The Poet's Poet
Elizabeth Atkins

Part 1 out of 6

Juliet Sutherland, Phil McLaury, Charles Franks, and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team


Essays on the Character and Mission of the Poet As Interpreted in
English Verse of the Last One Hundred and Fifty Years



Instructor in English, University of Minnesota




Utterances of poets regarding their character and mission have perhaps
received less attention than they deserve. The tacit assumption of the
majority of critics seems to be that the poet, like the criminal, is the
last man who should pass judgment upon his own case. Yet it is by no
means certain that this view is correct. Introspective analysis on the
part of the poet might reasonably be expected to be as productive of
aesthetic revelation as the more objective criticism of the mere observer
of literary phenomena. Moreover, aside from its intrinsic merits, the
poet's self-exposition must have interest for all students of Platonic
philosophy, inasmuch as Plato's famous challenge was directed only
incidentally to critics of poetry; primarily it was to Poetry herself,
whom he urged to make just such lyrical defense as we are to consider.

The method here employed is not to present exhaustively the substance of
individual poems treating of poets. Analysis of Wordsworth's _Prelude,_
Browning's _Sordello,_ and the like, could scarcely give more than a
re-presentation of what is already available to the reader in notes and
essays on those poems. The purpose here is rather to pass in review the
main body of such verse written in the last one hundred and fifty years.
We are concerned, to be sure, with pointing out idiosyncratic
conceptions of individual writers, and with tracing the vogue of passing
theories. The chief interest, however, should lie in the discovery of an
essential unity in many poets' views on their own character and mission.

It is true that there is scarcely an idea relative to the poet which is
not somewhere contradicted in the verse of this period, and the attempt
has been made to be wholly impartial in presenting all sides of each
question. Indeed, the subject may seem to be one in which dualism is
inescapable. The poet is, in one sense, a hybrid creature; he is the
lover of the sensual and of the spiritual, for he is the revealer of the
spiritual in the sensual. Consequently it is not strange that
practically every utterance which we may consider,--even such as deal
with the most superficial aspects of the poet, as his physical beauty or
his health,--falls naturally into one of two divisions, accordingly as
the poet feels the sensual or the spiritual aspect of his nature to be
the more important Yet the fact remains that the quest of unity has been
the most interesting feature of this investigation. The man in whose
nature the poet's two apparently contradictory desires shall wholly
harmonize is the ideal whom practically all modern English poets are
attempting to present.

Minor poets have been considered, perhaps to an unwarranted degree. In
the Victorian period, for instance, there may seem something grotesque
in placing Tupper's judgments on verse beside Browning's. Yet, since it
is true that so slight a poet as William Lisles Bowles influenced
Coleridge, and that T. E. Chivers probably influenced Poe, it seems that
in a study of this sort minor writers have a place. In addition, where
the views of one minor verse-writer might be negligible, the views of a
large group are frequently highly significant, not only as testifying to
the vogue of ephemeral ideas, but as demonstrating that great and small
in the poetic world have the same general attitude toward their gift. It
is perhaps true that minor poets have been more loquacious on the
subject of their nature than have greater ones, but some attempt is here
made to hold them within bounds, so that they may not drown out the more
meaningful utterances of the master singers.

The last one hundred and fifty years have been chosen for discussion,
since the beginning of the romantic movement marked the rise of a
peculiarly self-conscious attitude in the poet, and brought his
personality into new prominence. Contemporary verse seems to fall within
the scope of these studies, inasmuch as the "renaissance of poetry" (as
enthusiasts like to term the new stirring of interest in verse) is
revealing young poets of the present day even more frank in
self-revealment than were poets of twenty years ago.

The excursion through modern English poetry involved in these studies
has been a pleasant one. The value and interest of such an investigation
was first pointed out to me by Professor Louise Pound of the University
of Nebraska. It is with sincere appreciation that I here express my
indebtedness to her, both for the initial suggestion, and for the
invaluable advice which I have received from her during my procedure. I
owe much gratitude also to President Wimam Allan Neilson of Smith
College, who was formerly my teacher in Radcliffe College, and to
Professor Hartley Burr Alexander, of the department of Philosophy at the
University of Nebraska, who has given me unstinted help and generous





Apparent futility of verse dealing with the poet.--Its
justification.--The poet's personality the hidden theme of all
verse,--The poet's egotism.--Belief that his inspirations are
divine.--Belief in the immortality of his poems.--The romantic view that
the creator is greater than his creations.--The poet's contempt for
uninspired men.--Reaction of the public to the poet's contempt.--Its
retaliation in jeers.--The poet's wounded vanity.--His morbid
self-consciousness.--His self-imposed solitude.--Enhancement of his
egotism by solitude.


View that genius results from a happy combination of physical
conditions.--The poet's reluctance to embrace such a theory.--His
heredity.--Rank.--Patricians vs. children of the soil.--His
body.--Poetic beauty.--Features expressing alert and delicate
senses.--Contrary conception of poet rapt away from sense.--
Blindness.--Physique.--Health.--Hypersensibility of invalids.--
Escape from fleshly bondage afforded by perfect health.--The poet's
sex.--Limitations of the woman poet.--Her claims.--The poet's
habitat.--Vogue of romantic solitude.--Savage environment.--Its
advantages.--Growing popularity of the city poet.--The wanderer.--
The financial status of the poet.--Poverty as sharpener of
sensibility.--The poet's age.--Vogue of the young poet.--Purity of
youthful emotions.--Early death.--Claims of the aged poet.--
Contemplation after active life.


The classic conception.--Love as a disturbing factor in
composition.--The romantic conception.--Love the source of
inspiration.--Fusion of intense passion with repose essential to
poetry.--Poetic love and Platonic love synonymous.--Sensual love not
suggestive.--The poet's ascent to ideal love.--Analogy with ascent
described in Plato's _Symposium_.--Discontent with ephemeralness of
passion.--Poetry a means of rendering passion eternal.--Insatiability of
the poet's affections.--Idealization of his mistress.--Ideal beauty the
real object of his love.--Fickleness.--Its justification.--Advantage in
seeing varied aspects of ideal beauty.--Remoteness as an essential
factor in ideal love.--Sluggishness resulting from complete
content.--Aspiration the poetic attitude.--Abstract love-poetry,
consciously addressed to ideal beauty.--Its merits and defects.--The
sensuous as well as the ideal indispensable to poetry.


Reticence of great geniuses regarding inspiration.--Mystery of
inspiration.--The poet's curiosity as to his inspired moments.--Wild
desire preceding inspiration.--Sudden arrest rather than satisfaction of
desire.--Ecstasy.--Analogy with intoxication.--Attitude of reverence
during inspired moments.--Feeling that an outside power is
responsible.--Attempts to give a rational account of inspiration.--The
theory of the sub-conscious.--Prenatal memory.--Reincarnation of dead
geniuses.--Varied conceptions of the spirit inspiring song as the Muse,
nature, the spirit of the universe.--The poet's absolute surrender to
this power.--Madness.--Contempt for the limitations of the human
reason.--Belief in infallibility of inspirations.--Limitations of
inspiration.--Transience.--Expression not given from without.--The work
of the poet's conscious intelligence.--Need for making the vision
intelligible.--Quarrel over the value of hard work.


The poet's reliance upon feeling as sole moral guide.--Attack upon his
morals made by philosophers, puritans, philistines.--Professedly wicked
poets.--Their rarity.--Revolt against mass-feeling.--The aesthetic
appeal of sin.--The morally frail poet, handicapped by susceptibility to
passion.--The typical poet's repudiation of immorality.--Feeling that
virtue and poetry are inseparable.--Minor explanations for this
conviction.--The "poet a poem" theory.--Identity of the good and the
beautiful.--The poet's quarrel with the philistine.--The poet's horror
of restraint.--The philistine's unfairness to the poet's innocence.--The
poet's quarrel with the puritan.--The poet's horror of asceticism.--The
poet's quarrel with the philosopher.--Feeling upon which the poet relies
allied to Platonic intuition.


Threefold attack upon the poet's religion.--His lack of theological
temper.--His lack of reverence.--His lack of conformance.--The poet's
defense.--Materialistic belief deadening to poetry.--His idealistic
temper.--His pantheistic leanings.--His reverence for beauty.--His
repudiation of a religion that humbles him.--Compatibility of pride and
pantheism.--The poet's nonconformance.--His occasional perverseness.--
Inspiring nature of doubt.--The poet's thirst for God.--The occasional
orthodox poet.


The poet's alleged uselessness,--His effeminacy.--His virility.--The
poet warrior.--Incompatibility of poets and materialists.--Plato'scharge
that poetry is inferior to actual life.--The concurrence of
certain soldier poets in Plato's charge.--Poetry as an amusement
only.--The value of faithful imitation.--The realists.--Poetry as a
solace.--Poetry a reflection of the ideal essence of things.--Love of
beauty the poet's guide in disentangling ideality from the accidents of
things.--Beauty as truth.--The poet as seer.--The quarrel with the
philosopher.--The truth of beauty vs. cold facts.--Proof of validity of
the poet's truth.--His skill as prophet.--The poet's mission as
reformer.--His impatience with practical reforms.--Belief in essential
goodness of men, since beauty is the essence of things.--Reform a matter
of allowing all things to express their essence.--Enthusiasm for
liberty.--Denial of the war-poet's charge.--Poets the authors of
liberty.--Poets the real rulers of mankind.--The world's appreciation of
their importance.--Their immortality.


Denial that the views of poets on the poet are heterogeneous.--Poets'
identity of purpose in discussing poets.--Apparent contradictions in
views.-Apparent inconsistency in the thought of each poet.--The two-fold
interests of poets.--The poet as harmonizer of sensual and spiritual.--
Balance of sense and spirit in the poetic temperament.--Injustice to
one element or the other in most literary criticism.--Limitations of
the poet's prose criticism.--Superiority of his critical expressions
in verse.--The poet's importance.--Poetry as a proof of the idealistic




Most of us, mere men that we are, find ourselves caught in some
entanglement of our mortal coil even before we have fairly embarked upon
the enterprise of thinking our case through. The art of self-reflection
which appeals to us as so eminent and so human, is it after all much
more than a vaporous vanity? We name its subject "human nature"; we give
it a raiment of timeless generalities; but in the end the show of
thought discloses little beyond the obstreperous bit of a "me" which has
blown all the fume. The "psychologist's fallacy," or again the
"egocentric predicament" of the philosopher of the Absolute, these are
but tagged examples of a type of futile self-return (we name it
"discovery" to save our faces) which comes more or less to men of all
kinds when they take honest-eyed measure of the consequences of their
own valuations of themselves. We pose for the portrait; we admire the
Lion; but we have only to turn our heads to catch-glimpse Punch with
thumb to nose. And then, of course, we mock our own humiliation, which
is another kind of vanity; and, having done this penance, pursue again
our self-returning fate. The theme is, after all, one we cannot drop; it
is the mortal coil.

