In our study we have noted (1) the Poets of Romanticism: the importance of the Lyrical Ballads of 1798; the life and work of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Byron, Shelley, and Keats; (2) the Prose Writers: the novels of Scott; the development of literary criticism; the life and work of the essayists, Lamb, De Quincey, Landor, and of the novelist Jane Austen.
SELECTIONS FOR READING. Manly's English Poetry and Manly's English Prose (each one vol.) contain good selections from all authors studied. Ward's English Poets (4 vols.), Craik's English Prose Selections (5 vols.), Braithwaite's The Book of Georgian Verse, Page's British Poets of the Nineteenth Century, and Garnett's English Prose from Elizabeth to Victoria, may also be used to advantage. Important works, however, should be read entire in one of the inexpensive school editions given below. (Full titles and publishers may be found in the General Bibliography at the end of this book.)
Wordsworth. Intimations of Immortality, Tintern Abbey, best lyrics and sonnets, in Selections, edited by Dowden (Athenaeum Press Series); selections and short poems, edited by M. Arnold, in Golden Treasury Series; Selections, also in Everyman's Library, Riverside Literature Series, Cassell's National Library, etc.
Coleridge. Ancient Mariner, edited by L. R. Gibbs, in Standard English Classics; same poem, in Pocket Classics, Eclectic English Classics, etc.; Poems, edited by J. M. Hart, in Athenaeum Press (announced, 1909); Selections, Golden Book of Coleridge, in Everyman's Library; Selections from Coleridge and Campbell, in Riverside Literature; Prose Selections (Ginn and Company, also Holt); Lectures on Shakespeare, in Everyman's Library, Bohn's Standard Library, etc.
Scott. Lady of the Lake, Marmion, Ivanhoe, The Talisman, Guy Mannering, Quentin Durward. Numerous inexpensive editions of Scott's best poems and novels in Standard English Classics, Pocket Classics, Cassell's National Library, Eclectic English Classics, Everyman's Library, etc.; thus, Lady of the Lake, edited by Edwin Ginn, and Ivanhoe, edited by W. D. Lewis, both in Standard English Classics; Marmion, edited by G. B. Acton, and The Talisman, edited by F. Treudly, in Pocket Classics, etc.
Byron. Mazeppa and The Prisoner of Chillon, edited by S. M. Tucker, in Standard English Classics; short poems, Selections from Childe Harold, etc., in Canterbury Poets, Riverside Literature, Holt's English Readings, Pocket Classics, etc.
Shelley. To a Cloud, To a Skylark, West Wind, Sensitive Plant, Adonais, etc., all in Selections from Shelley, edited by Alexander, in Athenaeum Press Series; Selections, edited by Woodberry, in Belles Lettres Series; Selections, also in Pocket Classics, Heath's English Classics, Golden Treasury Series, etc.
Keats. Ode on a Grecian Urn, Eve of St. Agnes, Hyperion, Lamia, To a Nightingale, etc., in Selections from Keats, in Athenaeum Press; Selections also in Muses' Library, Riverside Literature, Golden Treasury Series, etc.
Lamb. Essays: Dream Children, Old China, Dissertation on Roast Pig, etc., edited by Wauchope, in Standard English Classics; various essays also in Camelot Series, Temple Classics, Everyman's Library, etc. Tales from Shakespeare, in Home and School Library (Ginn and Company); also in Riverside Literature, Pocket Classics, Golden Treasury, etc.
De Quincey. The English Mail-Coach and Joan of Arc, in Standard English Classics, etc.; Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, in Temple Classics, Morley's Universal Library, Everyman's Library, Pocket Classics, etc.; Selections, edited by M. H. Turk, in Athenaeum Press; Selections, edited by B. Perry (Holt).
Landor. Selections, edited by W. Clymer, in Athenaeum Press; Pericles and Aspasia, in Camelot Series; Imaginary Conversations, selected (Ginn and Company); the same, 2 vols., in Dutton's Universal Library; selected poems, in Canterbury Poets; selections, prose and verse, in Golden Treasury Series.
Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice, in Everyman's Library, Pocket Classics, etc.
HISTORY. Text-book, Montgomery, pp. 323-357; Cheyney, 576-632. General Works. Green, X, 2-4, Traill, Gardiner, Macaulay, etc. Special Works. Cheyney's Industrial and Social History of England; Warner's Landmarks of English Industrial History; Hassall's Making of the British Empire; Macaulay's William Pitt; Trevelyan's Early Life of Charles James Fox; Morley's Edmund Burke; Morris's Age of Queen Anne and the Early Hanoverians.
LITERATURE. General Works. Mitchell, Courthope, Garnett and Gosse, Taine (see General Bibliography). Special Works. Beers's English Romanticism in the Nineteenth Century; A. Symons's The Romantic Movement in English Poetry; Dowden's The French Revolution and English Literature, also Studies in Literature, 1789-1877; Hancock's The French Revolution and the English Poets; Herford's The Age of Wordsworth (Handbooks of English Literature); Mrs. Oliphant's Literary History of England in the End of the Eighteenth and Beginning of the Nineteenth Centuries; Saintsbury's History of Nineteenth Century Literature; Masson's Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, and Other Essays; Poets and Poetry of the Nineteenth Century, vols. 1-3; Gates's Studies and Appreciations; S. Brooke's Studies in Poetry; Rawnsley's Literary Associations of the English Lakes (2 vols.).
Wordsworth. Texts: Globe, Aldine, Cambridge editions, etc.; Poetical and Prose Works, with Dorothy Wordsworth's Journal, edited by Knight, Eversley Edition (London and New York, 1896); Letters of the Wordsworth Family, edited by Knight, 3 vols. (Ginn and Company); Poetical Selections, edited by Dowden, in Athenaeum Press; various other selections, in Golden Treasury, etc.; Prose Selections, edited by Gayley (Ginn and Company). Life: Memoirs, 2 vols., by Christopher Wordsworth; by Knight, 3 vols.; by Myers (English Men of Letters); by Elizabeth Wordsworth; Early Life (a Study of the Prelude) by E. Legouis, translated by J. Matthews; Raleigh's Wordsworth; N.C. Smith's Wordsworth's Literary Criticism; Rannie's Wordsworth and His Circle. Criticism: Herford's The Age of Wordsworth; Masson's Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats; Magnus's Primer of Wordsworth; Wilson's Helps to the Study of Arnold's Wordsworth; Essays, by Lowell, in Among My Books; by M. Arnold, in Essays in Criticism; by Hutton, in Literary Essays; by L. Stephen, in Hours in a Library, and in Studies of a Biographer; by Bagehot, in Literary Studies; by Hazlitt, in The Spirit of the Age; by Pater, in Appreciations; by De Quincey, in Essays on the Poets; by Fields, in Yesterdays with Authors; by Shairp, in Studies in Poetry and Philosophy. See also Knight's Through the Wordsworth Country, and Rawnsley's Literary Associations of the English Lakes.
Coleridge. Texts: Complete Works, edited by Shedd, 7 vols. (New York 1884); Poems, Globe, Aldine, and Cambridge editions, in Athenaeum Press (announced, 1909), Muses' Library, Canterbury Poets, etc.; Biographia Literaria, in Everyman's Library; the same, in Clarendon Press; Prose Selections, Lectures on Shakespeare, etc. (see Selections for Reading, above); Letters, edited by E.H. Coleridge (London, 1895). Life: by J.D. Campbell; by Traill (English Men of Letters); by Dykes; by Hall Caine (Great Writers Series); see also Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, and Lamb's essay, Christ's Hospital, in Essays of Elia. Criticism: Brandl's Coleridge and the English Romantic Movement. Essays, by Shairp, in Studies in Poetry and Philosophy; by Woodberry, in Makers of Literature; by J. Forster, in Great Teachers; by Dowden, in New Studies; by Swinburne, in Essays and Studies; by Brooke, in Theology in the English Poets; by Saintsbury, in Essays in English Literature; by Lowell in Democracy and Other Essays; by Hazlitt, and by Pater (see Wordsworth, above). See also Beers's English Romanticism; Carlyle's chapter on Coleridge, in Life of John Sterling.
Southey. Texts: Poems, edited by Dowden (Macmillan); Poetical Works (Crowell); Selections in Canterbury Poets; Life of Nelson, in Everyman's Library, Temple Classics, Morley's Universal Library, etc. Life: by Dowden (English Men of Letters). Essays, by L. Stephen, in Studies of a Biographer; by Hazlitt and Saintsbury (see above).
Scott. Texts: Numerous good editions of novels and poems. For single works, see Selections for Reading, above. Life: by Lockhart, 5 vols. (several editions; best by Pollard, 1900); by Hutton (English Men of Letters); by A. Lang, in Literary Lives; by C. D. Yonge (Great Writers); by Hudson; by Saintsbury (Famous Scots Series). Criticism: Essays, by Stevenson, Gossip on Romance, in Memories and Portraits; by Shairp, in Aspects of Poetry; by Swinburne, in Studies in Prose and Poetry; by Carlyle, in Miscellaneous Essays; by Hazlitt, Bagehot, L. Stephen, Brooke, and Saintsbury (see Coleridge and Wordsworth, above).
Byron. Texts: Complete Works, Globe, Cambridge Poets, and Oxford editions; Selections, edited by M. Arnold, in Golden Treasury (see also Selections for Reading, above); Letters and Journals of Byron, edited by Moore (unreliable). Life: by Noel (Great Writers); by Nichol (English Men of Letters); The Real Lord Byron, by J. C. Jeaffreson; Trelawny's Recollections of Shelley and Byron. Criticism: Hunt's Lord Byron and His Contemporaries; Essays, by Morley, Macaulay, Hazlitt, Swinburne, and M. Arnold.
