of Dee," "The Three Fishers," and the like. But there are the same fire and swing in many of his romantic ballads on historical or legendary subjects, such as "The Swan-Neck," "The Red King," "Ballad of Earl Haldan's Daughter," "The Song of the Little Baltung," and a dozen more. Without the imaginative witchery of Coleridge, Keats, and Rossetti, in the ballad of action Kingsley ranks very close to Scott. The same manly delight in outdoor life and bold adventure, love of the old Teutonic freedom and strong feeling of English nationality inspire his historical romances, only one of which, however, "Hereward the Wake" (1866), has to do with the period of the Middle Ages.

[1] "It is almost superfluous to mention that the appellation 'Childe,' as 'Childe Waters,' 'Childe Childers,' etc., is used as more consonant with the old structure of versification which I have adopted."—Preface to "Childe Harold." Byron appeals to a letter of Beattie relating to "The Minstrel," to justify his choice of the stanza.

[2] See vol. i., p. 98.

[3] For Byron's and Shelley's dealings with Dante, vide supra, pp. 99-102.

[4] For the type of prose romance essayed by Shelley, see Vol. i., p. 403.

[5] "Mary, the Maid of the Inn."

[6] Duran's great collection, begun in 1828, embraces nearly two thousand pieces.

[7] It is hardly necessary to mention early English translations of "Palmerin of England" (1616) and "Amadis de Gaul" (1580), or to point out the influence of Montemayor's "Diana Enamorada" upon Sidney, Shakspere, and English pastoral romance in general.

[8] "The English and Scotch ballads, with which they may most naturally be compared, belong to a ruder state of society, where a personal violence and coarseness prevailed which did not, indeed, prevent the poetry it produced from being full of energy, and sometimes of tenderness; but which necessarily had less dignity and elevation than belong to the character, if not the condition, of a people who, like the Spanish, were for centuries engaged in a contest ennobled by a sense of religion and loyalty—a contest which could not fail sometimes to raise the minds and thoughts of those engaged in it far above such an atmosphere as settled round the bloody feuds of rival barons or the gross maraudings of a border warfare. The truth of this will at once be felt, if we compare the striking series of ballads on Robin Hood with those on the Cid and Bernardo de Carpio; or if we compare the deep tragedy of Edom O'Gordon with that of the Conde Alarcos; or, what would be better than either, if we should sit down to the 'Romancero General,' with its poetical confusion of Moorish splendours and Christian loyalty, just when we have come fresh from Percy's 'Reliques' or Scott's 'Minstrelsy'." ("History of Spanish Literature," George Ticknor, vol. i., p. 141, third American ed., 1866). The "Romancero General" was the great collection of some thousand ballads and lyrics published in 1602-14.

[9] "The Ancient Ballads of Spain." R. Ford, in Edinburgh Review, No. 146.

[10] "A History of Spanish Literature." By James Fitz-Maurice Kelly, New York, 1898, pp. 366-67.

[11] Ibid., pp. 368-73.

[12] Kelly, p. 270.

[13] The collection of Sanchez (1779) is described as an imitation of the "Reliques" (Edinburgh Review, No. 146).

[14] He preferred, however, Sir Edmund Head's rendering of the ballad "Lady Alda's Dream" to Lockhart's version.

[15] Scott and Motherwell never met in person.

[16] Mr. Churton Collins thinks that the lines in "Guinevere"—

"Down in the cellars merry bloated things Shouldered the spigot, straddling on the butts While the wine ran"—

was suggested by Croker's description of the Cluricaune. ("Illustrations of Tennyson" (1891), p. 152.)

[17] "The Fairies." William Allingham.

[18] See vol. i., p. 314. Dr. Joyce was for some years a resident of Boston, where his "Ballads of Irish Chivalry" were published in 1872. His "Deirdre" received high praise from J. R. Lowell. Tennyson's "Voyage of Maeldune" (1880) probably had its source in Dr. P. W. Joyce's "Old Celtic Romances" (1879) (Collins' "Illustrations of Tennyson," p. 163). Swinburne pronounced Ferguson's "Welshmen of Tirawley" one of the best of modern ballads.

[19] For a survey of this department of romantic literature the reader is referred to "A Treasury of Irish Poetry in the English Tongue." Edited by Stopford A. Brooke and T. W. Rolleston (New York, 1900). There are a quite astonishing beauty and force in many of the pieces in this collection, though some of the editors' claims seem excessive; as, e.g., that Mr. Yeats is "the first of living writers in the English language."

[20] Robert Stephen Hawker was vicar of Morwenstow, near "wild Tintagil by the Cornish Sea," where Tennyson visited him in 1848. Hawker himself made contributions to Arthurian poetry, "Queen Gwynnevar's Round" and "The Quest of the Sangreal" (1864). He was converted to the Roman Catholic faith on his death-bed.

[21] Given in Palgrave's "Golden Treasury," second series. Rossetti wrote of Dobell's ballad in 1868: "I have always regarded that poem as being one of the finest, of its length, in any modern poet; ranking with Keats' 'La Belle Dame sans Merci' and the other masterpieces of the condensed and hinted order so dear to imaginative minds." The use of the family name Keith in Rossetti's "Rose Mary" was a coincidence. His poem was published (1854) some years before Dobell's. He thought of substituting some other name for Keith, but could find none to suit him, and so retained it.

[22] Cf. Matthew Arnold's "St. Brandan," suggested by a passage in the old Irish "Voyage of Bran." The traitor Judas is allowed to come up from hell and cool himself on an iceberg every Christmas night because he had once given his cloak to a leper in the streets of Joppa.

[23] "Ballads and Songs," London, 1895.

[24] "New Ballads," London, 1897.

[25] "Victorian Poets." By E. C. Stedman. New York, 1886 (tenth ed.), p. 155.

[26] This famous lyric, one of the "inserted" songs in "The Princess," was inspired by the note of a bugle on the Lakes of Killarney.

[27] See vol. i., pp. 146-47. Dryden, like Milton, had designs upon Arthur. See introduction to the first canto of "Marmion":

"—Dryden, in immortal strain, Had raised the Table Round again, But that a ribald king and court Bade him toil on, to make them sport."

[28] For a discussion of these and similar matters and a bibliography of Arthurian literature, the reader should consult Dr. H. Oskar Sommer's scholarly reprint and critical edition of "Le Morte Darthur. By Syr Thomas Malory," three vols., London, 1889-91.

[29] Two of them, however, had been printed privately in 1857 under the title of "Enid and Nimue": the true and the false. "Nimue" was the first form of Vivien.

[30] Matthew Arnold writes in one of his letters; "I have a strong sense of the irrationality of that period [the Middle Ages] and of the utter folly of those who take it seriously and play at restoring it; still it has poetically the greatest charm and refreshment possible for me. The fault I find with Tennyson, in his 'Idylls of the King,' is that the peculiar charm of the Middle Age he does not give in them. There is something magical about it, and I will do something with it before I have done."



CHAPTER VII.

The Pre-Raphaelites.

In the latter half of the century the Italian Middle Age and Dante, its great exemplar, found new interpreters in the Rossetti family; a family well fitted by its mixture of bloods and its hereditary aptitudes, literary and artistic, to mediate between the English genius and whatever seemed to it alien or repellant in Dante's system of thought. The father, Gabriele Rossetti, was a political refugee, who held the professorship of Italian in King's College, London, from 1831 to 1845, and was the author of a commentary on Dante which carried the politico-allegorical theory of the "Divine Comedy" to somewhat fantastic lengths. The mother was half English and half Italian, a sister of Byron's travelling companion, Dr. Polidori. Of the four children of the marriage, Dante Gabriel and Christina became poets of distinction. The eldest sister, Maria Francesca, a religious devotee who spent her last years as a member of a Protestant sisterhood, was the author of that unpretentious but helpful piece of Dante literature, "A Shadow of Dante." The younger brother, William Michael, is well known as a biographer, litterateur, and art critic, as an editor of Shelley and of the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Other arts besides the literary art had partaken in the romantic movement. The eighteenth century had seen the introduction of the new, or English, school of landscape gardening; and the premature beginnings of the Gothic revival in architecture, which reached a successful issue some century later.[1] Painting in France had been romanticised in the thirties pari passu with poetry and drama; and in Germany, Overbeck and Cornelius had founded a school of sacred art which corresponds, in its mediaeval spirit, to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In England painting was the last of the arts to catch the new inspiration. When the change came, it evinced that same blending of naturalism and Gothicism which defined the incipient romantic movement of the previous century. Painting, like landscape gardening, returned to nature; like architecture, it went back to the past. Like these, and like literature itself, it broke away from a tradition which was academic, if not precisely classic in the way in which David was classic.