In the moment of our revulsion from the inevitable return upon itself of
the human reason, many of us have clung with the greater desperation to
the hope offered by poetry. By the way of intuition poets promise to
carry us beyond the boundary of the vicious circle. When the ceaseless
round of the real world has come to nauseate us, they assure us that by
simply relaxing our hold upon actuality we may escape from the
squirrel-cage. By consenting to the prohibition, "Bold lover, never,
never canst thou kiss!" we may enter the realm of ideality, where our
dizzy brains grow steady, and our pulses are calmed, as we gaze upon the
quietude of transcendent beauty.

But what are we to say when, on opening almost any book of comparatively
recent verse, we find, not the self-forgetfulness attendant upon an
ineffable vision, but advertisement of the author's importance? His
argument we find running somewhat as follows: "I am superior to you
because I write poetry. What do I write poetry about? Why, about my
superiority, of course!" Must we not conclude that the poet, with the
rest of us, is speeding around the hippodrome of his own self-centered

Indeed the poet's circle is likely to appear to us even more viciousthan
that of other men. To be sure, we remember Sir Philip Sidney's
contention, supported by his anecdote of the loquacious horseman, that
men of all callings are equally disposed to vaunt themselves. If the
poet seems especially voluble about his merits, this may be owing to the
fact that, words being the tools of his trade, he is more apt than other
men in giving expression to his self-importance. But our specific
objection to the poet is not met by this explanation. Even the horseman
does not expect panegyrics of his profession to take the place of
horseshoes. The inventor does not issue an autobiography in lieu of a
new invention. The public would seem justified in reminding the poet
that, having a reasonable amount of curiosity about human nature, it
will eagerly devour the poet's biography, properly labeled, but only
after he has forgotten himself long enough to write a poem that will
prove his genius, and so lend worth to the perusal of his idiosyncratic
records, and his judgments on poetic composition.

The first impulse of our revulsion from the self-infatuated poet is to
confute him with the potent name of Aristotle, and show him his doom
foreordained in the book of poetic Revelations. "The poet should speak
as little as possible in his own person," we read, "for it is not this
that makes him an imitator." [Footnote: _Poetics_, 1460 a.] One cannot
too much admire Aristotle's canniness in thus nipping the poet's egotism
in the bud, for he must have seen clearly that if the poet began to talk
in his own person, he would soon lead the conversation around to
himself, and that, once launched on that inexhaustible subject, he would
never be ready to return to his original theme.

We may regret that we have not Aristotle's sanction for condemning also
extra-poetical advertisements of the poet's personality, as a hindrance
to our seeing the ideal world through his poetry. In certain moods one
feels it a blessing that we possess no romantic traditions of Homer, to
get in the way of our passing impartial judgment upon his works. Our
intimate knowledge of nineteenth century poets has been of doubtful
benefit to us. Wordsworth has shaken into what promises to be his
permanent place among the English poets much more expeditiously than has
Byron. Is this not because in Wordsworth's case the reader is not
conscious of a magnetic personality drawing his judgment away from
purely aesthetic standards? Again, consider the case of Keats. For us
the facts of his life must color almost every line he wrote. How are we
to determine whether his sonnet, _When I Have Fears,_ is great poetry or
not, so long as it fills our minds insistently with the pity of his love
for Fanny Brawne, and his epitaph in the Roman graveyard?

Christopher North has been much upbraided by a hero-worshiping
generation, but one may go too far in condemning the Scotch sense in his

Mr. Keats we have often heard spoken of in terms of great kindness, and
we have no doubt that his manners and feelings are calculated to make
his friends love him. But what has all this to do with our opinion of
their poetry? What, in the name of wonder, does it concern us, whether
these men sit among themselves with mild or with sulky faces, eating
their mutton steaks, and drinking their porter? [Footnote: Sidney
Colvin, _John Keats,_ p. 478.]

If we are reluctant to sponsor words printed in _Blackwoods,_ we may be
more at ease in agreeing with the same sentiments as expressed by
Keats himself. After a too protracted dinner party with Wordsworth and
Hunt, Keats gave vent to his feelings as follows:

Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing that enters into one's
soul, and does not startle or amaze it with itself, but with its
subject. How beautiful are the retired flowers! How they would lose
their beauty were they to throng into the highway crying out, "Admire
me, I am a violet! Dote upon me, I am a primrose!".... I will cut all
this--I will have no more of Wordsworth or Hunt in particular.... I
don't mean to deny Wordsworth's grandeur and Hunt's merit, but I mean to
say that we need not be teased with grandeur and merit when we can have
them uncontaminated and unobtrusive. [Footnote: _Ibid.,_ p. 253.]

If acquaintance with a poet prevents his contemporaries from fixing
their attention exclusively upon the merits of his verse, in how much
better case is posterity, if the poet's personality makes its way into
the heart of his poetry? We have Browning's dictum on Shakespeare's

With this key
Shakespeare unlocked his heart. Once more
_Did_ Shakespeare? If so, the less Shakespeare he.
[Footnote: _House._]

Did Browning mean that Shakespeare was less the poet, as well as less
the dramatist, if he revealed himself to us in his poetry? And is this
our contention?

It seems a reasonable contention, at least, the more so since poets are
practically unanimous in describing inspiration as lifting them out of
themselves, into self-forgetful ecstasy. Even that arch-egoist, Byron,
concedes this point. "To withdraw myself from myself--oh, that accursed
selfishness," he writes, "has ever been my entire, my sincere motive in
scribbling at all." [Footnote: Letters and Journals, ed, Rowland E.
Prothero, November 26, 1813.] Surely we may complain that it is rather
hard on us if the poet can escape from himself only by throwing himself
at the reader's head.

It would seem natural to conclude from the selflessness of inspiration
that the more frequently inspired the poet is, the less will he himself
be an interesting subject for verse. Again we must quote Keats to
confute his more self-centered brothers. "A poet," Keats says, "is the
most unpoetical of anything in existence, because he has no identity; he
is continually in for, and filling, some other body. The sun, the moon,
the stars, and men and women who are creatures of impulse are poetical
and have about them an unchangeable attribute; the poet has none, no
identity." [Footnote: Letter to Richard Woodhouse, October 27, 1818.]
The same conviction is differently phrased by Landor. The poet is a
luminous body, whose function is to reveal other objects, not himself,
to us. Therefore Landor considers our scanty knowledge of Shakespeare as
compared with lesser poets a natural consequence of the
self-obliterating splendor of his genius:

In poetry there is but one supreme,
Though there are many angels round his throne,
Mighty and beauteous, while his face is hid.
[Footnote: _On Shakespeare_.]

But though an occasional poet lends his voice in support of our censure,
the average poet would brush aside our complaints with impatience. What
right have we to accuse him of swerving from the subject matter proper
to poetry, while we appear to have no clear idea as to what the
legitimate subject matter is? Precisely what are we looking for, that
we are led to complain that the massive outlines of the poet's figure
obscure our view?

Now just here we who assail the poet are likely to turn our guns upon
one another, for we are brought up against the stone wall of age-old
dispute over the function of the poet. He should hold up his magic
mirror to the physical world, some of us declare, and set the charm of
immortality upon the life about us. Far from it, others retort. The poet
should redeem us from the flesh, and show us the ideal forms of things,
which bear, it may be, very slight resemblance to their imitations in
this world.

Now while we are sadly meditating our inability to batter our way
through this obstacle to perfect clarity, the poets championing the
opposing views, like Plato's sophistic brothers, Euthydemus and
Dionysodorus, proceed to knock us from one to the other side, justifying
their self-centered verse by either theory. Do we maintain that the poet
should reflect the life about him? Then, holding the mirror up to life,
he will naturally be the central figure in the reflection. Do we
maintain that the poet should reveal an ideal world? Then, being alone
of all men transported by his vision into this ideal realm, he will have
no competitors to dispute his place as chief character.

At first thought it may have appeared obvious to us that the idealistic
poet, who claims that his art is a revelation of a transcendental
entity, is soaring to celestial realms whither his mundane personality
cannot follow. Leaving below him the dusty atmosphere of the actual
world, why should he not attain to ideas in their purity, uncolored by
his own individuality? But we must in justice remember that the poet
cannot, in the same degree as the mathematician, present his ideals
nakedly. They are, like the Phidian statues of the Fates, inseparable
from their filmy veiling. Beauty seems to be differentiated from the
other Platonic ideas by precisely this attribute, that it must be
embodied. What else is the meaning of the statement in the _Phaedrus_,
"This is the privilege of beauty, that, being the loveliest (of the
ideas) she is also the most palpable to sight?" [Footnote: sec. 251.] Now,
whatever one's stand on the question of nature versus humanity in art,
one must admit that embodying ideals means, in the long run,
personifying them. The poet, despising the sordid and unwieldy natures
of men, may try, as Wordsworth did, to give us a purer crystallization
of his ideas in nature, but it is really his own personality, scattered
to the four winds, that he is offering us in the guise of nature, as the
habiliments of his thought. Reflection leads us to agree with Coleridge:

In our life alone does nature live,
Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shrowd.
[Footnote: _Ode to Dejection._]

The poet may not always be conscious of this, any more than Keats was;
his traits may be so broadcast that he is in the position of the
philosopher who, from the remote citadel of his head, disowns his own
toes; nevertheless, a sense of tingling oneness with him is the secret
of nature's attraction. Walt Whitman, who conceives of the poet's
personality as the most pervasive thing in the universe, arrives at his
conviction by the same reflection as that of Keats, telling us,

There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he looked upon, that object he became.

Perhaps Alice Meynell has best expressed the phenomenon, in a sonnet
called _The Love of Narcissus:_

Like him who met his own eyes in the river,
The poet trembles at his own long gaze
That meets him through the changing nights and days
From out great Nature; all her waters quiver
With his fair image facing him forever:
The music that he listens to betrays
His own heart to his ears: by trackless ways
His wild thoughts tend to him in long endeavor.
His dreams are far among the silent hills;
His vague voice calls him from the darkened plain;
With winds at night vague recognition thrills
His lonely heart with piercing love and pain;
He knows again his mirth in mountain rills,
His weary tears that touch him in the rain.

Possibly we may concede that his fusion with all nature renders the
poet's personality so diaphanous that his presence is unobtrusive in
poetry of ideas, but we may still object to his thrusting himself into
realistic poetry. Shelley's poet-heroes we will tolerate, as translucent
mediums of his thought, but we are not inclined to accept Byron's, when
we seek a panoramic view of this world. Poetry gains manifold
representation of life, we argue, in proportion as the author represses
his personal bias, and approximates the objective view that a scientist
gives. We cannot but sympathize with Sidney Lanier's complaint against
"your cold jellyfish poets that wrinkle themselves about a pebble of a
theme and let us see it through their substance, as if that were a great
feat." [Footnote: _Poem Outlines._]

In answer, champions of the ubiquitous poet in recent realistic verse
may point to the _Canterbury Tales,_ and show us Chaucer ambling
along with the other pilgrims. His presence, they remind us, instead of
distorting his picture of fourteenth-century life, lends intimacy to our
view of it. We can only feebly retort that, despite his girth, the poet
is the least conspicuous figure in that procession, whereas a modern
poet would shoulder himself ahead of the knight, steal the hearts of all
the ladies, from Madame Eglantine to the Wife of Bath, and change the
destinies of each of his rivals ere Canterbury was reached.

