and the solemn imageries of the natural world.
And, again, this too tranquillized them, by
bringing them under the rule of traditional,
narrowly localized observances. " Grave livers,"
they seemed to him under this aspect, of
stately speech, and something of that natural
dignity of manners which underlies the highest
And, seeing man thus as a part of nature,
elevated and solemnized in proportion as his
daily life and occupations brought him into
companionship with permanent natural objects,
he was able to appreciate passion in the lowly.
He chooses to depict people from humble life,
because, being nearer to nature than others, they
are on the whole more impassioned, certainly
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
*THE GUARDIAN* ESSAYS
more direct in their expression of passion, than
other men ; it is for this direct expression of
passion that he values their humble words. In
much that he said in exaltation of rural life he
was but pleading indirectly for that sincerity,
that perfect fidelity to one's own inward pre-
sentations, to the precise features of the picture
within, without which any profound poetry is
impossible. It was not for their tameness, but
for their impassioned sincerity, that he chose
incidents and situations from common life,
" related in a selection of language really used
by men." He constantly endeavours to bring
his language nearer to the real language of men ;
but it is to the real language of men, not on the
dead level of their ordinary intercourse, but in
certain select moments of vivid sensation, when
this language is winnowed and ennobled by
sentiment. There are poets who have chosen
rural life for their subject for the sake of its
passionless repose ; and there are times when
Wordsworth himself extols the mere calm and
dispassionate survey of things as the highest aim
of poetical culture. But it was not for such
passionless calm that he preferred the scenes of
pastoral life ; and the meditative poet, shelter-
ing himself from the agitations of the outward
world, is in reality only clearing the scene for
the exhibition of great emotions, and what he
values most is the almost elementary expression of
In Wordsworth's prefatory advertisement to
the first edition of The Prelude, published in
1850, it is stated that that work was intended
to be introductory to The Recluse : and that The
Recluse, if completed, would have consisted of
three parts. The second part is The Excursion.
The third part was only planned ; but the first
book of the first part was left in manuscript by
Wordsworth — though in manuscript, it is said,
in no great condition of forwardness for the
printers. This book, now for the first time
printed in extenso (a very noble passage from it
found place in that prose advertisement to The
Excursion), is the great novelty of this latest
edition of Wordsworth's poetic works. It was
well worth adding to the poet's great be-
quest to English literature. The true student
of his work, who has formulated for himself
what he supposes to be the leading charac-
•THE GUARDIAN' ESSAYS
teristics of Wordsworth's genius, will feel,
we think, a lively interest in putting them
to test by the many and various striking
passages in what is there presented for the
MR. GOSSE'S POEMS
29TH October 1890
MR. GOSSE'S POEMS
On Viol and Flute. By Edmund Gosse.
Perhaps no age of literature, certainly no age of
literature in England, has been so rich as ours in
excellent secondary poetry ; and it is with our
poetry (in a measure) as with our architecture,
constrained by the nature of the case to be imita-
tive. Our generation, quite reasonably, is not
very proud of its architectural creations ; confesses
that it knows too much — knows, but cannot do.
And yet we could name certain modern churches
in London, for instance, to which posterity may
well look back puzzled. — Could these exquisitely
pondered buildings have been indeed works of
the nineteenth century ? Were they not the
subtlest creations of the age in which Gothic
art was spontaneous ? In truth, we have had
instances of workmen, who, through long, large,
'THE GUARDIAN' ESSAYS
devoted study of the handiwork of the past, have
done the thing better, with a more fully en-
lightened consciousness, with full intelligence of
what those early workmen only guessed at. And
something like this is true of some of our best
secondary poetry. It is the least that is true —
the least that can fairly be said in praise of the
poetic work of Mr. Edmund Gosse.
Of course there can be no exact parallel
between arts so different as architecture and
poetic composition. But certainly in the poetry
of our day also, though it has been in some
instances powerfully initiative and original, there
is great scholarship, a large comparative acquaint-
ance with the poetic methods of earlier workmen,
and a very subtle intelligence of their charm.
Of that fine scholarship in this matter there is no
truer example than Mr. Gosse. It is manifested
especially in the even finish of his varied work,
in the equality of his level— a high level — in
species of composition so varied as the three
specimens which follow.
