UNHAPPY MARRIAGE.—In 1815, urged by his friends, and thinking it due to his position, he married Miss Milbanke; but the union was without affection on either side, and both were unhappy. One child, a daughter, was born to them; and a year had hardly passed when they were separated, by mutual consent and for reasons never truly divulged; and which, in spite of modern investigations, must remain mysterious. He was licentious, extravagant, of a violent temper: his wife was of severe morals, cold, and unsympathetic. We need not advance farther into the horrors recently suggested to the world. The blame has rested on Byron; and, at the time, the popular feeling was so strong, that it may be said to have driven him from England. It awoke in him a dark misanthropy which returned English scorn with an unnatural hatred. He sojourned at various places on the continent. At Geneva he wrote a third canto of Childe Harold, and the touching story of Bonnivard, entitled The Prisoner of Chillon, and other short poems.
In 1817 he was at Venice, where he formed a connection with the Countess Guiccioli, to the disgrace of both. In Venice he wrote a fourth canto of Childe Harold, the story of Mazeppa, the first two cantos of Don Juan, and two dramas, Marino Faliero and The Two Foscari.
For two years he lived at Ravenna, where he wrote some of his other dramas, and several cantos of Don Juan. In 1821 he removed to Pisa; thence, after a short stay, to Genoa, still writing dramas and working at Don Juan.
PHILHELLENISM: HIS DEATH.—The end of his misanthropy and his debaucheries was near; but his story was to have a ray of sunset glory—his death was to be connected with a noble effort and an exhibition of philanthropic spirit which seem in some degree to palliate his faults. Unlike some writers who find in his conduct only a selfish whim, we think that it casts a beautiful radiance upon the early evening of a stormy life. The Greeks were struggling for independence from Turkish tyranny: Byron threw himself heart and soul into the movement, received a commission from the Greek government, recruited a band of Suliotes, and set forth gallantly to do or die in the cause of Grecian freedom: he died, but not in battle. He caught a fever of a virulent type, from his exposure, and after very few days expired, on the 19th of April, 1824, amid the mourning of the nation. Of this event, Macaulay—no mean or uncertain critic—could say, in his epigrammatical style: "Two men have died within our recollection, who, at a time of life at which few people have completed their education, had raised themselves, each in his own department, to the height of glory. One of them died at Longwood; the other at Missolonghi."
ESTIMATE OF HIS POETRY.—In giving a brief estimate of his character and of his works, we may begin by saying that he represents, in clear lineaments, the nobleman, the traveller, the poet, and the debauchee, of the beginning of the nineteenth century. In all his works he unconsciously depicts himself. He is in turn Childe Harold, Lara, the Corsair, and Don Juan. He affected to despise the world's opinion so completely that he has made himself appear worse than he really was—more profane, more intemperate, more licentious. It is equally true that this tendency, added to the fact that he was a handsome peer, had much to do with the immediate popularity of his poems. There was also a paradoxical vanity, which does not seem easily reconcilable with his misanthropy, that thus led him to reproduce himself in a new dress in his dramas and tales. He paraded himself as if, after all, he did value the world's opinion.
That he was one of the new romantic poets, with, however, a considerable tincture of the transition school, may be readily discerned in his works: his earlier poems are full of the conceits of the artificial age. His English Bards and Scotch Reviewers reminds one of the MacFlecknoe of Dryden and The Dunciad of Pope, without being as good as either. When he began that original and splendid portrait of himself, and transcript of his travels, Childe Harold, he imitated Spenser in form and in archaism. But he was possessed by the muse: the man wrote as the spirit within dictated, as the Pythian priestess is fabled to have uttered her oracles. Childe Harold is a stream of intuitive, irrepressible poetry; not art, but overflowing nature: the sentiments good and bad came welling forth from his heart. His descriptive powers are great but peculiar. Travellers find in Childe Harold lightning glimpses of European scenery, art, and nature, needing no illustrations, almost defying them. National conditions, manners, customs, and costumes, are photographed in his verses:—the rapid rush to Waterloo; a bull-fight in Spain; the women of Cadiz or Saragossa; the Lion of St. Mark; the eloquent statue of the Dying Gladiator; "Fair Greece, sad relic of departed worth;" the address to the ocean; touches of love and hate; pictures of sorrow, of torture, of death. Everywhere thought and glance are powerfully concentrated, and we find the poem to be journal, history, epic, and autobiography. His felicity of expression is so great, that, as we come upon the happy conceptions exquisitely rendered, we are inclined to say of each, as he has said of the Egeria of Muna:
... whatsoe'er thy birth, Thou wert a beautiful thought and softly bodied forth.
Of his dramas which are founded upon history, we cannot say so much; they are dramatic only in form: some of them are spectacular, like Sardanapalus, which is still presented upon the stage on account of its scenic effects. In Manfred we have a rare insight into his nature, and Cain is the vehicle for his peculiar, dark sentiments on the subject of religion.
Don Juan is illustrative not only of the poet, but of the age; there was a generation of such men and women. But quite apart from its moral, or rather immoral, character, the poem is one of the finest in our literature: it is full of wonderful descriptions, and exhibits a splendid mastery of language, rhythm, and rhyme: a glorious epic with an inglorious hero, and that hero Byron himself.
As a man he was an enigma to the world, and doubtless to himself: he was bad, but he was bold. If he was vindictive, he was generous; if he was misanthropic and sceptical, it was partly because he despised shams: in all his actions, we see that implicit working out of his own nature, which not only conceals nothing, but even exaggerates his own faults. His antecedents were bad;—his father was a villain; his grand-uncle a murderer; his mother a woman of violent temper; and himself, with all this legacy, a man of powerful passions. If evil is in any degree to be palliated because it is hereditary, those who most condemn it in the abstract, may still look with compassionate leniency upon the career of Lord Byron.
THOMAS MOORE.—Emphatically the creature of his age, Moore wrote sentimental songs in melodious language to the old airs of Ireland, and used them as an instrument to excite the Irish people in the struggle they were engaged in against English misgovernment. But his songs were true neither to tradition nor to nature; they placed before the ardent Celtic fancy an Irish glory and grandeur entirely different from the reality. Nor had he in any degree caught the bardic spirit. His lyre was attuned to reach the ear rather than the heart; his scenes are in enchanted lands; his dramatis personae tread theatrical boards; his thunder is a melo-dramatic roll; his lightning is pyrotechny; his tears are either hypocritical or maudlin; and his laughter is the perfection of genteel comedy.
Thomas Moore was born in Dublin, on the 28th of May, 1779: he was a diminutive but precocious child, and was paraded by his father and mother, who were people in humble life, as a reciter of verse; and as an early rhymer also. His first poem was printed in a Dublin magazine, when he was fourteen years old. In 1794 he entered Trinity College, Dublin; and, although never considered a good scholar, he was graduated in 1798, when he was nineteen years old.
ANACREON.—The first work which brought him into notice, and which manifests at once the precocity of his powers and the peculiarity of his taste, was his translation of the Odes of Anacreon. He had begun this work while at college, but it was finished and published in London, whither he had gone after leaving college, to enter the Middle Temple, in order to study law. With equal acuteness and adaptation to character, he dedicated the poems to the Prince of Wales, an anacreontic hero. As might be expected, with such a patron, the volume was a success. In 1801 he published another series of erotic poems, under the title The Poetical Works of the late Thomas Little. This gained for him, in Byron's line, the name of "the young Catullus of his day"; and, at the instance of Lord Moira, he was appointed poet-laureate, a post he filled only long enough to write one birthday ode. What seemed a better fortune came in the shape of an appointment as Registrar of the Admiralty Court of Bermuda. He went to the island; remained but a short time; and turned over the uncongenial duties of the post to a deputy, who subsequently became a defaulter, and involved Moore to a large amount. Returning from Bermuda, he travelled in the United States and Canada; not without some poetical record of his movements. In 1806 he published his Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems, which called down the righteous wrath of the Edinburgh Review: Jeffrey denounced the book as "a public nuisance," and "a corrupter of public morals." For this harsh judgment, Moore challenged him; but the duel was stopped by the police. This hostile meeting was turned to ridicule by Byron in the lines:
When Little's leadless pistols met his eye, And Bow-street myrmidons stood laughing by.
LATER FORTUNES.—Moore was now the favorite—the poet and the dependent of the nobility; and his versatile pen was principally employed to amuse and to please. He soon began that series of Irish Melodies which he continued to augment with new pieces for nearly thirty years.
Always of a theatrical turn, he acted well in private drama, in which the gentlemen were amateurs, and the female parts were personated by professional actresses. Thus playing in a cast with Miss Dyke, the daughter of an Irish actor, Moore fell in love with her, and married her on the 25th of March, 1811.
With a foolish lack of judgment, he lost his hopes of preferment, by writing satires against the regent; but as a means of livelihood, he engaged to write songs for Powers, at a salary of L500 per annum, for seven years.