We return to our strongest argument for the invisible poet. What of
Shakespeare? we reiterate. Well, the poets might remind us that
criticism of late years has been laying more and more stress upon the
personality of Shakespeare, in the spirit of Hartley Coleridge's lines,

Great poet, 'twas thy art,
To know thyself, and in thyself to be
Whate'er love, hate, ambition, destiny,
Or the firm, fatal purpose of the heart
Can make of man.
[Footnote: _Shakespeare_.]

If this trend of criticism is in the right direction, then the apparent
objectivity of the poet must be pure camouflage, and it is his own
personality that he is giving us all the time, in the guise of one
character and another. In this case, not his frank confession of his
presence in his poetry, but his self-concealment, falsifies his
representation of life. Since we have quoted Browning's apparent
criticism of the self-revealing poet, it is only fair to quote some of
his unquestionably sincere utterances on the other side of the question.
"You speak out, you," he wrote to Elizabeth Barrett; [Footnote: January
13, 1845.] "I only make men and women speak--give you truth broken into
prismatic hues, and fear the pure white light." Again he wrote, "I never
have begun, even, what I hope I was born to begin and end,--'R.B.', a
poem." [Footnote: Letter to Elizabeth Barrett, February 3, 1845.] And
Mrs. Browning, usually a better spokesman for the typical English poet
than is Browning himself, likewise conceives it the artist's duty to
show us his own nature, to be "greatly _himself always_, which is
the hardest thing for a man to be, perhaps." [Footnote: Letter to Robert
Browning, September 9, 1845.]

"Art," says Aristotle, "is an imitation of life." "_L'art, mes
enfants_," says the modern poet, speaking through the lips of
Verlaine, "_c'est d'etre absolument soi-meme_." Of course if one
concedes that the poet is the only thing in life worth bothering about,
the two statements become practically identical. It may be true that the
poet's universal sympathies make him the most complex type that
civilization has produced, and consequently the most economical figure
to present as a sample of humanity. But Taine has offered us a simpler
way of harmonizing the two statements, not by juggling with Aristotle's
word "life," but with the word "imitation." "Art," says Taine, "is
nature seen through a temperament."

Now it may be that to Aristotle imitation, _Mimeseis_, did mean "seeing
through a temperament." But certainly, had he used that phrase, he would
have laid the stress on "seeing," rather than on "temperament."
Aristotle would judge a man to have poetic temperament if his mind were
like a telescope, sharpening the essential outlines of things. Modern
poets, on the other hand, are inclined to grant that a person has poetic
temperament only if his mind resembles a jeweled window, transforming
all that is seen through it, if by any chance something _is_ seen
through it.

If the modern poet sees the world colored red or green or violet by his
personality, it is well for the interests of truth, we must admit, that
he make it clear to us that his nature is the transforming medium, but
how comes it that he fixes his attention so exclusively upon the colors
of things, for which his own nature is responsible, and ignores the
forms of things, which are not affected by him? How comes it that the
colored lights thrown on nature by the stained windows of his soul are
so important to him that he feels justified in painting for us,
notnature, but stained-glass windows?

In part this is, as has often been said, a result of the individualizing
trend of modern art. The broad general outlines of things have been
"done" by earlier artists, and there is no chance for later artists to
vary them, but the play of light and shade offers infinite possibilities
of variation. If one poet shows us the world highly colored by his
personality, it is inevitable that his followers should have their
attention caught by the different coloring which their own natures throw
upon it. The more acute their sense of observation, the more they will
be interested in the phenomenon. "Of course you are self-conscious,"
Elizabeth Barrett wrote to Robert Browning. "How could you be a poet
otherwise?" [Footnote: February 27, 1845.]

This modern individualizing trend appears equally in all the arts, of
course. Yet the poet's self-consciousness appears in his work more
plainly than does that of painters and sculptors and musicians. One
wonders if this may not be a consequence of the peculiar nature of his
inspiration. While all art is doubtless essentially alike in mode of
creation, it may not be fanciful to conceive that the poet's inspiration
is surrounded by deeper mystery than that of other geniuses, and that
this accounts for the greater prominence of conscious self-analysis in
his work. That such a difference exists, seems obvious. In spite of the
lengths to which program music has been carried, we have, so far as I
know, practically no music, outside of opera, that claims to have the
musician, or the artist in general, for its theme. So sweeping an
assertion cannot be made regarding painting and sculpture, to be sure.
Near the beginning of the history of sculpture we are met by the legend
of Phidias placing his own image among the gods. At the other extreme,
chronologically, we are familiar with Daniel Chester French's group,
Death Staying the Hand of the Sculptor. Painters not infrequently
portray themselves and their artist friends. Yet it is improbable that
the mass of material concerned with the poet's view of the artist can be
paralleled. This is due in part, obviously, to the greater plasticity to
ideas of his medium, but may it not be due also to the fact that all
other arts demand an apprenticeship, during which the technique is
mastered in a rational, comprehensible way? Whereas the poet is apt to
forget that he has a technique at all, since he shares his tool,
language, with men of all callings whatever. He feels himself,
accordingly, to be dependent altogether upon a mysterious "visitation"
for his inspiration.

At least this mystery surrounding his creations has much to do with
removing the artist from the comparative freedom from self-consciousness
that we ascribe to the general run of men. In addition it removes him
from the comparative humility of other thinkers, who are wont to think
of their discoveries as following inevitably upon their data, so that
they themselves deserve credit only as they are persistent and
painstaking in following the clues. The genesis of Sir Isaac Newton's
discovery has been compared to poetical inspiration; yet even in this
case the difference is apparent, and Newton did not identify himself
with the universe he conceived, as the poet is in the habit of doing.

Not being able to account for his inspirations, the poet seems to be
driven inevitably either into excessive humility, since he feels that
his words are not his own, or into inordinate pride, since he feels that
he is able to see and express without volition truths that other men
cannot glimpse with the utmost effort. He may disclaim all credit for
his performance, in the words of a nineteenth-century verse-writer:

This is the end of the book
Written by God.
I am the earth he took,
I am the rod,
The iron and wood which he struck
With his sounding rod.
[Footnote: L. E. Mitchell, _Written at the End of a Book._]

a statement that provokes wonder as to God's sensations at having such
amateurish works come out under his name. But this sort of humility is
really a protean manifestation of egotism, as is clear in the religious
states that bear resemblance to the poet's. This the Methodist
"experience meeting" abundantly illustrates, where endless loquacity is
considered justifiable, because the glory of one's experience is due,
not to one's self, but to the Almighty.

The minor American poets in the middle of the last century are often
found exhorting one another to humility, quite after the prayer-meeting
tradition. Bitter is their denunciation of the poet's arrogance:

A man that's proud--vile groveller in the dust,
Dependent on the mercy of his God
For every breath.
[Footnote: B. Saunders, _To Chatterton._]

Again they declare that the poet should be

Self-reading, not self-loving, they are twain,
[Footnote: Henry Timrod, _A Vision of Poesy._]

telling him,

Think not of thine own self,
[Footnote: Richard Gilder, _To the Poet._]


Always, O bard, humility is power.
[Footnote: Henry Timrod, _Poet If on a Lasting Fame._]

One is reminded of Mrs. Heep's repeated adjuration, "Be 'umble, Ury,"
and the likeness is not lessened when we find them ingratiatingly
sidling themselves into public favor. We hear them timidly inquiring of
their inspiration,

Shall not the violet bloom?
[Footnote: Mrs. Evans, _Apologetic._]

and pleading with their critics,

Lightly, kindly deal,
My buds were culled amid bright dews
In morn of earliest youth.
[Footnote: Lydia M. Reno, _Preface to Early Buds._]

At times they resort to the mixed metaphor to express their innocuous
unimportance, declaring,

A feeble hand essays
To swell the tide of song,
[Footnote: C. H. Faimer, _Invocation._]

and send out their ideas with fond insistence upon their diminutiveness:

Go, little book, and with thy little thoughts,
Win in each heart and memory a home.
[Footnote: C. Augustus Price, _Dedication._]

But among writers whose names are recognizable without an appeal to a
librarian's index, precisely this attitude is not met with. It would be
absurd, of course, to deny that one finds convincingly sincere
expressions of modesty among poets of genuine merit. Many of them have
taken pains to express themselves in their verse as humbled by the
genius above their grasp. [Footnote: See Emerson, _In a Dull Uncertain
Brain_; Whittier, _To my Namesake_; Sidney Lanier, _Ark of the Future_;
Oliver Wendell Holmes, _The Last Reader_; Bayard Taylor, _L'Envoi_;
Robert Louis Stevenson, _To Dr. Hake_; Francis Thompson, _To My
Godchild_.] But we must agree with their candid avowals that they belong
in the second rank. The greatest poets of the century are not in the
habit of belittling themselves. It is almost unparalleled to find so
sweeping a revolutionist of poetic traditions as Burns saying of

I am nae poet, in a sense,
But just a rhymer like, by chance,
And hae to learning nae pretense,
Yet what the matter?
Whene'er my muse does on me glance,
I jingle at her.
[Footnote: _Epistle to Lapraik._]

Most of the self-depreciatory writers, by their very abnegation of the
title, exalt the supreme poet. There are few indeed so unconcerned about
the dignity of the calling as is Sir Walter Scott, who assigns to the
minstrels of his tales a subordinate social position that would make the
average bard depicted in literature gnash his teeth for rage, and who
casually disposes of the poet's immortality:

Let but the verse befit a hero's fame;
Immortal be the verse, forgot the author's name.
[Footnote: _Introduction to Don Roderick._]

Mrs. Browning, to be sure, also tries to prick the bubble of the poet's
conceit, assuring him:

Ye are not great because creation drew
Large revelations round your earliest sense,
Nor bright because God's glory shines for you.
[Footnote: _Mountaineer and Poet_.]

But in her other poetry, notably in _Aurora Leigh_ and _A Vision of
Poets,_ she amply avows her sense of the preeminence of the singer, as
well as of his song.

While it is easy to shake our heads over the self-importance of the
nineteenth century, and to contrast it with the unconscious lyrical
spontaneity of half-mythical singers in the beginning of the world, it
is probable that some degree of egotism is essential to a poet.
Remembering his statement that his name was written in water, we are
likely to think of Keats as the humblest of geniuses, yet he wrote to a
friend, "You will observe at the end of this, 'How a solitary life
engenders pride and egotism!' True--I know it does: but this pride and
egotism will enable me to write finer things than anything else could,
so I will indulge it." [Footnote: Letter to John Taylor, August 23,
1819.] No matter how modest one may be about his work after it is
completed, a sense of its worth must be with one at the time of
composition, else he will not go to the trouble of recording and
preserving it.