Far away, in late spring, " by the sea in the
south," the swallows are still lingering around
" white Algiers." In Mr. Gosse's " Return of
MR. GOSSE'S POEMS
the Swallows," the northern birds — lark and
thrush — have long been calling to them : —
And something awoke in the slumbering heart
Of the alien birds in their African air,
And they paused, and alighted, and twittered apart,
And met in the broad white dreamy square.
And the sad slave woman, who lifted up
From the fountain her broad-lipped earthen cup.
Said to herself, with a weary sigh,
" To-morrow the swallows will northward fly ! "
Compare the following stanzas, from a kind
of palinode, "i 870-1 871," years of the Franco-
German war and the Parisian Commune : —
The men who sang that pain was sweet
Shuddered to see the mask of death
Storm by with myriad thundering feet ;
The sudden truth caught up our breath,
Our throats like pulses beat.
The songs of pale emaciate hours.
The fungus-growth of years of peace.
Withered before us like mown flowers ;
We found no pleasure more in these
When bullets fell in showers.
For men whose robes are dashed with blood,
What joy to dream of gorgeous stairs,
Stained with the torturing interlude
That soothed a Sultan's midday prayers,
In old days harsh and rude ?
'THE GUARDIAN* ESSAYS
For men whose lips are blanched and white,
With aching wounds and torturing thirst,
What charm in canvas shot with light,
And pale with faces cleft and curst,
Past life and Hfe's delight ?
And then Mr. Gosse's purely descriptive
power, his aptitude for still-life and landscape,
is unmistakably vivid and sound. Take, for
an instance, this description of high -northern
summer : —
The ice-white mountains clustered all around us,
But arctic summer blossomed at our feet j
The perfume of the creeping sallows found us,
The cranberry-flowers were sweet.
Below us through the valley crept a river.
Cleft round an island where the Lap-men lay j
Its sluggish water dragged with slow endeavour
The mountain snows away.
There is no night-time in the northern summer,
But golden shimmer fills the hours of sleep,
And sunset fades not, till the bright new-comer,
Red sunrise, smites the deep.
But when the blue snow-shadows grew intenser
Across the peaks against the golden sky.
And on the hills the knots of deer grew denser,
And raised their tender cry,
MR. GOSSE'S POEMS
And wandered downward to the Lap-men's dwelling,
We knew our long sweet day was nearly spent,
And slowly, with our hearts within us swelling.
Our homeward steps we bent.
" Sunshine before Sunrise ! " There's a novehy
in that, for poetic use at least, so far as we
know, though we remember one fine para-
graph about it in Sartor Resartus. The grim
poetic sage of Chelsea, however, had never seen
what he describes : not so Mr. Gosse, whose
acquaintance with northern lands and northern
literature is special. We have indeed picked
out those stanzas from a quiet personal record of
certain amorous hours of early youth in that
quaint arctic land, Mr. Gosse's description of
which, like his pretty poem on Liibeck, made one
think that what the accomplished group of poets
to which he belongs requires is, above all, novelty
of motive, of subject.
He takes, indeed, the old themes, and manages
them better than their old masters, with more
delicate cadences, more delicate transitions of
thought, through long dwelling on earlier prac-
tice. He seems to possess complete command of
the technique of poetry — every form of what may
be called skill of hand in it ; and what marks in
1 1 1
•THE GUARDIAN* ESSAYS
him the final achievement of poetic scholarship
is the perfect balance his work presents of so
many and varied effects, as regards both matter
and form. The memories of a large range of
poetic reading are blent into one methodical
music so perfectly that at times the notes seem
almost simple. Sounding almost all the har-
monies of the modern lyre, he has, perhaps as a
matter of course, some of the faults also, the
" spasmodic " and other lapses, which from age
to age, in successive changes of taste, have been
the " defects " of excellent good " qualities.'* He
is certainly not the —
Pathetic singer, with no strength to sing,
as he says of the white-throat on the tulip-tree,
Whose leaves unfinished ape her faulty song.
