Literary and General Lectures and Essays
Charles Kingsley

Part 1 out of 5


Transcribed by David Price, email


Contents: {0}
The Stage as it was Once
Thoughts on Shelley and Byron
Alexander Smith and Alexander Pope
Burns and his School
The Poetry of Sacred and Legendary Art
On English Composition
On English Literature
Grots and Groves
Hours with the Mystics
Frederick Denison Maurice: In Memoriam


Let us think for a while upon what the Stage was once, in a republic
of the past--what it may be again, I sometimes dream, in some
republic of the future. In order to do this, let me take you back in
fancy some 2314 years--440 years before the Christian era, and try to
sketch for you--alas! how clumsily--a great, though tiny people, in
one of their greatest moments--in one of the greatest moments, it may
be, of the human race. For surely it is a great and a rare moment
for humanity, when all that is loftiest in it--when reverence for the
Unseen powers, reverence for the heroic dead, reverence for the
fatherland, and that reverence, too, for self, which is expressed in
stateliness and self-restraint, in grace and courtesy; when all
these, I say, can lend themselves, even for a day, to the richest
enjoyment of life--to the enjoyment of beauty in form and sound, and
of relaxation, not brutalising, but ennobling.

Rare, alas! have such seasons been in the history of poor humanity.
But when they have come, they have lifted it up one stage higher
thenceforth. Men, having been such once, may become such again; and
the work which such times have left behind them becomes immortal.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.

Let me take you to the then still unfurnished theatre of Athens, hewn
out of the limestone rock on the south-east slope of the Acropolis.

Above are the new marble buildings of the Parthenon, rich with the
statues and bas-reliefs of Phidias and his scholars, gleaming white
against the blue sky, with the huge bronze statue of Athene
Promachos, fifty feet in height, towering up among the temples and
colonnades. In front, and far below, gleams the blue sea, and
Salamis beyond.

And there are gathered the people of Athens--fifty thousand of them,
possibly, when the theatre was complete and full. If it be fine,
they all wear garlands on their heads. If the sun be too hot, they
wear wide-brimmed straw hats. And if a storm comes on, they will
take refuge in the porticoes beneath; not without wine and cakes, for
what they have come to see will last for many an hour, and they
intend to feast their eyes and ears from sunrise to sunset. On the
highest seats are slaves and freedmen, below them the free citizens;
and on the lowest seats of all are the dignitaries of the republic--
the priests, the magistrates, and the other [Greek]--the fair and
good men--as the citizens of the highest rank were called, and with
them foreign ambassadors and distinguished strangers. What an
audience! the rapidest, subtlest, wittiest, down to the very cobblers
and tinkers, the world has ever seen. And what noble figures on
those front seats; Pericles, with Aspasia beside him, and all his
friends--Anaxagoras the sage, Phidias the sculptor, and many another
immortal artist; and somewhere among the free citizens, perhaps
beside his father Sophroniscus the sculptor, a short, square, pug-
nosed boy of ten years old, looking at it all with strange eyes--"who
will be one day," so said the Pythoness at Delphi, "the wisest man in
Greece"--sage, metaphysician, humorist, warrior, patriot, martyr--for
his name is Socrates.

All are in their dresses of office; for this is not merely a day of
amusement, but of religions ceremony; sacred to Dionysos--Bacchus,
the inspiring god, who raises men above themselves, for good--or for

The evil, or at least the mere animal aspect of that inspiration, was
to be seen in forms grotesque and sensuous enough in those very
festivals, when the gayer and coarser part of the population, in town
and country, broke out into frantic masquerade--of which the silly
carnival of Rome is perhaps the last paltry and unmeaning relic--
"when," as the learned O. Muller says, "the desire of escaping from
self into something new and strange, of living in an imaginary world,
broke forth in a thousand ways; not merely in revelry and solemn
though fantastic songs, but in a hundred disguises, imitating the
subordinate beings--satyrs, pans, and nymphs, by whom the god was
surrounded, and through whom life seemed to pass from him into
vegetation, and branch off into a variety of beautiful or grotesque
forms--beings who were ever present to the fancy of the Greeks, as a
convenient step by which they could approach more nearly to the
presence of the Divinity." But even out of that seemingly bare
chaos, Athenian genius was learning how to construct, under Eupolis,
Cratinus, and Aristophanes, that elder school of comedy, which
remains not only unsurpassed, but unapproachable, save by Rabelais
alone, as the ideal cloudland of masquerading wisdom, in which the
whole universe goes mad--but with a subtle method in its madness.

Yes, so it has been, under some form or other, in every race and
clime--ever since Eve ate of the magic fruit, that she might be as a
god, knowing good and evil, and found, poor thing, as most have
since, that it was far easier and more pleasant to know the evil than
to know the good. But that theatre was built that men might know
therein the good as well as the evil. To learn the evil, indeed,
according to their light, and the sure vengeance of Ate and the
Furies which tracks up the evil-doer. But to learn also the good--
lessons of piety, patriotism, heroism, justice, mercy, self-
sacrifice, and all that comes out of the hearts of men and women not
dragged _below_, but raised _above_ themselves; and behind all--at
least in the nobler and earlier tragedies of AEschylus and Sophocles,
before Euripides had introduced the tragedy of mere human passion;
that sensation tragedy, which is the only one the world knows now,
and of which the world is growing rapidly tired--behind all, I say,
lessons of the awful and unfathomable mystery of human existence--of
unseen destiny; of that seemingly capricious distribution of weal and
woe, to which we can find no solution on this side the grave, for
which the old Greek could find no solution whatsoever.

Therefore there was a central object in the old Greek theatre, most
important to it, but which did not exist in the old Roman, and does
not exist in our theatres, because our tragedies, like the Roman, are
mere plays concerning love, murder, and so forth, while the Greek
were concerning the deepest relations of man to the Unseen.

The almost circular orchestra, or pit, between the benches and the
stage, was empty of what we call spectators--because it was destined
for the true and ideal spectators--the representatives of humanity;
in its centre was a round platform, the [Greek]--originally the altar
of Bacchus--from which the leader of these representatives, the
leader of the Chorus, could converse with the actors on the stage and
take his part in the drama; and round this thymele the Chorus ranged
with measured dance and song, chanting, to the sound of a simple
flute, odes such as the world had never heard before or since, save
perhaps in the temple-worship at Jerusalem. A chorus now, as you
know, merely any number of persons singing in full harmony on any
subject. The Chorus was then in tragedy, and indeed in the higher
comedy, what Schlegel well calls "the ideal spectator"--a personified
reflection on the action going on, the incorporation into the
representation itself of the sentiments of the poet, as the spokesman
of the whole human race. He goes on to say (and I think truly),
"that the Chorus always retained among the Greeks a peculiar national
signification, publicity being, according to their republican
notions, essential to the completeness of every important
transaction." Thus the Chorus represented idealised public opinion;
not, of course, the shifting hasty public opinion of the moment--to
that it was a conservative check, and it calmed it to soberness and
charity--for it was the matured public opinion of centuries; the
experience, and usually the sad experience, of many generations; the
very spirit of the Greek race.

The Chorus might be composed of what the poet would. Of ancient
citizens, waiting for their sons to come back from the war, as in the
"Agamemnon" of AEschylus; of sea-nymphs, as in his "Prometheus
Bound;" even of the very Furies who hunt the matricide, as in his
"Eumenides;" of senators, as in the "Antigone" of Sophocles; or of
village farmers, as in his "OEdipus at Colonos"--and now I have named
five of the greatest poems, as I hold, written by mortal man till
Dante rose. Or it may be the Chorus was composed--as in the comedies
of Aristophanes, the greatest humorist the world has ever seen--of
birds, or of frogs, or even of clouds. It may rise to the level of
Don Quixote, or sink to that of Sancho Panza; for it is always the
incarnation of such wisdom, heavenly or earthly, as the poet wishes
the people to bring to bear on the subject-matter.

But let the poets themselves, rather than me, speak awhile. Allow me
to give you a few specimens of these choruses--the first as an
example of that practical and yet surely not un-divine wisdom, by
which they supplied the place of our modern preacher, or essayist, or
didactic poet.

Listen to this of the old men's chorus in the "Agamemnon," in the
spirited translation of my friend Professor Blackie:

'Twas said of old, and 'tis said to-day,
That wealth to prosperous stature grown
Begets a birth of its own:
That a surfeit of evil by good is prepared,
And sons must bear what allotment of woe
Their sires were spared.
But this I refuse to believe: I know
That impious deeds conspire
To beget an offspring of impious deeds
Too like their ugly sire.
But whoso is just, though his wealth like a river
Flow down, shall be scathless: his house shall rejoice
In an offspring of beauty for ever.

The heart of the haughty delights to beget
A haughty heart. From time to time
In children's children recurrent appears
The ancestral crime.
When the dark hour comes that the gods have decreed
And the Fury burns with wrathful fires,
A demon unholy, with ire unabated,
Lies like black night on the halls of the fated;
And the recreant Son plunges guiltily on
To perfect the guilt of his Sires.

But Justice shines in a lowly cell;
In the homes of poverty, smoke-begrimed,
With the sober-minded she loves to dwell.
But she turns aside
From the rich man's house with averted eye,
The golden-fretted halls of pride
Where hands with lucre are foul, and the praise
Of counterfeit goodness smoothly sways;
And wisely she guides in the strong man's despite
All things to an issue of RIGHT.

Let me now give you another passage from the "Eumenides"--or
"Furies"--of AEschylus.

Orestes, Prince of Argos, you must remember, has avenged on his
mother Clytemnestra the murder of his father, King Agamemnon, on his
return from Troy. Pursued by the Furies, he takes refuge in the
temple of Apollo at Delphi, and then, still Fury-haunted, goes to
Athens, where Pallas Athene, the warrior-maiden, the tutelary goddess
of Athens, bids him refer his cause to the Areopagus, the highest
court of Athens, Apollo acting as his advocate, and she sitting as
umpire in the midst. The white and black balls are thrown into the
urn, and are equal; and Orestes is only delivered by the decision of
Athene--as the representative of the nearer race of gods, the
Olympians, the friends of man, in whose likeness man is made. The
Furies are the representatives of the older and darker creed--which
yet has a depth of truth in it--of the irreversible dooms which
underlie all nature; and which represent the Law, and not the Gospel,
the consequence of the mere act, independent of the spirit which has
prompted it.

They break out in fury against the overbearing arrogance of these
younger gods. Athene bears their rage with equanimity, addresses
them in the language of kindness, even of veneration, till these so
indomitable beings are unable to withstand the charm of her mild
eloquence. They are to have a sanctuary in the Athenian land, and to
be called no more Furies (Erinnys), but Eumenides--the _well-
conditioned_--the kindly goddesses. And all ends with a solemn
precession round the orchestra, with hymns of blessing, while the
terrible Chorus of the Furies, clothed in black, with blood-stained
girdles, and serpents in their hair, in masks having perhaps somewhat
of the terrific beauty of Medusa-masks, are convoyed to their new
sanctuary by a procession of children, women, and old men in purple
robes with torches in their hands, after Athene and the Furies have
sung, in response to each other, a chorus from which I must beg leave
to give you an extract or two:

Eldest Fury (Leader of the Chorus).

Far from thy dwelling, and far from thy border,
By the grace of my godhead benignant I order
The blight which may blacken the bloom of the trees.
Far from thy border, and far from thy dwelling,
Be the hot blast which shrivels the bud in its swelling,
The seed-rotting taint, and the creeping disease.
Thy flocks be still doubled, thy seasons be steady,
And when Hermes is near thee, thy hand be still ready
The Heaven-dropt bounty to seize.