Unless the writer schools himself to keep this conviction out of his
verse, it is likely to flower in self-confident poetry of the classic
type, so characteristic of the Elizabethan age. This has such a long
tradition behind it that it seems almost stereotyped, wherever it
appears in our period, especially when it is promising immortality to a
beloved one. We scarcely heed such verses as the lines by Landor,

Well I remember how you smiled
To see me write your name upon
The soft sea-sand, "O! what a child,
You think you're writing upon stone!"
I have since written what no tide
Shall ever wash away, what men
Unborn shall read, o'er ocean wide,
And find Ianthe's name again,

or Francis Thompson's sonnet sequence, _Ad Amicam_, which expresses
the author's purpose to

Fling a bold stave to the old bald Time,
Telling him that he is too insolent
Who thinks to rase thee from my heart or rhyme,
Whereof to one because thou life hast given,
The other yet shall give a life to thee,
Such as to gain, the prowest swords have striven,
And compassed weaker immortality,

or Yeats' lines _Of Those Who Have Spoken Evil of His Beloved_,
wherein he takes pride in the reflection:

Weigh this song with the great and their pride;
I made it out of a mouthful of air;
Their children's children shall say they have lied.

But a more vibrantly personal note breaks out from time to time in the
most original verse of the last century, as in Wordsworth's testimony,

Yet to me I feel
That an internal brightness is vouchsafed
That must not die,
[Footnote: _Home at Grasmere_.]

or in Walt Whitman's injunction:

Recorders ages hence,
Come, I will take you down underneath this impassive
Exterior. I will tell you what to say of me.
[Footnote: See also, _Long Long Hence_.]

Nowadays, in fact, even minor poets for the most part frankly avow the
importance of their works. We find George Edward Woodberry in the
clutches of the old-fashioned habit of apology, to be sure, [Footnote:
See _My Country_.]--perhaps this is one reason the radicals are so
opposed to him; but in the ranks of the radicals themselves we find very
few retaining any doubt of themselves. [Footnote: Exceptions are Jessie
Rittenhouse, _Patrius_; Lawrence Houseman, _Mendicant Rhymes_;
Robert Silliman Hillyer, _Poor Faltering Rhymes_.] Self-assertion
is especially characteristic of their self-appointed leader, Ezra Pound,
in whose case it is undoubtedly an inheritance from Walt Whitman, whom
he has lately acknowledged as his "pig-headed father." [Footnote:
_Lustra_.] A typical assertion is that in _Salutation the Second_,

How many will come after me,
Singing as well as I sing, none better.

There is a delicate charm in the self-assurance appearing in some of the
present verse, as Sara Teasdale's confidence in her "fragile
immortality" [Footnote: _Refuge._] or James Stephens' exultation in
_A Tune Upon a Reed,_

Not a piper can succeed
When I lean against a tree,
Blowing gently on a reed,

and in _The Rivals,_ where he boasts over a bird,

I was singing all the time,
Just as prettily as he,
About the dew upon the lawn,
And the wind upon the lea;
So I didn't listen to him
As he sang upon a tree.

If one were concerned only with this "not marble nor the gilded
monuments" theme, the sixteenth century would quite eclipse the
nineteenth or twentieth. But the egoism of our writers goes much further
than this parental satisfaction in their offspring. It seems to have
needed the intense individualism of Rousseau's philosophy, and of German
idealism, especially the conception of "irony," or the superiority of
the soul over its creations, to bring the poet's egoism to flower. Its
rankest blossoming, in Walt Whitman, would be hard to imagine in another
century. Try to conceive even an Elizabethan beginning a poem after the
fashion of _A Song of Myself:_

I, now thirty-seven years old, in perfect health, begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

Whitman is conscious of--perhaps even exaggerates--the novelty of his

Pressing the pulse of the life that has seldom exhibited
itself (the great pride of man in himself)
Chanter of personality.

While our poets thus assert, occasionally, that the unblushing nudity of
their pride is a conscious departure from convention, they would not
have us believe that they are fundamentally different from older
singers. One seldom finds an actual poet, of whatever period, depicted
in the verse of the last century, whose pride is not insisted upon. The
favorite poet-heroes, Aeschylus, Michael Angelo, Tasso, Dante, Marlowe,
Shakespeare, Milton, Chatterton, Keats, Byron, are all characterized as
proud. The last-named has been especially kept in the foreground by
following verse-writers, as a precedent for their arrogance. Shelley's
characterization of Byron in _Julian and Maddalo_,

The sense that he was greater than his kind
Had struck, methinks, his eagle spirit blind
By gazing on its own exceeding light,

has been followed by many expressions of the same thought, at first
wholly sympathetic, lately, it must be confessed, somewhat ironical.

Consciousness of partnership with God in composition naturally lifts the
poet, in his own estimation, at least, to a super-human level. The myth
of Apollo disguised as a shepherd strikes him as being a happy
expression of his divinity. [Footnote: See James Russell Lowell, _The
Shepherd of King Admetus._] Thus Emerson calls singers

Blessed gods in servile masks.
[Footnote: _Saadi._]

The hero of John Davidson's _Ballad in Blank Verse on the Making of a
Poet_ soars to a monotheistic conception of his powers, asserting

Henceforth I shall be God, for consciousness
Is God. I suffer. I am God.

Another poet-hero is characterized:

He would reach the source of light,
And share, enthroned, the Almighty's might.
[Footnote: Harvey Rice, _The Visionary_ (1864).

In recent years a few poets have modestly disclaimed equality with God.
See William Rose Benet, _Imagination,_ and Joyce Kilmer, _Trees._ The
kinship of poets and the Almighty is the theme of _The Lonely Poet_
(1919), by John Hall Wheelock.]

On the other hand, recent poets' hatred of orthodox religion has led
them to idealize the Evil One, and regard him as no unworthy rival as
regards pride. One of Browning's poets is "prouder than the devil."
[Footnote: _Waring._] Chatterton, according to Rossetti, was "kin
to Milton through his Satan's pride." [Footnote: Sonnet, _To
Chatterton._] Of another poet-hero one of his friends declares,

You would be arrogant, boy, you know, in hell,
And keep the lowest circle to yourself.
[Footnote: Josephine Preston Peabody, _Marlowe_ (1911).]

There is bathos, after these claims, in the concern some poets show over
the question of priority between themselves and kings. Yet one writer
takes the trouble to declare,

Artists truly great
Are on a par with kings, nor would exchange
Their fate for that of any potentate.
[Footnote: Longfellow, _Michael Angelo_.]

Stephen Phillips is unique in his disposition to ridicule such an
attitude; in his drama on Nero, he causes this poet, self-styled, to

Think not, although my aim is art,
I cannot toy with empire easily.
[Footnote: _Nero_.]

Not a little American verse is taken up with this question, [Footnote:
See Helen Hunt Jackson, _The King's Singer_; E. L. Sprague, _A
Shakespeare Ode_; Eugene Field, _Poet and King_.] betraying a
disposition on the part of the authors to follow Walt Whitman's example
and "take off their hats to nothing known or unknown." [Footnote: Walt
Whitman, _Collect_.] In these days, when the idlest man of the
street corner would fight at the drop of a hat, if his inferiority to
earth's potentates were suggested to him, all the excitement seems
absurdly antiquated. There is, however, something approaching modernity
in Byron's disposal of the question, as he makes the hero of _The
Lament of Tasso_ express the pacifist sentiment,

No!--still too proud to be vindictive, I
Have pardoned princes' insults, and would die.

It is clear that his creations are the origin of the poet's pride, yet,
singularly enough, his arrogance sometimes reaches such proportions that
he grows ashamed of his art as unworthy of him. Of course this attitude
harks back to Shakespeare's sonnets. The humiliation which Shakespeare
endured because his calling was despised by his aristocratic young
friend is largely the theme of a poem, _Ben Jonson Entertains a Man
from Stratford_, by Edwin Arlington Robinson. Such a sense of shame
seems to be back of the dilettante artist, wherever he appears in verse.
The heroes of Byron's and Praed's poems generally refuse to take their
art seriously.[Footnote: See W. M. Praed, _Lillian, How to Rhyme for
Love, The Talented Man;_ Byron, _Childe Harold, Don Juan._] A few of
Tennyson's characters take the same attitude.[Footnote: See Eleanor, in
_Becket;_ and the Count, in _The Falcon._] Again and again Byron gives
indication that his own feeling is that imputed to him by a later poet:

He, from above descending, stooped to touch
The loftiest thought; and proudly stooped, as though
It scarce deserved his verse.
[Footnote: Robert Pollock, _The Course of Time._]

After Byron's vogue died out, this mood slept for a time. It is only of
late years that it is showing symptoms of waking. It harries Cale Young

I have felt the ineffable sting
Of life, though I be art's valet.
I have painted the cloud and the clod,
Who should have possessed the earth.
[Footnote: _Limitations_.]

It depressed Alan Seeger:

I, who, conceived beneath another star,
Had been a prince and played with life,
Have been its slave, an outcast exiled far
From the fair things my faith has merited.
[Footnote: _Liebestod_.]

It characteristically stings Ezra Pound to expletive:

Great God! if we be damned to be not men but only dreams,
Then let us be such dreams the world shall tremble at,
And know we be its rulers, though but dreams.
[Footnote: _Revolt Against the Crepuscular Spirit in Modern Poetry_.]

Perhaps, indeed, judging from contemporary tendencies, this study is
made too early to reflect the poet's egoism at its full tide.

The poet's overweening self-esteem may well be the hothouse atmosphere
in which alone his genius can thrive, but from another point of view it
seems a subtle poison gas, engendering all the ills that differentiate
him from other men. Its first effect is likely to be the reflection that
his genius is judged by a public that is vastly inferior to him. This
galling thought usually drives him into an attitude of indifference or
of openly expressed contempt for his audience. The mood is apparent at
the very beginning of the romantic period. The germ of such a feeling is
to be found even in so modest a poet as Cowper, who maintains that his
brother poets, rather than the unliterary public, should pass upon his
worth.[Footnote: See _To Darwin_.] But the average poet of the last
century and a half goes a step beyond this attitude, and appears to feel
that there is something contemptible about popularity. Literary
arrogance seems far from characteristic of Burns, yet he tells us how,
in a mood of discouragement,

I backward mused on wasted time,
How I had spent my youthful prime,
And done naething
But stringin' blithers up in rhyme
For fools to sing.
[Footnote: _The Vision._]

Of course it is not till we come to Byron that we meet the most
thoroughgoing expression of this contempt for the public. The sentiment
in _Childe Harold_ is one that Byron never tires of harping on:
I have not loved the world, nor the world me;
I have not flattered its rank breath, nor bowed
To its idolatries a patient knee.

And this attitude of Byron's has been adopted by all his disciples, who
delight in picturing his scorn:

With terror now he froze the cowering blood,
And now dissolved the heart in tenderness,
Yet would not tremble, would not weep, himself,
But back into his soul retired alone,
Dark, sullen, proud, gazing contemptuously
On hearts and passions prostrate at his feet.
[Footnote: Robert Pollock, _The Course of Time._]

Of the other romantic poets, Sir Walter Scott alone remains on good
terms with the public, expressing a child's surprise and delight over
the substantial checks he is given in exchange for his imaginings. But
Shelley starts out with a chip on his shoulder, in the very
advertisements of his poems expressing his unflattering opinion of
The public's judgment, and Keats makes it plain that his own criticisms
concern him far more than those of other men.