Shelley. Texts: Centenary Edition, edited by Woodberry, 4 vols.; Globe and Cambridge Poets editions; Essays and Letters, in Camelot Series (see Selections for Reading, above). Life: by Symonds (English Men of Letters); by Dowden, 2 vols.; by Sharp (Great Writers); by T. J. Hogg, 2 vols.; by W. M. Rossetti. Criticism: Salt's A Shelley Primer; Essays, by Dowden, in Transcripts and Studies; by M. Arnold, Woodberry, Bagehot, Forster, L. Stephen, Brooke, De Quincey, and Hutton (see Coleridge and Wordsworth, above).
Keats. Texts: Complete Works, edited by Forman, 4 vols. (London, 1883); Cambridge Poets Edition, with Letters, edited by H. E. Scudder (Houghton, Mifflin); Aldine Edition, with Life, edited by Lord Houghton (Macmillan); Selected Poems, with introduction and notes by Arlo Bates (Ginn and Company); Poems, also in Everyman's Library, Muses' Library, Golden Treasury, etc.; Letters, edited by S. Colvin, in Eversley Edition. Life: by Forman, in Complete Works; by Colvin (English Men of Letters); by W. M. Rossetti (Great Writers); by A. E. Hancock. Criticism: H. C. Shelley's Keats and His Circle; Masson's Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, and Other Essays; Essays, by M. Arnold, in Essays in Criticism, also in Ward's English Poets, vol. 4; by Hudson, in Studies in Interpretation; by Lowell, in Among My Books, or Literary Essays, vol. 2; by Brooke, De Quincey, and Swinburne (above).
Lamb. Texts: Complete Works and Letters, edited by E. V. Lucas, 7 vols. (Putnam); the same, edited by Ainger, 6 vols. (London, 1883-1888); Essays of Elia, in Standard English Classics, etc. (see Selections for Reading); Dramatic Essays, edited by B. Matthews (Dodd, Mead); Specimens of English Dramatic Poets, in Bohn's Library. Life: by E. V. Lucas, 2 vols.; by Ainger (English Men of Letters); by Barry Cornwall; Talfourd's Memoirs of Charles Lamb. Criticism: Essays, by De Quincey, in Biographical Essays; by F. Harrison, in Tennyson, Ruskin, Mill, and Other Literary Estimates; by Pater, and Woodberry (see Wordsworth and Coleridge, above). See also Fitzgerald's Charles Lamb, his Friends, his Haunts, and his Books.
De Quincey. Texts: Collected Writings, edited by Masson, 14 vols. (London, 1889-1891); Confessions of an Opium-Eater, etc. (see Selections for Reading). Life: by Masson (English Men of Letters); Life and Writings, by H. A. Page, 2 vols.; Hogg's De Quincey and his Friends; Findlay's Personal Recollections of De Quincey; see also De Quincey's Autobiographical Sketches, and Confessions. Criticism: Essays, by Saintsbury, in Essays in English Literature; by Masson, in Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, and Other Essays; by L. Stephen, in Hours in a Library. See also Minto's Manual of English Prose Literature.
Landor. Texts: Works, with Life by Forster, 8 vols. (London, 1876); Works, edited by Crump (London, 1897); Letters, etc., edited by Wheeler (London, 1897 and 1899); Imaginary Conversations, etc. (see Selections for Reading). Life: by Colvin (English Men of Letters); by Forster. Criticism: Essays, by De Quincey, Woodberry, L. Stephen, Saintsbury, Swinburne, Dow-den (see above). See also Stedman's Victorian Poets.
Jane Austen. Texts: Works, edited by R. B. Johnson (Dent); various other editions of novels; Letters, edited by Woolsey (Roberts). Life: Austen- Leigh's Memoir of Jane Austen; Hill's Jane Austen, her Home and her Friends; Mitton's Jane Austen and her Times. Life, by Goldwin Smith; by Maiden (Famous Women Series); by O. F. Adams. Criticism: Pollock's Jane Austen; Pellew's Jane Austen's Novels; A. A. Jack's Essay on the Novel as Illustrated by Scott and Miss Austen; H. H. Bonnell's Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Jane Austen; Essay, by Howells, in Heroines of Fiction.
Maria Edgeworth. Texts: Tales and Novels, New Langford Edition, 10 vols. (London, 1893) various editions of novels (Dent, etc.); The Absentee, and Castle Rackrent, in Morley's Universal Library. Life: by Helen Zimmerman; Memoir, by Hare.
Mrs. Anne Radclife. Romances, with introduction by Scott, in Ballantynes' Novelists Library (London, 1824); various editions of Udolpho, etc.; Saintsbury's Tales of Mystery, vol. i. See Beers's English Romanticism.
Moore. Poetical Works, in Canterbury Poets, Chandos Classics, etc.; Selected poems, in Golden Treasury; Gunning's Thomas Moore, Poet and Patriot; Symington's Life and Works of Moore. Essay, by Saintsbury.
Campbell. Poems, Aldine edition; Selections, in Golden Treasury. Life, by Hadden.
Hazlitt. Texts: Works, edited by Henley, 12 vols. (London, 1902); Selected Essays, in Temple Classics, Camelot Series, etc. Life: by Birrell (English Men of Letters); Memoirs, by W. C. Hazlitt. Essays, by Saintsbury; by L. Stephen.
Leigh Hunt. Texts: Selected essays, in Camelot Series, also in Cavendish Library (Warne); Stories from the Italian Poets (Putnam). Life: by Monkhouse (Great Writers). Essays, by Macaulay; by Saintsbury; by Hazlitt. See also Mrs. Field's A Shelf of Old Books.
SUGGESTIVE QUESTIONS. (NOTE. In a period like the Age of Romanticism, the poems and essays chosen for special study vary so widely that only a few general questions on the selections for reading are attempted.)
1. Why is this period of Romanticism (1789-1837) called the Age of Revolution? Give some reasons for the influence of the French Revolution on English literature, and illustrate from poems or essays which you have read. Explain the difference between Classicism and Romanticism. Which of these two types of literature do you prefer?
2. What are the general characteristics of the literature of this period? What two opposing tendencies are illustrated in the novels of Scott and Jane Austen? in the poetry of Byron and Wordsworth?
3. Wordsworth. Tell briefly the story of Wordsworth's life, and name some of his best poems. Why do the Lyrical Ballads (1798) mark an important literary epoch? Read carefully, and make an analysis of the "Intimations of Immortality"; of "Tintern Abbey." Can you explain what political conditions are referred to in Wordsworth's "Sonnet on Milton"? in his "French Revolution"? Does he attempt to paint a picture in his sonnet on Westminster Bridge, or has he some other object in view? What is the central teaching of the "Ode to Duty"? Compare Wordsworth's two Skylark poems with Shelley's. Make a brief comparison between Wordsworth's sonnets and those of Shakespeare and of Milton, having in mind the thought, the melody, the view of nature, and the imagery of the three poets. Quote from Wordsworth's poems to show his belief that nature is conscious; to show the influence of nature on man; to show his interest in children; his sensitiveness to sounds; to illustrate the chastening influence of sorrow. Make a brief comparison between the characters of Wordsworth's "Michael" and of Burns's "The Cotter's Saturday Night." Compare Wordsworth's point of view and method, in the three poems "To a Daisy," with Burns's view, as expressed in his famous lines on the same subject.
4. Coleridge. What are the general characteristics of Coleridge's life? What explains the profound sympathy for humanity that is reflected in his poems? For what, beside his poems, is he remarkable? Can you quote any passages from his poetry which show, the influence of Wordsworth? What are the characters in "The Ancient Mariner"? In what respect is this poem romantic? Give your own reasons for its popularity. Does the thought or the style of this poem impress you? If you have read any of the Lectures on Shakespeare, explain why Coleridge's work is called romantic criticism.
5. Scott. Tell the story of Scott's life, and name his chief poems and novels. Do you recall any passage from his poetry which suggests his own heroism? Why was he called "the wizard of the North"? What is the general character of his poetry? Compare Marmion with one of the old ballads, having in mind the characters, the dramatic interest of the story, and the style of writing. In what sense is he the creator of the historical novel? Upon what does he depend to hold the reader's attention? Compare him, in this respect, with Jane Austen. Which of his characters impress you as being the most lifelike? Name any novels of the present day which copy Scott or show his influence. Read Ivanhoe and the Lady of the Lake; make a brief analysis of each work, having in mind the style, the plot, the dramatic interest, the use of adventure, and the truth to nature of the different characters.
6. Byron. Why is Byron called the revolutionary poet? (Illustrate, if possible, from his poetry.) What is the general character of his work? In what kind of poetry does he excel? (Quote from Childe Harold to illustrate your opinion.) Describe the typical Byronic hero. Can you explain his great popularity at first, and his subsequent loss of influence? Why is he still popular on the Continent? Do you find more of thought or of emotion in his poetry? Compare him, in this respect, with Shelley; with Wordsworth. Which is the more brilliant writer, Byron or Wordsworth? Which has the more humor? Which has the healthier mind? Which has the higher ideal of poetry? Which is the more inspiring and helpful? Is it fair to say that Byron's quality is power, not charm?
7. Shelley. What are the chief characteristics of Shelley's poetry? Is it most remarkable for its thought, form, or imagery? What poems show the influence of the French Revolution? What subjects are considered in "Lines written among the Euganean Hills"? What does Shelley try to teach in "The Sensitive Plant"? Compare Shelley's view of nature, as reflected in "The Cloud" or "The West Wind," with Wordsworth's view, as reflected in "The Prelude," "Tintern Abbey," "Daffodils," etc. To what class of poems does "Adonais" belong? What is the subject of the poem? Name others of the same class. How does Shelley describe himself in this poem? Compare Shelley's "Adonais" and Milton's "Lycidas" with regard to the view of life after death as expressed in the poems. What kinds of scenes does Shelley like best to describe? Compare his characters with those of Wordsworth; of Byron. Do you recall any poems in which he writes of ordinary people or of ordinary experiences?
