Charles Herbert Sylvester.

English and American literature : studies in literary criticism, interpretation and history (Volume 5) online

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By C. H. Sylvester

Formerly Professor of Literature and

Pedagogy in the State Normal

iichool at Stevens

Point, Wis.



With Numerous Halftone Illustrations


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All rights reserved

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part mine




Klegies 15

On Elizabeth L. H. — Jonson . . 17

Epitaph on the Countess of Pembroke —

Jonson . . . . . 17

Soldier's Dirge — Collins
Bereavement — Wordsworth
Mary — Wolfe ....

Biographical Sketch of Thomas Gray .
Elegy in a Countrv Churchyard — Gray
Threnodia — Loweu ....

Studies on the Poem .
In Memoriam — Tennyson
The Classic Elegy ....

Selections from Astrophel — Spenser
Lycidas — Milton ....

Biographical Sketches

James Russell Lowell

Alfred Tennyson ....

John Milton ....








Adonais — Shelley


On His Own Blindness — Milton .
Victor and Vanquished — Longfellow
Composed upon the Beach Near Calais

— Wordsworth .
The Sonnet — Gilder
The Sonnet — Wordsworth
The Sonnet — Rosetti .
Cupid in Distress — Lowell
"Let me not to the marriage of true

minds. " — Shakespeare
Sonnets from the Portuguese

ing, E. B.
Keats's Last Sonnet
Night and Death— White
Sleep — Daniel
Night — Tennyson
Personal Talk — Wordsworth
Reading — Lowell .
The Poet — Lowell
The Old Voei^ — Lowell .
Mosgiel Farm — Wordsworth
William Shakespeare — Swinburne
To the Lord General Cromwell — Mil

ton ......


. 189





201, 202
. 203

. 205


. 211

. 213




A Sleeping Child — Hood . . .216
When She Comes Home — Riley . 217
Trailing Arbutus — Laighton . . .218
Ozymandias — Shelley . . . 219
The Two Rivers — Longfellow . .220
Composed upon Westminster Bridge —

Wordsworth . . . . .221
Outline of Study of Lyric Poetry . 222

Epic Poetry 225

Ballads ...... 228

The Three Ravens .... 229

Helen of Kirkconnell — Scolt . . 231

Jock o' Hazelgreen .... 234

Jock of Hazeldean — Scoll . . 239

Robin Hood and the Widow's Sons . 242

The Elected Knight .... 248
The Luck of Edenhall . . . .251

Historic Epics ..... 254
Incident of the French Camp — Bro7vn-

ing 255

The Wreck of the Hesperus — Long-
fellow . . . . -257
The Revenge — Tennyson . . . 261

Biographical Sketches

Percy Bysshe Shelley . . .273

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow . 277

Review Questions 285


Stoke Pogis Church, the "ivy-mantled

tower" .... Frontispiece

"Hark, how the sacred calm that
breathes around
Bids every fierce, tumultuous pas-
sion cease;
In still small accents whispering

from the ground
A grateful earnest of eternal peace."

Gray's Monument . . . . -36

"There scattered oft, the earliest of
the year,
By hands unseen are showers of

violets found;
The redbreast loves to build and

warble there,
And little footsteps lightly print the
Portrait of James Russell Lowell ... 40
"All the great gifts that lavish Nature
By study, culture, art, were trained

and formed
As scholar, critic, poet — gay or

grave —
The world to thee with heart respon-
sive warmed."


Portrait of Alfred Tennyson . . '52

"Others shall have their little space

of time,
Their proper niche and bust, then

fade away
Into the darkness, poets of a day !
But thou, O Builder of enduring

Thou shalt not pass. Thy fame in

every clime
On earth shall live where Saxon

speech has sway."

"Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky" . 94
Portrait of John Milton . . . .116
"A genius universal as his theme,
Astonishing as chaos, as the bloom
Of Eden fair, as heaven sublime."

Lowell's Study . . . . . .132

"A prim and delightful old-fashioned
apartment, with low walls, a wide
and cheerful fire-place, and pleasant
windows which look out among the
trees and lilacs upon a long reach
of lawn."



Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley . 148

"A spirit of the sun,
An intellect ablaze with heavenly

Milton Dictating Samson Agonisics . .188
"The living Throne, the sapphire-
Where Angels tremble, while they

He saw; but blasted with excess of

Closed his eyes in endless night."

Portrait of James Whitcomb Riley . .216

"His verse blooms like a flower,
night and day;
Bees cluster round his rhymes; and

Of lark and swallow in an endless

Are mingling with the tender song
he sings."

Stairw'ay in Longfellow's Home . . .220
**And from its station in the hall
An ancient time-piece says to all
Forever — never !
Never — foreverl"


Longfellow's Home at Cambridge . . 248

''A. home that must be a joy forever
to the poet's heart."
Portrait of Henry VVadsworth Longfellow . 258
*'The clear, sweet singer with the
crown of snow
Not whiter than the thoughts that
housed below."

The Study in Longfellow's Home . .276

"where the tender and sympathetic
bard wrought the most and the best
of his life-work."

jeiegtacal ipoeme


A mournful song, in stately measure, praising
the dead for his virtues, full of the grief that
remains with the living, believing in the happiness
of the departed and hoping for a blessed reunion
in the hereafter, this is the typical elegy. On the
one side it shades off into the ode, some poems
being susceptible of classification in both groups;
on the other it may take the form of sonnets,
many of which answer every requirement of the
dirge. Many poems are therefore elegiacal that
are not strictly elegies. A rigid classification is
never necessary but an association of these beau-
tiful pieces, all thoroughly impregnated with the
personal grief of the author, gives to each a
greater power, a more thrilling significance. They
arise from the deepest emotion and so are the
offspring of divinest inspiration; love is in the
heart of the writer and so the flight of song is best
sustained; they are intended to show to the world
respect and admiration for the one whose virtues
they celebrate and so they are refined and pol-
ished to the last degree. Where grief, love and
a hope to give earthly immortality to the object
of his affection move the poet, we expect the finest
efforts of his genius and we are not disappointed.



This Part contains some of the grandest, the most
perfect productions of poetic skill.

When man sees his loved one laid away forever,
he naturally longs to preserve the memory of the
departed to succeeding generations, to erect some
permanent memorial. Funereal monuments are
characteristic of every race and have proved the
most enduring records of the past. The inscrip-
tions upon these tombs are early records of the
elegiac spirit.

The epitaph is elegy in miniature. "To define
an epitaph is useless; everyone knows it is an
inscription on a tomb. An epitaph is indeed com-
monly paneg'yrical, because we are seldom distin-
guished by a stone but by our friends," says
Dr. Johnson.

This epitaph was written by Robert Wilde in
the seventeenth century:

Here lies a piece of Christ; a star in dust;
A vein of gold; a china dish that must
Be used in heaven, when God shall feast the

The two epitaphs from Ben Jonson given next
are well known and often alluded to.


®n lElisabctb X. "fc.

Wouldst thou hear what man can say
In a httle ? Reader, stay.

Underneath this stone doth He

As much beauty as could die:

Which in life did harbour give

To more virtue than doth live.

If at all she had a fault,

Leave it buried in this vault.

One name was Elizabeth,

The other, let it sleep with death:

Fitter, when it died, to tell.

Than that it lived at all. Farewell 1

Bpitapb on tbe Countess of lPem=


Underneath this sable hearse
Lies the subject of all verse,
Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother;
Death! ere thou hast slain another,
Learned and fair, and good as she,
Time shall throw a dart at thee.



The number of elegiacal poems is very large and
the student will be able to add many to the few
here given. This Soldiers' Dirge by William Col-
lins (17 21-175 6) is in dainty verse and notable
for the poetic imagery and the suggestive pic-

Sol&iers' 2)iroe

How sleep the brave, who sink to rest
By all their country's wishes blest !
When spring, with dewy fingers cold,
Returns to deck their hallow'd mold,
She there shall dress a sweeter sod
Than fancy's feet have ever trod.

