Literary and General Lectures and Essays
Charles Kingsley

Part 2 out of 5

most analogous to Mr. Smith's, now lies wallowing.

Whether he shall hereafter obey his evil angel, and follow him, or
his good angel, and become a great poet, depends upon himself; and
above all upon his having courage to be himself, and to forget
himself, two virtues which, paradoxical as it may seem, are
correlatives. For the "subjective" poet--in plain words, the
egotist--is always comparing himself with every man he meets, and
therefore momentarily tempted to steal bits of their finery wherewith
to patch his own rents; while the man who is content to be simply
what God has made him, goes on from strength to strength developing
almost unconsciously under a divine education, by which his real
personality and the salient points by which he is distinguished from
his fellows, become apparent with more and more distinctness of form,
and brilliance of light and shadow, as those well know who have
watched human character attain its clearest and grandest as well as
its loveliest outlines, not among hankerers after fame and power, but
on lonely sickbeds, and during long unknown martyrdoms of humble
self-sacrifice and loving drudgery.

But whether or not Mr. Smith shall purify himself--and he can do so,
if he will, right nobly--the world must be purified of his style of
poetry, if men are ever, as he hopes, to "set his age to music;" much
more if they are once more to stir the hearts of the many by Tyrtaean
strains, such as may be needed before our hairs are gray. The
"poetry of doubt," however pretty, would stand us in little stead if
we were threatened with a second Armada. It will conduce little to
the valour, "virtus," manhood of any Englishman to be informed by any
poet, even in the most melodious verse, illustrated by the most
startling and pan cosmic metaphors. "See what a highly-organised and
peculiar stomach-ache I have had! Does it not prove indisputably
that I am not as other men are?" What gospel there can be in such a
message to any honest man who has either to till the earth, plan a
railroad, colonise Australia, or fight his country's enemies, is hard
to discover. Hard indeed to discover how this most practical, and
therefore most poetical, of ages, is to be "set to music," when all
those who talk about so doing persist obstinately in poring, with
introverted eyes, over the state of their own digestion--or creed.

What man wants, what art wants, perhaps what the Maker of them both
wants, is a poet who shall begin by confessing that he is as other
men are, and sing about things which concern all men, in language
which all men can understand. This is the only road to that gift of
prophecy which most young poets are nowadays in such a hurry to
arrogate to themselves. We can only tell what man will be by fair
induction, by knowing what he is, what he has been.

And it is most noteworthy that in this age, in which there is more
knowledge than there ever was of what man has been, and more
knowledge, through innumerable novelists, and those most subtle and
finished ones, of what man is, that poetry should so carefully avoid
drawing from this fresh stock of information in her so-confident
horoscopes of what man will be.

There is just now as wide a divorce between poetry and the common-
sense of all time, as there is between poetry and modern knowledge.
Our poets are not merely vague and confused, they are altogether
fragmentary--disjecta membra poetarum; they need some uniting idea.
And what idea?

Our answer will probably be greeted with a laugh. Nevertheless we
answer simply, What our poets want is faith.

There is little or no faith nowadays. And without faith there can be
no real art, for art is the outward expression of firm coherent
belief. And a poetry of doubt, even a sceptical poetry, in its true
sense, can never possess clear and sound form, even organic form at
all. How can you put into form that thought which is by its very
nature formless? How can you group words round a central idea when
you do not possess a central idea? Shakespeare in his one sceptic
tragedy has to desert the pure tragic form, and Hamlet remains the
beau-ideal of "the poetry of doubt." But what would a tragedy be in
which the actors were all Hamlets, or rather scraps of Hamlets? A
drama of Hamlet is only possible because the one sceptic is
surrounded by characters who have some positive faith, who do their
work for good or evil undoubtingly while he is speculating about his.
And both Ophelia, and Laertes, Fortinbras, the king, yea the very
grave-digger, know well enough what they want, whether Hamlet does or
not. The whole play is, in fact, Shakespeare's subtle reductio ad
absurdum of that very diseased type of mind which has been for the
last forty years identified with "genius"--with one difference,
namely, that Shakespeare, with his usual clearness of conception,
exhibits the said intellectual type pure and simple, while modern
poets degrade and confuse it, and all the questions dependent on it,
by mixing it up unnecessarily with all manner of moral weaknesses,
and very often moral crimes.

But the poet is to have a faith nowadays of course--a "faith in
nature." This article of Wordsworth's poetical creed is to be
assumed as the only necessary one, and we are to ignore altogether
the somewhat important fact that he had faith in a great deal besides
nature, and to make that faith in nature his sole differentia and
source of inspiration. Now we beg leave to express not merely our
want of faith in this same "faith in nature," but even our ignorance
of what it means. Nature is certain phenomena, appearances. Faith
in them is simply to believe that a red thing is red, and a square
thing square; a sine qua non doubtless in poetry, as in carpentry,
but which will produce no poetry, but only Dutch painting and
gardeners' catalogues--in a word, that lowest form of art, the merely
descriptive; and into this very style the modern naturalist poets,
from the times of Southey and Wordsworth, have been continually
falling, and falling therefore into baldness and vulgarity. For mere
description cannot represent even the outlines of a whole scene at
once, as the daguerreotype does; they must describe it piecemeal.
Much less can it represent that whole scene at once in all its
glories of colour, glow, fragrance, life, motion. In short, it
cannot give life and spirit. All merely descriptive poetry can do is
to give a dead catalogue--to kill the butterfly, and then write a
monograph on it. And, therefore, there comes a natural revulsion
from the baldness and puerility into which Wordsworth too often fell
by indulging his false theories on these matters.

But a revulsion to what? To the laws of course which underlie the
phenomena. But again--to which laws? Not merely to the physical
ones, else Turner's "Chemistry" and Watson's "Practice of Medicine"
are great poems.

True, we have heard Professor Forbes's book on Glaciers called an
epic poem, and not without reason: but what gives that noble book
its epic character is neither the glaciers nor the laws of them, but
the discovery of those laws: the methodic, truthful, valiant,
patient battle between man and nature, his final victory, his
wresting from her the secret which had been locked for ages in the
ice-caves of the Alps, guarded by cold and fatigue, danger and
superstitious dread. For Nature will be permanently interesting to
the poet, and appear to him in a truly poetic aspect, only in as far
as she is connected by him with spiritual and personal beings, and
becomes in his eyes either a person herself, or the dwelling and
organ of persons. The shortest scrap of word-painting, as Thomson's
"Seasons" will sufficiently prove, is wearisome and dead, unless
there be a living figure in the landscape, or unless, failing a
living figure, the scene is deliberately described with reference to
the poet or the reader, not as something in itself, but as something
seen by him, and grouped and subordinated exactly as it would strike
his eye and mind. But even this is insufficient. The heart of man
demands more, and so arises a craving after the old nature-mythology
of Greece, the old fairy legends of the Middle Age. The great poets
of the Renaissance both in England and in Italy had a similar
craving. But the aspect under which these ancient dreams are
regarded by them is most significantly different. With Spenser and
Ariosto, fairies and elves, gods and demons, are regarded in their
fancied connection with man. Even in the age of Pope, when the gods
and the Rosicrucian Sylphs have become alike "poetical machinery,"
this is their work. But among the moderns it is as connected with
Nature, and giving a soul and a personality to her, that they are
most valued. The most pure utterance of this feeling is perhaps
Schiller's "Gods of Greece," where the loss of the Olympians is
distinctly deplored, because it has unpeopled, not heaven, but earth.
But the same tone runs through Goethe's classical "Walpurgis Night,"
where the old human "twelve gods," the antitypes and the friends of
men, in whom our forefathers delighted, have vanished utterly, and
given place to semi-physical Nereides, Tritons, Telchines, Psylli,
and Seismos himself.

Keats, in his wonderful "Endymion," contrived to unite the two
aspects of Greek mythology as they never had been united before,
except by Spenser in his "Garden of Adonis." But the pantheistic
notion, as he himself says in "Lamia," was the one which lay nearest
his heart; and in his "Hyperion" he begins to deal wholly with the
Nature gods, and after magnificent success, leaves the poem
unfinished, most probably because he had become, as his readers must,
weary of its utter want of human interest. For that, after all, is
what is wanted in a poetical view of Nature; and that is what the
poet, in proportion to his want of dramatic faculty, must draw from
himself. He must--he does in these days--colour Nature with the
records of his own mind, and bestow a factitious life and interest on
her by making her reflect his own joy or sorrow. If he be out of
humour, she must frown; if he sigh, she must roar; if he be--what he
very seldom is--tolerably comfortable, the birds have liberty to
sing, and the sun to shine. But by the time that he has arrived at
this stage of his development, or degradation, the poet is hardly to
be called a strong man, he who is so munch the slave of his own moods
that he must needs see no object save through them, is not very
likely to be able to resist the awe which nature's grandeur and
inscrutability brings with it, and to say firmly, and yet reverently:

Si fractus illibatur orbis,
Impavidum ferient ruinae.

He feels, in spite of his conceit, that nature is not going his way,
or looking his looks, but going what he calls her own way, what we
call God's way. At all events, he feels that he is lying, when he
represents the great universe as turned to his small set of Pan's
pipes and all the more because he feels that, conceal it as he will,
those same Pan's pipes are out of tune with each other. And so
arises the habit of impersonating nature, not after the manner of
Spenser (whose purity of metaphor and philosophic method, when he
deals with nature, is generally even more marvellous than the
richness of his fancy), as an organic whole, but in her single and
accidental phenomena; and of ascribing not merely animal passions or
animal enjoyment, but human discursive intellect and moral sense, to
inanimate objects, and talking as if a stick or a stone were more of
a man than the poet is--as indeed they very often may be.

These, like everything else, are perfectly right in their own place--
where they express passion, either pleasurable or painful, passion,
that is, not so intense as to sink into exhaustion, or to be
compelled to self-control by the fear of madness. In these two
cases, as great dramatists know well enough, the very violence of the
emotion produces perfect simplicity, as the hurricane blows the sea
smooth. But where fanciful language is employed to express the
extreme of passion, it is felt to be absurd, and is accordingly
called rant and bombast: and where it is not used to express passion
at all, but merely the quiet and normal state of the poet's mind, or
of his characters, with regard to external nature; when it is
considered, as it is by most of our modern poets, the staple of
poetry, indeed poetic diction itself, so that the more numerous and
the stranger conceits an author can cram into his verses, the finer
poet he is; then, also, it is called rant and bombast, but of the
most artificial, insincere, and (in every sense of the word)
monstrous kind; the offspring of an effeminate nature-worship,
without self-respect, without true manhood, because it exhibits the
poet as the puppet of his own momentary sensations, and not as a man
superior to nature, claiming his likeness to the Author of nature, by
confessing and expressing the permanent laws of Nature, undisturbed
by fleeting appearances without, or fleeting tempers within. Hence
it is that, as in all insincere and effete times, the poetry of the
day deals more and more with conceits, and less and less with true
metaphors. In fact, hinc illae lachrymae. This is, after all, the
primary symptom of disease in the public taste, which has set us on
writing this review--that critics all round are crying: "An ill-
constructed whole, no doubt; but full of beautiful passages"--the
word "passages" turning out to mean, in plain English, conceits. The
simplest distinction, perhaps, between an image and a conceit is
this--that while both are analogies, the image is founded on an
analogy between the essential properties of two things--the conceit
on an analogy between its accidents. Images, therefore, whether
metaphors or similes, deal with laws; conceits with private
judgments. Images belong to the imagination, the power which sees
things according to their real essence and inward life, and conceits
to the fancy or phantasy, which only see things as they appear.