In effect, a large compass of beautiful thought
and expression, from poetry old and new, have
become to him matter malleable anew for a
further and finer reach of literary art. And with
the perfect grace of an intaglio^ he shows, as in
truth the minute intaglio may do, the faculty
of structure, the logic of poetry. " The New
Endymion " is a good instance of such sustained
MR. GOSSE'S POEMS
power. Poetic scholar ! — If we must reserve the
sacred name of " poet " to a very small number,
that humbler but perhaps still rarer title is due
indisputably to Mr. Gosse. His work is like
exquisite modern Latin verse, into the academic
shape of which, discreet and coy, comes a sincere,
deeply felt consciousness of modern life, of the
modern world as it is. His poetry, according
with the best intellectual instincts of our critical
age, is as pointed out recently by a clever writer
in the Nineteenth Century^ itself a kind of exquisite,
finally revised criticism.
Not that he fails in originality ; only, the
graces, inborn certainly, but so carefully educated,
strike one more. The sense of his originality
comes to one as but an after-thought ; and cer-
tainly one sign of his vocation is that he has
made no conscious effort to be original. In his
beautiful opening poem of the " White-throat,"
giving his book its key-note, he seems, indeed,
to accept that position, reasons on and justifies it.
Yet there is a clear note of originality (so it
seems to us) in the peculiar charm of his strictly
personal compositions ; and, generally, in such
touches as he gives us of the soul, the life, of the
*THE GUARDIAN' ESSAYS
nineteenth century. Far greater, we think, than
the charm of poems strictly classic in interest,
such as the " Praise of Dionysus," exquisite as
that is, is the charm of those pieces in which, so
to speak, he transforms, by a kind of colour-
change, classic forms and associations into those
— say ! of Thames-side — pieces which, though
in manner or subject promising a classic enter-
tainment, almost unaware bring you home. — No !
after all, it is not imagined Greece, dreamy,
antique Sicily, but the present world about us,
though mistakable for a moment, delightfully,
for the land, the age, of Sappho, of Theo-
critus : —
There is no amaranth, no pomegranate here,
But can your heart forget the Christmas rose.
The crocuses and snowdrops once so dear ?
Quite congruously with the placid, erudite,
quality of his culture, although, like other poets,
he sings much of youth, he is often most success-
ful in the forecast, the expression, of the humours,
the considerations, that in truth are more proper
to old age : —
When age comes by and lays his frosty hands
So lightly on mine eyes, that, scarce aware
MR. GOSSE'S POEMS
Of what an endless weight of gloom they bear,
I pause, unstirred, and wait for his commands.
When time has bound these limbs of mine with bands.
And hushed mine ears, and silvered all my hair,
May sorrow come not, nor a vain despair
Trouble my soul that meekly girdled stands.
As silent rivers into silent lakes,
Through hush of reeds that not a murmur breaks,
Wind, mindful of the poppies whence they came,
So may my life, and calmly burn away,
As ceases in a lamp at break of day
The flagrant remnant of memorial flame.
Euthanasia ! — Yet Mr. Gosse, with all his
accomplishment, is still a young man. His
youthful confidence in the perpetuity of poetry,
of the poetical interests in life, creed-less as he
may otherwise seem to be, is, we think, a token,
though certainly an unconscious token, of the
spontaneous originality of his muse. For a writer
of his peculiar philosophic tenets, at all events,
the world itself, in truth, must seem irretrievably
old or even decadent.
Old, decadent, indeed, it would seem with
Mr. Gosse to be also returning to the thoughts,
the fears, the consolations, of its youth in Greece,
in Italy : —
*THE GUARDIAN' ESSAYS
Nor seems it strange indeed
To hold the happy creed
That all fair things that bloom and die
Have conscious life as well as I.
Then let me joy to be
Alive v^^ith bird and tree,
And have no haughtier aim than this.
To be a partner in their bliss.
Convinced, eloquent, — again and again the
notes of Epicurean philosophy fall almost uncon-
sciously from his lips. With poetry at hand, he
appears to feel no misgivings. A large faith he
might seem to have in what is called " natural
optimism," the beauty and benignity of nature,
if let alone, in her mechanical round of changes
with man and beast and flower. Her method,
however, certainly involves forgetfulness for the
individual ; and to this, to the prospect of ob-
livion, poetry, too, may help to brace us, if, unlike
so genial and cheerful a poet as Mr. Gosse, we
need bracing thereto : —
Now, giant-like, the tall young ploughmen go
Between me and the sunset, footing slow ;
My spirit, as an uninvited guest.
Goes with them, wondering what desire, what aim,
May stir their hearts and mine with common flame.
Or, thoughtless, do their hands suffice their soul ?