LALLA ROOKH.—The most acceptable offering to fame, and the most successful pecuniary venture, was his Lalla Rookh. The East was becoming known to the English; and the fancy of the poet could convert the glimpses of oriental things into charming pictures. Long possessed with the purpose to write an Eastern story in verse, Moore set to work with laudable industry to read books of travels and history, in order to form a strong and sensible basis for his poetical superstructure. The work is a collection of beautiful poems, in a delicate setting of beautiful prose. The princess Lalla Rookh journeys, with great pomp, to become the bride of the youthful king of Bokkara, and finds among her attendants a handsome young poet, who beguiles the journey by singing to her these tales in verse. The dangers of the process became manifest—the king of Bokkara is forgotten, and the heart of the unfortunate princess is won by the beauty and the minstrelsy of the youthful poet. What is her relief and her joy to find on her arrival the unknown poet seated upon the throne as the king, who had won her heart as an humble bard!
This beautiful and popular work was published in 1817; and for it Moore received from his publishers, the Longmans, L3000.
In the same year Moore took a small cottage at Sloperton on the estate of the Marquis of Lansdowne, which, with some interruptions of travel, and a short residence in Paris, continued to be his residence during his life. Improvident in money matters, he was greatly troubled by his affairs in Bermuda;—the amount for which he became responsible by the defalcation of his deputy was L6000; which, however, by legal cleverness, was compromised for a thousand guineas.
HIS DIARY.—It is very fortunate, for a proper understanding of Moore's life, that we have from this time a diary which is invaluable to the biographer. In 1820 he went to Paris, where he wasted his time and money in fashionable dissipation, and produced nothing of enduring value. Here he sketched an Egyptian story, versified in Alciphron, but enlarged in the prose romance called The Epicurean.
On a short tour he visited Venice, where he received, as a gift from Lord Byron, his autobiographical memoirs, which contained so much that was compromising to others, that they were never published—at least in that form. They were withdrawn from the Murrays, in whose hands he had placed them, upon the death of Byron in 1824, and destroyed. A short visit to Ireland led to his writing the Memoirs of Captain Rock, a work which attained an unprecedented popularity in Ireland.
In 1825 he published his Life of Sheridan, which is rather a friendly panegyric than a truthful biography.
During three years—from 1827 to 1830—he was engaged upon the Life of Byron, which concealed more truth than it divulged. But in all these years, his chief dependence for daily bread was upon his songs and glees, squibs for newspapers and magazines, and review articles.
In 1831 he made another successful hit in his Life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, a rebel of '98, which was followed in 1833 by The Travels of an Irish Gentleman in Search of a Religion.
In 1835, through the agency of Lord John Russel, the improvident poet received a pension of L300. It came in a time of need; for he was getting old, and his mind moved more sluggishly. His infirmities made him more domestic; but his greater trials were still before him. His sons were frivolous spendthrifts; one for whom he had secured a commission in the army behaved ill, and drew upon his impoverished father again and again for money: both died young. This cumulation of troubles broke him down; he had a cerebral attack in December, 1849, and lived helpless and broken until the 26th of February, 1852, when he expired without suffering.
HIS POETRY.—In most cases, the concurrence of what an author has written will present to us the mental and moral features of the man. It is particularly true in the case of Moore. He appears to us in Protean shapes, indeed, but not without an affinity between them. Small in stature, of jovial appearance; devoted to the gayest society; not very earnest in politics; a Roman Catholic in name, with but little practical religion, he pandered at first to a frivolous public taste, and was even more corrupt than the public morals.
Not so apparently as Pope an artificial poet, he had few touches of nature. Of lyric sentiment he has but little; but we must differ from those who deny to him rare lyrical expression, and happy musical adaptations. His songs one can hardly read; we feel that they must be sung. He has been accused, too violently, by Maginn of plagiarism: this, of course, means of phrases and ideas. In our estimate of Moore, it counts but little; his rare rhythm and exquisite cadences are not plagiarized; they are his own, and his chief merit.
He abounds in imagery of oriental gorgeousness; and if, in personality, he may be compared to his own Peri, or one of "the beautiful blue damsel flies" of that poem, he has given to his unfriendly critics a judgment of his own style, in a criticism made by Fadladeen of the young poet's story to Lalla Rookh;—"it resembles one of those Maldivian boats—a slight, gilded thing, sent adrift without rudder or ballast, and with nothing but vapid sweets and faded flowers on board." "The effect of the whole," says one of his biographers, speaking of Lalla Rookh, "is much the same as that of a magnificent ballet, on which all the resources of the theatre have been lavished, and no expense spared in golden clouds, ethereal light, gauze-clad sylphs, and splendid tableaux."
Moore has been felicitously called "the poet of all circles," a phrase which shows that he reflected the general features of his age. At no time could the license of Anacreon, or the poems of Little, have been so well received as when "the first gentleman in Europe" set the example of systematic impurity. At no time could Irish Melodies have had such a furore of adoption and applause, as when Repeal was the cry, and the Irish were firing their minds by remembering "the glories of Brian the Brave;" that Brian Boroimhe who died in the eleventh century, after defeating the Danes in twenty-five battles.
Moore's Biographies, with all their faults, are important social histories. Lalla Rookh has a double historical significance: it is a reflection—like Anastasius and Vathek, like Thalaba and The Curse of Kehama, like The Giaour and The Bride of Abydos—of English conquest, travel, and adventure in the East. It is so true to nature in oriental descriptions and allusions, that one traveller declared that to read it was like riding on a camel; but it is far more important to observe that the relative conditions of England and the Irish Roman Catholics are symbolized in the Moslem rule over the Ghebers, as delineated in The Fire Worshippers. In his preface to that poem, Moore himself says: "The cause of tolerance was again my inspiring theme; and the spirit that had spoken in the melodies of Ireland soon found itself at home in the East."
In an historic view of English Literature, the works of Moore, touching almost every subject, must always be of great value to the student of his period: there he will always have his prominent place. But he is already losing his niche in public favor as a poet proper; better taste, purer morals, truer heart-songs, and more practical views will steadily supplant him, until, with no power to influence the present, he shall stand only as a charming relic of the past.
THE NEW ROMANTIC POETRY (CONTINUED).
Robert Burns. His Poems. His Career. George Crabbe. Thomas Campbell. Samuel Rogers. P. B. Shelley. John Keats. Other Writers.
If Moore was, in the opinion of his age, an Irish prodigy, Burns is, for all time, a Scottish marvel. The one was polished and musical, but artificial and insidiously immoral; the other homely and simple, but powerful and effective to men of all classes in society. The one was the poet of the aristocracy; the other the genius whose sympathies were with the poor. One was most at home in the palaces of the great; and the other, in the rude Ayrshire cottage, or in the little sitting-room of the landlord in company with Souter John and Tam O'Shanter. As to most of his poems, Burns was really of no distinct school, but seems to stand alone, the creature of circumstance rather than of the age, in an unnatural and false position, compared by himself to the daisy he uprooted with his ploughshare:
Even thou who mourn'st the daisy's fate, That fate is thine—no distant date; Stern Ruin's ploughshare drives elate, Full on thy bloom, Till crushed beneath the furrow's weight Shall be thy doom!
His life was uneventful. He was the son of a very poor man who was gardener to a gentleman at Ayr. He was born in Alloway on the 25th of January, 1759. His early education was scanty; but he read with avidity the few books on which he could lay his hands, among which he particularly mentions, in his short autobiography, The Spectator, the poems of Pope, and the writings of Sterne and Thomson. But the work which he was to do needed not even that training: he drew his simple subjects from surrounding nature, and his ideas came from his heart rather than his head. Like Moore, he found the old tunes or airs of the country, and set them to new words—words full of sentiment and sense.
HIS POEMS.—Most of his poems are quite short, and of the kind called fugitive, except that they will not fly away. The Cotter's Saturday Night is for men of all creeds, a pastoral full of divine philosophy. His Address to the Deil is a tender thought even for the Prince of Darkness, whom, says Carlyle, his kind nature could not hate with right orthodoxy. His poems on The Louse, The Field-Mouse's Nest, and The Mountain Daisy, are homely meditations and moral lessons, and contain counsels for all hearts. In The Twa Dogs he contrasts, in fable, the relative happiness of rich and poor. In the beautiful song
Ye banks and braes of bonnie Doun,
he expresses that hearty sympathy with nature which is one of the most attractive features of his character. His Bruce's Address stirs the blood, and makes one start up into an attitude of martial advance. But his most famous poem—drama, comedy, epic, and pastoral—is Tam o' Shanter: it is a universal favorite; and few travellers leave Scotland without standing at the window of "Alloway's auld haunted kirk," walking over the road upon which Meg galloped, pausing over "the keystane of the brigg" where she lost her tail; and then returning, full of the spirit of the poem, to sit in Tam's chair, and drink ale out of the same silver-bound wooden bicker, in the very room of the inn where Tam and the poet used to get "unco fou," while praising "inspiring bold John Barley-corn." Indeed, in the words of the poor Scotch carpenter, met by Washington Irving at Kirk Alloway, "it seems as if the country had grown more beautiful since Burns had written his bonnie little songs about it."
