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In , if we may trust the reckoning which seems trustworthiest, the twin stars of our stage rose visibly together for the first time. The noble tragedy of Thierry and Theodoret has generally been dated earlier and assigned to Fletcher alone ; but we can be sure neither of the early date nor the single authorship.
The main body of the play, comprising both the great scenes which throw out into full and final relief the cha- racter of either heroine for perfect good or evil, bears throughout the unmistakable image and superscription of Fletcher ; yet there are parts which for gravity and steady strength of style, for reserve and temperance of effect, would seem to suggest the collaboration of a calmer and more patient hand ; and these more equable and less passionate parts of the poem recall rather the touch of Massinger than of Beaumont In the second act, for example, the regular structure of the verse, the even scheme of the action, the exaggerated braggardism 58 BE A UMONT AND FLETCHER which makes of the hero a mere puppet or mouthpiece of his own self-will, are all qualities which, for better or for worse, remind us of the strength or the weakness of a poet with whom we know that Fletcher, before or after his alliance with Beaumont, did now and then work in common.
Com- pare also the second with the first scene of the fourth act. In style and metre this second scene is as good an example of Massinger as the first is of Fletcher at his best Observe especially in the elaborate narrative of the pretended self-immolation of Ordella these distinc- tive notes of the peculiar style of Massinger ; the excess of parenthetic sentences, no less than five in a space of twenty lines ; the classical commonplace of allusion to Athens, Rome, and Sparta in one superfluous breath ; the pure and vigorous but somewhat level and prosaic order of language, with the use of certain cheap and easy phrases familiar to Massinger as catchwords; the flat and feeble terminations by means of which the final syllable of one verse runs on into the next without more pause or rhythm than in a passage of prose ; the general dignity and gravity of sustained and measured expres- sion.
These are the very points in which the style of Massinger differs from that of Fletcher ; whose lightest and loosest verses do not overlap each other without sensible distinction between the end of one line and the BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER 59 beginning of the next ; who is often too fluent and facile to be choice or forcible in his diction, but seldom if ever prosaic or conventional in phrase or allusion, and by no means habitually given to weave thoughts within thoughts, knit sentence into sentence, and hang whole paragraphs together by the help of loops and brackets.
From these indications we might infer that this poem belongs altogether to a period later than the death of Beaumont ; though even during his friend's life it appears that Fletcher was once at least allied with Massinger and two lesser dramatists in the composition of some play now unknown to men. Hardly eight years of toil and triumph, of joyous and glorious life, were spared by destiny to the younger poet between the date assigned to the first radiant revelation of his genius in Philast er and the date which marks the end of all his labours.
If we may trust the elegiac evidence of friends, he died of his own genius and fiery overwork of brain ; yet from the magnificent and masculine beauty of his portrait one would certainly never have guessed that any strain of spirit or stress of invention could have worn out so long before its time so fair and royal a temple for so bright and affluent a soul. Fletcher's a more keen and fervid face, sharper in outline every way, with an air of bright ardour and glad fiery impatience ; sanguine and nervous, suiting the complexion and colour of hair ; the expression of the eager eyes and lips almost recalling that of a noble hound in act to break the leash it strains at ; — two heads as lordly of feature and as expressive of aspect as any gallery of great men can show.
That spring of , we may note in passing, was the darkest that ever dawned upon England or the world ; for, just forty-eight days after- wards, it witnessed, on the 23rd of April, the removal from earth of the mightiest genius that ever dwelt among men. Scarcely more than a month and a half divided the death-days of Beaumont and of Shakespeare.
Some three years earlier by Mr. Dyce's estimate, when about the age of twenty-eight, Beaumont had married Ursula, daughter and coheiress to. Henry Isley of Sund- ridge in Kent, by whom he left two daughters, one of them posthumous. Saviour's, South wark ; not, as we might have wished, beside his younger fellow in fame, who but three days after his untimely death had added another deathless memory to the graves of our great men in Westminster Abbey, which he had sung in such noble verse. The perfect union in genius and in friendship which has made one name of tlie two names of these great twin brothers in song is a thing so admirable and so delightful to remember, that it would seem ungracious and unkindly to claim for either a precedence which we may be sure he would have been eager to disclaim.
But if a distinction must be made between the Dioscuri of English poetry, we must admit that Beaumont was the twin of heavenlier birth. Only as Pollux was on one side a demigod of diviner blood than Castor can it be said that on any side Beaumont was a poet of higher and purer genius than Fletcher ; but so much must be allowed by all who have eyes and ears to discern in the fabric of their common work a distinction without a diflFercnce.
Few things are stranger than the avowal of so great and exquisite a critic as Cole- ridge that he could trace no faintest line of demarcation between the plays which we owe mainly to Beaumont and the plays which we owe solely to Fletcher. To others this line has always appeared in almost every case unmistakable. Were it as hard and broad as the line which marks off, for example, Shakespeare's part from Fletcher's in TJu Two Noble Kinsmen, the harmony would of course be lost which now informs every work of their common genius, and each play of their writing would be such another piece of magnificent patchwork as that last gigantic heir of Shakespeare's invention, the ] 64 BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER posthumous birth of his parting Muse which was sucklea at the breast of Fletcher's as a child of godlike blood might be reared on the milk of a mortal mother — or in this case, we might sometimes be tempted to say, of a she-goat who left in the veins of the heaven-born suckling somewhat too much of his nurse Amalthaea.
That question however belongs in any case more pro- perly to the study of Shakespeare than to the present subject in hand. It may suffice here to observe that the contributions of Fletcher to the majestic temple of tragedy left incomplete by Shakespeare show the lesser workman aimost equally at his best and at his worst, at his weakest and at his strongest.