MR. GOSSE'S POEMS
I know not, care not, for I deem no shame
To hold men, flowers, and trees and stars the same.
Myself, as these, one atom in the whole.
That is from one of those half-Greek, half-
English idylls, reminding one of Frederick
Walker's " Ploughman," of Mason's *' Evening
Hymn," in which Mr. Gosse is at his best. A
favourite motive, he has treated it even more
melodiously in " Lying in the Grass" : —
I do not hunger for a well-stored mind,
I only wish to live my life, and find
My heart in unison with all mankind.
My life is like the single dewy star
That trembles on the horizon's primrose-bar, —
A microcosm where all things living are.
And if, among the noiseless grasses. Death
Should come behind and take away my breath,
I should not rise as one who sorroweth ;
For I should pass, but all the world would be
Full of desire and young delight and glee,
And why should men be sad through loss of me ?
The light is flying; in the silver-blue
The young moon shines from her bright window
The mowers are all gone, and I go too.
A vein of thought as modern as it is old !
More not less depressing, certainly, to our over-
'THE GUARDIAN* ESSAYS
meditative, susceptible, nervous, modern age,
than to that antiquity vv^hich was indeed the
genial youth of the world, but, sweetly attuned
by his skill of touch, it is the sum of what Mr.
Gosse has to tell us of the experience of life. Or
is it, after all, to quote him once more, that
beyond those ever-recurring pagan misgivings,
those pale pagan consolations, our generation
feels yet cannot adequately express —
The passion and the stress
Of thoughts too tender and too sad to be
Enshrined in any melody she knows ?
"NoRiNE." Par Ferdinand Fabre
I2TH June 1889
AN IDYLL OF THE CEVENNES
A French novelist who, with much of Zola's
undoubted power, writes always in the interest
of that high type of Catholicism which still
prevails in the remote provinces of France, of
that high type of morality of which the French
clergy have nobly maintained the ideal, is
worth recommending to the more serious class
of English readers. Something of the gift of
Fran9ois Millet, whose peasants are veritable
priests, of those older religious painters who
could portray saintly heads so sweetly and their
merely human protege's so truly, seems indeed
to have descended to M. Ferdinand Fabre. In
the Abbe Tigrane, in Lucifer^ and elsewhere, he
has delineated, with wonderful power and
patience, a strictly ecclesiastical portraiture —
'THE GUARDIAN' ESSAYS
shrewd, passionate, somewhat melancholy heads,
which, though they are often of peasant origin,
are never by any chance undignified. The
passions he treats of in priests are, indeed,
strictly clerical, most often their ambitions —
not the errant humours of the mere man in the
priest, but movements of spirit properly inci-
dental to the clerical type itself. Turning to
the secular brothers and sisters of these peasant
ecclesiastics, at first sight so strongly contrasted
with them, M. Fabre shows a great acquaint-
ance with the sources, the effects, of average
human feeling ; but still in contact — in contact,
as its conscience, its better mind, its ideal — with
the institutions of religion. What constitutes
his distinguishing note as a writer is the recog-
nition of the religious, the Catholic, ideal,
intervening masterfully throughout the picture
he presents of life, as the only mode of poetry
realizable by the poor ; and although, of course,
it does a greal deal more beside, certainly doing
the high work of poetry effectively. For his
background he has chosen, has made his own
and conveys very vividly to his readers, a district
of France, gloomy, in spite of its almonds, its
oil and wine, but certainly grandiose. The
large towns, the sparse hamlets, the wide land-
scape of the Cevennes, are for his books what
the Rhineland is to those delightful authors,
Messrs. Erckmann-Chatrian. In Les Courbezon,
the French Vicar of Wakefield^ as Sainte-Beuve
declared, with this imposing background, the
Church and the world, as they shape themselves
in the Cevennes, the priest and the peasant,
occupy about an equal share of interest. Some-
times, as in the charming little book we wish
now to introduce, unclerical human nature
occupies the foreground almost exclusively ;
though priestly faces will still be found gazing
upon us from time to time.
