Edmund Clarence Stedman.

Victorian poets; online

. (page 1 of 40)
Online LibraryEdmund Clarence StedmanVictorian poets; → online text (page 1 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


•■wv







BERKELEY

LfPRARY

UNIVERSITY OF



BY EDMUND CLARENCE STEDMAN

, POETRY
COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS. Household Edition.

With portrait and illustrations.
MATER CORONATA. Recited at the Bi-centennial

of Yale University.
POEMS NOW FIRST COLLECTED.

ESSAYS
POETS OF AMERICA,
VICTORIAN POETS.
THE NATURE AND ELEMENTS OF POETRY.

EDITED BY MR. STEDMAN
AN AMERICAN ANTHOLOGY. 1787-1900. Se-
lections illustrating the Editor's Critical Review of Amer-
ican Poetry in the Nineteenth Century. Also in School
Edition.
A VICTORIAN ANTHOLOGY. 1837-1895. Se-
lections illustrating the Editor's Critical Review of British
Poetry in the Reign of Queen Victoria. Also in School
Edition.

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

BOSTON AND NEW YORK



VICTORIAN POETS.



VICTORIAN
POETS



EVISED, AND EXTENDED, BY A SUPPLEMENTARY
CHAPTER, TO THE FIFTIETH YEAR OF THE
PERIOD UNDER REVIEW



EDMUND CLARENCE STEDMAN



AUTHOR OF POETS OF AMERICA




BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY



COPYRIGHT, 187s, BY JAMES R. OSGOOD ft CO.

COPYRIGHT, 18S7, BY HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN ft CO.

COPYRIGHT, 1903, BY EDMUND CLARENCE STEDMAN

COPYRIGHT, I915, BY LAURA STEDMAN

AI.L RIGHTS RESERVED




GEORGE RIPLEY, LL.D.,

WHOSE JUDGMENT, LEARNING, AND PROFESSIONAL DEVOTION
HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THE

ADVANCEMENT OF CRITICISM,

AND FURNISHED AN ENVIABLE EXAMPLE TO MEN
OF LETTERS,

Wc<^% IBolume ijs Injicribcli.



PREFACE TO THE THIRTEENTH EDITION.

(1887.)



THE origin of the bpok now presented in an enlarged
form is given in the Preface to the edition of 1875.
While it was an outgrowth, as stated, of a few essays each
relating to a single personage, its main value, from the
ultimate point of view, consisted first in the statement of
what appear to me the true canons of imaginative art, as
applied to the office of the poet ; again, in studies of the
creative temperament derived from sympathetic examina-
tion of its possessors ; and finally, in a record of the pro-
gress of song during a noteworthy period, and of phases
reflecting the thought, passion, ideality, of the specified
country and age.

Chapters VII and VIII, in which miscellaneous groups
were considered, though written as an afterthought, and
not possessing the artistic unity of other chapters, proved
especially serviceable in the last-named capacity. My gain
in comprehension of the general drift was greater than any
fancied loss through deviation from an eclectic literary
standard. They completed, moreover, the annals of the
period, and gave my book a practical if secondary value as
a work of reference.



VI PREFACE TO THE THIRTEENTH EDITION.

Whether its early welcome at home and abroad, and the
favor still vouchsafed to it, have been due to the quality of
my argument, or to the need of such a record, or to both
together, it is in view of this encouragement, and of the
changes incident to the close of the typical Victorian
epoch, that I add the supplemental matter which extends
our survey to the present year.

This seems the more expedient, because in a later trea-
tise. Poets of America, I have applied the same method of
criticism, with similar objects in view, to the poets and
poetry of my own land. The rise of true poetry here was
singularly coincident with that of the Victorian school in
Great Britain, and my home -survey applies to the fifty
years now ending with the celebration of Her Majesty's
prolonged reign. The Victorian Poets, as enlarged, and its
companion-volume thus proffer a general view of the poetry
of our English tongue for the last half - century. The
supplement itself, beyond that portion devoted to the
afterwork of veteran leaders, is necessarily compressed
and inclusive : in other words, is written upon the plan of
Chapters VII and VIII, to discover current tendencies
and the outlook, and to enhance the reference -value of the
entire work.



After a lapse of time which enables me to examine my
original chapters almost as if they were the production of
another hand, it would be strange if I did not observe cer-
tain portions that would be written differently, with later
and perhaps riper judgment, if I were to write them now.