8. Keats. What is the essence of Keats's poetical creed, as expressed in the "Ode on a Grecian Urn"? What are the remarkable elements in his life and work? What striking difference do you find between his early poems and those of Shelley and Byron? What are the chief subjects of his verse? What poems show the influence of the classics? of Elizabethan literature? Can you explain why his work has been called literary poetry? Keats and Shelley are generally classed together. What similarities do you find in their poems? Give some reasons why Keats introduces the old Bedesman in "The Eve of Saint Agnes." Name some of the literary friends mentioned in Keats's poetry.
Compare Keats's characters with those of Wordsworth; of Byron. Does Keats ever remind you of Spenser? In what respects? Is your personal preference for Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, or Keats? Why?
9. Lamb. Tell briefly the story of Lamb's life and name his principal works. Why is he called the most human of essayists? His friends called him "the last of the Elizabethans." Why? What is the general character of the Essays of Elia? How is the personality of Lamb shown in all these essays? Cite any passages showing Lamb's skill in portraying people. Make a brief comparison between Lamb and Addison, having in mind the subjects treated, the style, the humor, and the interest of both essayists. Which do you prefer, and why?
10. De Quincey. What are the general characteristics of De Quincey's essays? Explain why he is called the psychologist of style. What accounts for a certain unreal element in all his work. Read a passage from The English Mail-Coach, or from Joan of Arc, or from Levana, Our Lady of Sorrows, and comment freely upon it, with regard to style, ideas, interest, and the impression of reality or unreality which it leaves.
11. Landor. In what respect does Landor show a reaction from Romanticism? What qualities make Landor's poems stand out so clearly in the memory? Why, for instance, do you think Lamb was so haunted by "Rose Aylmer"? Quote from Landor's poems to illustrate his tenderness, his sensitiveness to beauty, his power of awakening emotion, his delicacy of characterization. Do you find the same qualities in his prose? Can you explain why much of his prose seems like a translation from the Greek? Compare a passage from the Imaginary Conversations with a passage from Gibbon or Johnson, to show the difference between the classic and the pseudo-classic style. Compare one of Landor's characters, in Imaginary Conversations, with the same character in history.
12. Jane Austen. How does Jane Austen show a reaction from Romanticism? What important work did she do for the novel? To what kind of fiction was her work opposed? In what does the charm of her novels consist? Make a brief comparison between Jane Austen and Scott (as illustrated in Pride and Prejudice and Ivanhoe), having in mind the subject, the characters, the manner of treatment, and the interest of both narratives. Do Jane Austen's characters have to be explained by the author, or do they explain themselves? Which method calls for the greater literary skill? What does Jane Austen say about Mrs. Radcliffe, in Northanger Abbey? Does she make any other observations on eighteenth-century novelists?
CHRONOLOGY End of the Eighteenth and Beginning of the Nineteenth Century ============================================================================ HISTORY LITERATURE 1760-1820. George III 1770-1850. Wordsworth 1771-1832. Scott 1789-1799. French Revolution 1796-1816. Jane Austen's novels 1798. Lyrical Balads of Wordsworth and Coleridge 1800. Union of Great Britain and Ireland 1802. Colonization of Australia 1802. Scotts Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border 1805. Battle of Trafalgar 1805-1817. Scotts poems 1807. Wordsworth's Intimations of 1807. Abolition of slave trade Immortality. Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare 1808-1814. Peninsular War 1809-1818. Byron's Childe Harold 1812. Second war with United States 1810-1813. Coleridge's Lectures on Shakespeare 1814. Congress of Vienna 1814-1831. Waverley Novels 1815. Battle of Waterloo 1816. Shelley's Alastor 1817. Coleridge's Biographia Literaria 1817-1820. Keats's poems 1818-1820. Shelley's Prometheus 1819. First Atlantic steamship 1820. George IV (d. 1830) 1820. Wordsworth's Duddon Sonnets 1820-1833. Lamb's Essays of Elia 1821. De Quincey's Confessions 1824-1846. Landor's Imaginary Conversations. 1826. First Temperance Society 1829. Catholic Emancipation Bill 1830. William IV (d. 1837) 1830. Tennyson's first poems First railway 1831. Scott's last novel 1832. Reform Bill 1833. Emancipation of slaves 1833. Carlyle's Sartor Resartus Browning's Pauline 1834. System of national education 1837. Victoria (d. 1901) 1853-1861. De Quincey's Collected Essays ============================================================================
* * * * *
THE VICTORIAN AGE (1850-1900)
THE MODERN PERIOD OF PROGRESS AND UNREST
When Victoria became queen, in 1837, English literature seemed to have entered upon a period of lean years, in marked contrast with the poetic fruitfulness of the romantic age which we have just studied. Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Byron, and Scott had passed away, and it seemed as if there were no writers in England to fill their places. Wordsworth had written, in 1835,
Like clouds that rake, the mountain summits, Or waves that own no curbing hand, How fast has brother followed brother, From sunshine to the sunless land!
In these lines is reflected the sorrowful spirit of a literary man of the early nineteenth century who remembered the glory that had passed away from the earth. But the leanness of these first years is more apparent than real. Keats and Shelley were dead, it is true, but already there had appeared three disciples of these poets who were destined to be far more widely, read than were their masters. Tennyson had been publishing poetry since 1827, his first poems appearing almost simultaneously with the last work of Byron, Shelley, and Keats; but it was not until 1842, with the publication of his collected poems, in two volumes, that England recognized in him one of her great literary leaders. So also Elizabeth Barrett had been writing since 1820, but not till twenty years later did her poems become deservedly popular; and Browning had published his Pauline in 1833, but it was not until 1846, when he published the last of the series called Bells and Pomegranates, that the reading public began to appreciate his power and originality. Moreover, even as romanticism seemed passing away, a group of great prose writers—Dickens, Thackeray, Carlyle, and Ruskin—had already begun to proclaim the literary glory of a new age, which now seems to rank only just below the Elizabethan and the Romantic periods.
HISTORICAL SUMMARY. Amid the multitude of social and political forces of this great age, four things stand out clearly. First, the long struggle of the Anglo-Saxons for personal liberty is definitely settled, and democracy becomes the established order of the day. The king, who appeared in an age of popular weakness and ignorance, and the peers, who came with the Normans in triumph, are both stripped of their power and left as figureheads of a past civilization. The last vestige of personal government and of the divine right of rulers disappears; the House of Commons becomes the ruling power in England; and a series of new reform bills rapidly extend the suffrage, until the whole body of English people choose for themselves the men who shall represent them.
Second, because it is an age of democracy, it is an age of popular education, of religious tolerance, of growing brotherhood, and of profound social unrest. The slaves had been freed in 1833; but in the middle of the century England awoke to the fact that slaves are not necessarily negroes, stolen in Africa to be sold like cattle in the market place, but that multitudes of men, women, and little children in the mines and factories were victims of a more terrible industrial and social slavery. To free these slaves also, the unwilling victims of our unnatural competitive methods, has been the growing purpose of the Victorian Age until the present day.
Third, because it is an age of democracy and education, it is an age of comparative peace. England begins to think less of the pomp and false glitter of fighting, and more of its moral evils, as the nation realizes that it is the common people who bear the burden and the sorrow and the poverty of war, while the privileged classes reap most of the financial and political rewards. Moreover, with the growth of trade and of friendly foreign relations, it becomes evident that the social equality for which England was contending at home belongs to the whole race of men; that brotherhood is universal, not insular; that a question of justice is never settled by fighting; and that war is generally unmitigated horror and barbarism. Tennyson, who came of age when the great Reform Bill occupied attention, expresses the ideals of the Liberals of his day who proposed to spread the gospel of peace,
Till the war-drum throbb'd no longer, and the battle-flags were furled In the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the world.
Fourth, the Victorian Age is especially remarkable because of its rapid progress in all the arts and sciences and in mechanical inventions. A glance at any record of the industrial achievements of the nineteenth century will show how vast they are, and it is unnecessary to repeat here the list of the inventions, from spinning looms to steamboats, and from matches to electric lights. All these material things, as well as the growth of education, have their influence upon the life of a people, and it is inevitable that they should react upon its prose and poetry; though as yet we are too much absorbed in our sciences and mechanics to determine accurately their influence upon literature. When these new things shall by long use have became familiar as country roads, or have been replaced by newer and better things, then they also will have their associations and memories, and a poem on the railroads may be as suggestive as Wordsworth's sonnet on Westminster Bridge; and the busy, practical workingmen who to-day throng our streets and factories may seem, to a future and greater age, as quaint and poetical as to us seem the slow toilers of the Middle Ages.
LITERARY CHARACTERISTICS. When one is interested enough to trace the genealogy of Victoria he finds, to his surprise, that in her veins flowed the blood both of William the Conqueror and of Cerdic, the first Saxon king of England; and this seems to be symbolic of the literature of her age, which embraces the whole realm of Saxon and Norman life,—the strength and ideals of the one, and the culture and refinement of the other. The romantic revival had done its work, and England entered upon a new free period, in which every form of literature, from pure romance to gross realism, struggled for expression. At this day it is obviously impossible to judge the age as a whole; but we are getting far enough away from the early half of it to notice certain definite characteristics. First, though the age produced many poets, and two who deserve to rank among the greatest, nevertheless this is emphatically an age of prose. And since the number of readers has increased a thousandfold with the spread of popular education, it is the age of the newspaper, the magazine, and the modern novel,—the first two being the story of the world's daily life, and the last our pleasantest form of literary entertainment, as well as our most successful method of presenting modern problems and modern ideals. The novel in this age fills a place which the drama held in the days of Elizabeth; and never before, in any age or language, has the novel appeared in such numbers and in such perfection.
