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Memoirs and correspondence of Coventry Patmore (Volume 2) online

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everything in His Creation is designed only to draw us to
the Creator. It does seem to me a help to us in main-
taining our courage in time of conflict if we remember, not
only that with His help we are sure of ultimate Victory,
but also that the Victory, when won, will not only replace
us on the eminence we seemed to occupy at our best
moments but also will lift us to a height incomparably
higher and otherwise unattainable. All will go well if we
can but learn to trust God enough and serve Him with an
absolute disinterestedness. We fail most often because we
make reserves and conditions with God in place of serving
Him with that generous and limitless Loyalty which He
requires. He will not traffick with us ; but if we give our-
selves to Him zvholly (that is with the wholeness of a sincere
Intention despite the inconsistencies of mortal infirmity)
then, in return for this nothing, He gives us Himself, and,
in Himself, all things.

But I must not go on writing these things which, in as
far as they are Truths, read like Truisms ; and which, so
far as they carry any look of novelty, are often but barren
declamations. Doubtless you know these things as well as
I ; and it is from God alone that any one can gain the
Strength and spiritual Sincerity and Oneness necessary to
render such knowledge fruitful, nay to prevent its becoming
our condemnation. What I have tried to write will at least
show you how strongly I sympathise with you, and how
strong are my hopes that in proportion to present suffering
will be your future consolation.

Ever yours,

Aubrey de Vere.

P.S. — Since I began this note your two later notes have
this day reached me : and I trust I may infer from them
that things are already brightening about you once more. . . .
We talk much of you here ; and the other day, when we
effected the ascent of the " Old Man ", everyone of the
party expressed more than once the feeling of regret, which
we all shared, at your absence. It was a glorious day, the
mountain peaks rising like islands above a vast ocean of
shining, white mist. . . .


Mount Trenchard, Foynes.

Jan. lo, 1863.

My Dear Patmore,

I am a few days later than I had hoped to
be in sending you back your proofs ; but the season is so
little advanced that I trust this will not have been an
inconvenience to you. The fact is that I never can venture
on criticism or suggestions without having time to give the
subject my very best attention and consideration. My
counsel may well be " bad at the best : " but to give it " at
the worst," i.e., without due reflection, seems to me a great
stupidity and impertinence (except when the suggestions
relate but to trivial matters of detail) : I have therefore
taken time to read your poem many times, and compare
part with part carefully, before sending you any hints on
the subject.

I have always been one of those who thought that
" Faithful for Ever" had not had justice done to it ; and I
rejoice much to find that the effect of the whole poem is
now so much elevated by the addition of those " Victories
of Love," which you always regarded as its completion.
The sadder and loftier character of this concluding portion
was necessary to impart due dignity to the whole ; and the
variety given to the whole work (counting " The Angel in
the House," and " Faithful for Ever" as the two portions of
a common design, if not common poem) is immensely in-
creased by representing thus Love in Shadow, as well as
Love in Sunshine. Indeed, Domestic Love is hardly a
sufficient subject for a long and elaborate Poem, unless the
theme is made to include the lonely and dark Valleys as
well as the sunny slopes of the Love Land. The omissions
which you have made in the earlier section of " Faithful
for Ever " (amounting, I think, to about twenty pages) are a
considerable improvement. On the whole, I can honestly
congratulate you on a work very greatly improved, and by
which, when it is brought to perfection, your entire Theme
will have been worthily completed. But to bring it to this
state of perfection a good deal remains, in my opinion, to
be done ; and if I am right in this, the present seems the
opportunity for doing it, as the Public Opinion will pro-
bably be made up, as regards the Poem, when the second
Edition, put forward as a revised one, has been published.
After that, it will be very difficult to make more than a few


very devoted Students of Poetry pay attention to any
further alterations.