But throughout these noblest of the works inscribed generally with the names of both dramatists we trace on every other page the touch of a surer hand, we hear at every other turn the note of a deeper voice, than we can ever recognize in the work of Fletcher alone. The general style of his tragic or romantic verse is as simple and severe in its purity of note and regularity of outline as that of Fletcher's is by comparison lax, effusive, exuberant The matchless fluency and rapidity with which the elder brother pours forth the stream of his smooth swift verse gave probably the first occasion for that foolish rumour which has not yet fallen duly silent, but still murmurs here and there its suggestion that the main office of Beaumont was to correct and contain within bounds the overflowing invention of his colleague.
Now, in every one of the plays common to both, the real difficulty for a critic is not to trace the hand of Beaumont, but to detect the touch of Fletcher. In those admi- rable tragedies the style is looser, more fluid, more feminine. From the first scene to the last we are swept as it were along the race of a running river, always at full flow of light and buoyant melody, with no dark reaches or perilous eddies, no stagnant pools or sterile sandbanks ; its bright course only varied by sudden rapids or a stronger ripple here and there, but in rough places or smooth still stirred and sparkling with summer wind and sun.
But in those tragic poems of which the dominant note is the note of Beaumont's genius a subtler chord of thought is sounded, a deeper key of emotion is touched, than ever was struck by Fletcher. The lighter genius is palpably subordinate to the stronger, and loyally submits itself to the impression of a loftier spirit. It is true that this distinction is never grave enough to produce a discord: Outside it we shall find no figures so firmly drawn, no such clearness of outline, no such cunning of hand, as we recognize in the three great studies of Bellario, Evadne, and Aspatia.
In his male characters, as for instance in the parts of Philaster and Arbaces, Beau- mont also is apt to show something of that exaggera- tion or inconsistency for which his colleague is more frequently if not more heavily to blame ; but in these BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER 65 there is not a jarring note, not a touch misplaced ; unless, indeed, a rigid criticism may condemn as un- feminine and incongruous with the gentle beauty of her pathetic patience the device by which Aspatia procures herself the death desired at the hand of Amintor.
This r is noted as a fault by Mr. Dyce ; but may well be for- given for the sake of the magnificent scene which follows, and the highest tragic effect ever attained on the stage of either poet That this as well as the greater part of those other scenes which are the glory of the poem is due to Beaumont might readily be shown at length by the process of comparison. From him we might have had a figure as admirable for vigour of handling, but hardly in such perfect keeping as this of Beaumont's Evadne, the murderess-Magdalen, whose penitence is of one crimson colour with her sin.
Nor even in Fletcher's Ordella, worthy as the part is throughout even of the precious and exquisite praise of Lamb, is there any such cunning touch of tenderness or delicate perfume of pathos as in the parts of Bellario and i Aspatia.
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There is a modest pathos now and then in his pictures of feminine sub- mission and slighted or outraged love ; but this submis- sion he is apt to make too servile, this love too doglike in its abject devotion, to retain that tender reverence which so many generations of readers have paid to the sweet memories of Aspatia and Bellario. To excite, compassion was enough for Fletcher, as in the masculine parts of his work it was enough for him to excite wonder, to sustain curiosity, to goad and stimulate by any vivid and violent means the interest of readers or spectators.
To him we may probably assign the whole merit of that fiery and high-toned tragedy, with all its spirit and splendour of national and martial passion ; the conscious and demonstrative exchange of courtesy between Roman and Briton, which is one of the leading notes of the poem, has in it a touch of overstrained and artificial chivalry characteristic of Fletcher ; yet the parts of Cara- tach and Pcenius may be counted among the loftiest and most equal of his creations. Each little play, in the brief course of its single act, gives proof of the pecu- liar touch and special trick of its author's hand: The bias of Fletcher was towards mixed comedy ; his lightest and wildest humour is usually crossed or tempered by an infusion of romance ; like Shakespeare in this one point at least, he has left no single play without some touch in it of serious interest, of poetic eloquence or fancy, however slight and fugi- tive.
Beaumont, evidently under the imperious in- fluence of Ben Jonson's more rigid theories, seems rather to have bent his genius with the whole force of a reso- lute will into the form or mould prescribed for comedy by the elder and greater comic poeL The admirable study of the worthy citizen and his wife, who introduce to the stage and escort with their applause Tlie Knight F2 68 BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER oftfie Burning Pestle through his adventurous career to its untimely end, has all the force and fulness of Jonson's humour at its best, with more of freshness and freedom.
In pure comedy, varied with broad farce and mock- heroic parody, Beaumont was the earliest as well as the ablest disciple of the master whose mantle was after- wards to be shared among the academic poets of a younger generation, the Randolphs and Cartwrights who sought shelter under the shadow of its voluminous folds. They are prone indeed to indulge elsewhere in a wanton and exuberant licence of talk ; and Fletcher at least is liable to confuse the shades of right and wrong, to deface or efface the boundary lines of good and evil, to stain the ermine of virtue and palliate the nakedness of vice with the same indecorous and incongruous laxity of handling.
Often, in mere haste to despatch the business of a play, to huddle up a catastrophe or throw out some particular scene into sharp and immediate relief, he will sacrifice all sccmliness and consistency of character to the pre- sent aim of stage effect, and the instant impression of strong incident or audacious eloquence. The buoyant and facile grace of Fletcher's style carries him lightly across quagmires in which a heavier-footed poet, or one of slower tread, would have stuck fast, and come forth bcmired to the knees.
The genius of Beaumont was deeper, sweeter, nobler than his elder's: Without a taint or a shadow on his fame of such imitative servility as marks and degrades the mere henchman or satellite of a stronger poet, Beaumont may fairly be said to hold of Shakespeare in his tragedy, in his comedy of Jonson ; in each case rather as a kinsman than as a client, as an ally than as a follower: With the mixed or romantic comedy of Shake- speare it has nothing in common except the admixture or alternation of graver with lighter interest, of serious with humorous action. Nothing is here of his magic exaltation or charm of fairy empire.