In form, the book is a bundle of letters from
a Parisian litterateur to the friend of his boy-
hood, now the cure of one of those mountain
villages. He is refreshing himself, in the midst
of dusty, sophisticated Paris, with memories of
their old, delightful existence — vagabonde, libre,
agreste, pastorale — in their upland valley. He
can appeal safely to the aged cure^s friendly
justice, even in exposing delicacies of sentiment
which most men conceal : —
'THE GUARDIAN' ESSAYS
" As for you, frank, certain of your own
mind, joyous of heart, methinks scarce under-
standing those whose religion makes their souls
tremble instead of fortifying them — you, I am
sure, take things by the large and kindly side of
The story our Parisian has to tell is simple
enough, and we have no intention of betraying
it, but only to note some of the faces, the scenes,
that peep out in the course of it.
The gloom of the Cevennes is the impression
M. Fabre most commonly conveys. In this
book it is rather the cheerful aspect of summer,
those upland valleys of the Cevennes presenting
then a symphony in red, so to call it — as in a
land of cherries and goldfinches ; and he has a
genial power certainly of making you really
feel the sun on the backs of the two boys out
early for a long ramble, of old peasants resting
themselves a little, with spare enjoyment, ere
the end : —
" As we turned a sharp elbow of the stream
the aspect of the country changed. It seemed to
me entirely red. Cherries in enormous bunches
were hanging everywhere over our heads. . . .
" It was a hut, rather low, rather dark. A
log of chestnut was smouldering in a heap of
ashes. Every object was in its place : the table,
the chairs, the plates ranged on the dresser. A
fairy, in truth, reigned there, and, by the touch
of her wand, brought cleanliness and order on
" ' Is it you, Norine ? ' asked a voice from a
dark corner, three steps from the fireplace.
" ' Yes, mon grand, it is I ! The heat was
growing greater every moment, and I have
taken in the goats.'
" Norine unclosed the window. A broad
light spread over the floor of beaten earth, like
a white cloth. The cottage was illuminated.
I saw an old man seated on a wooden stool in a
recess, where an ample serge curtain concealed a
bed. He held himself slightly bent, the two
hands held forth, one over the other, on the
knob of a knotty staff, highly polished. In
spite of eighty years, Norine's grandfather — le
grand, as they say up there — had not lost a hair :
beautiful white locks fell over his shoulders —
crisp, thick, outspread. I thought of those fine
wigs of tow or hemp with which the distaff of
*THE GUARDIAN' ESSAYS
our Prudence was always entangled. He was
close shaved, after the manner of our peasants ;
and the entire mask was to be seen disengaged,
all its admirable lines free, commanded by a
full-sized nose, below which the good, thick
lips were smiling, full of kindness. The eyes,
however, though still clear and soft in expres-
sion, had a certain fixity which startled me.
He raised himself. His stature seemed to me
beyond proportion. He was really beautiful,
with the contentment of his face, straight as the
trunk of a chestnut, his old velvet coat thrown
back, his shirt of coarse cloth open at the breast,
so that one saw the play of the ribs.
" ' Monsieur le neveu ! ' he cried ; * where are
you ! Come to me ! I am blind.'
" I approached. He felt me, with ten fingers,
laying aside his staff.
" ' And you would not take offence if a poor
peasant like me embraced you ? '
" ' Quick, Jalaguier ! ' I cried, throwing my-
self into his arms. ' Quick ! ' He pressed me
till the joints started. Leaned upon his broad
chest, I heard the beating of his heart. It beat
under my ears with a burden like our bell at
Camplong. What powerful vitality in Norine's
grand I ' It does an old man good : — a good
hug ! ' he said, letting me go."
The boyish visitors are quite ready to sit
down there to dinner : —
" With the peasant of the Cevennes (M.
Fabre tells us) the meal is what nature meant it
to be — a few moments for self- recovery after
fatigue, a short space of silence of a quite
elevated character, almost sacred. The poor
human creature has given the sweat of his brow
to extort from an ungrateful soil his daily bread ;
and now he eats that well-savoured bread in
" 'It is a weary thing to be thinking always
of one's work (says the grand to the somewhat
sparing Norine). We must also think of our
sustenance. You are too enduring, my child ! it
is a mistake to demand so much of your arms.
In truth, le bon Dieu has cut you out after the
pattern of your dead father. Every morning,
in my prayers, I put in my complaint there-
anent. My poor boy died from going too
fast. He could never sit still when it was
a question of gathering a few sous from the
'THE GUARDIAN' ESSAYS
fields ; and those fields took and consumed
The boy fancies that the blind eyes are
turned towards a particular spot in the landscape,
as if they saw : —