HIS CAREER.—The poet's career was sad. Gifted but poor, and doomed to hard work, he was given a place in the excise. He went to Edinburgh, and for a while was a great social lion; but he acquired a horrid thirst for drink, which shortened his life. He died in Dumfries, at the early age of thirty-seven. His allusions to his excesses are frequent, and many of them touching. In his praise of Scotch Drink he sings con amore. In a letter to Mr. Ainslie, he epitomizes his failing: "Can you, amid the horrors of penitence, regret, headache, nausea, and all the rest of the hounds of hell that beset a poor wretch who has been guilty of the sin of drunkenness,—can you speak peace to a troubled soul."
Burns was a great letter-writer, and thought he excelled in that art; but, valuable as his letters are, in presenting certain phases of his literary and personal character, they display none of the power of his poetry, and would not alone have raised him to eminence. They are in vigorous and somewhat pedantic English; while most of his poems are in that Lowland Scottish language or dialect which attracts by its homeliness and pleases by its couleur locale. It should be stated, in conclusion, that Burns is original in thought and presentation; and to this gift must be added a large share of humor, and an intense patriotism. Poverty was his grim horror. He declared that it killed his father, and was pursuing him to the grave. He rose above the drudgery of a farmer's toil, and he found no other work which would sustain him; and yet this needy poet stands to-day among the most distinguished Scotchmen who have contributed to English Literature.
GEORGE CRABBE.—Also of the transition school; in form and diction adhering to the classicism of Pope, but, with Thomson, restoring the pastoral to nature, the poet of the humble poor;—in the words of Byron, "Pope in worsted stockings," Crabbe was the delight of his time; and Sir Walter Scott, returning to die at Abbotsford, paid him the following tribute: he asked that they would read him something amusing, "Read me a bit of Crabbe." As it was read, he exclaimed, "Capital—excellent—very good; Crabbe has lost nothing."
George Crabbe was born on December 24th, 1754, at Aldborough, Suffolk. His father was a poor man; and Crabbe, with little early education, was apprenticed to a surgeon, and afterwards practised; but his aspirations were such that he went to London, with three pounds in his pocket, for a literary venture. He would have been in great straits, had it not been for the disinterested generosity of Burke, to whom, although an utter stranger, he applied for assistance. Burke aided him by introducing him to distinguished literary men; and his fortune was made. In 1781 he published The Library, which was well received. Crabbe then took orders, and was for a little time curate at Aldborough, his native place, while other preferment awaited him. In 1783 he appeared under still more favorable auspices, by publishing The Village, which had a decided success. Two livings were then given him; and he, much to his credit, married his early love, a young girl of Suffolk. In The Village he describes homely scenes with great power, in pentameter verse. The poor are the heroes of his humble epic; and he knew them well, as having been of them. In 1807 appeared The Parish Register, in 1810 The Borough, and in 1812 his Tales in Verse,—the precursor, in the former style, however, of Wordsworth's lyrical stories. All these were excellent and very popular, because they were real, and from his own experience. The Tales of the Hall, referring chiefly to the higher classes of society, are more artificial, and not so good. His pen was most at home in describing smugglers, gipsies, and humble villagers, and in delineating poverty and wretchedness; and thus opening to the rich and titled, doors through which they might exercise their philanthropy and munificence. In this way Crabbe was a reformer, and did great good; although his scenes are sometimes revolting, and his pathos too exacting. As a painter of nature, he is true and felicitous; especially in marine and coast views, where he is a pre-Raphaelite in his minuteness. Byron called him "Nature's sternest painter, but the best." He does not seem to write for effect, and he is without pretension; so that the critics were quite at fault; for what they mainly attack is not the poet's work so much as the consideration whether his works come up to his manifesto. Crabbe died in 1832, on the 3d of February, being one of the famous dead of that fatal year.
Crabbe's poems mark his age. At an earlier time, when literature was for the fashionable few, his subjects would have been beneath interest; but the times had changed; education had been more diffused, and readers were multiplied. Goldsmith's Deserted Village had struck a new chord, upon which Crabbe continued to play. Of his treatment of these subjects it must be said, that while he holds a powerful pen, and portrays truth vividly, he had an eye only for the sadder conditions of life, and gives pain rather than excites sympathy in the reader. Our meaning will be best illustrated by a comparison of The Village of Crabbe with The Deserted Village of Goldsmith, and the pleasure with which we pass from the squalid scenes of the former to the gentler sorrows and sympathies of the latter.
THOMAS CAMPBELL.—More identified with his age than any other poet, and yet forming a link between the old and the new, was Campbell. Classical and correct in versification, and smothering nature with sonorous prosody, he still had the poetic fire, and an excellent power of poetic criticism. He was the son of a merchant, and was born at Glasgow on the 27th of July, 1777. He thus grew up with the French revolution, and with the great progress of the English nation in the wars incident to it. He was carefully educated, and was six years at the University of Glasgow, where he received prizes for composition. He went later to Germany, after being graduated, to study Greek literature with Heyne. After some preliminary essays in verse, he published the Pleasures of Hope in 1799, before he was twenty-two years old. It was one of the greatest successes of the age, and has always since been popular. His subject was one of universal interest; his verse was high-sounding; and his illustrations modern—such as the fall of Poland—Finis Poloniae; and although there is some turgidity, and some want of unity, making the work a series of poems rather than a connected one, it was most remarkable for a youth of his age. It was perhaps unfortunate for his future fame; for it led the world to expect other and better things, which were not forthcoming. Travelling on the continent in the next year, 1800, he witnessed the battle of Hohenlinden from the monastery of St. Jacob, and wrote that splendid, ringing battle-piece, which has been so often recited and parodied. From that time he wrote nothing in poetry worthy of note, except songs and battle odes, with one exception. Among his battle-pieces which have never been equalled are Ye Mariners of England, The Battle of the Baltic, and Lochiel's Warning. His Exile of Erin has been greatly admired, and was suspected at the time of being treasonable; the author, however, being entirely innocent of such an intention, as he clearly showed.
Besides reviews and other miscellanies, Campbell wrote The Annals of Great Britain, from the Accession of George III. to the Peace of Amiens, which is a graceful but not valuable work. In 1805 he received a pension of L200 per annum.
In 1809 he published his Gertrude of Wyoming—the exception referred to—a touching story, written with exquisite grace, but not true to the nature of the country or the Indian character. Like Rasselas, it is a conventional English tale with foreign names and localities; but as an English poem it has great merit; and it turned public attention to the beautiful Valley of Wyoming, and the noble river which flows through it.
As a critic, Campbell had great acquirements and gifts. These were displayed in his elaborate Specimens of the British Poets, published in 1819, and in his Lectures on Poetry before the Surrey Institution in 1820. In 1827 he was elected Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow; but afterwards his literary efforts were by no means worthy of his reputation. Few have read his Pilgrim of Glencoe; and all who have, are pained by its manifestation of his failing powers. In fact, his was an unfinished fame—a brilliant beginning, but no continuance. Sir Walter Scott has touched it with a needle, when he says, "Campbell is in a manner a bugbear to himself; the brightness of his early success is a detriment to all his after efforts. He is afraid of the shadow which his own fame casts before him." Byron placed him in the second category of the greatest living English poets; but Byron was no critic.
He also published a Life of Petrarch, and a Life of Frederick the Great; and, in 1830, he edited the New Monthly Magazine. He died at Boulogne, June 15th, 1844, after a long period of decay in mental power.
SAMUEL ROGERS.—Rogers was a companion or consort to Campbell, although the two men were very different personally. As Campbell had borrowed from Akenside and written The Pleasures of Hope, Rogers enriched our literature with The Pleasures of Memory, a poem of exquisite versification, more finished and unified than its pendent picture; containing neither passion nor declamation, but polish, taste, and tenderness.
Rogers was born in a suburb of London, in 1762. His father was a banker; and, although well educated, the poet was designed to succeed him, as he did, being until his death a partner in the same banking-house. Early enamored of poetry by reading Beattie's Minstrel, Rogers devoted all his spare time to its cultivation, and with great and merited success.
In 1786 he produced his Ode to Superstition, after the manner of Gray, and in 1792 his Pleasures of Memory, which was enthusiastically received, and which is polished to the extreme. In 1812 appeared a fragment, The Voyage of Columbus, and in 1814 Jacqueline, in the same volume with Byron's Lara. Human Life was published in 1819. It is a poem in the old style, (most of his poems are in the rhymed pentameter couplet;) but in 1822 appeared his poem of Italy, in blank verse, which has the charm of originality in presentation, freshness of personal experience, picturesqueness in description, novelty in incident and story, scholarship, and taste in art criticism. In short, it is not only the best of his poems, but it has great merit besides that of the poetry. The story of Ginevra is a masterpiece of cabinet art, and is universally appreciated. With these works Rogers contented himself. Rich and distinguished, his house became a place of resort to men of distinction and taste in art: it was filled with articles of vertu; and Rogers the poet lived long as Rogers the virtuoso. His breakfast parties were particularly noted. His long, prosperous, and happy life was ended on the 18th December, 1855, at the age of ninety-two.
