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DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI
which, though not so valuable as his original work, nevertheless gave many readers their first insight into the great poets of mediæval Italy: the translations were re-issued under the title of Dante and his Circle in 1874. A second volume of original poems was published in 1881 under the title of Ballads and Sonnets. At the same time he re-arranged the whole of his poems in two volumes. The later years of his life were darkened by failing health and by broken friendships ; his mind was clouded by excessive use of chloral, and his constitution wrecked by irregular habits; but some of his best work appeared in the last volume, including, perhaps, the best poem of all, the ballad of Rose Mary, which had been written ten years earlier, before his troubles thickened around him. He still, however, retained his personal fascination, and wielded an influence in art and poetry deeper than that of his greater con. temporaries in either direction. His mind seems to have been untouched by the science or philosophy of his time ; the classic calm of Matthew Arnold and the robust humanism of Browning were alike alien to his intellect; and even the revival of mediæval conceptions of religion in the Oxford Movement left him unaffected. But the very narrowness of his mental outlook deepened the force with which his great intellectual powers were able to concentrate themselves upon his one cherished aim. No other poet has ever been so completely absorbed in his art as such. By means of his art he excites the imagination into intense vision, and transports us into his own world of dreams.
This transcendental atmosphere is specially present in the early poems, when the influence of Dante was a supreme despotism in his nature. We may read it in such characteristic and beautiful examples of his work as his Staff and Scris, Love's Nocturne, The Portrait, The Stream's Secret, as well as in The Blessed Damozel, and in his prose story, Hand and Soul, which appeared originally in The Germ, all laden with the eerie glamour of an unknown world, the solemn beauty of cathedrals rich with the frescoes of genius. In the magnificent sonnet-sequence, The House of Life (1881), it is Love that is thus transfigured. Sometimes these sonnets are too ethereal, too finely woven. The odour of incense is too heavy sometimes, and a rather morbid melancholy creeps over them like the shadow of black clouds on sultry days. Yet they are so beautiful, so sweet, so tender, so genuine, so full of devotion to their ideal, that they must rank next to Shakespeare's own among the sonnet-groups of our tongue.
The strongest of Rossetti's work and the best, considered from the broader human point of view, is to be found among his ballads. We may mention Rose Marj (1871), Şister Helen, Jenny, The White Ship, The King's Tragedy, and Stratton Water. These are more satisfying to the ordinary mood of a reader than are the more subtle poems. They gain greatly from the fact that each one tells a definite story round which human passions firmly cling. They have dramatic as well as mystical interest, and in all of them the narrative is finely managed. These poems should live among all readers of poetry, while the others, less healthy in their influence, will never appeal to any but a sympathetic few.
6. Mention has been made (p. 1082) of William Morris (1834-96), and the chief productions of his active literary life have been detailed. He came earl under the influence of Rossetti, both as artist and poet. The Defence of Guenevere (1858) was composed entirely in the true pre-Raphaelite spirit, but is not a success. It was highly thought of in the Rossetti circle, but left its author an unknown man outside. Morris, in fact, only resembled Rossetti in the general trend of his ideals. He found salvation in the Middle Ages, but his mind was romantic in a broader sense than Rossetti's. His master was Chaucer and not Dante. The gospel of “Art for Art's sake” was impossible for him ; Art was noble only in so far as it helped to make life more beautiful. Hence, instead of expending his ideal in vague visions, he made designs in tapestries, wallpapers, and a hundred other things for the homes of men, and devoted himself to the production of superlative work in printing : art realised itself in lofty craftsmanship. On this side of his life, Morris fell in rather with the preaching of Carlyle than with the dreams of his pre-Raphaelite friends.
In literature, Morris's gifts were not those of Rossetti. He was essentially a tale-teller, with the natural prolixity of the man who was full of his subject. In The Life and Death of Jason (1867) the theme is classical, but the treatment is romantic, full and discursive, but rich in colour and bright with chivalrous sentiment. The Earthly Paradise (1868-70), inspired by Chaucer and Boccaccio, is a mine of romantic stories culled from every layer of the ancient past. They resemble, if any of the Canterbury Tales, only those-such as
The Knightes Tale—which reflect the chivalry and the sentiment of the Middle Ages ; they never show any contact with the delicate art of such masterpieces of humour as The Nonnes Prestes Tale, or the dramatic skill of such character-sketches as those of the Wife of Bath or The Pardoner's Tale. Morris had not Chaucer's large and varied joy in life, nor his genial humour. His imagination was fascinated by the Middle Ages, but after all Chaucer lived in them. To Morris the mediæval epoch was an age of chivalry and delight in fine workmanship; he idealised it, and allowed no place in it for the summoners, millers and reeves who were so conspicuous in Chaucer's pilgrimage. Thus The Earthly Paradise has a vague and unreal air, such only as "the idle singer of an empty day” might give. Nevertheless there is much charm in the diffuse narratives, and they achieved a well-deserved popularity.
As the tales in The Earthly Paradise show, Morris did not bound himself within the Middle Ages. So long as the epoch was not modern-was earlier than the Renaissance—it might stand for his golden age. He translated with sympathy and skill both the Æneid (1875) and the Odyssey (1887). He made usę alike of the Arthurian legends and the Arabian Nights, But he was particularly attracted by the ancient stories of the Teutonic peoples.