The rare and rash adventures of Fletcher on that forbidden track are too sure to end in pitiful and shameful failure. His crown of praise is to have created a wholly new and wholly delightful form of mixed comedy or dramatic romance, dealing merely with the humours and sentiments of men, their passions and their chances ; to have woven of all these a web of emotion and event with such gay dexterity, to have blended his colours and combined his effects with such exquisite facility and swift light sure- ness of touch, that we may return once and again from those heights and depths of poetry to which access was forbidden him, ready as ever to enjoy as of old the fresh BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER 71 incomparable charm, the force and ease and grace of life, which fill and animate the radiant world of his romantic invention.
Neither before him nor after do we find, in this his special field of fancy and of work, more than shadows or echoes of his coming or departing genius. Even in these he is more a romantic than a tragic poet The quality of his genius, never sombre or subtle or profound, bears him always towards fresh air and sunshine. His natural work is in a midday world of fearless boyish laughter and hardly bitter tears. There is always more of rainbow than of storm in his skies ; their darkest shadow is but a tragic twilight What with him is the noon of night would seem as sun- shine on the stage of Ford or Webster.
There is but one passage in all these noble plays which lifts us beyond a sense of the stage, which raises our admiration out of speech into silence, tempers and transfigures our emotion with a touch of awe. And this we owe to the genius of Beaumont, exalted for an instant to the very tone and manner of Shakespeare's tragedy, when Amintor stands between the dead and the dying woman whom he has unwittingly slain with hand and tongue.
In pure comedy Rule a Wife and Have a Wife is the acknow- ledged and consummate masterpiece of Fletcher. Among the purely romantic plays of Fletcher, or those in which the comic effect is throughout subordinate to the romantic, The Knight of Malta seems most worthy of the highest place for the noble beauty and exaltation of spirit which inform it with a lofty life, for its chivalrous union of heroic passion and Catholic devotion.
In The Coxcomb and The Honest Man's Fortune — two plays which, on the whole, can hardly be counted among the best of their class — there are tones of homelier emotion, touches of a simpler and more pathetic interest than usual ; and here, as in the two admirable first scenes between Leucippus and Bacha, which relieve and redeem from contempt the tragic burlesque of CupicPs Revenge, the note of Beaumont's manner is at once discernible. This can be traced in only two other plays as yet unmentioned: The Laws of Candy, a rather crude and sterile specimen of romantic comedy, and Wit at Several Weapons, a violent farce, outrageous but not unamusing, ambitious rather than felicitous as a study in the school of Jonson.
Two later comedies of Fletcher's, The Sea- Voyage and The Nice Valour, have less than usual of his easy grace and brightness of style to atone for the impotent extrava- gance and the vehement inanity of their feeble and foolish and incomposite groundwork. No other plays in the collection are so barren of merit as these: The attempt of BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER 75 Fletcher to emulate Shakespeare by writing a sequel to Tlu Taming of tlu Shrew displays as light-hearted an audacity and achieves as dubious a success as his enter- prise in the completion of The Two Noble Kinsmen ; in either case there is enough of brilliant and facile energy to make us realize the writer's inadequacy for the task undertaken at least as vividly as if the adventurer had been a less able playwright and a less admirable master of light and ready improvisation.
The Woman's Prise, or The Tamer Tamed, is a splendid example of clever and dexterous incompetence, of superb and daring inability, to compete with a genius too great for the rivalry of a greater than its author. Lovers Cure, or The Martial Maid, is even more agreeable than absurd as an example of Fletcher's very lightest and hastiest manner ; The Island Princess, more outrageous in its incongruities, is at once livelier and more serious in style ; The Maid in tlie Mill is chiefly noticeable for the singular and incongruous alliance of the city and the court in the persons of its authors, Rowley and Fletcher — a severe censor might add, for the union of rudeness and vulgarity on one side with corruption and affectation on the other ; The Night- Walker is very spirited in manner, very extravagant in matter ; The Captain is admirable in style and versifica- 76 BE A UMONT AND FLETCHER tion throughout, admirable in dramatic evolution of character and conduct of serious incident up to the point where the depravity of the leading figure passes into a monstrous form of madness and disfigures the comic harmony with an infusion of worse than tragic horror.
Even the most rapid revision of the work done by these great twin poets must impress every capable student with a sense of the homage due to this living witness of their large and liberal genius. The loss of their names from the roll of English poetry would be only less than the loss of the few greatest inscribed on it Nothing could supply the want of their tragic, their comic or romantic drama ; no larger or more fiery planet can ever arise to supplant or to eclipse the twin lights of our zodiac. Whatever their faults of shortcoming or excess, there is in their very names or the mere thought of their common work a kind of special and personal attraction for all true lovers of high dramatic poetry.
There is the glory and grace of youth in all they have left us ; if there be also somewhat too much of its graceless as well as its gracious qualities, yet there hangs about their memory as it were a music of the morning, a breath and savour of bright early manhood, a joyous and vigorous air of free life and fruitful labour, which might charm asleep for ever all thought or blame of all mortal infirmity or folly.
For good or for evil, they are above all things poets of youth ; we cannot conceive of them grown grey in the dignity of years, venerable with the authority of long life, and weighted with the wisdom of experience. Shakespeare may have smiled as Jonson may have nodded approval of their bright swift work, neither of these great elders grudging his praise to the special charm which won for it a preference during one genera- tion at least even over their own loftier and weightier verse ; and indeed the advance in natural ease, in truth and grace of dialogue, is alike manifest whether we turn to such of their comic characters as Valentine and Don John, Rutilio and Monsieur Thomas, from the Truewit of Jonson or even from the Mercutio of Shakespeare ; the one too stiff with classic starch, the other too full of mere verbal catches and forced conceits, to persuade us that either can in any age have fairly represented the light free talk and facile humour of its youth.