The consciously aristocratic, sniffing attitude toward the public, which
ran its course during Victoria's reign, is ushered in by Landor, who

I know not whether I am proud,
But this I know, I hate the crowd,
Therefore pray let me disengage
My verses from the motley page,
Where others, far more sure to please
Pour forth their choral song with ease.

The same gentlemanly indifference to his plebeian readers is diffused
all through Matthew Arnold's writing, of course. He casually disposes of

Some secrets may the poet tell
For the world loves new ways;
To tell too deep ones is not well,--
It knows not what he says.
[Footnote: See _In Memory of Obermann._]

Mrs. Browning probably has her own success in mind when she makes the
young poetess, Aurora Leigh, recoil from the fulsome praise of her
readers. Browning takes the same attitude in _Sordello,_ contrasting
Eglamor, the versifier who servilely conformed to the taste of the mob,
with Sordello, the true poet, who despised it. In _Popularity_, Browning
returns to the same theme, of the public's misplaced praises, and in
_Pacchiarotto_ he outdoes himself in heaping ridicule upon his readers.
Naturally the coterie of later poets who have prided themselves on their
unique skill in interpreting Browning have been impressed by his
contempt for his readers. Perhaps they have even exaggerated it. No less
contemptuous of his readers than Browning was that other Victorian, so
like him in many respects, George Meredith.

It would be interesting to make a list of the zoological metaphors by
which the Victorians expressed their contempt for the public. Landor
characterized their criticisms as "asses' kicks aimed at his head."
[Footnote: Edmund Gosse, _Life of Swinburne_, p. 103.] Browning
alternately represented his public cackling and barking at him.
[Footnote: See Thomas J. Wise, Letters, Second Series, Vol. 2, p. 52.]
George Meredith made a dichotomy of his readers into "summer flies" and
"swinish grunters." [Footnote: _My Theme_.] Tennyson, being no
naturalist, simply named the public the "many-headed beast." [Footnote:
_In Memoriam_.]

In America there has been less of this sort of thing openly expressed by
genuine poets. Emerson is fairly outspoken, telling us, in _The
Poet_, how the public gapes and jeers at a new vision. But one must
go to our border-line poets to find the feeling most candidly put into
words. Most of them spurn popularity, asserting that they are too
worthwhile to be appreciated. They may be even nauseated by the slight
success they manage to achieve, and exclaim,

Yet to know
That we create an Eden for base worms!

If the consciousness of recent writers is dominated by contempt for
mankind at large, such a mood is expressed with more caution than
formerly. Kipling takes men's stupidity philosophically. [Footnote: See
_The Story of Ung._] Edgar Lee Masters uses a fictional character
as a mask for his remarks on the subject. [Footnote: See _Having His
Way._] Other poets have expressed themselves with a degree of mildness.
[Footnote: See Watts-Dunton, _Apollo in Paris;_ James Stephens, _The
Market;_ Henry Newbolt, _An Essay in Criticism;_ William Rose Benet,
_People._] But of course Ezra Pound is not to be suppressed. He

Will people accept them?
(i.e., these songs)
As a timorous wench from a centaur
(or a centurion)
Already they flee, howling in terror
* * * * *
Will they be touched with the verisimilitude?
Their virgin stupidity is untemptable.

He adds,

I beg you, my friendly critics,
Do not set about to procure me an audience.

Again he instructs his poems, when they meet the public,

Salute them with your thumbs to your noses.

It is very curious, after such passages, to find him pleading, in
another poem,

May my poems be printed this week?

The naivete of this last question brings up insistently a perplexing
problem. If the poet despises his readers, why does he write? He may
perhaps evade this question by protesting, with Tennyson,

I pipe but as the linnets do,
And sing because I must.

But why does he publish? If he were strictly logical, surely he would do
as the artist in Browning's _Pictor Ignotus,_ who so shrank from
having his pictures come into contact with fools, that he painted upon
hidden, moldering walls, thus renouncing all possibility of fame. But
one doubts whether such renunciation has been made often, especially in
the field of poetry. Rossetti buried his poems, of course, but their
resurrection was not postponed till the Last Judgment. Other writers
have coyly waved fame away, but have gracefully yielded to their
friends' importunities, and have given their works to the world. When
one reads such expressions as Byron's;

Fame is the thirst of youth,--but I am not
So young as to regard men's frown or smile
As loss or guerdon of a glorious lot,
[Footnote: _Childe Harold._]

one wonders. Perhaps the highest genius takes absolutely no account of
fame, as the sun-god asserts in Watts-Dunton's poem, _Apollo in Paris:_

I love the song-born poet, for that he
Loves only song--seeks for love's sake alone
Shy Poesie, whose dearest bowers, unknown
To feudaries of fame, are known to thee.
[Footnote: See also Coventry Patmore, from _The Angel in the House,_ "I
will not Hearken Blame or Praise"; Francis Carlin, _The Home Song_

But other poets, with the utmost inconsistency, have admitted that they
find the thought of fame very sweet. [Footnote: See Edward Young, _Love
of Fame;_ John Clare, _Song's Eternity, Idle Fame, To John Milton;_
Bulwer Lytton, _The Desire of Fame;_ James Gates Percival, _Sonnet 379;_
Josephine Peston Peabody, _Marlowe._] Keats dwells upon the thought of
it. [Footnote: See the _Epistle to My Brother George._] Browning shows
both of his poet heroes concerned over the question. In _Pauline_ the
speaker confesses,

I ne'er sing
But as one entering bright halls, where all
Will rise and shout for him.

In _Sordello,_ again, Browning analyzes the desire for fame:

Souls like Sordello, on the contrary,
Coerced and put to shame, retaining will,
Care little, take mysterious comfort still,
But look forth tremblingly to ascertain
If others judge their claims not urged in vain,
And say for them their stifled thoughts aloud.
So they must ever live before a crowd:
--"Vanity," Naddo tells you.

Emerson's Saadi is one who does not despise fame,
Nor can dispense
With Persia for an audience.
[Footnote: _Saadi._]

Can it be that when the poet renounces fame, we must concur with Austin
Dobson's paraphrase of his meaning,

But most, because the grapes are sour,
Farewell, renown?
[Footnote: _Farewell Renown._]

Perhaps the poet is saved from inconsistency by his touching confidence
that in other times and places human nature is less stupid and
unappreciative than it proves itself in his immediate audience. He
reasons that in times past the public has shown sufficient insight to
establish the reputation of the master poets, and that history will
repeat itself. Several writers have stated explicitly that their quarrel
with humanity is not to be carried beyond the present generation. Thus
Arnold objects to his time because it is aesthetically dead. [Footnote:
See _Persistency of Poetry._] But elsewhere he objects because it shows
signs of coming to life, [Footnote: See _Bacchanalia._] so it is hard to
determine how our grandfathers could have pleased him. Similarly
unreasonable discontent has been expressed by later poets with our own
time. [Footnote: See William Ernest Henley, _The Gods are Dead;_ Edmund
Gosse, _On Certain Critics;_ Samuel Waddington, _The Death of Song;_
John Payne, _Double Ballad of the Singers of the Time_(1906).] Only
occasionally a poet rebukes his brethren for this carping attitude. Mrs.
Browning protests, in _Aurora Leigh,_

'Tis ever thus
With times we live in,--evermore too great
To be apprehended near....
I do distrust the poet who discerns
No character or glory in his times,
And trundles back his soul five hundred years.
[Footnote: See Robert Browning, Letter to Elizabeth Barrett, March 12,

And Kipling is a notorious defender of the present generation, but these
two stand almost alone. [Footnote: See also James Elroy Flecker, _Oak
and Olive;_ Max Ehrmann, _Give Me Today._]

Several mythical explanations for the stupidity of the poet's own times
have been offered in verse. Browning says that poetry is like wine; it
must age before it grows sweet. [Footnote: _Epilogue to the Pacchiarotto
Volume._] Emerson says the poet's generation is deafened by the thunder
of his voice. [Footnote: _Solution._] A minor writer says that poetry
must be written in one's life-blood, so that it necessarily kills one
before it is appreciated. [Footnote: William Reed Dunroy, _The Way of
the World_ (1897).] Another suggests that a subtle electric change is
worked in one's poems by death. [Footnote: Richard Gilder, _A Poet's
Question._] But the only reasonable explanation of the failure of the
poet's own generation to appreciate him seems to be that offered by
Shelley, in the _Defense of Poetry:_

No living poet ever arrived at the fullness of his fame; the
jury which sits in judgment upon a poet, belonging as he does to
all time, must be composed of his peers.

Of course the contempt of the average poet for his contemporaries is not
the sort of thing to endear him to them. Their self-respect almost
forces them to ignore the poet's talents. And unfortunately, in addition
to taking a top-lofty attitude, the poet has, until recently, gone much
farther, and while despising the public has tried to improve it. Most
nineteenth century poetry might be described in Mrs. Browning's words,

Of medicated music, answering for
Mankind's forlornest uses.
[Footnote: _Sonnets from the Portuguese._]

And like an unruly child the public struggled against the dose.
Whereupon the poet was likely to lose his temper, and declare, as
Browning did,

My Thirty-four Port, no need to waste
On a tongue that's fur, and a palate--paste!
A magnum for friends who are sound: the sick--
I'll posset and cosset them, nothing loath,
Henceforward with nettle-broth.
[Footnote: _Epilogue to the Pacchiarotto Volume._]

Yes, much as we pity the forlorn poet when his sensitive feelings are
hurt by the world's cruelty, we must still pronounce that he is partly
to blame. If the public is buzzing around his head like a swarm of angry
hornets, he must in most cases admit that he has stirred them up with a

The poet's vilified contemporaries employ various means of retaliating.
They may invite him to dinner, then point out that His Omniscience does
not know how to manage a fork, or they may investigate his family tree,
and then cut his acquaintance, or, most often, they may listen to his
fanciful accounts of reality, then brand him as a liar. So the vicious
circle is completed, for the poet is harassed by this treatment into the
belief that he is the target for organized persecution, and as a result
his egotism grows more and more morbid, and his contempt for the public
more deliberately expressed.