The position of Rogers may be best illustrated in the words of Sir J. Mackintosh, in which he says: "He appeared at the commencement of this literary revolution, without paying court to the revolutionary tastes, or seeking distinction by resistance to them." His works are not destined to live freshly in the course of literature, but to the historical student they mark in a very pleasing manner the characteristics of his age.
PERCY B. SHELLEY.—Revolutions never go backward; and one of the greatest characters in this forward movement was a gifted, irregular, splendid, unbalanced mind, who, while taking part in it, unconsciously, as one of many, stands out also in a very singular individuality.
Percy Bysshe Shelley was born on the 4th of August, 1792, at Fieldplace, in Sussex, England. He was the eldest son of Sir Timothy Shelley, and of an ancient family, traced back, it is said, to Sir Philip Sidney. When thirteen years old he was sent to Eton, where he began to display his revolutionary tendencies by his resistance to the fagging system; and where he also gave some earnest in writing of his future powers. At the age of sixteen he entered University College, Oxford, and appeared as a radical in most social, political, and religious questions. On account of a paper entitled The Necessity of Atheism, he was expelled from the university and went to London. In 1811 he made a runaway match with Miss Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of the keeper of a coffee-house, which brought down on him the wrath of his father. After the birth of two children, a separation followed; and he eloped with Miss Godwin in 1814. His wife committed suicide in 1816; and then the law took away from him the control of his children, on the ground that he was an atheist.
After some time of residence in England, he returned to Italy, where soon after he met with a tragical end. Going in an open boat from Leghorn to Spezzia, he was lost in a storm on the Mediterranean: his body was washed on shore near the town of Via Reggio, where his remains were burned in the presence of Lord Byron, Leigh Hunt, and others. The ashes were afterwards buried in the Protestant cemetery at Rome in July, 1822.
Shelley's principles were irrational and dangerous. He was a transcendentalist of the extreme order, and a believer in the perfectability of human nature. His works are full of his principles. The earliest was Queen Mab, in which his profanity and atheism are clearly set forth. It was first privately printed, and afterwards published in 1821. This was followed by Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude, in 1816. In this he gives his own experience in the tragical career of the hero. His longest and most pretentious poem was The Revolt of Islam, published in 1819. It is in the Spenserian stanza. Also, in the same year, he published The Cenci, a tragedy, a dark and gloomy story on what should be a forbidden subject, but very powerfully written. In 1820 he also published The Prometheus Unbound, which is full of his irreligious views. His remaining works were smaller poems, among which may be noted Adonais, and the odes To the Skylark and The Cloud.
In considering his character, we must first observe the power of his imagination; it was so strong and all-absorbing, that it shut out the real and the true. He was a man of extreme sensibility; and that sensibility, hurt by common contact with things and persons around him, made him morbid in morality and metaphysics. He was a polemic of the fiercest type; and while he had an honest desire for reform of the evils that he saw about him, it is manifest that he attacked existing institutions for the very love of controversy. Bold, retired, and proud, without a spice of vanity, if he has received harsh judgment from one half the critical world, who had at least the claim that they were supporting pure morals and true religion, his character has been unduly exalted by the other half, who have mistaken reckless dogmatism for true nobility of soul. The most charitable judgment is that of Moir, who says: "It is needless to disguise the fact—and it accounts for all—his mind was diseased; he never knew, even from boyhood, what it was to breathe the atmosphere of healthy life—to have the mens sana in corpore sano."
But of his poetical powers we must speak in a different manner. What he has left, gives token that, had he lived, he would have been one of the greatest modern poets. Thoroughly imbued with the Greek poetry, his verse-power was wonderful, his language stately and learned without pedantry, his inspiration was that of nature in her grandest moods, his fancy always exalted; and he presents the air of one who produces what is within him from an intense love of his art, without regard to the opinion of the world around him,—which, indeed, he seems to have despised more thoroughly than any other poet has ever done. Byron affected to despise it; Shelley really did.
We cannot help thinking that, had he lived after passing through the fiery trial of youthful passions and disordered imagination, he might have astonished the world with the grand spectacle of a convert to the good and true, and an apostle in the cause of both. Of him an honest thinker has said,—and there is much truth in the apparent paradox,—"No man who was not a fanatic, had ever more natural piety than he; and his supposed atheism is a mere metaphysical crotchet in which he was kept by the affected scorn and malignity of dunces."
JOHN KEATS.—Another singular illustration of eccentricity and abnormal power in verse is found in the brief career of John Keats, the son of the keeper of a livery-stable in London, who was born on the 29th October, 1795.
Keats was a sensitive and pugnacious youth; and in 1810, after a very moderate education, he was apprenticed to a surgeon; but the love of poetry soon interfered with the surgery, and he began to read, not without the spirit of emulation, the works of the great poets—Chaucer, Spenser, Shakspeare, and Milton. After the issue of a small volume which attracted little or no attention, he published his Endymion in 1818, which, with some similarity in temperament, he inscribed to the memory of Thomas Chatterton. It is founded upon the Greek mythology, and is written in a varied measure. Its opening line has been a familiar quotation since:
A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
It was assailed by all the critics; but particularly, although not unfairly, by Jeffrey, in the Edinburgh Review. An article in Blackwood, breathing the spirit of British caste, had the bad taste to tell the young apothecary to go back to his galley-pots. The excessive sensibility of Keats received a great shock from this treatment; but we cannot help thinking that too much stress has been laid upon this in saying that he was killed by it. This was more romantic than true. He was by inheritance consumptive, and had lost a brother by that disease. Add to this that his peculiar passions and longings took the form of fierce hypochondria.
With a decided originality, he was so impressible that there are in his writings traces of the authors whom he was reading, if he did not mean to make them models of style.
In 1820 he published a volume containing Lamia, Isabella, and The Eve of St. Agnes, and Hyperion, a fragment, which was received with far greater favor by the reviewers. Keats was self-reliant, and seems to have had something of that magnificent egotism which is not infrequently displayed by great minds.
The judicious verdict at last pronounced upon him may be thus epitomized: he was a poet with fine fancy, original ideas, felicity of expression, but full of faults due to his individuality and his youth; and his life was not spared to correct these. In 1820 a hemorrhage of brilliant arterial blood heralded the end. He himself said, "Bring me a candle; let me see this blood;" and when it was brought, added, "I cannot be deceived in that color; that drop is my death-warrant: I must die." By advice he went to Italy, where he grew rapidly worse, and died on the 23d of February, 1821, having left this for his epitaph: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." Thus dying at the age of twenty-four, he must be judged less for what he was, than as an earnest of what he would have been. The Eve of St. Agnes is one of the most exquisite poems in any language, and is as essentially allied to the simplicity and nature of the modern school of poetry as his Endymion is to the older school. Keats took part in what a certain writer has called "the reaction against the barrel-organ style, which had been reigning by a kind of sleepy, divine right for half a century."
OTHER WRITERS OF THE PERIOD.
In consonance with the Romantic school of Poetry, and as contributors to the prose fiction of the period of Scott, Byron, and Moore, a number of gifted women have made good their claim to the favor of the reading world, and have left to us productions of no mean value. First among these we mention Mrs. FELICIA DOROTHEA HEMANS, 1794-1835: early married to Captain Hemans, of the army, she was not happy in the conjugal state, and lived most of her after-life in retirement, separated from her husband. Her style is harmonious, and her lyrical power excellent; she makes melody of common-places; and the low key in which her poetry is pitched made her a favorite with the multitude. There is special fervor in her religious poems. Most of her writings are fugitive and occasional pieces. Among the longer poems are The Forest Sanctuary, Dartmoor, (a lyric poem,) and The Restoration of the works of Art to Italy. The Siege of Valencia and The Vespers of Palermo are plays on historical subjects. There is a sameness in her poetry which tires; but few persons can be found who do not value highly such a descriptive poem as Bernardo del Carpio, conceived in the very spirit of the Spanish Ballads, and such a sad and tender moralizing as that found in The Hour of Death:
Leaves have their time to fall, And flowers to wither, at the north-wind's breath, And stars to set—but all, Thou hast all seasons for thine own, O Death!
Such poems as these will live when the greater part of what she has written has been forgotten, because its ministry has been accomplished.
Mrs. Caroline Elizabeth Norton, (born in 1808, still living:) she is the daughter of Thomas Sheridan, and the grand-daughter of the famous R. B. Sheridan. She married the Hon. Mr. Norton, and, like Mrs. Hemans, was unhappy in her union. As a poet, she has masculine gifts combined with feminine grace and tenderness. Her principal poems are The Sorrows of Rosalie, The Undying One, (founded on the legend of The Wandering Jew,) and The Dream. Besides these her facile pen has produced a multitude of shorter pieces, which have been at once popular. Her claims to enduring fame are not great, and she must be content with a present popularity.
Letitia Elizabeth Landon, 1802-1839: more gifted, and yet not as well trained as either of the preceding, Miss Landon (L. E. L.) has given vent to impassioned sentiment in poetry and prose. Besides many smaller pieces, she wrote The Improvisatrice, The Troubadour, The Golden Violet, and several prose romances, among which the best are Romance and Reality, and Ethel Churchill. She wrote too rapidly to finish with elegance; and her earlier pieces are disfigured by this want of finish, and by a lack of cool judgment; but her later writings are better matured and more correct. She married Captain Maclean, the governor of Cape Coast Castle, in Africa, and died there suddenly, from an overdose of strong medicine which she was accustomed to take for a nervous affection.