[Moral Purpose] The second marked characteristic of the age is that literature, both in prose and in poetry, seems to depart from the purely artistic standard, of art for art's sake, and to be actuated by a definite moral purpose Tennyson, Browning, Carlyle, Ruskin,—who and what were these men if not the teachers of England, not vaguely but definitely, with superb faith in their message, and with the conscious moral purpose to uplift and to instruct? Even the novel breaks away from Scott's romantic influence, and first studies life as it is, and then points out what life may and ought to be. Whether we read the fun and sentiment of Dickens, the social miniatures of Thackeray, or the psychological studies of George Eliot, we find in almost every case a definite purpose to sweep away error and to reveal the underlying truth of human life. So the novel sought to do for society in this age precisely what Lyell and Darwin sought to do for science, that is, to find the truth, and to show how it might be used to uplift humanity. Perhaps for this reason the Victorian Age is emphatically an age of realism rather than of romance,—not the realism of Zola and Ibsen, but a deeper realism which strives to tell the whole truth, showing moral and physical diseases as they are, but holding up health and hope as the normal conditions of humanity.
It is somewhat customary to speak of this age as an age of doubt and pessimism, following the new conception of man and of the universe which was formulated by science under the name of involution. It is spoken of also as a prosaic age, lacking in great ideals. Both these criticisms seem to be the result of judging a large thing when we are too close to it to get its true proportions, just as Cologne Cathedral, one of the world's most perfect structures, seems to be a shapeless pile of stone when we stand too close beneath its mighty walls and buttresses. Tennyson's immature work, like that of the minor poets, is sometimes in a doubtful or despairing strain; but his In Memoriam is like the rainbow after storm; and Browning seems better to express the spirit of his age in the strong, manly faith of "Rabbi Ben Ezra," and in the courageous optimism of all his poetry. Stedman's Victorian Anthology is, on the whole, a most inspiring book of poetry. It would be hard to collect more varied cheer from any age. And the great essayists, like Macaulay, Carlyle, Ruskin, and the great novelists, like Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, generally leave us with a larger charity and with a deeper faith in our humanity.
So also the judgment that this age is too practical for great ideals may be only a description of the husk that hides a very full ear of corn. It is well to remember that Spenser and Sidney judged their own age (which we now consider to be the greatest in our literary history) to be altogether given over to materialism, and to be incapable of literary greatness. Just as time has made us smile at their blindness, so the next century may correct our judgment of this as a material age, and looking upon the enormous growth of charity and brotherhood among us, and at the literature which expresses our faith in men, may judge the Victorian Age to be, on the whole, the noblest and most inspiring in the history of the world.
I. THE POETS OF THE VICTORIAN AGE
ALFRED TENNYSON (1809-1892)
O young Mariner, You from the haven Under the sea-cliff, You that are watching The gray Magician With eyes of wonder, I am Merlin, And I am dying, I am Merlin Who follow The Gleam. . . . . . . . O young Mariner, Down to the haven Call your companions, Launch your vessel, And crowd your canvas, And, ere it vanishes Over the margin, After it, follow it, Follow The Gleam.
One who reads this haunting poem of "Merlin and The Gleam" finds in it a suggestion of the spirit of the poet's whole life,—his devotion to the ideal as expressed in poetry, his early romantic impressions, his struggles, doubts, triumphs, and his thrilling message to his race. Throughout the entire Victorian period Tennyson stood at the summit of poetry in England. Not in vain was he appointed laureate at the death of Wordsworth, in 1850; for, almost alone among those who have held the office, he felt the importance of his place, and filled and honored it. For nearly half a century Tennyson was not only a man and a poet; he was a voice, the voice of a whole people, expressing in exquisite melody their doubts and their faith, their griefs and their triumphs. In the wonderful variety of his verse he suggests all the qualities of England's greatest poets. The dreaminess of Spenser, the majesty of Milton, the natural simplicity of Wordsworth, the fantasy of Blake and Coleridge, the melody of Keats and Shelley, the narrative vigor of Scott and Byron,—all these striking qualities are evident on successive pages of Tennyson's poetry. The only thing lacking is the dramatic power of the Elizabethans. In reflecting the restless spirit of this progressive age Tennyson is as remarkable as Pope was in voicing the artificiality of the early eighteenth century. As a poet, therefore, who expresses not so much a personal as a national spirit, he is probably the most representative literary man of the Victorian era.
LIFE. Tennyson's life is a remarkable one in this respect, that from beginning to end he seems to have been dominated by a single impulse, the impulse of poetry. He had no large or remarkable experiences, no wild oats to sow, no great successes or reverses, no business cares or public offices. For sixty-six years, from the appearance of the Poems by Two Brothers, in 1827, until his death in 1892, he studied and practiced his art continually and exclusively. Only Browning, his fellow-worker, resembles him in this; but the differences in the two men are world-wide. Tennyson was naturally shy, retiring, indifferent to men, hating noise and publicity, loving to be alone with nature, like Wordsworth. Browning was sociable, delighting in applause, in society, in travel, in the noise and bustle of the big world.
Tennyson was born in the rectory of Somersby, Lincolnshire, in 1809. The sweet influences of his early natural surroundings can be better understood from his early poems than from any biography. He was one of the twelve children of the Rev. George Clayton Tennyson, a scholarly clergyman, and his wife Elizabeth Fytche, a gentle, lovable woman, "not learned, save in gracious household ways," to whom the poet pays a son's loyal tribute near the close of The Princess. It is interesting to note that most of these children were poetically inclined, and that two of the brothers, Charles and Frederick, gave far greater promise than did Alfred.
When seven years old the boy went to his grandmother's house at Louth, in order to attend a famous grammar school at that place. Not even a man's memory, which generally makes light of hardship and glorifies early experiences, could ever soften Tennyson's hatred of school life. His complaint was not so much at the roughness of the boys, which had so frightened Cowper, as at the brutality of the teachers, who put over the school door a wretched Latin inscription translating Solomon's barbarous advice about the rod and the child. In these psychologic days, when the child is more important than the curriculum, and when we teach girls and boys rather than Latin and arithmetic, we read with wonder Carlyle's description of his own schoolmaster, evidently a type of his kind, who "knew of the human soul thus much, that it had a faculty called memory, and could be acted on through the muscular integument by appliance of birch rods." After four years of most unsatisfactory school life, Tennyson returned home, and was fitted for the university by his scholarly father. With his brothers he wrote many verses, and his first efforts appeared in a little volume called Poems by Two Brothers, in 1827. The next year he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became the center of a brilliant circle of friends, chief of whom was the young poet Arthur Henry Hallam.
At the university Tennyson soon became known for his poetical ability, and two years after his entrance he gained the prize of the Chancellor's Medal for a poem called "Timbuctoo," the subject, needless to say, being chosen by the chancellor. Soon after winning this honor Tennyson published his first signed work, called Poems Chiefly Lyrical (1830), which, though it seems somewhat crude and disappointing to us now, nevertheless contained the germ of all his later poetry. One of the most noticeable things in this volume is the influence which Byron evidently exerted over the poet in his early days; and it was perhaps due largely to the same romantic influence that Tennyson and his friend Hallam presently sailed away to Spain, with the idea of joining the army of insurgents against King Ferdinand. Considered purely as a revolutionary venture, this was something of a fiasco, suggesting the noble Duke of York and his ten thousand men,—"he marched them up a hill, one day; and he marched them down again." From a literary view point, however, the experience was not without its value. The deep impression which the wild beauty of the Pyrenees made upon the young poet's mind is reflected clearly in the poem "Oenone."
In 1831 Tennyson left the university without taking his degree. The reasons for this step are not clear; but the family was poor, and poverty may have played a large part in his determination. His father died a few months later; but, by a generous arrangement with the new rector, the family retained the rectory at Somersby, and here, for nearly six years, Tennyson lived in a retirement which strongly suggests Milton at Horton. He read and studied widely, cultivated an intimate acquaintance with nature, thought deeply on the problems suggested by the Reform Bill which was then agitating England, and during his leisure hours wrote poetry. The first fruits of this retirement appeared, late in 1832, in a wonderful little volume bearing the simple name Poems. As the work of a youth only twenty-three, this book is remarkable for the variety and melody of its verse. Among its treasures we still read with delight "The Lotos Eaters," "Palace of Art," "A Dream of Fair Women," "The Miller's Daughter," "Oenone," and "The Lady of Shalott"; but the critics of the Quarterly, who had brutally condemned his earlier work, were again unmercifully severe. The effect of this harsh criticism upon a sensitive nature was most unfortunate; and when his friend Hallam died, in 1833, Tennyson was plunged into a period of gloom and sorrow. The sorrow may be read in the exquisite little poem beginning, "Break, break, break, On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!" which was his first published elegy for his friend; and the depressing influence of the harsh and unjust criticism is suggested in "Merlin and The Gleam," which the reader will understand only after he has read Tennyson's biography.
For nearly ten years after Hallam's death Tennyson published nothing, and his movements are hard to trace as the family went here and there, seeking peace and a home in various parts of England. But though silent, he continued to write poetry, and it was in these sad wandering days that he began his immortal In Memoriam and his Idylls of the King. In 1842 his friends persuaded him to give his work to the world, and with some hesitation he published his Poems. The success of this work was almost instantaneous, and we can appreciate the favor with which it was received when we read the noble blank verse of "Ulysses" and "Morte d'Arthur," the perfect little song of grief for Hallam which we have already mentioned, and the exquisite idyls like "Dora" and "The Gardener's Daughter," which aroused even Wordsworth's enthusiasm and brought from him a letter saying that he had been trying all his life to write such an English pastoral as "Dora" and had failed. From this time forward Tennyson, with increasing confidence in himself and his message, steadily maintained his place as the best known and best loved poet in England.