In another field than this Beaumont and Fletcher hold as high and secure a station of their own as any poet of their race. In perfect workmanship of lyrical jewellery, in perfect bloom and flower of song-writing, they equal all com- peers whom they do not excel ; the blossoms of their growth in this kind may be matched for colour and fragrance against Shakespeare's, and for morning fresh- ness and natural purity of form exceed the finest grafts of Jonson.
Nor does one see how it can accurately or even plausibly be said that they were in any exact sense the founders of a school either in comedy or in tragedy. Massinger, for some years their survivor, and in some points akin to them as a workman, cannot properly be counted as their disciple ; and no leading poet of the time had so much in common with them as he. At first sight, indeed, his choice of romantic subject and treat- ment of foreign stories, gathered from the fertile tale- tellers of the south, and ranging in date from Boccaccio to Cervantes, may seem to mark him out as a member of the same school ; but the deepest and most distinctive BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER 79 qualities of his genius set it apart from theirs ; though undoubtedly not so far that any discrepancy or discord should impair the excellence or injure the keeping of works in which he took part with Fletcher.
Yet, placed beside theirs, the tone of his thought and speech seems by comparison severe as well as sober, and sad as well as severe. Their extravagant and boyish in- sanity of prostrate royalism is not more alien from his half pensive and half angry undertone of political protest than his usually careful and complete structure of story from their frequently lax and slovenly inco- herence of character or plot, than his well composed and proportioned metre from their lighter and looser melo- dies, than the bitter insistence and elaborate acrimony of his judicial satire on hypocrisy or oppression from the gaiety or facility of mood which suffers them in the shifting of a scene to redeem their worst characters by some juggler's trick of conversion at the last moment allowed them to wind up a play with universal recon- ciliation and an act of oblivion on all hands.
They could hardly have drawn with such steady skill and explicit finish an Overreach or a Luke ; but the strenuous and able work of Massinger at its highest point of success has no breath in it of their brighter and more immediate inspiration. Shirley, on the other hand, may certainly be classed as a pupil who copied their style in water-colour; his best tragedy and his best comedies might pass muster undetected among the plays of- Fletcher, and might fairly claim to take rank above the lower class of these.
Other instances of imitation, other examples of discipleship, might perhaps be found among lesser men of the next generation ; but the mass of succeeding playwpghts began in a very short time to lower the style and debase the scheme of dramatic poetry ; and especially to loosen the last tics of harmony, to deface the very form and feature of tragic verse. After Shakespeare there was yet room for Beaumont and Fletcher ; but after these and the other constellations had set, whose lights filled up the measure of that diviner zodiac through which he moved, there was but room in heaven for the gentle afterglow of Shirley ; and before this last reflex from a sunken sun was itself eclipsed, the glory had passed away from our drama, to alight upon that summit of epic song whence Milton held communion with darkness and the stars.
It is sufficient to prove that his criticism of Beaumont and Fletcher must be throughout vitiated by prejudice or paralyzed by incapacity to appreciate aright the merits or the de- merits of those two immortal twins. But Coleridge was never systematic or coherent in criticism ; on poetry, on philosophy, on theology, on politics, he delivered his soul at random, and after such a fashion as to call up the fancy of a first-rate player at billiards or at chess who took pleasure in playing blindfold.
His good hits, or his good moves, are naturally nothing less than admirable ; indeed, no subsequent player can hope to follow them ; but when he goes wrong he is more hopelessly wrong than the most incompetent novice. And yet, of course, his notes on them are more valuable, more helpful, more suggestive, than any other man's could be. Even when they are utterly and desperately perverse, they provide material for saner criticism and more serious reflection. They should be compared with the admirably sensible and careful estimate given of each play by Mr.
It is of course impossible to ignore the critical imputations or objections of Coleridge ; it is all the more necessary to examine their accuracy and validity with greater care than we should think it worth while to take in the case of a lesser man or critic. And the more thoroughly and impartially we do so, the more certainly and regretfully shall we perceive in his criticism a fusion of malevolence with incompetence, of prejudice with misconception, of would-be candour with obvious prepossession, which is difficult to understand in a critic of the nineteenth century when commenting on a poet of the seventeenth.
Among fifty-two plays there are exactly two which are founded on rapes, Valentinian and The Queen of Corinth ; there:. To improve on the collection or selection of poems issued years ago under the title of Lyra Ekgantiarum might have seemed impossible even for its editor: Locker-Lampson has done so. In all such volumes a reader will usually find omissions to regret and inser- tions which surprise him: I doubt indeed if there be any so good and so complete. No objection or suggestion that can reasonably be offered can in any way diminish our obli- gation either to the original editor or to his evidently able assistant Mr.
Kernahan in the compilation of a larger if not a more ambitious volume. The editors, to their lasting honour, have put into their casket no less than thirty-eight of his flawless and incomparable jewels: There is nothing in the volume, there is nothing in the language, comparable with the quatrain on Dirce in the boat of Charon. And how comes it that we miss the exquisitely and nobly beautiful stanzas addressed to his ' little household gods '?
Scatter o'er the vernal ground Faint resemblances around, Nature, I will tell thee yet There's but one white violet. Mother, I cannot mind my wheel ; My fingers ache, my lips are dry ; Oh!
But oh, who ever felt as I! No longer could I doubt him true: All other men may use deceit ; He always said my eyes were blue, And often swore my lips were sweet Low as is the key of these tenderer verses in comparison with the fieiy and faultless music, the subtle and simple intensity of the four transcendent lines which suggested them, it seems to me that Sappho's very self might have smiled approval or at least condonation of their gentler loveliness and less passionate melody than her own.