To give an example or two from the "Life Drama:"

His heart holds a deep hope,
As holds the wretched West the sunset's corse--
Spit on, insulted by the brutal rains.

The passion-panting sea
Watches the unveiled beauty of the stars
Like a great hungry soul.

Great spirits,
Who left upon the mountain-tops of Death
A light that made them lovely.

The moon,
Arising from dark waves which plucked at her.

And hundreds, nay, thousands more in this book, whereof it must be
said, that beautiful or not, in the eyes of the present generation--
and many of them are put into very beautiful language, and refer to
very beautiful natural objects--they are not beautiful really and in
themselves, because they are mere conceits; the analogies in them are
fortuitous, depending not on the nature of the things themselves, but
on the private fancy of the writer, having no more real and logical
coherence than a conundrum or a pun; in plain English, untrue, only
allowable to Juliets or Othellos; while their self-possession, almost
their reason, is in temporary abeyance under the influence of joy or
sorrow. Every one must feel the exquisite fitness of Juliet's
"Gallop apace, ye fiery-footed steeds," etc., for one of her
character, in her circumstances: every one, we trust, and Mr. Smith
among the number, will some day feel the exquisite unfitness of using
such conceits as we have just quoted, or any other, page after page,
for all characters and chances. For the West is not wretched; the
rains never were brutal yet, and do not insult the sun's corpse,
being some millions of miles nearer us than the sun, but only have
happened once to seem to do so in the poet's eyes. The sea does not
pant with passion, does not hunger after the beauty of the stars;
Death has no mountain-tops, or any property which can be compared
thereto; and "the dark waves"--in that most beautiful conceit which
follows, and which Mr. Smith has borrowed from Mr. Bailey, improving
it marvellously nevertheless--do not "pluck at the moon," but only
seem to do so. And what constitutes the beauty of this very conceit-
-far the best of those we have chosen--but that it looks so very like
an image, so very like a law, from being so very common and customary
an ocular deception to one standing on a low shore at night?

Or, again, in a passage which has been already often quoted as
exquisite, and in its way is so:

The bridegroom sea
Is toying with the shore, his wedded bride;
And in the fulness of his marriage joy
He decorates her tawny brow with shells,
Retires a pace, to see how fair she looks,
Then proud, runs up to kiss her.

Exquisite? Yes; but only exquisitely pretty. It is untrue--a false
explanation of the rush and recoil of the waves. We learn nothing by
these lines; we gain no fresh analogy between the physical and the
spiritual world, not even between two different parts of the physical
world. If the poetry of this age has a peculiar mission, it is to
declare that such an analogy exists throughout the two worlds; then
let poetry declare it. Let it set forth a real intercommunion
between man and nature, grounded on a communion between man and God,
who made nature. Let it accept nature's laws as the laws of God.
Truth, scientific truth, is the only real beauty. "Let God be true,
and every man a liar."

Now, be it remembered that by far the greater proportion of this book
consists of such thoughts as these; and that these are what are
called its beauties; these are what young poets try more and more
daily to invent--conceits, false analogies. Be it remembered, that
the affectation of such conceits has always marked the decay and
approaching death of a reigning school of poetry; that when, for
instance, the primeval forest of the Elizabethan poets dwindled down
into a barren scrub of Vaughans, and Cowleys, and Herberts, and
Crashawes, this was the very form in which the deadly blight
appeared. In vain did the poetasters, frightened now and then at
their own nonsense, try to keep up the decaying dignity of poetry by
drawing their conceits, as poetasters do now, from suns and galaxies,
earthquakes, eclipses, and the portentous, and huge and gaudy in
Nature; the lawlessness and irreverence for Nature, involved in the
very worship of conceits, went on degrading the tone of the conceits
themselves, till the very sense of true beauty and fitness seemed
lost; and a pious and refined gentleman like George Herbert could
actually dare to indite solemn conundrums to the Supreme Being, and
believe that he was writing devout poetry, and "looking through
nature up to nature's God," when he delivered himself thus in one of
his least offensive poems (for the most sacred and most offensive of
them we dare not quote, lest we incur the same blame which we have
bestowed on Mr. Smith, and sing of Church festivals as--)

Marrow of time, eternity in brief,
Compendiums epitomised, the chief
Contents, the indices, the title-pages
Of all past, present, and succeeding ages,
Sublimate graces, antedated glories;
The cream of holiness.
The inventories
Of future blessedness,
The florilegia of celestial stories,
Spirit of Joys, the relishes and closes
Of angels' music, pearls dissolved, roses
Perfumed, sugar'd honeycombs.

That manner, happily for art, was silenced by the stern truth-loving
common sense of the Puritans. Whatsoever else, in their crusade
against shams, they were too hasty in sweeping away, they were right,
at least, in sweeping away such a sham as that. And now, when a
school has betaken itself to use the very same method in the cause of
blasphemy, instead of in that of cant, the Pope himself, with his
Index Prohibitus, might be a welcome guest, if he would but stop the
noise, and compel our doting Muses to sit awhile in silence, and
reconsider themselves.

In the meanwhile, poets write about poets, and poetry, and guiding
the age, and curbing the world, and waking it, and thrilling it, and
making it start, and weep, and tremble, and self-conceit only knows
what else; and yet the age is not guided, or the world curbed, or
thrilled, or waked, or anything else, by them. Why should it be?
Curb and thrill the world? The world is just now a most practical
world; and these men are utterly unpractical. The age is given up to
physical science; these men disregard and outrage it in every page by
their false analogies. If they intend, as they say, to link heaven
and earth by preaching the analogy of matter and spirit, let them, in
the name of common prudence, observe the laws of matter, about which
the world does know something, and show their coincidence with the
laws of spirit--if indeed they know anything about the said laws.
Loose conceits, fancies of the private judgment, were excusable
enough in the Elizabethan poets. In their day, nature was still
unconquered by science; medieval superstitions still lingered in the
minds of men and the magical notions of nature which they had
inherited from the Middle Age received a corroboration from those
neoplatonist dreamers, whom they confounded with the true Greek
philosophers. But, now that Bacon has spoken, and that Europe has
obeyed him, surely, among the most practical, common sense, and
scientific nation of the earth, severely scientific imagery, imagery
drawn from the inner laws of nature, is necessary to touch the hearts
of men. They know that the universe is not such as poets paint it;
they know that these pretty thoughts are only pretty thoughts,
springing from the caprice, the vanity, very often from the
indigestion of the gentlemen who take the trouble to sing to them;
and they listen, as they would to a band of street musicians, and
give them sixpence for their tune, and go on with their work. The
tune outside has nothing to do with the work inside. It will not
help them to be wiser, abler, more valiant--certainly not more
cheerful and hopeful men, and therefore they care no more for it than
they do for an opera or a pantomime, if as much. Whereupon the poets
get disgusted with the same hard-hearted prosaic world--which is
trying to get its living like an industrious animal as it is--and
demand homage--for what? For making a noise, pleasant or otherwise?
For not being as other men are? For pleading "the eccentricities of
genius" as an excuse for sitting like naughty children in the middle
of the schoolroom floor, in everybody's way, shouting and playing on
penny trumpets, and when begged to be quiet, that other people may
learn their lessons, considering themselves insulted, and pleading
"genius"? Genius!--hapless byword, which, like charity, covers
nowadays the multitude of sins, all the seven deadly ones included!
Is there any form of human folly which one has not heard excused by
"He is a genius, you know--one must not judge him by common rules."
Poor genius, to have come to this! To be, when confessed, not a
reason for being more of a man than others, but an excuse for being
less of a man, less amenable than the herd to the common laws of
humanity, and therefore less able than they to comprehend its common
duties, common temptations, common sins, common virtues, common
destinies. Of old the wise singer did by virtue of feeling with all,
and obeying with all, learn to see for all, to see eternal laws,
eternal analogies, eternal consequences, and so became a seer, vates,
prophet; but now he is become a genius, a poetical pharisee, a
reviler of common laws and duties, the slave of his own private
judgment, who prophesies out of his own heart, and hath seen nothing
but only the appearances of things distorted and coloured by
"genius." Heaven send the word, with many more, a speedy burial!

And what becomes of artistic form in the hands of such a school?
Just what was to be expected. It is impossible to give outward form
to that which is in its very nature formless, like doubt and
discontent. For on such subjects thought itself is not defined; it
has no limit, no self-coherence, not even method or organic law. And
in a poem, as in all else, the body must be formed according to the
law of the inner life; the utterance must be the expression, the
outward and visible antetype of the spirit which animates it. But
where the thought is defined by no limits, it cannot express itself
in form, for form is that which has limits. Where it has no inward
unity it cannot have any outward one. If the spirit be impatient of
all moral rule, its utterance will be equally impatient of all
artistic rule; and thus, as we are now beginning to discover from
experience, the poetry of doubt will find itself unable to use those
forms of verse which have been always held to be the highest--
tragedy, epic, the ballad, and lastly, even the subjective lyrical
ode. For they, too, to judge by every great lyric which remains to
us, require a groundwork of consistent self-coherent belief; and they
require also an appreciation of melody even more delicate, and a
verbal polish even more complete than any other form of poetic
utterance. But where there is no melody within, there will be no
melody without. It is in vain to attempt the setting of spiritual
discords to physical music. The mere practical patience and self-
restraint requisite to work out rhythm when fixed on, will be
wanting; nay, the fitting rhythm will never be found, the subject
itself being arhythmic; and thus we shall have, or, rather, alas! do
have, a wider and wider divorce of sound and sense, a greater and
greater carelessness for polish, and for the charm of musical
utterance, and watch the clear and spirit-stirring melodies of the
older poets swept away by a deluge of half-metrical prose-run-mad,
diffuse, unfinished, unmusical, to which any other metre than that in
which it happens to have been written would have been equally
appropriate, because all are equally inappropriate. Where men have
nothing to sing, it is not of the slightest consequence how they sing

While poets persist in thinking and writing thus, it is in vain for
them to talk loud about the poet's divine mission, as the prophet of
mankind, the swayer of the universe, and so forth. Not that we
believe the poet simply by virtue of being a singer to have any such
power. While young gentlemen are talking about governing heaven and
earth by verse, Wellingtons and Peels, Arkwrights and Stephensons,
Frys, and Chisholms, are doing it by plain practical prose; and even
of those who have moved and led the hearts of men by verse, every
one, as far as we know, has produced his magical effects by poetry of
the very opposite forum to that which is now in fashion. What poet
ever had more influence than Homer? What poet is more utterly
antipodal to our modern schools? There are certain Hebrew psalms,
too, which will be confessed, even by those who differ most from
them, to have exercised some slight influence on human thought and
action, and to be likely to exercise the same for some time to come.
Are they any more like our modern poetic forms than they are like our
modern poetic matter? Ay, even in our own time, what has been the
form, what the temper, of all poetry, from Korner and Heine, which
has made the German heart leap up, but simplicity, manhood,
clearness, finished melody, the very opposite, in a word, of our new
school? And to look at home, what is the modern poetry which lives
on the lips and in the hearts of Englishmen, Scotchmen, Irishmen? It
is not only simple in form and language, but much of it fitted, by a
severe exercise of artistic patience, to tunes already existing. Who
does not remember how the "Marseillaise" was born, or how Burns's
"Scots wha ha' wi' Wallace bled," or the story of Moore's taking the
old "Red Fox March," and giving it a new immortality as "Let Erin
remember the days of old," while poor Emmett sprang up and cried,
"Oh, that I had twenty thousand Irishmen marching to that tune!" So
it is, even to this day, and let those who hanker after poetic fame
take note of it; not a poem which is now really living but has gained
its immortality by virtue of simplicity and positive faith.

