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Aristotle's ethics, and behaved otherwise pretty much
as he pleased, but that bloody battles were continually
being fought between bloodless " innumerable angels,"
that found no inconvenience in losing a wing one
minute and a head the next, and, if pounded up into
puff -paste late in the afternoon, were as good " in
numerable angels " as new the next morning, in time
to be at reveille roll-call. And now, at the present
epoch, there are few people who do not occasionally
think. This is emphatically the thinking age ; indeed
it may very well be questioned whether mankind ever
substantially thought before. The fact is, if the Para*
disc Lost were written to-day (assuming that it had
never been written when it was), not even its eminent,
although overestimated merits would counterbalance,
either in the public view or in the opinion of any
critic at once intelligent and honest, the multitudinous
incongruities which are part and parcel of its plot.

But in the plot of the drama of Miss Barrett it is
something even worse than incongruity which affronts,
continuous mystical strain of ill-fitting and ex-

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

aggerated allegory if, indeed, allegory is not much
too respectable a term for it. We are called upon, for
example, to sympathize in the whimsical woes of two
spirits, who, upspringing from the bowels of the earth,
set immediately to bewailing their miseries in jargon
such as this :

I am the spirit of the harmless earth.

God spake me softly out among the stars,
As softly as a blessing of much worth ;

And then his smile did follow unawares,
That all things fashioned so for use and duty
Might shine anointed with his chrism of beauty

Yet I wail!
I drave on with the worlds exultingly,

Obliquely down the Godlight's gradual fall ;
Individual aspect and complexity

Of gyratory orb and interval
Lost in the fluent motion of delight
Toward the high ends of Being beyond sight
Yet I wail!

Innumerable other spirits discourse successively after
the same fashion, each ending every stanza of his
lamentation with the " Yet I wail! " When at length
they have fairly made an end, Eve touches Adam
upon the elbow, and hazards, also, the profound and
pathetic observation, " Lo, Adam, they wail ! " which
is nothing more than the simple truth, for they do,
and God deliver us from any such wailing again !

It is not our purpose, however, to demonstrate what

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

every reader of these volumes will have readily seen
self -demonstrated the utter indefensibility of the
Drama of Exile, considered uniquely as a work of
art. We have none of us to be told that a medley of
metaphysical recitatives, sung out of tune at Adam and
Eve by all manner of inconceivable abstractions, is
not exactly the best material for a poem. Still it may
very well happen that among this material there shall
be individual passages of great beauty. But should
any one doubt the possibility, let him be satisfied by a
single extract such as follows :

On a mountain peak

Half sheathed in primal woods and glittering
In spasms of awful sunshine at that hour,
A lion couched, part raised upon his paws,
With his calm massive face turned full on thine,
And his mane listening. When the ended curse
Left silence in the world, right suddenly
He sprang up rampant and stood straight and stiff,
As if the new reality of death
Were dashed against his eyes, and roared so fierce
(Such thick carnivorous passion in his throat
Tearing a passage through the wrath and fear) ,
And roared so wild, and smote from all the hills
Such fast keen echoes crumbling down the vales
To distant silence, that the forest beasts,
One after one, did mutter a response
In savage and in sorrowful complaint
Which trailed along the gorges.

There is an Homeric force here, a vivid picturesque-

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

ness which all men will appreciate and admire. It is,
however, the longest quotable passage in the drama
not disfigured with blemishes of importance, although
there are many, very many passages of a far loftier
order of excellence so disfigured, and which, therefore,
it would not suit our immediate purpose to extract.
The truth is, and it may be as well mentioned at
this point as elsewhere, that we are not to look in
Miss Barrett's works for any examples of what has
been occasionally termed " sustained effort " ; for
neither are there, in any of her poems, any long com
mendable paragraphs, nor are there any individual
compositions which will bear the slightest examina
tion as consistent art-products. Her wild and mag
nificent genius seems to have contented itself with
points, to have exhausted itself in flashes; but it is
the profusion, the unparalleled number and close
propinquity of these points and flashes which render
her book one flame, and justify us in calling her, un
hesitatingly, the greatest, the most glorious of her sex.
The Drama of Exile calls for little more, in the way
of comment, than what we have generally said. Its
finest particular feature is, perhaps, the rapture of
Eve, rapture bursting through despair, upon dis
covering that she still possesses, in the unwavering
love of Adam, an undreamed-of and priceless treasure.
The poem ends, as it commences, with a bull. The
last sentence gives us to understand that " there is a


Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

sound through the silence, as of the falling tears of
an angel." How there can be sound during silence,
and how an audience are to distinguish, by such
sound, angel tears from any other species of tears,
it may be as well, perhaps, not too particularly to

Next, in length, to the Drama is A Vision of
Poets. We object to the didacticism of its design,
which the poetess thus states : "I have attempted to
express here my view of the mission of the veritable
poet of the self-abnegation implied in it, of the uses
of sorrow suffered in it, of the great work accomplished
in it through suffering, and of the duty and glory of
what Balzac has beautifully and truly called la
patience angelique du genie" This " view " may
be correct, but neither its correctness nor its falsity
has anything to do with a poem. If a thesis is to be
demonstrated, we need prose for its demonstration.
In this instance, so far as the allegorical instruction
and argumentation are lost sight of, in the upper
current, so far as the main admitted intention of the
work is kept out of view, so far only is the work a
poem, and so far only is the poem worth notice, or
worthy of its author. Apart from its poetical charac
ter, the composition is thoughtful, vivid, epigram
matic, and abundant in just observation, although the
critical opinions introduced are not always our own.
A reviewer in Blackwood's Magazine quoting many


Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

of these critical portraits, takes occasion to find fault
with the grammar of this tristich :

Here ^schylus, the women swooned
To see so awful, when he frowned
As the gods did : he standeth crowned.

" What on earth," says the critic, " are we to make
of the words * the women swooned to see so awful ' ?
. . . The syntax will punish future commentators
as much as some of his own corrupt choruses." In
general we are happy to agree with this reviewer,
whose decisions respecting the book are, upon the
whole, so nearly coincident with ours that we hesi
tated, through fear of repetition, to undertake a
critique at all, until we considered that we might say
a very great deal in simply supplying his omissions;
but he frequently errs through mere hurry, and never
did he err more singularly than at the point now in
question. He evidently supposes that " awful " has
been misused as an adverb and made referable to
" women." But not so ; and although the construc
tion of the passage is unjustifiably involute, its gram
mar is intact. Disentangling the construction, we
make this evident at once. " Here -ffischylus (he)
standeth crowned (whom) the women swooned to
see so awful, when he frowned as the gods did."
The " he " is excessive, and the " whom " is under
stood. Respecting the lines,


Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

Euripides, with close and mild
Scholastic lips, that could be wild,
And laugh or sob out like a child
Right in the classes,

the critic observes : " Right in the classes ' throws
our intellect completely upon its beam-ends." But,
if so, the fault possibly lies in the crankness of the
intellect ; for the words themselves mean merely that
Euripides laughed or cried like a schoolboy, like a
child right (or just) in his classes, one who had not
yet left school. The phrase is affected, we grant, but
quite intelligible. A still more remarkable misappre
hension occurs in regard to the triplet,

And Goethe, with that reaching eye
His soul reached out from, far and high,
And fell from inner entity.

The reviewer's remarks upon this are too prepos
terous not to be quoted in full; we doubt if any
commentator of equal dignity ever so egregiously
committed himself before. " Goethe," he says, " is a
perfect enigma ; what does the word ' fell ' mean ?
deivos we suppose, that is, ' not to be trifled with.'
But surely it sounds very strange, although it may
be true enough, to say that his * fellness ' is occasioned
by * inner entity.' But perhaps the line has some
deeper meaning which we are unable to fathom."
Perhaps it has : and this is the criticism, the British
criticism, the Blackwood criticism, to which we have so


Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

long implicitly bowed down ! As before, Miss Barrett's
verses are needlessly involved, but their meaning re
quires no (Edipus. Their construction is thus intended :
" And Goethe, with that reaching eye from which his
soul reached out, far and high, and (in so reaching) fell
from inner entity." The plain prose is this: Goethe
(the poet would say), in involving himself too far and
too profoundly in external speculations, speculations
concerning the world without him, neglected or made
miscalculations concerning his inner entity, or being,
concerning the world within. This idea is involved
in the metaphor of a person leaning from a window
so far that finally he falls from it; the person being
the soul, the window the eye.