The year 1850 was a happy one for Tennyson. He was appointed poet laureate, to succeed Wordsworth; and he married Emily Sellwood,
Her whose gentle will has changed my fate And made my life a perfumed altar flame,
whom he had loved for thirteen years, but whom his poverty had prevented him from marrying. The year is made further remarkable by the publication of In Memoriam, probably the most enduring of his poems, upon which he had worked at intervals for sixteen years. Three years later, with the money that his work now brought him, he leased the house Farringford, in the Isle of Wight, and settled in the first permanent home he had known since he left the rectory at Somersby.
For the remaining forty years of his life he lived, like Wordsworth, "in the stillness of a great peace," writing steadily, and enjoying the friendship of a large number of people, some distinguished, some obscure, from the kindly and sympathetic Victoria to the servants on his own farm. All of these he called with equal sincerity his friends, and to each one he was the same man, simple, strong, kindly, and noble. Carlyle describes him as "a fine, large-featured, dim-eyed, bronze-colored, shaggy-headed man, ... most restful, brotherly, solid-hearted." Loving solitude and hating publicity as he did, the numerous tourists from both sides of the ocean, who sought him out in his retreat and insisted upon seeing him, made his life at times intolerable. Influenced partly by the desire to escape such popularity, he bought land and built for himself a new house, Aldworth, in Surrey, though he made his home in Farringford for the greater part of the year.
His labor during these years and his marvelous freshness and youthfulness of feeling are best understood by a glance at the contents of his complete works. Inferior poems, like The Princess, which was written in the first flush of his success, and his dramas, which were written against the advice of his best friends, may easily be criticised; but the bulk of his verse shows an astonishing originality and vigor to the very end. He died very quietly at Aldworth, with his family about him in the moonlight, and beside him a volume of Shakespeare, open at the dirge in Cymbeline:
Fear no more the heat o' the sun, Nor the furious winter's rages; Thou thy worldly task hast done, Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages.
The strong and noble spirit of his life is reflected in one of his best known poems, "Crossing the Bar," which was written in his eighty-first year, and which he desired should be placed at the end of his collected works:
Sunset and evening star, And one clear call for me! And may there be no moaning of the bar, When I put out to sea, But such a tide as, moving, seems asleep, Too full for sound and foam, When that which drew from out the boundless deep Turns again home. Twilight and evening bell, And after that the dark! And may there be no sadness of farewell, When I embark; For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place The flood may bear me far, I hope to see my Pilot face to face When I have crost the bar.
WORKS. At the outset of our study of Tennyson's works it may be well to record two things, by way of suggestion. First, Tennyson's poetry is not so much to be studied as to be read and appreciated; he is a poet to have open on one's table, and to enjoy as one enjoys his daily exercise. And second, we should by all means begin to get acquainted with Tennyson in the days of our youth. Unlike Browning, who is generally appreciated by more mature minds, Tennyson is for enjoyment, for inspiration, rather than for instruction. Only youth can fully appreciate him; and youth, unfortunately, except in a few rare, beautiful cases, is something which does not dwell with us long after our school days. The secret of poetry, especially of Tennyson's poetry, is to be eternally young, and, like Adam in Paradise, to find every morning a new world, fresh, wonderful, inspiring, as if just from the hands of God.
Except by the student, eager to understand the whoje range of poetry in this age, Tennyson's earlier poems and his later dramas may well be omitted. Opinions vary about both; but the general judgment seems to be that the earlier poems show too much of Byron's influence, and their crudeness suffers by comparison with the exquisitely finished work of Tennyson's middle life. Of dramatic works he wrote seven, his great ambition being to present a large part of the history of England in a series of dramas. Becket was one of the best of these works and met with considerable favor on the stage; but, like all the others, it indicates that Tennyson lacked the dramatic power and the humor necessary for a successful playwright.
Among the remaining poems there is such a wide variety that every reader must be left largely to follow his own delightful choice. Of the Poems of 1842 we have already mentioned those best worth reading. The Princess, a Medley (1847), a long poem of over three thousand lines of blank verse, is Tennyson's answer to the question of woman's rights and woman's sphere, which was then, as in our own day, strongly agitating the public mind. In this poem a baby finally solves the problem which philosophers have pondered ever since men began to think connectedly about human society. A few exquisite songs, like "Tears, Idle Tears," "Bugle Song," and "Sweet and Low," form the most delightful part of this poem, which in general is hardly up to the standard of the poet's later work. Maud (1855) is what is called in literature a monodrama, telling the story of a lover who passes from morbidness to ecstasy, then to anger and murder, followed by insanity and recovery. This was Tennyson's favorite, and among his friends he read aloud from it more than from any other poem. Perhaps if we could hear Tennyson read it, we should appreciate it better; but, on the whole, it seems overwrought and melodramatic. Even its lyrics, like "Come into the Garden, Maud," which make this work a favorite with young lovers, are characterized by "prettiness" rather than by beauty or strength.
Perhaps the most loved of all Tennyson's works is In Memoriam, which, on account of both its theme and its exquisite workmanship, is "one of the few immortal names that were not born to die." The immediate occasion of this remarkable poem was Tennyson's profound personal grief at the death of his friend Hallam. As he wrote lyric after lyric, inspired by this sad subject, the poet's grief became less personal, and the greater grief of humanity mourning for its dead and questioning its immortality took possession of him. Gradually the poem became an expression, first, of universal doubt, and then of universal faith, a faith which rests ultimately not on reason or philosophy but on the soul's instinct for immortality. The immortality of human love is the theme of the poem, which is made up of over one hundred different lyrics. The movement takes us through three years, rising slowly from poignant sorrow and doubt to a calm peace and hope, and ending with a noble hymn of courage and faith,—a modest courage and a humble faith, love-inspired,—which will be a favorite as long as saddened men turn to literature for consolation. Though Darwin's greatest books had not yet been written, science had already overturned many old conceptions of life; and Tennyson, who lived apart and thought deeply on all the problems of his day, gave this poem to the world as his own answer to the doubts and questionings of men. This universal human interest, together with its exquisite form and melody, makes the poem, in popular favor at least, the supreme threnody, or elegiac poem, of our literature; though Milton's Lycidas is, from the critical view point, undoubtedly a more artistic work.
The Idylls of the King ranks among the greatest of Tennyson's later works. Its general subject is the Celtic legends of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table, and the chief source of its material is Malory's Morte d'Arthur. Here, in this mass of beautiful legends, is certainly the subject of a great national epic; yet after four hundred years, during which many poets have used the material, the great epic is still unwritten. Milton and Spenser, as we have already noted, considered this material carefully; and Milton alone, of all English writers, had perhaps the power to use it in a great epic. Tennyson began to use these legends in his Morte d'Arthur (1842); but the epic idea probably occurred to him later, in 1856, when he began "Geraint and Enid," and he added the stories of "Vivien," "Elaine," "Guinevere," and other heroes and heroines at intervals, until "Balin," the last of the Idylls, appeared in 1885. Later these works were gathered together and arranged with an attempt at unity. The result is in no sense an epic poem, but rather a series of single poems loosely connected by a thread of interest in Arthur, the central personage, and in his unsuccessful attempt to found an ideal kingdom.
Entirely different in spirit is another collection of poems called English Idyls, which began in the Poems of 1842, and which Tennyson intended should reflect the ideals of widely different types of English life. Of these varied poems, "Dora," "The Gardener's Daughter," "Ulysses," "Locksley Hall" and "Sir Galahad" are the best; but all are worthy of study. One of the most famous of this series is "Enoch Arden" (1864), in which Tennyson turns from mediaeval knights, from lords, heroes, and fair ladies, to find the material for true poetry among the lowly people that make up the bulk of English life. Its rare melody, its sympathy for common life, and its revelation of the beauty and heroism which hide in humble men and women everywhere, made this work an instant favorite. Judged by its sales alone, it was the most popular of his works during the poet's lifetime.
Tennyson's later volumes, like the Ballads (1880) and Demeter (1889), should not be overlooked, since they contain some of his best work. The former contains stirring war songs, like "The Defence of Lucknow," and pictures of wild passionate grief, like "Rizpah"; the latter is notable for "Romney's Remorse," a wonderful piece of work; "Merlin and The Gleam," which expresses the poet's lifelong ideal; and several exquisite little songs, like "The Throstle," and "The Oak," which show how marvelously the aged poet retained his youthful freshness and inspiration. Here certainly is variety enough to give us long years of literary enjoyment; and we need hardly mention miscellaneous poems, like "The Brook" and "The Charge of the Light Brigade," which are known to every schoolboy; and "Wages" and "The Higher Pantheism," which should be read by every man who thinks about the old, old problem of life and death.
CHARACTERISTICS OF TENNYSON'S POETRY. If we attempt to sum up the quality of Tennyson, as shown in all these works, the task is a difficult one; but three things stand out more or less plainly. First, Tennyson is essentially the artist. No other in his age studied the art of poetry so constantly or with such singleness of purpose; and only Swinburne rivals him in melody and the perfect finish of his verse. Second, like all the great writers of his age, he is emphatically a teacher, often a leader. In the preceding age, as the result of the turmoil produced by the French Revolution, lawlessness was more or less common, and individuality was the rule in literature. Tennyson's theme, so characteristic of his age, is the reign of order,—of law in the physical world, producing evolution, and of law in the spiritual world, working out the perfect man. In Memoriam, Idylls of the King, The Princess,-here are three widely different poems; yet the theme of each, so far as poetry is a kind of spiritual philosophy and weighs its words before it utters them, is the orderly development of law in the natural and in the spiritual world.
This certainly is a new doctrine in poetry, but the message does not end here. Law implies a source, a method, an object. Tennyson, after facing his doubts honestly and manfully, finds law even in the sorrows and losses of humanity. He gives this law an infinite and personal source, and finds the supreme purpose of all law to be a revelation of divine love. All earthly love, therefore, becomes an image of the heavenly. What first perhaps attracted readers to Tennyson, as to Shakespeare, was the character of his women,—pure, gentle, refined beings, whom we must revere as our Anglo- Saxon forefathers revered the women they loved. Like Browning, the poet had loved one good woman supremely, and her love made clear the meaning of all life. The message goes one step farther. Because law and love are in the world, faith is the only reasonable attitude toward life and death, even though we understand them not. Such, in a few words, seems to be Tennyson's whole message and philosophy.
