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eration in its favours ; but its poem of all others in English, or effect at first was not perhaps so far as we are aware in any lanwhat might be thought. There guage, which gives a voice and were (and are) in fact harsh utterance to the varying moods, the verses in it, break-jaw passages passion and the calm of grief, the about fixing the limits of know- longing memories that mingle themledge, about nature, red in tooth selves with a thousand new currents and claw, and other matters as of thought, yet return and return, little poetical. And the critics like the circles of the lark, to the objected that sorrow does not speak lowly bed in which all centre. To in so long a strain nor with such have done this, in poetry which is breaks of philosophy and argument almost always beautiful and often and such pauses for discussion, most touching in its pathos and in all of which objections there profound humanity, is glory enough was a certain truth. But, notwith- for a man, and the world was so standing, “ In Memoriam ” has much the poorer when her Majesty grown into the popular heart. We began to reign, that there was as can find nothing in the language yet no such litany and ritual of to place beside it. “ Lycidas” and grief. Other men have raised mon" Adonais” are elegies, lamentations uments, and precious ones, to those over the dead made glorious by his they have lost; Tennyson alone has ending, whose going away has filled embodied the endless vicissitudes the earth with sorrow, whose dis- of the sorrowing heart, the worldappearance is as the failing of the wide atmosphere through which our sun from the day or the heavenly individual loss breathes a chill and stars from the night. But Ten penetrating sense of vacancy which nyson's inspiration is a different all the universe cannot fill up.
It is the reverie of a bereaved There are some critics who affect and stricken soul, which he puts to despise the sane and wholesome into a music most tender, most limits within which this great poet melancholy, the very voice of that has seen it meet to confine himself, grief which cannot exhaust itself who call his high reticence and in any passion or storm of mourn- moral purity feminine, and accuse ing, but which is the chief occupa- him of bringing down the issues of tion, the prevailing sentiment of life to the atmosphere of the draw. the mind. The soft cadences of the ing-rooms. But Tennyson's poetry verse wander from earth to heaven, will remain, we do not doubt, the from heaven to earth, like the wild highest expression of the mind of and wandering thoughts which his age—an age which unfortunhave one centre to which they al- ately, is no longer quite this age, ways return. Sick fancies come and the happier simpler period of the go, and now the mind will follow reign, when for a time the standard one suggestion, now another, inter- of society seemed altogether higher rogating the spheres, questioning and purer, when the scandals of with itself, soaring like a bird al. the past seemed to have died away most out of sight of its trouble, in a clearer moral atmosphere, dropping down again low to the wherein noxious things could not grasses of the grave, always return- live. It is no reproach either to ing to the one predominant mem- the Laureate or the Queen if that ory, the loss which never can be fine moment did not last. And forgotten, the pang that will not poetry, like society, when less be stilled. In this way it is the lofty, more sensual and earthly, is
apt to claim for itself the credit of ing, elucidating, and repeating a stronger manhood-a claim as everything he has to say. The unfounded as it is derogatory both defect is invisible in the wonderto, human nature and to art. Mr fully pathetic picture of Andrea Swinburne has carried into more del Sarto, in the fine, keen, clear luscious sweetness the melody of physiognomy of the Greek Cleon, words; but that broader and larger and in some of the other wondernature which stretches far beyond ful studies of human thought and the monotone of passion has little meaning which are in this fine place in the sweetness, long drawn collection. The poet throws himout, of his new fashion.