By fairy hands their knell is rung,
By forms unseen their dirge is sung:
There Honor comes, a pilgrim gray.
To bless the turf that wraps their clay;
And Freedom shall awhile repair.
To dwell a weeping hermit there.





She dwelt among the untrodden ways

Beside the springs of Dove;
A maid whom there were none to praise,

And very few to love.

A violet by a mossy stone

Half-hidden from the eye !
— Fair as a star, when only one

Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know

When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and O !

The difference to me !



If I had thought thou could'st have died,

I might not weep for thee;
But I forgot, when by thy side,

That thou could'st mortal be.
It never through my mind had passed

That time would e'er be o'er,


And I on thee should look my last,
And thou should'st smile no more !

And still upon that face I look,

And think 'twill smile again;
And still the thought I will not brook

That I must look in vain.
But when I speak thou dost not say.

What thou ne'er left'st unsaid;
And now I feel, as well I may,

Sweet Mary, thou art dead !

If thou would'st stay, e'en as thou art,

All cold, and all serene —
I still might press thy silent heart,

And where thy smiles have been !
While e'en thy chill, bleak corse I have.

Thou seemest still mine own;
But there — I lay thee in thy grave,

And I am now alone !

I do not think, where'er thou art,

Thou hast forgotten me;
And I, perhaps, may soothe this heart,

In thinking still of thee:
Yet there was round thee such a dawn

Of light ne'er seen before.
As fancy never could have drawn.

And never can restore !


jeicQi? in a Country Cburcbi^ar^


Ubomas Gras


One hundred years after the death of Shake-
speare there was born a poet whose fame is almost
as firmly established as that of the great dramatist.
His reputation, moreover, rests almost wholly
upon a single poem, the Elegy Written in a
Country Churchyard, a few verses containing more
noble thoughts expressed in more perfect rhythm
than are found in many a longer poem. The
pains taken in composing this touching elegy
which it took him eight years to finish were char-
acteristic of the author. He was a small, hand-
some man, of somewhat effeminate appearance,
carefully dressed and fastidious to a degree. He
was born in 1716, received his education at Cam-
bridge and traveled on the continent with the son
of Sir Horace Walpole. He spent most of his
life at Cambridge and devoted his time to study.
Next to Milton he is said to have been the most
learned of all the great writers. His poems are
few in number but each one was written and
polished with extreme care. His Ode to Spring,
Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, and
A Hymn to Adversity, are his only well-known
poems. He declined the honor of poet laureate


^bomas ©rag

of Great Britain, but afterward accepted the chair
of modern history at Cambridge. He died in 1 771.

Hardly any other poem in the English language
is so well known as is Gray's remarkable Elegy.
It is a creation that speaks directly to the heart
universal, that deals with the emotions common
to every human being and depicts those emotions
in words every person can understand, to the
music of a verse as thoroughly in harmony with
the subject as is the atmosphere of the poem.

On a calm summer's evening he seats himself
in the yard of the quaint little church of Stoke
Pogis. Around him is the beautiful landscape of
an English park; great shade trees offer shelter in
pastures where cattle graze unmolested. Windsor
and Eton are far away and the pensive poet is
alone with nature and the dead. At once he be-
gins to create for us the atmosphere of the place,
the beauty and the peace that lend enchantment
to the hour and lull our spirits into the mood for
the quiet contemplation he desires. The curfew
rings, the herd winds by, the ploughman nods
goodbye and darkness falls around us. As we
read the lines we feel the darkness coming on, no
matter where we are. The glimmering landscape
disappears, our cares fly away and we hear the
sleepy droning of the beetle and the tinkle of bells
in the distant folds. Over there in the square
tower the owl, so rarely molested in this quiet spot,
wonders at our intrusion and complains to the moon