Hear her words, my city's warders--
Fraught with blessings, she prevaileth
With Olympians and Infernals,
Dread Erinnys much revered.
Mortal faith she guideth plainly
To what goal she pleaseth, sending
Songs to some, to others days
With tearful sorrows dulled.


Far from thy border
The lawless disorder
That sateless of evil shall reign;
Far from thy dwelling,
The dear blood welling,
That taints thine own hearth with the slain.
When slaughter from slaughter
Shall flow like the water,
And rancour from rancour shall grow
But joy with joy blending,
Live, each to all lending;
And hating one-hearted the foe.
When bliss hath departed;
From love single-hearted,
A fountain of healing shall flow.


Wisely now the tongue of kindness
Thou hast found, the way of love.
And these terror-speaking faces
Now look wealth to me and mine.
Her so willing, ye more willing,
Now receive. This land and city,
On ancient right securely throned,
Shall shine for evermore.


Hail, and all hail, mighty people, be greeted,
On the sons of Athena shines sunshine the clearest.
Blest people, near Jove the Olympian seated.
And dear to the maiden his daughter the dearest.
Timely wise 'neath the wings of the daughter ye gather,
And mildly looks down on her children the Father.

Those of you here who love your country as well as the old Athenians
loved theirs, will feel at once the grand political significance of
such a scene, in which patriotism and religion become one--and feel,
too, the exquisite dramatic effect of the innocent, the weak, the
unwarlike, welcoming among them, without fear, because without guilt,
those ancient snaky-haired sisters, emblems of all that is most
terrible and most inscrutable, in the destiny of nations, of
families, and of men:

To their hallowed habitations
'Neath Ogygian earth's foundations
In that darksome hall
Sacrifice and supplication
Shall not fail. In adoration
Silent worship all.

Listen again, to the gentler patriotism of a gentler poet, Sophocles
himself. The village of Colonos, a mile from Athens, was his
birthplace; and in his "OEdipus Coloneus," he makes his Chorus of
village officials sing thus of their consecrated olive grove:

In good hap, stranger, to these rural seats
Thou comest, to this region's blest retreats,
Where white Colonos lifts his head,
And glories in the bounding steed.
Where sadly sweet the frequent nightingale
Impassioned pours his evening song,
And charms with varied notes each verdant vale,
The ivy's dark-green boughs among,
Or sheltered 'neath the clustering vine
Which, high above him forms a bower,
Safe from the sun or stormy shower,
Where frolic Bacchus often roves,
And visits with his fostering nymphs the groves,
Bathed in the dew of heaven each morn,
Fresh is the fair Narcissus born,
Of those great gods the crown of old;
The crocus glitters, robed in gold.
Here restless fountains ever murmuring glide,
And as their crisped streamlets play,
To feed, Cephisus, thine unfailing tide,
Fresh verdure marks their winding way.
Here oft to raise the tuneful song
The virgin band of Muses deigns,
And car-borne Aphrodite guides her golden reins.

Then they go on, this band of village elders, to praise the gods for
their special gifts to that small Athenian land. They praise Pallas
Athene, who gave their forefathers the olive; then Poseidon--Neptune,
as the Romans call him--who gave their forefathers the horse; and
something more--the ship--the horse of the sea, as they, like the old
Norse Vikings after them, delighted to call it

Our highest vaunt is this--Thy grace,
Poseidon, we behold,
The ruling curb, embossed with gold,
Controls the courser's managed pace,
Though loud, oh king, thy billows roar,
Our strong hands grasp the labouring oar,
And while the Nereids round it play,
Light cuts our bounding bark its way.

What a combination of fine humanities! Dance and song, patriotism
and religion, so often parted among us, have flowed together into one
in these stately villagers; each a small farmer; each a trained
soldier, and probably a trained seaman also; each a self-governed
citizen; and each a cultured gentleman, if ever there were gentlemen
on earth.

But what drama, doing, or action--for such is the meaning of the
word--is going on upon the stage, to be commented on by the
sympathising Chorus?

One drama, at least, was acted in Athens in that year--440 B.C.--
which you, I doubt not, know well--"Antigone," that of Sophocles,
which Mendelssohn has resuscitated in our own generation, by setting
it to music, divine indeed, though very different from the music to
which it was set, probably by Sophocles himself, at its first, and
for aught we know, its only representation; for pieces had not then,
as now, a run of a hundred nights and more. The Athenian genius was
so fertile, and the Athenian audience so eager for novelty, that new
pieces were demanded, and were forthcoming, for each of the great
festivals, and if a piece was represented a second time it was
usually after an interval of some years. They did not, moreover,
like the moderns, run every night to some theatre or other, as a part
of the day's amusement. Tragedy, and even comedy, were serious
subjects, calling out, not a passing sigh, or passing laugh, but all
the higher faculties and emotions. And as serious subjects were to
be expressed in verse and music, which gave stateliness, doubtless,
even to the richest burlesques of Aristophanes, and lifted them out
of mere street-buffoonery into an ideal fairyland of the grotesque,
how much more stateliness must verse and music have added to their
tragedy! And how much have we lost, toward a true appreciation of
their dramatic art, by losing almost utterly not only the laws of
their melody and harmony, but even the true metric time of their
odes!--music and metre, which must have surely been as noble as their
poetry, their sculpture, their architecture, possessed by the same
exquisite sense of form and of proportion. One thing we can
understand--how this musical form of the drama, which still remains
to us in lower shapes, in the oratorio, in the opera, must have
helped to raise their tragedies into that ideal sphere in which they
all, like the "Antigone," live and move. So ideal and yet so human;
nay rather, truly ideal, because truly human. The gods, the heroes,
the kings, the princesses of Greek tragedy were dear to the hearts of
Greek republicans, not merely as the founders of their states, not
merely as the tutelary deities, many of them, of their country: but
as men and women like themselves, only more vast; with mightier
wills, mightier virtues, mightier sorrows, and often mightier crimes;
their inward free-will battling, as Schlegel has well seen, against
outward circumstance and overruling fate, as every man should battle,
unless he sink to be a brute. "In tragedy," says Schlegel--uttering
thus a deep and momentous truth--"the gods themselves either come
forward as the servants of destiny and mediate executors of its
decrees, or approve themselves godlike only by asserting their
liberty of action and entering upon the same struggles with fate
which man himself has to encounter." And I believe this, that this
Greek tragedy, with its godlike men and manlike gods, and heroes who
had become gods by the very vastness of their humanity, was a
preparation, and it may be a necessary preparation, for the true
Christian faith in a Son of Man, who is at once utterly human and
utterly divine. That man is made in the likeness of God--is the root
idea, only half-conscious, only half-expressed, but instinctive,
without which neither the Greek Tragedies nor the Homeric Poems, six
hundred years before them, could have been composed. Doubtless the
idea that man was like a god degenerated too often into the idea that
the gods were like men, and as wicked. But that travestie of a great
truth is not confined to those old Greeks. Some so-called Christian
theories--as I hold--have sinned in that direction as deeply as the
Athenians of old.

Meanwhile, I say, that this long acquiescence in the conception of
godlike struggle, godlike daring, godlike suffering, godlike
martyrdom; the very conception which was so foreign to the
mythologies of any other race--save that of the Jews, and perhaps of
our own Teutonic forefathers--did prepare, must have prepared men to
receive as most rational and probable, as the satisfaction of their
highest instincts, the idea of a Being in whom all those partial rays
culminated in clear, pure light; of a Being at once utterly human and
utterly divine; who by struggle, suffering, self-sacrifice, without a
parallel, achieved a victory over circumstance and all the dark
powers which beleaguer main without a parallel likewise.

Take, as an example, the figure which you know best--the figure of
Antigone herself--devoting herself to be entombed alive, for the sake
of love and duty. Love of a brother, which she can only prove, alas!
by burying his corpse. Duty to the dead, an instinct depending on no
written law, but springing out of the very depth of those blind and
yet sacred monitions which prove that the true man is not an animal,
but a spirit; fulfilling her holy purpose, unchecked by fear,
unswayed by her sisters' entreaties. Hardening her heart
magnificently till her fate is sealed; and then after proving her
godlike courage, proving the tenderness of her womanhood by that
melodious wail over her own untimely death and the loss of marriage
joys, which some of you must know from the music of Mendelssohn, and
which the late Dean Milman has put into English thus:

Come, fellow-citizens, and see
The desolate Antigone.
On the last path her steps shall treed,
Set forth, the journey of the dead,
Watching, with vainly lingering gaze,
Her last, last sun's expiring rays.

Never to see it, never more,
For down to Acheron's dread shore,
A living victim am I led
To Hades' universal bed.
To my dark lot no bridal joys
Belong, nor o'er the jocund noise
Of hymeneal chant shall sound for me,
But death, cold death, my only spouse shall be.

Oh tomb! Oh bridal chamber! Oh deep-delved
And strongly-guarded mansion! I descend
To meet in your dread chambers all my kindred,
Who in dark multitudes have crowded down
Where Proserpine received the dead. But I,
The last--and oh how few more miserable!--
Go down, or ere my sands of life are run.

And let me ask you whether the contemplation of such a self-sacrifice
should draw you, should have drawn those who heard the tale nearer
to, or farther from, a certain cross which stood on Calvary some 1800
years ago? May not the tale of Antigone heard from mother or from
nurse have nerved ere now some martyr-maiden to dare and suffer in an
even holier cause?

But to return. This set purpose of the Athenian dramatists of the
best school to set before men a magnified humanity, explains much in
their dramas which seems to us at first not only strange but faulty.
The masks which gave one grand but unvarying type of countenance to
each well-known historic personage, and thus excluded the play of
feature, animated gesture, and almost all which we now consider as
"acting" proper; the thick-soled cothurni which gave the actor a more
than human stature; the poverty (according to our notions) of the
scenery, which usually represented merely the front of a palace or
other public place, and was often though not always unchanged during
the whole performance; the total absence, in fact, of anything like
that scenic illusion which most managers of theatres seem now to
consider as their highest achievement; the small number of the
actors, two, or at most three only, being present on the stage at
once,--the simplicity of the action, in which intrigue (in the
playhouse sense) and any complication of plot are utterly absent; all
this must have concentrated not the eye of the spectator on the
scene, but his ear upon the voice, and his emotions on the personages
who stood out before him without a background, sharp-cut and clear as
a group of statuary, which is the same, place it where you will,
complete in itself--a world of beauty, independent of all other
things and beings save on the ground on which it needs must stand.
It was the personage rather than his surroundings, which was to be
impressed by every word on the spectator's heart and intellect; and
the very essence of Greek tragedy is expressed in the still famous
words of Medea:

Che resta? Io.

Contrast this with the European drama--especially with the highest
form of it--our own Elizabethan. It resembles, as has been often
said in better words than mine, not statuary but painting. These
dramas affect colour, light, and shadow, background whether of town
or country, description of scenery where scenic machinery is
inadequate, all, in fact, which can blend the action and the actors
with the surrounding circumstances, without letting them altogether
melt into the circumstances; which can show them a part of the great
whole, by harmony or discord with the whole universe, down to the
flowers beneath their feet. This, too, had to be done: how it
became possible for even the genius of a Shakespeare to get it done,
I may with your leave hint to you hereafter. Why it was not given to
the Greeks to do it, I know not.