The great name of Landor naturally and happily suggests the great name of Browning: But the greater [ oem of Youth and Art seems here, to me at least, somewhat out of place. There is hardly a more tragic touch in all the most tragic passages of Mr. Browning's vast and various work than that which winds up, with rieither a smile nor a sigh, the unspoken expression of hopeless and inexpressible regret.
This could but have happened once, And we missed it, lost it for ever. That is not a sample of social verse: Its quiet note of commonplace reisignation is more bitter and more impressive in the self-scornful sadness of its retrospect than any shriek of rebellion or any imprecation of appeal. And such a reader will assuredly regret the admission into its catalogue of the name which is above every name on the roll of English lyrists. There should have been no place here for Coleridge.
Carlyle would have said can wish to see him represented by such flabby doggrel as might have dropped from the Tupper of America or the Longfellow of England.
But to give a just notion of that fresh and facile talent at its very best and brightest it would have been neces- sary, as it might surely have been feasible, to borrow from Moore's still delightful masterpiece, the correspond- ence of the Fudge Family, some samples of an epistle or so — enough perhaps to place once more on record the star-crossed loves of Miss Biddy Fudge and Colonel Calicot But it is at the opening of the book that the sins of omission or commission, the errors of indulgence or default, are gravest and most regrettable. Skelton is either too late or too early to begin with: If Skelton's and Wyat's orthography may be modified or modernized, as assuredly it may without protest from any but the most homy-eyed and beetle-headed of pedants, so assu- redly may Chaucer's.
And it would have been of some little service to the common cause of good poetry and sound criticism if the duncery which regards or the im- pertinence which pretends to regard that beautiful form of verse as nothing better than a harmless exotic affec- tation of the present day or hour had been confronted with the fact that it is one of the numberless adaptations or adoptions from foreign models which our language owes to the father of modern English poetry.
If the old French ballad form accepted by Chaucer so long before it attained its highest possible perfection of tragic or comic excellence, of humorous or pathetic expression, under the incomparable and inimitable touch of Villon is to be either patronized or rejected as an exotic of hothouse growth and artificial blossom, so must be the couplet, the stanza, the sonnet, the quatrain, and all other forms of rhyming verse in common use among English poets from the days of Chaucer to the days of Wordsworth. Nor would it be as easy for a most magnanimous mouse of a Calibanic poeticule to write a ballad, a roundel, or a virelai, after the noble 90 SOCIAL VERSE fashion of Chaucer, as to gabble at any length like a thing most brutish in the blank and blatant jargon of epic or idyllic stultiloquence.
The worst positive blemish — and a most fearful blemish it is — to be found in this generally graceful and careful collection will unluckily be found, and can- not be overlooked, on the fourth page. Sixth on the list of selected poems is a copy of verses attributed to Shakespeare — of all men on earth! If this execrable rubbish were cleared away, there might remain some debatable points for respectful and friendly discussion between fellow-students of English poetry: How sighs resound through heariless ground, like a thousand vanquished men in bloody fight!
But there are such exquisitely and daintily beautiful examples of such poetry in earlier and in later English verse that I cannot but regret their absence from a collection which includes a pervert's pietistic and Romanistic gush of sentimental religiosity over the poetry of a saner and a sounder devotee. If this sort of sanctified stuff is admissible, with its fetid fragrance of priestly perfumery and its rancid relish of ecstatic or spasmodic excitement, why and how do we find not one single example of the many lovely songs which English poetry owes to an older and purer and wholesomer form of piety?
He came all so still Where his mother was As dew in Aprill That falleth on the grass. He came all so still To his mother's bower As dew in Aprill That falleth on the flower. He came all so still Where his mother lay As dew in Aprill That falleth on the spray. We do not indeed know that the author was an officially reverend poet or person: The first great age of our lighter lyric poetry was almost conterminous with the one great age of our tragic and romantic drama.
From the song-books of Shake- speare's generation alone an anthology as large and as precious as the collection now before us might easily and quickly be compiled. This golden branch of English poetry is here so inadequately represented by a casual twig or an occasional spray that we could hardly contradict a reader who might complain that it had been utterly ignored. At no date was there so splendid a supply of serious or semi-serious occasional verse — so general a community of delicate grace and noble elegance among the minor poets of the day.
And the general tone of this poetry was more in accordance with the taste and the instinct of our own time than that of any social or fashionable verse from the Restoration to the Regency — at least. It is light and bright as spray in sunshine, but no less clean and sweet: Perhaps, too, that famous effu- sion of pessimistic lechery which gives us in metrical form the moral quintessence of Calvin and Bacchus, of Priapus and Carlyle, may have been rejected as merely a metrical variation on the Carthusian theme — Frere, il faut maurir. Your most beautiful bit, that hath all eyes upon her, Who her honesty sells for a hogo of honour, Whose lightness and brightness doth shine in such splendour Tliat none but the stars are thought fit to attend her.
Though now she be pleasant, and sweet to the sense, Will be damnably mouldy a hundred years hence. It must have been a terrible Triboulet or Thersites who turned such an eye as the writer of these verses must have turned on the foundresses of ducal houses whose flourishing expansion bears witness to the charm and to the venality of a French or an English prostitute But though we may neither regret nor wonder at the exclusion of the grimmest and greatest of all erotic and Bacchanalian sermons in song, we may be allowed to regret that the two typical figures of the Restoration in its influence on lyric poetry should be rather inade- quately than insufficiently represented.