Let the poets of the new school consider carefully Wolfe's "Sir John
Moore," Campbell's "Hohenlinden," "Mariners of England," and "Rule
Britannia," Hood's "Song of the Shirt" and "Bridge of Sighs," and
then ask themselves, as men who would be poets: Were it not better
to have written any one of those glorious lyrics than all which John
Keats has left behind him? And let them be sure that, howsoever they
may answer the question to themselves, the sound heart of the English
people has already made its choice; and that when that beautiful
"Hero and Leander," in which Hood has outrivalled the conceit-mongers
at their own weapons, by virtue of the very terseness, clearness, and
manliness which they neglect, has been gathered to the limbo of the
Crashawes and Marinos, his "Song of the Shirt" and his "Bridge of
Sighs" will be esteemed by great new English nations far beyond the
seas, for what they are--two of the most noble lyric poems ever
written by an English pen. If our poetasters talk with Wordsworth of
the dignity and pathos of the commonest human things, they will find
them there in perfection; if they talk about the cravings of the new
time, they will find them there. If they want the truly sublime and
the awful, they will find them there also. But they will find none
of their own favourite concetti; hardly even a metaphor; no taint of
this new poetic diction into which we have now fallen, after all our
abuse of the far more manly and sincere "poetic diction" of the
eighteenth century; they will find no loitering by the way to argue
and moralise, and grumble at Providence, and show off the author's
own genius and sensibility; they will find, in short, two real works
of art, earnest, melodious, self-forgetful, knowing clearly what they
want to say, and saying it in the shortest, the simplest, the
calmest, the most finished words. Saying it!--rather taught to say
it. For if that "divine inspiration of poets," of which the
poetasters make such rash and irreverent boastings, have indeed, as
all ages have held, any reality corresponding to it, it will rather
be bestowed on such works as these, appeals from unrighteous man to a
righteous God, than on men whose only claim to celestial help seems
to be that mere passionate sensibility, which our modern Draco once
described when speaking of poor John Keats, as an infinite hunger
after all manner of pleasant things, crying to the universe: 'Oh
that thou wert one great lump of sugar, that I might suck thee!'"

Our task is ended. We have given as plainly as we can our reasons
for the opinion which this magazine has expressed several times
already, that with the exception of Mr. Allingham, our young poets
are a very hopeless generation, and will so continue unless they
utterly repent and amend. If they do not choose to awaken themselves
from within, all that is left for us is to hope that they may be
awakened from without, or by some radical revulsion in public taste
be shown their own real value and durability, and compelled to be
true and manly under pain of being laughed at and forgotten. A
general war might, amid all its inevitable horrors, sweep away at
once the dyspeptic unbelief, the insincere bigotry, the effeminate
frivolity which now paralyses our poetry as much as it does our
action, and strike from England's heart a lightning flash of noble
deeds, a thunder peal of noble song. Such a case is neither an
impossible nor a far-fetched one; let us not doubt that by some other
means if not by that, the immense volume of thought and power which
is still among us will soon find its utterance, and justify itself to
after ages by showing in harmonious and self-restrained poetry its
kinship to the heroic and the beautiful of every age and clime. And
till then, till the sunshine and the thaw shall come, and the spring
flowers burst into bud and bloom, heralding a new golden year in the
world's life, let us even be content with our pea-green and orange
fungi; nay, even admire them as not without their own tawdry beauty,
their clumsy fitness; for after all, they are products of nature,
though only of her dyspepsia; and grow and breed--as indeed cutaneous
disorders do--by an organic law of their own; fulfilling their little
destiny, and then making, according to Professor Way, by no means bad
manure. And so we take our leave of Mr. Alexander Smith, entreating
him, if these pages meet his eye, to consider three things, namely,
that in as far as he has written poetry, he is on the road to ruin by
reason of following the worst possible models. That in as far as the
prevailing taste has put these models before him, he is neither to
take much blame to himself, nor to be in anywise disheartened for the
future. That in as far as he shall utterly reverse his whole poetic
method, whether in morals or in aesthetics, leave undone all that he
has done, and do all that he has not done, he will become, what he
evidently, by grace of God, can become if he will, namely, a lasting
and a good poet.


Critics cannot in general be too punctilious in their respect for an
incognito. If an author intended us to know his name, he would put
it on his title-page. If he does not choose to do that, we have no
more right to pry into his secret than we have to discuss his family
affairs or open his letters. But every rule has its exceptional
cases; and the book which stands first upon our list is surely such.
All the world, somehow or other, knows the author. His name has been
mentioned unhesitatingly by several reviews already, whether from
private information, or from the certainty which every well-read
person must feel that there is but one man in England possessed at
once of poetic talent and artistic experience sufficient for so noble
a creation. We hope, therefore, that we shall not be considered
impertinent if we ignore an incognito which all England has ignored
before us, and attribute "In Memoriam" to the pen of the author of
"The Princess."

Such a course will probably be the more useful one to our readers;
for this last work of our only living great poet seems to us at once
the culmination of all his efforts and the key to many difficulties
in his former writings. Heaven forbid that we should say that it
completes the circle of his powers. On the contrary, it gives us
hope of broader effort in new fields of thought and forms of art.
But it brings the development of his Muse and of his Creed to a
positive and definite point. It enables us to claim one who has been
hitherto regarded as belonging to a merely speculative and peirastic
school as the willing and deliberate champion of vital Christianity,
and of an orthodoxy the more sincere because it has worked upward
through the abyss of doubt; the more mighty for good because it
justifies and consecrates the aesthetics and the philosophy of the
present age. We are sure, moreover, that the author, whatever right
reasons he may have had for concealing his own name, would have no
quarrel against us for alluding to it, were he aware of the idolatry
with which every utterance of his is regarded by the cultivated young
men of our day, especially at the universities, and of the infinite
service of which this "In Memoriam" may be to them, if they are
taught by it that their superiors are not ashamed of faith, and that
they will rise instead of falling, fulfil instead of denying the
cravings of their hearts and intellects, if they will pass upwards
with their teacher from the vague though noble expectations of
"Locksley Hall," to the assured and everlasting facts of the proem to
"In Memoriam"--in our eyes the noblest Christian poem which England
has produced for two centuries.

To explain our meaning, it will be necessary, perhaps, to go back to
Mr. Tennyson's earlier writings, of which he is said to be somewhat
ashamed now--a fastidiousness with which we will not quarrel; for it
should be the rule of the poet, forgetting those things which are
behind, to press on to those things which are before, and "to count
not himself to have apprehended but--" no, we will not finish the
quotation; let the readers of "In Memoriam" finish it for themselves,
and see how, after all, the poet, if he would reach perfection, must
be found by Him who found St. Paul of old. In the meantime, as a
true poet must necessarily be in advance of his age, Mr. Tennyson's
earlier poems, rather than these latter ones, coincide with the
tastes and speculations of the young men of this day. And in
proportion, we believe, as they thoroughly appreciate the distinctive
peculiarities of those poems, will they be able to follow the author
of them on his upward path.

Some of our readers, we would fain hope, remember as an era in their
lives the first day on which they read those earlier poems; how,
fifteen years ago, Mariana in the Moated Grange, "The Dying Swan,"
"The Lady of Shalott," came to them as revelations. They seemed to
themselves to have found at last a poet who promised not only to
combine the cunning melody of Moore, the rich fulness of Keats, and
the simplicity of Wordsworth, but one who was introducing a method of
observing nature different from that of all the three and yet
succeeding in everything which they had attempted, often in vain.
Both Keats and Moore had an eye for the beauty which lay in trivial
and daily objects. But in both of them, there was a want of deep
religious reverence, which kept Moore playing gracefully upon the
surface of phenomena without ever daring to dive into their laws or
inner meaning; and made poor Keats fancy that he was rather to render
nature poetical by bespangling her with florid ornament, than simply
to confess that she was already, by the grace of God, far beyond the
need of his paint and gilding. Even Wordsworth himself had not full
faith in the great dicta which he laid down in his famous
Introductory Essay. Deep as was his conviction that nature bore upon
her simplest forms the finger-mark of God, he did not always dare
simply to describe her as she was, and leave her to reveal her own
mystery. We do not say this in depreciation of one who stands now
far above human praise or blame. The wonder is, not that Wordsworth
rose no higher, but that, considering the level on which his taste
was formed, he had power to rise to the height above his age which he
did attain. He did a mighty work. He has left the marks of his
teaching upon every poet who has written verses worth reading for the
last twenty years. The idea by which he conquered was, as Coleridge
well sets forth, the very one which, in its practical results on his
own poetry, procured him loud and deserved ridicule. This, which
will be the root idea of the whole poetry of this generation, was the
dignity of nature in all her manifestations, and not merely in those
which may happen to suit the fastidiousness or Manichaeism of any
particular age. He may have been at times fanatical on his idea, and
have misused it, till it became self-contradictory, because he could
not see the correlative truths which should have limited it. But it
is by fanatics, by men of one great thought, that great works are
done; and it is good for the time that a man arose in it of fearless
honesty enough to write Peter Bell and the Idiot Boy, to shake all
the old methods of nature-painting to their roots, and set every man
seriously to ask himself what he meant, or whether he meant anything
real, reverent, or honest, when he talked about "poetic diction," or
"the beauties of nature." And after all, like all fanatics,
Wordsworth was better than his own creed. As Coleridge thoroughly
shows in the second volume of the "Biographia Literaria," and as may
be seen nowhere more strikingly than in his grand posthumous work,
his noblest poems and noblest stanzas are those in which his true
poetic genius, unconsciously to himself, sets at naught his own
pseudo-naturalist dogmas.