IT bo mas ©rag

of our disturbing presence. With what art has
all this been done ! In eight short lines Gray has
prepared the way so that his quiet meditations
shall be received by us and held for thought. We
yield ourselves to their influence. The only way
one can read and get for himself the best a poem
has is to yield himself to the sensuous music of
the lines and let his imagination run riot with the
details of a scene suggested merely. In what
direction will the poet's thoughts tend? In the
little church are some rather stately monuments,
at least some that indicate position, wealth, and
possible refinement. Will these touch his imagina-
tion, will these form the subject of his reflection ?
No, his thoughts are with the people, the sub-
stratum upon which society is built, the poor
whom we have always with us. It is not within
the English church, filled with local pride, where
relatives vie with each other in elaborate memorials
which have their changing styles as the years
move on, but it is outside underneath the ever-
present trees, among the moldering heaps, that
may everywhere roughen the surface of the uni-
versal tomb of man that Gray finds his inspiration.
And as for so many of us the turf somewhere
heaves, as for most of us some dear one lies
forever at rest in his narrow cell, we turn willingly
from the pomp of mural tablet or sculptured
bust to linger with the rude forefathers of the


Xlbomns ©rag

With appropriate atmosphere around us and
our sympathies enlisted for the people of whom he
writes, the poet gives us glimpses of their life; the
customary sounds of a rural morning, the evening
pleasures, the daytime labors; none of these shall
move them more.

Acquainted now with the class of people whose
virtues the poet is to sing, we are in the mood for
his protest against the ambition which would view
with contempt their simple life, or the wealth so
proud of its own display as to look with scorn
on the poor and humble.

The next stanza is one of those general state-
ments, those gems of thought which so often
sparkle as a bright stone in appropriate set-
ting. The titled noble, the powerful of earth,
the most beautiful person, the wealthiest, all must
die. Such the thought: "All that live will share
thy fate." It is a thought we all have had
repeatedly, but whoever clothed it in such fitting
words ?

Returning to the special subject of his con-
templation, he deprecates in the proud any feeling
that blame should rest upon these poor for having
no memorial in the aisles of some great cathedral,
for no urn inscribed with the story of the dead,
no bust so beautiful as to seem endowed with life,
no honor however great, no flattery however sin-
cere can call life back, can "soothe the dull, cold
ear of Death." And moreover in this neglected


^bomas ©rag

graveyard are perhaps some who might have
written inspired poetry, or ruled kingdoms, if
they could have been educated and had not been
repressed by the stupefying influence of poverty.

Then we are given another stanza of application
as wide as the world, a generalization as beautiful
as the language can make it. Placed naturally
in the poem the stanza is complete and perfect
in itself, another gracefully figurative expression
of a well-known truth. This makes it the fre-
quently quoted stanza it is. But there is no break
in the unity of thought for the very next stanza
calls to our minds the fact that some villager
now lying before us may have withstood the
oppression of some titled landlord with the same
fearlessness that John Hampden withstood the
tyrannical measures of Charles I of England, or
that here may be a soul as keenly attuned to the
music of poetry as was Milton's, some person as
roughly and sturdily powerful as the famous
Cromwell who overthrew Charles I and established
the Protectorate.

Their lot forbade all these things, forbade them
to gain honor in the senate, to despise threats of
pain and ruin, to make the land prosperous, to
find fame in the national house. But though
their lot was hard in this respect and gave them
little opportunity for the exercise of their virtues
it confined their vices and forbade the hideous
slaughter of him who seeks to conquer a kingdom;


a;bomas ©ras

it forbade them to hide the truth they knew, to
control the blush which marked their frank shame
and to sell their talents to the wealthy and the
proud, as many a famous poet has done. Their
real condition and character are indicated in the
apt phrases of the next stanza : The madding crowd's
ignoble strife, their sober wishes, the cool seques-
tered vale, the noiseless tenor of their way.

After three stanzas descriptive of the pathetic
memorial of unlettered grief, Gray gives another
truth known to man wherever he breathes — the
hesitation to face death, the longing for com-
panionship even through the valley of the

Now addressing us directly or at least calling
upon some kindred spirit, he looks forward to
his own death and burial. Should we ask for
the thoughtful man, the meditative genius who
wrote the artful, artless tale, some old patriarch
of the region may tell us how he had seen the
poet wandering solitary and alone in the early
morning or resting wearily at noontide, or con-
ning over his melancholy lines, hopeless and
forlorn; how he had missed him one day and
another and then how with solemn dirges he had
seen him borne to the quiet spot where now in
fact the poet Gray reposes.