In 1848 the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was established by three young painters, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt. The name expresses their admiration of the early Italian—and notably the early Florentine—religious painters, like Giotto, Ghiberti, Bellini, and Fra Angelica. In the work of these men they found a sweetness, depth, and sincerity of devotional feeling, a self-forgetfulness and humble adherence to truth, which were absent from the sophisticated art of Raphael and his successors. Even the imperfect command of technique in these "primitives" had a charm. The stiffness and awkwardness of their figure painting, their defects of drawing, perspective, and light and shade, their lack of anatomical science were like the lispings of childhood or the artlessness of an old ballad. The immediate occasion of the founding of the Brotherhood was a book of engravings which Hunt and Rossetti saw at Millais' house, from the frescoes by Gozzoli, Orcagna, and others in the Campo Santo, at Pisa; the same frescoes, it will be remembered, which so strongly impressed Leigh Hunt and Keats. Holman Hunt—though apparently not his associates—had also read with eager approval the first volume of Ruskin's "Modern Painters," in which the young artists of England are advised to "go to nature in all singleness of heart . . . rejecting nothing, selecting nothing." Pre-Raphaelitism was a practical, as "Modern Painters" was a theoretical, protest against the academic traditions which kept young artists making school copies of Raphael, instructed them that a third of the canvas should be occupied with a principal shadow, and that no two people's heads in the picture should be turned the same way, and asked, "Where are you going to put your brown tree?"

The three original members of the group associated with themselves four others: Thomas Woolner, the sculptor; James Collinson, a painter; F. G. Stephens, who began as an artist and ended as an art critic; and Rossetti's brother William, who was the literary man of the movement. Woolner was likewise a poet, and contributed to The Germ[2] his two striking pieces, "My Beautiful Lady" and "Of My Lady in Death." Among other artists not formally enrolled in the Brotherhood, but who worked more or less in the spirit and principles of Pre-Raphaelitism, were Ford Madox Brown, an older man, in whose studio Rossetti had, at his own request, been admitted as a student; Walter Deverell, who took Collinson's place when the latter resigned his membership in order to study for the Roman Catholic priesthood; and Arthur Hughes.[3]

But the main importance of the Pre-Raphaelite movement to romantic literature resides in the poetry of Rossetti, and in the inspiration which this communicated to younger men, like Morris and Swinburne, and through them to other and still younger followers. The history of English painting is no part of our subject, but Rossetti's painting and his poetry so exactly reflect each other, that some definition or brief description of Pre-Raphaelitism seems here to be called for, ill qualified as I feel myself to give any authoritative account of the matter.[4]

And first as to methods: the Pre-Raphaelites rejected the academic system whereby the canvas was prepared by rubbing in bitumen, and the colours were laid upon a background of brown, grey, or neutral tints. Instead of this, they spread their colours directly upon the white, unprepared canvas, securing transparency by juxtaposition rather than by overlaying. They painted their pictures bit by bit, as in frescoes or mosaic work, finishing each portion as they went along, until no part of the canvas was left blank. The Pre-Raphaelite theory was sternly realistic. They were not to copy from the antique, but from nature. For landscape background, they were to take their easels out of doors. In figure painting they were to work, if possible, from a living model and not from a lay figure. A model once selected, it was to be painted as it was in each particular, and without imaginative deviation. "Every Pre-Raphaelite landscape background," wrote Ruskin, "is painted, to the last touch, in the open air from the thing itself. Every Pre-Raphaelite figure, however studied in expression, is a true portrait of some living person. Every minute accessory is painted in the same manner." [5] In this fashion their earliest works were executed. In Rossetti's "Girlhood of Mary Virgin," exhibited in 1849, the figure of St. Anne is a portrait of the artist's mother; the Virgin, of his sister Christina; and Joseph, of a man-of-all-work employed in the family. In Millais' "Lorenzo and Isabella"—a subject from Keats—Isabella's brother, her lover, and one of the guests, are portraits of Deverell, Stephens, and the two Rossettis. But this severity of realism was not long maintained. It was a discipline, not a final method. Even in Rossetti's second painting, "Ecce Ancilla Domini," the faces of the Virgin and the angel Gabriel are blendings of several models; although, in its freedom from convention, its austere simplicity, and endeavour to see the fact as it happened, the piece is in the purest Pre-Raphaelite spirit. Ruskin insisted that, while composition was necessarily an affair of the imagination, the figures and accessories of a picture should be copies from the life. In the early days of the Brotherhood there was an ostentatious conscientiousness in observing this rule. We hear a great deal in Rossetti's correspondence about the brick wall at Chiswick which he copied into his picture "Found," and about his anxious search for a white calf for the countryman's cart in the same composition. But all the Pre-Raphaelites painted from the lay figure as well as from the living model, and Rossetti, in particular, relied quite as much on memory and imagination as upon the object before him. W. B. Scott thinks that his most charming works were the small water-colours on Arthurian subjects; "done entirely without nature and a good deal in the spirit of illuminated manuscripts, with very indifferent drawing and perspective nowhere." As for Millais, he soon departed from rigidly Pre-Raphaelite principles, and became the most successful and popular of British artists in genre. In natural talent and cleverness of execution he was the most brilliant of the three; in imaginative intensity and originality he was Rossetti's inferior—as in patience and religious earnestness he was inferior to Hunt. It was Hunt who stuck most faithfully to the programme of Pre-Raphaelitism. He spent laborious years in the East in order to secure the exactest local truth of scenery and costume for his Biblical pieces: "Christ in the Shadow of Death," "Christ in the Temple," and "The Scapegoat." While executing the last-named, he pitched his tent on the shores of the Dead Sea and painted the desert landscape and the actual goat from a model tied down on the edge of the sea. Hunt's "Light of the World" was one of the masterpieces of the school, and as it is typical in many ways, may repay description. Ruskin pronounced it "the most perfect instance of expressional purpose with technical power which the world has yet produced."

In this tall, narrow canvas the figure of Christ occupies nearly half the space. He holds a lantern in his hand and knocks at a cottage door. The face—said to be a portrait of Venables, curate of St. Paul's, Oxford—is quite unlike the type which Raphael has made traditional. It is masculine—even rugged—seamed with lines of care, and filled with an expression of yearning. There is anxiety and almost timidity in his pose as he listens for an answer to his knock. The nails and bolts of the door are rusted; it is overgrown with ivy and the tall stalks and flat umbels of fennel. The sill is choked with nettles and other weeds, emblems all of the long sleep of the world which Christ comes to break. The full moon makes a halo behind his head and shines through the low boughs of an orchard, whose apples strew the dark grass in the foreground, sown with spots of light from the star-shaped perforations in the lantern-cover. They are the apples of Eden, emblems of the Fall. Everything, in fact, is symbolical. Christ's seamless white robe, with its single heavy fold, typifies the Church catholic; the jewelled clasps of the priestly mantle, one square and one oval, are the Old and New Testaments. The golden crown is enwoven with one of thorns, from which new leaves are sprouting. The richly embroidered mantle hem has its meaning, and so have the figures on the lantern. To get the light in this picture right, Hunt painted out of doors in an orchard every moonlight night for three months from nine o'clock till five. While working in his studio, he darkened one end of the room, put a lantern in the hand of his lay-figure and painted this interior through the hole in a curtain. On moonlight nights he let the moon shine in through the window to mix with the lantern light. It was a principle with the Brotherhood that detail, though not introduced for its own sake, should be painted with truth to nature. Hunt, especially, took infinite pains to secure minute exactness in his detail. Ruskin wrote in enthusiastic praise of the colours of the gems on the mantle clasp in "The Light of the World," and said that all the Academy critics and painters together could not have executed one of the nettle leaves at the bottom of the picture. The lizards in the foreground of Millais' "Ferdinand Lured by Ariel" (exhibited in 1850) were studied from life, and Scott makes merry over the shavings on the floor of the carpenter shop in the same artist's "Christ in the House of his Parents," a composition which was ferociously ridiculed by Dickens in "Household Words."