Now Mr. Tennyson, while fully adopting Wordsworth's principle from
the very first, seemed by instinctive taste to have escaped the
snares which had proved too subtle both for Keats and Wordsworth.
Doubtless there are slight niaiseries, after the manner of both those
poets, in the first editions of his earlier poems. He seems, like
most other great artists, to have first tried imitations of various
styles which already existed, before he learnt the art of
incorporating them into his own, and learning from all his
predecessors, without losing his own individual peculiarities. But
there are descriptive passages in them also which neither Keats nor
Wordsworth could have written, combining the honest sensuous
observation which is common to them both, with a self-restrained
simplicity which Keats did not live long enough to attain, and a
stately and accurate melody, an earnest songfulness (to coin a word)
which Wordsworth seldom attained, and from his inaccurate and
uncertain ear, still seldomer preserved without the occurrence of a
jar or a rattle, a false quantity, a false rapture, or a bathos. And
above all, or rather beneath all--for we suspect that this has been
throughout the very secret of Mr. Tennyson's power--there was a hush
and a reverent awe, a sense of the mystery, the infinitude, the
awfulness, as well as of the mere beauty of wayside things, which
invested these poems as wholes with a peculiar richness, depth, and
majesty of tone, beside which both Keats's and Wordsworth's methods
of handling pastoral subjects looked like the colouring of Julio
Romano or Watteau by the side of Correggio or Titian.

This deep simple faith in the divineness of Nature as she appears,
which, in our eyes, is Mr. Tennyson's differentia, is really the
natural accompaniment of a quality at first sight its very opposite,
and for which he is often blamed by a prosaic world; namely, his
subjective and transcendental mysticism. It is the mystic, after
all, who will describe Nature most simply, because he sees most in
her; because he is most ready to believe that she will reveal to
others the same message which she has revealed to him. Men like
Behmen, Novalis, and Fourier, who can soar into the inner cloud-world
of man's spirit, even though they lose their way there, dazzled by
excess of wonder--men who, like Wordsworth, can give utterance to
such subtle anthropologic wisdom as the "Ode on the Intimations of
Immortality," will for that very reason most humbly and patiently
"consider the lilies of the field, how they grow." And even so it is
just because Mr. Tennyson is, far more than Wordsworth, mystical, and
what an ignorant and money-getting generation, idolatrous of mere
sensuous activity, calls "dreamy," that he has become the greatest
naturalistic poet which England has seen for several centuries. The
same faculty which enabled him to draw such subtle subjective
pictures of womanhood as Adeline, Isabel, and Eleanor, enabled him to
see, and therefore simply to describe, in one of the most distinctive
and successful of his earlier poems, how

The creeping mosses and clambering weeds,
And the willow branches hoar and dank,
And the wavy swell of the soughing reeds,
And the wave-worn horns of the echoing bank,
And the silvery marish flowers that throng
The desolate creeks and pools among,
Were flooded over with eddying song.

No doubt there are in the earlier poems exceptions to this style--
attempts to adorn nature, and dazzle with a barbaric splendour akin
to that of Keats--as, for instance, in the "Recollections of the
Arabian Nights." But how cold and gaudy, in spite of individual
beauties, is that poem by the side of either of the Marianas, and
especially of the one in which the scenery is drawn, simply and
faithfully, from those counties which the world considers the
quintessence of the prosaic--the English fens.

Upon the middle of the night
Waking she heard the night-fowl crow;
The cock sang out an hour ere light:
From the dark fen the oxen's low
Came to her: without hope of change,
In sleep she seemed to walk forlorn,
Till cold winds woke the gray-eyed morn
About the lonely moated grange.

* * * * *

About a stone-cast from the wall
A sluice with blackened waters slept,
And o'er it many, round and small,
The cluster'd marish-mosses crept.
Hard by a poplar shook alway,
All silver-green with gnarled bark,
For leagues no other tree did mark
The level waste, the rounding gray,

Throughout all these exquisite lines occurs but one instance of what
the vulgar call "poetic diction." All is simple description, in
short and Saxon words, and yet who can deny the effect to be perfect-
-superior to any similar passage in Wordsworth? And why? Because
the passage quoted, and indeed the whole poem, is perfect in what
artists call tone--tone in the metre and in the sound of the words,
as well as in the images and the feelings expressed. The weariness,
the dreariness, the dark mysterious waste, exist alike within and
without, in the slow monotonous pace of the metre and the words, as
well as in the boundless fen, and the heart of her who, "without hope
of change, in sleep did seem to walk forlorn."

The same faith in Nature, the same instinctive correctness in melody,
springing from that correct insight into Nature, ran through the
poems inspired by medieval legends. The very spirit of the old
ballad writers, with their combinations of mysticism and objectivity,
their freedom from any self-conscious attempt at reflective epithets
or figures, runs through them all. We are never jarred in them, as
we are in all the attempts at ballad-writing and ballad-restoring
before Mr. Tennyson's time, by discordant touches of the reflective
in thought, the picturesque in Nature, or the theatric in action. To
illustrate our meaning, readers may remember the ballad of "Fair
Emmeline," in Bishop Percy's "Reliques." The bishop confesses, if we
mistake not, to have patched one end of the ballad. He need not have
informed us of that fact, while such lines as these following meet
our eyes:

The Baron turned aside,
And wiped away the rising tears
He proudly strove to hide.

No old ballad writer would have used such a complicated concetto.
Another, and even a worse instance is to be found in the difference
between the old and new versions of the grand ballad of "Glasgerion."
In the original, we hear how the elfin harper could

Harp fish out of the water,
And water out of a stone,
And milk out of a maiden's breast
That bairn had never none.

For which some benighted "restorer" substitutes--

Oh, there was magic in his touch,
And sorcery in his string!

No doubt there was. But while the new poetaster informs you of the
abstract notion, the ancient poet gives you the concrete fact; as Mr.
Tennyson has done with wonderful art in his exquisite "St. Agnes,"
where the saint's subjective mysticism appears only as embodied in
objective pictures:

Break up the heavens, oh Lord! and far
Through all yon starlight keen
Draw me, thy bride, a glittering star,
In raiment white and clean.

Sir Walter Scott's ballads fail just on the same point. Even
Campbell cannot avoid an occasional false note of sentiment. In Mr.
Tennyson alone, as we think, the spirit of the Middle Age is
perfectly reflected; its delight, not in the "sublime and
picturesque," but in the green leaves and spring flowers for their
own sake--the spirit of Chaucer and of the "Robin Hood Garland"--the
naturalism which revels as much in the hedgerow and garden as in
Alps, and cataracts, and Italian skies, and the other strong
stimulants to the faculty of admiration which the palled taste of an
unhealthy age, from Keats and Byron down to Browning, has rushed
abroad to seek. It is enough for Mr. Tennyson's truly English spirit
to see how

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot.

Or how

In the stormy east wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot.

Give him but such scenery as that which he can see in every parish in
England, and he will find it a fit scene for an ideal myth, subtler
than a casuist's questionings, deep as the deepest heart of woman.

But in this earlier volume the poet has not yet arrived at the art of
combining his new speculations on man with his new mode of viewing
Nature. His objective pieces are too exclusively objective, his
subjective too exclusively subjective; and where he deals with
natural imagery in these latter, he is too apt, as in "Eleanore," to
fall back upon the old and received method of poetic diction, though
he never indulges in a commonplace or a stock epithet. But in the
interval between 1830 and 1842 the needful interfusion of the two
elements has taken place. And in "Locksley Hall" and the "'Two
Voices" we find the new doubts and questions of the time embodied
naturally and organically, in his own method of simple natural
expression. For instance, from the Search for Truth in the "Two

Cry, faint not, climb: the summits lope
Beyond the furthest flights of hope,
Wrapt in dense cloud from base to cope.

Sometimes a little corner shines
As over rainy mist inclines
A gleaming crag with belts of pines.

"I will go forward," sayest thou;
"I shall not fail to find her now.
Look up, the fold is on her brow."

Or again, in "Locksley Hall," the poem which, as we think deservedly,
has had most influence on the minds of the young men of our day:

Eager-hearted as a boy when first he leaves his father's field,
And at night along the dusky highway near and nearer drawn,
Sees in heaven the light of London flaring like a dreary dawn;
And his spirit leaps within him to be gone before him then,
Underneath the light he looks at, in among the throngs of men;
Men, my brothers, men the workers, over reaping something new:
That which they have done but earnest of the things which they shall

and all the grand prophetic passage following, which is said, we know
not how truly, to have won for the poet the respect of that great
statesman whose loss all good men deplore.

In saying that "Locksley Hall" has deservedly had so great an
influence over the minds of the young, we shall, we are afraid, have
offended some who are accustomed to consider that poem as Werterian
and unhealthy. But, in reality, the spirit of the poem is simply
anti-Werterian. It is man rising out of sickness into health--not
conquered by Werterism, but conquering his selfish sorrow, and the
moral and intellectual paralysis which it produces, by faith and
hope--faith in the progress of science and civilisation, hope in the
final triumph of good. Doubtless, that is not the highest
deliverance--not a permanent deliverance at all. Faith in God and
hope in Christ alone can deliver a man once and for all from
Werterism, or any other moral disease; that truth was reserved for
"In Memoriam:" but as far as "Locksley Hall" goes, it is a step
forward--a whole moral aeon beyond Byron and Shelley; and a step,
too, in the right direction, just because it is a step forward--
because the path of deliverance is, as "Locksley Hall" sets forth,
not backwards towards a fancied paradise of childhood--not backward
to grope after an unconsciousness which is now impossible, an
implicit faith which would be unworthy of the man, but forward on the
road on which God has been leading him, carrying upward with him the
aspirations of childhood, and the bitter experience of youth, to help
the organised and trustful labour of manhood. There are, in fact,
only two deliverances from Werterism possible in the nineteenth
century; one is into Popery, and the other is--

Forward, forward, let us range;
Let the peoples spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change;
Through the shadow of the world we sweep into the younger day:
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.

But such a combination of powers as Mr. Tennyson's naturally develop
themselves into a high idyllic faculty; for it is the very essence of
the idyl to set forth the poetry which lies in the simpler
manifestations of Man and Nature; yet not explicitly, by a reflective
moralising on them, as almost all our idyllists--Cowper, Gray,
Crabbe, and Wordsworth--have been in the habit of doing, but
implicitly, by investing them all with a rich and delightful tone of
colouring, perfect grace of manner, perfect melody of rhythm, which,
like a gorgeous summer atmosphere, shall glorify without altering the
most trivial and homely sights. And it is this very power, as
exhibited in the "Lord of Burleigh," "Audley Court," and the
"Gardener's Daughter," which has made Mr. Tennyson, not merely the
only English rival of Theocritus and Bion, but, in our opinion, as
much their superior as modern England is superior to ancient Greece.