And neither the plebeian poetess who sleeps in Westminster Abbey beside Abraham Cowley and Robert Browning Poets' Corner — facetiously so called — is like poverty in its capacity for bringing strange bedfellows together , nor the patrician poet who divides with her the potential palm of supremacy in obscenity among all remembered writers of their race, is here represented by the best examples that might have been given of their abused and wasted genius. This would have been in every way a better and more appro- priate example of her poetic power than the rather pretty, very proper, but rather feeble verses by which it is here misrepresented.
But misrepresentation has been the lot of the virtuous Aphra ever since her hallowed dust gave additional consecration to the Pantheon of British bards — a Pantheon too exclusive to admit such godlings as Shakespeare or Milton, Coleridge or Wordsworth, Landor or Keats or Shelley. The only one I remember to have ever read might, as far as I remember, be reprinted in company with Mrs. The immaculate Calvinism of so fiery and so forcible a champion of slave-holding and slave-torture as Mr.
Carlyle shows hardly to advantage beside the instinctive Christianism of a writer whose reputation is certainly very far from immaculate: Lowell might have remembered that this im- proper woman of genius was the first literary aboli- tionist — the first champion of the slave on record in the history of fiction ; in other words, in the history of creative literature. Whigs and Puritans have brought many charges and laid many impeachments against the Restoration: Scott and Macaulay are found for once in agreement on certain points regarding the literary and political record of that singular period.
Two of its offences, in my humble opinion, are specially and supremely unpardonable: Victims of vanity and lechery are seldom worth regret: The gallant young volunteer who distinguished himself even among English sailors and soldiers as the hero of a sea-fight drank himself into cowardice, and truckled to a challenger as a Russo-Radical of our own day would truckle to any enemy who might assist him in the degradation of his country: But it is somewhat hard that he should not have the benefit of his genius at its best: It would perhaps have been better, I am puritanical and prudish enough to think, if this great name had been here represented only by the not more faultless than blameless verses on fair Amoret — a model of delicate and high-bred satire.
There is no more unaccountable omission jn this volume than that of Pope's little pearl of price, I know a thing that's most uncommon Envy, be silent, and attend! With Prior no poet could well have gone wrong, and Mr. Locker- Lamp son has gone admirably and inevitably right. But the perfection of taste and tact displayed in the discharge of such a task as the presentation of Swift at his best, and of Swift in the fulness of his powers, to the modern reader of either sex and any possible age — and this without hint or suspicion of offence — is notable alike for simplicity, for dexterity, and for daring.
Harris's Petition are now, by the slightest and most delicate of touches, made ac- cessible to all lovers of the rarest humour and the most resplendent wit: In that instance there would have been no need of any excision: That this should ever be a thankless part to play in any case of obvious or apparent necessity reflects less than little credit on the taste and judgment of those whose objections or whose ridicule would make it so. More nauseous and more foolish cant was never chattered than that which would deride the memory or depreciate the merits of Bowdler.
No man ever did better service to Shakespeare than the man who SOCIAL VERSE 99 made it possible to put him into the hands of intelligent and imaginative children ; it may well be, if we consider how dearly the creator of Mamillius must have loved them, that no man has ever done him such good service.
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Indeed, I could wish to borrow the pencil or the pen which struck out of his text whatever was unfit for such readers, and strike out of the volume before me an insig nificant if not a too significant pastoral on the interview of a faithful young Thyrsis with his dear Lucy, and the Greuze-Iike lyric which celebrates the misadventure of an Irish Mile de la Cruche-cassee. These two, it seems to my possibly too squeamish and censorious apprehen- sion, would find their more appropriate place in a Lyra Facetiarum.
Podsnap— combined with an absence of anything calculated to bring a blush to the cheek of a young person, a poem of that school is very seldom worthy of such promotion as is here accorded, for instance, to the stale and silly doggrel of such songsters as Garrick.
One of the obscurest among his contemporaries — Richard Jago, the admiring friend of Shenstone — has supplied two little stanzas worth a bushel of Strephoniana ; their pretty simplicity and instinctive sincerity of accent are not more exceptionally remarkable than their happy point and neatness of terse expression.
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The lyrical genius of Collins and of Blake, our two greatest poets of the century in which they were bom, flies usually too high in air too clear and splendid for the highest flight possible to merely elegant verse of the occasional sort: Opinion and taste will be likelier or more certain to vary among students and lovers of occasional verse as their study brings them nearer their own time. There is certainly much to commend, as there is also not a little to regret, in the very miscellaneous selection here given from the social poetry of the nineteenth century.
What first struck the present reader on glancing through it was the too obvious and damaging fact that there was by no means enough of Peacock to so much of Praed. Even in social verse as defined by Mr. Austin Dobson and the Times reviewer who has the honour to be cited in the preface to this pleasant volume we look — at its very best — for more spirit and versatility of life, more warmth of touch, more fulness of tone, more vigour and variety of impulse than we find in Praed at his.
But how came the editors to tlirow away for the second time — repeating the unhappy exploit of the diving friar— -'the stone of all stones, the philosopher's stone '? And how could they ignore the incomparable raiding song which registers for all time the difference between mountain sheep and valley sheep? And if, in the teeth of a promise given or an engagement implied in the preface, a place was to be found for such mean and pitiful parodies as disfigure two or three of these pages, how on earth did they come to overlook the quintessence of Byron as distilled by Peacock into the two consummate stanzas which utter or exhale the lyric agony of Mr.
Byron himself is not badly represented by the famous parting address to Tom Moore, and still better by the spirited bluster and vigorous ring of the stanzas on the Lisbon Packet: Coarseness of a certain kind is as compatible — witness much Greek, much Latin, much French, much Italian and a little English poetry — with literary elegance of a certain kind as the monarchical form with the re- publican principle which makes even royalists talk of the commonwealth of England: Byron is seldom very coarse: It is the difference between the generation whose ideal type was Rochester and the generation whose ideal type was Brummell.