Let us at least thank them for what they did. One work was given
them, and that one they fulfilled as it had never been fulfilled
before; as it will never need to be fulfilled again; for the Greeks'
work was done not for themselves alone but for all races in all
times; and Greek Art is the heirloom of the whole human race; and
that work was to assert in drama, lyric, sculpture, music, gymnastic,
the dignity of man--the dignity of man which they perceived for the
most part with their intense aesthetic sense, through the beautiful
in man. Man with them was divine, inasmuch as he could perceive
beauty and be beautiful himself. Beauty might be physical,
aesthetic, intellectual, moral. But in proportion as a thing was
perfect it revealed its own perfection by its beauty. Goodness
itself was a form--though the highest form--of beauty. [Greek] meant
both the physically beautiful and the morally good; [Greek] both the
ugly and the bad.

Out of this root-idea sprang the whole of that Greek sculpture, which
is still, and perhaps ever will be, one of the unrivalled wonders of
the world.

Their first statues, remember, were statues of the gods. This is an
historic fact. Before B.C. 580 there were probably no statues in
Greece save those of deities. But of what form? We all know that
the usual tendency of man has been to represent his gods as more or
less monstrous. Their monstrosity may have been meant, as it was
certainly with the Mexican idols, and probably those of the Semitic
races of Syria and Palestine, to symbolise the ferocious passions
which they attributed to those objects of their dread, appeasable
alone by human sacrifice. Or the monstrosity, as with the hawk-
headed or cat-headed Egyptian idols, the winged bulls of Nineveh and
Babylon, the many-handed deities of Hindostan--merely symbolised
powers which could not, so the priest and the sculptor held, belong
to mere humanity. Now, of such monstrous forms of idols, the records
in Greece are very few and very ancient--relics of an older worship,
and most probably of an older race. From the earliest historic
period, the Greek was discerning more and more that the divine could
be best represented by the human; the tendency of his statuary was
more and more to honour that divine, by embodying it in the highest
human beauty.

In lonely mountain shrines there still might linger, feared and
honoured, dolls like those black virgins, of unknown antiquity, which
still work wonders on the European continent. In the mysterious
cavern of Phigalia, for instance, on the Eleatic shore of
Peloponnese, there may have been in remote times--so the legend ran--
an old black wooden image, a woman with a horse's head and mane, and
serpents growing round her head, who held a dolphin in one hand and a
dove in the other. And this image may have been connected with old
nature-myths about the marriage of Demeter and Poseidon--that is, of
encroachments of the sea upon the land; and the other myths of
Demeter, the earth-mother, may have clustered round the place, till
the Phigalians were glad--for it was profitable as well as
honourable--to believe that in their cavern Demeter sat mourning for
the loss of Proserpine, whom Pluto had carried down to Hades, and all
the earth was barren till Zeus sent the Fates, or Iris, to call her
forth, and restore fertility to the world. And it may be true--the
legend as Pausanias tells it 600 years after--that the old wooden
idol having been burnt, and the worship of Demeter neglected till a
famine ensued, the Phigalians, warned by the Oracle of Delphi, hired
Onatas, a contemporary of Polygnotus and Phidias, to make them a
bronze replica of the old idol, from some old copy and from a drama
of his own. The story may be true. When Pausanias went thither, in
the second century after Christ, the cave and the fountain, and the
sacred grove of oaks, and the altar outside, which was to be polluted
with the blood of no victim--the only offerings being fruits and
honey, and undressed wool--were still there. The statue was gone.
Some said it had been destroyed by the fall of the cliff; some were
not sure that it had ever been there at all. And meanwhile
Praxiteles had already brought to perfection (Paus. 1, 2, sec. 4) the
ideal of Demeter, mother-like, as Here--whom we still call Juno now--
but softer-featured, and her eyes more closed.

And so for mother earth, as for the rest, the best representation of
the divine was the human. Now, conceive such an idea taking hold,
however slowly, of a people of rare physical beauty, of acutest eye
for proportion and grace, with opportunities of studying the human
figure such as exist nowhere now, save among tropic savages, and
gifted, moreover, in that as in all other matters, with that inmate
diligence, of which Mr. Carlyle has said, "that genius is only an
infinite capacity of taking pains," and we can understand somewhat of
the causes which produced those statues, human and divine, which awe
and shame the artificiality and degeneracy of our modern so-called
civilisation--we can understand somewhat of the reverence for the
human form, of the careful study of every line, the storing up for
use each scattered fragment of beauty of which the artist caught
sight, even in his daily walks, and consecrating it in his memory to
the service of him or her whom he was trying to embody in marble or
in bronze. And when the fashion came in of making statues of victors
in the games, and other distinguished persons, a new element was
introduced, which had large social as well as artistic results. The
sculptor carried his usual reverence into his careful delineation of
the victor's form, while he obtained in him a model, usually of the
very highest type, for perfecting his idea of some divinity. The
possibility of gaining the right to a statue gave a fresh impulse to
all competitors in the public games, and through them to the
gymnastic training throughout all the states of Greece, which made
the Greeks the most physically able and graceful, as well as the most
beautiful people known to the history of the human race,--a people
who, reverencing beauty, reverenced likewise grace or acted beauty,
so utterly and honestly, that nothing was too humble for a free man
to do, if it were not done awkwardly and ill. As an instance,
Sophocles himself--over and above his poetic genius, one of the most
cultivated gentlemen, as well as one of the most exquisite musicians,
dancers, and gymnasts, and one of the most just, pious, and gentle of
all Greece--could not, by reason of the weakness of his voice, act in
his own plays, as poets were wont to do, and had to perform only the
office of stage-manager. Twice he took part in the action, once as
the blind old Thamyris playing on the harp, and once in his own lost
tragedy, the "Nausicaa." There in the scene in which the Princess,
as she does in Homer's "Odyssey," comes down to the sea-shore with
her maidens to wash the household clothes, and then to play at ball--
Sophocles himself, a man then of middle age, did the one thing he
could do better than any there--and, dressed in women's clothes,
among the lads who represented the maidens, played at ball before the
Athenian people.

Just sixty years after the representation of the "Antigone," 10,000
Greeks, far on the plains of Babylon, cut through the whole Persian
army, as the railway train cuts through a herd of buffalo, and then
losing all their generals by treacherous warfare, fought their way
north from Babylon to Trebizond on the Black Sea, under the guidance
of a young Athenian, a pupil of Socrates, who had never served in the
army before. The retreat of Xenophon and his 10,000 will remain for
ever as one of the grandest triumphs of civilisation over brute
force: but what made it possible? That these men, and their
ancestors before them, had been for at least 100 years in _training_,
physical, intellectual, and moral, which made their bodies and their
minds able to dare and suffer like those old heroes of whom their
tragedy had taught them, and whose spirits they still believed would
help the valiant Greek. And yet that feat, which looks to us so
splendid, attracted, as far as I am aware, no special admiration at
the time. So was the cultivated Greek expected to behave whenever he
came in contact with the uncultivated barbarian.

But from what had sprung in that little state, this exuberance of
splendid life, physical, aesthetic, intellectual, which made, and
will make the name of Athens and of the whole cluster of Greek
republics for ever admirable to civilised man? Had it sprung from
long years of peaceful prosperity? From infinite making of money and
comfort, according to the laws of so-called political economy, and
the dictates of enlightened selfishness? Not so. But rather out of
terror and agony, and all but utter ruin--and out of a magnificent
want of economy, and the divine daring and folly of self-sacrifice.

In Salamis across the strait a trophy stood, and round that trophy,
forty years before, Sophocles, the author of "Antigone," then sixteen
years of age, the loveliest and most cultivated lad in Athens,
undraped like a faun, with lyre in hand, was leading the Chorus of
Athenian youths, and singing to Athene, the tutelary goddess, a hymn
of triumph for a glorious victory--the very symbol of Greece and
Athens, springing up into a joyous second youth after invasion and
desolation, as the grass springs up after the prairie fire has
passed. But the fire had been terrible. It had burnt Athens at
least, down to the very roots. True, while Sophocles was dancing,
Xerxes, the great king of the East, foiled at Salamis, as his father
Darius had been foiled at Marathon ten years before, was fleeing back
to Persia, leaving his innumerable hosts of slaves and mercenaries to
be destroyed piecemeal, by land at Platea, by sea at Mycale. The
bold hope was over, in which the Persian, ever since the days of
Cyrus, had indulged--that he, the despot of the East, should be the
despot of the West likewise. It seemed to them as possible, though
not as easy, to subdue the Aryan Greek, as it had been to subdue the
Semite and the Turanian, the Babylonian and the Syrian; to riffle his
temples, to destroy his idols, carry off his women and children as
colonists into distant lands, as they had been doing with all the
nations of the East. And they had succeeded with isolated colonies,
isolated islands of Greeks, and the shores of Asia Minor. But when
they dared, at last, to attack the Greek in his own sacred land of
Hellas, they found they had bearded a lion in his den. Nay rather--
as those old Greeks would have said--they had dared to attack Pallas
Athene, the eldest daughter of Zeus--emblem of that serene and pure
divine wisdom, of whom Solomon sang of old: "The Lord possessed me
in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. When He
prepared the heavens, I was there, when He appointed the foundation
of the earth, then was I by him, as one brought up with Him, and I
was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him: rejoicing in the
habitable part of His earth; _and_ my _delight was with the sons of
men_"--to attack Athene and her brother Apollo, Lord of light, and
beauty, and culture, and grace, and inspiration--to attack them, not
in the name of Ormuzd, nor of any other deity, but in the name of
mere brute force and lust of conquest. The old Persian spirit was
gone out of them. They were the symbols now of nothing save
despotism and self-will, wealth and self-indulgence. They, once the
children of Ormuzd or light, had become the children of Ahriman or
darkness; and therefore it was, as I believe, that Xerxes' 1000
ships, and the two million (or, as some have it, five million) human
beings availed naught against the little fleets and little battalions
of men who believed with a living belief in Athene and Apollo, and
therefore--ponder it well, for it is true--with a living belief,
under whatsoever confusions and divisions of personality, in a God
who loved, taught, inspired men, a just God who befriended the
righteous cause, the cause of freedom and patriotism, a Deity, the
echo of whose mind and will to man was the song of Athene on Olympus,
when she

Chanted of order and right, and of foresight, and order of peoples;
Chanted of labour and craft, wealth in the port and the garner;
Chanted of valour and fame, and the man who can fall with the
Fighting for children and wife, and the field which his father
bequeathed him.
Sweetly and cunningly sang she, and planned new lessons for mortals.
Happy who hearing obey her, the wise unsullied Athene.

Ah, that they had always obeyed her, those old Greeks. But
meanwhile, as I said, the agony had been extreme. If Athens had
sinned, she had been purged as by fire; and the fire--surely of God--
had been terrible. Northern Greece had either been laid waste with
fire and sword, or had gone over to the Persian, traitors in their
despair. Attica, almost the only loyal state, had been overrun; the
old men, women, and children had fled to the neighbouring islands, or
to the Peloponnese. Athens itself had been destroyed; and while
young Sophocles was dancing round the trophy at Salamis, the
Acropolis was still a heap of blackened ruins.

But over and above their valour, over and above their loyalty, over
and above their exquisite aesthetic faculty, these Athenians had a
resilience of self-reliant energy, like that of the French--like that
of the American people after the fire of Chicago; and Athens rose
from her ashes to be awhile, not only, as she had nobly earned by
suffering and endurance, the leading state in Greece, but a mighty
fortress, a rich commercial port, a living centre of art, poetry,
philosophy, such as this earth has never seen before or since.