Of the twenty-eight Sonnets, which immediately
succeed the Drama of Exile, and which receive the
especial commendation of Blackwood, we have no
very enthusiastic opinion. The best sonnet is objec
tionable from its extreme artificiality; and, to be ef
fective, this species of composition requires a minute
management, a well-controlled dexterity of touch,
compatible neither with Miss Barrett's deficient con-
structiveness, nor with the fervid rush and whirl of her
genius. Of the particular instances here given, we
prefer The Prisoner, of which the conclusion is par
ticularly beautiful. In general, the themes are obtru
sively metaphysical or didactic.

The Fomaunt of the Page, an imitation of the old

VOL. VIII. 7. t,

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

English ballad, is neither very original in subject, nor
very skilfully put together. We speak comparatively,
of course ; it is not very good for Miss Barrett ; and
what we have said of this poem will apply equally
to a very similar production, Rhyme of the Duchess
May. The Poet and the Bird, A Child Asleep, Crowned
and Wedded, Crowned and Buried, To Flush, my Dog,
The Fourfold Aspect, A Flower in a Letter, A Lay of
the Early Rose, That Day, L, E. L's Last Question, Cata*
rina to Camoens, Wine of Cyprus, The Dead Pan, Sleep'
ing and Watching, A Portrait, The Mournful Mother,
and A Valediction, although all burning with divine
fire, manifested only in scintillations, have nothing in
them idiosyncratic. The House of Clouds and The
Lost Bower are superlatively lovely, and show the vast
powers of the poet in the field best adapted to their
legitimate display; the themes, here, could not be
improved. The former poem is purely imaginative;
the latter is unobjectionably because obtrusively sug
gestive of a moral, and is, perhaps, upon the whole,
the most admirable composition in the two volumes,
or, if it is not, then The Lay of the Brown Rosary is.
In this last the ballad-character is elevated, ethereal-
ized, and thus made to afford scope for an ideality at
once the richest and most vigorous in the world. The
peculiar foibles of the author are here, too, dropped
bodily, as a mantle, in the tumultuous movement and
excitement of the narrative.


Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

Miss Barrett has need only of real self-interest in
her subjects to do justice to her subjects and to her
self. On the other hand, A Rhapsody of Life's Prog"
ress, although gleaming with cold coruscations, is
the least meritorious, because the most philosophical,
effusion of the whole: this, we say, in flat contra
diction of the spoudiotaton kai philosophikotaton
genos of Aristotle. The Cry of the Human is singu
larly effective, not more from the vigor and ghastly
passion of its thought than from the artistically
conceived arabesquerie of its rhythm. The Cry of
the Children, similar, although superior in tone and
handling, is full of a nervous, unflinching energy a
horror sublime in its simplicity of which a far
greater than Dante might have been proud. Bertha
in the Lane, a rich ballad, very singularly excepted
from the wholesale commendation of the Democratic
Review as " perhaps not one of the best," and desig
nated by Blackwood, on the contrary, as " decidedly
the finest poem of the collection," is not the very
best, we think, only because mere pathos, however
exquisite, cannot be ranked with the loftiest exhibi
tions of the ideal. Of Lady Geraldine f s Courtship,
the magazine last quoted observes that "some pith
is put forth in its passionate parts." We will not
pause to examine the delicacy or lucidity of the meta
phor embraced in the " putting forth of some pith " ;
but unless by " some pith " itself is intended the


Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

utmost conceivable intensity and vigor, then the critic
is merely damning with faint praise. With the ex
ception of Tennyson's Locksley Ha//, we have never
perused a poem combining so much of the fiercest
passion with so much of the most ethereal fancy as
the Lady Geraldine's Courtship of Miss Barrett. We
are forced to admit, however, that the latter work is
a very palpable imitation of the former, which it sur
passes in plot, or rather in thesis, as much as it falls
below it in artistical management, and a certain calm
energy, lustrous and indomitable, such as we might
imagine in a broad river of molten gold.