The symbolism which is so pronounced a feature in "The Light of the World" is common to all the Pre-Raphaelite art. It is a mediaeval note, and Rossetti learned it from Dante. Symbolism runs through the "Divine Comedy" in such touches as the rush, emblem of humility, with which Vergil girds Dante for his journey through Purgatory; the constellation of four stars—

"Non viste mai fuor ch' alla prima gente"—

typifying the cardinal virtues; the three different coloured steps to the door of Purgatory;[6] and thickening into the elaborate apocalyptic allegory of the griffin and the car of the church, the eagle and the mystic tree in the last cantos of the "Purgatorio." In Hunt's "Christ in the Shadow of Death," the young carpenter's son is stretching his arms after work, and his shadow, thrown upon the wall, is a prophecy of the crucifixion. In Millais' "Christ in the House of his Parents," the boy has wounded the palm of his hand upon a nail, another foretokening of the crucifixion. In Rossetti's "Girlhood of Mary Virgin," Joseph is training a vine along a piece of trellis in the shape of the cross; Mary is copying in embroidery a three-flowered white lily plant, growing in a flower-pot which stands upon a pile of books lettered with the names of the cardinal virtues. The quaint little child angel who tends the plant is a portrait of a young sister of Thomas Woolner. Similarly, in "Ecce Ancilla Domini," the lily of the annunciation which Gabriel holds is repeated in the piece of needlework stretched upon the 'broidery frame at the foot of Mary's bed. In "Beata Beatrix" the white poppy brought by the dove is the symbol at once of chastity and of death; and the shadow upon the sun-dial marks the hour of Beatrice's beatification. Again, in "Dante's Dream," poppies strew the floor, emblems of sleep and death; an expiring lamp symbolises the extinction of life; and a white cloud borne away by angels is Beatrice's departing soul. Love stands by the couch in flame-coloured robes, fastened at the shoulder with the scallop shell which is the badge of pilgrimage. In Millais' "Lorenzo and Isabella" the salt-box is overturned upon the table, signifying that peace is broken between Isabella's brothers and their table companion. Doves are everywhere in Rossetti's pictures, embodiments of the Holy Ghost and the ministries of the spirit, Rossetti labelled his early manuscript poems "Poems of the Art Catholic"; and the Pre-Raphaelite heresy was connected by unfriendly critics with the Anglo-Catholic or Tractarian movement at Oxford. William Sharp, in speaking of "that splendid outburst of Romanticism in which Coleridge was the first and most potent participant," and of the lapse or ebb that followed the death of Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats, resumes: "At last a time came when a thrill of expectation, of new desire, of hope, passed through the higher lives of the nation; and what followed thereafter were the Oxford movement in the Church of England, the Pre-Raphaelite movement in art, and the far-reaching Gothic revival. Different as these movements were in their primary aims, and still more differing in the individual representations of interpreters, they were in reality closely interwoven, one being the outcome of the other. The study of mediaeval art, which was fraught with such important results, was the outcome of the widespread ecclesiastical revival, which in its turn was the outcome of the Tractarian movement in Oxford. The influence of Pugin was potent in strengthening the new impulse, and to him succeeded Ruskin with 'Modern Painters' and Newman with the 'Tracts for the Times.' Primarily the Pre-Raphaelite movement had its impulse in the Oxford religious revival; and however strange it may seem to say that such men as Holman Hunt and Rossetti . . . followed directly in the footsteps of Newman and Pusey and Keble, it is indubitably so." [7] Ruskin, too, cautioned his young friends that "if their sympathies with the early artists lead them into mediaevalism or Romanism, they will of course come to nothing. But I believe there is no danger of this, at least for the strongest among them. There may be some weak ones whom the Tractarian heresies may touch; but if so, they will drop off like decayed branches from a strong stem." [8] One of these weak ones who dropped off was James Collinson, a man of an ascetic and mystical piety—like Werner or Brentano. He painted, among other things, "The Renunciation of St. Elizabeth" from Kingsley's "Saint's Tragedy." "The picture," writes Scott, "resembled the feckless dilettanteism of the converts who were then dropping out of their places in Oxford and Cambridge into Mariolatry and Jesuitism. In fact, this James Collinson actually did become Romanist, wanted to be a priest, painted no more, but entered a seminary, where they set him to clean the boots as an apprenticeship in humility and obedience. They did not want him as a priest; they were already getting tired of that species of convert; so he left, turned to painting again, and disappeared." [9]

M. de la Sizeranne is rather scornful of these metaphysical definitions of Pre-Raphaelitism; "for to characterise a Pre-Raphaelite picture by saying that it was inspired by the Oxford movement, is like attempting to explain the mechanism of a lock by describing the political opinions of the locksmith." [10] He himself proposes, as the distinguishing characteristics of Pre-Raphaelite art, originality of gesture and vividness of colouring. This is the professional point of view; but the student of literature is less concerned with such technical aspects of the subject than with those spiritual aspects which connect the work of the Pre-Raphaelites with the great mediaeval or romantic revival.

When Ruskin came to the rescue of the P.-R. B. in 1851, in those letters to the Times, afterwards reprinted in pamphlet form under the title "Pre-Raphaelitism," he recognised the propriety of the name, and the real affinity between the new school and the early Italian schools of sacred art. Mediaeval art, he asserted,[11] was religious and truthful, modern art is profane and insincere. "In mediaeval art, thought is the first thing, execution is the second; in modern art, execution is the first thing and thought is the second. And again, in mediaeval art, truth is first, beauty second; in modern art, beauty is first, truth second." Ruskin denied that the Pre-Raphaelites were unimaginative, though he allowed that they had a disgust for popular forms of grace and prettiness. And he pointed out a danger in the fact that their principles confined them to foreground work, and called for laborious finish on a small scale. In "Modern Painters" he complained that the Pre-Raphaelites should waste a whole summer in painting a bit of oak hedge or a bed of weeds by a duck pond, which caught their fancy perhaps by reminding them of a stanza in Tennyson. Nettles and mushrooms, he said, were good to make nettle soup and fish sauce; but it was too bad that the nobler aspects of nature, such as the banks of the castled Rhine, should be left to the frontispieces in the Annuals. Ruskin, furthermore, denied that the drawing of the Pre-Raphaelites was bad or their perspective false; or that they imitated the errors of the early Florentine painters, whom they greatly excelled in technical accomplishment. Meanwhile be it remarked that the originality of gesture in Pre-Raphaelite figure painting, which M. de la Sizeranne notices, was only one more manifestation of the romantic desire for individuality and concreteness as against the generalising academicism of the eighteenth century.[12]

As poets, the Pre-Raphaelites derive from Keats rather than from Scott, in their exclusive devotion to beauty, to art for art's sake; in their single absorption in the passion of love; and in their attraction towards the more esoteric side of mediaeval life, rather than towards its broad, public, and military aspects.[13]