The epitaph the poet writes for himself fol-
lows; we may instinctively feel the sensitive soul,
deprecating criticism, anxious to please but with-


^bomas ©rag

out connrtence in himself. He lacked sympathy
from his contemporaries and his lofty character
suffered from lack of genial atmosphere and
friendly appreciation.

** Had Gray written nothing but his Elegy,
high as he stands, I am not sure that he would
not stand higher; it is the corner-stone of his
glory. . . . Gray's Elegy pleased instantly and
eternally." — Lord Byron.

" Gray's Elegy owes much of its popularity to its
strain of verse; the strain of thought alone, nat-
ural and touching as it is, would never have im-
pressed it upon the hearts of thousands and tens
of thousands unless the diction and meter in
which it was embodied had been perfectly in
unison with it. Beattie ascribed its general recep-
tion to both causes. Neither cause would have
sufficed for producing so general and extensive
and permanent an effect unless the poem had
been, in the full import of the word, harmonious."

— Southey.

"The Churchyard abounds with images which
find a mirror in every mind and with sentiments
to which every bosom returns an echo. The four
stanzas beginning 'Yet even these bones' are to
me original: I have never seen the notions in any
other place; yet he that reads them here persuades
himself that he has always felt them. Had Gray
written often thus it would have been vain to
blame and useless to praise him." — Johnson.


Written in a Country Churchyard

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,

The plowman homeward plods his weary way
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon com-

Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's
Where heaves the turf in many a mold-
'ring heap.
Each in his narrow cell forever laid.

The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.


The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-
built shed,
The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly

For them no more the blazing hearth shall

Or busy housewife ply her evening care ;
No children run to lisp their sire's return.

Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield.

Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has
How jocund did they drive their team a-field!
How bowed the woods beneath their sturdy
stroke !

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys and destiny obscure;

Nor Grandeur hear, with a disdainful smile,
The short and simple annals of the poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er


©rag's Elcflg

Await alike the inevitable hour: —

The paths of glory lead but to the grave.*

Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,
If Memory o'er their tomb no trophies raise.
Where, through the long-drawn aisle and
fretted vault,
The pealing anthem swells the note of

Can storied urn or animated bust

Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath .''
Can Honor's voice provoke the silent dust,

Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of
Death ?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid

Some heart once pregnant with celestial

I. The following from Parkman's Montcalm and Wolfe gives an
interesting anecdote of General Wolfe on his night expedition to storm the
Heights of Abraham:

"For full two hours the procession of boats, borne on the current,
steered silently down the St. Lawrence. The stars were visible, but the
night was moonless aud sufTiciently dark. The general was in one of the
foremost boats, and near him was a young midshipman, John Robison,
afterward professor of natural history in the University of Edinburgh.
He used to tell in his later life how Wolfe, with a low voice, repeated
Cray's Elfgy in a Country Churchyard to the officers with him. Proba-
bly it was to relieve the intense strain of his thoughts. Among the rest
was the verse which his own fate was soon to illustrate.

" The paths of glory lead but to the grave. ' Gentlemen,' he Raid, as
his recital ended, 'I would lathcr have written those lines than take
Quebec' None were there, to icU him that the hero is greater than the


Oram's leiegg

Hands that the rod of empire might have
Or waked to ecstasy the Uving lyre.

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,
Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er

Chill Penury repressed their noble rage,

And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene

The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen.
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village Hampden, that with dauntless
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton, here may rest —
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's

Th' applause of listening senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,

To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation's eyes,


Their lot forbade: nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes con-

Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,

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Online LibraryCharles Herbert SylvesterEnglish and American literature : studies in literary criticism, interpretation and history (Volume 5) → online text (page 1 of 11)