PREFACE TO THE THIRTEENTH EDITION. vii

I see that frequent attention was paid to matters of art
and form. Technical structure is of special interest to the
young artist or critic. There was a marked and fascinat-
ing advance in rhythmical variety and finish during the
early influence of Tennyson. I do not regret its discus-
sion, since throughout the book persistent stress is also
laid upon the higher offices of art as the expression of the
soul, and its barrenness without simplicity, earnestness, na-
tive impulse, and imaginative power. The American trea-
tise, less occupied with technical criticism, and examining
its topic in connection with the formation of national senti-
ment, enabled me to finish all I desired to say concerning
poetry. These books are hopefully addressed to those who
will read the two together, and each of them not in frag-
ments but as a whole.

As to the brief opinions with respect to younger singers,
I think that a good deal of what was said has been justi-
fied, and in a few cases notably, by their subsequent ca-
reers. Examining the more elaborate reviews of other
poets, I wish to amend in some degree my early criticism.

With the comments upon Landor, Hood, Mrs. Browning,
Tennyson, Rossetti, Morris, and Swinburne, I have no
serious disagreement. What is said of the last-named four,
m the new text, is in keeping with what was first said, and
illustrated by an account of their recent works.

I confess, however, that the prominence given to Proc-
ter seems hardly in accord with the just perspective of
a synthetic view. It grew out of the writer's distaste
for two characteristics of latter-day verse : on the one



viii PREFACE TO THE THIRTEENTH EDITION.

hand, the doubt and sadness of that which is the most in-
tellectual ; on the other, the artificial tone of that offered
by many younger poets, in whom the one thing needful
seemed to be the spontaneity so natural to " Barry Corn'
wall."

While I thought the first of these characteristics too ex-
cessive in the poetry of Arnold, the cultured master of his
school, I paid full tribute to the majesty of his epic verse.
But I was unjust in a scant appreciation of what is after
all his most ideal trait, and his surest warrant as a poet.
For this fault I now make reparation in the supplement.

One or two errors of fact have been corrected in the
original chapter on Browning, our most suggestive figure
at the close of a period which Tennyson dominated in its
prime. My feeling with respect to some of this profound
writer's idiosyncrasies is still unchanged. Yet in view of
my extended recognition of his matchless insight and re-
sources, — and conscious of my own respect for the genius
and personality of one to whose works I was guided in
youth by kindred that knew and honored him, — it is hard
for me to understand that even his uncompromising wor-
shippers can discover between the lines of my criticism
traces of hostility. The chapter, however, is defective in
one important respect. Drawing a sharp distinction be-
tween the histrionic, objective method of the early dram-
atists and that of Browning, I did not at once follow it with
an incisive statement of the qualities in which his power
and effectiveness consist. A praiseworthy reader — by
which, as before, I mean one who accepts an essay in its



PREFACE TO THE THIRTEENTH EDITION. ix

entirety, and does not hang his approval or disapproval
upon a single point — can find these qualities plainly set
forth in the comments upon Dramatic Lyrics, Men and
Women, Pippa Passes, etc. But that there may be no
doubt, and to make up for possible shortcomings, I have
referred in the supplement at some length to the specific
originality and nature of this poet's dramatic genius.

Beyond these modifications, I have none with which in
this place to trouble the reader, — deprecating, as I do, fin-
ical changes in prose or poetry once given to the public,
and choosing to let a treatise that has been so leniently
judged stand in most respects as it was originally written.

A revision and extension has been made of dates, etc., in
the marginal notes, and some pains taken to insure correct-
ness. The new Analytical Index covers both divisions of
the book. My thanks are again due to friends, especially
to Messrs. R. H. Stoddard, R. W. Gilder, Brander Mat-
thews, George R. Bishop, — and to Mr. William T. Peoples,
of the N. Y, Mercantile Library, — for the use of various
books which were not already upon my shelves, and which
my London agents were unable to procure.

E. C. S.
New York, July, 1887.



PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.

(I875-)



THE contents of this volume chiefly relate to the
design announced at the beginning of the introduc-
tory chapter, but I will prefix a brief statement of its scope,
and of the principles that underlie its judgment.