Rossetti's position in the romantic literature of the last half of the ninetenth century is something like Coleridge's in the first half. Unlike Coleridge, he was the leader of a school, the master of a definite group of artists and poets. His actual performance, too, far exceeds Coleridge's in amount, if not in value. But like Coleridge, he was a seminal mind, a mind rich in original suggestions, which inspired and influenced younger men to carry out its ideas, often with a fluency of utterance and a technical dexterity both in art and letters which the master himself did not possess. Holman Hunt, Millais, and Burne-Jones among painters, Morris and Swinburne among poets, were disciples of Rossetti who in some ways outdid him in execution. His pictures were rarely exhibited, and no collection of his poems was published till 1870. Meanwhile, however, many of these had circulated in manuscript, and "secured a celebrity akin in kind and almost equal in extent to that enjoyed by Coleridge's 'Christabel' during the many years preceding 1816 in which it lay in manuscript. Like Coleridge's poem in another important particular, certain of Rossetti's ballads, while still unknown to the public, so far influenced contemporary poetry that when they did at length appear, they had all the seeming to the uninitiated of work imitated from contemporary models, instead of being, as in fact they were, the primary source of inspiration for writers whose names were earlier established." [14] William Morris, e.g., had printed four volumes of verse in advance of Rossetti, and the earliest of these, "The Defence of Guenevere," which contains his most intensely Pre-Raphaelite work and that most evidently done in the spirit of Rossetti's teachings, saw the light (1858) twelve years before Rossetti's own. Swinburne, too, had published three volumes of poetry before 1870, including the "Poems and Ballads" of 1866, in which Rossetti's influence is plainly manifest; and he had already secured a wide fame at a time when the elder poet's reputation was still esoteric and mainly confined to the cenacle. William M. Rossetti, in describing the literary influences which moulded his brother's tastes, tells us that "in the long run he perhaps enjoyed and revered Coleridge beyond any other modern poet whatsoever." [15]

It is worth while to trace these literary influences with some detail, since they serve to link the neo-romantic poetry of our own time to the product of that older generation which had passed away before Rossetti came of age. It is interesting to find then, that at the age of fifteen (1843) he taught himself enough German to enable him to translate Buerger's "Lenore," as Walter Scott had done a half-century before. This devil of a poem so haunts our history that it has become as familiar a spirit as Mrs. Radcliffe's bugaboo apparitions, and our flesh refuses any longer to creep at it. It is quite one of the family. It would seem, indeed, as if Buerger's ballad was set as a school copy for every young romanticist in turn to try his 'prentice hand upon. Fortunately, Rossetti's translation has perished, as has also his version—some hundred lines—of the earlier portion of the "Nibelungenlied." But a translation which he made about the same time of the old Swabian poet, Hartmann von Aue's "Der Arme Heinrich" (Henry the Leper) is preserved, and was first published in 1886. This poem, it will be remembered, was the basis of Longfellow's "Golden Legend" (1851). Rossetti did not keep up his German, and in later years he never had much liking for Scandinavian or Teutonic literature. He was a Latin, and he made it his special task to interpret to modern Protestant England whatever struck him as most spiritually intense and characteristic in the Latin Catholic Middle Age. The only Italian poet whom he "earnestly loved" was Dante. He did not greatly care for Petrarch, Boccaccio, Ariosto, and Tasso—the Renaissance poets—though in boyhood he had taken delight in Ariosto, just as he had in Scott and Byron. But that was a stage through which he passed; none of these had any ultimate share in Rossetti's culture. At fifteen he wrote a ballad entitled "Sir Hugh the Heron," founded on a tale of Allan Cunningham, but taking its name and motto from the lines in "Marmion"—

"Sir Hugh the Heron bold, Baron of Twisell and of Ford, And Captain of the Hold."

A few copies of this were printed for family circulation by his fond grandfather, G. Polidori. Among French writers he had no modern favourites beyond Hugo, Musset, and Dumas. But like all the neo-romanticists, he was strongly attracted by Francois Villon, that strange Parisian poet, thief, and murderer of the fifteenth century. He made three translations from Villon, the best known of which is the famous "Ballad of Dead Ladies" with its felicitous rendering of the refrain—

"But where are the snows of yester year?" (Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?)

There are at least three good English verse renderings of this ballad of Villon; one by Andrew Lang; one by John Payne, and doubtless innumerable others, unknown to me or forgotten. In fact, every one translates it nowadays, as every one used to translate Buerger's ballad. It is the "Lenore" of the neo-romanticists. Rossetti was a most accomplished translator, and his version of Dante's "Vita Nuova" and of the "Early Italian Poets" (1861)—reissued as "Dante and His Circle" (1874)—is a notable example of his skill. There are two other specimens of old French minstrelsy, and two songs from Victor Hugo's "Burgraves" among his miscellaneous translations; and William Sharp testifies that Rossetti at one time thought of doing for the early poetry of France what he had already done for that of Italy, but never found the leisure for it.[16] Rossetti had no knowledge of Greek, and "the only classical poet," says his brother, "whom he took to in any degree worth speaking of was Homer, the 'Odyssey' considerably more than the 'Iliad.'" This, I presume, he knew only in translation, but the preference is significant, since, as we have seen, the "Odyssey" is the most romantic of epics. Among English poets, he preferred Keats to Shelley, as might have been expected. Shelley was a visionary and Keats was an artist; Shelley often abstract, Keats always concrete. Shelley had a philosophy, or thought he had; Keats had none, neither had Rossetti. It is quite comprehensible that the sensuous element in Keats would attract a born colourist like Rossetti beyond anything in the English poetry of that generation; and I need not repeat that the latest Gothic or romantic schools have all been taking Keats' direction rather than Scott's, or even than Coleridge's. Rossetti's work, I should say, e.g., in such a piece as "The Bride's Prelude," is a good deal more like "Isabella" and "The Eve of St. Agnes" than it is like "The Ancient Mariner" or "Christabel" or "The Lay of the Last Minstrel." Rossetti got little from Milton and Dryden, or even from Chaucer and Spenser. Wordsworth he valued hardly at all. In the last two or three years of his life he came to have an exaggerated admiration for Chatterton. Rossetti's taste, like his temperament, was tinctured with morbidness. He sought the intense, the individual, the symbolic, the mystical. These qualities he found in a supreme degree in Dante. Probably it was only his austere artistic conscience which saved him from the fantastic—the merely peculiar or odd—and kept him from going astray after false gods like Poe and Baudelaire. Chaucer was a mediaeval poet and Spenser certainly a romantic one, but their work was too broad, too general in its appeal, too healthy, one might almost say, to come home to Rossetti.[17] William Rossetti testifies that "any writing about devils, spectres, or the supernatural generally . . . had always a fascination for him." Sharp remarks that work more opposite than Rossetti's to the Greek spirit can hardly be imagined. "The former [the Greek spirit] looked to light, clearness, form in painting, sculpture, architecture; to intellectual conciseness and definiteness in poetry; the latter [Rossetti] looked mainly to diffused colour, gradated to almost indefinite shades in his art, finding the harmonies thereof more akin than severity of outline and clearness of form; while in his poetry the Gothic love of the supernatural, the Gothic delight in sensuous images, the Gothic instinct of indefiniteness and elaboration, carried to an extreme, prevailed. . . . He would take more pleasure in a design by . . . William Blake . . . than in the more strictly artistic drawing of some revered classicist; more enjoyment in the weird or dramatic Scottish ballad than in Pindaric or Horatian ode; and he would certainly rather have had Shakspere than Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides put together."

Rossetti's office in the later and further development of romantic art was threefold: First, to revive and express, both in painting and poetry, the religious spirit of the early Florentine schools; secondly, to give a more intimate interpretation of Dante to the English public, and especially of Dante's life and personality and of his minor poetry, like the "Vita Nuova," which had not yet been translated; thirdly, to afford new illustrations of mediaeval life and thought, partly by treating legendary matter in the popular ballad form, and partly by treating romantic matter of his own invention with the rich colour and sensuous imagery which belonged to his pictorial art.

