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From The Quarterly Review.
MODERN ENGLISH POETS.*

IN coming from the poets of the beginning of this century to those of the last thirty or forty years, it cannot but strike every one how much the atmosphere of hope and of enthusiasm has cooled down. The years which were measured by the life of Shelley were years in which Europe was agitated by the most fiery energies; nor was it merely the crash of unexampled wars, the tumult of rising or falling kingdoms, The author who connects the age of which that stirred the minds of men. A new we have been speaking, with the age of spirit was in the world: the equality of men Tennyson and Browning, is one who is no was, for the first time, not indeed taught verse-writer, and who has even poured conor believed, but practically urged by pow-tempt on poetry, but yet is not the less ers that in their first outburst destroyed all, surely a poet himself - Mr. Carlyle. We or nearly all, that presumed to bar their may be accused of extravagance in the followway. There could be no indifference to ing opinion, and yet we are not conscious such a spectacle. Some recoiled from it in of being mere partizans of Mr. Carlyle; horror; but those who dared to hope at all, and if need were, we should find many comhoped with a vehemence proportionate to plaints to bring against him. But yet it apthe greatness of the events. It might be pears to us that no historic event has ever disputed whether the birth with which the been embraced so completely in all its amage was in labour would be for good or for plitude, and in all its circumstances and evil; it could not be disputed that it was bearings, by any single writer, as the marvellous, beyond precedent; and hence French Revolution has been by Mr. Carthose who had faith, in spite of adverse lyle. Not merely, nor even chiefly, in his appearances, that it was good, thought it history of the revolution; but in his miscelmarvellously and unprecedently good. And laneous essays, where he shows how in Gerin this category were at their first starting many and France the new ideas sprang first (though some afterwards changed) all the in the brain of philosophers, and took form, great poets of the age. These, then, had and were disseminated; and how they came no need to seek for a subject on which to into conflict with the effete and languid - write; rather were they likely to fail from spirit of those who were nominally rulers, the very multitude of their imaginations, and statesmen, and spiritual teachers; and from the intensity of their zeal, from ina- where he makes every reader feel how natbility to exercise that degree of soberness ural and human was every part in every which is requisite, in order to discern truth scene of that great drama, which began with from falsehood. And this, in fact, is precise- Voltaire, which culminated in Robespierre, ly the point in which Shelley, who most of and which ended in Napoleon. In Mr. all bore the impress of his age, is the weak- Carlyle, the fire of the previous generation, est. He could not be unpoetic; he was which had witnessed these events, has not even too poetic, for in the world there are yet died out; it burns less wildly, but more steadily, and, being mixed with a solid sense of reality, the result is a degree and extent of insight, to which we know scarcetions, indeed, are precisely the kind of subly a parallel among historians. Revoluject most suited to Mr. Carlyle's genius: that he would do equal justice to an orderly, peaceable age and country, following precedent, is not so probable.

Thus far, then, the ardent and tender

1. Poems. The Princess. Maud and other Poems. In Memoriam. Idylls of the King. Enoch Arden, &c. By Alfred Tennyson. London, 1868.

2. Poetical Works. The Ring and the Book. By Robert Browning. London, 1868-1869.

3. Poems. By Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Lon

don, 1866.

4. Poems. By Arthur Hugh Clough. London,

1863.

many things not calculated to rouse enthusiasm, but on the contrary dull and repulsive, which yet it is necessary should be seen, weighed, and remembered. And to these Shelley would turn his attention. He was for ever like the Pythian prophetess; he stood on his tripod and delivered oracles, which to a cool-minded observer seemed madness, but which penetrated deeply into those who had the seed of a like enthusiasm in themselves.

5. Poems. New Poems. By Matthew Arnold.

London, 1857, 1867.

-

spirits who looked out into the world had pected that Mr. Browning, who is a very found, in the course of external events, full keen observer of human nature, would have and ample material to satisfy their need of found something to rouse his poetic vigour ardent hopes and sympathies. But great is in the broad life of nations. Yet there is the change when we come to the next gen-only one short poem - the Lost Leader'in which he has expressed any real inspiring, feeling on this topic; for his Cavalier Songs,' and 'Strafford' are much more representations of individual peculiarities than displays of far-reaching passions; and the same remark may be made of his poems that relate to Italy, though the concluding lines of his last poem show the germ of a wider feeling. Of Mrs. Browning it must be admitted, that her most touching and vigorous poetry relates to the aspirations of Italy, which she loved so well, and which has shown itself not ungrateful to her memory by the inscription set over the door of the house in which she lived at Florence. But Mrs. Browning, though so far as she goes an exception to the non-political character of recent poets, is not sufficiently strong to disprove the rule to any material degree; and neither the late Arthur Hugh Clough nor Mr. Matthew Arnold ever show any more than an everyday interest in the striking events of the world around them.