At the beginning of the period under discussion the social snubs seem to
have rankled most in the poet's nature. This was doubtless a survival
from the times of patronage. James Thomson [Footnote: See the _Castle
of Indolence,_ Canto II, stanzas XXI-III. See also _To Mr. Thomson,
Doubtful to What Patron to Address the Poem,_ by H. Hill.] and Thomas
Hood [Footnote: See _To the Late Lord Mayor._] both concerned
themselves with the problem. Kirke White appears to have felt that
patronage of poets was still a live issue. [Footnote: See the _Ode
Addressed to the Earle of Carlisle._] Crabbe, in a narrative poem,
offered a pathetic picture of a young poet dying of heartbreak because
of the malicious cruelty of the aristocracy toward him, a farmer's son.
[Footnote: _The Patron._] Later on Mrs. Browning took up the cudgels for
the poet, in _Lady Geraldine's Courtship,_ and upheld the nobility of
the untitled poet almost too strenuously, for his morbid pride makes him
appear by all odds the worst snob in the poem. The less dignified
contingent of the public annoys the poet by burlesquing the grandiose
manners and poses to which his large nature easily lends itself. People
are likely to question the poet's powers of soul because he forgets to
cut his hair, or to fasten his blouse at the throat. And of course there
have been rhymsters who have gone over to the side of the enemy, and who
have made profit from exhibiting their freakishness, after the manner of
circus monstrosities. Thomas Moore sometimes takes malicious pleasure in
thus showing up the oddities of his race. [See _Common Sense and
Genius,_ and _Rhymes by the Road._] Later libelers have been, usually,
writers of no reputation. The literary squib that made most stir in the
course of the century was not a poem, but the novel, _The Green
Carnation,_ which poked fun at the mannerisms of the 1890 poets.
[Footnote: Gilbert and Sullivan's _Patience_ made an even greater
sensation.] Oddly, American poets betray more indignation than English
ones over such lampoons. Longfellow makes Michael Angelo exclaim,

I say an artist
Who does not wholly give himself to art,
Who has about him nothing marked or strange,
But tries to suit himself to all the world
Will ne'er attain to greatness.
[Footnote: _Michael Angelo._]

Sometimes an American poet takes the opposite tack, and denies that his
conduct differs from that of other men. Thus Richard Watson Gilder
insists that the poet has "manners like other men" and that on
thisaccount the world that is eagerly awaiting the future poet will miss
him. He repeats the world's query:

How shall we know him?
Ye shall know him not,
Till, ended hate and scorn,
To the grave he's borne.
[Footnote: _When the True Poet Comes._]

Whitman, in his defense, goes farther than this, and takes an original
attitude toward his failure to keep step with other men, declaring

Of these states the poet is the equable man,
Not in him but off him things are grotesque, eccentric,
fail of their full returns.
[Footnote: _By Blue Ontario's Shore._]

As for the third method employed by the public in its attacks upon the
poet,--that of making charges against his truthfulness,--the poet
resents this most bitterly of all. Gray, in _The Bard,_ lays the
wholesale slaughter of Scotch poets by Edward I, to their fearless truth
telling. A number of later poets have written pathetic tales showing the
tragic results of the unimaginative public's denial of the poet's
delicate perceptions of truth. [Footnote: See Jean Ingelow, _Gladys
and her Island;_ Helen Hunt Jackson, _The Singer's Hills;_ J. G.
Holland, _Jacob Hurd's Child._]

To the poet's excited imagination, it seems as if all the world regarded
his race as a constantly increasing swarm of flies, and had started in
on a systematic course of extirpation. [Footnote: See G. K. Chesterton,
_More Poets Yet._] As for the professional critic, he becomes an
ogre, conceived of as eating a poet for breakfast every morning. The new
singer is invariably warned by his brothers that he must struggle for
his honor and his very life against his malicious audience. It is
doubtful if we could find a poet of consequence in the whole period who
does not somewhere characterize men of his profession as the martyrs of
beauty. [Footnote: Examples of abstract discussions of this sort are:
Burns, _The Poet's Progress;_ Keats, _Epistle to George Felton Matthew;_
Tennyson, _To ---- After Reading a Life and Letters;_ Longfellow, _The
Poets;_ Thomas Buchanan Read, _The Master Poets;_ Paul Hamilton Hayne,
_Though Dowered with Instincts;_ Henry Timrod, _A Vision of Poesy;_
George Meredith, _Bellerophon;_ S. L. Fairfield, _The Last Song_ (1832);
S. J. Cassells, _A Poet's Reflections_ (1851); Richard Gilder, _The New
Poet;_ Richard Realf, _Advice Gratis_ (1898); James Whitcomb Riley, _An
Outworn Sappho;_ Paul Laurence Dunbar, _The Poet;_ Theodore Watts-
Dunton, _The Octopus of the Golden Isles;_ Francis Ledwidge, _The Coming
Poet._] Shelley is particularly wrought up on the subject, and in _The
Woodman and the Nightingale_ expresses through an allegory the murderous
designs of the public.

A salient example of more vicarious indignation is Mrs. Browning, who
exposes the world's heartlessness in a poem called _The Seraph and the
Poet._ In _A Vision of Poets_ she betrays less indignation, apparently
believing that experience of undeserved suffering is essential to the
maturing of genius. In this poem the world's greatest poets are

Where the heart of each should beat,
There seemed a wound instead of it,
From whence the blood dropped to their feet.

The young hero of the poem, to whom the vision is given, naturally
shrinks from the thought of such suffering, but the attendant spirit
leads him on, nevertheless, to a loathsome pool, where there are bitter

And toads seen crawling on his hand,
And clinging bats, but dimly scanned,
Full in his face their wings expand.
A paleness took the poet's cheek;
"Must I drink here?" He seemed to seek
The lady's will with utterance meek:
"Ay, ay," she said, "it so must be:"
(And this time she spoke cheerfully)
Behooves thee know world's cruelty.

The modern poet is able to bring forward many historical names by which
to substantiate the charges of cruelty which he makes against society.
From classic Greece he names Aeschylus [Footnote: R. C. Robbins, _Poems
of Personality_ (1909); Cale Young Rice, _Aeschylus._] and Euripides.
[Footnote: Bulwer Lytton, _Euripides;_ Browning, _Balaustion's
Adventure;_ Richard Burton, _The First Prize._] From Latin writers our
poets have chosen as favorite martyr Lucan, "by his death approved."
[Footnote: _Adonais._ See also Robert Bridges, _Nero._] Of the great
renaissance poets, Shakespeare alone has usually been considered exempt
from the general persecution, though Richard Garnett humorously
represents even him as suffering triple punishment,--flogging,
imprisonment and exile,--for his offense against Sir Thomas Lucy,
aggravated by poetical temperament. [Footnote: See _Wm. Shakespeare,
Pedagogue and Poacher_, a drama (1904).] Of all renaissance poets Dante
[Footnote: See G. L. Raymond, _Dante_; Sarah King Wiley, _Dante and
Beatrice_; Rossetti, _Dante at Verona_; Oscar Wilde, _Ravenna_.] and
Tasso [Footnote: Byron, _The Lament of Tasso_; Shelley, _Song for
Tasso_; James Thomson, B. V., _Tasso to Leonora_.] have received most
attention on account of their wrongs. [Footnote: The sufferings of
several French poets are commented upon in English verse. Swinburne's
poetry on Victor Hugo, Bulwer Lytton's _Andre Chenier_, and Alfred
Lang's _Gerard de Nerval_ come to mind.]

Naturally the adversities which touch our writers most nearly are those
of the modern English poets. It is the poets of the romantic movement
who are thought of as suffering greatest injustice. Chatterton's extreme
youth probably has helped to incense many against the cruelty that
caused his death. [Footnote: See Shelley, _Adonais_; Coleridge, _Monody
on the Death of Chatterton_; Keats, _Sonnet on Chatterton_; James
Montgomery, _Stanzas on Chatterton_; Rossetti, _Sonnet to Chatterton_;
Edward Dowden, _Prologue to Maurice Gerothwohl's Version of Vigny's
Chatterton_; W. A. Percy, _To Chatterton_.] Southey is singled out by
Landor for especial commiseration; _Who Smites the Wounded_ is an
indignant uncovering of the world's cruelty in exaggerating Southey's
faults. Landor insinuates that this persecution is extended to all

Alas! what snows are shed
Upon thy laurelled head,
Hurtled by many cares and many wrongs!
Malignity lets none
Approach the Delphic throne;
A hundred lane-fed curs bark down Fame's
hundred tongues.
[Footnote: _To Southey_, _1833_.]

The ill-treatment of Burns has had its measure of denunciation. The
centenary of his birth brought forth a good deal of such verse.

Of course Byron's sufferings have had their share of attention, though,
remembering his enormous popularity, the better poets have left to the
more gullible rhymsters the echo of his tirades against persecution,
[Footnote: See T. H. Chivers, _Lord Byron's Dying Words to Ada_, and
_Byron_ (1853); Charles Soran, _Byron_ (1842); E. F. Hoffman, _Byron_
(1849).] and have conceived of the public as beaten at its own game by
him. Thus Shelley exults in the thought,

The Pythian of the age one arrow drew
And smiled. The spoilers tempt no second blow,
They fawn on the proud feet that laid them low.
[Footnote: _Adonais._]

The wrongs of Keats, also, are not so much stressed in genuine poetry as
formerly, and the fiction that his death was due to the hostility of his
critics is dying out, though Shelley's _Adonais_ will go far toward
giving it immortality. Oscar Wilde's characterization of Keats as "the
youngest of the martyrs" [Footnote: _At the Grave of Keats._]
brings the tradition down almost to the present in British verse, but
for the most part its popularity is now limited to American rhymes. One
is rather indignant, after reading Keats' own manly words about hostile
criticism, to find a nondescript verse-writer putting the puerile
self-characterization into his mouth:

I, the Boy-poet, whom with curse
They hounded on to death's untimely doom.
[Footnote: T. L. Harris, _Lyrics of the Golden Age_ (1856).]

In even less significant verse the most maudlin sympathy with Keats is
expressed. One is tempted to feel that Keats suffered less from his
enemies than from his admirers, of the type which Browning characterized
as "the foolish crowd of rushers-in upon genius ... never content till
they cut their initials on the cheek of the Medicean Venus to prove they
worship her." [Footnote: Letter to Elizabeth Barrett, November 17,

With the possible exception of Chatterton, the poet whose wrongs have
raised the most indignant storm of protest is Shelley. Several poets, as
the young Browning, Francis Thompson, James Thomson, B. V., and Mr.
Woodberry, have made a chivalrous championing of Shelley almost part of
their poetical platform. No doubt the facts of Shelley's life warrant
such sympathy. Then too, Shelley's sense of injustice, unlike Byron's,
is not such as to seem weak to us, though it is so freely expressed in
his verse. In addition one is likely to feel particular sympathy for
Shelley because the recoil of the public from him cannot be laid to his
scorn. His enthusiasms were always for the happiness of the entire human
race, as well as for himself. Everything in his unfortunate life vouches
for the sincerity of his statement, in the _Hymn to Intellectual

Never joy illumed my brow
Unlinked with hope that thou wouldst free
This world from its dark slavery.

Accordingly Shelley's injuries seem to have affected him as a sudden
hurt does a child, with a sense of incomprehensibility, and later poets
have rallied to his defense as if he were actually a child.[Footnote:
See E. C. Stedman, _Ariel_; James Thomson, B. V., _Shelley_; Alfred
Austin, _Shelley's Death_; Stephen Vincent Benet, _The General Public_.]

The vicariousness of the nineteenth century poet in bewailing the hurts
of his brethren is likely to have provoked a smile in us, as in the
mourners of Adonais, at recognizing one

Who in another's fate now wept his own.

Of course a suppressed personal grudge may not always have been a factor
in lending warmth to these defenses. Mrs. Browning is an ardent advocate
of the misunderstood poet, though she herself enjoyed a full measure of
popularity. But when Landor so warmly champions Southey, and Swinburne
springs to the defense of Victor Hugo, one cannot help remembering that
the public did not show itself wildly appreciative of either of these
defenders. So, too, when Oscar Wilde works himself up over the
persecutions of Dante, Keats and Byron, we are minded of the irreverent
crowds that followed Wilde and his lily down the street. When the poet
is too proud to complain of his own wrongs at the hands of the public,
it is easy for him to strike in defense of another. As the last century
wore on, this vicarious indignation more and more took the place of a
personal outcry. Comparatively little has been said by poets since the
romantic period about their own persecutions.[Footnote: See, however,
Joaquin Miller, _I Shall Remember_, and _Vale_; Francis Ledwidge, _The
Visitation of Peace_.]