Maria Edgeworth, 1767-1849: she was English born, but resided most of her life in Ireland. Without remarkable genius, she may be said to have exercised a greater influence over her period than any other woman who lived in it. There is an aptitude and a practical utility in her stories which are felt in all circles. Her works for children are delightful and formative. Every one has read and re-read with pleasure the interesting and instructive stories contained in The Parents' Assistant. And what these are to the children, her novels are to those of larger growth. They are eighteen in number, and are illustrative of the society, fashion, and morals of the day; and always inculcate a good moral. Among them we may particularize Forester, The Absentee, and The Modern Griselda. All critics, even those who deny her great genius, agree in their estimate of the moral value of her stories, every one of which is at once a portraiture of her age and an instructive lesson to it. The feminine delicacy with which she offers counsel and administers reproof gives a great charm to, and will insure the permanent popularity of, her productions.
Jane Austen, 1775-1817: as a novelist she occupied a high place in her day, but her stories are gradually sinking into an historic repose, from which the coming generations will not care to disturb them. Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility are perhaps the best of her productions, and are valuable as displaying the society and the nature around her with delicacy and tact.
Mary Ferrier, 1782-1855: like Miss Austen, she wrote novels of existing society, of which The Marriage and The Inheritance are the best known. They were great favorites with Sir Walter Scott, who esteemed Miss Ferrier's genius highly: they are little read at the present time.
Robert Pollok, 1799-1827: a Scottish minister, who is chiefly known by his long poem, cast in a Miltonic mould, entitled The Course of Time. It is singularly significant of religious fervor, delicate health, youthful immaturity, and poetic yearnings. It abounds in startling effects, which please at first from their novelty, but will not bear a calm, critical analysis. On its first appearance, The Course of Time was immensely popular; but it has steadily lost favor, and its highest flights are "unearthly flutterings" when compared with the powerful soarings of Milton's imagination and the gentle harmonies of Cowper's religious muse. Pollok died early of consumption: his youth and his disease account for the faults and defects of his poem.
Leigh Hunt, 1784-1859: a novelist, a poet, an editor, a critic, a companion of literary men, Hunt occupies a distinct position among the authors of his day. Wielding a sensible and graceful rather than a powerful pen, he has touched almost every subject in the range of our literature, and has been the champion and biographer of numerous literary friends. He was the companion of Byron, Shelley, Keats, Lamb, Coleridge, and many other authors. He edited at various times several radical papers—The Examiner, The Reflector, The Indicator, and The Liberal; for a satire upon the regent, published in the first, he was imprisoned for two years. Among his poems The Story of Rimini is the best. His Legend of Florence is a beautiful drama. There are few pieces containing so small a number of lines, and yet enshrining a full story, which have been as popular as his Abou Ben Adhem. Always cheerful, refined and delicate in style, appreciative of others, Hunt's place in English literature is enviable, if not very exalted; like the atmosphere, his writings circulate healthfully and quietly around efforts of greater poets than himself.
James Hogg, 1770-1835: a self-taught rustic, with little early schooling, except what the shepherd-boy could draw from nature, he wrote from his own head and heart without the canons and the graces of the Schools. With something of the homely nature of Burns, and the Scottish romance of Walter Scott, he produced numerous poems which are stamped with true genius. He catered to Scottish feeling, and began his fame by the stirring lines beginning;
My name is Donald McDonald, I live in the Highlands so grand.
His best known poetical works are The Queen's Wake, containing seventeen stories in verse, of which the most striking is that of Bonny Kilmeny. He was always called "The Ettrick Shepherd." Wilson says of The Queen's Wake that "it is a garland of fresh flowers bound with a band of rushes from the moor;" a very fitting and just view of the work of one who was at once poet and rustic.
Allan Cunningham, 1785-1842; like Hogg, in that as a writer he felt the influence of both Burns and Scott, Cunningham was the son of a gardener, and a self-made man. In early life he was apprenticed to a mason. He wrote much fugitive poetry, among which the most popular pieces are, A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea, Gentle Hugh Herries, and It's Hame and it's Hame. Among his stories are Traditional Tales of the Peasantry, Lord Roldan, and The Maid of Elwar. His position for a time, as clerk and overseer of Chantrey's establishment, gave him the idea of writing The Lives of Eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. He was a voluminous author; his poetry is of a high lyrical order, and true to nature; but his prose will not retain its place in public favor: it is at once diffuse and obscure.
Thomas Hope, 1770-1831: an Amsterdam merchant, who afterwards resided in London, and who illustrated the progress of knowledge concerning the East by his work entitled, Anastasius, or Memoirs of a Modern Greek. Published anonymously, it excited a great interest, and was ascribed by the public to Lord Byron. The intrigues and adventures of the hero are numerous and varied, and the book has great literary merit; but it is chiefly of historical value in that it describes persons and scenes in Greece and Turkey, countries in which Hope travelled at a time when few Englishmen visited them.
William Beckford, 1760-1844: he was the son of an alderman, who became Lord Mayor of London. After a careful education, he found himself the possessor of a colossal fortune. He travelled extensively, and wrote sketches of his travels. His only work of importance is that called Vathek, in which he describes the gifts, the career, and the fate of the Caliph of that name, who was the grandson of the celebrated Haroun al Raschid. His palaces are described in a style of Oriental gorgeousness; his temptations, his lapses from virtue, his downward progress, are presented with dramatic power; and there is nothing in our literature more horribly real and terror-striking than the Hall of Eblis,—that hell where every heart was on fire, where "the Caliph Vathek, who, for the sake of empty pomp and forbidden power, had sullied himself with a thousand crimes, became a prey to grief without end and remorse without mitigation." Many of Beckford's other writings are blamed for their voluptuous character; the last scene in Vathek is, on the other hand, a most powerful and influential sermon. Beckford was eccentric and unsocial: he lived for some time in Portugal, but returned to England, and built a luxurious palace at Bath.
William Roscoe, 1753-1831: a merchant and banker of Liverpool. He is chiefly known by his Life of Lorenzo de Medici, and The Life and Pontificate of Leo X., both of which contained new and valuable information. They are written in a pleasing style, and with a liberal and charitable spirit as to religious opinions. Since they appeared, history has developed new material and established more exacting canons, and the studies of later writers have already superseded these pleasing works.
WORDSWORTH, AND THE LAKE SCHOOL.
The New School. William Wordsworth. Poetical Canons. The Excursion and Sonnets. An Estimate. Robert Southey. His Writings. Historical Value. S. T. Coleridge. Early Life. His Helplessness. Hartley and H. N. Coleridge.
THE NEW SCHOOL.
In the beginning of the year 1820 George III. died, after a very long—but in part nominal—reign of fifty-nine years, during a large portion of which he was the victim of insanity, while his son, afterwards George IV., administered the regency of the kingdom.
George III. did little, either by example or by generosity, to foster literary culture: his son, while nominally encouraging authors, did much to injure the tone of letters in his day. But literature was now becoming independent and self-sustaining: it needed to look no longer wistfully for a monarch's smile: it cared comparatively little for the court: it issued its periods and numbers directly to the English people: it wrote for them and of them; and when, in 1830, the last of the Georges died, after an ill-spent life, in which his personal pleasures had concerned him far more than the welfare of his people, former prescriptions and prejudices rapidly passed away; and the new epoch in general improvement and literary culture, which had already begun its course, received a marvellous impulsion.
The great movement, in part unconscious, from the artificial rhetoric of the former age towards the simplicity of nature, was now to receive its strongest propulsion: it was to be preached like a crusade; to be reduced to a system, and set forth for the acceptance of the poetical world: it was to meet with criticism, and even opprobrium, because it had the arrogance to declare that old things had entirely passed away, and that all things must conform themselves to the new doctrine. The high-priest of this new poetical creed was Wordsworth: he proposed and expounded it; he wrote according to its tenets; he defended his illustrations against the critics by elaborate prefaces and essays. He boldly faced the clamor of a world in arms; and what there was real and valuable in his works has survived the fierce battle, and gathered around him an army of proselytes, champions, and imitators.
WORDSWORTH.—William Wordsworth was the son of the law-agent to the Earl of Lonsdale; he was born at Cockermouth, Cumberland, in 1770. It was a gifted family. His brother, Dr. Christopher Wordsworth, was Master of Trinity College. Another, the captain of an East Indiaman, was lost at sea in his own ship. He had also a clever sister, who was the poet's friend and companion as long as she lived.
Wordsworth and his companions have been called the Lake Poets, because they resided among the English lakes. Perhaps too much has been claimed for the Lake country, as giving inspiration to the poets who lived there: it is beautiful, but not so surpassingly so as to create poets as its children. The name is at once arbitrary and convenient.