Although presented as a book of literary and biograph-
ical criticism, it also may be termed an historical review
of the course of British poetry during the present reign, —
if not a minute, at least a compact and logical, survey of
the authors and works that mainly demand attention.
Having made a study of the poets who rank as leaders of
the recent British choir, a sense of proportion induced
me to enlarge the result, and to use it as the basis of
a guide-book to the metrical literature of the time and
country in which those poets have flourished. It seemed
to me that, by including a sketch of minor groups and
schools, and giving a connection to the whole, I might
offer a work that would have practical value for uses of
record and reference, in addition to whatever qualities, as
an essay in philosophical criticism, it should be found to
possess.



PREFACE.



To this end Chapters VII. and VIII. were written ; side-
notes have been affixed throughout the volume, and an
analytical index prepared of the whole. There is much
dispute among- the best authorities with respect to literary
and biographical dates, and a few matters of this sort
remain open to doubt ; but in many instances, where the
persons concerned are still living, I have been successful in
obtaining the requisite information at first hand.
' A reference to the notes and index will show what seems
to my own mind, after the completion of these essays, their
most conspicuous feature. So many and various qualities
are displayed by the poets under review that, in writing
of their works and lives, I have expressed incidentally
such ideas concerning the aim and constituents of Poetry
as I have gathered during my acquaintance with the his-
toric body of English verse. Often, moreover, a leading
author affords an illustration of some special phase of the
poetic art and life. The case of Browning, for example,
at once excites discussion as to the nature of poetic expres-
sion ; that of Mrs. Browning involves a study of the poetic
temperament, its joys and sorrows, its growth, ripeness,
and decline. Hood's life was that of a working man of
letters ; in Tennyson's productions we observe every aspect
of poetry as an art, and the best average representation of
the modern time ; while Landor not only affords another
study of temperament, but shows the benefits and dangers
of culture, of amateurship, and of intellectual versatility as
opposed to special gift. In Arnold we find a passion of the



PREFACE.



intellect, in Procter the pure lyrical faculty, in Buchanan
the force and weakness of transcendentalism, in Swinburne
the infinite variety of melodious numbers, and the farthest
extreme of rhythm and diction reached at this stage of
metrical art. Home, Bailey, Lytton, Morris, and Rossetti
are each suggestive of important and varying elements
which make up the general quality of recent imaginative
song. The different forms of poetry — reflective, idyllic,
lyric, and dramatic — successively or in combination pass
under review, for the modern era has been no less com-
posite than refined. If not so eminent for poetic vigor
as the impetuous Georgian revival which preceded it, nor
characterized by dramatic greatness like that of the early
and renowned Elizabethan age, it is in its own way as
remarkable as either of those historic times, and on the
score of complex and technical achievement full of real
significance to the lyric artist and the connoisseur.

In pursuing the general subject by an examination of
the foremost poets, I have tried to convey a just idea of
the career and genius of each, so that any portrait, taken
by itself, might seem complete, and distinct from its fellows.
In certain cases we are required to observe temperament, —
in others, extended lyrical achievements or unusual traits
of voice and execution. If my criticism seems more tech-
nical than is usual in a work of this kind, it is due, I think,
to the fact that the technical refinement of the period has
been so marked as to demand full recognition and analysis
It is seldom that an earnest reviewer, whether lay or



PREFACE.



professional, can escape wholly the charge of dogmatism.
Doubtless every reader will discover points that neither
accord with his judgment, nor seem to him fairly taken ;
yet I trust that there will be {<t\\ who will not elsewhere
find reason to consider my work something better than
labor thrown away. After all, a critic speaks only for
himself, and his opinion must be taken for what it is
worth, — as being always open to the broader criticism of
those to whom it is submitted.

The chapter on the relations of Tennyson and Theocritus,
though somewhat in the nature of an excursus, relates to
a matter which seems to me of more significance than the
obligations of the modern idyllist to the ancient, — namely,
the singular likeness of the Victorian period to the Alex-
andrian, manifest in both external conditions and poetic
results.