Occasionally a poet endeavors to placate the public by assuming a pose
of equality. The tradition of Chaucer, fostered by the _Canterbury
Tales_, is that by carefully hiding his genius, he succeeded in
keeping on excellent terms with his contemporaries. Percy Mackaye, in
the _Canterbury Pilgrims_, shows him obeying St. Paul's injunction
so literally that the parson takes him for a brother of the cloth, the
plowman is surprised that he can read, and so on, through the whole
social gamut of the Pilgrims. But in the nineteenth century this
friendly attitude seldom works out so well. Walt Whitman flaunts his
ability to fraternize with the man of the street. But the American
public has failed "to absorb him as affectionately as he has absorbed
it." [Footnote: _By Blue Ontario's Shore._] Emerson tries to get on
common ground with his audience by asserting that every man is a poet to
some extent,[Footnote: See _The Enchanter_.] and it is consistent
with the poetic theory of Yeats that he makes the same assertion as

There cannot be confusion of sound forgot,
A single soul that lacks a sweet crystalline cry.
[Footnote: _Pandeen._]

But when the mob jeers at a poet, it does not take kindly to his retort,
"Poet yourself." Longfellow, J. G. Holland and James Whitcombe Riley
have been warmly commended by some of their brothers [Footnote: See O.
W. Holmes, _To Longfellow_; P. H. Hayne, _To Henry W. Longfellow_; T. B.
Read, _A Leaf from the Past_; E. C. Stedman, _J. G. H._; P. L. Dunbar,
_James Whitcombe Riley_; J. W. Riley, _Rhymes of Ironquill_.] for their
promiscuous friendliness, but on the whole there is a tendency on the
part of the public to sniff at these poets, as well as at those who
commend them, because they make themselves so common. One may deride the
public's inconsistency, yet, after all, we have not to read many pages
of the "homely" poets before their professed ability to get down to the
level of the "common man" begins to remind one of pre-campaign speeches.

There seems to be nothing for the poet to do, then, but to accept the
hostility of the world philosophically. There are a few notable examples
of the poet even welcoming the solitude that society forces upon him,
because it affords additional opportunity for self-communion. Everyone
is familiar with Wordsworth's insistence that uncompanionableness is
essential to the poet. In the _Prelude_ he relates how, from early

I was taught to feel, perhaps too much,
The self-sufficing power of solitude.

Elsewhere he disposes of the forms of social intercourse:

These all wear out of me, like Forms, with chalk
Painted on rich men's floors, for one feast night.
[Footnote: _Personal Talk_.]

So he describes the poet's character:

He is retired as noontide dew
Or fountain in a noonday grove.
[Footnote: _The Poet's Epitaph_.]

In American verse Wordsworth's mood is, of course, reflected in Bryant,
and it appears in the poetry of most of Bryant's contemporaries.
Longfellow caused the poet to boast that he "had no friends, and needed
none." [Footnote: _Michael Angelo_.] Emerson expressed the same mood
frankly. He takes civil leave of mankind:

Think me not unkind and rude
That I walk alone in grove and glen;
I go to the god of the wood,
To fetch his word to men.
[Footnote: _The Apology_.]

He points out the idiosyncrasy of the poet:

Men consort in camp and town,
But the poet dwells alone.
[Footnote: _Saadi_.]

Thus he works up to his climactic statement regarding the amplitude of
the poet's personality:

I have no brothers and no peers
And the dearest interferes;
When I would spend a lonely day,
Sun and moon are in my way.
[Footnote: _The Poet_.]

Although the poet's egotism would seem logically to cause him to find
his chief pleasure in undisturbed communion with himself, still this
picture of the poet delighting in solitude cannot be said to follow,
usually, upon his banishment from society. For the most part the poet is
characterized by an insatiable yearning for affection, and by the
stupidity and hostility of other men he is driven into proud loneliness,
even while his heart thirsts for companionship.[Footnote: See John
Clare, _The Stranger, The Peasant Poet, I Am_; James Gates Percival,
_The Bard_; Joseph Rodman Drake, _Brorix_ (1847); Thomas Buchanan Reade,
_My Heritage_; Whittier, _The Tent on the Beach_; Mrs. Frances Gage,
_The Song of the Dreamer_ (1867); R. H. Stoddard, _Utopia_; Abram J.
Ryan, _Poets_; Richard H. Dana, _The Moss Supplicateth for the Poet_;
Frances Anne Kemble, _The Fellowship of Genius_ (1889); F. S. Flint,
_Loneliness_(1909); Lawrence Hope, _My Paramour was Loneliness_ (1905);
Sara Teasdale, _Alone_.] One of the most popular poet-heroes of the last
century, asserting that he is in such an unhappy situation, yet

For me, I'd rather live
With this weak human heart and yearning blood,
Lonely as God, than mate with barren souls.
More brave, more beautiful than myself must be
The man whom I can truly call my friend.
[Footnote: Alexander Smith, _A Life Drama_.]

So the poet is limited to the companionship of rare souls, who make up
to him for the indifference of all the world beside. Occasionally this
compensation is found in romantic love, which flames all the brighter,
because the affections that most people expend on many human
relationships are by the poet turned upon one object. Apropos of the
world's indifference to him, Shelley takes comfort in the assurance of
such communion, saying to Mary,

If men must rise and stamp with fury blind
On his pure name who loves them--thou and I,
Sweet friend! can look from our tranquillity
Like lamps into the world's tempestuous night,--
Two tranquil stars, while clouds are passing by,
That burn from year to year with inextinguished light.
[Footnote: Introduction to _The Revolt of Islam_.]

But though passion is so often the source of his inspiration, the poet's
love affairs are seldom allowed to flourish. The only alleviation of his
loneliness must be, then, in the friendship of unusually gifted and
discerning men, usually of his own calling. Doubtless the ideal of most
nineteenth century writers would be such a jolly fraternity of poets as
Herrick has made immortal by his _Lines to Ben Jonson_.[Footnote:
The tradition of the lonely poet was in existence even at this time,
however. See Ben Jonson, _Essay on Donne_.] A good deal of nineteenth
century verse shows the author enviously dwelling upon the ideal
comradeship of Elizabethan poets.[Footnote: Keats' _Lines on the
Mermaid Tavern_, Browning's _At the Mermaid_, Watts-Dunton's _Christmas
at the Mermaid_, E. A. Robinson's _Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from
Stratford_, Josephine Preston Peabody's _Marlowe_, and Alfred Noyes'
_Tales of the Mermaid Inn_ all present fondly imagined accounts of the
gay intimacy of the master dramatists. Keats, who was so generous in
acknowledging his indebtedness to contemporary artists, tells, in his
epistles, of the envy he feels for men who created under these ideal
conditions of comradeship.] But multiple friendships did not flourish
among poets of the last century,--at least they were overhung by no
glamor of romance that lured the poet to immortalize them in verse. The
closest approximation to such a thing is in the redundant complimentary
verse, with which the New England poets showered each other to such an
extent as to arouse Lowell's protest. [Footnote: See _A Fable for
Critics_.] Even they, however, did not represent themselves as living in
Bohemian intimacy. Possibly the temperamental jealousy that the
philistine world ascribes to the artist, causing him to feel that he is
the one elect soul sent to a benighted age, while his brother-artists
are akin to the money-changers in the temple, hinders him from
unreserved enjoyment even of his fellows' society. Tennyson's and
Swinburne's outbreaks against contemporary writers appear to be based on
some such assumption. [Footnote: See Tennyson, _The New Timon and the
Poet_; Bulwer Lytton, _The New Timon_; Swinburne, _Essay on Whitman_.
For more recent manifestation of the same attitude see John Drinkwater,
_To Alice Meynell_ (1911); Shaemas O'Sheel, _The Poets with the Sounding
Gong_ (1912); Robert Graves, _The Voice of Beauty Drowned_ (1920).]

Consequently the poet is likely to celebrate one or two deep friendships
in an otherwise lonely life. A few instances of such friendships are so
notable, that the reader is likely to overlook their rarity. Such were
the friendships of Wordsworth and Coleridge, and of Wordsworth and his
sister Dorothy, also that recorded in Landor's shaken lines:

Friends! hear the words my wandering thoughts would say,
And cast them into shape some other day;
Southey, my friend of forty years, is gone,
And shattered with the fall, I stand alone.

The intimacy of Shelley and Byron, recorded in _Julian and Maddalo_, was
of a less ardent sort. Indeed Byron said of it, "As to friendship, it is
a propensity in which my genius is very limited.... I did not even feel
it for Shelley, however much I admired him." [Footnote: Letter to Mrs.
(Shelley?) undated.] Arnold's _Thyrsis_, Tennyson's _In Memoriam_, and
more recently, George Edward Woodberry's _North Shore Watch_, indicate
that even when the poet has been able to find a human soul which
understood him, the friendship has been cut short by death. In fact, the
premature close of such friendships has usually been the occasion for
their celebration in verse, from classic times onward.

Such friendships, like happy love-affairs, are too infrequent and
transitory to dissipate the poet's conviction that he is the loneliest
of men. "Thy soul was like a star and dwelt apart," might have been
written by almost any nineteenth century poet about any other. Shelley,
in particular, in spite of his not infrequent attachments, is almost
obsessed by melancholy reflection upon his loneliness. In _To a
Skylark_, he pictures the poet "hidden in the light of thought."
Employing the opposite figure in the _Defense of Poetry_, he says,
"The poet is a nightingale who sits in darkness and sings to cheer his
own solitude." Of the poet in _Alastor_ we are told,

He lived, he died, he sung, in solitude.

Shelley's sense of his personal loneliness is recorded in _Stanzas
Written in Dejection_, and also in _Adonais_. In the latter poem
he says of himself,

He came the last, neglected and apart,

and describes himself as

As the last cloud of an expiring storm,
Whose thunder is its knell.

Victorian poets were not less depressed by reflection upon the poet's
lonely life. Arnold strikes the note again and again, most poignantly in
_The Buried Life_, of the poet's sensitive apprehension that all
human intercourse is mockery, and that the gifted soul really dwells in
isolation. _Sordello_ is a monumental record of a genius without
friends. Francis Thompson, with surface lightness, tells us, in _A
Renegade Poet on the Poet:_

He alone of men, though he travel to the pit, picks up no
company by the way; but has a contrivance to avoid scripture,
and find a narrow road to damnation. Indeed, if the majority
of men go to the nether abodes, 'tis the most hopeful argument
I know of his salvation, for 'tis inconceivable that he should
ever do as other men.

One might imagine that in the end the poet's poignant sense of his
isolation might allay his excessive conceit. A yearning for something
beyond himself might lead him to infer a lack in his own nature. Seldom,
however, is this the result of the poet's loneliness. Francis Thompson,
indeed, does feel himself humbled by his spiritual solitude, and
characterizes himself,

I who can scarcely speak my fellows' speech,
Love their love or mine own love to them teach,
A bastard barred from their inheritance,
* * * * *
In antre of this lowly body set,
Girt with a thirsty solitude of soul.
[Footnote: _Sister Songs_.]