On the plateau of that little crag of the Acropolis some eight
hundred feet in length, by four hundred in breadth--about the size
and shape of the Castle Rock at Edinburgh--was gathered, within forty
years of the battle of Salamis, more and more noble beauty than ever
stood together on any other spot of like size.

The sudden relief from crushing pressure, and the joyous
consciousness of well-earned honours, made the whole spirit-nature of
the people blossom out, as it were, into manifold forms of activity,
beauty, research, and raised, in raising Greece, the whole human race

What might they not have done--looking at what they actually did--for
the whole race of man?

But no--they fell, even more rapidly than they rose, till their grace
and their cultivation, for them they could not lose, made them the
willing ministers to the luxury, the frivolity, the sentimentality,
the vice of the whole old world--the Scapia or Figaro of the old
world--infinitely able, but with all his ability consecrated to the
service of his own base self. The Greekling--as Juvenal has it--in
want of a dinner, would climb somehow to heaven itself, at the
bidding of his Roman master.

Ah what a fall! And what was the inherent weakness which caused that

I say at once--want of honesty. The Greek was not to be depended on;
if it suited him, he would lie, betray, overreach, change sides, and
think it no sin. He was the sharpest of men. Sharp practice, in our
modern sense of the word, was the very element in which he floated.
Any scholar knows it. In the grand times of Marathon and Salamis,
down to the disastrous times of the Peloponnesian War and the thirty
tyrants, no public man's hands were clean, with the exception,
perhaps, of Aristides, who was banished because men were tired of
hearing him called the Just. The exciting cause of the Peloponnesian
war, and the consequent downfall of Athens, was not merely the
tyranny she exercised over the states allied to her, it was the sharp
practice of the Athenians, in misappropriating the tribute paid by
the allies to the decoration of Athens. And in laying the
foundations of the Parthenon was sown, by a just judgment, the seed
of ruin for the state which gloried in it. And if the rulers were
such, what were the people? If the free were such, what were the

Hence, weakness at home and abroad, mistrust of generals and
admirals, paralysing all bold and clear action, peculations and
corruptions at home, internecine wars between factions inside states,
and between states or groups of states, revolutions followed by
despotism, and final exhaustion and slavery--slavery to a people who
were coming across the western sea, hard-headed, hard-hearted, caring
nothing for art, or science, whose pleasures were coarse and cruel,
but with a certain rough honesty, reverence for country, for law, and
for the ties of a family--men of a somewhat old English type, who had
over and above, like the English, the inspiring belief that they
could conquer the whole world, and who very nearly succeeded in that-
-as we have, to our great blessing, not succeeded--I mean, of course,
the Romans.


The poets, who forty years ago proclaimed their intention of working
a revolution in English literature, and who have succeeded in their
purpose, recommended especially a more simple and truthful view of
nature. The established canons of poetry were to be discarded as
artificial; as to the matter, the poet was to represent mere nature
as he saw her; as to form, he was to be his own law. Freedom and
nature were to be his watchwords.

No theory could be more in harmony with the spirit of the age, and
the impulse which had been given to it by the burning words of Jean
Jacques Rousseau. The school which arose expressed fairly the unrest
and unruliness of the time, its weariness of artificial restraint and
unmeaning laws, its craving after a nobler and a more earnest life,
its sense of a glory and mystery in the physical universe, hidden
from the poets of the two preceding centuries, and now revealed by
science. So far all was hopeful. But it soon became apparent, that
each poet's practical success in carrying out the theory was,
paradoxically enough, in inverse proportion to his belief in it; that
those who like Wordsworth, Southey, and Keats, talked most about
naturalness and freedom, and most openly reprobated the school of
Pope, were, after all, least natural and least free; that the balance
of those excellences inclined much more to those who, like Campbell,
Rogers, Crabbe, and Moore, troubled their heads with no theories, but
followed the best old models which they knew; and that the rightful
sovereign of the new Parnassus, Lord Byron, protested against the new
movement, while he followed it; upheld to the last the models which
it was the fashion to decry, confessed to the last, in poetry as in
morals, "Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor," and uttered again
and again prophecies of the downfall of English poetry and English
taste, which seem to be on the eve of realisation.

Now no one will, we presume, be silly enough to say that humanity has
gained nothing by all the very beautiful poetry which has been poured
out on it during the last thirty years in England. Nevertheless,
when we see poetry dying down among us year by year, although the age
is becoming year by year more marvellous and inspiring, we have a
right to look for some false principle in a school which has had so
little enduring vitality, which seems now to be able to perpetuate
nothing of itself but its vices.

The answer so easy twenty years ago, that the new poetry was spoiled
by an influx of German bad taste, will hardly hold good now, except
with a very few very ignorant people. It is now known, of course,
that whatsoever quarrel Lessing, Schiller, and Goethe may have had
with Pope, it was not on account of his being too severe an artist,
but too loose a one; not for being too classical, but not classical
enough; that English poets borrowed from them nothing but their most
boyish and immature types of thought, and that these were reproduced,
and laughed at here, while the men themselves were writing works of a
purity, and loftiness, and completeness, unknown to the world--except
in the writings of Milton--for nearly two centuries. This feature,
however, of the new German poetry, was exactly the one which no
English poet deigned to imitate, save Byron alone; on whom,
accordingly, Goethe always looked with admiration and affection. But
the rest went their way unheeding; and if they have defects, those
defects are their own; for when they did copy the German taste, they,
for the most part, deliberately chose the evil, and refused the good;
and have their reward in a fame which we believe will prove itself a
very short-lived one.

We cannot deny, however, that, in spite of all faults, these men had
a strength. They have exercised an influence. And they have done so
by virtue of seeing a fact which more complete, and in some cases
more manly poets, did not see. Strangely enough, Shelley, the man
who was the greatest sinner of them all against the canons of good
taste, was the man who saw that new fact, if not most clearly, still
most intensely, and who proclaimed it most boldly. His influence,
therefore, is outliving that of his compeers, and growing and
spreading, for good and for evil; and will grow and spread for years
to come, as long as the present great unrest goes on smouldering in
men's hearts, till the hollow settlement of 1815 is burst asunder
anew, and men feel that they are no longer in the beginning of the
end, but in the end itself, and that this long thirty years' prologue
to the reconstruction of rotten Europe is played out at last, and the
drama itself begun.

Such is the way of Providence; the race is not to the swift, nor the
battle to the strong, nor the prophecy to the wise. The Spirit
bloweth where He listeth, and sends on his errands--those who deny
Him, rebel against Him--profligates, madmen, and hysterical
Rousseaus, hysterical Shelleys, uttering words like the east wind.
He uses strange tools in His cosmogony: but He does not use them in
vain. By bad men if not by good, by fools if not by wise, God's work
is done, and done right well.

There was, then, a strength and a truth in all these men; and it was
this--that more or less clearly, they all felt that they were
standing between two worlds; and the ruins of an older age; upon the
threshold of a new one. To Byron's mind, the decay and rottenness of
the old was, perhaps, the most palpable; to Shelley's, the possible
glory of the new. Wordsworth declared--a little too noisily, we
think, as if he had been the first to discover the truth--the dignity
and divineness of the most simple human facts and relationships.
Coleridge declares that the new can only assume living form by
growing organically out of the old institutions. Keats gives a sad
and yet a wholesome answer to them both, as, young and passionate, he
goes down with Faust "to the Mothers"--

To the rich warm youth of the nations,
Childlike in virtue and faith, though childlike in passion and
Childlike still, still near to the gods, while the sunset of Eden
Lingered in rose-red rays on the peaks of Ionian mountains.

And there, amid the old classic forms, he cries: "These things, too,
are eternal--

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.

These, or things even fairer than they, must have their place in the
new world, if it is to be really a home for the human race." So he
sings, as best he can, the half-educated and consumptive stable-
keeper's son, from his prison-house of London brick, and in one
mighty yearn after that beauty from which he is debarred, breaks his
young heart, and dies, leaving a name not "writ in water," as he
dreamed, but on all fair things, all lovers' hearts, for evermore.

Here, then, to return, is the reason why the hearts of the present
generation have been influenced so mightily by these men, rather than
by those of whom Byron wrote, with perfect sincerity:

Scott, Rogers, Campbell, Moore, and Crabbe will try
'Gainst you the question with posterity.

These lines, written in 1818, were meant to apply only to Coleridge,
Wordsworth, and Southey. Whether they be altogether just or unjust
is not now the question. It must seem somewhat strange to our young
poets that Shelley's name is not among those who are to try the
question of immortality against the Lake School; and yet many of his
most beautiful poems had been already written. Were, then, "The
Revolt of Islam" and "Alastor" not destined, it seems, in Byron's
opinion, to live as long as the "Lady of the Lake" and the "Mariners
of England?" Perhaps not. At least the omission of Shelley's name
is noteworthy. But still more noteworthy are these words of his to
Mr. Murray, dated January 23, 1819:

"Read Pope--most of you don't--but do . . . and the inevitable
consequence would be, that you would burn all that I have ever
written, and all your other wretched Claudians of the day (except
Scott and Crabbe) into the bargain."

And here arises a new question--Is Shelley, then, among the
Claudians? It is a hard saying. The present generation will receive
it with shouts of laughter. Some future one, which studies and
imitates Shakespeare instead of anatomising him, and which gradually
awakens to the now forgotten fact, that a certain man named Edmund
Spenser once wrote a poem, the like of which the earth never saw
before, and perhaps may never see again, may be inclined to acquiesce
in the verdict, and believe that Byron had a discrimination in this
matter, as in a hundred more, far more acute than any of his
compeers, and had not eaten in vain, poor fellow, of the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil. In the meanwhile, we may perceive in the
poetry of the two men deep and radical differences, indicating a
spiritual difference between them even more deep, which may explain
the little notice which Byron takes of Shelley's poetry, and the fact
that the two men had no deep sympathy for each other, and could not
in any wise "pull together" during the sojourn in Italy. Doubtless,
there were plain outward faults of temper and character on both
sides; neither was in a state of mind which could trust itself, or be
trusted by those who loved them best. Friendship can only consist
with the calm and self-restraint and self-respect of moral and
intellectual health; and both were diseased, fevered, ready to take
offence, ready, unwittingly, to give it. But the diseases of the two
were different, as their natures were; and Shelley's fever was not

Now it is worth remarking, that it is Shelley's form of fever, rather
than Byron's, which has been of late years the prevailing epidemic.
Since Shelley's poems have become known in England, and a timid
public, after approaching in fear and trembling the fountain which
was understood to be poisoned, has begun first to sip, and then,
finding the magic water at all events sweet enough, to quench its
thirst with unlimited draughts, Byron's fiercer wine has lost favour.
Well--at least the taste of the age is more refined, if that be
matter of congratulation. And there is an excuse for preferring
champagne to waterside porter, heady with grains of paradise and
quassia, salt and cocculus indicus. Nevertheless, worse ingredients
than oenanthic acid may lurk in the delicate draught, and the Devil's
Elixir may be made fragrant, and sweet, and transparent enough, as
French moralists well know, for the most fastidious palate. The
private sipping of eua-de-cologne, say the London physicians, has
increased mightily of late; and so has the reading of Shelley. It is
not surprising. Byron's Corsairs and Laras have been, on the whole,
impossible during the thirty years' peace! and piracy and profligacy
are at all times, and especially nowadays, expensive amusements, and
often require a good private fortune--rare among poets. They have,
therefore, been wisely abandoned as ideals, except among a few young
persons, who used to wear turn-down collars, and are now attempting
moustaches and Mazzini hats. But even among them, and among their
betters--rather their more-respectables--nine-tenths of the bad
influence which is laid at Byron's door really is owing to Shelley.
Among the many good-going gentlemen and ladies, Byron is generally
spoken of with horror--he is "so wicked," forsooth; while poor
Shelley, "poor dear Shelley," is "very wrong, of course," but "so
refined," "so beautiful," "so tender"--a fallen angel, while Byron is
a satyr and a devil. We boldly deny the verdict. Neither of the two
are devils; as for angels, when we have seen one, we shall be better
able to give an opinion; at present, Shelley is in our eyes far less
like one of those old Hebrew and Miltonic angels, fallen or unfallen,
than Byron is. And as for the satyr; the less that is said for
Shelley, on that point, the better. If Byron sinned more desperately
and flagrantly than he, it was done under the temptations of rank,
wealth, disappointed love, and under the impulses of an animal
nature, to which Shelley's passions were

As moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto wine.