eration, which had no personal knowledge of the events of the beginning of the century. After the battle of Waterloo, Europe in its weariness ceased from the search after wide abstract principles; causes which take hold of eager impulsive minds, became comparatively rare; a prosaic air belonged alike to the Reform Bill of 1832 and the Revolution of July. Many most memorable political events took place between 1815 and 1848; but with the exception of the Grecian War of Independence, they all belonged rather to the useful than to the brilliant and picturesque class. The effects of the French Revolution remained, it is true, in the increased action of the peoples, in the more cautious demeanour of monarchs, and in the general sense of a common cause subsisting between the nations of Europe. But a disenchantment had taken place; no one could any longer expect that these effects, however beneficial, were such as would forthwith make earth a paradise. Consequently, poets turned away from politics, as from a field in which they could not hope to find any inspiring theme for their verse. This change took place very suddenly. Tennyson is the first in whom it may be observed; the whole of his works do not, we believe, contain a single notice of continental public matters, except two or three allusions to France, not conceived in the most generous spirit. Three of his patriotic poems, however, are characterized by a certain quiet stateliness; the one beginning

Of old sat Freedom on the heights;' that which begins

It would certainly be unjust to argue from the fact just noticed, that the poets of whom we have been speaking have embraced no large sphere of thought and feeling at all. But it is none the less true, that no equally strong and constraining external influence has replaced in them the force which political enthusiasm exercised upon the earlier poets. In most cases, their subject has not been forced upon them, they have had to go and seek it. We do not say that it is an error in a poet to seek a fit subject whereon to write, much the reverse; but it is best of all, if the fit subject comes to him without his seeking it. And though it could not be asserted of Coleridge, or Wordsworth, or Shelley, that political thought was that for which they were most fitted, or by which their best poems are animated, yet it was undoubtedly the great political convulsions which they had seen that stirred up the depths of their minds, and gave them a readiness and a swiftness alike in taking in and giving out imaginstions to which the natural bent of their dis

Love thou thy land with love far-brought; and that which contains the well-known

stanza :

A land of settled government,

A land of just and old renown,

Where Freedom slowly broadens down From precedent to precedent.'

And there is a remarkable though rough vigour in the Ode on the Charge of the

Light Brigade.' It might have been ex-position more specially inclined. In short,

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scend the limits of individual feeling. When-
ever their minds are in a mood for dealing
with things more comprehensive than their
own personal observation or emotion, it is
in this direction that they tend. And it also
marks them as students; for, without study,
it is impossible for any man to write much,
either in prose or verse, on these subjects.
If we ask how this tendency has come, there
are not wanting manifest causes of it. When
the leading actors in the world are not suf-
ficiently great to attract a poet, he must ap-
ply himself to the leading thinkers and to
the universal topics of thought if he wishes
to write on anything great. Possibly, too,
the reaction from the school of which Comte
is the most recognized exponent - the
school which affirms the absolute futility of
religion and philosophy alike may have
disposed inquiring minds to examine with
more than ordinary care the meaning of
philosophy and religion. It is certainly a
very natural result, when men,
who are
previously disposed to take interest in a
topic, hear that the discussion of it is for-
bidden them (whether by kings or parlia-
ments or philosophers does not make much
difference), that they should be even more
zealous in pursuing it than before. But,
however this may be, there can be no doubt
about the fact as respects the poets of whom
we are treating.

But to come to the separate consideration of these poets. That general type, which appears in all of them, is of course in each individual instance modified and combined with other qualities. To take, first, Mr. Tennyson: - We are constrained to begin by saying that, as his works have hitherto entirely failed to meet with a really discriminative criticism, a sober estimate of them is at once difficult to make, and may seem to some disappointing. Partly because for a long time he was the only considerable English poet; partly because men have come to look upon poetry (what now-a-days it too often is) as merely an ornament and a pleasure, and not a task that ennobles and But that which at once marks most espec- invigorates both writer and reader, and ially the student-like nature of these poets is spreads itself in sympathy through all the the wide extent to which philosophical and works and occupations of men; he has not religious meditations enter into their poe- merely been overpraised, but qualities have try. It is an essential element in their been ascribed to him the very reverse of his greatness, for it is by this that they tran- real merits. He has been thought to have

we think that Byron and Wordsworth and their contemporaries had a real poetic advantage over the later generation, in this, that their life was cast in times when the events of every day were wonderful and startling, and when even if a poet did write directly about those events, he gathered from them instinctively an impetus and fire not to be attained in ages of a more commonplace description.

