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Later Biblical Researches in Palestine and the adjacent Regions. By
Edward Robinson, D.D., LL.D. John Murray. .

[Travels of interest, but given in needless and wearisome detail.)
Southern Africa. By F. Fleming. Hall and Co.
Letters from the Seat of War. By a Staff-Officer. Murray.
Kambles in America. By John Shaw. Hope.
Ancient India. By Mrs. Speir. Smith, Elder, and Co.

[A very good book ;' the foundation is laid in real and solid know

ledge; the style is tasteful; and the book is beautifully illus

trated and got up.]
Twelve Months with the Bashi-Bazouks. By Edward Money, Lieut.-

Col. Imperial Ottoman Army, and late Captain Bashi-Bazouks.
Chapman and Hall.
(A very amusing book, written by one who had good opportunities

for observing and a pleasant faculty for recording.)
Pen and Pencil Pictures. By Thomas Hood. Hurst and Blackett.

[There is humour and fancy in this book, though it is deficient in

intensity for a young man's first effort. There is a little ten

dency to the manufacture of fun and sentiment.] Florence Templar. Smith, Elder, and Co.

[Graceful and very interesting, with considerable artistic skill

Like so many other recent novels, it is life seen entirely from one point of view-painted on the camera-obscura of a woman's mind; but the observing medium is in this case clearly a deli

cate and thoughtful one.] Ivors. By the Author of " Amy Herbert," &c. Longman and Co.

[Miss Sewell's stories are too moral and ecclesiastical in mould

for perfect nature or perfect grace. We are tired of her everrepeated Christian mothers. This tale, however, has rather

more variety, and perhaps less divinity.] Tender and True. By the Author of “ Clara Morison.” 2 vols. Smith, Elder, and Co.

[The merit of this tale lies in a grave quiet simplicity of tone. It

is more agreeable reading than many more pretentious novels.] Kathie Brande : The Fireside History of a Quiet Life. By Holme Lee. Smith, Elder, and Co.

[Grave and quiet, as it professes to be; but able and characteristic

writing, and interesting reading.) Kate Coventry. By G. J. Whyte Melville. John W. Parker and Son.

[This story is a reprint from Fraser's Magazine. It appears to be

decidedly clever; it is unquestionably very fast.] Round the Fire ; Six Stories (for Children). Smith, Elder, and Co.

[Simple, and very interesting for children.]



APRIL 1857.


Aurora Leigh. By Elizabeth Barrett Browning. London: Chapman

and Hall. 1857. Poems. By Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Fourth Edition. 3 vols.

London : Chapman and Hall. 1856. It is a rash and futile effort of criticism to limit the forms in which poetic conception is to embody itself. The criticism of artistic forms is the science of an art. It measures a world which is always growing; and its dry system is at any moment liable to be burst asunder by the vital energy of the life to which it professes to assign its appropriate framework. Its work is the same as that of the lawyer, who, having reduced a medley of judicial decisions to an ex-post-facto "principle," as he fondly calls it, is suddenly called on to make room in it for a new decision in the Exchequer Chamber. For the poet is greater than the critic; and when the latter says, “thus far shalt thou come, and no farther,” he stands like the flattered king upon the sands, and every new wave washes the ground from under his feet. So, too, of the distinctions between prose and poetry, the discussion of which is but a branch of the same school of inquiry. It is idle to attempt to assign them beforehand their respective boundaries. To use one of Mrs. Browning's metaphors with as much boldness and as little appropriateness as she herself is apt to employ them, they

“Play at leap-frog over the god Term." That certain rules of composition sustain themselves at all

, is due to the fact, that creative genius of a high order is not impatient of forms; but rather loves, on the contrary, to have certain limits

No. VIII. APRIL 1857.

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defined for it, and to be freed to some extent from “the weight of too much liberty.” Shakespeare did not fret because tragedies are limited to five acts, nor Milton quarrel with the formal conditions of an epic poem.

Still, art is free; and when it chooses to break through old conditions which have been considered essential, and assume fresh forms, the new work vindicates or condemns itself. If it recommend itself to that ultimate human judgment with which the verdict lies, it takes its place in spite of all canons to the contrary; if not, it sinks into obscurity, or, if it lives at all, it is because some inner worth outweighs the faultiness and unfitness of the form in which it is embodied.