You will perhaps remember (to go to the subject of my
suggestions) that, from the time I had heard the plan of
" Faithful for Ever " described, I was strongly impressed
with the difficulties, as well as opportunities, of a theme,
the apparent and superficial facilities of which constituted
its chief snares and temptations. There was first the easy
flow of the metre, which does not, like some other metres,
compel the Poet to write his best. It is like driving a
horse who goes so steadily that the driver is tempted
occasionally to take a nap and let him go on by himself.
Secondly — there was the homely nature of the subject,
which, by making familiarity a merit, makes over-familiarity,
especially in the form of incorrect or conversational lan-
guage, a snare. Thirdly, there was the danger of prolixity
in a subject which furnishes an infinite number of details on
much the same level, each of which might indeed be treated
in a thoroughly poetical spirit ; but more than a very
limited number of which would involve at least a virtual
repetition. . . .

The Poet, I felt sure, would have always to keep in
mind the old saying, " be bold, be bold, be bold, but not too
bold", to avoid excess of familarity in details which com-
monly have their ludicrous, as well as their touching side ;
and he would be called on constantly to remind himself
that, as Coleridge has said,

"Too much of one thing is for nothing good, —
A matter mighty seldom understood ; "

and cancel passages, not for being unskilful or unpoetical,
but for being superfluous.

In your first edition there appeared to me to be faults of
the kind I have named : nor could it have been otherwise,
considering the rapidity with which the poem was written
and published. . . . Many of the criticisms on it that I have
heard had taken the same view in this respect ; though
some of the criticism has been very unjust in neglecting
the great compensating merits of the poem, and the
degree in which the faults were palliated by the nature of
the theme.

These faults are certainly diminished by your omissions
in the Proofs you have sent me. The Poem is still more



improved by most of the additional matter. But the very
circumstance that this additional matter is so much more
elevated than the average of the earlier portion renders it
necessary (as I think) for the harmony of the poem that
the earlier portion should be brought more near to the
higher level of the later portion. Still larger omissions
may be required, owing to the higher qualities of the
portion now added ; or else the poem will be less con-
sistent, though much more striking and touching than
before. . . .

Another improvement which I would suggest is one that
would cost you little labour, though careful attention, as it
is to be effected chiefly by omission. Condensation seems
to me quite necessary. . . , The omissions would of course
often require some slight change in the preceding or follow-
ing lines. I was often nearly deterred from suggesting
such considerable omissions by the apparent presumption
of such advice, and often by the merit of the passages
marked for omission, or of many lines included in them.
You will however clearly understand that, without dogma-
tizing on the subject, I have only wished to indicate what
I should myself do, if the poem were mine. ... A fresh
poem of our own is often like print held too near the eye
to be distinctly seen. Moreover some of the passages are
marked for omission, not because they do not contain
much that /read with pleasure, and that would have a high
value if placed elsewhere, . . . but because, by supplying
too much intersticial matter, they impair the total effect
which would otherwise remain on the reader's mind from
those portions of the poem of which the theme is graver
and the style nobler. The Greeks used to say, " Art is long,
but Life is short," and omitted many details in their poetry
in order to give more projection to its more important
parts, just as they omitted the bridles to their sculptured
horses. We moderns run riot in detail, forgetting how
much that costs us labour has interest only as seen from
our especial point of view. " We cannot see the wood for
the trees"; and it has been well said that every one should
thin his neighbour's trees. Posterity will prove rich and
idle, and will attend only to memorable things treated in a
consummate manner.

Besides avoiding too much detail, it is of immense im-
portance to avoid repetition. In high Art the effect should


be produced, not by many strokes, which are ahvays con-
fusing, but by a few, but strong and right. . . . The effect
of the change would be as when a Balloon makes a bound
upwards on the sand being thrown out ; or as when a
dissolving view catches a sudden clearness, and the mist
seems to melt away. . . . Yours ever,

Aubrey de Vere.

Curragh Chase, Adare,

Jan. 22, 1890.