"Perhaps," writes Mr. Caine,[18] "Catholicism is itself essentially mediaeval, and perhaps a man cannot possibly be a 'mediaeval artist, heart and soul,' without partaking of a strong religious feeling that is primarily Catholic—so much were the religion and art of the Middle Ages knit each to each. . . . Rossetti's attitude towards spiritual things was exactly the reverse of what we call Protestant. . . . He constantly impressed me during the last days of his life with the conviction that he was by religious bias of nature a monk of the Middle Ages." All this is true in a way, yet Rossetti strikes one as being Catholic, without being religious; as mediaeval rather than Christian. He was agnostic in his belief and not devout in his practice; so that the wish that he suddenly expressed in his last illness, to confess himself to a priest, affected his friends as a singular caprice. It was the romantic quality in the Italian sacred art of the Middle Ages that attracted him; and it attracted him as a poet and painter, not as a devotee. There was little in Rossetti of the mystical and ascetic piety of Novalis or Zacharias Werner; nor of the steady religious devotion of his friend Holman Hunt, or his own sister Christina.

Rossetti, by the way, was never in Italy, though he made several visits to France and Belgium. A glance at the list of his designs—extending to some four hundred titles—in oil, water-colour, crayon, pen and ink, etc., will show how impartially his interest was distributed over the threefold province mentioned above. There are sacred pieces like "Mary Magdalen at the Door of Simon the Pharisee," "St. Cecily," a "Head of Christ," a "Triptych for Llandaff Cathedral"; Dante subjects such as "Paolo and Francesca," "Beata Beatrix," "La Donna della Finestra," "Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante"; and, in greater number, compositions of a purely romantic nature—"Fair Rosamond," "La Belle Dame sans Merci," "The Chapel before the Lists," "Michael Scott's Wooing," "Meeting of Sir Tristram and Yseult," "Lady Lilith," "The Damozel of the Sanct Grail," "Death of Breuse sans Pitie," and the like.

It will be noticed that some of these subjects are taken from the Round Table romances. Tennyson was partly responsible for the newly awakened interest in the Arthurian legend, but the purely romantic manner which he had abandoned in advancing from "Sir Galahad" and "The Lady of Shalott" to the "Morte d'Arthur" of 1842 and the first "Idylls" of 1859, continued to characterise the work of the Pre-Raphaelites both in poetry and in painting. Malory's "Morte Darthur" was one of Rossetti's favourite books, and he preferred it to Tennyson, as containing "the weird element in its perfection. . . . Tennyson has it certainly here and there in imagery, but there is no great success in the part it plays through his 'Idylls.'" [19] The five wood-engravings from designs furnished by Rossetti for the Moxon Tennyson quarto of 1857 include three Arthurian subjects: "The Lady of Shalott," "King Arthur Sleeping in Avalon," and "Sir Galahad Praying in the Wood-Chapel." "Interwoven as were the Romantic revival and the aesthetic movement," writes Mr. Sharp, "it could hardly have been otherwise but that the young painter-poet should be strongly attracted to that Arthurian epoch, the legendary glamour of which has since made itself so widely felt in the Arthurian idyls of the laureate. . . . Mr. Ruskin speaks, in his lecture on 'The Relation of Art to Religion' delivered in Oxford, of our indebtedness to Rossetti as the painter to whose genius we owe the revival of interest in the cycle of early English legend."

It was in 1857 that Rossetti, whose acquaintance had been recently sought by three young Oxford scholars, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, and Algernon Charles Swinburne, volunteered to surround the gallery of the new Union Club House at Oxford with life-size frescoes from the "Morte Darthur." [20] He was assisted in this work by a number of enthusiastic disciples. Burne-Jones had already done some cartoons in colour for stained glass, and Morris had painted a subject from the "Morte Darthur," to wit: "Sir Tristram after his Illness, in the Garden of King Mark's Palace, recognised by the Dog he had given to Iseult." Rossetti's contribution to the Oxford decorations was "Sir Lancelot before the Shrine of the Sangreal." Morris' was "Sir Palomides' Jealousy of Sir Tristram and Iseult," an incident which he also treated in his poetry. Burne-Jones, Valentine Prinsep, J. H. Pollen, and Arthur Hughes likewise contributed. Scott says that these paintings were interesting as designs; that they were "poems more than pictures, being large illuminations and treated in a mediaeval manner." But he adds that not one of the band knew anything about wall painting. They laid their water-colours, not on a plastered surface, but on a rough brick wall, merely whitewashed. They used no adhesive medium, and in a few months the colours peeled off and the whole series became invisible.

A co-partnership in subjects, a duplication of treatment, or interchange between the arts of poetry and painting characterise Pre-Raphaelite work. For example, Morris' poems, "The Blue Closet" and "The Tune of Seven Towers" were inspired by the similarly entitled designs of Rossetti. They are interpretations in language of pictorial suggestions—"word-paintings" in a truer meaning than that much-abused piece of critical slang commonly bears. In one of these compositions—a water-colour, a study in colour and music symbolism—four damozels in black and purple, white and green, scarlet and white, and crimson, are singing or playing on a lute and clavichord in a blue-tiled room; while in front of them a red lily grows up through the floor. To this interior Morris' "stunning picture"—as his friend called it—adds an obscurely hinted love story: the burden of a bell booming a death-knell in the tower overhead; the sound of wind and sea; and the Christmas snows outside. Conversely Rossetti's painting, "Arthur's Tomb," was suggested by Morris' so-named poem in his 1858 volume.

Or, again, compare Morris' poem, "Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery," with the following description of Rossetti's aquarelle, "How Sir Galahad, Sir Bors, and Sir Percival were fed with the Sanc Grael; but Sir Percival's sister died by the way": "On the right is painted the altar, and in front of it the damsel of the Sanc Grael giving the cup to Sir Galahad, who stoops forward to take it over the dead body of Sir Percival's sister, who lies calm and rigid in her green robe and red mantle, and near whose feet grows from the ground an aureoled lily, while, with his left hand, the saintly knight leads forward his two companions, him who has lost his sister, and the good Sir Bors. Behind the white-robed damsel at the altar, a dove, bearing the sacred casket, poises on outspread pinions; and immediately beyond the fence enclosing the sacred space, stands a row of nimbused angels, clothed in white and with crossed scarlet or flame-coloured wings." [21]

Rossetti's powerful ballad, "The King's Tragedy," was suggested by the mural paintings (encaustic) with which William Bell Scott decorated the circular staircase of Penkill Castle in 1865-68. These were a series of scenes from "The Kinges Quair" once attributed to James I. of Scotland. The photogravure reproduction, from a painting by Arthur Hughes of a section of the Penkill Castle staircase, represents the king looking from the window of his prison in Windsor Castle at Lady Jane Beaufort walking with her handmaidens in a very Pre-Raphaelite garden. At the left of the picture, Cupid aims an arrow at the royal lover. Rossetti, Hunt, and Millais were all great lovers of Keats. Hunt says that his "Escape of Madeline and Prospero" was the first subject from Keats ever painted, and was highly acclaimed by Rossetti. At the formation of the P.-R B. in 1848, it was agreed that the first work of the Brotherhood should be in illustration of "Isabella," and a series of eight subjects was selected from the poem. Millais executed at once his "Lorenzo and Isabella," but Hunt's "Isabella and the Pot of Basil" was not finished till 1867, and Rossetti's part of the programme was never carried out. Rossetti's "La Belle Dame sans Merci," Mr. J. M. Strudwick's "Madness of Isabella," Arthur Hughes' triptych of "The Eve of St. Agnes," and Millais' great painting, "St. Agnes' Eve," were other tributes of Pre-Raphaelite art to the young master of romantic verse.