Wordsworth was educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, which he entered in 1787; but whenever he could escape from academic restraints, he indulged his taste for pedestrian excursions: during these his ardent mind became intimate and intensely sympathetic with nature, as may be seen in his Evening Walk, in the sketch of the skater, and in the large proportion of description in all his poems.
It is truer of him than perhaps of any other author, that the life of the man is the best history of the poet. All that is eventful and interesting in his life may be found translated in his poetry. Milton had said that the poet's life should be a grand poem. Wordsworth echoed the thought:
If thou indeed derive thy light from Heaven, Then to the measure of that Heaven-born light, Shine, Poet! in thy place, and be content.
He was not distinguished at college; the record of his days there may be found in The Prelude, which he calls The Growth of a Poet's Mind. He was graduated in 1791, with the degree of B.A., and went over to France, where he, among others, was carried away with enthusiasm for the French Revolution, and became a thorough Radical. That he afterwards changed his political views, should not be advanced in his disfavor; for many ardent and virtuous minds were hoping to see the fulfilment of recent predictions in greater freedom to man. Wordsworth erred in a great company, and from noble sympathies. He returned to England in 1792, with his illusions thoroughly dissipated. The workings of his mind are presented in The Prelude.
In the same year he published Descriptive Sketches, and An Evening Walk, which attracted little attention. A legacy of L900 left him by his friend Calvert, in 1795, enabled the frugal poet to devote his life to poetry, and particularly to what he deemed the emancipation of poetry from the fetters of the mythic and from the smothering ornaments of rhetoric.
In Nov., 1797, he went to London, taking with him a play called The Borderers: it was rejected by the manager. In the autumn of 1798, he published his Lyrical Ballads, which contained, besides his own verses, a poem by an anonymous friend. The poem was The Ancient Mariner; the friend, Coleridge. In the joint operation, Wordsworth took the part based on nature; Coleridge illustrated the supernatural. The Ballads were received with undisguised contempt; nor, by reason of its company, did The Ancient Mariner have a much better hearing. Wordsworth preserved his equanimity, and an implicit faith in himself.
After a visit to Germany, he settled in 1799 at Grasmere, in the Lake country, and the next year republished the Lyrical Ballads with a new volume, both of which passed to another edition in 1802. With this edition, Wordsworth ran up his revolutionary flag and nailed it to the mast.
POETICAL CANONS.—It would be impossible as well as unnecessary to attempt an analysis of even the principal poems of so voluminous a writer; but it is important to state in substance the poetical canons he laid down. They may be found in the prefaces to the various editions of his Ballads, and may be thus epitomized:
I. He purposely chose his incidents and situations from common life, because in it our elementary feelings coexist in a state of simplicity.
II. He adopts the language of common life, because men hourly communicate with the best objects from which the best part of language is originally derived; and because, being less under the influence of social vanity, they convey their feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions.
III. He asserts that the language of poetry is in no way different, except in respect to metre, from that of good prose. Poetry can boast of no celestial ichor that distinguishes her vital juices from those of prose: the same human blood circulates through the veins of them both. In works of imagination and sentiment, in proportion as ideas and feelings are valuable, whether the composition be in prose or verse, they require and exact one and the same language.
Such are the principal changes proposed by Wordsworth; and we find Herder, the German poet and metaphysician, agreeing with him in his estimate of poetic language. Having thus propounded his tenets, he wrote his earlier poems as illustrations of his views, affecting a simplicity in subject and diction that was sometimes simply ludicrous. It was an affected simplicity: he was simple with a purpose; he wrote his poems to suit his canons, and in that way his simplicity became artifice.
Jeffrey and other critics rose furiously against the poems which inculcated such doctrines. "This will never do" were the opening words of an article in the Edinburgh Review. One of the Rejected Addresses, called The Baby's Debut, by W. W., (spoken in the character of Nancy Lake, eight years old, who is drawn upon the stage in a go-cart,) parodies the ballads thus:
What a large floor! 'tis like a town; The carpet, when they lay it down, Won't hide it, I'll be bound: And there's a row of lamps, my eye! How they do blaze: I wonder why They keep them on the ground?
And this, Jeffrey declares, is a flattering imitation of Wordsworth's style.
The day for depreciating Wordsworth has gone by; but calmer critics must still object to his poetical views in their entireness. In binding all poetry to his dicta, he ignores that mythus in every human mind, that longing after the heroic, which will not be satisfied with the simple and commonplace. One realm in which Poetry rules with an enchanted sceptre is the land of reverie and day-dream,—a land of fancy, in which genius builds for itself castles at once radiant and, for the time, real; in which the beggar is a king, the poor man a Croesus, the timid man a hero: this is the fairy-land of the imagination. Among Wordsworth's poems are a number called Poems of the Imagination. He wrote learnedly about the imagination and fancy; but the truth is, that of all the great poets,—and, in spite of his faults, he is a great poet,—there is none so entirely devoid of imagination. What has been said of the heroic may be applied to wit, so important an element in many kinds of poetry; he ignores it because he was without it totally. If only humble life and commonplace incidents and unfigured rhetoric and bald language are the proper materials for the poetry, what shall be said of all literature, ancient and modern, until Wordsworth's day?
THE EXCURSION AND SONNETS.—With his growing fame and riper powers, he had deviated from his own principles, especially of language; and his peaceful epic, The Excursion, is full of difficult theology, exalted philosophy, and glowing rhetoric. His only attempt to adhere to his system presents the incongruity of putting these subjects into the lips of men, some of whom, the Scotch pedler for example, are not supposed to be equal to their discussion. In his language, too, he became far more polished and melodious. The young writer of the Lyrical Ballads would have been shocked to know that the more famous Wordsworth could write
A golden lustre slept upon the hills;
or speak of
A pupil in the many-chambered school, Where superstition weaves her airy dreams.
The Excursion, although long, is unfinished, and is only a portion of what was meant to be his great poem—The Recluse. It contains poetry of the highest order, apart from its mannerism and its improbable narrative; but the author is to all intents a different man from that of the Ballads: as different as the conservative Wordsworth of later years was from the radical youth who praised the French Revolution of 1791. As a whole, The Excursion is accurate, philosophic, and very dull, so that few readers have the patience to complete its perusal, while many enjoy its beautiful passages.
To return to the events of his life. In 1802 he married; and, after several changes of residence, he finally purchased a place called Rydal-mount in 1813, where he spent the remainder of his long, learned, and pure life. Long-standing dues from the Earl of Lonsdale to his father were paid; and he received the appointment of collector at Whitehaven and stamp distributor for Cumberland. Thus he had an ample income, which was increased in 1842 by a pension of L300 per annum. In 1843 he was made poet-laureate. He died in 1850, a famous poet, his reputation being due much more to his own clever individuality than to the poetic principles he asserted.
His ecclesiastical sonnets compare favorably with any that have been written in English. Landor, no friend of the poet, says: "Wordsworth has written more fine sonnets than are to be met with in the language besides."
AN ESTIMATE.—The great amount of verse Wordsworth has written is due to his estimate of the proper uses of poetry. Where other men would have written letters, journals, or prose sketches, his ready metrical pen wrote in verse: an excursion to England or Scotland, Yarrow Visited and Revisited, journeys in Germany and Italy, are all in verse. He exhibits in them all great humanity and benevolence, and is emphatically and without cant the poet of religion and morality. Coleridge—a poet and an attached friend, perhaps a partisan—claims for him, in his Biographia Literaria, "purity of language, freshness, strength, curiosa felicitas of diction, truth to nature in his imagery, imagination in the highest degree, but faulty fancy." We have already ventured to deny him the possession of imagination: the rest of his friend's eulogium is not undeserved. He had and has many ardent admirers, but none more ardent than himself. He constantly praised his own verses, and declared that they would ultimately conquer all prejudices and become universally popular—an opinion that the literary world does not seem disposed to adopt.
ROBERT SOUTHEY.—Next to Wordsworth, and, with certain characteristic differences, of the same school, but far beneath him in poetical power, is Robert Southey, who was born at Bristol, August 12, 1774. He was the son of a linen-draper in that town. He entered Balliol College, Oxford, in 1792, but left without taking his degree. In 1794 he published a radical poem on the subject of Wat Tyler, the sentiments of which he was afterwards very willing to repudiate. With the enthusiastic instinct of a poet, he joined with Wordsworth and Coleridge in a scheme called Pantisocrasy; that is, they were to go together to the banks of the Susquehanna, in a new country of which they knew nothing except by description; and there they were to realize a dream of nature in the golden age—a Platonic republic, where everything was to be in common, and from which vice and selfishness were to be forever excluded. But these young neo-platonists had no money, and so the scheme was given up.
In 1795 he married Miss Fricker, a milliner of Bristol, and made a voyage to Lisbon, where his uncle was chaplain to the British Factory. He led an unsettled life until 1804, when he established himself at Keswick in the Lake country, where he spent his life. He was a literary man and nothing else, and perhaps one of the most industrious writers that ever held a literary pen. Much of the time, indeed, he wrote for magazines and reviews, upon whatever subject was suggested to him, to win his daily bread.