self back into the being of his It is more difficult to character- temporary hero with an insight ise Mr. Browning's poetry than and comprehension, a visible force that of his illustrious contempor- and vividness, which give singular ary. He has had the misfortune, reality to the picture-a mode of a little from his excellences, but treatment new to poetry, and as still more from his peculiarities effective as it is original. It is which are not excellent, to attract always the most exacting and diffito himself the mystical worship cult of literary studies to set forth of a sect which goes far at present a man in his own language, in a to make the poet ridiculous. But portion of his own existence, not he is not to blame if the difficul- acting even but thinking, disclosties of his enunciation have pro- ing the secrets of his own being, duced a bizarre worship which is and, above all, to do this within to the glorification of the wor- a limited space, which gives no lishippers rather than that of their cence for external description, nor idol. We can only regret that any accumulation of accessories. these uncouth rites have beguiled They highest gifts of the historian him into continuing a series of are sometimes occupied in the acmetaphysical studies which dis- complishment from without of courage the true lover of poetry, such portraits, and there can be and intensify the veil which hangs little doubt that the habit and between so admirable a poet power of doing this has added a and the appreciation of the rea- wonderful attraction and grace to sonable world. It is unnecessary history. But such characterisato speak of “Sordello" or even of
tions are little known in poetry. “Paracelsus,” or these finely poeti- They have hitherto been confined cal but impracticable dramas which to the drama, where indeed it is cannot even by the enthusiasm of only by his own interpretation the illuminati be buoyed into life. that we understand the hero; but Perhaps Mr Browning is at his where he has at least the events of greatest in the Men and Women,' a highly wrought episode, an exwhich stand in the middle of his citing series of incidents, to make poetical career, when his faculties his revelation by. Mr Browning were at their finest, and his powers has put aside all such aids in those least hampered by the inadequacy wonderful little pieces of work. of words. There is nothing finer The melancholy painter in his in the language than some of these evening talk, half musing, half poems, especially those in which speech, with the sense of his failhe has confined the redundancy ure aching at his heart, and the into which his laboured utterance still more miserable consciousleads him, the necessity of explain- ness of what he might have been and done—subdued to pa- strain. Once again we disavow thetic calm by that quiet despair all ideas of competition with and sense of the conclusion of all Shakespeare. Mr Browning's possibilities—is such a perfect pic- mind is not Shakespearian in any ture as no other art could make, sense of the word. But it is not and overwhelms us with the pathos necessary to be of the stature of of a self-portraiture from which all Jove, in order to stand high self-deceptions have died away. among the gods. In the persons The completeness of the mourn- of Lord Tennyson and Mr Brownful vision, which is not without a ing, our half-century need not fear smile at itself and at all the de- to hold up its head in the comlusions that are over, and that pany of the ages. profound consciousness of defeat We will not discuss the younger which has so few expositors, yet band, whose position is yet not which is perhaps the most deeply wholly ascertained. Mr Swinburne, moving of all the experiences of indeed, has made his mark; and posexistence, convey to our minds terity is not likely to reverse the a pang of pity and sympathy. decision with which his own geneQuite different, on the very oppo- ration has crowned this master of site edge of life, is the experi- exquisite words and all the music ence of the poet, the all-accom- that can be put into verse-all the plished, all-fortunate Greek, to music, but perhaps less than the whose dignified retirement the due amount of meaning. Rossetti, offerings and the adoration of to whom the completeness of the princely admirers come, and who preterite has come, has his own is surrounded by everything beau- niche in the Temple of Fame-a tiful and rare, and the conscious- conspicuous one, yet never, we ness of having done all that ge- think, to be a centre of that uninius and good fortune can—yet versal consent of love and interest whose sigh out of his old age and which is the meed of a great poet. that one inevitable failure of wan- He is a poet who never ceases to ing life which makes the great poet be a painter; nor does he in his in his greatness less than the vigor- most exalted moments of mystic ous manhood of the slave whose spiritualism ever break that bond muscles he casts a passing, admir- of Aesh and circumstance which is ing, half-contemptuous, half-envi- necessary to his original art. His ous glance at, as he raises his head Blessed Damozel is as ready as from his tablets—is little less sad any large-eyed model to be rethan that of the painter. The produced on canvas. No man can reader, whose verdict after all is paint a soul; therefore it is entirely that of final fame_he who pretends comprehensible that the heavenly to no profounder insight, but vision, as revealed to a painter's judges the highest poetry as well eyes, should warm with the presas the commonest prose by the sure of her bosom the bar upon light of reason and nature—will which she leans, looking out for her find in this fine series nothing to lover. But it is not celestial; nor alarm him or unduly tax his un- is it thus that the great poets derstanding, and much that he realise the unseen. Mr Matthew will find nowhere else,—the work- Arnold is a most accomplished and ings of a very powerful and phi- distinguished writer; but our own losophical mind, combined with mind is not made up about his a poetical genius of the highest poetry, though it has, no doubt,
reached a large degree of appreci- the world, and the profounder pasation, especially among the culti- sion of maternal love which convated classes. So has Mr William quers shame—are very fine and Morris. In our present undecided true. This poem has fallen a little frame of mind, we are disposed to out of sight amid the crowds of think that the fare provided by modern competition, as everything both these poets is of the nature does; but it must always find an of luxury—a something above and honourable place in the literary beyond the necessities of living. records of Queen Victoria's reign. Perhaps some readers will think In the dignified realm of hisall poetry partakes of this char- tory during those fifty years, we acter. We are not, however, of have the growth of a new and that opinion. Great poetry is daily brilliant school to record. Hisbread.