Whether this interpenetration of poetry and painting is of advantage to either, may admit of question. Emerson said to Scott: "We [Americans] scarcely take to the Rossetti poetry; it does not come home to us; it is exotic." The sonnets of "The House of Life" have appeared to many readers obscure and artificial, the working out in language of conceptions more easily expressible by some other art; expressed here, at all events, through imagery drawn from a special and even technical range of associations. Such readers are apt to imagine that Rossetti suffers from a hesitation between poetry and painting; as Sidney Lanier is thought by some to have been injured artistically by halting midway between music and verse. The method proper to one art intrudes into the other; everything that the artist does has the air of an experiment; he paints poems and writes pictures.

A department of Rossetti's verse consists of sonnets written for pictures, pictures by Botticelli, Mantegna, Giorgione, Burne-Jones, and others, and in many cases by himself, and giving thus a double rendering of the same invention. But even when not so occasioned, his poems nearly always suggest pictures. Their figures seem to have stepped down from some fifteenth-century altar piece bringing their aureoles and golden backgrounds with them. This is to be pictorial in a very different sense from that in which Tennyson is said to be a pictorial poet. Hall Caine informs us that Rossetti "was no great lover of landscape beauty." His scenery does not, like Wordsworth's or Tennyson's, carry an impression of life, of the real outdoors. Nature with Rossetti has been passed through the medium of another art before it comes into his poetry; it is a doubly distilled nature. It is nature as we have it in the "Roman de la Rose," or the backgrounds of old Florentine painters: flowery pleasances and orchard closes, gardens with trellises and singing conduits, where ladies are playing at the palm play. In his most popular poem, "The Blessed Damosel"—a theme which he both painted and sang—the feeling is exquisitely and voraciously human. The maiden is "homesick in heaven," and yearns back towards the earth and her lover left behind. Even so, with her symbolic stars and lilies, she is so like the stiff, sweet angels of Fra Angelico or Perugino, that one almost doubts when the poet says

"—her bosom must have made The bar she leaned on warm."

The imagery of the poem is right out of the picture world;

"The clear ranged, unnumbered heads Bowed with their aureoles."

The imaginations are Dantesque:

"And the souls, mounting up to God, Went by her like thin flames."

"The light thrilled towards her, filled With angels in strong, level flight."

Even in "Jenny," one of the few poems of Rossetti that deal with modern life, mediaeval art will creep in.

"Fair shines the gilded aureole In which our highest painters place Some living woman's simple face. And the stilled features thus descried, As Jenny's long throat droops aside— The shadows where the cheeks are thin And pure wide curve from ear to chin— With Raffael's, Leonardo's hand To show them to men's souls might stand."

The type of womanly beauty here described is characteristic; it is the type familiar to all in "Pandora," "Proserpine," "La Ghirlandata," "The Day Dream," "Our Lady of Pity," and the other life-size, half-length figure paintings in oil which were the masterpieces of his maturer style. The languid pose, the tragic eyes with their mystic, brooding intensity in contrast with the full curves of the lips and throat, give that union of sensuousness and spirituality which is a constant trait of Rossetti's poetry. The Pre-Raphaelites were accused of exaggerating the height of their figures. In Burne-Jones, whose figures are eight and a half heads high, the exaggeration is deliberate. In Morris' and Swinburne's early poems all the lines of the female face and figure are long—the hand, the foot, the throat, the "curve from chin to ear," and above all, the hair.[22] The hair in these paintings of Rossetti seems a romantic exaggeration, too; immense, crinkly waves of it spreading off to left and right. William Morris' beautiful wife is said to have been his model in the pieces above named.

The first collection of original poems by Rossetti was published in 1870. The manuscripts had been buried with his wife in 1862. When he finally consented to their publication, the coffin had to be exhumed and the manuscripts removed. In 1881 a new edition was issued with changes and additions; and in the same year the volume of "Ballads and Sonnets" was published, including the sonnet sequence of "The House of Life." Of the poems in these two collections which treat directly of Dante the most important is "Dante at Verona," a noble and sustained piece in eighty-five stanzas, slightly pragmatic in manner, in which are enwoven the legendary and historical incidents of Dante's exile related by the early biographers, together with many personal allusions from the "Divine Comedy." But Dante is nowhere very far off either in Rossetti's painting or in his poetry. In particular, the history of Dante's passion for Beatrice, as told in the "Vita Nuova," in which the figure of the girl is gradually transfigured and idealised by death into the type of heavenly love, made an enduring impression upon Rossetti's imagination. Shelley, in his "Epipsychidion," had appealed to this great love story, so characteristic at once of the mediaeval mysticism and of the Platonic spirit of the early Renaissance. But Rossetti was the first to give a thoroughly sympathetic interpretation of it to English readers. It became associated most intimately with his own love and loss. We see it in a picture like "Beata Beatrix," and a poem like "The Portrait," written many years before his wife's death, but subsequently retouched. Who can read the following stanza without thinking of Beatrice and the "Paradiso"?

"Even so, where Heaven holds breath and hears The beating heart of Love's own breast,— Where round the secret of all spheres All angels lay their wings to rest,— How shall my soul stand rapt and awed, When, by the new birth borne abroad Throughout the music of the suns, It enters in her soul at once And knows the silence there for God!"

Rossetti's ballads and ballad-romances, all intensely mediaeval in spirit, fall, as regards their manner, into two very different classes. Pieces like "The Blessed Damozel," "The Bride's Prelude," "Rose Mary," and "The Staff and Scrip" (from a story in the "Gesta Romanorum") are art poems, rich, condensed, laden with ornament, pictorial. Every attitude of every figure is a pose; landscapes and interiors are painted with minute Pre-Raphaelite finish. "The Bride's Prelude"—a fragment—opens with the bride's confession to her sister, in the 'tiring-room sumptuous with gold and jewels and brocade, where the air is heavy with musk and myrrh, and sultry with the noon. In the pauses of her tale stray lute notes creep in at the casement, with noises from the tennis court and the splash of a hound swimming in the moat. In "Rose Mary," which employs the superstition in the old lapidaries as to the prophetic powers of the beryl-stone, the colouring and imagery are equally opulent, and, in passages, Oriental.

On the other hand, "Stratton Water," "Sister Helen," "The White Ship," and "The King's Tragedy" are imitations of popular poetry, done with a simulated roughness and simplicity. The first of these adopts a common ballad motive, a lover's desertion of his sweetheart through the contrivances of his wicked kinsfolk:

"And many's the good gift, Lord Sands, You've promised oft to me; But the gift of yours I keep to-day Is the babe in my body." . . .

"Look down, look down, my false mother, That bade me not to grieve: You'll look up when our marriage fires Are lit to-morrow eve."

"Sister Helen" is a ballad in dialogue with a subtly varying repetend, and introduces the popular belief that a witch could kill a man slowly by melting a wax figure. Twice Rossetti essayed the historical ballad. "The White Ship" tells of the drowning of the son and daughter of Henry I. with their whole ship's company, except one survivor, Berold, the butcher of Rouen, who relates the catastrophe. The subject of "The King's Tragedy" is the murder of James I. by Robert Graeme and his men in the Charterhouse of Perth. The teller of the tale is Catherine Douglas, known in Scottish tradition as Kate Barlass, who had thrust her arm through the staple, in place of a bar, to hold the door against the assassins. A few stanzas of "The Kinges Quair" are fitted into the poem by shortening the lines two syllables each, to accommodate them to the ballad metre. It is generally agreed that this was a mistake, as was also the introduction of the "Beryl Songs" between the narrative parts of "Rose Mary." These ballads of Rossetti compare well with other modern imitations of popular poetry. "Sister Helen," e.g., has much greater dramatic force than Tennyson's "Oriana" or "The Sisters." Yet they impress one, upon the whole, as less characteristic than the poet's Italianate pieces; as tours de force carefully pitched in the key of minstrel song, but falsetto in effect. Compared with such things as "Cadyow Castle" or "Jack o' Hazeldean," they are felt to be the work of an art poet, resolute to divest himself of fine language and scrupulously observant of ballad convention in phrase and accent—details of which Scott was often heedless—but devoid of that hearty, natural sympathy with the conditions of life from which popular poetry sprang, and wanting the lyrical pulse that beats in the ballad verse of Scott, Kingsley, and Hogg. In "The King's Tragedy" Rossetti was poaching on Scott's own preserves, the territory of national history and legend. If we can guess how Scott would have handled the same story, we shall have an object lesson in two contrasted kinds of romanticism. Scott could not have bettered the grim ferocity of the murder scene, nor have equalled, perhaps, the tragic shadow of doom which is thrown over Rossetti's poem by the triple warning of the weird woman. But the sense of the historic environment, the sense of the actual in places and persons, would have been stronger in his version. Graeme's retreat would have been the Perthshire Highlands, and not vaguely "the land of the wild Scots." And if scenery had been used, it would not have been such as this—a Pre-Raphaelite background:

"That eve was clenched for a boding storm, 'Neath a toilsome moon half seen; The cloud stooped low and the surf rose high; And where there was a line of the sky, Wild wings loomed dark between."

