« PreviousContinue »
TO A.D. 1896] WILLIAM MORRIS.
the Story of the Volsungs and the Niblúngs, 1870; Three Northern Love Stories, 1875; and produced in 1877 a poem on The Story of Sigurd, the Volsung, and the Fall of the Niblungs. In 1882 William Morris published five Lectures, which had been delivered in 1878-81, on Hopes and Fears for Art; and in 1884 a little book on Art and Socialism, turning with deep sincerity from poetry that he had been treating, perhaps, too much as an ornament apart from the real work of life, to verse and prose applied directly in aid of the socialist view of its chief pro blems, as The Dream of John Ball, in 1890. He died in 1896.
Thomas Hughes, aged fourteen at the beginning of the reign, was a boy under Dr. Arnold at Rugby, and afterwards helped to quicken a new generation with the spirit of his teacher, in the most popular of his books, Tom Brown's Schooldays, first published in 1856. It was followed, in 1861, by Tom Broun at Oxford. In the same year appeared his Tracts for Priests and People, republished in 1868 as A Layman's Faith. In aid of a colony that was to share the energies of cultivated life, the Rugby spirit, planted in new soil, Thomas Hughes published, in 1885, Gone to Texas, letters from our boys. The good spirit of Frederick Maurice and Charles Kingsley lived on through all the work of Thomas Hughes. He died in 1896.
59. Alfred Tennyson (ch. xiii., $ 27), in December, 1883, was raised to the peerage as Baron Tennyson, of Aldworth, Sussex, and of Freshwater, Isle of Wight. He published in 1885 Tiresias and other Poems; in 1886, Locksley Hall, Sixty Years After; in 1889, Demeter and other Poems, with the old life strong at the close of an active career of sixty years, dating from the volume of Poems, chiefly Lyrical, by Alfred Tennyson, first published in 1830. Tennyson's verse has shown the way from death to life through the sustained song of immortality, his In Memoriam; has once more spiritualised our national romance hero, and associated tales of Arthur with the Conscience, the King within the human breast. Among poets of the reign of Victoria, he, too, wore his laurel as a “blameless king.” . He died on October 6th, 1892.
Lewis Morris, born in Carmarthen in 1834, educated at Sherborne School and at Jesus College, Oxford, was called to the Bar in 1861, and was in practice as a conveyancing barrister when his Songs of Two Worlds appeared, in 1871, followed by two more volumes under the same title in 1874 and 1875. In 1876 and 1877 his reputation was confirmed and extended by the Epic of Hades, which applied the wisdom of old classical inythology to those higher interests of life that are to-day as they have ever been. In December, 1878, Lewis Morris published Gwen, a drama in Monologue ; in 1880, The Ode of Life; in 1883, Songs Unsung; in 1886, Gycia, a Tragedy; in 1887, Songs of Britain ; in 1896, Idylls and Lyrics. In 1890 his Works, which had passed separately through many editions, were collected into a single volume. He was knighted in 1895.
Algernon Charles Swinburne, whose verse is alive with music, was born in 1837, son of an admiral by the daughter of the third Earl of Ashburnham. He was for a time at Balliol College, Oxford, but left without graduation and went abroad, attaching himself in Italy to Walter Savage Landor, and coming, in France, under the influence of Victor Hugo. After publishing in 1861 two plays, The Queen Mother and Rosamond, and in 1865 the tragedy of Chastelard, Mr. Swinburne leapt to fame in the same year, 1865, by the great success of his play written in the form of a Greek tragedy, Atalanta in Calydon. His next book, Poems and Ballads, in 1866, was subjected to an im. moderate attack on what were considered to be moral grounds.
A Song of Italy followed in 1867; William Blake, a Critical Essay, in 1868 ; Songs before Sunrise, in 1871; Both well, a Tragedy, in 1874 ; Songs of Two Nations, and also Essays and Studies and George Chapman, a Critical Essay, in 1875 ; Erechtheus, a Tragedy, in 1876; A Note on Charlotte Brontë, in 1877 ; a second series of Poems and Ballads, in 1878 ; A Study of Shakespeare, in 1880, and in the same year, Studies in Song, Songs of the Springtides, and Specimens of Modern Poets, the Heptalogia, or Seven against Sense. In 1881 Mr. Swinburne published Mary Stuart, a Tragedy; in 1882, Tristram of Lyonesse; in 1883, A Century of Roundels; in 1884, A Midsummer Holiday, and Poems; in 1885, Marino Faliero, a Tragedy ; in 1886, Miscellanies; in 1889, a third series of Poems and Ballads, and a Study of Ben Jonson; in 1890, The Sisters, A Sequence of Sonnets on the Death of Robert Brown. ing, and Sacred and Shakespearian Affinities; in 1893, Grace Darling; in 1894, Studies in Prose and Poetry and Astrophel; in 1896, The Tale of Balen ; and in 1899, Rosamund.
TO THE DEATHS OF SWINBURNE AND MEREDITH
By E. W. EDMUNDS, M.A., B.Sc.