If we attempt now to fix Tennyson's permanent place in literature, as the result of his life and work, we must apply to him the same test that we applied to Milton and Wordsworth, and, indeed, to all our great poets, and ask with the German critics, "What new thing has he said to the world or even to his own country?" The answer is, frankly, that we do not yet know surely; that we are still too near Tennyson to judge him impersonally. This much, however, is clear. In a marvelously complex age, and amid a hundred great men, he was regarded as a leader. For a full half century he was the voice of England, loved and honored as a man and a poet, not simply by a few discerning critics, but by a whole people that do not easily give their allegiance to any one man. And that, for the present, is Tennyson's sufficient eulogy.
ROBERT BROWNING (1812-1889)
How good is man's life, the mere living! how fit to employ All the heart and the soul and the senses for ever in joy!
In this new song of David, from Browning's Saul, we have a suggestion of the astonishing vigor and hope that characterize all the works of Browning, the one poet of the age who, after thirty years of continuous work, was finally recognized and placed beside Tennyson, and whom future ages may judge to be a greater poet,—perhaps, even, the greatest in our literature since Shakespeare.
The chief difficulty in reading Browning is the obscurity of his style, which the critics of half a century ago held up to ridicule. Their attitude towards the poet's early work may be inferred from Tennyson's humorous criticism of Sordello. It may be remembered that the first line of this obscure poem is, "Who will may hear Sordello's story told"; and that the last line is, "Who would has heard Sordello's story told." Tennyson remarked that these were the only lines in the whole poem that he understood, and that they were evidently both lies. If we attempt to explain this obscurity, which puzzled Tennyson and many less friendly critics, we find that it has many sources. First, the poet's thought is often obscure, or else so extremely subtle that language expresses it imperfectly,—
Thoughts hardly to be packed Into a narrow act, Fancies that broke through language and escaped.
Second, Browning is led from one thing to another by his own mental associations, and forgets that the reader's associations may be of an entirely different kind. Third, Browning is careless in his English, and frequently clips his speech, giving us a series of ejaculations. As we do not quite understand his processes of thought, we must stop between the ejaculations to trace out the connections. Fourth, Browning's, allusions are often far-fetched, referring to some odd scrap of information which he has picked up in his wide reading, and the ordinary reader finds it difficult to trace and understand them. Finally, Browning wrote too much and revised too Little. The time which he should have given to making one thought clear was used in expressing other thoughts that flitted through his head like a flock of swallows. His field was the individual soul, never exactly alike in any two men, and he sought to express the hidden motives and principles which govern individual action. In this field he is like a miner delving underground, sending up masses of mingled earth and ore; and the reader must sift all this material to separate the gold from the dross.
Here, certainly, are sufficient reasons for Browning's obscurity; and we must add the word that the fault seems unpardonable, for the simple reason that Browning shows himself capable, at times, of writing directly, melodiously, and with noble simplicity.
So much for the faults, which must be faced and overlooked before one finds the treasure that is hidden in Browning's poetry. Of all the poets in our literature, no other is so completely, so consciously, so magnificently a teacher of men. He feels his mission of faith and courage in a world of doubt and timidity. For thirty years he faced indifference or ridicule, working bravely and cheerfully the while, until he made the world recognize and follow him. The spirit of his whole life is well expressed in his Paracelsus, written when he was only twenty-two years old:
I see my way as birds their trackless way. I shall arrive,—what time, what circuit first, I ask not; but unless God send his hail Or blinding fire-balls, sleet or stifling snow, In some time, his good time, I shall arrive; He guides me and the bird. In his good time.
He is not, like so many others, an entertaining poet. One cannot read him after dinner, or when settled in a comfortable easy-chair. One must sit up, and think, and be alert when he reads Browning. If we accept these conditions, we shall probably find that Browning is the most stimulating poet in our language. His influence upon our life is positive and tremendous. His strength, his joy of life, his robust faith, and his invincible optimism enter into us, making us different and better men after reading him. And perhaps the best thing he can say of Browning is that his thought is slowly but surely taking possession of all well-educated men and women.
LIFE. Browning's father was outwardly a business man, a clerk for fifty years in the Bank of England; inwardly he was an interesting combination of the scholar and the artist, with the best tastes of both. His mother was a sensitive, musical woman, evidently very lovely in character, the daughter of a German shipowner and merchant who had settled in Scotland. She was of Celtic descent, and Carlyle describes her as the true type of a Scottish gentlewoman. From his neck down, Browning was the typical Briton,—short, stocky, large-chested, robust; but even in the lifeless portrait his face changes as we view it from different angles. Now it is like an English business man, now like a German scientist, and now it has a curious suggestion of Uncle Remus,—these being, no doubt, so many different reflections of his mixed and unremembered ancestors.
He was born in Camberwell, on the outskirts of London, in 1812. From his home and from his first school, at Peckham, he could see London; and the city lights by night and the smoky chimneys by day had the same powerful fascination for the child that the woods and fields and the beautiful country had for his friend Tennyson. His schooling was short and desultory, his education being attended to by private tutors and by his father, who left the boy largely to follow his own inclination. Like the young Milton, Browning was fond of music, and in many of his poems, especially in "Abt Vogler" and "A Toccata of Galuppi's," he interprets the musical temperament better, perhaps, than any other writer in our literature. But unlike Milton, through whose poetry there runs a great melody, music seems to have had no consistent effect upon his verse, which is often so jarring that one must wonder how a musical ear could have endured it.
Like Tennyson, this boy found his work very early, and for fifty years hardly a week passed that he did not write poetry. He began at six to produce verses, in imitation of Byron; but fortunately this early work has been lost. Then he fell under the influence of Shelley, and his first known work, Pauline (1833), must be considered as a tribute to Shelley and his poetry. Tennyson's earliest work, Poems by Two Brothers, had been published and well paid for, five years before; but Browning could find no publisher who would even consider Pauline, and the work was published by means of money furnished by an indulgent relative. This poem received scant notice from the reviewers, who had pounced like hawks on a dovecote upon Tennyson's first two modest volumes. Two years later appeared Paracelsus, and then his tragedy Strafford was put upon the stage; but not till Sordello was published, in 1840, did he attract attention enough to be denounced for the obscurity and vagaries of his style. Six years later, in 1846, he suddenly became famous, not because he finished in that year his Bells and Pomegranates (which is Browning's symbolic name for "poetry and thought" or "singing and sermonizing"), but because he eloped with the best known literary woman in England, Elizabeth Barrett, whose fame was for many years, both before and after her marriage, much greater than Browning's, and who was at first considered superior to Tennyson. Thereafter, until his own work compelled attention, he was known chiefly as the man who married Elizabeth Barrett. For years this lady had been an almost helpless invalid, and it seemed a quixotic thing when Browning, having failed to gain her family's consent to the marriage, carried her off romantically. Love and Italy proved better than her physicians, and for fifteen years Browning and his wife lived an ideally happy life in Pisa and in Florence. The exquisite romance of their love is preserved in Mrs. Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese, and in the volume of Letters recently published,—wonderful letters, but so tender and intimate that it seems almost a sacrilege for inquisitive eyes to read them.
Mrs. Browning died in Florence in 1861. The loss seemed at first too much to bear, and Browning fled with his son to England. For the remainder of his life he lived alternately in London and in various parts of Italy, especially at the Palazzo Rezzonico, in Venice, which is now an object of pilgrimage to almost every tourist who visits the beautiful city. Wherever he went he mingled with men and women, sociable, well dressed, courteous, loving crowds and popular applause, the very reverse of his friend Tennyson. His earlier work had been much better appreciated in America than in England; but with the publication of The Ring and the Book, in 1868, he was at last recognized by his countrymen as one of the greatest of English poets. He died in Venice, on December 12, 1889, the same day that saw the publication of his last work, Asolando. Though Italy offered him an honored resting place, England claimed him for her own, and he lies buried beside Tennyson in Westminster Abbey. The spirit of his whole life is magnificently expressed in his own lines, in the Epilogue of his last book:
One who never turned his back, but marched breast forward, Never doubted clouds would break, Never dreamed, tho' right were worsted, wrong would triumph, Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better, Sleep to wake.
WORKS. A glance at even the titles which Browning gave to his best known volumes—Dramatic Lyrics (1842), Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1845), Men and Women (1853), Dramatis Persona (1864)—will suggest how strong the dramatic element is in all his work. Indeed, all his poems may be divided into three classes,—pure dramas, like Strafford and A Blot in the 'Scutcheon; dramatic narratives, like Pippa Passes, which are dramatic in form, but were not meant to be acted; and dramatic lyrics, like The Last Ride Together, which are short poems expressing some strong personal emotion, or describing some dramatic episode in human life, and in which the hero himself generally tells the story.