HIS WRITINGS.—After the publication of Wat Tyler he wrote an epic poem called Joan of Arc, in 1796, which was crude and severely criticized. After some other unimportant essays, he inaugurated his purpose of illustrating the various oriental mythologies, by the publication of Thalaba the Destroyer, which was received with great disfavor at the time, and which first coupled his name with that of Wordsworth as of the school of Lake poets. It is in irregular metre, which at first has the charm of variety, but which afterwards loses its effect, on account of its broken, disjointed versification. In 1805 appeared Madoc—a poem based upon the subject of early Welsh discoveries in America. It is a long poem in two parts: the one descriptive of Madoc in Wales and the other of Madoc in Aztlan. Besides many miscellaneous works in prose, we notice the issue, in 1810, of The Curse of Kehama—the second of the great mythological poems referred to.
Among his prose works must be mentioned The Chronicle of the Cid, The History of Brazil, The Life of Nelson, and The History of the Peninsular War. A little work called The Doctor has been greatly liked in America.
Southey wrote innumerable reviews and magazine articles; and, indeed, tried his pen at every sort of literary work. His diction—in prose, at least—is almost perfect, and his poetical style not unpleasing. His industry, his learning, and his care in production must be acknowledged; but his poems are very little read, and, in spite of his own prophecies, are doomed to the shelf rather than retained upon the table. Like Wordsworth, he was one of the most egotistical of men; he had no greater admirer than Robert Southey; and had his exertions not been equal to his self-laudation, he would have been intolerable.
The most singular instance of perverted taste and unmerited eulogy is to be found in his Vision of Judgment, which, as poet-laureate, he produced to the memory of George the Third. The severest criticism upon it is Lord Byron's Vision of Judgment—reckless, but clever and trenchant. The consistency and industry of Southey's life caused him to be appointed poet-laureate upon the death of Pye; and in 1835, having declined a baronetcy, he received an annual pension of L300. Having lost his first wife in 1837, he married Miss Bowles, the poetess, in 1839; but soon after his mind began to fail, and he had reached a state of imbecility which ended in death on the 21st of March, 1843. In 1837, at the age of sixty-three, he collected and edited his complete poetical works, with copious and valuable historical notes.
HISTORICAL VALUE.—It is easy to see in what manner Southey, as a literary man, has reflected the spirit of the age. Politically, he exhibits partisanship from Radical to Tory, which may be clearly discerned by comparing his Wat Tyler with his Vision of Judgment and his Odes. As to literary and poetic canons, his varied metre, and his stories in the style of Wordsworth, show that he had abandoned all former schools. In his histories and biographies he is professedly historical; and in his epics he shows that greater range of learned investigation which is so characteristic of that age. The Curse of Kehama and Thalaba would have been impossible in a former age. He himself objected to be ranked with the Lakers; but Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge have too much in common, notwithstanding much individual difference, not to be classed together as innovators and asserters, whether we call them Lakers or something else.
It was on the occasion of his publishing Thalaba, that his name was first coupled with that of Wordsworth. His own words are, "I happened to be residing at Keswick when Mr. Wordsworth and I began to be acquainted. Mr. Coleridge also had resided there; and this was reason enough for classing us together as a school of poets." There is not much external resemblance, it is true, between Thalaba and the Excursion; but the same poetical motives will cause both to remain unread by the multitude—unnatural comparisons, recondite theology, and a great lack of common humanity. That there was a mutual admiration is found in Southey's declaration that Wordsworth's sonnets contain the profoundest poetical wisdom, and that the Preface is the quintessence of the philosophy of poetry.
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE.—More individual, more eccentric, less commonplace, in short, a far greater genius than either of his fellows, Coleridge accomplished less, had less system, was more visionary and fragmentary than they: he had an amorphous mind of vast proportions. The man, in his life and conversation, was great; the author has left little of value which will last when the memory of his person has disappeared. He was born on the 21st of October, 1772, at Ottery St. Mary. His father was a clergyman and vicar of the parish. He received his education at Christ's Hospital in London, where, among others, he had Charles Lamb as a comrade, and formed with him a friendship which lasted as long as they both lived.
EARLY LIFE.—There he was an erratic student, but always a great reader; and while he was yet a lad, at the age of fourteen, he might have been called a learned man.
He had little self-respect, and from stress of poverty he intended to apprentice himself to a shoemaker; but friends who admired his learning interfered to prevent this, and he was sent with a scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1791. Like Wordsworth and Southey, he was an intense Radical at first; and on this account left college without his degree in 1793. He then enlisted as a private in the 15th Light Dragoons; but, although he was a favorite with his comrades, whose letters he wrote, he made a very poor soldier. Having written a Latin sentence under his saddle on the stable wall, his superior education was recognized; and he was discharged from the service after only four months' duty. Eager for adventure, he joined Southey and Lloyd in their scheme of pantisocracy, to which we have already referred; and when that failed for want of money, he married the sister-in-law of Southey—Miss Fricker, of Bristol. He was at this time a Unitarian as well as a Radical, and officiated frequently as a Unitarian minister. His sermons were extremely eloquent. He had already published some juvenile poems, and a drama on the fall of Robespierre, and had endeavored to establish a periodical called The Watchman. He was always erratic, and dependent upon the patronage of his friends; in short, he always presented the sad spectacle of a man who could not take care of himself.
HIS WRITINGS.—After a residence at Stowey, in Somersetshire, where he wrote some of his finest poems, among which were the first part of Christabel, The Ancient Mariner, and Remorse, a tragedy, he was enabled, through the kindness of friends, to go, in 1798, to Germany, where he spent fourteen months in the study of literature and metaphysics. In the year 1800 he returned to the Lake country, where he for some time resided with Southey at Keswick; Wordsworth being then at Grasmere. Then was established as a fixed fact in English literature the Lake school of poetry. These three poets acted and reacted upon each other. From having been great Radicals they became Royalists, and Coleridge's Unitarian belief was changed into orthodox churchmanship. His translation of Schiller's Wallenstein should rather be called an expansion of that drama, and is full of his own poetic fancies. After writing for some time for the Morning Post, he went to Malta as the Secretary to the Governor in 1804, at a salary of L800 per annum. But his restless spirit soon drove him back to Grasmere, and to desultory efforts to make a livelihood.
In 1816 he published the two parts of Christabel, an unfinished poem, which, for the wildness of the conceit, exquisite imagery, and charming poetic diction, stands quite alone in English literature. In a periodical called The Friend, which he issued, are found many of his original ideas; but it was discontinued after twenty-seven numbers. His Biographia Literaria, published in 1817, contains valuable sketches of literary men, living and dead, written with rare critical power.
In his Aids to Reflection, published in 1825, are found his metaphysical tenets; his Table-Talk is also of great literary value; but his lectures on Shakspeare show him to have been the most remarkable critic of the great dramatist whom the world has produced.
It has already been mentioned that when the first volume of Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads was published, The Ancient Mariner was included in it, as a poem by an anonymous friend. It had been the intention of Coleridge to publish another poem in the second volume; but it was considered incongruous, and excluded. That poem was the exquisite ballad entitled Love, or Genevieve.
HIS HELPLESSNESS.—With no home of his own, he lived by visiting his friends; left his wife and children to the support of others, and seemed incapable of any other than this shifting and shiftless existence. This natural imbecility was greatly increased during a long period by his constant use of opium, which kept him, a greater portion of his life, in a world of dreams. He was fortunate in having a sincere and appreciative friend in Mr. Gilman, surgeon, near London, to whose house he went in 1816; and where, with the exception of occasional visits elsewhere, he resided until his death in 1834. If the Gilmans needed compensation for their kindness, they found it in the celebrity of their visitor; even strangers made pilgrimages to the house at Highgate to hear the rhapsodies of "the old man eloquent." Coleridge once asked Charles Lamb if he had ever heard him preach, referring to the early days when he was a Unitarian preacher. "I never heard you do anything else," was the answer he received. He was the prince of talkers, and talked more coherently and connectedly than he wrote: drawing with ease from the vast stores of his learning, he delighted men of every degree. While of the Lake school of poetry, and while in some sort the creature of his age and his surroundings, his eccentricities gave him a rare independence and individuality. A giant in conception, he was a dwarf in execution; and something of the interest which attaches to a lusus naturae is the chief claim to future reputation which belongs to S. T. C.
HARTLEY COLERIDGE, his son, (1796-1849,) inherited much of his father's talents; but was an eccentric, deformed, and, for a time, an intemperate being. His principal writings were monographs on various subjects, and articles for Blackwood. HENRY NELSON COLERIDGE, (1800-1843,) a nephew and son-in-law of the poet, was also a gifted man, and a profound classical scholar. His introduction to the study of the great classic poets, containing his analysis of Homer's epics, is a work of great merit.
THE REACTION IN POETRY.
Alfred Tennyson. Early Works. The Princess. Idyls of the King. Elizabeth B. Browning. Aurora Leigh. Her Faults. Robert Browning. Other Poets.
TENNYSON AND THE BROWNINGS.