tory was more serious than enterIt would be at once unjust and taining fifty years ago. It aiined untender to pass over, in the re- at an authoritative standing, and cord of these fifty years of poetry, to fix the canon of what was and the name of Elizabeth Barrett what was not to be believed. In Browning, who is perhaps, taken those days Hallam was in the all in all, the greatest Woman- front of literature, with his grave poet whom England has known. and deeply considered record of No woman, so far as we know, has the English constitution—one of ever been a great poet, or attained those unique and final books which the level of the highest. But may originate an entire school, among those who have at all ap- but are never themselves put out proached that level, Mrs Browning of date; and we had the brilliant holds the first place. Some of her military pictures of Sir William sonnets (so called) from the Portu- Napier to carry on the existing guese are exquisite in their tender- recollection, which had not yet ness and beauty; and her only died out of men's minds, of the sustained effort, Aurora Leigh,' great wars which England hoped has much power and sweetness, had pacified the world. And Sir and a force of subdued but sus- Archibald Alison had begun that tained enthusiasm which is very great history of Europe--great in impressive. Although it touches volume and in subject—which so upon a loathsome subject, with many years were necessary to comthat curious attraction in repul- plete. But in these great works sion which seems to move the the subjects were approached from feminine mind towards what it the point of view of a scientific most hates, the poem is full of perspective, and the writers did the finest thought and of that not propose to themselves to rival love of love and all things lovely the most vivid romancer in imawhich gives one of its deepest ginative realisation and reproduccharms to poetry. The fresh and tion. Napier, it is true, was alpeaceful English landscape, the ways vivid, always brilliant, with w old miraculous mountains heav- the energetic genius of his race-ing forth,” as Italy, almost more a soldier even when a historian. beloved than England, comes in But the muse of History, in all her sight—and the corresponding pic- seriousness, still led the serious tures of life and thought, the glow footsteps of her servants through of feeling in the young enthusiasts the straight road, the king's highwho feel it their mission to reclaim way of important events. The
first historian of her Majesty's readers breathless through even reign, Lord Mahon, continued in the survey and estimate of the the same traditions, in his pre- condition of the country at the cise, correct, and not inelegant great Revolution, which in almost history of the eighteenth century, any other hands would have been which continues to hold its place a chapter of reference, to be folas a trustworthy and impartiallowed to its end only by the narrative of an age full of import- plodding reader or careful student. ant decisions, more picturesque This book, we may venture to say, than our own, and in many re- changed the fashion of historical spects the turning-point of national writing, and was in itself a literary life. The first of the Victorian revoluton. It was not an imparhistorians was not a brilliant tial history. There are those who writer, nor was there much that affirm that it is not even trustwas novel or striking in his views; worthy in many details; that its but he did his work with great view throughout is a Whig view; accuracy and care, and at one por- that its author carried his party tion of his narrative, that in which prejudices with him, and darkened the unhappy house of Stuart the shadows and heightened the made its last romantic attempt to lights in a manner which added recover the throne, and under- relief and animation to the picture went the last disastrous catas- as well as splendour to the trophe, almost rises into the heroic achievements of his hero; but style which becomes so tragic a which anything but that subject. But eloquence was not calm balance and judicial estimate the characteristic of the book, which had been expected from which, in general, was very calm, history. No doubt there was a regular, and systematic-a duty certain foundation for those comand necessity, rather than a plea- plaints; but this new impulse has sure, to read.
been carried so much further since This work however was, at then, and has found its issue in the moment of its appearance, so many partisan records and and as a matter of literature, highly coloured narratives, that far less important than the great we turn back to Macaulay with outburst of a new style and relief, feeling that the malicious school, the brilliant and dazzling pleasure he perhaps felt in lightly volumes in which a writer al- impaling a Quaker courtier was ready known, who had leapt in- at least pardonable, and that the to the literary field, with a style careless contempt with which he singularly formed and polished, in sometimes sweeps aside explanathe very heat of youth, now took tions and motives which on the the world by storm. Macaulay other side he gives the utmost had already gained an important force of his skill to elaborate and reputation in various fields. He set forth, was, on the whole, less had made his mark in Parliament, wilfully injurious to the opposite he had done excellent work in party than naturally favourable India, he had contributed many to his own. It is one thing to striking essays to the · Edinburgh incline with a higher appreciation Review.' But the public was to those views and leaders on scarcely prepared for a work which whom one's eyes have been bent was as enthralling in its interest by all the traditions of breeding as any romance, and carried its and paity, and another to fix with