At all events, Byron never set to work to consecrate his own sin into
a religion and proclaim the worship of uncleanness as the last and
highest ethical development of "pure" humanity. No--Byron may be
brutal; but he never cants. If at moments he finds himself in hell,
he never turns round to the world and melodiously informs them that
it is heaven, if they could but see it in its true light.

The truth is, that what has put Byron out of favour with the public
of late has been not his faults but his excellences. His artistic
good taste, his classical polish, his sound shrewd sense, his hatred
of cant, his insight into humbug above all, his shallow, pitiable
habit of being always intelligible--these are the sins which condemn
him in the eyes of a mesmerising, table-turning, spirit-rapping,
spiritualising, Romanising generation, who read Shelley in secret,
and delight in his bad taste, mysticism, extravagance, and vague and
pompous sentimentalism. The age is an effeminate one, and it can
well afford to pardon the lewdness of the gentle and sensitive
vegetarian, while it has no mercy for that of the sturdy peer proud
of his bull neck and his boxing, who kept bears and bull-dogs,
drilled Greek ruffians at Missoloughi, and "had no objection to a pot
of beer;" and who might, if he had reformed, have made a gallant
English gentleman; while Shelley, if once his intense self-opinion
had deserted him, would have probably ended in Rome as an Oratorian
or a Passionist.

We would that it were only for this count that Byron has had to make
way for Shelley. There is, as we said before, a deeper moral
difference between the men, which makes the weaker, rather than the
stronger, find favour in young men's eyes. For Byron has the most
intense and awful sense of moral law--of law external to himself.
Shelley has little or none; less, perhaps, than any known writer who
has ever meddled with moral questions. Byron's cry is, I am
miserable because law exists; and I have broken it, broken it so
habitually, that now I cannot help breaking it. I have tried to
eradicate the sense of it by speculation, by action; but I cannot--

The tree of knowledge is not the tree of life.

There is a moral law independent of us, and yet the very marrow of
our life, which punishes and rewards us by no arbitrary external
penalties, but by our own consciousness of being what we are:

The mind which is immortal, makes itself
Requital for its good or evil thoughts;
Is its own origin of ill, and end--
And its own place and time--its innate sense
When stript of this mortality derives
No colour from the fleeting things about,
But is absorbed in sufferance or in joy,
Born from the knowledge of its own desert.

This idea, confused, intermitted, obscured by all forms of evil--for
it was not discovered, but only in the process of discovery--is the
one which comes out with greater and greater strength, through all
Corsairs, Laras, and Parasinas, till it reaches its completion in
"Cain" and in "Manfred," of both of which we do boldly say, that if
any sceptical poetry at all be right, which we often question, they
are right and not wrong; that in "Cain," as in "Manfred," the awful
problem which, perhaps, had better not have been put at all, is
nevertheless fairly put, and the solution, as far as it is seen,
fairly confessed; namely, that there is an absolute and eternal law
in the heart of man which sophistries of his own or of other beings
may make him forget, deny, blaspheme; but which exists eternally, and
will assert itself. If this be not the meaning of "Manfred,"
especially of that great scene in the chamois hunter's cottage, what
is?--If this be not the meaning of "Cain," and his awful awakening
after the murder, not to any mere dread of external punishment, but
to an overwhelming, instinctive, inarticulate sense of having done
wrong, what is?

Yes; that law exists, let it never be forgotten, is the real meaning
of Byron, down to that last terrible "Don Juan," in which he sits
himself down, in artificial calm, to trace the gradual rotting and
degradation of a man without law, the slave of his own pleasures; a
picture happily never finished, because he who painted it was taken
away before he had learnt, perhaps when he was beginning to turn back
from--the lower depth within the lowest deep.

Now to this whole form of consciousness, poor Shelley's mind is
altogether antipodal. His whole life through was a denial of
external law, and a substitution in its place of internal sentiment.
Byron's cry is: There is a law, and therefore I am miserable. Why
cannot I keep the law? Shelley's is: There is a law, and therefore
I am miserable. Why should not the law be abolished?--Away with it,
for it interferes with my sentiments--Away with marriage, "custom and
faith, the foulest birth of time."--We do not wish to follow him down
into the fearful sins which he defended with the small powers of
reasoning--and they were peculiarly small--which he possessed. Let
any one who wishes to satisfy himself of the real difference between
Byron's mind and Shelley's, compare the writings in which each of
them treats the same subject--namely, that frightful question about
the relation of the sexes, which forms, evidently, Manfred's crime;
and see if the result is not simply this, that Shelley glorifies what
Byron damns. "Lawless love" is Shelley's expressed ideal of the
relation of the sexes; and his justice, his benevolence, his pity,
are all equally lawless. "Follow your instincts," is his one moral
rule, confounding the very lowest animal instincts with those lofty
ideas of might, which it was the will of Heaven that he should
retain, ay, and love, to the very last, and so reducing them all to
the level of sentiments. "Follow your instincts"--But what if our
instincts lead us to eat animal food? "Then you must follow the
instincts of me, Percy Bysshe Shelley. I think it horrible, cruel;
it offends my taste." What if our instincts lead us to tyrannise
over our fellow-men? "Then you must repress those instincts. I,
Shelley, think that, too, horrible and cruel." Whether it be
vegetarianism or liberty, the rule is practically the same--sentiment
which, in his case, as in the case of all sentimentalists, turns out
to mean at last, not the sentiments of mankind in general, but the
private sentiments of the writer. This is Shelley; a sentimentalist
pure and simple; incapable of anything like inductive reasoning;
unable to take cognisance of any facts but those which please his
taste, or to draw any conclusion from them but such as also pleases
his taste; as, for example, in that eighth stanza of the "Ode to
Liberty," which, had it been written by any other man but Shelley,
possessing the same knowledge as he, one would have called a wicked
and deliberate lie--but in his case, is to be simply passed over with
a sigh, like a young lady's proofs of table-turning and rapping
spirits. She wished to see it so--and therefore so she saw it.

For Shelley's nature is utterly womanish. Not merely his weak
points, but his strong ones, are those of a woman. Tender and
pitiful as a woman; and yet, when angry, shrieking, railing,
hysterical as a woman. The physical distaste for meat and fermented
liquors, coupled with the hankering after physical horrors, are
especially feminine. The nature of a woman looks out of that wild,
beautiful, girlish face--the nature: but not the spirit; not

The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength and skill.

The lawlessness of the man, with the sensibility of the woman. . . .
Alas for him! He, too, might have discovered what Byron did; for
were not his errors avenged upon him within, more terribly even than
without? His cries are like the wails of a child, inarticulate,
peevish, irrational; and yet his pain fills his whole being, blackens
the very face of nature to him: but he will not confess himself in
the wrong. Once only, if we recollect rightly, the truth flashes
across him for a moment, and the clouds of selfish sorrow:

Alas, I have nor hope nor health,
Nor peace within, nor calm around;
Nor that content surpassing wealth
The sage in meditation found,
And walked with inward glory crowned.

"Nor"--alas for the spiritual bathos, which follows that short gleam
of healthy feeling, and coming to himself--

--fame nor power, nor love, nor leisure,
Others I see whom these surround,
Smiling they live and call life pleasure,
To me that cup has been dealt in another measure!

Poor Shelley! As if the peace within, and the calm around, and the
content surpassing wealth, were things which were to be put in the
same category with fame, and power, and love, and leisure. As if
they were things which could be "dealt" to any man; instead of
depending (as Byron, who, amid all his fearful sins, was a man, knew
well enough) upon a man's self, a man's own will, and that will
exerted to do a will exterior to itself, to know and to obey a law.
But no, the cloud of sentiment must close over again, and

Yet now despair itself is mild
Even as the winds and waters are;
I could lie down like a tired child,
And weep away this life of care,
Which I have borne, and still must bear,
Till death like sleep might seize on me,
And I might feel in the warm air,
My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea
Breathe o'er my dying brain its last monotony!

Too beautiful to laugh at, however empty and sentimental. True: but
why beautiful? Because there is a certain sincerity in it, which
breeds coherence and melody, which, in short, makes it poetry. But
what if such a tone of mind be consciously encouraged, even
insincerely affected as the ideal state for a poet's mind, as his
followers have done?

The mischief which such a man would do is conceivable enough. He
stands out, both by his excellences and his defects, as the spokesman
and ideal of all the unrest and unhealth of sensitive young men for
many a year after. His unfulfilled prophecies only help to increase
that unrest. Who shall blame either him for uttering those
prophecies, or them for longing for their fulfilment? Must we not
thank the man who gives us fresh hope that this earth will not be
always as it is now? His notion of what it will be may be, as
Shelley's was, vague, even in some things wrong and undesirable.
Still, we must accept his hope and faith in the spirit, not in the
letter. So have thousands of young men felt, who would have shrunk
with disgust from some of poor Shelley's details of the "good time
coming." And shame on him who should wish to rob them of such a
hope, even if it interfered with his favourite "scheme of unfulfilled
prophecy." So men have felt Shelley's spell a wondrous one--perhaps,
they think, a life-giving regenerative one. And yet what dream at
once more shallow and more impossible? Get rid of kings and priests;
marriage may stay, pending discussions on the rights of women. Let
the poet speak--what he is to say being, of course, a matter of
utterly secondary import, provided only that he be a poet; and then
the millennium will appear of itself, and the devil be exorcised with
a kiss from all hearts--except, of course, these of "pale priests"
and "tyrants with their sneer of cold command" (who, it seems, have
not been got rid of after all), and the Cossacks and Croats whom they
may choose to call to their rescue. And on the appearance of the
said Cossacks and Croats, the poet's vision stops short, and all is
blank beyond. A recipe for the production of millenniums which has
this one advantage, that it is small enough to be comprehended by the
very smallest minds, and reproduced thereby, with a difference, in
such spasmodic melodies as seem to those small minds to be imitations
of Shelley's nightingale notes.

For nightingale notes they truly are. In spite of all his faults--
and there are few poetic faults in which he does not indulge, to
their very highest power--in spite of his "interfluous" and
"innumerous," and the rest of his bad English--in spite of bombast,
horrors, maundering, sheer stuff and nonsense of all kinds, there is
a plaintive natural melody about this man, such as no other English
poet has ever uttered, except Shakespeare in some few immortal songs.
Who that has read Shelley does not recollect scraps worthy to stand
by Ariel's song--chaste, simple, unutterably musical? Yes, when he
will be himself--Shelley the scholar and the gentleman and the
singer--and leave philosophy and politics, which he does not
understand, and shriekings and cursings, which are unfit for any
civilised and self-respecting man, he is perfect. Like the American
mocking-bird, he is harsh only when aping other men's tunes--his true
power lies in his own "native wood-notes wild."