My Dear Patmore,

... I continue often to read your book " Principle
in Art " and find it the more interesting and instructive the
oftener I recur to it. I do what I can to increase the
benefit it is calculated to confer by pointing out its merits
to correspondents and people I meet ; and I have asked
the Editor of the "Irish Monthly" to have a careful
criticism on it in an early No., as a thing that may be
seriously helpful to literary aspirants and youthful readers :
I only wish I had time and eyesight to review it myself

The book shows how much may be effectually done in
short criticisms. The brevity makes an Author who has
a real perception of Principle go to the heart of the matter
at once, and not throw a mist about that Principle by super-
fluous details. . . . Principles in Criticisms, as elsewhere,
are things that should be strongly and plainly affirmed,
though doubtless cautiously applied. . . . Everywhere in
these Essays there is " a gift of genuine Insight " which
Wordsworth besought of the Muse, but which is as need-
ful for the Philosophic Critic as for the Poet : and with that
gift your Affirmative, as distinguished from Doiionstrative
Method well corresponds ; for in matters in which the
Imagination has a large place, as in matters of Faith, there
is little place for technical Demonstration ; and Affirmations,
when they rest on true Insight, find a ready access to capable
minds and well-disposed tempers, which have always the
gift of at least a tentative docility, and will commonly allow
an Affirmation to step easily over the threshold oi its intelli-
gence, and thus be regarded from more sides than one.

The power of your book seems to me greatly enhanced by
the remarkable vigour and eloquent conciseness of your
Style, while it expresses in the most forcible way what it


wants to express. For that reason it is a book which a man
may go out thinking with, as he goes out walking with a
genial companion. The force of your book's style does not
interfere with its temperance, and is never ostentatious, like
that of some popular authors who, from lack of intellectual
Self-possession, are forced to think, as well as to write,
through a process of mental Declamation, and have to think
in a passion or not think at all. Your style seems to me in
this work eminently to combine dignity and grace, and that,
in a large part, from its blending of long with short sen-
tences. The long sentences are always well steered along
the windings of the stream, and meet no mischances ; and
in their progress the meaning advances with the on-flowing
current, and throbs beneath it. It abounds also in singularly
felicitous expressions, which however are not showy or self-

In p. 5, you speak of the German Critics in a way that
makes me regret that I never learned German. You say
that to put together such materials as they present would do
much for Art, but that no one among us exists . . . who is
equal to such a work. You seem to me yourself the person
who is fully equal to it ; and you have leisure for it. You
could execute such a work quite at your ease, and, if you
pleased, in the form of such brief Essays as those you have
recently published ; and the completed book would be all
the more valuable because you would have doubtless your-
self to criticise your German Critics as well to illustrate
their conclusions where you approve them.

I ought not to send these remarks without adding that
the very personal Essay " what Shelley was " seems to me
not in the same character as the rest, and therefore not in its
right place : besides which, Shelley was, at least in his earlier
years, so far from a condition of perfect sanity that what his
character inwardly was, or might, when consolidated, have
developed itself into, appears a matter as hard to reach con-
clusions on as the future Fauna and Flora of Planets that
have not yet cooled down sufficiently to produce genuine
vegetation. . . . Yours very sincerely,

Aubrey de Vere.

My Dear Patmore,

I have just come on a letter of Henry Taylor's, dated
7 Feb. 1856, in which he speaks thus of your " Angel in the


House," (part ist) then recently published : " I have read it,
and it seemed to me a poem of rare, and peculiar amenity
and grace. I know not where else in these days one can
find that easy, gentle, and ingratiating temper in poetry, so
free from false stimulus and false allurement," This is much
stronger commendation than H. T. often gave to modern

Have you heard of the subsequent sale of your " Angel "
in the cheap form since that during the first fortnight? If
it had then sold 40,000 copies, surely it may since have sold
twice as many more. . . .

Yours ever,

Aubrey de Vere.

Curragh Chase,

Jan. 26, 1890.

My Dear Patmore,

In the hope of gaining a post I send you a hurried
line to tell you how glad I am to hear that you are about
to publish an Edition of your later Lyrics at once cheap and
" sumptuous."

I think it quite possible that such a volume may suddenly
make an immense addition to the circulation of your works,
— but on one condition viz., that it does not include the
three " Psyche " poems.