Yet in "The Princess," perhaps, Mr. Tennyson rises higher still. The
idyllic manner alternates with the satiric, the pathetic, even the
sublime, by such imperceptible gradations, and continual delicate
variations of key, that the harmonious medley of his style becomes
the fit outward expression of the bizarre and yet harmonious
fairyland in which his fancy ranges. In this work, too, Mr. Tennyson
shows himself more than ever the poet of the day. In it more than
ever the old is interpenetrated with the new--the domestic and
scientific with the ideal and sentimental. He dares, in every page,
to make use of modern words and notions, from which the mingled
clumsiness and archaism of his compeers shrinks, as unpoetical.
Though, as we just said, his stage is an ideal fairyland, yet he has
reached the ideal by the only true method--by bringing the Middle Age
forward to the Present one, and not by ignoring the Present to fall
back on a cold and galvanised Medievalism; and thus he makes his
"Medley" a mirror of the nineteenth century, possessed of its own new
art and science, its own new temptations and aspirations, and yet
grounded on, and continually striving to reproduce, the forms and
experiences of all past time. The idea, too, of "The Princess" is an
essentially modern one. In every age women have been tempted, by the
possession of superior beauty, intellect, or strength of will, to
deny their own womanhood, and attempt to stand alone as men, whether
on the ground of political intrigue, ascetic saintship, or
philosophic pride. Cleopatra and St. Hedwiga, Madame de Stael and
the Princess, are merely different manifestations of the same self-
willed and proud longing of woman to unsex herself, and realise,
single and self-sustained, some distorted and partial notion of her
own as to what the "angelic life" should be. Cleopatra acted out the
pagan ideal of an angel; St. Hedwiga, the medieval one; Madame de
Stael hers, with the peculiar notions of her time as to what
"spirituel" might mean; and in "The Princess" Mr. Tennyson has
embodied the ideal of that nobler, wider, purer, yet equally
fallacious, because equally unnatural, analogue, which we may meet
too often up and down England now. He shows us the woman, when she
takes nor stand on the false masculine ground of intellect, working
out her own moral punishment, by destroying in herself the tender
heart of flesh: not even her vast purposes of philanthropy can
preserve her, for they are built up, not on the womanhood which God
has given her, but on her own self-will; they change, they fall, they
become inconsistent, even as she does herself, till, at last, she
loses all feminine sensibility; scornfully and stupidly she rejects
and misunderstands the heart of man; and then falling from pride to
sternness, from sternness to sheer inhumanity, she punishes sisterly
love as a crime, robs the mother of her child, and becomes all but a
vengeful fury, with all the peculiar faults of woman, and none of the
peculiar excellences of man.

The poem being, as its title imports, a medley of jest and earnest,
allows a metrical licence, of which we are often tempted to wish that
its author had not availed himself; yet the most unmetrical and
apparently careless passages flow with a grace, a lightness, a
colloquial ease and frolic, which perhaps only heighten the effect of
the serious parts, and serve as a foil to set off the unrivalled
finish and melody of these latter. In these come out all Mr.
Tennyson's instinctive choice of tone, his mastery of language, which
always fits the right word to the right thing, and that word always
the simplest one, and the perfect ear for melody which makes it
superfluous to set to music poetry which, read by the veriest
schoolboy, makes music of itself. The poem, we are glad to say, is
so well known that it seems unnecessary to quote from it; yet there
are here and there gems of sound and expression of which, however
well our readers may know them, we cannot forbear reminding them
again. For instance, the end of the idyl in book vii. beginning
"Come down, O maid" (the whole of which is perhaps one of the most
perfect fruits of the poet's genius):

Myriads of rivulets hurrying through the lawn,
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.

Who, after three such lines, will talk of English as a harsh and
clumsy language, and seek in the effeminate and monotonous Italian
for expressive melody of sound? Who cannot hear in them the rapid
rippling of the water, the stately calmness of the wood-dove's note,
and, in the repetition of short syllables and soft liquids in the
last line, the

Murmuring of innumerable bees?

Or again, what combination of richness with simplicity in such a
passage as this:

Breathe upon my brows;
In that fine air I tremble, all the past
Melts mist-like into this bright hour, and this
I scarce believe, and all the rich to come
Reels, as the golden Autumn woodland reels
Athwart the smoke of burning leaves.

How Mr. Tennyson can have attained the prodigal fulness of thought
and imagery which distinguishes this poem, and especially the last
canto, without his style ever becoming overloaded, seldom even
confused, is perhaps one of the greatest marvels of the whole
production. The songs themselves, which have been inserted between
the cantos in the last edition of the book, seem, perfect as they
are, wasted and smothered among the surrounding fertility; till we
discover that they stand there, not merely for the sake of their
intrinsic beauty, but serve to call back the reader's mind, at every
pause in the tale of the Princess's folly, to that very healthy ideal
of womanhood which she has spurned.

At the end of the first canto, fresh from the description of the
female college, with its professoresses, and hostleresses, and other
utopian monsters, we turn the page, and--

As through the land at eve we went,
And pluck'd the ripen'd ears.
We fell out, my wife and I,
And kissed again with tears:

And blessings on the falling-out
That all the more endears,
When we fall out with those we love,
And kiss again with tears!

For when we came where lies the child
We lost in other years,
There above the little grave,
We kissed again with tears.

Between the next two cantos intervenes the well-known cradle-song,
perhaps the best of all; and at the next interval is the equally
well-known bugle-song, the idea of which is that of twin-labour and
twin-fame, in a pair of lovers:

Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow for ever and for ever.

In the next, the memory of wife and child inspirits the soldier in
the field; in the next, the sight of the fallen hero's child opens
the sluices of his widow's tears; and in the last, and perhaps the
most beautiful of all, the poet has succeeded, in the new edition, in
superadding a new form of emotion to a canto in which he seemed to
have exhausted every resource of pathos which his subject allowed;
and prepares us for the triumph of that art by which he makes us,
after all, love the heroine whom he at first taught us to hate and
despise, till we see that the naughtiness is after all one that must
be kissed and not whipped out of her, and look on smiling while she
repents, with Prince Harry of old, "not in sackcloth and ashes, but
in new silk and old sack:"

Ask me no more: the moon may draw the sea;
The cloud may stoop from Heaven and take the shape,
With fold to fold, of mountain or of cape;
But, O too fond, when have I answered thee?
Ask me no more.

Ask me no more: what answer should I give?
I love not hollow cheek or faded eye:
Yet, O my friend, I will not have thee die!
Ask me no more, lest I should bid thee live;
Ask me no more.

Ask me no more: thy fate and mine are seal'd:
I strove against the stream and all in vain:
Let the great river take me to the main:
No more, dear love, for at a touch I yield;
Ask me no more.

We now come to "In Memoriam;" a collection of poems on a vast variety
of subjects, but all united, as their name implies, to the memory of
a departed friend. We know not whether to envy more--the poet the
object of his admiration, or that object the monument which has been
consecrated to his nobleness. For in this latest and highest volume,
written at various intervals during a long series of years, all the
poet's peculiar excellences, with all that he has acquired from
others, seem to have been fused down into a perfect unity, and
brought to bear on his subject with that care and finish which only a
labour of love can inspire. We only now know the whole man, all his
art, all his insight, all his faculty of discerning the piu nell'
uno, and the uno nell' piu. As he says himself:

My love has talked with rocks and trees,
He finds on misty mountain-ground,
His own vast shadow glory-crowned;
He sees himself in all he sees.

Everything reminds him of the dead. Every joy or sorrow of man,
every aspect of nature, from

The forest crack'd, the waters, curl'd,
The cattle huddled on the lea.

The thousand waves of wheat
That ripple round the lonely grange.

In every place where in old days they had met and conversed; in every
dark wrestling of the spirit with the doubts and fears of manhood,
throughout the whole outward universe of Nature, and the whole inward
universe of spirit, the soul of his dead friend broods--at first a
memory shrouded in blank despair, then, a living presence, a
ministering spirit, answering doubts, calming fears, stirring up
noble aspirations, utter humility, leading the poet upward, step by
step, to faith, and peace, and hope. Not that there runs throughout
the book a conscious or organic method. The poems seem often merely
to be united by the identity of their metre, so exquisitely chosen,
that while the major rhyme in the second and third lines of each
stanza gives the solidity and self-restraint required by such deep
themes, the mournful minor rhyme of each first and fourth line always
leads the ear to expect something beyond, and enables the poet's
thoughts to wander sadly on, from stanza to stanza and poem to poem,
in an endless chain of

Linked sweetness long drawn out.

There are records of risings and fallings again, of alternate cloud
and sunshine, throughout the book; earnest and passionate, yet never
bitter; humble, yet never abject; with a depth and vehemence of
affection "passing the love of woman," yet without a taint of
sentimentality; self-restrained and dignified, without ever narrowing
into artificial coldness; altogether rivalling the sonnets of
Shakespeare; and all knit together into one spiritual unity by the
proem at the opening of the volume--in our eyes, the noblest English
Christian poem which several centuries have seen.

We shall not quote the very poems which we should most wish to sink
into men's hearts. Let each man find for himself those which suit
him best, and meditate on them in silence. They are fit only to be
read solemnly in our purest and most thoughtful moods, in the
solitude of our chamber, or by the side of those we love, with thanks
to the great heart who has taken courage to bestow on us the record
of his own friendship, doubt, and triumph.

It has been often asked why Mr. Tennyson's great and varied powers
had never been concentrated on one immortal work. The epic, the
lyric, the idyllic faculties, perhaps the dramatic also, seemed to be
all there, and yet all sundered, scattered about in small fragmentary
poems. "In Memoriam," as we think, explains the paradox. Mr.
Tennyson had been employed on higher, more truly divine, and yet more
truly human work than either epos or drama. Within the unseen and
alone truly Real world which underlies and explains this mere time-
shadow, which men miscall the Real, he had been going down into the
depths, and ascending into the heights, led, like Dante of old, by
the guiding of a mighty spirit. And in this volume, the record of
seventeen years, we have the result of those spiritual experiences in
a form calculated, as we believe, to be a priceless benefit to many
an earnest seeker in this generation, and perhaps to stir up some who
are priding themselves on a cold dilettantism and barren epicurism,
into something like a living faith and hope. Blessed and delightful
it is to find, that even in these new ages the creeds which so many
fancy to be at their last gasp, are still the final and highest
succour, not merely of the peasant and the outcast, but of the subtle
artist and the daring speculator. Blessed it is to find the most
cunning poet of our day able to combine the complicated rhythm and
melody of modern times with the old truths which gave heart to
martyrs at the stake; and to see in the science and the history of
the nineteenth century new and living fulfilments of the words which
we learnt at our mother's knee. Blessed, thrice blessed, to find
that hero-worship is not yet passed away; that the heart of man still
beats young and fresh; that the old tales of David and Jonathan,
Damon and Pythias, Socrates and Alcibiades, Shakespeare and his
nameless friend, of "love passing the love of woman," ennobled by its
own humility, deeper than death, and mightier than the grave, can
still blossom out, if it be but in one heart here and there, to show
men still how, sooner or later, "he that loveth knoweth God, for God
is love."