It is in the Lady Geraldine that the critic of Black*
wood is again put at fault in the comprehension of a
couple of passages. He confesses his inability " to
make out the construction of the words, ' All that
spirits pure and ardent are cast out of love and rever
ence, because chancing not to hold.' " There are
comparatively few American schoolboys who could
not parse it. The prosaic construction would run
thus: "All that (wealth understood) because chancing
not to hold which (or on account of not holding which),
all pure and ardent spirits are cast out of love and
reverence." The " which " is involved in the relative
pronoun " that," the second word of the sentence. All
that we know is, that Miss Barrett is right ; here is a
parallel phrase, meaning " all that (which) we know,"
etc. The fact is, that the accusation of imperfect


Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

utmost conceivable intensity and vigor, then the critic
is merely damning with faint praise. With the ex
ception of Tennyson's Locbsley Hall/ we have never
perused a poem combining so much of the fiercest
jOtotan with so much of the most ethereal fancy as
the Lady GerMine's Courtship of Miss Barrett. We
are forced to admit, however, that the latter work is
a very palpable imitation of the former, which it sur
passes in plot, or rather in thesis, as much as it falls
below it in artistical management, and a certain calm
energy, lustrous and indomitable, such as we might
imagine in a broad river of mohea 0M.

It is in the L Robert Browning, sic of Black*
j is again p^ om the painting ^m^ehension of a
couple of passages. He ccmmm his inability " to
make out the construction of titt words, * All that
spirits pure and ardent are cast out of love and rever
ence, because chancing wot to hold.' " There are
comparatively few AiatiJMn tchooflbtyi who could
not parse it. The prosaic \.,w*t*tflum would run
thus : "All that (wealth Mdii** toittiMi chancing
not to hold which (or on account 01 act holding which),
all pure and ardent spirits are cast out of love and
reverence." The " which w is involved in the relative
pronoun ** that," the second word of the sentence. All
that we know is, that Miss Barrett is right ; here is a
parallel phrase, meaning " all that (which) we know,"
etc. The fact is, that the accusation of imperfect


Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

grammar would have been more safely, if more gen
erally, urged; in descending to particular exceptions,
the reviewer has been doing little more than exposing
himself at all points.

Turning aside, however, from grammar, he declares
his incapacity to fathom the meaning of

She has halls and she has castles, and the resonant steam-eagles
Follow far on the directing of her floating dove-like hand

With a thunderous vapor trailing underneath the starry vigils,
So to mark upon the blasted heaven the measure of her land.

Now it must be understood that he is profoundly
serious in his declaration; he really does not appre
hend the thought designed, and he is even more than
profoundly serious, too, in intending these his own
comments upon his own stolidity, for wit : " We
thought that steam-coaches generally followed the
directing of no hand except the stoker's, but it, cer
tainly, is always much liker a raven than a dove."
After this, who shall question the infallibility of
Christopher North ? We presume there are very few
of our readers who will not easily appreciate the richly
imaginative conception of the poetess: The Lady
Geraldine is supposed to be standing in her own door
(positively not on the top of an engine), and thence
pointing, " with her floating dove-like hand," to the
lines of vapor, from the " resonant steam-eagles,"
that designate upon the " blasted heaven " the remote
boundaries of her domain. But, perhaps, we are


Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

guilty of a very gross absurdity ourselves, in com
menting at all upon the whimsicalities of a reviewer
who can deliberately select for special animadversion
the second of the four verses we here copy:

" Eyes," he said, " now throbbing through me ! are ye eyes that

did undo me ?

Shining eyes like antique Jewels set in Parian statue? stone !
Underneath that calm white forehead are ye ever burning

O'er the desolate sand desert of my heart and life undone ? "

The ghost of the Great Frederick might, to be sure,
quote at us, in his own Latin, his favorite adage, De
gustibus non est dispvtandus; but, when we take
into consideration the moral designed, the weirdness
of effect intended, and the historical adaptation of the
fact alluded to, in the line italicized (a fact of which
it is by no means impossible that the critic is ignorant),
we cannot refrain from expressing our conviction, and
we here express it in the teeth of the whole horde of the
Ambrosianians, that from the entire range of poetical
literature there shall not, in a century, be produced a
more sonorous, a more vigorous verse, a juster, a
nobler, a more ideal, a more magnificent image, than
this very image, in this very verse, which the most
noted magazine of Europe has so especially and so
contemptuously condemned.