ALFRED TENNYSON.—It is the certain fate of all extravagant movements, social or literary, to invite criticism and opposition, and to be followed by reaction. The school of Wordsworth was the violent protest against what remained of the artificial in poetry; but it had gone, as we have seen, to the other extreme. The affected simplicity, and the bald diction which it inculcated, while they raised up an army of feeble imitators, also produced in the ranks of poetry a vindication of what was good in the old; new theories, and a very different estimate of poetical subjects and expression. The first poet who may be looked upon as leading the reactionary party is Alfred Tennyson. He endeavored out of all the schools to synthesize a new one. In many of his descriptive pieces he followed Wordsworth: in his idyls, he adheres to the romantic school; in his treatment and diction, he stands alone.
EARLY EFFORTS.—He was the son of a clergyman of Lincolnshire, and was born at Somersby, in 1810. After a few early and almost unknown efforts in verse, the first volume bearing his name was issued in 1830, while he was yet an under-graduate at Cambridge: it had the simple title—Poems, chiefly Lyrical. In their judgment of this new poet, the critics were almost as much at fault as they had been when the first efforts of Wordsworth appeared; but for very different reasons. Wordsworth was simple and intensely realistic. Tennyson was mystic and ideal: his diction was unusual; his little sketches conveyed an almost hidden moral; he seemed to inform the reader that, in order to understand his poetry, it must be studied; the meaning does not sparkle upon the surface; the language ripples, the sense flows in an undercurrent. His first essays exhibit a mania for finding strange words, or coining new ones, which should give melody, to his verse. Whether this was a process of development or not, he has in his later works gotten rid of much of this apparent mannerism, while he has retained, and even improved, his harmony. He exhibits a rare power of concentration, as opposed to the diffusiveness of his contemporaries. Each of his smaller poems is a thought, briefly, but forcibly and harmoniously, expressed. If it requires some exertion to comprehend it, when completely understood it becomes a valued possession.
It is difficult to believe that such poems as Mariana and Recollections of the Arabian Nights were the production of a young man of twenty.
In 1833 he published his second volume, containing additional poems, among which were Enone, The May Queen, The Lotos-Eaters, and A Dream of Fair Women. The May Queen became at once a favorite, because every one could understand it: it touched a chord in every heart; but his rarest power of dreamy fancy is displayed in such pieces as The Arabian Nights and the Lotos-Eaters. No greater triumph has been achieved in the realm of fancy than that in the court of good Haroun al Raschid, and amid the Lotos dreams of the Nepenthe coast. These productions were not received with the favor which they merited, and so he let the critics alone for nine years. In 1842 he again appeared in print, with, among other poems, the exquisite fragment of the Morte d'Arthur, Godiva, St. Agnes, Sir Galahad, Lady Clara Vere de Vere, The Talking Oak, and chief, perhaps, of all, Locksley Hall. In these poems he is not only a poet, but a philosopher. Each of these is an extended apothegm, presenting not only rules of life, but mottoes and maxims for daily use. They are soliloquies of the nineteenth century, and representations of its men and conditions.
THE PRINCESS.—In 1847 he published The Princess, a Medley—a pleasant and suggestive poem on woman's rights, in which exquisite songs are introduced, which break the monotony of the blank verse, and display his rare lyric power. The Bugle Song is among the finest examples of the adaptation of sound to sense in the language; and there is nothing more truthful and touching than the short verses beginning,
Home they brought her warrior dead.
Arthur Hallam, a gifted son of the distinguished historian, who was betrothed to Tennyson's sister, died young; and the poet has mourned and eulogized him in a long poem entitled In Memoriam. It contains one hundred and twenty-nine four-lined stanzas, and is certainly very musical and finished; but it is rather the language of calm philosophy elaborately studied, than that of a poignant grief. It is not, in our judgment, to be compared with his shorter poems, and is generally read and overpraised only by his more ardent admirers, who discover a crystal tear of genuine emotion in every stanza.
IDYLS OF THE KING.—The fragment on the death of Arthur, already mentioned, foreshadowed a purpose of the poet's mind to make the legends of that almost fabulous monarch a vehicle for modern philosophy in English verse. In 1859 appeared a volume containing the Idyls of the King. They are rather minor epics than idyls. The simple materials are taken from the Welsh and French chronicles, and are chiefly of importance in that they cater to that English taste which finds national greatness typified in Arthur. It had been a successful stratagem with Spenser in The Fairy Queen, and has served Tennyson equally well in the Idyls. It unites the ages of fable and of chivalry; it gives a noble lineage to heroic deeds. The best is the last—Guinevere—almost the perfection of pathos in poetry. The picturesqueness of his descriptions is evinced by the fact that Gustave Dore has chosen these Idyls as a subject for illustration, and has been eminently successful in his labor.
Maud, which appeared in 1855, notwithstanding some charming lyrical passages, may be considered Tennyson's failure. In 1869 he completed The Idyls by publishing The Coming of Arthur, The Holy Grail, and Pelleas and Etteare. He also finished the Morte d'Arthur, and put it in its proper place as The Passing of Arthur.
Tennyson was appointed poet-laureate upon the death of Wordsworth, in 1850, and receives besides a pension of L200. He lived for a long time in great retirement at Farringford, on the Isle of Wight; but has lately removed to Petersfield, in Hampshire. It may be reasonably doubted whether this hermit-life has not injured his poetical powers; whether, great as he really is, a little inhalation of the air of busy every-day life would not have infused more of nature and freshness into his verse. Among his few Odes are that on the death of the Duke of Wellington, the dedication of his poems to the Queen, and his welcome to Alexandra, Princess of Wales, all of which are of great excellence. His Charge of the Light Brigade, at Balaclava, while it gave undue currency to that stupid military blunder, must rank as one of the finest battle-lyrics in the language.
The poetry of Tennyson is eminently representative of the Victorian age. He has written little; but that little marks a distinct era in versification—great harmony untrammelled by artificial correctness; and in language, a search for novelty to supply the wants and correct the faults of the poetic vocabulary. He is national in the Idyls; philosophic in The Two Voices, and similar poems. The Princess is a gentle satire on the age; and though, in striving for the reputation of originality, he sometimes mistakes the original for the beautiful, he is really the laurelled poet of England in merit as well as in title.
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING.—The literary usher is now called upon to cry with the herald of the days of chivalry—Place aux dames. A few ladies, as we have seen, have already asserted for themselves respectable positions in the literary ranks. Without a question as to the relative gifts of mind in man and woman, we have now reached a name which must rank among those of the first poets of the present century—one which represents the Victorian age as fully and forcibly as Tennyson, and with more of novelty than he. Nervous in style, elevated in diction, bold in expression, learned and original, Mrs. Browning divides the poetic renown of the period with Tennyson. If he is the laureate, she was the acknowledged queen of poetry until her untimely death.
Miss Elizabeth Barrett was born in London, in 1809. She was educated with great care, and began to write at a very early age. A volume, entitled Essays on Mind, with Other Poems, was published when she was only seventeen. In 1833 she produced Prometheus Bound, a translation of the drama of AEschylus from the original Greek, which exhibited rare classical attainments; but which she considered so faulty that she afterwards retranslated it. In 1838 appeared The Seraphim, and other Poems; and in 1839, The Romaunt of the Page. Not long after, the rupture of a blood-vessel brought her to the verge of the grave; and while she was still in a precarious state of health, her favorite brother was drowned. For several years she lived secluded, studying and composing when her health permitted; and especially drawing her inspiration from original sources in Greek and Hebrew. In 1844 she published her collected poems in two volumes. Among these was Lady Geraldine's Courtship: an exquisite story, the perusal of which is said to have induced Robert Browning to seek her acquaintance. Her health was now partially restored; and they were married in 1846. For some time they resided at Florence, in a congenial and happy union. The power of passionate love is displayed in her Sonnets from the Portuguese, which are among the finest in the language. Differing in many respects from those of Shakspeare, they are like his in being connected by one impassioned thought, and being, without doubt, the record of a heart experience.
Thoroughly interested in the social and political conditions of struggling Italy, she gave vent to her views and sympathies in a volume of poems, entitled Casa Guidi Windows. Casa Guidi was the name of their residence in Florence, and the poems vividly describe what she saw from its windows—divers forms of suffering, injustice, and oppression, which touched the heart of a tender woman and a gifted poet, and compelled it to burst forth in song.
AURORA LEIGH.—But by far the most important work of Mrs. Browning is Aurora Leigh: a long poem in nine books, which appeared in 1856, in which the great questions of the age, social and moral, are handled with great boldness. It is neither an epic, nor an idyl, nor a tale in verse: it combines features of them all. It presents her clear convictions of life and art, and is full of philosophy, largely expressed in the language of irony and sarcasm. She is an inspired advocate of the intellectual claims of woman; and the poem is, in some degree, an autobiography: the identity of the poet and the heroine gives a great charm to the narrative. There are few finer pieces of poetical inspiration than the closing scene, where the friend and lover returns blind and helpless, and the woman's heart, unconquered before, surrenders to the claims of misfortune as the champion of love. After a happy life with her husband and an only child, sent for her solace, this gifted woman died in 1863.