The historical sense was weak in Rossetti. It is not easy to imagine him composing a Waverley novel. The life of the community, as distinct from the life of the individual, had little interest for him. The mellifluous names of his heroines, Aloyse, Rose Mary, Blanchelys, are pure romance. In his intense concentration upon the aesthetic aspects of every subject, Rossetti seemed, to those who came in contact with him, singularly borne. He was indifferent to politics, society, speculative thought, and the discoveries of modern science—to contemporary matters in general.[23] It is to this narrow aestheticism that Mr. Courthope refers when, in comparing Coleridge and Keats with Rossetti and Swinburne, he finds in the latter an "extraordinary skill in the imitation of antique forms," but "less liberty of imagination." [24] The contrast is most striking in the case of Coleridge, whose intellectual interests had so wide a range. Rossetti cared only for Coleridge's verse; William Morris spoke with contempt of everything that he had written except two or three of his poems;[25] and Swinburne regretted that he had lost himself in the mazes of theology and philosophy, instead of devoting himself wholly to creative work. Keats, it is true, was exclusively preoccupied with the beautiful; but he was more eclectic than Rossetti—perhaps also than Morris, though hardly than Swinburne. The world of classic fable, the world of outward nature were as dear to his imagination as the country of romance. Rossetti was not university bred, and, as we have seen, forgot his Greek early. Morris, like Swinburne, was an Oxford man; yet we hear him saying that he "loathes all classical art and literature." [26] In "The Life and Death of Jason" and "The Earthly Paradise" he treats classical and mediaeval subjects impartially, but treats them both alike in mediaeval fashion; as Chaucer does, in "The Knightes Tale." [27] As for Rossetti, he is never classical. He makes Pre-Raphaelite ballads out of the tale of Troy divine and the Rabbinical legends of Adam's first wife, Lilith; ballads with quaint burdens—

"(O Troy's down, Tall Troy's on fire)";

"(Sing Eden Bower! Alas the hour!)"

and whose very titles have an Old English familiarity—"Eden Bower," "Troy Town," as who says "London Bridge," "Edinboro' Town," etc. Swinburne has given the rationale of this type of art in his description of a Bacchus and Ariadne by Lippino Lippi ("Old Masters at Florence"), "an older legend translated and transformed into mediaeval shape. More than any others, these painters of the early Florentine school reproduce in their own art the style of thought and work familiar to a student of Chaucer and his fellows or pupils. Nymphs have faded into fairies, and gods subsided into men. A curious realism has grown up out of that very ignorance and perversion which seemed as if it could not but falsify whatever thing it touched upon. This study of Fillippino's has all the singular charm of the romantic school. . . . The clear form has gone, the old beauty dropped out of sight . . . but the mediaeval or romantic form has an incommunicable charm of its own. . . . Before Chaucer could give us a Pandarus or a Cressida, all knowledge and memory of the son of Lycaon and the daughter of Chryses must have died out, the whole poem collapsed into romance; but far as these may be removed from the true tale and the true city of Troy, they are not phantoms."

But of all this group, the one most thoroughly steeped in mediaevalism—to repeat his own description of himself—was William Morris. He was the English equivalent of Gautier's homme moyen age; and it was his endeavour, in letters and art, to pick up and continue the mediaeval tradition, interrupted by four hundred years of modern civilisation. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did not attract him; and as for the eighteenth, it simply did not exist for him.[28] The ugliness of modern life, with its factories and railroads, its unpicturesque poverty and selfish commercialism, was hateful to him as it was to Ruskin—his teacher. He loved to imagine the face of England as it was in the time of Chaucer—his master; to

"Forget six counties overhung with smoke, Forget the snorting steam and piston smoke, . . . And dream of London, small and white and clean, The clear Thames bordered by its gardens green."

The socialistic Utopia depicted in his "News from Nowhere" (1890) is a regenerated Middle Age, without feudalism, monarchy, and the mediaeval Church, but also without densely populated cities, with handicrafts substituted for manufactures, and with mediaeval architecture, house, decoration, and costume. None of Morris' books deals with modern life, but all of them with an imaginary future or an almost equally imaginary past. This same "News from Nowhere" contains a passage of dialogue in justification of retrospective romance. "'How is it that though we are so interested with our life for the most part, yet when people take to writing poems or painting pictures they seldom deal with our modern life, or if they do, take good care to make their poems or pictures unlike that life? Are we not good enough to paint ourselves?' . . . 'It always was so, and I suppose always will be,' said he, 'however, it may be explained. It is true that in the nineteenth century, when there was so little art and so much talk about it, there was a theory that art and imaginative literature ought to deal with contemporary life; but they never did so; for, if there was any pretence of it, the author always took care . . . to disguise, or exaggerate, or idealise, and in some way or another make it strange; so that, for all the verisimilitude there was, he might just as well have dealt with the times of the Pharaohs.'" [29]

The difference between the mediaevalism of Rossetti and of Morris illustrates, in an interesting way, the varied results produced by the operation of similar influences on contrasted temperaments. The comparison which Morris' biographer makes between him and Burne-Jones holds true as between Morris and Rossetti: "They received or re-incarnated the Middle Ages through the eyes and brain, in the one case of a Norman, in the other of a Florentine." Morris was twice a Norman, in his love for the romancers and Gothic builders of northern France; and in his enthusiasm for the Icelandic sagas. His visits to Italy left him cold, and he confessed to a strong preference for the art of the North. "With the later work of Southern Europe I am quite out of sympathy. In spite of its magnificent power and energy, I feel it as an enemy, and this much more in Italy, where there is such a mass of it, than elsewhere. Yes, and even in these magnificent and wonderful towns I long rather for the heap of gray stones with a gray roof that we call a house north-away." Rossetti's Italian subtlety and mysticism are replaced in Morris by an English homeliness—a materialism which is Teutonic and not Latin or Celtic, and one surface indication of which is the scrupulously Saxon vocabulary of his poems and prose romances. "His earliest enthusiasms," said Burne-Jones, "were his latest. The thirteenth century was his ideal period always"—the century which produced the lovely French romances which he translated and the great French cathedrals which he admired above all other architecture on earth. But this admiration was aesthetic rather than religious. The Catholic note, so resonant in Rossetti's poetry, is hardly audible in Morris, at least after his early Oxford days. The influence of Newman still lingered at Oxford in the fifties, though the Tractarian movement had spent its force and a reaction had set in. Morris came up to the university an Anglo-Catholic, and like his fellow-student and life-long friend, Burne-Jones, had been destined to holy orders. We find them both, as undergraduates, eagerly reading the "Acta Sanctorum," the "Tracts for the Times," and Kenelm Digby's "Mores Catholici," and projecting a kind of monastic community, where celibacy should be practised and sacred art cultivated. But later impressions soon crowded out this early religious fervour. Churchly asceticism and the mediaeval "praise of virginity" made no part of Morris' social ideal. The body counted for much with him. In "News from Nowhere," marriage even is so far from being a sacrament, that it is merely a free arrangement terminable at the will of either party. Morris had a passionate love of earth and a regard for the natural instincts. He complains that Swinburne's poetry is "founded on literature, not on nature." His religion is a reversion to the old Teutonic pagan earth-worship, and he had the pagan dread of "quick-coming death." His paradise is an "Earthly Paradise"; it is in search of earthly immortality that his voyagers set sail. "Of heaven or hell," says his prelude, "I have no power to sing"; and the great mediaeval singer of heaven and hell who meant so much to Rossetti, appealed hardly more to Morris than to Walter Scott.