The Lady Geraldlne is, we think, the only poem of
its author which is not deficient, considered as an


Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

artistical whole. Her constructive ability, as we have
already suggested, is either not very remarkable, or
has never been properly brought into play; in truth,
her genius is too impetuous for the minuter techni
calities of that elaborate art so needful in the build
ing up of pyramids for immortality. This deficiency,
then, if there be any such, is her chief weakness. Her
other foibles, although some of them are, in fact,
glaring, glare, nevertheless, to no very material ill
purpose. There are none which she will not readily
dismiss in her future works. She retains them now,
perhaps, because unaware of their existence.

Her affectations are unquestionably many, and gen
erally inexcusable. We may, perhaps, tolerate such
words as " ble"," " chrysm," " nympholeptic," " ceno-
mel," and " chrysopras " ; they have at least the
merit either of distinct meaning, or of terse and
sonorous expression; but what can be well said in
defence of the unnecessary nonsense of " 'ware " for
"aware"; of "'bide" for "abide"; of "'gins"
for " begins "; of " 'las " for " alas "; of " oftly,"
" ofter," and " oftest," for " often," " more often,"
and " most often " ; or of " erelong " in the sense of
" long ago " ? That there is authority for the mere
words proves nothing; those who employed them in
their day would not employ them if writing now. Al
though we grant, too, that the poetess is very usually
Homeric in her compounds, there is no intelligibility of


Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

construction, and therefore no force of meaning, in
" dew-pallid," " pale-passioned," and " silver-solemn."
Neither have we any partiality for " drave " or " sw
preme," or "/ament"; and, while upon this topic,
we may as well observe that there are few readers
who do anything but laugh, or stare, at such phrases
as " L. E. L.'s Last Question," " The Cry of the
Human," " Leaning from my human," " Heaven
assist the human," " the full sense of your mortal,"
" a grave for your divine," " falling off from our
created," " he sends this gage for thy pity's count
ing," " they could not press their futures on the present
of her courtesy," or " could another fairer lack to
thee, lack to thee ? " There are few, at the same time,
who do not feel disposed to weep outright when they
hear of such things as " Hope withdrawing her per-
adventure," " spirits dealing in pathos of antithesis,"
" angels in antagonism to God and his reflex beati
tudes," " songs of glories ruffling down doorways,"
" God's possibles," and " rules of Mandom."

We have already said, however, that mere quaint-
ness, within reasonable limit, is not only not to be
regarded as affectation, but has its proper artistic uses
in aiding a fantastic effect. We quote from the lines,
To Flush, my Dog, a passage in exemplification :

Leap ! thy broad tail waves a light !
Leap ! thy tender feet are bright,
Canopied in fringes ;

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

Leap ! those tasselled ears of thine
Flicker strangely, fair and fine,
Down their golden inches!

And again from the song of a tree-spirit, in the
Drama of Exiles

The divine impulsion cleaves
In dim movements to the leaves
Dropt and lifted, dropt and lifted,
In the sunlight greenly sifted,
In the sunlight and the moonlight
Greenly sifted through the trees,
Ever wave the Eden trees,
In the nightlight and the noonlight,
With a ruffling of green branches,
Shaded off to resonances,
Never stirred by rain or breeze.

The thoughts, here, belong to the highest order of
poetry, but they could not have been wrought into
effective expression without the instrumentality of
those repetitions, those unusual phrases in a word,
those quaintnesses, which it has been too long the
fashion to censure, indiscriminately, under the one
general head of " affectation. No true poet will fail
to be enraptured with the two extracts above quoted;
but we believe there are few who would not find a
difficulty in reconciling the psychal impossibility of
refraining from admiration with the too-hastily at
tained conviction that, critically, there is nothing to


Elizabeth Barrett Barrett

Occasionally we meet in Miss Barrett's poems a
certain far-fetchedness of imagery, which is repre
hensible in the extreme. What, for example, are we
to think of

Now he hears the angel voices
Folding silence in the room ?

undoubtedly, that it is nonsense, and no more ; or of

How the silence round you shivers
While our voices through it go ?

again, unquestionably, that it is nonsense, and noth
ing beyond.

Sometimes we are startled by knotty paradoxes;
and it is not acquitting their perpetrator of all blame

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