SOCIAL VERSE the enthusiastic admiration of that most exquisite critic Edgar Poe for the metrical perfection of that most melli- fluous poem — usually and prematurely broken off short after the fourth of the following sweet lines. Thou thought'st verses like these could be scanned — which Was absurd, but uncommonly kind: Thou said'st each stanza was not a sandwich Of blank prose and rank doggrel combined: Thou found'st out some strange sort of sweet fitness In the rhythms mauled and mangled by me: And such ears, I take Midas to witness, Belong but to donkeys and thee. Parodies, we are given to understand in the preface, have been generally rejected as alien from the scope of this work.
Even had they been generally accepted as germane to it, we should hardly have expected to come across anything so pert and poor as Miss Fanshawe's abortive imitation of Wordsworth — a poet who seems easier to parody than he is, and has never to my know- ledge been successfully caricatured or burlesqued — except perhaps once by Landor. Speaking of Wordsworth, by the way, I must take occasion to express my wonder and regret at missing that n. But what, in the name of the Graces I what shall be said when we come across — of all dreary horrors on this God's earth! Surely this is the very nadir of inelegance.
Almost as bad and almost as vulgar is Hood's burlesque of Moore: There is certainly not too little, as the editors seem to think, of the monstrously overrated and preposterously overpraised C S. Even more out of place in such good company is the weary and wearisome laureate of Oxonicules and Bostonicules, Mr.
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Lowell's realized ideal and chosen representa- tive of English poetry at its highest in the generation of Tennyson and Browning ; whose message to his generation may be summed up as follows: We've got no faith, and we don't know what to do: To think one can't believe a creed because it isn't true! The compilers of the volume may very naturally have been tempted to strain a point so as to admit some specimen from the hand of the most potent if by no means the most perfect of English poetesses: Browning has made lovable and memo- rable for ever as My Kate, The reader who comes in the list of contents upon the illustrious name of Edward Fitzgerald will doubtless be not a little taken aback when confronted with a bearer of that name so ludicrously and lamentably unworthy to be the namesake of the man whose shy audacity of diffi- dent and daring genius has given Omar Khdyyam a place for ever among the greatest of English poets.
Barbauld's immortal lines on life, old age, and death admitted or admissible into such a volume as this. Oh Thou, who man of baser earth didst make, And who with Eden didst devise the Snake, For all the sin wherewith the face of man Is blackened, man's forgiveness give — and take 1 It IS of work like this that his countrymen will always think when they hear the immortal name of the work- man: To make the gorge rise at it is hardly the sign or the property of elegance in verse: To none of the other selections from the lighter work of the same illustrious hand is any such ob- jection or suggestion applicable: O for one hour of their poet!
Graves, — to sing for us the veracity and purity of a Pamell, the pusillanimous magnanimity or the servile indignation of O'Briens far meaner and more ludicrous than poor Smith! These, however, might be allowed to pass as undoubtedly successful in a thinner and more ephe- meral style of satire: O Sminthian Apollo I what a malodorous mouse to nail up on the hinder door of such a gracious little chapel, under the very nose as it were of the departing choir! Landor might and would, for all his fantastic and factitious abhorrence of their form, have given a place to this divine sonnet and its coequal companion in a truly blessed immortality, Mr.
A volume closing upon verses so divine as these would be closed by every reader with a sense of fragrance in his nostrils and of honey on his tongue. I trust and think it is no mere prejudice of sympathetic or patriotic prepossession which rather impels than in- clines me to believe that such a close would have been less characteristically appropriate to any such anthology of this especial kind as might have been gathered from the very sweetest and sunniest garden of any other language and any other poetry than our own.
The ingratitude of kings and the ingratitude of demo- cracies have often supplied the text of historic or political sermons: To create is nothing: The commentary may be utterly hollow and rotten, the creation thoroughly solid and alive: And yet the name of Shakespeare is now more widely known than the name of Puttenham.
And though Dickens was not a Shake- speare, and though Collins was not a Dickens, it is per- missible to anticipate that their names and their works will be familiar to generations unacquainted with the - existence and unaware of the eclipse of their most shining, most scornful, and most superior critics. To have written Basils though BasU is by no manner of means an impeccable work of imperishable art, is some- thing more than to have demonstrated what needs no demonstration — that a writer must do better than this if he wishes to achieve a serious or a memorable success.
But, violent and unlovely and unlikely as it is, this early story had in it something more than promise — the evi- dence of original and noticeable power to constrain and retain attention of a more serious and perhaps a more reasonable kind than can be evoked by many later and more ambitious and pretentious appeals to the same or a similar source of interest The horrible heroine, beast as she is, is a credible and conceivable beast ; and her WILKIE COLUNS hapless young husband is a rather pathetic if a rather incredible figure.
But the vindictive paramour is some- what too much of a stage property ; and the book would hardly be remembered for better or for worse if the author had not in his future stories excelled its merits and eschewed its faults. Again, if the hero in this story and the heroine in another had not been blind, there could have been no story at all. It is in every case a wonderfully in geni ous and interesting story that we enjoy ; but the ungrateful reader cannot avoid the reflection that there is something unlovely as well as artificial in the condition of its existence. But from first to last, if allowance be duly made for occasional lapses, it will be admitted that Wilkie Collins was in his way a genuine artist Basils with all its vio- lence and cruHity, has something of sustained though not elevated interest ; whereas the most successful imitation ever attempted of its author's method has nothing in it whatever beyond one certainly most ingenious idea — that a blind man by accident be the only witness if witness he can be called of a murder: And if I it were but for their rarity they should command no le.