But it is not this faculty of his which has been imitated by his
scholars; for it is not this faculty which made him their ideal,
however it may have attracted them. All which sensible men deplore
in him is that which poetasters have exalted in him. His morbidity
and his doubt have become in their eyes his differential energy,
because too often, it was all in him with which they had wit to
sympathise. They found it easy to curse and complain, instead of
helping to mend. So had he. They found it pleasant to confound
institutions with the abuses which defaced them. So had he. They
found it pleasant to give way to their spleen. So had he. They
found it pleasant to believe that the poet was to regenerate the
world, without having settled with what he was to regenerate it. So
had he. They found it more pleasant to obey sentiment than inductive
laws. So had he. They found it more pleasant to hurl about enormous
words and startling figures than to examine reverently the awful
depths of beauty which lie in the simplest words and the severest
figures. So had he.

And thus arose a spasmodic, vague, extravagant, effeminate, school of
poetry, which has been too often hastily and unfairly fathered upon
Byron. Doubtless Byron has helped to its formation; but only in as
far as his poems possess, or rather seem to possess, elements in
common with Shelley's. For that conscious struggle against law, by
which law is discovered, may easily enough be confounded with the
utter repudiation of it. Both forms of mind will discuss the same
questions; both will discuss them freely, with a certain plainness
and daring, which may range through all grades, from the bluntness of
Socrates down to reckless immodesty and profaneness. The world will
hardly distinguish between the two; it did not in Socrates' case,
mistaking his reverent irreverence for Atheism, and martyred him
accordingly, as it has since martyred Luther's memory. Probably,
too, if a living struggle is going on in the writer's mind, he will
not have distinguished the two elements in himself; he will be
profane when he fancies himself only arguing for truth; he will be
only arguing for truth, where he seems to the respectable undoubting
to be profane. And in the meanwhile, whether the respectable
understand him or not, the young and the inquiring, much more the
distempered, who would be glad to throw off moral law, will
sympathise with him often more than he sympathises with himself.
Words thrown off in the heat of passion; shameful self-revealings
which he has written with his very heart's blood: ay, even fallacies
which he has put into the mouths of dramatic characters for the very
purpose of refuting them, or at least of calling on all who read to
help him to refute them, and to deliver him from the ugly dream--all
these will, by the lazy, the frivolous, the feverish, the
discontented, be taken for integral parts and noble traits of the man
to whom they are attracted, by finding that he, too, has the same
doubts and struggles as themselves, that he has a voice and art to be
their spokesman. And hence arises confusion on confusion,
misconception on misconception. The man is honoured for his
dishonour. Chronic disease is taken for a new type of health; and
Byron is admired and imitated for that which Byron is trying to tear
out of his own heart, and trample under foot as his curse and bane,
something which is not Byron's self, but Byron's house-fiend, and
tyrant, and shame. And in the meanwhile that which calls itself
respectability and orthodoxy, and is--unless Augustine lied--neither
of them, stands by; and instead of echoing the voice of Him who said:
"Come to me ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you
rest," mumbles proudly to itself, with the Pharisees of old: "This
people, which knoweth not the law, is accursed."

We do not seek to excuse Byron any more than we do Shelley. They
both sinned. They both paid bitter penalty for their sin. How far
they were guilty, or which of them was the more guilty, we know not.
We can judge no man. It is as poets and teachers, not as men and
responsible spirits; not in their inward beings, known only to Him
who made them, not even to themselves, but in their outward
utterance, that we have a right to compare them. Both have done
harm. Neither have, we firmly believe, harmed any human being who
had not already the harm within himself. It is not by introducing
evil, but by calling into consciousness and more active life evil
which was already lurking in the heart, that any writer makes men
worse. Thousands doubtless have read Byron and Shelley, and worse
books, and have risen from them as pure as when they sat down. In
evil as well as in good, the eye only sees that which it brings with
it the power of seeing--say rather, the wish to see. But it is
because, in spite of all our self-glorifying paeans, our taste has
become worse and not better, that Shelley, the man who conceitedly
despises and denies law, is taking the place of Byron, the man who
only struggles against it, and who shows his honesty and his
greatness most by confessing that his struggles are ineffectual;
that, Titan as he may look to the world, his strength is misdirected,
a mere furious weakness, which proclaims him a slave in fetters,
while prurient young gentlemen are fancying him heaping hills on
hills, and scaling Olympus itself. They are tired of that notion,
however, now. They have begun to suspect that Byron did not scale
Olympus after all. How much more pleasant a leader, then, must
Shelley be, who unquestionably did scale his little Olympus--having
made it himself first to fit his own stature. The man who has built
the hay-rick will doubtless climb it again, if need be, as often as
desired, and whistle on the top, after the fashion of the rick-
building guild, triumphantly enough. For after all Shelley's range
of vision is very narrow, his subjects few, his reflections still
fewer, when compared, not only with such a poet as Spenser, but with
his own contemporaries; above all with Byron. He has a deep heart,
but not a wide one; an intense eye, but not a catholic one. And,
therefore, he never wrote a real drama; for in spite of all that has
been said to the contrary, Beatrice Cenci is really none other than
Percy Bysshe Shelley himself in petticoats.

But we will let them both be. Perhaps they know better now.

One very ugly superstition, nevertheless, we must mention, of which
these two men have been, in England at least, the great hierophants;
namely, the right of "genius" to be "eccentric." Doubtless there are
excuses for such a notion; but it is one against which every wise man
must set his face like a flint; and at the risk of being called a
"Philister" and a "flunky," take part boldly with respectability and
this wicked world, and declare them to be for once utterly in the
right. Still there are excuses for it. A poet, especially one who
wishes to be not merely a describer of pretty things, but a "Vates"
and seer of new truth, must often say things which other people do
not like to say, and do things which others do not like to do. And,
moreover, he will be generally gifted, for the very purpose of
enabling him to say and do these strange things, with a sensibility
more delicate than common, often painful enough to himself. How easy
for such a man to think that he has a right not to be as other men
are; to despise little conventionalities, courtesies, even decencies;
to offend boldly and carelessly, conscious that he has something
right and valuable within himself which not only atones for such
defects, but allows him to indulge in them, as badges of his own
superiority! This has been the notion of artistic genius which has
spread among us of late years, just in proportion as the real amount
of artistic genius has diminished; till we see men, on the mere
ground of being literary men, too refined to keep accounts, or pay
their butchers' bills; affecting the pettiest absurdities in dress,
in manner, in food; giving themselves credit for being unable to bear
a noise, keep their temper, educate their own children, associate
with their fellow-men; and a thousand other paltry weaknesses,
morosenesses, self-indulgences, fastidiousnesses, vulgarities--for
all this is essentially vulgar, and demands, not honour and sympathy,
but a chapter in Mr. Thackeray's "Book of Snobs." Non sic itur ad
astra. Self-indulgence and exclusiveness can only be a proof of
weakness. It may accompany talent, but it proves that talent to be
partial and defective. The brain may be large, but the manhood, the
"virtus," is small, where such things are allowed, much more where
they are gloried in. A poet such a man may be, but a world poet
never. He is sectarian, a poetical Quaker, a Puritan, who,
forgetting that the truth which he possesses is equally the right and
inheritance of every man he meets, takes up a peculiar dress or
phraseology, as symbols of his fancied difference from his human
brothers. All great poets, till Shelley and Byron, as far as we can
discern, have been men especially free from eccentricities; careful
not merely of the chivalries and the respectabilities, but also of
the courtesies and the petty conventionalities, of the age in which
they lived; altogether well-bred men of the world. The answer, that
they learnt the ways of courts, does not avail; for if they had had
no innate good-breeding, reticence, respect for forms and customs,
they would never have come near courts at all. It is not a question
of rank and fashion, but of good feeling, common sense,
unselfishness. Goethe, Milton, Spenser, Shakespeare, Rabelais,
Ariosto, were none of them high-born men; several of them low-born;
who only rose to the society of high-horn men because they were
themselves innately high-bred, polished, complete, without
exaggerations, affectations, deformities, weaknesses of mind and
taste, whatever may have been their weaknesses on certain points of
morals. The man of all men most bepraised by the present generation
of poets, is perhaps Wolfgang von Goethe. Why is it, then, that of
all men he is the one whom they strive to be most unlike?

And if this be good counsel for the man who merely wishes--and no
blame to him--to sing about beautiful things in a beautiful way, it
applies with tenfold force to the poet who desires honestly to
proclaim great truths. If he has to offend the prejudices of the
world in important things, that is all the more reason for his bowing
to those prejudices in little things, and being content to be like
his neighbours in outward matters, in order that he may make them
like himself in inward ones. Shall such a man dare to hinder his own
message, to drive away the very hearers to whom he believes himself
to be sent, for the sake of his own nerves, laziness, antipathies,
much more of his own vanity and pride? If he does so, he is
unfaithful to that very genius on which he prides himself. He denies
its divinity, by treating it as his own possession, to be displayed
or hidden as he chooses, for his own enjoyment, his own self-
glorification. Well for such a man if a day comes to him in which he
will look back with shame and self-reproach, not merely on every
scandal which he may have caused by breaking the moral and social
laws of humanity, by neglecting to restrain his appetites, pay his
bills, and keep his engagements; but also on every conceited word and
look, every gaucherie and rudeness, every self-indulgent moroseness
and fastidiousness, as sins against the sacred charge which has been
committed to him; and determine with that Jew of old, who, to judge
from his letter to Philemon, was one of the most perfect gentlemen of
God's making who ever walked this earth, to become "all things to all
men, if by any means he may save some."


On reading this little book, {61} and considering all the exaggerated
praise and exaggerated blame which have been lavished on it, we could
not help falling into many thoughts about the history of English
poetry for the last forty years, and about its future destiny. Great
poets, even true poets, are becoming more and more rare among us.
There are those even who say that we have none; an assertion which,
as long as Mr. Tennyson lives, we shall take the liberty of denying.
But were he, which Heaven forbid, taken from us, whom have we to
succeed him? And he, too, is rather a poet of the sunset than of the
dawn--of the autumn than of the spring. His gorgeousness is that of
the solemn and fading year; not of its youth, full of hope,
freshness, gay and unconscious life. Like some stately hollyhock or
dahlia of this month's gardens, he endures while all other flowers
are dying; but all around is winter--a mild one, perhaps, wherein a
few annuals or pretty field weeds still linger on; but, like all mild
winters, especially prolific in fungi, which, too, are not without
their gaudiness, even their beauty, although bred only from the decay
of higher organisms, the plagiarists of the vegetable world. Such is
poetry in England; while in America the case is not much better.
What more enormous scope for new poetic thought than that which the
New World gives? Yet the American poets, even the best of them, look
lingeringly and longingly back to Europe and her legends; to her
models, and not to the best of them--to her criticism, and not to the
best of that--and bestow but a very small portion of such genius as
they have on America and her new forms of life. If they be nearer to
the spring than we, they are still deep enough in the winter. A few
early flowers may be budding among them, but the autumn crop is still
in somewhat shabby and rain-bedrabbled bloom. And for us, where are
our spring flowers? What sign of a new poetic school? Still more,
what sign of the healthy resuscitation of any old one?