Though Browning is often compared with Shakespeare, the reader will understand that he has very little of Shakespeare's dramatic talent. He cannot bring a group of people together and let the actions and words of his characters show us the comedy and tragedy of human life. Neither can the author be disinterested, satisfied, as Shakespeare was, with life itself, without drawing any moral conclusions. Browning has always a moral ready, and insists upon giving us his own views of life, which Shakespeare never does. His dramatic power lies in depicting what he himself calls the history of a soul. Sometimes, as in Paracelsus, he endeavors to trace the progress of the human spirit. More often he takes some dramatic moment in life, some crisis in the ceaseless struggle between good and evil, and describes with wonderful insight the hero's own thoughts and feelings; but he almost invariably tells us how, at such and such a point, the good or the evil in his hero must inevitably have triumphed. And generally, as in "My Last Duchess," the speaker adds a word here and there, aside from the story, which unconsciously shows the kind of man he is. It is this power of revealing the soul from within that causes Browning to fascinate those who study him long enough. His range is enormous, and brings all sorts and conditions of men under analysis. The musician in "Abt Vogler," the artist in "Andrea del Sarto," the early Christian in "A Death in the Desert," the Arab horseman in "Muteykeh," the sailor in "Herve Kiel," the mediaeval knight in "Childe Roland," the Hebrew in "Saul," the Greek in "Balaustion's Adventure," the monster in "Caliban," the immortal dead in "Karshish,"—all these and a hundred more histories of the soul show Browning's marvelous versatility. It is this great range of sympathy with many different types of life that constitutes Browning's chief likeness to Shakespeare, though otherwise there is no comparison between the two men.
If we separate all these dramatic poems into three main periods,—the early, from 1833 to 1841; the middle, from 1841 to 1868; and the late, from 1868 to 1889,—the work of the beginner will be much more easily designated. Of his early soul studies, Pauline (1833), Paracelsus (1835), and Sordello (1840), little need be said here, except perhaps this: that if we begin with these works, we shall probably never read anything else by Browning. And that were a pity. It is better to leave these obscure works until his better poems have so attracted us to Browning that we will cheerfully endure his worst faults for the sake of his undoubted virtues. The same criticism applies, though in less degree, to his first drama, Strafford (1837), which belongs to the early period of his work.
The merciless criticism which greeted Sordello had a wholesome effect on Browning, as is shown in the better work of his second period. Moreover, his new power was developing rapidly, as may be seen by comparing the eight numbers of his famous Bells and Pomegranates series (1841-1846) with his earlier work. Thus, the first number of this wonderful series, published in 1841, contains Pippa Passes, which is, on the whole, the most perfect of his longer poems; and another number contains A Blot in the 'Scutcheon, which is the most readable of his dramas. Even a beginner must be thrilled by the beauty and the power of these two works. Two other noteworthy dramas of the period are Colombe's Birthday (1844) and In a Balcony (1855), which, however, met with scant appreciation on the stage, having too much subtle analysis and too little action to satisfy the public. Nearly all his best lyrics, dramas, and dramatic poems belong to this middle period of labor; and when The Ring and the Book appeared, in 1868, he had given to the world the noblest expression of his poetic genius.
In the third period, beginning when Browning was nearly sixty years old, he wrote even more industriously than before, and published on an average nearly a volume of poetry a year. Such volumes as Fifine at the Fair, Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, The Inn Album, Jocoseria, and many others, show how Browning gains steadily in the power of revealing the hidden springs of human action; but he often rambles most tiresomely, and in general his work loses in sustained interest. It is perhaps significant that most of his best work was done under Mrs. Browning's influence.
WHAT TO READ. Of the short miscellaneous poems there is such an unusual variety that one must hesitate a little in suggesting this or that to the beginner's attention. "My Star," "Evelyn Hope," "Wanting is—What?" "Home Thoughts from Abroad," "Meeting at Night," "One Word More" (an exquisite tribute to his dead wife), "Prospice" (Look Forward); songs from Pippa Passes; various love poems like "By the Fireside" and "The Last Ride Together"; the inimitable "Pied Piper," and the ballads like "Herve Riel" and "How They Brought the Good News,"—these are a mere suggestion, expressing only the writer's personal preference; but a glance at the contents of Browning's volumes will reveal scores of other poems, which another writer might recommend as being better in themselves or more characteristic of Browning.
Among Browning's dramatic soul studies there is also a very wide choice. "Andrea del Sarto" is one of the best, revealing as it does the strength and the weakness of "the perfect painter," whose love for a soulless woman with a pretty face saddens his life and hampers his best work. Next in importance to "Andrea" stands "An Epistle," reciting the experiences of Karshish, an Arab physician, which is one of the best examples of Browning's peculiar method of presenting the truth. The half-scoffing, half-earnest, and wholly bewildered state of this Oriental scientist's mind is clearly indicated between the lines of his letter to his old master. His description of Lazarus, whom he meets by chance, and of the state of mind of one who, having seen the glories of immortality, must live again in the midst of the jumble of trivial and stupendous things which constitute our life, forms one of the most original and suggestive poems in our literature. "My Last Duchess" is a short but very keen analysis of the soul of a selfish man, who reveals his character unconsciously by his words of praise concerning his dead wife's picture. In "The Bishop Orders his Tomb" we have another extraordinarily interesting revelation of the mind of a vain and worldly man, this time a churchman, whose words tell you far more than he dreams about his own character. "Abt Vogler," undoubtedly one of Browning's finest poems, is the study of a musician's soul. "Muleykeh" gives us the soul of an Arab, vain and proud of his fast horse, which was never beaten in a race. A rival steals the horse and rides away upon her back; but, used as she is to her master's touch, she will not show her best pace to the stranger. Muleykeh rides up furiously; but instead of striking the thief from his saddle, he boasts about his peerless mare, saying that if a certain spot on her neck were touched with the rein, she could never be overtaken. Instantly the robber touches the spot, and the mare answers with a burst of speed that makes pursuit hopeless. Muleykeh has lost his mare; but he has kept his pride in the unbeaten one, and is satisfied. "Rabbi Ben Ezra," which refuses analysis, and which must be read entire to be appreciated, is perhaps the most quoted of all Browning's works, and contains the best expression of his own faith in life, both here and hereafter. All these wonderful poems are, again, merely a suggestion. They indicate simply the works to which one reader turns when he feels mentally vigorous enough to pick up Browning. Another list of soul studies, citing "A Toccata of Galuppi's," "A Grammarian's Funeral," "Fra Lippo Lippi," "Saul," "Cleon," "A Death in the Desert," and "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister," might, in another's judgment, be more interesting and suggestive.
[Pippa Passes] Among Browning's longer poems there are two, at least, that well deserve our study. Pippa Passes, aside from its rare poetical qualities, is a study of unconscious influence. The idea of the poem was suggested to Browning while listening to a gypsy girl singing in the woods near his home; but he transfers the scene of the action to the little mountain town of Asolo, in Italy. Pippa is a little silk weaver, who goes out in the morning to enjoy her one holiday of the whole year. As she thinks of her own happiness she is vaguely wishing that she might share it, and do some good. Then, with her childish imagination, she begins to weave a little romance in which she shares in the happiness of the four greatest and happiest people in Asolo. It never occurs to her that perhaps there is more of misery than of happiness in the four great ones of whom she dreams; and so she goes on her way singing,
The year's at the spring And day's at the morn; Morning's at seven; The hillside's dew-pearled; The lark's on the wing; The snail's on the thorn: God's in his heaven— All's right with the world!
Fate wills it that the words and music of her little songs should come to the ears of four different groups of people at the moment when they are facing the greatest crises of their lives, and turn the scale from evil to good. But Pippa knows nothing of this. She enjoys her holiday, and goes to bed still singing, entirely ignorant of the good she has done in the world. With one exception, it is the most perfect of all Browning's works. At best it is not easy, nor merely entertaining reading; but it richly repays whatever hours we spend in studying it.
The Ring and the Book is Browning's masterpiece. It is an immense poem, twice as long as Paradise Lost, and longer by some two thousand lines than the Iliad; and before we begin the undoubted task of reading it, we must understand that there is no interesting story or dramatic development to carry us along. In the beginning we have an outline of the story, such as it is—a horrible story of Count Guido's murder of his beautiful young wife; and Browning tells us in detail just when and how he found a book containing the record of the crime and the trial. There the story element ends, and the symbolism of the book begins. The title of the poem is explained by the habit of the old Etruscan goldsmiths who, in making one of their elaborately chased rings, would mix the pure gold with an alloy, in order to harden it. When the ring was finished, acid was poured upon it; and the acid ate out the alloy, leaving the beautiful design in pure gold. Browning purposes to follow the same plan with his literary material, which consists simply of the evidence given at the trial of Guido in Rome, in 1698. He intends to mix a poet's fancy with the crude facts, and create a beautiful and artistic work.
The result of Browning's purpose is a series of monologues, in which the same story is retold nine different times by the different actors in the drama. The count, the young wife, the suspected priest, the lawyers, the Pope who presides at the trial,—each tells the story, and each unconsciously reveals the depths of his own nature in the recital. The most interesting of the characters are Guido, the husband, who changes from bold defiance to abject fear; Caponsacchi, the young priest, who aids the wife in her flight from her brutal husband, and is unjustly accused of false motives; Pompilia, the young wife, one of the noblest characters in literature, fit in all respects to rank with Shakespeare's great heroines; and the Pope, a splendid figure, the strongest of all Browning's masculine characters. When we have read the story, as told by these four different actors, we have the best of the poet's work, and of the most original poem in our language.
BROWNING'S PLACE AND MESSAGE. Browning's place in our literature will be better appreciated by comparison with his friend Tennyson, whom we have just studied. In one respect, at least, these poets are in perfect accord. Each finds in love the supreme purpose and meaning of life. In other respects, especially in their methods of approaching the truth, the two men are the exact opposites. Tennyson is first the artist and then the teacher; but with Browning the message is always the important thing, and he is careless, too careless, of the form in which it is expressed. Again, Tennyson is under the influence of the romantic revival, and chooses his subjects daintily; but "all's fish" that comes to Browning's net. He takes comely and ugly subjects with equal pleasure, and aims to show that truth lies hidden in both the evil and the good. This contrast is all the more striking when we remember that Browning's essentially scientific attitude was taken by a man who refused to study science. Tennyson, whose work is always artistic, never studied art, but was devoted to the sciences; while Browning, whose work is seldom artistic in form, thought that art was the most suitable subject for a man's study.