His most illustrious friend and contemporary did not always show himself at once so loyal and so rational in observance of intellectual or aesthetic propriety, Collins never ventured to fiing down among his readers so shapeless or misshapen a! Dickens, with his usual straig htforwar d dexterity, laid hold of the ob- jection absurdly raised against the catastrophe of LittU Dorrit by the carpers who averred that it must have been suggested by an actual accident which occurred just before the close of the periodical publication of his story: Count Fosco, said the critic, stands re- vealed as a mechanical nonentity, an ingenious inven- tion never realized or vitalized or informed with human- ity by the inventor, who felt at last that he had failed to make a living man of him ; the proof of this being simply that at the close of the story two or three different explanations of his conduct and his character are sug- gested as equally plausible and acceptable.
At the opening of the story which seems to be generally regarded as the masterpiece of his art, we are warned by the worthy old steward who first takes up the narrative to believe nothing that may be said of him by a lady whose recollections and reflections are to follow on the record of his own ; and when the Evangelical hag who is one of her creator's most thoroughly and simply successful creations takes up the tale in turn, and sets forth her opinions as to the past and the present and J W ILK IE COLUNS the future of her friends and neighbours, we find that her view of life and character is as dramatically just and appropriate — from the opposite point of view — as his.
It is apparently the general opinion — an opinion which seems to me incontestable — that no third book of their author's can be ranked as equal with The Woman in 1 White and The Moonstone: No Name is an only less excellent example of as curious and original a talent It is more elaborately ingenious, but less thoroughly successful, than the finest work of the first Lord Lytton — a story grounded on the same motive, and starting from the same point; the imputation of illegitimacy, the struggle against its consequences, and the final triumph over its disadvantages.
That curious and laborious romance must be considered, even by those who cannot consider it success- ful, as a jailure which fell short on the verge of a success.
The prologue or prelude is so full of interest and promise that the expectations of its readers may have been unduly stimulated ; but the sequel, astonishingly in- genious and inventive as it is, is scarcely perhaps in perfect keeping with the anticipations thus ingeniously aroused. The signature of Nathaniel Hawthorne or of Octave Feuillet would have sufficed to evoke a rapture of regret that England could produce no such novelist.
But neither Feuillet nor Hawthorne could have. But the weft of the story is perhaps too dense ; the web is perhaps too tightly drawn, and the threads of it are perhaps not always harmonious in colour. The superb success of The Moonstone may perhaps make even his most cordial admirers unconsciously if not ungrate- fully unjust to the less unquestionable and the less un- qualified successes of its author ; just as any one who has thoroughly enjoyed Lord Digby's incomparable Elvira — the one dramatic work in the language which may be said to have anticipated the peculiarly lucid method, and the peculiarly careful evolution of a most amusingly WILKIE COLLINS I complicated story, which we admire in the best works of Wilkic Collins — will find himself disqualified from enjoying Sir Samuel Tuke's Adventures of Five Hours ; even when he remembers that the recollection of the latter play, recently witnessed on the stage, made Mr, Samuel Pepys reflect after seeing Othello — a play which he was wont to think well of — that, ' having so lately seen The Adventures of Five Hours, it do seem but a mean thing.
The shades of Mr. It is as noble a work as man can undertake, to improve the conditions of life for other men by writ- ing or by speaking or by example; but in the two former cases, if a man has not the requisite capacity, even the most generous volunteer in the army of pro- gress or reform will be likelier to lose his own way than to lead other men back into theirs.
The subject of marriage law in Scotland is one which it is painfully difficult for any one who has read the most exhaustingly delightful and the most unmercifully side-splitting of all farcical comedies to consider as sug- gestive of serious or tragic interest Belinda and her Kelvawney, Cheviot and his Minnie, rise up again before the eyes of enraptured if incredulous fancy, in the light — or should we say limelight?
Gilbert had never written Engaged Momus forbid the lamentable fancy! The great objection to the muscular Christians and ethical professors of athleticism, as was once remarked by an undergraduate of my acquaintance, is that they are so unhealthily conscious of their unconscious healthi- ness. But the satirical or controversial note in this book, if not too finely touched, is touched more finely than those which the author attempted to strike in some of his subsequent works. The Netp Magdalen is merely feeble, false, and silly in its sentimental cleverness ; but in Tfu Fallen Leaves there is something too absurdly repulsive for comment or endurance.
Alexandre Dumas in his studies of the same or of similar subjects. To the revoltingly ridiculous book just mentioned I am loth to refer again: Collins, if only by overstating his case, destroys any pathos or plausibility that might otherwise be fancied or be found in it. When will the last reformed harlot vanish into space in the arms of the last clerical sceptic — Mercy Merrick and Robert Elsmere destroy each other in a fiery embrace, or in such a duel as that between the prin- cess and the I frit, which ended in mutual annihilation?
Carmina could have Zo all to herself. He pays for everything: Gallilee, bursting with pride. When he introduces her to anybody on the estate, he says, " Here's the Missus. Gallilee's youngest daughter listened critically to the parental testimony. Shall I tell you what you'll see on the table? You'll see a big brown steaming bag in a dish— and you'll see me slit it with a knife — and the bag's fat inside will tumble out, all smoking hot and stinking.
That's a Scotch dinner. To his unutterable relief, Carmina laughed. I've learnt a better in Scotland.
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You've heard of Donald, haven't you? Gallilee humbly admitted that he was in fault. Carmina asked who Donald was, and what he was like. Zo unconsciously tested her memory for the second time. What do you think of that? Gallilee once more offered his testimony. He shovels it up his fat nose with a spoon, like this. He says, " Try my sneeshin. He boos till he's nearly double when Uncle Northlake speaks to him. Boos is Scotch for bows. He skirls on the pipes — skirls means screeches. When you first hear him, he'll make your stomach ache. You'll get used to that — and you'll find you like him.
He wears a purse and a petticoat ; he never had a pair of trousers on in his life ; there's no pride about him.