Four faces among the portraits of modern men, great or small, strike
us as supremely beautiful; not merely in expression, but in the form
and proportion and harmony of features: Shakespeare, Raffaelle,
Goethe, Burns. One would expect it to be so; for the mind makes the
body, not the body the mind; and the inward beauty seldom fails to
express itself in the outward, as a visible sign of the invisible
grace or disgrace of the wearer. Not that it is so always. A Paul,
Apostle of the Gentiles, may be ordained to be "in presence weak, in
speech contemptible," hampered by some thorn in the flesh--to
interfere apparently with the success of his mission, perhaps for the
same wise purpose of Providence which sent Socrates to the Athenians,
the worshippers of physical beauty, in the ugliest of human bodies,
that they, or rather those of them to whom eyes to see had been
given, might learn, that soul is after all independent of matter, and
not its creature and its slave. But, in the generality of cases,
physiognomy is a sound and faithful science, and tells us, if not,
alas! what the man might have been, still what he has become. Yet
even this former problem, what he might have been, may often be
solved for us by youthful portraits, before sin and sorrow and
weakness have had their will upon the features; and, therefore, when
we spoke of these four beautiful faces, we alluded, in each case, to
the earliest portraits of each genius which we could recollect.
Placing them side by side, we must be allowed to demand for that of
Robert Burns an honourable station among them. Of Shakespeare's we
do not speak, for it seems to us to combine in itself the elements of
all the other three; but of the rest, we question whether Burns be
not, after all, if not the noblest, still the most lovable--the most
like what we should wish that of a teacher of men to be. Raffaelle--
the most striking portrait of him, perhaps, is the full-face pencil
sketch by his own hand in the Taylor Gallery at Oxford--though
without a taint of littleness or effeminacy, is soft, melancholy,
formed entirely to receive and to elaborate in silence. His is a
face to be kissed, not worshipped. Goethe, even in his earliest
portraits, looks as if his expression depended too much on his own
will. There is a self-conscious power, and purpose, and self-
restraint, and all but scorn, upon those glorious lineaments, which
might win worship, and did; but not love, except as the child of
enthusiasm or of relationship. But Burns's face, to judge of it by
the early portrait of him by Nasmyth, must have been a face like that
of Joseph of old, of whom the Rabbis relate, that he was mobbed by
the Egyptian ladies whenever he walked the streets. The magic of
that countenance, making Burns at once tempter and tempted, may
explain many a sad story. The features certainly are not perfectly
regular; there is no superabundance of the charm of mere animal
health in the outline or colour: but the marks of intellectual
beauty in the face are of the highest order, capable of being but too
triumphant among a people of deep thought and feeling. The lips,
ripe, yet not coarse or loose, full of passion and the faculty of
enjoyment, are parted, as if forced to speak by the inner fulness of
the heart; the features are rounded, rich, and tender, and yet the
bones show thought massively and manfully everywhere; the eyes laugh
out upon you with boundless good humour and sweetness, with simple,
eager, gentle surprise--a gleam as of the morning star, looking forth
upon the wonder of a new-born world--altogether

A station like the herald Mercury,
New lighted on a heaven-kissing hill.

Bestow on such a man the wittiest and most winning eloquence--a rich
flow of spirits and fulness of health and life--a deep sense of
wonder and beauty in the earth and man--an instinct of the dynamic
and supernatural laws which underlie and vivify this material
universe and its appearances, healthy, yet irregular and
unscientific, all but superstitious--turn him loose in any country in
Europe, during the latter half of the eighteenth century, and it will
not be difficult, alas! to cast his horoscope.

And what an age in which to be turned loose!--for loose he must go,
to solve the problem of existence for himself. The grand simple old
Scottish education which he got from his parents must prove narrow
and unsatisfying for so rich and manifold a character; not because it
was in itself imperfect; not because it did not contain implicitly
all things necessary for his "salvation"--in every sense, all laws
which he might require for his after-life guidance; but because it
contained so much of them as yet only implicitly; because it was not
yet conscious of its own breadth and depth, and power of satisfying
the new doubts and cravings of such minds and such times as Burns's.
It may be that Burns was the devoted victim by whose fall it was to
be taught that it must awaken and expand and renew its youth in
shapes equally sound, but more complex and scientific. But it had
not done so then. And when Burns found himself gradually growing
beyond his father's teaching in one direction, and tempted beyond it
in another and a lower one, what was there in those times to take up
his education at the point where it had been left unfinished? He saw
around him in plenty animal good-nature and courage, barbaric honesty
and hospitality--more, perhaps, than he would see now; for the upward
progress into civilised excellences is sure to be balanced by some
loss of savage ones--but reckless, shallow, above all, drunken. It
was a hard-drinking, coarse, materialist age. The higher culture, of
Scotland especially, was all but exclusively French--not a good kind,
while Voltaire and Volney still remained unanswered, and "Les
Liaisons Dangereuses" were accepted by all young gentlemen, and a
great many young ladies who could read French, as the best account of
the relation of the sexes.

Besides, the philosophy of that day, like its criticism, was
altogether mechanical, nay, as it now seems, materialist in its
ultimate and logical results. Criticism was outward, and of the form
merely. The world was not believed to be already, and in itself,
mysterious and supernatural, and the poet was not defined as the man
who could see and proclaim that supernatural element. Before it was
admired, it was to be raised above nature into the region of "the
picturesque," or whatnot; and the poet was the man who gave it this
factitious and superinduced beauty, by a certain "kompsologia" and
"meteoroepeia," called "poetic diction," now happily becoming
extinct, mainly, we believe, under the influence of Burns, although
he himself thought it his duty to bedizen his verses therewith, and
though it was destined to flourish for many a year more in the temple
of the father of lies, like a jar of paper flowers on a Popish altar.

No wonder that in such a time, a genius like Burns should receive not
only no guidance, but no finer appreciation. True; he was admired,
petted, flattered; for that the man was wonderful no one could doubt.
But we question whether he was understood; whether, if that very
flowery and magniloquent style which we now consider his great
failing had been away, he would not have been passed over by the many
as a writer of vulgar doggrel. True, the old simple ballad-muse of
Scotland still dropped a gem from her treasures, here and there, even
in the eighteenth century itself--witness "Auld Robin Gray." But who
suspected that they were gems, of which Scotland, fifty years
afterwards, would be prouder and more greedy than of all the second-
hand French culture which seemed to her then the highest earthly
attainment? The Review of Burns in an early number of the "Edinburgh
Review," said to be from the pen of the late Lord Jeffrey, shows, as
clearly as anything can, the utterly inconsistent and bewildered
feeling with which the world must have regarded such a phenomenon.
Alas! there was inconsistency and bewilderment enough in the
phenomenon itself, but that only made confusion worse confounded; the
confusion was already there, even in the mind of the more practical
literary men, who ought, one would have thought, also to have been
the most deep-sighted. But no. The reviewer turns the strange thing
over and over, and inside out--and some fifteen years after it has
vanished out of the world, having said out its say and done all that
it had to do, he still finds it too utterly abnormal to make up his
mind about in any clear or consistent way, and gets thoroughly cross
with it, and calls it hard names, because it will not fit into any
established pigeon-hole or drawer of the then existing
anthropological museum. Burns is "a literary prodigy," and yet it is
"a derogation" to him to consider him as one. And that we find, not
as we should have expected, because he possessed genius, which would
have made success a matter of course in any rank, but because he was
so well educated--"having acquired a competent knowledge of French,
together with the elements of Latin and Geometry," and before he had
composed a single stanza, was "far more intimately acquainted with
Pope, Shakespeare, and Thomson, than nine-tenths of the youths who
leave school for the university," etc. etc.--in short, because he was
so well educated, that his becoming Robert Burns, the immortal poet,
was a matter of course and necessity. And yet, a page or two on, the
great reason why it was more easy for Robert Burns the cottar to
become an original and vigorous poet, rather than for any one of "the
herd of scholars and academical literati," who are depressed and
discouraged by "perusing the most celebrated writers, and conversing
with the most intelligent judges," is found to be, that "the
literature and refinement of the age do not exist for a rustic and
illiterate individual; and consequently the present time is to him
what the rude times of old were to the vigorous writer who adorned
them." In short the great reason of Robert Burns's success was that
he did not possess that education the possession of which proves him
to be no prodigy, though the review begins by calling him one, and
coupling him with Stephen Duck and Thomas Dermody.

Now if the best critic of the age, writing fifteen years after
Burns's death, found himself between the horns of such a dilemma'--
which indeed, like those of an old Arnee bull, meet at the points,
and form a complete circle of contradictions--what must have been the
bewilderment of lesser folk during the prodigy's very lifetime? what
must, indeed, have been his own bewilderment at himself, however
manfully he may have kept it down? No wonder that he was unguided,
either by himself or by others. We do not blame them; him we must
deeply blame; yet not as we ought to blame ourselves, did we yield in
the least to those temptations under which Burns fell.

Biographies of Burns, and those good ones, according to the standard
of biographies in these days, are said to exist; we cannot say that
we have as yet cared to read them. There are several other
biographies, even more important, to be read first, when they are
written. Shakespeare has found as yet no biographer; has not even
left behind him materials for a biography, such at least as are
considered worth using. Indeed, we question whether such a biography
would be of any use whatever to the world; for the man who cannot, by
studying his dramas in some tolerably accurate chronological order,
and using as a running accompaniment and closet commentary those awe-
inspiring sonnets of his, attain to some clear notion of what sort of
life William Shakespeare must have led, would not see him much the
clearer for many folios of anecdote. For after all, the best
biography of every sincere man is sure to be his own works; here he
has set down, "transferred as in a figure," all that has happened to
him, inward or outward, or rather, all which has formed him, produced
a permanent effect upon his mind and heart; and knowing that, you
know all you need know, and are content, being glad to escape the
personality and gossip of names and places, and of dates even, except
in as far as they enable you to place one step of his mental growth
before or after another. Of the honest man this holds true always;
and almost always of the dishonest man, the man of cant, affectation,
hypocrisy; for even if he pretend in his novel or his poem to be what
he is not, he still shows you thereby what he thinks he ought to have
been, or at least what he thinks that the world thinks he ought to
have been, and confesses to you, in the most naive and confidential
way, like one who talks in his sleep, what learning he has or has not
had; what society he has or has not seen, and that in the very act of
trying to prove the contrary. Nay, the smaller the man or woman, and
the less worth deciphering his biography, the more surely will he
show you, if you have eyes to see and time to look, what sort of
people offended him twenty years ago; what meanness he would have
liked "to indulge in," if he had dared, when young, and for what
other meanness he relinquished it, as he grew up; of what periodical
he stood in awe when he took pen in hand, and so forth. Whether his
books treat of love or political economy, theology or geology, it is
there, the history of the man legibly printed, for those who care to
read it. In these poems and letters of Burns, we apprehend, is to be
found a truer history than any anecdote can supply, of the things
which happened to himself, and moreover of the most notable things
which went on in Scotland between 1759 and 1796.

This latter assertion may seem startling, when we consider that we
find in these poems no mention whatsoever of the discoveries of
steamboats and spinning-jennies, the rise of the great manufacturing
cities, the revolution in Scottish agriculture, or even in Scottish
metaphysics. But after all, the history of a nation is the history
of the men, and not of the things thereof; and the history of those
men is the history of their hearts, and not of their purses, or even
of their heads; and the history of one man who has felt in himself
the heart experiences of his generation, and anticipated many
belonging to the next generation, is so far the collective history of
that generation, and of much--no man can say how much--of the next
generation; and such a man, bearing within his single soul two
generations of working-men, we take Robert Burns to have been; and
his poems, as such, a contemporaneous history of Scotland, the equal
to which we are not likely to see written for this generation, or
several to come.

Such a man sent out into such an age, would naturally have a hard and
a confused battle to fight, would probably, unless he fell under the
guidance of some master-mind, end se ipso minor, stunted and sadly
deformed, as Burns did. His works are after all only the disjecta
membra poetae; full of hints of a great might-have-been. Hints of
the keenest and most dramatic appreciation of human action and
thought. Hints of an unbounded fancy, playing gracefully in the
excess of its strength, with the vastest images, as in that robe of
the Scottish Muse, in which

Deep lights and shades, bold mingling, threw
A lustre grand,
And seem'd to my astonished view
A well-known land.