That there was anything worth preserving in the literature of the Anglo-Saxon race before the Norman conquest, or in that of their Scandinavian relatives, is practically a discovery of the nineteenth century. Both the history and the literature of the Anglo-Saxons were practically sealed against students. Various writers, however, gave the world the fruits of their researches during the nineteenth century, among whom may be mentioned J. M. Komble (1807-57), Sir Francis Palgrave (1788–1861), and John Richard Green (1837–83) as historians, and Kemble, Benjamin Thorpe (1782-1870), Dr. Richard Morris (1833-1894), and the other scholars of the Early English Text Society, among the students of language and literature, An excellent History of Early English Literature by Stopford Brooke (p. 1171) has put the story of Anglo-Saxon writings into reliable and readable form. The result of all this labour among ancient records and manuscripts has been to show the great interest of these beginnings of our literature ; and Morris, captured by their direct and manly spirit, in collaboration with Mr. A. J. Wyatt gave us a poetical
modernised version of Beowulf (1898), which is not the least interesting of his writings.
The study of the ancient Norse literature preserved in Icelandic has a similar history. Gray, with his Descent of Odin (1768), opened the subject, but not till the middle of the nineteenth century did the full awakening come. Then Carlyle's famous lecture on The Hero as Divinity” (1840) revealed the essential nobility of the myths enshrined in the Norse Eddas. The stories contained in Thorpe's Northern Mythology (1857) and his Yule-Tide Stories (1853) were rich in poetic material A beautiful poem of Matthew Arnold's, Balder Dead, tells one of their loveliest tales in verse of classical dignity ; but it was William Morris, more than any other great writer, to whom the ancient Viking tales appealed. Romantic as his nature was, and prone to the vagueness of mediæval sentiment, Morris has made a thrilling success of these Scandinavian stories, and they represent his most effective work in poetry. The descriptions, as well as the narrative itself, in Sigurd the Volsung (1876), for instance, are vivid and brilliantly imaginative. They bring the heroic mood upon us—the mood of the demi-gods whose words are deeds. They are like a gust of fresh air after the languorous atmosphere of pre-Raphaelitism. They are Morris's best contribution to English poetry, the most characteristic of his free, open, energetic nature.
The last twenty years of Morris's life were devoted to the active propaganda of his socialistic principles. The very genius of the pre-Raphaelite movement detached it from all sympathy with the modern world, but it was not congenial to the nature of Morris to be content to look back on bygone times and live only in his recaptured visions. It was not enough for him to make his own inner world at one with the golden days, and to go on in blissful indifference about the life of the world around him. He must seek to influence this latter, so that the spirit of the Middle Ages might be recalledits love of beauty, its delight in good workmanship, its chivalry. He became a socialist because he felt that only by a reconstruction of the whole basis of our competitive and commercial conditions could the worker be brought back to his old dignity. The nobility of labour and the nobility of the labourer were the animating impulses of his democratic hopes; it is these elevating ideals that give their ringing force
ALGERNON CHARLËS SWINBURNE
to the best of the Chants for Socialists. Possibly literature did not lose greatly by Morris's absorption in socialistic work ; but in spite of such a fine poem as The Death Song (1887), on the whole we may say that it did not gain much either. Tracts on socialism like The Dream of John Ball (1888) and the visionary News from Nowhere (1891) will scarcely out-live The Earthly Paradise; and the prose romances which he produced in his last years, and of which The House of the Wolfings (1889) is the best, are of the same spirit as his poems, and, written in a kind of half-poetical prose, are less satisfying than they. In spite of the apparent changes and fluctuations of his life, Morris remained to the end essentially a practical man turned dreamer. In his youth he turned his wistful gaze to the shadowlands of the past. In his maturity his eye looked into an equally shadowy future. But in either case the motive was the same-a“ divine discontent" with things as they now are. He was the pre-Raphaelite in real life.
7. Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909) was, like Morris, a fluent and voluminous writer, and had a strong affinity with the pre-Raphaelite movement. The long list of works given on p. 1084 is sufficient evidence of his industry and of his varied sympathies. He continued to add a little to the total until his death in 1909, his poems mainly appearing on special occasions such as that of the Boer War, in which his sympathies were cast against the old régime. A Channel Passage (1904), Love's Cross-Currents (prose fiction, 1905), The Duke of Gandia (a play, 1908), and an essay on Shakespeare (1909) are the only volumes that belong to the present century, though he also collected his Elizabethan criticisms into a volume in 1908. For the student who wishes to understand Swinburne's work and its influence, the earlier volumes contain all that is necessary.
To pass from Tennyson to Swinburne is a very short step in point of time, but the step takes us across a great gulf in the matter of style and subject. As we have seen, Tennyson deals with modern problems in a calm and sedate way, distinguished by a strong reverence for ancient opinions and for the old methods of treating them. He never gives the most orthodox of us any sense of shock; he never startles us with daring experiments, though he delights us very often with his faultless and felicitous diction. In Swinburne, on the other hand, novelty awaits us everywhere. The Poems and Ballads, published in three series in 1866, 1878, and 1889, surprise us