When, therefore, we say that Mrs. Browning has to some extent misconceived the sphere of verse in her novel of Aurora Leigh, and embarrassed herself with details of incident too complex for the rhythmical vehicle of expression, we make the assertion with as much modesty as a critic is capable of, and with a due consciousness that our conclusions are liable to be upset by any poet who chooses to produce a great and harmonious poem under conditions which we have pronounced to be ill adapted to his art. There is this strong fact, however, against the attempt to clothe the modern novel in verse, that verse was not the natural and spontaneous mode of expression which that kind of literature assumed. In all its stages of development, up to its present complex form, in which it fuses into a homogeneous new mould the old distinctions of epic and dramatic, it has always been in prose that its many gifted masters have found the medium for their utterance. At this day, to attempt to translate it into verse seems to us like an attempt to imitate in sculpture the “Transfiguration" of Raphael, or the “Blind Fiddler” of Wilkie. It does not follow, because verse is the highest instrument of expression, and finds a voice more ample and perfect than any other for the passion both of the imagination and the heart, that it has any claim in itself beyond this very fact of its being such true expression, or that you gain any thing by employing it for its own sake. It seems to us a decided loss of power to attempt to give a rhythmical form to the varied narration, the detailed conversation, and the minute and full-length representations of the modern conditions of social and individual life, which have already been so ably and so fully embodied in prose forms. We should go farther than to say merely that verse wants pliancy to adapt itself to those fine ramifications of external observation to which we have become accustomed, or that the contrast is too immediate between the every-day forms of speech which we are in the habit of using, and the same reproduced with a rhythmic cadence; we urge that there are many things which, from their very nature, it is a breach of those essential harmonies to which, of all men, the poet should be most alive, to attempt to embody in the language of the imagination. Verse is two very different things; it may be used either as the expression of poetic thought, or as a mere external grace, to give a charm to narratives or descriptions, or pieces of humour, to which it is not in any sense necessary. Parts of Pope, of Crabbe, and of Prior, afford ready illustrations of this use of it. But when we speak of poetry, we mean, in general, verse used as the embodiment of poetic conception, to which it clings as the body of a man does to his spirit. It is possible to take this sort of expression, which true poetic conception demands, and use it for subject matter which does not in itself require it; and, instead of letting the thought kindle the imagination for its own particular occasion, to maintain an artificial heat for general purposes. This is what is done throughout a great part of Mrs. Barrett Browning's poem. A greater master teaches another lesson. When his matter descends, Shakespeare's forms descend with it; and wherever the nature of his subject matter demands it, he intersperses prosescenes, or even prose-speeches, in his dramas; and more remark

, able than these changes are the subtle variations in the rhythm, and in the warmth of the imaginative colouring, answering every where in the nicest correspondence to the level of the subjectmatter. But Mrs. Browning maintains her high unstooping flight over all the varied surface of her story. She dresses her poetry as the ancient actors did their persons; and like them, she loses in truthfulness and nicety of expression what she gains in external display; and it repels the modern reader to find, instead of changing feature and modulated voice, the rigid tragic mask and sounding mouthpiece of the Greek theatre. This undue poetic excitement shows itself in the imaginative diction alone, and is not accompanied by any corresponding elevation in the structure of the metre, or the flow of the rhythm : in these the approach to prose is made as close as possible, bearing some such analogy to ordinary poetry as recitative does to singing; for while the lines are rhythmical, the periods are almost all prosaic. The result we cannot help thinking a very unsatisfactory one; and when, in this semi-verse, semi-prose, the matter of the author comes couched in the most daring and far-fetched metaphor, it makes the reading inconceivably difficult and wearisome. Where the matter is such as to be in keeping with this high poetic utterance, as in the last pages of the book, there is enough to kindle the answering fire in the reader's brain; and the bold and passionate snatchings of the imagination at depths of meaning, which no other language but its own can compel to the surface, are intuitively followed and comprehended. It is otherwise when ordinary conversation, discussion, narrative, reasoning, or selfcommuning, are expressed in the poetic forms which poetic matter alone justifies; clothed upon with purple diction, and made to glitter with blazing jewelry of metaphor ; distracting the reader from the matter before him, annoying him with their inappropriateness, and often puzzling him to seize their meaning, Take as an instance this description of the paper and printing of Wolf's Homer :

“ The kissing Judas, Wolff, shall go instead,
Who builds us such a royal book as this
To honour a chief-poet, folio-built,
And writes above, The house of Nobody:
Who floats in cream, as rich as any sucked
From Juno's breasts, the broad Homeric lines,
And, while with their spondaic prodigious mouths,
They lap the lucent margins as babe-gods,

Proclaims them bastards. Wolff's an atheist." Or read the following description of a lady tearing a letter ; of the extravagance of which the author herself seems to be sensible, and which she half apologises for, and half justifies. But though a letter might possibly be torn under circumstances of weight and passion to justify such a simile, yet we cannot think that the destruction of an instrument of gift, even before the cyes of giver and lover, can warrant it :

“As I spoke, I tore
The paper up and down, and down and up
And crosswise, till it fluttered from my hands,
As forest-leaves, stripped suddenly and rapt
By a whirlwind on Valdarno, drop again,
Drop slow, and strew the melancholy ground
Before the amazed hills ... why, so, indeed,
I'm writing like a poet, somewhat large
In the type of the image, -and exaggerate
A small thing with a great thing, topping it!
But then I'm thinking how his eyes looked . . his,

With what despondent and surprised reproach!" This want of accordance between the matter and the manner is not a superficial defect, it is connected with the fundamental characteristics of Mrs. Browning's genius; rather, we ought to say, with a fundamental deficiency which leaves its trace on all her works, and limits powers which would otherwise lift her into the very highest ranks of the poetical hierarchy. But she is a poet cleft in half; she wants one whole side of the faculties of the artist; and though the other side be great beyond the ordinary proportions of our modern poets, the loss is one which necessarily affects the whole frame, can only be partially compensated by other excellencies, and can never be replaced.

The greatest poets have been those whose spirits are set in

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