1. Poetry. The years that have passed since the last of the preceding pages was written have done much to throw the most recent names there mentioned into a truer perspective than it was possible for their author to take. At our greater distance the peaks stand out more clearly, and smaller features which were overlooked at the time have made their presence known. It is now evident, for example, that Browning was one of the mighty voices of his age ; and men like Ro setti, Matthew Arnold, Swinburne, and Meredith, who were appreciated only by narrow circles of admirers, cannot to-day be left out of a record of our literature, however acutely we may dislike their views or disrelish their methods.
It is not so difficult, perhaps, to indicate the proper position of these undoubted great men as to attempt to estimate the production of the past few years. This latter task is especially difficult in the realm of poetry, because, whatever other view we may take of it, the reign of Edward VII. did not produce a new poet of high rank or notable genius, while it deprived us of those links which remained to connect us with the past generation. The reign cost us Meredith and Swinburne, and did not give us their peer. Some of the minor poets are indeed sweet singers, and some have a real faculty for verse. But they have fallen on an epoch which is unfavourable to great poetry, an epoch of fluid beliefs and uncertain ideals. Like the Elizabethan age, the Victorian was specially rich in great poetry; and as the Elizabethan was succeeded by the comparatively sterile Caroline period, in which all the good poetry was lyrical—50 now: circumstances seem to favour the songs of isolated singers ; there is no national poetic impulse, no Zeit-Geist which is apt for the loftier strains of the epic or the tragic Muse. 2. Let us spare, first, a paragraph to celebrate the poetic, fertility of the Victorian period. Lord Tennyson (pp. 1019, 1083), still the laureate of his age twenty years after his death, must be placed at the head of the list. His work represented the conservative influence in literature and in life. He drew inspiration from the greatest of his predecessors, and used it to deal with modern problems as he saw them. No one has ever denied his mastery of poetic language, though many have questioned the depth of his actual substance. Just as The Princess fails to deal greatly with the “woman's rights " question, so In Memoriam does not probe with sufficient courage the ultimate problems of man's mortality, such critics of Tennyson have said. They find in the Arthur of the Idylls the type of an English gentleman; but they put the accent on the first half of the word. Tennyson is, in fact, pooh-poohed by the ultra-inodernist. His work is thin-perfect, but trivial beautiful, but timid. These criticisms seem to be but the natural reaction that follows a great popularity. They have to reckon with the fact that, with the exception of Shakespeare, Tennyson is still the most widely read of our poets, and that he has opened the door of poetry to a large number of readers. Popular judgment is at one with the critics in its opinion of such masterpieces of simple lyric as Break, break, break and Crossing the Bar. It would be difficult to suggest in what ways such poems as Ulysses, Tithonus, Lucretius and twenty others could be improved. Passionate passages from Maud must assuredly be among the most cherished of our love-quotations, though that poem as a whole may not satisfy us; and few readers of In Memoriam, or The Idylls of the King, can have failed to light upon many examples of the dignified and worthy expression of noble and stimulating thoughts. By his perfection of diction, Tennyson is bound to live long in our literature. But there is in Tennyson much more than this graceful expression of such current ideas as the average mind can assimilate. Tennyson wrote always in the spirit and with the conscience of a great poet. The classics of the past Homer, Virgil, Spenser, to name only a few-presided over his achievements and gave him the “high seriousness” that would not permit him to let pass a defective line or inharmonious note. Consequently his works have more than their due proportion of the fundamental material of poetry—the apt imagery, the melodious phrase, the fine allusion, the happy
TENNYSON AND BROWNING
marriage of sensuousness and reserve. They may be deficient in the grand passions, and show even in In Memoriam few signs of the turbulent storms or the oppressive doldrums of the human soul; their romantic atmosphere is doubtless regulated by the calm self-control of the classical mind; and this, it must be admitted, puts him to a disadvantage in comparison with the more impetuous outbursts of Browning, or the more voluble voice of Swinburne. Yet this reserve, arising from his self-mastery rather than from any indifference or insensitiveness of feeling, may in the end prove to be his greatest strength, and still keep him at the head of the Victorian generation of poets. However this may be, he has enough for present fame. His splendid workmanship has been an example to many successors. He is a poet to whom other poets who have advanced beyond him in thought have owed, and still owe, much. His poems lead men into the right literary channels, for any poet who ignores the sources of Tennyson's inspiration-Virgil, Dante, the romantic legends, nature, the common griefs and joys of men—will be like the astronomer who, in his ultra-modern enthusiasm, ignores his Newton. To a certain extent we may allow the criticism that he never pursued his greater themes to the point where the real difficulties commenced, that he settled himself into the easy compromises and acquiescences of a naturally conservative spirit. Yet his ideas, commonplace though they may be, are after all those which lie at the foundation of the English character, and it is mainly because Tennyson does thus hold the mirror up to our national genius and reveal to us our normal selves that he was, and will remain, a more representative poet of his time than Browning or Rossetti, Swinburne or Matthew Arnold. These reflect our more exceptional moods-he the average tone of his epoch.
3. Robert Browning (p. 1011) has gained in apprecia. tion even more than Tennyson has lost, and many critics would claim that his work is more vital at the present moment, and has been more influential, than that of his contemporary. In massive grandeur of treatment and style, in range and depth of his human sympathies, in his insight into the labyrinths of the souls of men and women, Browning is hardly inferior to any other poet, and, of course, far surpasses Tennyson. His poetic language has none of Tennyson's cold and calm perfection ; but we ask of a man's style, first, that it should be the most