Let me now say that this book is not the fulfilment of a
deliberate plan, but that a peculiar train of thought and
incident has led to its completion. There are times when
a writer pauses to consider the work produced by his asso-
ciates, and the influences by which this has been enlarged
or injured. Reviewing the course of American poetiy,
since it may be said to have had a pathway of its own,
I have tried to note the special restrictions and special
advantages by which it has been affected. Our men of
true poetic genius, although they have produced charming
verse of an emotional, lyrical, or descriptive kind, have
seemed indisposed or unable to compose many sustained



PREFACE.



and important works. At first I designed to write of the
difficulties which they have experienced, consciously or
unconsciously, — some of these pertaining to the youth of
the country, and to the fact that, as in the growth of a
sister-art, landscape-painting usually must precede the rise
of a true figure-school. I might touch upon the lack of
inspiring theme and historic halo, of dramatic contrast
and material, and of a public that can appreciate the
structure, no less than the sweetness and quality, of a noble
poem. With various exceptions, there has been a want
of just criticism ; and even now a defect with many of
the poets themselves is a cloudy understanding of their
true mission and of what poetry really is. Beyond the
charm of freshness, no great success in verse is attainable
without that judicial knowledge of the poet's art which
is the equivalent of what is indispensable to the painter,
the sculptor, and the musician, in their respective depart-
ments.

But with regard to the causes of the success and failure
of our own poets I easily perceived that some of the mobt
important were not special, but general : belonging to the;
period, and equally affecting the verse of the motherland.
This led me to make a study of a few British poets : first
of one, Landor, whose metrical work did not seem, upon
the whole, a full expression of his unusual genius ; then
of others, notably Tennyson, who more obviously represent
the diverse elements of their time. In order to formulate
my own ideas of poetry and oriticism, it seemed to me



xviii PREFACE.



that I could more freely and graciously begin by choosing
a foreign paradigm than by entering upon the home-field,
and that none could be so good for this purpose as the
poetry of Great Britain, — there being- none so compre-
hensive, and none with which myself and my readers are
more familiar. Affection, reverence, national feeling, or
some less worthy emotion, may be thought to prevent
an American from writing without prejudice of Bryant,
Longfellow, Whittier, Lowell, and the rest ; doubtless there
are considerations which sometimes render British journal-
ists disinclined to review Tennyson and Browning with
that indifferent spirit which characterizes their judgment
of eminent American poets. Lastly, upon a survey of the
last forty years, I saw that w^iat I term the Victorian
period is nearly at an end, and that no consecutive and
synthetic examination of its schools and leaders had yet
been made. This led me to go on and to complete the
present work.

It follows that these essays are not written upon a
theory. The author has no theory of poetry, and no par-
ticular school to uphold. I favor a generous eclecticism,
or universalism, in Art, enjoying what is good, and believ-
ing that, as in Nature, the question is not whether this
or that kind be the more excellent, but whether a w^ork
is excellent of its kind. Certain qualities, however, distin-
guish what is fine and lasting. The principles upon which
I rely may be out of fashion just now, and not readily
accepted. They are founded, nevertheless, in the Miltonic



PREFACE.



canon of poetry, from which simplicity no more can be
excluded than sensuousness and passion. The spirit of
criticism is intellectual ; that of poetry (although our curi-
ously reasoning generation often has forgotten it) is nor-
mally the offspring of emotion, — secondly, it may be, of
thought. I find that the qualities upon which I hav'e
laid most stress, and which at once have opened the way
to commendation, are simplicity and freshness, in work
of all kinds ; and, as the basis of persistent growth, and
of greatness in a masterpiece, simplicity and spontaneity,
refined by art, exalted by imagination, and sustained by
intellectual power. Simplicity does not imply poverty of
thought, — there is a strong simplicity belonging to an
intellectual age ; a clearness of thought and diction, nat-
ural to true poets, — whose genius is apt to be in direct
ratio with their possession of this faculty, and inversely as
their tendency to cloudiness, confusion of imagery, obscu-
rity, or "hardness" of style. It may almost be said that
everything really great is marked by simplicity. The
poet's office is to reveal plainly the most delicate phases
of wisdom, passion, and beauty. Even in the world of
the ideal we must have clear imagination and language :
the more life-like the dream, the longer it will be remem-
bered.

The traits, therefore, which I have deprecated earnestly
are in the first place obscurity and hardness, and these
either natural, — implying defective voice and insight, or
affected, — implying conceit and poor judgment; and sec-



PRE FA CE.



ondly that excess of elaborate ornament, which places
decoration abov^e construction, until the sense of origi-
nality is lost — if, indeed, it ever has existed. Both ob-
scurity and super-ornamentation are used insensibly to
disguise the lack of imagination, just as a weak and
florid singer hides with trills and flourishes his inability
to strike a simple, pure note, or to change without a slid-
ing scale.