Moreover, Morris' work in verse was the precise equivalent of his work as a decorative artist, who cared little for easel pictures, and regarded painting as one method out of many for covering wall spaces or other surfaces.[30] His poetry is mainly narrative, but whether epical or lyrical in form, is always less lyric in essence than Rossetti's. In its objective spirit and even distribution of emphasis, it contrasts with Rossetti's expressional intensity very much as Morris' wall-paper and tapestry designs contrast with paintings like "Beata Beatrix" and "Proserpina." Morris—as an artist—cared more for places and things than for people; and his interest was in the work of art itself, not in the personality of the artist.

Quite unlike as was Morris to Scott in temper and mental endowment, his position in the romantic literature of the second half-century answers very closely to Scott's in the first. His work resembled Scott's in volume, and in its easiness for the general reader. For the second time he made the Middle Ages popular. There was nothing esoteric in his art, as in Rossetti's. It was English and came home to Englishmen. His poetry, like his decorative work, was meant for the people, and "understanded of the people." Moreover, like Scott, he was an accomplished raconteur, and a story well told is always sure of an audience. His first volume, "The Defence of Guenevere" (1858), dedicated to Rossetti and inspired by him, had little popular success. But when, like Millais, he abandoned the narrowly Pre-Raphaelite manner and broadened out, in "The Life and Death of Jason" (1867) and "The Earthly Paradise" (1868-70), into a fashion of narrative less caviare to the general, the public response was such as met Millais.

Morris' share in the Pre-Raphaelite movement was in the special field of decorative art. His enthusiasm for Gothic architecture had been aroused at Oxford by a reading of Ruskin's chapter on "The Nature of Gothic" in "The Stones of Venice." In 1856, acting upon this impulse, he articled himself to the Oxford architect G. E. Street, and began work in his office. He did not persevere in the practice of the profession, and never built a house. But he became and remained a connoisseur of Gothic architecture and an active member of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. His numerous visits to Amiens, Chartres, Reims, Soissons, and Rouen were so many pilgrimages to the shrines of mediaeval art. Indeed, he always regarded the various branches of house decoration as contributory to the master art, architecture.

A little later, under the dominating and somewhat overbearing persuasions of Rossetti, he tried his hand at painting, but never succeeded well in drawing the human face and figure. The figure designs for his stained glass, tapestries, etc., were usually made by Burne-Jones, Morris furnishing floriated patterns and the like. In 1861 was formed the firm of Morris & Company, which revolutionised English household decoration. Rossetti and Burne-Jones were among the partners in this concern, which undertook to supply the public with high art work in wall painting, paper hangings, embroidery, carpets, tapestries, printed cottons, stamped leather, carved furniture, tiles, metals, jewelry, etc. In particular, Morris revived the mediaeval arts of glass-staining, illumination, or miniature painting, and tapestry-weaving with the high-warp loom. Though he chose to describe himself as a "dreamer of dreams born out of my due time," and "the idle singer of an empty day," he was a tireless practical workman of astonishing cleverness and versatility. He taught himself to dye and weave. When, in the last decade of the century, he set up the famous Kelmscott Press, devoted to artistic printing and book-making, he studied the processes of type-casting and paper manufacture, and actually made a number of sheets of paper with his own hands. It was his favourite idea that the division of labour in modern manufactures had degraded the workman by making him a mere machine; that the divorce between the art of the designer and the art of the handicraftsman was fatal to both. To him the Middle Ages meant, not the ages of faith, or of chivalry, or of bold and free adventure, but of popular art—of "The Lesser Arts"; when every artisan was an artist of the beautiful and took pleasure in the thing which his hand shaped; when not only the cathedral and the castle, but the townsman's dwelling-house and the labourer's cottage was a thing of beauty. He believed that in those times there was, as there should be again, an art by the people and for the people. It was the democratic and not the aristocratic elements of mediaeval life that he praised. "From the first dawn of history till quite modern times, art, which nature meant to solace all, fulfilled its purpose; all men shared in it; that was what made life romantic, as people call it, in those days; that and not robber-barons and inaccessible kings with their hierarchy of serving-nobles and other such rubbish." [31] One more passage will serve to set in sharp contrast the romanticism of Scott and the romanticism of Ruskin and Morris. "With that literature in which romance, that is to say humanity, was re-born, there sprang up also a feeling for the romance of external nature, which is surely strong in us now, joined with a longing to know something real of the lives of those who have gone before us; of these feelings united you will find the broadest expression in the pages of Walter Scott; it is curious, as showing how sometimes one art will lag behind another in a revival, that the man who wrote the exquisite and wholly unfettered naturalism of 'The Heart of Midlothian,' for instance, thought himself continually bound to seem to feel ashamed of, and to excuse himself for, his love of Gothic architecture; he felt that it was romantic, and he knew that it gave him pleasure, but somehow he had not found out that it was art, having been taught in many ways that nothing could be art that was not done by a named man under academical rules." [32]

It is worth while to glance at Morris' culture-history and note the organic filaments which connect the later with the earlier romanticism. He had read the Waverley novels as a child, and had even snatched a fearful joy from Clara Reeve's "Old English Baron." [33] He knew his Tennyson before he went up to Oxford, but reserved an unqualified admiration only for such things as "Oriana" and "The Lady of Shalott." He was greatly excited by the woodcut engraving of Duerer's "Knight, Death and the Devil" in an English translation of Fouque's "Sintram." [34] Rossetti was first made known to him by Ruskin's Edinburgh lectures of 1854 and by the illustration to Allingham's "Maids of Elfin Mere," over which Morris and Burne-Jones "pored continually." Morris devoured greedily all manner of mediaeval chronicles and romances, French and English; but he read little in Elizabethan and later authors. He disliked Milton and Wordsworth, and held Keats to be the foremost of modern English poets. He took no interest in mythology, or Welsh poetry or Celtic literature generally, with the exception of the "Morte Darthur," which, Rossetti assured him, was second only to the Bible. The Border ballads had been his delight since childhood. An edition of these; a selection of English mediaeval lyrics; and a "Morte Darthur," with a hundred illustrations from designs by Burne-Jones, were among the unfulfilled purposes of the Kelmscott Press.

Morris' first volume, "The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems," was put forth in 1858 (reprint in 1875); "a book," says Saintsbury, "almost as much the herald of the second school of Victorian poetry as Tennyson's early work was of the first." [35] "Many of the poems," wrote William Bell Scott, "represent the mediaeval spirit in a new way, not by a sentimental, nineteenth-century-revival mediaevalism, but they give a poetical sense of a barbaric age strongly and sharply real." [36] These last words point at Tennyson. The first four pieces in the volume are on Arthurian subjects, but are wholly different in style and conception even from such poems as "The Lady of Shalott" and "Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere." They are more mannerised, more in the spirit of Pre-Raphaelite art, than anything in Morris' later work. If the name-poem is put beside Tennyson's idyl "Guinevere"; or "Sir Galahad, a Christmas Mystery," beside Tennyson's "Sir Galahad," the difference is striking. In place of the refined ethics and sentiment, and purely modern spiritual ideals which find a somewhat rhetorical expression in Tennyson, Morris endeavours to render the genuine Catholic mediaeval materialistic religious temper as it appears in Malory; where unquestioning belief, devotion, childish superstition, and the fear of hell coexist with fleshly love and hate—a passion of sin and a passion of repentance. Guenevere's "defence" is, at bottom, the same as Phryne's:

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