I am of course not going to repeat the remarks which I
made to you on that subject many years ago, when contem-
plating it from the moral and the philosophical as well as
from the poetical and artistic point of view : but I believe
that even then I expressed also my belief that those three
poems would^r^-^/i^impair the circulation of^^z^r poetry, and
thus diminish its power of benefitting well-disposed readers,
although doubtless the poetry of many writers owes much of
its fame to what we should regard as the least commendable
part of it. I said then that those three poems would be al-
most always least liked by those who most appreciated the
rest of your poetry, and that they would be absolutely mis-
understood by the many, some of whom, whether through
dullness or malignity, would probably confound you with
the Poets to whom you bear least of real resemblance, and
with whose works your Poetry ought to stand in the most
obvious contrast, if it is to take the place it deserves. In a


recent letter you quoted a passage from some hostile critic
which quite confirms this opinion ; which is further confirmed
by what you say in your latest letter respecting Ruskin's
report of S.'s mode of commenting on you. You may be
certain that the more you rise in general estimation the
more will those three poems be turned against you, and that
by more than one class of hostile readers ; and also that the
most appreciative admirers of your poetry will be rendered
by them less able to do for it what was done for the poetry
of Tennyson and Wordsworth by the frankly expressed
admiration of those who understood these Poets. The re-
views ' lately republished by me were reviews of your earlier
vols., which did not include these three Poems.

I am greatly pleased to hear of that other prose volume
which you think of writing.^ It is just the sort of book
calculated to be of spiritual value at a time when people are
sick of mere controversy, and yet take a deep interest in re-
ligion, and perceive that the fallacy of " No Dogma " is as
stupid as an aspiration that the Sun should continue to
minister heat and light to our planet, but discard its light
because Light is often hurtful to sore eyes. . . ,

I hope you will soon be able to send me a better account
of your Wife's health. As you have so much influence over
Ruskin, I think you might do him good if you wrote to him
seriously respecting the claims of the Church on men who
see as much as he does, when not in perverse moods, of its
character and its Work.

Yours very sincerely,

Aubrey de Vere.

The last paragraph of the follow^ing letter from
Dr. Garnett evidently refers to the illness of Emily
Augusta Patmore, who in i860 was in extreme
danger (see vol. i., pp. 132-133).

[August i860?]

My Dear Patmore,

According to your request, I have read your poem
quite through, with as little interruption as possible. Of

See vol. i., p. 172. - " Religio Poetae. '


the effect it produced on me while I was reading it, I can
in general only speak as you would like to hear. There
are one or two rather flat passages of considerable length,
but by much the greater part appears to me not only very
interesting but written with a vigour and vividness, a sus-
tained energy and concentrated fervour which rivets the
attention and leaves no room for minute carping criticism.
The earlier cantos, more particularly, convey beyond every-
thing else the idea of Power — the cardinal virtue in which
so much of the very best contemporary poetry is so griev-
ously deficient. Yet in subtlety of thought, precision of
observation, and depth of feeling it appears to me fully
equal if not superior to " The Angel in the House," with
the great advantage that the fine things occur naturally in
the course of the narrative, instead of being imported in an
appendix. Some of them seem to make the brain actually
thrill with the intensity of their meaning, which it realizes
in a manner without fully comprehending. Pp. 73-75 are
a case in point. These are wonderful single touches,
"standing about in stony heaps " is quite equal to "that
wandering shrine of soft yet icy flame," — the moon of
" Epipsychidion."

When I lay down the book and endeavour to consider it
as a whole, I must own that I am a little confused by the
difficulty I find in discovering whether Jane or Honoria is
your heroine. You have quite overcome my scruples about
the first, and my only complaint is now that we have not
enough of her. I think it will strike most readers that the
change effected in her character is not sufficientl}' accounted
for, — that you are requiring them to take too much upon
trust, and that, in slurring over her domestic history between
the birth of her child and the picnic, you are throwing
away a psychological study of no small interest, and one to
which you of all men are best qualified to render justice.
Perhaps this is your own view, as I understood you to say
that you regarded this volume as fragmentary, and it does
not appear that there is anything wanting either at the
beginning or the end. I am afraid, however, that Honoria
has exercised a disturbing influence upon you, and pre-
vented your writing of poor Jane con mnore. I wish that
you had selected an entirely new scene and set of characters:
this cannot be helped now, and I must admit that Honoria's
re-appearance in the third book is indispensable; but for