But among true poets of the recent schools some have
gone to the other extreme, putting the thought too far
above the art, and have neglected melody and finish alto-
gether, as if despising accomplishments now so widely
diffused. This also is a fault common in an advanced
period, especially in one eminent for speculative and meta-
physical research. I have not overlooked this heresy,
although steadfastly opposing meretricious efforts to attract
notice by grotesque, fantastic, and other artificial means.
If such methods prevail in an over-ripe country they should
not in our own, and I point to them as errors which
American poetry, as it gathers strength, should be able
easily to avoid. And thus seeing how poorly charlatanism
and effrontery can make up for patient, humble endeavor
and experience in art, we must discern and revere, on the
other hand, those gifts of inspiration which endow the
born poet, and without which no amount of toil and learn-
ing can insure the favor of the Muses. As to the latter
requirements, the instinct of the world, that would not
recognize Bulwer and still pays tribute to Burns, is almost



PRE FA CE.



unerring ; as to the former, it often is for a while deceived ;
so I have found occasion to write of dilettanteism, lack of
apprenticeship, and of the assumption of those who would
clutch the laurel " with a single bound." P'inally, the intel-
lectual activity of our time constantly demands a reviewer's
notice ; and passion, rare in an idyllic period, must be
sought out and welcomed at every visible turn.

The spirit of the following chapters has now been in-
dicated. I have made iew quotations, depending on the
reader's means of acquaintance with the poetry of his
time. In treating the abstract portion of my subject,
where some generalization has seemed requisite, I have
tried to state my meaning in brief and open terms. Much
originality is not claimed for either manner or thought.
My effort simply has been to illustrate, through analysis
of the careers of various poets, what already is widely
understood among philosophical critics. No single sketch
has been colored to suit the author's ideas, but each poet
has been judged upon his own merits ; yet I think the
general effect to be as stated.

I trust that it may not prove a wholly thankless office,
since it certainly is not one frequently undertaken, to write
a purely critical volume, exclusively devoted to the litera-
ture of another land. Criticism, like science, latterly has
found a more interested public than of old. The catholic
reviewer will not shut his eyes to the value of new modes,
but even that conventional criticism, which holds to ac-
cepted canons, has its use as a counterpoise to license



PREFACE.



and bewilderment. As to the choice of field: — while I
would not reassert in behalf of any verdict, least of all in
behalf of my own, that "a foreign nation is a kind cf con-
temporaneous posterity," it yet may be true that from
this distance a reviewer can advantageously observe the
general aspect of British poetry, whatever minor details
may escape his eye.

In concluding this work, I wish to acknowledge my
obligations to friends who have assisted me in its revis-
ion : — to Professor Roswell D. Hitchcock, D. D., for val-
uable hints concerning recent hymnology ; to Mr. Richard
H. Stoddard, for access to his choice collection of English
verse ; to Messrs. William J. Linton and George P. Philes,
for important data relating to the recent minor poets ;
and especially to Mr. Robert U. Johnson, of New York,
and Mr. Henry H. Clark, of Cambridge, for careful and
unstinted aid, at a time when, from prolonged illness, it
was impossible for me to verify the statistical portion of
my volume, or even to revise the proof-sheets as they
came from the press.

E. C. S.



New York, July, 1875.



CONTENTS



CHAPTER I. Page

The Period i

CHAPTER II.
Walter Savage Landor 33

CHAPTER III.

Thomas Hood. — Matthew Arnold. — Bryan Waller Procter . 72

CHAPTER IV.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning 114

CHAPTER V.
Alfred Tennyson 150

CHAPTER VI.
Tennyson and Theocritus . . . ,201

CHAPTER VII.
The General Choir 234

CHAPTER VIII.
The Subject continued 262



XXIV CONTENTS.

CHAPTER IX.
Robert Browning . 293

CHAPTER X.

Latter-Day Singers:

Robert Buchanan. — Dante Gabriel Rossetti.— William
Morris 342

CHAPTER XI.
Latter-Day Singers:

Algernon Charles Swinburne 379



Twelve Years Later : A Supplementary Review . . .415
INDEX ............. 485



VICTORIAN POETS,



VICTORIAN POETS.



CHAPTER I



THE PERIOD.



I.

THE main purpose of this book is to examine the
Hves and productions of such British poets as
have gained reputation within the last forty years.



Online LibraryEdmund Clarence StedmanVictorian poets; → online text (page 1 of 40)