"What matter, after all?" one says to oneself in despair, re-echoing
Mr. Carlyle. "Man was not sent into the world to write poetry. What
we want is truth. Of the former we have enough in all conscience
just now. Let the latter need be provided for by honest and
righteous history, and as for poets, let the dead bury their dead."
And yet, after all, man will write poetry, in spite of Mr. Carlyle:
nay, beings who are not men, but mere forked radishes, will write it.
Man is a poetry-writing animal. Perhaps he was meant to be one. At
all events, he can no more be kept from it than from eating. It is
better, with Mr. Carlyle's leave, to believe that the existence of
poetry indicates some universal human hunger, whether after "the
beautiful," or after "fame," or after the means of paying butchers'
bills; and accepting it as a necessary evil which must be committed,
to see that it be committed as well, or at least as little ill, as
possible. In excuse of which we may quote Mr. Carlyle against
himself, reminding him of a saying of Goethe once bepraised by him in
print: "We must take care of the beautiful, for the useful will take
care of itself."

And never, certainly, since Pope wrote his Dunciad, did the beautiful
require more taking care of, or evince less capacity for taking care
of itself; and never, we must add, was less capacity for taking care
of it evinced by its accredited guardians of the press than at this
present time, if the reception given to Mr. Smith's poems is to be
taken as a fair expression of "the public taste."

Now, let it be fairly understood, Mr. Alexander Smith is not the
object of our reproaches: but Mr. Alexander Smith's models and
flatterers. Against him we have nothing whatsoever to say; for him,
very much indeed.

Very young, as is said, self-educated, drudging for his daily bread
in some dreary Glasgow prison-house of brick and mortar, he has seen
the sky, the sun and moon--and, moreover, the sea, report says, for
one day in his whole life; and this is nearly the whole of his
experience in natural objects. And he has felt, too painfully for
his peace of mind, the contrast between his environment and that of
others--his means of culture and that of others--and, still more
painfully, the contrast between his environment and culture, and that
sense of beauty and power of melody which he does not deny that he
has found in himself, and which no one can deny who reads his poems
fairly; who reads even merely the opening page and key-note of the

For as a torrid sunset burns with gold
Up to the zenith, fierce within my soul
A passion burns from basement unto cope.
Poesy, poesy, I'd give to thee
As passionately my rich laden years,
My bubble pleasures, and my awful joys,
_As Hero gave her trembling sighs to find
Delicious death on wet Leander's lip_.
Bare, bald, and tawdry, as a fingered moth
Is my poor life; but with one smile thou canst
Clothe me with kingdoms. Wilt thou smile on me?
Wilt bid me die for thee? Oh fair and cold!
As well may some wild maiden waste her love
Upon the calm front of a marble Jove.

Now this scrap is by no menus a fair average specimen of Mr. Smith's
verse. But is not the self-educated man who could teach himself,
amid Glasgow smoke and noise, to write such a distich as that
exquisite one which we have given in italics, to be judged lovingly
and hopefully?

What if he has often copied? What if, in this very scrap, chosen
almost at random, there should be a touch from Tennyson's "Two
Voices?" And what if imitations, nay, caricatures, be found in
almost every page? Is not the explanation simple enough, and rather
creditable than discreditable to Mr. Smith? He takes as his models
Shelley, Keats, and their followers. Who is to blame for that? The
Glasgow youth, or the public taste, which has been exalting these
authors more and more for the last twenty years as the great poets of
the nineteenth century? If they are the proper ideals of the day,
who will blame him for following them as closely as possible--for
saturating his memory so thoroughly with their words and thoughts
that he reproduces them unconsciously to himself? Who will blame him
for even consciously copying their images, if they have said better
than he the thing which he wants to say, in the only poetical dialect
which he knows? He does no more than all schools have done, copy
their own masters; as the Greek epicists and Virgil copied Homer; as
all succeeding Latin epicists copied Virgil; as Italians copied
Ariosto and Tasso; as every one who can copies Shakespeare; as the
French school copied, or thought they copied, "The Classics," and as
a matter of duty used to justify any bold image in their notes, not
by its originality, but by its being already in Claudian, or Lucan,
or Virgil, or Ovid; as every poetaster, and a great many who were
more than poetasters, twenty years ago, used to copy Scott and Byron,
and as all poetasters now are copying the very same models as Mr.
Smith, and failing while he succeeds.

We by no means agree in the modern outcry for "originality." Is it
absolutely demanded that no poet shall say anything whatsoever that
any other poet has said? If so, Mr. Smith may well submit to a blame
which he will bear in common with Shakespeare, Chaucer, Pope, and
many another great name; and especially with Raphael himself, who
made no scruple of adopting not merely points of style, but single
motives and incidents, from contemporaries and predecessors. Who can
look at any of his earlier pictures, the Crucifixion for instance, at
present in Lord Ward's gallery at the Egyptian Hall, without seeing
that he has not merely felt the influence of Perugino, but copied
him; tried deliberately to be as like his master as he could? Was
this plagiarism? If so, all education, it would seem, must be a mere
training in plagiarism. For how is the student to learn, except by
copying his master's models? Is the young painter or sculptor a
plagiarist because he spends the first, often the best, years of his
life in copying Greek statues; or the schoolboy, for toiling at the
reproduction of Latin metres and images, in what are honestly and
fittingly called "copies" of verses. And what if the young artist
shall choose, as Mr. Smith has done, to put a few drawings into the
exhibition, or to carve and sell a few statuettes? What if the
schoolboy, grown into a gownsman, shall contribute his share to a set
of "Arundines Cami" or "Prolusiones Etonienses?" Will any one who
really knows what art or education means complain of them for having
imitated their models, however servilely? Will he not rather hail
such an imitation as a fair proof, first of the student's reverence
for authority--a more important element of "genius" than most young
folks fancy--and next, of his possessing any artistic power
whatsoever? For, surely, if the greater contains the less, the power
of creating must contain that of imitating. A young author's power
of accurate imitation is, after all, the primary and indispensable
test of his having even the capability of becoming a poet. He who
cannot write in a style which he does know, will certainly not be
able to invent a new style for himself. The first and simplest form
in which any metrical ear, or fancy, or imagination, can show itself,
must needs be in imitating existing models. Innate good taste--that
is, true poetic genius--will of course choose the best models in the
long run. But not necessarily at first. What shall be the student's
earliest ideal must needs be determined for him by circumstance, by
the books to which he has access, by the public opinion which he
hears expressed. Enough if he chooses, as Raphael did, the best
models which he knows, and tries to exhaust them, and learn all he
can from them, ready to quit them hereafter when he comes across
better ones, yet without throwing away what he has learnt. "Be
faithful in a few things, and thou shalt become ruler over many
things," is one of those eternal moral laws which, like many others,
holds as true of art as it does of virtue.

And on the whole, judging Mr. Alexander Smith by this rule, he has
been faithful over a few things, and therefore we have fair hope of
him for the future. For Mr. Smith does succeed, not in copying one
poet, but in copying all, and very often in improving on his models.
Of the many conceits which he has borrowed from Mr. Bailey, there is
hardly one which he has not made more true, more pointed and more
sweet; nay, in one or two places, he has dared to mend John Keats
himself. But his whole merit is by no means confined to the faculty
of imitation. Though the "Life Drama" itself is the merest cento of
reflections and images, without coherence or organisation, dramatic
or logical, yet single scenes, like that with the peasant and that
with the fallen outcast, have firm self-consistency and clearness of
conception; and these, as a natural consequence, are comparatively
free from those tawdry spangles which deface the greater part of the
poem. And, moreover, in the episode of "The Indian and the Lady,"
there is throughout a "keeping in the tone," as painters say, sultry
and languid, yet rich and full of life, like a gorgeous Venetian
picture, which augurs even better for Mr. Smith's future success than
the two scenes just mentioned; for consistency of thought may come
with time and training; but clearness of inward vision, the faculty
of imagination, can be no more learnt than it can be dispensed with.
In this, and this only it is true that poeta nascitur non fit; just
as no musical learning or practice can make a composer, unless he
first possess an innate ear for harmony and melody. And it must be
said that it is just in the passages where Mr. Smith is not copying,
where he forgets for awhile Shelley, Keats, and the rest, and is
content to be simply himself, that he is best; terse, vivid, sound,
manly, simple. May he turn round some day, and deliberately pulling
out all borrowed feathers, look at himself honestly and boldly in the
glass, and we will warrant him, on the strength of the least gaudy,
and as yet unpraised passages in his poems, that he will find himself
after all more eagle than daw, and quite well plumed enough by nature
to fly at a higher, because for him a more natural, pitch than he has
yet done.

True, he has written a great deal of nonsense; nonsense in matter as
well as in manner. But therein, too, he has only followed the
reigning school. As for manner, he does sometimes, in imitating his
models, out-Herod Herod. But why not? If Herod be a worthy king,
let him be by all means out-Heroded, if any man can do it. One
cannot have too much of a good thing. If it be right to bedizen
verses with metaphors and similes which have no reference, either in
tone or in subject, to the matter in hand, let there be as many of
them as possible. If a saddle is a proper place for jewels, then let
the seat be paved with diamonds and emeralds, and Runjeet Singh's
harness-maker be considered as a lofty artist, for whose barbaric
splendour Mr. Peat and his Melton customers are to forswear pigskin
and severe simplicity--not to say utility and comfort. If poetic
diction be different in species from plain English, then let us have
it as poetical as possible, and as unlike English; as ungrammatical,
abrupt, involved, transposed, as the clumsiness, carelessness, or
caprice of man can make it. If it be correct to express human
thought by writing whole pages of vague and bald abstract metaphysic,
and then trying to explain them by concrete concetti, which bear an
entirely accidental and mystical likeness to the notion which they
are to illustrate, then let the metaphysic be as abstract as
possible, the concetti as fanciful and far-fetched as possible. If
Marino and Cowley be greater poets than Ariosto and Milton, let young
poets imitate the former with might and main, and avoid spoiling
their style by any perusal of the too-intelligible common sense of
the latter. If Byron's moral (which used to be thought execrable) be
really his great excellence, and his style (which used to be thought
almost perfect) unworthy of this age of progress, then let us have
his moral without his style, his matter without his form; or--that we
may be sure of never falling for a moment into his besetting sins of
terseness, grace, and completeness--without any form at all. If
poetry, in order to be worthy of the nineteenth century, ought to be
as unlike as possible to Homer or Sophocles, Virgil or Horace,
Shakespeare or Spenser, Dante or Tasso, let those too-idolised names
be erased henceforth from the calendar; let the "Ars Poetica" be
consigned to flames, and Martinus Scriblerus's "Art of Sinking"
placed forthwith on the list of the Committee of Council for
Education, that not a working man in England may he ignorant that,
whatsoever superstitions about art may have haunted the benighted
heathens who built the Parthenon, nous avons change tout cela. In
one word, if it be best and most fitting to write poetry in the style
in which almost every one has been trying to write it since Pope and
plain sense went out, and Shelley and the seventh heaven came in, let
it be so written; and let him who most perfectly so "sets the age to
music," he presented by the assembled guild of critics, not with the
obsolete and too classic laurel, but with an electro-plated brass
medal, bearing the due inscription, "Ars est nescire artem." And
when, in twelve months' time, he finds himself forgotten, perhaps
decried, for the sake of the next aspirant, let him reconsider
himself, try whether, after all, the common sense of the many will
not prove a juster and a firmer standing-ground than the
sentimentality and bad taste of the few, and read Alexander Pope.