The image, and the next few stanzas which dilate it, might be a
translation from Dante's "Paradiso," so broad, terse, vivid, the
painter's touch. Hints, too, of a humour, which, like that of
Shakespeare, rises at times by sheer depth of insight into the
sublime; as when

Hornie did the Laigh Kirk watch
Just like a winking baudrons.

Hints of a power of verbal wit, which, had it been sharpened in such
a perpetual word-battle as that amid which Shakespeare lived from the
age of twenty, might have rivalled Shakespeare's own; which even now
asserts its force by a hundred little never-to-be-forgotten phrases
scattered through his poems, which stick, like barbed arrows, in the
memory of every reader. And as for his tenderness--the quality
without which all other poetic excellence is barren--it gushes forth
toward every creature, animate and inanimate, with one exception,
namely, the hypocrite, ever alike "spiacente a Dio e ai nemici sui;"
and therefore intolerable to Robert Burns's honesty, whether he be
fighting for or against the cause of right. Again we say, there are
evidences of a versatile and manifold faculty in this man, which,
with a stronger will and a larger education, might have placed him as
an equal by the side of those great names which we mentioned together
with his at the commencement of this article.

But one thing Burns wanted; and of that one thing his age helped to
deprive him--the education which comes by reverence. Looking round
in such a time, with his keen power of insight, his keen sense of
humour, what was there to worship? Lord Jeffrey, or whosoever was
the author of the review in the "Edinburgh," says disparagingly, that
Burns had as much education as Shakespeare. So he very probably had,
if education mean book-learning. Nay, more, of the practical
education of the fireside, the sober, industrious, God-fearing
education, and "drawing out" of the manhood, by act and example,
Burns may have had more under his good father than Shakespeare under
his; though the family life of the small English burgher in
Elizabeth's time would have generally presented, as we suspect, the
very same aspect of staid manfulness and godliness which a Scotch
farmer's did fifty years ago. But let that be as it may, Burns was
not born into an Elizabethan age. He did not see around him Raleighs
and Sidneys, Cecils and Hookers, Drakes and Frobishers, Spensers and
Jonsons, Southamptons and Willoughbys, with an Elizabeth, guiding and
moulding the great whole, a crowned Titaness, terrible, and strong,
and wise--a woman who, whether right or wrong, bowed the proudest, if
not to love, yet still to obey.

That was the secret of Shakespeare's power. Heroic himself, he was
born into an age of heroes. You see it in his works. Not a play but
gives patent evidence that to him all forms of human magnanimity were
common and wayside flowers--among the humours of men which he and Ben
Jonson used to wander forth together to observe. And thus he could
give living action and speech to the ancient noblenesses of Rome and
the Middle Age; for he had walked and conversed with them, unchanged
in everything but in the dress. Had he known Greek literature he
could have recalled to imperishable life such men as Cimon and
Aristides, such deeds as Marathon and Salamis. For had we not had
our own Salamis acted within a few years of his birth; and were not
the heroes of it still walking among men? It was surely this
continual presence of "men of worship," this atmosphere of admiration
and respect and trust, in which Shakespeare must have lived, which
tamed down the wild self-will of the deer-stealing fugitive from
Stratford, into the calm large-eyed philosopher, tolerant and loving,
and full of faith in a species made in the likeness of God. Not so
with Burns. One feels painfully in his poems the want of great
characters; and still more painfully that he has not drawn them,
simply because they were not there to draw. That he has a true eye
for what is noble, when he sees it, let his "Lament for Glencairn"
testify, and the stanzas in his "Vision," in which, with a high-bred
grace which many a courtly poet of his day might have envied, he
alludes to one and another Scottish worthy of his time. There is no
vein of saucy and envious "banausia" in the man; even in his most
graceless sneer, his fault--if fault it be--is, that he cannot and
will not pretend to respect that which he knows to be unworthy of
respect. He sees around him and above him, as well as below him, an
average of men and things dishonest, sensual, ungodly, shallow,
ridiculous by reason of their own lusts and passions, and he will not
apply to the shams of dignity and worth, the words which were meant
for their realities. After all, he does but say what every one round
him was feeling and thinking; but he said it; and hypocritical
respectability shrank shrieking from the mirror of her own inner
heart. But it was all the worse for him. In the sins of others he
saw an excuse for his own. Losing respect for and faith in his
brother-men, he lost, as a matter of course, respect for himself,
faith in himself. The hypocrisy which persecutes in the name of law,
whether political or moral, while in private it transgresses the very
law which is for ever on its tongue, is turned by his passionate and
sorely-tempted character into a too easy excuse for disbelieving in
the obligation of any law whatsoever. He ceases to worship, and
therefore to be himself worshipful--and we know the rest.

"He might have still worshipped God?" He might, and surely amid all
his sins, doubts, and confusions, the remembrance of the old faith
learned at his parent's knee, does haunt him still as a beautiful
regret--and sometimes, in his bitterest hours, shine out before his
poor broken heart as an everlasting Pharos, lighting him homewards
after all. Whether he reached that home or not, none on earth can
tell. But his writings show, if anything can, that the vestal-fire
of conscience still burned within, though choked again and again with
bitter ashes and foul smoke. Consider the time in which he lived,
when it was "as with the people, so with the priest," and the grand
old life-tree of the Scottish Kirk, now green and vigorous with fresh
leaves and flowers, was all crusted with foul scurf and moss, and
seemed to have ceased growing, and to be crumbling down into decay;
consider the terrible contradiction between faith and practice which
must have met the eyes of the man, before he could write with the
same pen--and one as honestly as the other--"The Cottar's Saturday
Night," and "Holy Willie's Prayer." But those times are past, and
the men who acted in them gone to another tribunal. Let the dead
bury their dead; and, in the meantime, instead of cursing the
misguided genius, let us consider whether we have not also something
for which to thank him; whether, as competent judges of him aver from
their own experience, those very seeming blasphemies of his have not
produced more good than evil; whether, though "a savour of death unto
death," to conceited and rebellious spirits, they may not have helped
to open the eyes of the wise to the extent to which the general
eighteenth-century rottenness had infected Scotland, and to make
intolerable a state of things which ought to have been intolerable,
even if Burns had never written.

We are not attacking the reviewer, far less the "Edinburgh Review,"
which some years after this not only made the amende honorable to
Burns, but showed a frank impartiality only too rare in the reviews
of these days, by publishing in its pages the noble article on Burns
which has since appeared separately in Mr. Carlyle's "Miscellanies."
We only wish to show, from the reviewer's own words, the element in
which Burns had to work, the judges before whom he had to plead, and
the change which, as we think, very much by the influence of his own
poems, has passed upon the minds of men. How few are there who would
pen now about him such a sentence as this: "He is" (that is, was,
having gone to his account fifteen years before) "perpetually making
a parade of his own inflammability and imprudence, and talking with
much self-complacency and exultation of the offence he has occasioned
to the sober and correct part of mankind"--a very small part of
mankind, one would have thought, in the British Isles at least, about
the end of the last century. But, it was the fashion then, as usual,
to substitute the praise of virtues for the practice of them; and
three-bottle and ten-tumbler men had a very good right, of course, to
admire sobriety and correctness, and to denounce any two-bottle and
six-tumbler man who was not ashamed to confess in print the
weaknesses which they confessed only by word of mouth. Just, and yet
not just. True, Burns does make a parade of his thoughtlessness, and
worse; but why? because he gloried in it? He must be a very skin-
deep critic who cannot see, even in the most insolent of those
blameworthy utterances, an inward shame and self-reproach, which if
any man had ever felt in himself, he would be in nowise inclined to
laugh at it in others. Why, it is the very shame which wrings those
poems out of him. They are the attempt of the strong man fettered to
laugh at his own consciousness of slavery--to deny the existence of
his chains--to pretend to himself that he likes them. To us, some of
those wildest "Rob the Ranter" bursts of blackguardism are most
deeply mournful, hardly needing that the sympathies which they stir
up should be heightened by the little scraps of prayer and bitter
repentance, which lie up and down among their uglier brethren, the
disjecta membra of a great "De Profundis," perhaps not all unheard.
These latter pieces are most significant. The very doggrel of them,
the total absence of any attempt at ornament in diction or polish in
metre, is proof complete of their deep heart-wrung sincerity. They
are like the wail of a lost child, rather than the remorse of a
Titan. The heart of the man was so young to the last; the boy-vein
in him, as perhaps in all great poets, beating on through manhood for
good and for evil. No! there was parade there, as of the lost woman,
who tries to hide her self-disgust by staring you out of countenance,
but of complacency and exultation none.

On one point, namely politics, Burns's higher sympathies seem to have
been awakened. It had been better for him, in a worldly point of
view, that they had not. In an intellectual, and even in a moral
point of view, far worse. A fellow-feeling with the French
Revolution, in the mind of a young man of that day, was a sign of
moral health, which we should have been sorry to miss in him. Unable
to foresee the outcome of the great struggle, having lost faith in
those everlasting truths, religious and political, which it was madly
setting at naught, what could it appear to him but an awakening from
the dead, a return to young and genial health, a purifying
thunderstorm. Such was his dream, the dream of thousands more, and
not so wrong a one after all. For that, since that fearful outburst
of the nether pit, all Europe has arisen and awakened into manifold
and beautiful new life, who can deny? We are not what we were, but
better, or rather, with boundless means of being better if we will.
We have entered a fresh era of time for good and evil; the fact is
patent in every sermon we hear, in every book we read, in every
invention, even the most paltry, which we see registered. Shall we
think hardly of the man who saw the dawn of our own day, and welcomed
it cheerfully and hopefully, even though he fancied the mist-spectres
to be elements of the true sunrise, and knew not--and who knows?--the
purposes of Him whose paths are in the great deep, and His ways past
finding out? At least, the greater part of his influence on the
times which have followed him, is to be ascribed to that very
"Radicalism" which in the eyes of the respectable around him, had
sealed his doom, and consigned him to ignoble oblivion. It has been,
with the working men who read him, a passport for the rest of his
writings; it has allured them to listen to him, when he spoke of high
and holy things, which but for him, they might have long ago tossed
away as worthless, in the recklessness of ignorance and discontent.
They could trust his "Cottar's Saturday Night;" they could believe
that he spoke from his heart, when in deep anguish he cries to the
God whom he had forgotten, while they would have turned with a
distrustful sneer from the sermon of the sleek and comfortable
minister, who in their eyes, however humbly born, had deserted his
class, and gone over to the camp of the enemy, and the flesh-pots of