But the typical poet yearns not downward, but upward, and above him he
finds nothing. Therefore reflection upon his loneliness continually
draws his attention to the fact that his isolation is an inevitable
consequence of his genius,--that he

Spares but the cloudy border of his base
To the foiled searching of mortality.
[Footnote: Matthew Arnold, Sonnet, _Shakespeare_.]

The poet usually looks for alleviation of his loneliness after death,
when he is gathered to the company of his peers, but to the supreme poet
he feels that even this satisfaction is denied. The highest genius must
exist absolutely in and for itself, the poet-egoist is led to conclude,
for it will "remain at heart unread eternally." [Footnote: Thomas Hardy,
_To Shakespeare_.]

Such is the self-perpetuating principle which appears to insure
perennial growth of the poet's egoism. The mystery of inspiration breeds
introspection; introspection breeds egoism; egoism breeds pride; pride
breeds contempt for other men; contempt for other men breeds hostility
and persecution; persecution breeds proud isolation. Finally, isolation
breeds deeper introspection, and the poet is ready to start on a second
revolution of the egocentric circle.



If I might dwell where Israfel
Hath dwelt, and he where I,
He might not sing so wildly well
A mortal melody,

sighs Poe, and the envious note vibrates in much of modern song. There
is an inconsistency in the poet's attitude,--the same inconsistency that
lurks in the most poetical of philosophies. Like Plato, the poet sees
this world as the veritable body of his love, Beauty,--and yet it is to
him a muddy vesture of decay, and he is ever panting for escape from it
as from a prison house.

One might think that the poet has less cause for rebellion against the
flesh than have other men, inasmuch as the bonds that enthrall feebler
spirits seem to have no power upon him. A blind Homer, a mad Tasso, a
derelict Villon, an invalid Pope, most wonderful of all--a woman Sappho,
suggest that the differences in earthly tabernacles upon which most of
us lay stress are negligible to the poet, whose burning genius can
consume all fetters of heredity, sex, health, environment and material
endowment. Yet in his soberest moments the poet is wont to confess that
there are varying degrees in the handicap which genius suffers in the
mid-earth life; in fact ever since the romantic movement roused in him
an intense curiosity as to his own nature, he has reflected a good deal
on the question of what earthly conditions will least cabin and confine
his spirit.

Apparently the problem of heredity is too involved to stir him to
attempted solution. If to make a gentleman one must begin with his
grandfather, surely to make a poet one must begin with the race, and in
poems even of such bulk as the _Prelude_ one does not find a complete
analysis of the singer's forbears. In only one case do we delve far into
a poet's heredity. He who will, may perchance hear Sordello's story
told, even from his remote ancestry, but to the untutored reader the
only clear point regarding heredity is the fusion in Sordello of the
restless energy and acumen of his father, Taurello, with the refinement
and sensibility of his mother, Retrude. This is a promising combination,
but would it necessarily flower in genius? One doubts it. In _Aurora
Leigh_ one might speculate similarly about the spiritual aestheticism
of Aurora's Italian mother balanced by the intellectual repose of her
English father. Doubtless the Brownings were not working blindly in
giving their poets this heredity, yet in both characters we must assume,
if we are to be scientific, that there is a happy combination of
qualities derived from more remote ancestors.

The immemorial tradition which Swinburne followed in giving his mythical
poet the sun as father and the sea as mother is more illuminating,
[Footnote: See _Thalassius_.] since it typifies the union in the
poet's nature of the earthly and the heavenly. Whenever heredity is
lightly touched upon in poetry it is generally indicated that in the
poet's nature there are combined, for the first time, these two powerful
strains which, in mysterious fusion, constitute the poetic nature. In
the marriage of his father and mother, delight in the senses, absorption
in the turbulence of human passions, is likely to meet complete
otherworldliness and unusual spiritual sensitiveness.

There is a tradition that all great men have resembled their mothers;
this may in part account for the fact that the poet often writes of her.
Yet in poetical pictures of the mother the reader seldom finds anything
patently explaining genius in her child. The glimpse we have of Ben
Jonson's mother is an exception. A twentieth century poet conceives of
the woman who was "no churl" as

A tall, gaunt woman, with great burning eyes,
And white hair blown back softly from a face
Etherially fierce, as might have looked
Cassandra in old age.
[Footnote: Alfred Noyes, _Tales of the Mermaid Inn_.]

In the usual description, however, there is none of this dynamic force.
Womanliness, above all, and sympathy, poets ascribe to their mothers.
[Footnote: See Beattie, _The Minstrel_; Wordsworth, _The Prelude_;
Cowper, _Lines on his Mother's Picture_; Swinburne, _Ode to his Mother_;
J. G. Holland, _Kathrina_; William Vaughan Moody, _The Daguerreotype_;
Anna Hempstead Branch, _Her Words_.] A little poem by Sara Teasdale,
_The Mother of a Poet_, gives a poetical explanation of this type of
woman, in whom all the turbulence of the poet's spiritual inheritance is
hushed before it is transmitted to him. Such a mother as Byron's, while
she appeals to certain novelists as a means of intensifying the poet's
adversities, [Footnote: See H. E. Rives, _The Castaway_ (1904); J. D.
Bacon, _A Family Affair_ (1900).] is not found in verse. One might
almost conclude that poets consider their maternal heritage
indispensable. Very seldom is there such a departure from tradition as
making the father bequeather of the poet's sensitiveness. [Footnote: _A
Ballad in Blank Verse_, by John Davidson, is a rare exception.]

The inheritance of a specific literary gift is almost never insisted
upon by poets, [Footnote: See, however, Anna Hempstead Branch, _Her
Words_.] though some of the verse addressed to the child, Hartley
Coleridge, possibly implies a belief in such heritage. The son of Robert
and Mrs. Browning seems, strangely enough, considering his chance of a
double inheritance of literary ability, not to have been the subject of
versified prophecies of this sort. One expression by a poet of belief in
heredity may, however, detain us. At the beginning of Viola Meynell's
career, it is interesting to notice that as a child she was the subject
of speculation as to her inheritance of her mother's genius. It was
Francis Thompson, of course, who, musing on Alice Meynell's poetry, said
to the little Viola,

If angels have hereditary wings,
If not by Salic law is handed down
The poet's laurel crown,
To thee, born in the purple of the throne,
The laurel must belong.
[Footnote: _Sister Songs_.]

But these lines must not be considered apart from the fanciful poem in
which they grow.

What have poets to say on the larger question of their social
inheritance? This is a subject on which, at the beginning of the
nineteenth century, at least, poets should have had ideas, and the
varying rank given to their lyrical heroes is not without significance.
The renaissance idea, that the nobleman is framed to enjoy, rather than
to create, beauty,--that he is the connoisseur rather than the
genius,--seems to have persisted in the eighteenth century, and at the
beginning of the romantic movement to have combined with the new
exaltation of the lower classes to work against the plausible view that
the poet is the exquisite flowering of the highest lineage.

Of course, it is not to be expected that there should be unanimity of
opinion among poets as to the ideal singer's rank. In several instances,
confidence in human egotism would enable the reader to make a shrewd
guess as to a poet's stand on the question of caste, without the trouble
of investigation. Gray, the gentleman, as a matter of course consigns
his "rustic Milton" to oblivion. Lord Byron follows the fortunes of
"Childe" Harold. Lord Tennyson usually deals with titled artists.
[Footnote: See _Lord Burleigh_, Eleanore in _A Becket_, and the Count in
_The Falcon_.] Greater significance attaches to the gentle birth of the
two prominent fictional poets of the century, Sordello and Aurora Leigh,
yet in both poems the plot interest is enough to account for it. In
Sordello's case, especially, Taurello's dramatic offer of political
leadership to his son suffices to justify Browning's choice of his
hero's rank. [Footnote: Other poems celebrating noble poets are _The
Troubadour_, Praed; _The King's Tragedy_, Rossetti; _David, Charles di
Trocca_, Cale Young Rice.]

None of these instances of aristocratic birth are of much importance,
and wherever there is a suggestion that the poet's birth represents a
tenet of the poem's maker, one finds, naturally, praise of the singer
who springs from the masses. The question of the singer's social origin
was awake in verse even before Burns. So typical an eighteenth century
poet as John Hughes, in lines _On a Print of Tom Burton, a Small Coal
Man_, moralizes on the phenomenon that genius may enter into the
breast of one quite beyond the social pale. Crabbe [Footnote: See _The
Patron_.] and Beattie,[Footnote: See _The Minstrel_.] also, seem
not to be departing from the Augustan tradition in treating the fortunes
of their peasant bards. But with Burns, of course, the question comes
into new prominence. Yet he spreads no propaganda. His statement is
merely personal:

Gie me ae spark of nature's fire!
That's a' the learning I desire.
Then, though I drudge through dub and mire
At plough or cart,
My muse, though homely in attire,
May touch the heart.
[Footnote: _Epistle to Lapraik_.]

It is not till later verse that poets springing from the soil are given
sweeping praise, because of the mysterious communion they enjoy with
"nature." [Footnote: For verse glorifying the peasant aspect of Burns
see Thomas Campbell, _Ode to Burns_; Whittier, _Burns_; Joaquim Miller,
_Burns and Byron_; William Bennett, _To the Memory of Burns_; A. B.
Street, _Robbie Burns_ (1867); O. W. Holmes, _The Burns Centennial_;
Richard Realf, _Burns_; Simon Kerl, _Burns_ (1868); Shelley Halleck,
_Burns_.] Obviously the doctrine is reinforced by Wordsworth, though few
of his farmer folk are geniuses, and the closest illustration of his
belief that the peasant, the child of nature, is the true poet, is found
in the character of the old pedlar, in the _Excursion_. The origin of
Keats might be assumed to have its share in molding poets' views on
caste, but only the most insensitive have dared to touch upon his
Cockney birth. In the realm of Best Sellers, however, the hero of May
Sinclair's novel, _The Divine Fire_, who is presumably modeled after
Keats, is a lower class Londoner, presented with the most unflinching
realism that the author can achieve. Consummate indeed is the artistry
with which she enables him to keep the sympathy of his readers, even
while he commits the unpardonable sin of dropping his h's. [Footnote:
Another historical poet whose lowly origin is stressed in poetry is
Marlowe, the son of a cobbler. See Alfred Noyes, _At the Sign of the
Golden Shoe_; Josephine Preston Peabody, _Marlowe_.] Here and there, the
poet from the ranks lifts his head in verse, throughout the last
century. [Footnote: For poet-heroes of this sort see John Clare, _The
Peasant Poet_; Mrs. Browning, _Lady Geraldine's Courtship_; Robert
Buchanan, _Poet Andrew_; T. E. Browne, _Tommy Big Eyes_; Whittier,
_Eliot_; J. G. Saxe, _Murillo and his Slave_.] And at present, with the
penetration of the "realistic" movement into verse, one notes a slight


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