heaven's sake let us have as Httle of her domestic arrange-
ments as may be, and I would certainly advise you to ex-
punge her letter to the Dean. This has, in my eyes, the
double fault of contributing nothing whatever to the pro-
gress of the story, and of quite failing to confirm the idea
of the lady we have been led to form from the enthusiastic
description of her lover. Frankly, it is the poorest passage
of the poem, and Honoria's taking up the pen for the first
and last time to write it reminds me rather forcibly of
Coleridge's anecdote of the silent man and the apple-
dumplings. Mildred's first letter also appears to me " a
dead leaf in the bay-tree crown " : the second, which I
formerly disapproved of, I now like very much. Generally
speaking, the objections I may have felt to particular
passages on hearing them read have been dispelled by
more attentive consideration ; so it is highly probable that
where I still disapprove I am equally wrong. I must per-
sist however in disliking the latter part of Mrs. Graham's
third letter. When I have added that one or two of the
letters seem to me to end rather abruptly, I believe I shall
have said everything that has occurred to me in the way of
criticism. You will have gathered that I regard the poem
on the whole as a most powerful and remarkable work,
requiring nothing but the fuller elaboration of one character
and a little pruning here and there to be absolutely perfect.
I do not recommend you to defer the publication with a
view to further revision, conceiving that there is already
enough and far more than enough to enlist the sympathies
of all who are likely to care for it in any manner. I should
expect it to succeed best with thoughtful, scrupulous men,
accustomed to reflect deeply on the conduct of life and the
rights and wrongs of ethical questions, like Hutton, and de
Vere, and Brett. Men of this stamp will, I am persuaded,
take to the book immediately : readers like myself, ac-
customed to regard poetry from the aesthetical point of
view, will find less to gratify their tastes, and have many
prejudices to overcome, but you will lay them all within
five or six years, I do not think the general public will
find this poem nearly so attractive as the " Angel in the
House," and I look to the result of the publication with
much curiosity, as a fair test of the amount of taste at
present vouchsafed to this favoured nation. I should think
you might count on disposing of at least one edition. I


hope you have no very bitter enemies on the press at
present, for there are few books easier to parody ; and,
though it will be quite fair criticism to comment on the
obvious superiority of the earlier to the later portions of
the work, I hope the critics will have the candour to recol-
lect that, though the artist may display as much skill on
working silver as gold, it is impossible for him to give it the
same intrinsic value.

Excuse the numerous blunders, if your charity will reach
so far. It has just gone 2 a.m., and I am very drowsy and

I have no more to say now, except God bless you and
yours, and may I find when I return that a greater blessing
than any literary success, however splendid, has been be-
stowed upon you during my absence. Adieu, my dear
Patmore, and believe me always.

Very sincerely yours,

Richard Garnett.

For a note concernins: the writer of the followino-
letters the reader is referred to my introduction to
Patmore's letters to Robert Bridges.

Father Gerard Hopkins's letters to Patmore are
numerous, long, and of great interest. A large pro-
portion of them are concerned with technical critic-
isms of Patmore's poems, which he submitted to his
friend for revision (vol. i., p. 175). These I refrain
from printing here, as being too technical for the
general reader, though they would be most service-
able to any one who undertook to draw up a complete
vario7'2im edition of Patmore's poems. I have con-
fined myself to those which contain more general
criticism of his work, or otherwise bear upon my
main subject. The letters, however, are so excellent,
so full of the writer's individuality, of acute, if some-
times whimsical, judgments, that they are all worthy
of preservation, though, in these pages, many of them
might appear irrelevant.


Stonyhurst, Nov. 23, 1883.

Online LibraryBasil ChampneysMemoirs and correspondence of Coventry Patmore (Volume 2) → online text (page 26 of 36)