After the time of Burns, as was to be expected, Scottish song
multiplies itself tenfold. The nation becomes awakened to the
treasures of its own old literature, and attempts, what after all,
alas! is but a revival; and like most revivals, not altogether a
successful one. Of the twelve hundred songs contained in Mr.
Whitelaw's excellent collection, whereof more than a hundred and
fifty are either wholly or partly Burns's, the small proportion
written before him are decidedly far superior in value to those
written after him; a discouraging fact, though not difficult to
explain, if we consider the great social changes which have been
proceeding, the sterner subjects of thought which have been arising,
during the last half-century. True song requires for its atmosphere
a state rather of careless Arcadian prosperity, than of struggle and
doubt, of earnest looking forward to an unknown future, and
pardonable regret for a dying past; and in that state the mind of the
masses, throughout North Britain, has been weltering confusedly for
the last few years. The new and more complex era into which we are
passing has not yet sufficiently opened itself to be sung about; men
hardly know what it is, much less what it will be; and while they are
hard at work creating it, they have no breath to spare in talking of
it. One thing they do see and feel, painfully enough at times,
namely, that the old Scottish pastoral life is passing away, before
the combined influence of manufactures and the large-farm system; to
be replaced, doubtless, hereafter, by something better, but in the
meanwhile dragging down with it in its decay but too much that can
ill be spared of that old society which inspired Ramsay and Burns.
Hence the later Scottish song-writers seldom really sing; their
proses want the unconscious lilt and flash of their old models; they
will hardly go (the true test of a song) without music. The true
test, we say again, of a song. Who needs music, however fitting and
beautiful the accustomed air may happen to be, to "Roy's Wife of
Aldivalloch," or "The Bride cam' out o' the byre," or either of the
casts of "The Flowers of the Forest," or to "Auld Lang Syne" itself?
They bubble right up out of the heart, and by virtue of their inner
and unconscious melody, which all that is true to the heart has in
it, shape themselves into a song, and are not shaped by any notes
whatsoever. So with many, most indeed, of Burns's; and a few of
Allan Cunningham's; the "Wet sheet and a flowing sail," for instance.
But the great majority of these later songs seem, if the truth is to
be spoken, inspirations at second hand, of people writing about
things which they would like to feel, and which they ought to feel,
because others used to feel them in old times; but which they do not
feel as their forefathers felt--a sort of poetical Tractarianism, in
short. Their metre betrays them, as well as their words; in both
they are continually wandering, unconsciously to themselves, into the
elegiac--except when on one subject, whereon the muse of Scotia still
warbles at first hand, and from the depths of her heart--namely,
alas! the barley bree: and yet never, even on this beloved theme,
has she risen again to the height of Burns's bacchanalian songs.

But when sober, there is a sadness about the Scottish muse nowadays--
as perhaps there ought to be--and the utterances of hers which ring
the truest are laments. We question whether in all Mr. Whitelaw's
collection there is a single modern poem (placing Burns as the
transition point between the old and new) which rises so high, or
pierces so deep, with all its pastoral simplicity, as Smibert's
"Widow's Lament."

Afore the Lammas tide
Had dwin'd the birken tree,
In a' our water-side,
Nae wife was blest like me:
A kind gudeman, and twa
Sweet bairns were round me here;
But they're a' ta'en awa',
Sin' the fa' o' the year.

Sair trouble cam' our gate,
And made me, when it cam',
A bird without a mate,
A ewe without a lamb.
Our hay was yet to maw,
And our corn was yet to shear;
When they a' dwined awa',
In the fa' o' the year.

I daurna look a-field,
For aye I trow to see,
The form that was a bield
To my wee bairns and me.
But wind, and weet, and snaw,
They never mair can fear,
Sin' they a' got the ca',
In the fa' o' the year.

Aft on the hill at e'ens,
I see him 'mang the ferns,
The lover o' my teens,
The father o' my bairns:
For there his plaid I saw,
As gloamin' aye drew near--
But my a's now awa',
Sin' the fa' o' the year.

Our bonnie rigs theirsel',
Reca' my waes to mind,
Our puir dumb beasties tell
O' a' that I ha'e tyned;
For whae our wheat will saw,
And whae our sheep will shear,
Sin' my a' gaed awa',
In the fa' o' the year?

My heart is growing cauld,
And will be caulder still,
And sair sair in the fauld,
Will be the winter's chill;
For peats were yet to ca',
Our sheep they were to smear,
When my a' dwined awa',
In the fa' o' the year.

I ettle whiles to spin,
But wee wee patterin' feet,
Come rinnin' out and in,
And then I first maun greet:
I ken its fancy a'
And faster rows the tear,
That my a' dwined awa',
In the fa' o' the year.

Be kind, O heav'n abune!
To ane sae wae and lane,
An' tak' her hamewards sune,
In pity o' her mane:
Lang ere the March winds blaw,
May she, far far frae here,
Meet them a' that's awa',
Sin' the fa' o' the year.

It seems strange why the man who could write this, who shows, in the
minor key of metre, which he has so skilfully chosen, such an
instinct for the true music of words, could not have written much
more. And yet, perhaps, we have ourselves given the reason already.
There was not much more to sing about. The fashion of imitating old
Jacobite songs is past, the mine now being exhausted, to the great
comfort of sincerity and common sense. The peasantry, whose
courtship, rich in animal health, yet not over pure and refined,
Allan Ramsay sang a hundred years ago, are learning to think, and
act, and emigrate, as well as to make love. The age of Theocritus
and Bion has given place to--shall we say the age of the Caesars, or
the irruption of the barbarians?--and the love-singers of the North
are beginning to feel, that if that passion is to retain any longer
its rightful place in their popular poetry, it must be spoken of
henceforth in words as lofty and refined as those in which the most
educated and the most gifted speak of it. Hence, in the transition
between the old animalism and the new spiritualism, a jumble of the
two elements, not always felicitous; attempts at ambitious
description, after Burns's worst manner; at subjective sentiment,
after the worst manner of the world in general; and yet, all the
while, a consciousness that there was something worth keeping in the
simple objective style of the old school, without which the new
thoughtfulness would be hollow, and barren, and windy; and so the two
are patched together, "new cloth into an old garment, making the rent
worse." Accordingly, these new songs are universally troubled with
the disease of epithets. Ryan's exquisite "Lass wi' the Bonny Blue
Een," is utterly spoiled by two offences of this kind.

She'll steal out to meet her loved Donald again,


The world's false and vanishing scene;

as Allan Cunningham's still more exquisite "Lass of Preston Mill" is
by one subjective figure:

Six hills are woolly with my sheep,
Six vales are lowing with my kye.

Burns doubtless committed the same fault again and again; but in his
time it was the fashion; and the older models (for models they are
and will remain for ever) had not been studied and analysed as they
have been since. Burns, indeed, actually spoiled one or two of his
own songs by altering them from their first cast to suit the
sentimental taste of his time. The first version, for instance, of
the "Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon," is far superior to the second
and more popular one, because it dares to go without epithets.
Compare the second stanza of each:

Thou'lt break my heart, thou bonnie bird,
That sings upon the bough;
Thou minds me o' the happy days
When my fause love was true.

* * * *

Thou'lt break my heart, thou warbling bird,
That wantons through the flowery thorn;
Thou minds me o' departed joys,
Departed never to return.

What is said in the latter stanza which has not been said in the
former, and said more dramatically, more as the images would really
present themselves to the speaker's mind? It would be enough for him
that the bird was bonnie, and singing; and his very sorrow would lead
him to analyse and describe as little as possible a thing which so
painfully contrasted with his own feelings; whether the thorn was
flowery or not, would not have mattered to him, unless he had some
distinct association with the thorn-flowers, in which case he would
have brought out the image full and separate, and not merely thrown
it in as a make-weight to "thorn"--and this is the great reason why
epithets are, nine times out of ten, mistakes in song and ballad
poetry; he never would have thought of "departed" before he thought
of "joys." A very little consideration of the actual processes of
thought in such a case, will show the truth of our observation, and
the instinctive wisdom of the older song-writers, in putting the
epithet as often as possible after the noun, instead of before it,
even at the expense of grammar. They are bad things at all times in
song poetry, these epithets; and, accordingly, we find that the best
German writers, like Uhland and Heine, get rid of them as much as
possible, and succeed thereby, every word striking and ringing down
with full force, no cushion of an epithet intruding between the
reader's brain-anvil and the poet's hammer to break the blow. In
Uhland's "Three Burschen," if we recollect right, there are but two
epithets, and those of the simplest descriptive kind: "Thy fair
daughter" and a "black pall." Were there more, we question whether
the poet would have succeeded, as he has done, in making our flesh
creep as he leads us on from line to line and verse to verse. So
Tennyson, the greatest of our living poets, eschews as much as
possible, in his later writings, these same epithets, except in cases
where they are themselves objective and pictorial--in short, the very
things which he wants you to look at, as, for instance:

And into silver arrows break
The sailing moon in creek and cove.

This is fair enough; but, indeed, after laying down our rule, we must
confess that it is very difficult to keep always true to it, in a
language which does not, like the Latin and German, allow us to put
our adjectives very much where we choose. Nevertheless, whether we
can avoid it or not, every time we place before the noun an epithet
which, like "departed joys," relates to our consciousness concerning
the object, and not merely to the object itself; or an epithet which,
like "flowery thorn," gives us, before we get to the object itself,
those accidents of the object which we only discern by a second look,
by analysis and reflection--(for the thorn, if in the flower, would
look to us, at the first glance, not "flowery," but "white," "snowy,"
or what you will which expresses colour, and not scientific fact)--
every time, we repeat, this is done, the poet descends from the
objective and dramatic domain of song, into the subjective and
reflective one of elegy.

But the field in which Burns's influence has been, as was to be
expected, most important and most widely felt, is in the poems of
working men. He first proved that it was possible to become a poet
and a cultivated man, without deserting his class, either in station
or in sympathies; nay, that the healthiest and noblest elements of a
lowly-born poet's mind might be, perhaps must be, the very feelings
and thoughts which he brought up with him from below, not those which
he received from above, in the course of his artificial culture.
From the example of Burns, therefore, many a working man, who would
otherwise have "died and given no sign," has taken courage, and
spoken out the thought within him, in verse or prose, not always
wisely and well, but in all cases, as it seems to us, in the belief
that he had a sort of divine right to speak and be heard, since Burns
had broken down the artificial ice-wall of centuries, and asserted,
by act as well as song, that "a man's a man for a' that." Almost
every volume of working men's poetry which we have read, seems to re-
echo poor Nicoll's spirited, though somewhat over-strained address to
the Scottish genius:

This is the natal day of him
Who, born in want and poverty,
Burst from his fetters and arose,
The freest of the free.

Arose to tell the watching earth
What lowly men could feel and do,
To show that mighty heaven-like souls
In cottage hamlets grew.

Burns! thou hast given us a name
To shield us from the taunts of scorn:
The plant that creeps amid the soil
A glorious flower has borne.

Before the proudest of the earth
We stand with an uplifted brow;
Like us, thou wast a toil-worn man,
And we are noble now!

The critic, looking calmly on, may indeed question whether this new
fashion of verse-writing among working men has been always conducive
to their own happiness. As for absolute success as poets, that was
not to be expected of one in a hundred, so that we must not be
disappointed if among the volumes of working men's poetry, of which
we give a list at the head of our article, only two should be found,
on perusal, to contain any writing of a very high order, although
these volumes form a very small portion of the verses which have been
written, during the last forty years, by men engaged in the rudest
and most monotonous toil. To every man so writing, the art,
doubtless, is an ennobling one. The habit of expressing thought in


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