The two poets differ even more widely in their respective messages. Tennyson's message reflects the growing order of the age, and is summed up in the word "law." in his view, the individual will must be suppressed; the self must always be subordinate. His resignation is at times almost Oriental in its fatalism, and occasionally it suggests Schopenhauer in its mixture of fate and pessimism. Browning's message, on the other hand, is the triumph of the individual will over all obstacles; the self is not subordinate but supreme. There is nothing Oriental, nothing doubtful, nothing pessimistic in the whole range of his poetry. His is the voice of the Anglo-Saxon, standing up in the face of all obstacles and saying, "I can and I will." He is, therefore, far more radically English than is Tennyson; and it may be for this reason that he is the more studied, and that, while youth delights in Tennyson, manhood is better satisfied with Browning. Because of his invincible will and optimism, Browning is at present regarded as the poet who has spoken the strongest word of faith to an age of doubt. His energy, his cheerful courage, his faith in life and in the development that awaits us beyond the portals of death, are like a bugle-call to good living. This sums up his present influence upon the minds of those who have learned to appreciate him. Of the future we can only say that, both at home and abroad, he seems to be gaining steadily in appreciation as the years go by.
MINOR POETS OF THE VISTORIAN AGE
ELIZABETH BARRETT. Among the minor poets of the past century Elizabeth Barrett (Mrs. Browning) occupies perhaps the highest place in popular favor. She was born at Coxhoe Hall, near Durham, in 1806; but her childhood and early youth were spent in Herefordshire, among the Malvern Hills made famous by Piers Plowman. In 1835 the Barrett family moved to London, where Elizabeth gained a literary reputation by the publication of The Seraphim and Other Poems (1838). Then illness and the shock caused by the tragic death of her brother, in 1840, placed her frail life in danger, and for six years she was confined to her own room. The innate strength and beauty of her spirit here showed itself strongly in her daily study, her poetry, and especially in her interest in the social problems which sooner or later occupied all the Victorian writers. "My mind to me a kingdom is" might well have been written over the door of the room where this delicate invalid worked and suffered in loneliness and in silence.
In 1844 Miss Barrett published her Poems, which, though somewhat impulsive and overwrought, met with remarkable public favor. Such poems as "The Cry of the Children," which voices the protest of humanity against child labor, appealed tremendously to the readers of the age, and this young woman's fame as a poet temporarily overshadowed that of Tennyson and Browning. Indeed, as late as 1850, when Wordsworth died, she was seriously considered for the position of poet laureate, which was finally given to Tennyson. A reference to Browning, in "Lady Geraldine's Courtship," is supposed to have first led the poet to write to Miss Barrett in 1845. Soon afterwards he visited the invalid; they fell in love almost at first sight, and the following year, against the wishes of her father,—who was evidently a selfish old tyrant,—Browning carried her off and married her. The exquisite romance of their love is reflected in Mrs. Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850). This is a noble and inspiring book of love poems; and Stedman regards the opening sonnet, "I thought once how Theocritus had sung," as equal to any in our language.
For fifteen years the Brownings lived an ideally happy life at Pisa, and at Casa Guidi, Florence, sharing the same poetical ambitions. And love was the greatest thing in the world,—
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. I love thee to the level of everyday's Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight. I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise; I love thee with the passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith; I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints—I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.
Mrs. Browning entered with whole-souled enthusiasm into the aspirations of Italy in its struggle against the tyranny of Austria; and her Casa Guidi Windows (1851) is a combination of poetry and politics, both, it must be confessed, a little too emotional. In 1856 she published Aurora Leigh, a novel in verse, having for its hero a young social reformer, and for its heroine a young woman, poetical and enthusiastic, who strongly suggests Elizabeth Barrett herself. It emphasizes in verse precisely the same moral and social ideals which Dickens and George Eliot were proclaiming in all their novels. Her last two volumes were Poems before Congress (1860), and Last Poems, published after her death. She died suddenly in 1861 and was buried in Florence. Browning's famous line, "O lyric love, half angel and half bird," may well apply to her frail life and aerial spirit.
ROSSETTI. Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), the son of an exiled Italian painter and scholar, was distinguished both as a painter and as a poet. He was a leader in the Pre-Raphaelite movement and published in the first numbers of The Germ his "Hand and Soul," a delicate prose study, and his famous "The Blessed Damozel," beginning,
The blessed damozel leaned out From the gold bar of Heaven; Her eyes were deeper than the depth Of waters stilled at even; She had three lilies in her hand, And the stars in her hair were seven.
These two early works, especially "The Blessed Damozel," with its simplicity and exquisite spiritual quality, are characteristic of the ideals of the Pre-Raphaelites.
In 1860, after a long engagement, Rossetti married Elizabeth Siddal, a delicate, beautiful English girl, whom he has immortalized both in his pictures and in his poetry. She died two years later, and Rossetti never entirely recovered from the shock. At her burial he placed in her coffin the manuscripts of all his unpublished poems, and only at the persistent demands of his friends did he allow them to be exhumed and printed in 1870. The publication of this volume of love poems created a sensation in literary circles, and Rossetti was hailed as one of the greatest of living poets. In 1881 he published his Ballads and Sonnets, a remarkable volume containing, among other poems, "The Confession," modeled after Browning; "The Ballad of Sister Helen," founded on a mediaeval superstition; "The King's Tragedy," a masterpiece of dramatic narrative; and "The House of Life," a collection of one hundred and one sonnets reflecting the poet's love and loss. This last collection deserves to rank with Mrs. Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese and with Shakespeare's Sonnets, as one of the three great cycles of love poems in our language. It has been well said that both Rossetti and Morris paint pictures as well in their poems as on their canvases, and this pictorial quality of their verse is its chief characteristic.
MORRIS. William Morris (1834-1896) is a most interesting combination of literary man and artist. In the latter capacity, as architect, designer, and manufacturer of furniture, carpets, and wall paper, and as founder of the Kelmscott Press for artistic printing and bookbinding, he has laid us all under an immense debt of gratitude. From boyhood he had steeped himself in the legends and ideals of the Middle Ages, and his best literary work is wholly mediaeval in spirit. The Earthly Paradise (1868-1870) is generally regarded as his masterpiece. This delightful collection of stories in verse tells of a roving band of Vikings, who are wrecked on the fabled island of Atlantis, and who discover there a superior race of men having the characteristics of ideal Greeks. The Vikings remain for a year, telling stories of their own Northland, and listening to the classic and Oriental tales of their hosts. Morris's interest in Icelandic literature is further shown by his Sigurd the Volsung, an epic founded upon one of the old sagas, and by his prose romances, The House of the Wolfings, The Story of the Glittering Plain, and The Roots of the Mountains. Later in life he became deeply interested in socialism, and two other romances, The Dream of John Ball and News from Nowhere, are interesting as modern attempts at depicting an ideal society governed by the principles of More's Utopia.
SWINBURNE. Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) is, chronologically, the last of the Victorian poets. As an artist in technique—having perfect command of all old English verse forms and a remarkable faculty for inventing new—he seems at the present time to rank among the best in our literature. Indeed, as Stedman says, "before his advent we did not realize the full scope of English verse." This refers to the melodious and constantly changing form rather than to the content of Swinburne's poetry. At the death of Tennyson, in 1892, he was undoubtedly the greatest living poet, and only his liberal opinions, his scorn of royalty and of conventions, and the prejudice aroused by the pagan spirit of his early work prevented his appointment as poet laureate. He has written a very large number of poems, dramas, and essays in literary criticism; but we are still too near to judge of the permanence of his work or of his place in literature. Those who would read and estimate his work for themselves will do well to begin with a volume of selected poems, especially those which show his love of the sea and his exquisite appreciation of child life. His Atalanta in Calydon (1864), a beautiful lyric drama modeled on the Greek tragedy, is generally regarded as his masterpiece. In all his work Swinburne carries Tennyson's love of melody to an extreme, and often sacrifices sense to sound. His poetry is always musical, and, like music, appeals almost exclusively to the emotions.
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We have chosen, somewhat arbitrarily, these four writers—Mrs. Browning, D. G. Rossetti, Morris, and Swinburne—as representative of the minor poets of the age; but there are many others who are worthy of study,—Arthur Hugh Clough and Matthew Arnold, who are often called the poets of skepticism, but who in reality represent a reverent seeking for truth through reason and human experience; Frederick William Faber, the Catholic mystic, author of some exquisite hymns; and the scholarly John Keble, author of The Christian Year, our best known book of devotional verse; and among the women poets, Adelaide Procter, Jean Ingelow, and Christina Rossetti, each of whom had a large, admiring circle of readers. It would be a hopeless task at the present time to inquire into the relative merits of all these minor poets. We note only their careful workmanship and exquisite melody, their wide range of thought and feeling, their eager search for truth, each in his own way, and especially the note of freshness and vitality which they have given to English poetry.
II. THE NOVELISTS OF THE VICTORIAN AGE
CHARLES DICKENS (1812-1870)
When we consider Dickens's life and work, in comparison with that of the two great poets we have been studying, the contrast is startling. While Tennyson and Browning were being educated for the life of literature, and shielded most tenderly from the hardships of the world, Dickens, a poor, obscure, and suffering child, was helping to support a shiftless family by pasting labels on blacking bottles, sleeping under a counter like a homeless cat, and once a week timidly approaching the big prison where his father was confined for debt. In 1836 his Pickwick was published, and life was changed as if a magician had waved his wand over him. While the two great poets were slowly struggling for recognition, Dickens, with plenty of money and too much fame, was the acknowledged literary hero of England, the idol of immense audiences which gathered to applaud him wherever he appeared. And there is also this striking contrast between the novelist and the poets,—that while the whole tendency of the age was toward realism, away from the extremes of the romanticists and from the oddities and absurdities of the early novel writers, it was precisely by emphasizing oddities and absurdities, by making caricatures rather than characters, that Dickens first achieved his popularity.