Let us cease, however, to consider what Mr. Tennyson and Mr. Browning are not, and what they have not given us, and come to the more gracious task of considering what positively they are, and what they have done. Now there is a very decided family likeness between all the five poets whom we have taken as our main subject. Differing among themselves in many points, it is plain that their spirit has bent in one direction, and been penetrated by a common thought. To speak of a school of poets has often an unsuitable sound, or else it implies a certain disparagement; thus, for instance, we should speak more readily of the school of Racine than of the school of Shakespeare, because we hold the former to be less individual in style and conception. But in no disparaging sense we may term the poets of whom we are now speaking, a school. They are students; they have gathered together their knowledge deliberately and with pains, and gathered it to a very considerable degree, even from books. None of them are like Horace and Burns, who by pure observation gained the command over a large field of human nature. Topics which demand learning and abstract thought occupy a large portion of their verse. In Tennyson, even scientific allusions are very common, as for instance

Before the little ducts began
To feed thy bones with lime, and ran
Their course, till thou wert also man.'
And again:

'Break, thou deep vase of chilling tears, That grief hath shaken into frost.'

a profound original intellect, whereas heMaud,' have a more brilliant inspiration; has merely a receptive intellect; he has been but none else reveals so large a portion of thought to have dramatic imagination, himself, his life, thoughts, and emotions. whereas few poets are more self-contained And such a passage as the following, than and self-respective. We must do him the which there are few more beautiful in Mr. justice of saying that his really excellent Tennyson's works, will illustrate and justify works have only rarely been overrated; it the account we have given of his characis his least meritorious productions that ter: have hit the taste of the unintelligent multitude, and have raised him to this undue pinnacle. This, perhaps, is not unfrequently the case: but, at any rate, we trust that we shall show that of the real beauty and pathos of Mr. Tennyson we have no unfitting appreciation. That which in him is, above all, the attractive power, the spell (for all poets have a spell) by which he makes men listen to him, is the depth and fervour of his personal affection. This it is which lends reality, sincerity, and strength, to his other excellences to his musical ear, to his delicate observation of external beauty, to his endeavours after philosophical truth; otherwise these would be mere outside shows and deceptive mimicries of beauty. It has not always been so, with all poets; in Wordsworth, for instance, the love of Nature combined with a broad and tranquil interest in humanity overpowered the individual sentiment for men; but such a temper is widely different from that of Mr. Tennyson. There is not a page of Mr. This is a miniature, but a very perfect Tennyson that touches us, which is not felt miniature. And indeed, looking through to owe its charm to the love which he bears In Memoriam,' the number of beautiful towards the persons whom he has known. images and pictures, compressed into a sinAnd in this love are great purity and great gle line or at most into a few stanzas, is simplicity. How simple Mr. Tennyson's marvellous. As scarcely any English poet nature really is (in spite of the elaboration has a nature of more pure and gentle feelwhich he has bestowed on his style), has ing than Mr. Tennyson, so scarcely any has not always been noticed. His simplicity is a mind more keenly alive to sensuous imlike that of a woman; unaffected, devoid of pressions. He sees beauty where others worldly wisdom and little tinctured by any have seen only ugliness; he hears music practical sagacity, devoid too (with very where a common ear would pass unheedrare exceptions) of genuine wildness of pasingly by. And what he has seen and heard, sion. And as his simplicity is that of a wo- he renders to others in words somewhat man, so is his constancy. He has no fickle elaborate perhaps, and occasionally a little disposition, nor one apt to take offence. In difficult to be understood from their brevity, either of these respects, compare his lyrics but when once taken in, not readily forto those of Horace, or Burns, or Byron, or gotten. The grandest aspects of Nature, Heine. These poets had the vices and vir- and the thoughts and analogies suggested tues of men; passion, inconstancy, knowl- by these, are not so kindred to his mind, edge of the world, wit, manysidedness, a nor are they expressed by him so vividly, considerable zest in the pursuit of pleasure. as they were by the poets of the beginning Of these six qualities, the last five hardly of the century. But of the innumerable belong to Mr. Tennyson in any degree details in the landscape that meet us every whatever; while of passion he has far less day, of the sights and sounds of the counthan of tenderness, the feminine counterpart try or the quiet seaside, he is a consummate of passion. master. Nor does he ever touch them coldly or ambitiously; he suffuses them all over with the pathos of his own heart, and makes them glow with an equable fire. We might quote from In Memoriam' al

Of all Mr. Tennyson's poems, In Memoriam' is by much the most characteristic, and the one which displays his nature most fully. Others, and especially parts of

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somewhere, meek unconscious dove,
That sittest ranging golden hair;
And glad to find thyself so fair,

Poor child, that waitest for thy love!

6

For now her father's chimney glows
In expectation of a guest;

And thinking" this will please him best,"
She takes a riband or a rose;

For he will see them on to-night

And with the thought her colour burns; And, having left the glass, she turns Once more to set a ringlet right;

And, even when she turn'd, the curse

Had fallen, and her future Lord

Was drown'd in passing thro' the ford,
Or kill'd in falling from his horse.

O what to her shall be the end?

And what to her remains of good?
To her, perpetual maidenhood,
And unto me no second friend.'

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