In Pope's writings, whatsoever he may not find, he will find the very
excellences after which our young poets strive in vain, produced by
their seeming opposites, which are now despised and discarded;
naturalness produced by studious art; sublimity by strict self-
restraint; depth by clear simplicity; pathos by easy grace; and a
morality infinitely more merciful, as well as more righteous, than
the one now in vogue among the poetasters, by honest faith in God.
If he be shocked by certain peculiarities of diction, and by the
fondness for perpetual antitheses, let him remember, that what seems
strange to our day was natural and habitual in Pope's; and that, in
the eyes of our grandchildren, Keats's and Shelley's peculiarities
will seem as monstrous as Pope's or Johnson's do in ours. But if,
misled by the popular contempt for Pope, be should he inclined to
answer this advice with a shrug and a smile, we entreat him and all
young poets, to consider, line by line, word by word, sound by sound,
only those once well-known lines, which many a brave and wise man of
fifty years ago would have been unable to read without honourable

In the worst inn's worst room, with mat half-hung,
The floor of plaster, and the walls of dung,
On once a flock-bed, but repaired with straw,
With tape-tied curtains never meant to draw,
The George and Garter, dangling from that bed,
Where tawdry yellow strove with dirty red,
Great Villiers lies. Alas! how changed from him,
That life of pleasure, and that soul of whim!
Gallant and gay, in Cliveden's proud alcove,
The bower of wanton Shrewsbury and love;
Or just as gay, at Council, in a ring
Of mimic statesmen, and their merry king,
No wit to flatter, left of all his store!
No fool to laugh at, which he valued more.
There, victor of his health, of fortune, friends,
And fame, this lord of useless thousands ends.

Yes; Pope knew, as well as Wordsworth and our "Naturalisti," that no
physical fact was so mean or coarse as to be below the dignity of
poetry--when in its right place. He could draw a pathos and
sublimity out of the dirty inn chamber, such as Wordsworth never
elicited from tubs and daffodils--because he could use them according
to the rules of art, which are the rules of sound reason and of true

The answer to all this is ready nowadays. We are told that Pope
could easily be great in what he attempted, because he never
attempted any but small matters; easily self-restraining, because his
paces were naturally so slow; above all, easily clear, because he is
always shallow; easily full of faith in what he did believe, because
he believed so very little. On the two former counts we may have
something to say hereafter. On the two latter, we will say at once,
that if it be argued, as it often is, that the reason of our modern
poetical obscurity and vagueness lies in the greater depth of the
questions which are now agitating thoughtful minds, we do utterly
deny it. Human nature, human temptations, human problems, are
radically the same in every age, by whatsoever outward difference of
words they may seem distinguished. Where is deeper philosophic
thought, true or false, expressed in verse, than in Dante, or in
Spenser's two cantos of "Mutabilities"? Yet if they are difficult to
understand, their darkness is that of the deep blue sea. Vague they
never are, obscure they never are, because they see clearly what they
want to say, and how to say it. There is always a sound and coherent
meaning in them, to be found if it be searched for.

The real cause of this modern vagueness is rather to be found in
shallow and unsound culture, and in that inability, or carelessness
about seeing any object clearly, which besets our poets just now; as
the cause of antique clearness lies in the nobler and healthier
manhood, in the severer and more methodic habits of thought, the
sounder philosophic and critical training, which enabled Spenser and
Milton to draw up a state paper, or to discourse deep metaphysics,
with the same manful possession of their subject which gives grace
and completeness to the "Penseroso" or the "Epithalamion." And if
our poets have their doubts, they should remember, that those to whom
doubt and inquiry are real and stern, are not inclined to sing about
them till they can sing poems of triumph over them. There has no
temptation taken our modern poets save that which is common to man--
the temptation of wishing to make the laws of the universe and of art
fit them, as they do not feel inclined to make themselves fit the
laws, or care to find them out.

What! Do you wish, asks some one, a little contemptuously, to
measure the great growing nineteenth century by the thumb-rule of
Alexander Pope? No. But to measure the men who write in the
nineteenth century by a man who wrote in the eighteenth; to compare
their advantages with his, their circumstances with his: and then,
if possible, to make them ashamed of their unmanliness. Have you
young poets of this day, your struggles, your chagrins? Do you think
the hump-backed dwarf, every moment conscious at once of his
deformity and his genius--conscious, probably, of far worse physical
shame than any deformity can bring, "sewed up in buckram every
morning, and requiring a nurse like a child"--caricatured, lampooned,
slandered, utterly without fault of his own--insulted and rejected by
the fine lady whom he had dared to court in reality, after being
allowed and allured to flirt with her in rhyme--do you suppose that
this man had nothing to madden him--to convert him into a sneering
snarling misanthrope? Yet was there one noble soul who met him who
did not love him, or whom he did not love? Have you your doubts? Do
you find it difficult to make your own speculations, even your own
honest convictions, square with the popular superstitions? What were
your doubts, your inward contradictions, to those of a man who, bred
a Papist, and yet burning with the most intense scorn and hatred of
lies and shams, bigotries and priestcrafts, could write that "Essay
on Man"? Read that, young gentlemen of the Job's-wife school, who
fancy it a fine thing to tell your readers to curse God and die, or,
at least, to show the world in print how you could curse God by
divine right of genius, if you chose, and be ashamed of your cowardly

Alexander Pope went through doubt, contradiction, confusion, to which
yours are simple and light; and conquered. He was a man of like
passions with yourselves; infected with the peculiar vices of his
day; narrow, for his age was narrow; shallow, for his age was
shallow; a bon-vivant, for his age was a gluttonous and drunken one;
bitter, furious, and personal, for men round him were such; foul-
mouthed often, and indecent, as the rest were. Nay, his very power,
when he abuses it for his own ends of selfish spite and injured
vanity, makes him, as all great men can be (in words at least, for in
life he was far better than the men around him), worse than his age.
He can out-rival Dennis in ferocity, and Congreve in filth. So much
the worse for him in that account which he has long ago rendered up.
But in all times and places, as far as we can judge, the man was
heart-whole, more and not less righteous than his fellows. With his
whole soul he hates what is evil, as far as he can recognise it.
With his whole soul he loves what is good, as far as he can recognise
that. With his soul believes that there is a righteous and good God,
whose order no human folly or crime can destroy; and he will say so;
and does say it, clearly, simply, valiantly, reverently, in his
"Essay on Man." His theodicy is narrow; shallow, as was the
philosophy of his age. But as far as it goes, it is sound--faithful
to God, and to what he sees and knows. Man is made in God's image.
Man's justice is God's justice; man's mercy is God's mercy; man's
science, man's critic taste, are insights into the laws of God
himself. He does not pretend to solve the great problem. But he
believes that it is solved from all eternity; that God knows, God
loves, and God rules; that the righteous and faithful man may know
enough of the solution to know his duty, to see his way, to justify
God; and as much as he knows he tells. There were in that diseased
sensitive cripple no vain repinings, no moon-struck howls, no impious
cries against God: "Why hast thou made me thus?" To him God is a
righteous God, a God of order. Science, philosophy, politics,
criticism, poetry, are parts of His order--they are parts of the
appointed onward path for mankind; there are eternal laws for them.
There is a beautiful and fit order, in poetry, which is part of God's
order, which men have learnt ages ago, for they, too, had their
teaching from above; to offend against which is absolutely wrong, an
offence to be put down mildly in those who offend ignorantly; but
those who offend from dulness, from the incapacity to see the
beautiful, or from carelessness about it, when praise or gain tempts
them the other way, have some moral defect in them; they are what
Solomon calls fools: they are the enemies of man; and he will "hate
them right sore, even as though they were his own enemies"--which
indeed they were. He knows by painful experience that they deserve
no quarter; that there is no use giving them any; to spare them is to
make them insolent; to fondle the reptile is to be bitten by it.
True poetry, as the messenger of heavenly beauty, is decaying; true
refinement, true loftiness of thought, even true morality, are at
stake. And so he writes his "Dunciad." And would that he were here,
to write it over again, and write it better!

For write it again he surely would. And write it better he would
also. With the greater cleanliness of our time, with all the
additional experience of history, with the greater classical,
aesthetic, and theological knowledge of our day, the sins of our
poets are as much less excusable than those of Eusden, Blackmore,
Cibber, and the rest, as Pope's "Dunciad" on them would be more
righteously severe. What, for instance, would the author of the
"Essay on Man" say to anyone who now wrote p. 137 (for it really is
not to be quoted) of the "Life Drama" as the thoughts of his hero,
without any after atonement for the wanton insult it conveys toward
him whom he dares in the same breath to call "Father," simply because
he wants to be something very fine and famous and self-glorifying,
and Providence keeps him waiting awhile? Has Pope not said it

Persist, by all divine in man unawed,
But learn, ye dunces, not to scorn your God!

And yet no; the gentle goddess would now lay no such restriction on
her children, for in Pope's day no man had discovered the new poetic
plan for making the divine in man an excuse for scorning God, and
finding in the dignity of "heaven-born genius" free licence to
upbraid, on the very slightest grounds, the Being from whom the said
genius pretends to derive his dignity. In one of his immortal saws
he has cautioned us against "making God in man's image." But it
never entered into his simple head that man would complain of God for
being made in a lower image than even his own. Atheism he could
conceive of; the deeper absurdity of Authotheism was left for our
more enlightened times and more spiritual muses.

It will be answered that all this blasphemy is not to be attributed
to the author, but to the man whose spiritual development he intends
to sketch. To which we reply that no man has a right to bring his
hero through such a state without showing how he came out of the
slough as carefully as how he came into it, especially when the said
hero is set forth as a marvellously clever person; and the last
scene, though full of beautiful womanly touches, and of a higher
morality than the rest of the book, contains no amende honorable, not
even an explanation of the abominable stuff which the hero has been
talking a few pages back. He leaps from the abyss to the seventh
heaven; but, unfortunately for the spectators, he leaps behind the
scenes, and they are none the wiser. And next; people have no more
right even for dramatic purposes, to put such language into print for
any purpose whatsoever, than they have to print the grossest
indecencies, or the most disgusting details of torture and cruelty.
No one can accuse this magazine of any fondness for sanctimonious
cant or lip-reverence; but if there be a "Father in Heaven," as Mr.
Smith confesses that there is, or even merely a personal Deity at
all, some sort of common decency in speaking of Him should surely be
preserved. No one would print pages of silly calumny and vulgar
insult against his earthly father, or even against a person for whom
he had no special dislike, and then excuse it by, "Of course, I don't
think so: but if anyone did think so, this would be a very smart way
of saying what he thought." Old Aristotle would call such an act
"banauson"--in plain English, blackguard; and we do not see how it
can be called anything else, unless in the case of some utter brute
in human form, to whom "there is no coenum, and therefore no
obscoenum; no fanum, and therefore no profanum." The common sense of
mankind in all ages has condemned this sort of shamelessness, even
more than it has insults to parental and social ties, and to all
which raises man above the brute. Let Mr. Smith take note of this,
and let him, if he loves himself, mend speedily; for of all styles
wherein to become stereotyped the one which he has chosen is the
worst, because in it the greatest amount of insincerity is possible.
There is a Tartarus in front of him as well as an Olympus; a hideous
possibility very near him of insincere impiety merely for the purpose
of startling; of lawless fancy merely for the purpose of glittering;
and a still more hideous possibility of a revulsion to insincere
cant, combined with the same lawless fancy, for the purpose of
keeping well with the public, in which to all appearances one of our
most popular novelists, not to mention the poet whose writings are


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