Brander Matthews.

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book, Mr. Locker made a collection, under the title
of 'Lyra Elegantiarum/ of the best specimens in
English of the vers de societe and vers d' occasion of
poets no longer living. Of this a new and revised
edition was published in 1 867 ; it is a model of what
such a selection should be ; and it was ushered in by
an essay of the editor's all too brief on the art
of writing vers de societe. In 1 879 Mr. Locker pub
lished a most amusing little volume of ' Patch
work,' containing bits of rhyme and bits of talk,
with here a jest and there a joke, excerpts from
his commonplace book, and enlivened with a few
of the anecdotes he is wont to tell most effectively.
For the lyrist of London is no recluse ; he is a man
of the world, even more than he is a man of letters.
In life as in literature he has both humor and good-
humor. Although satiric by nature, he is thor-


oughly sympathetic and generous. Well-to-do fri
the world, he has been able to indulge his liking
for the little things in art which make life worth
living. His collections of china, of drawings, of
engravings, are all excellent; and his literary
curiosities, first editions of great books and
precious autographs of great men, make a poor
American wickedly envious. He is a connoisseur
of the best type, never buying trash or bargain-
hunting; knowing what he wants, and why he
wants it, and what it is worth ; and his treasures
are freely opened to any literary brother who is
seeking after truth.

In studying Mr. Locker's pictures of English
society we cannot but feel that the poet has drawn
his lines with the living model before him. It is in
the distinctively London-town lyrics in the ' Pil
grims of Pall Mall,' in 'Rotten Row,' in 'At Hurl-
ingham,'in ' St. James' Street,' and in ' Piccadilly,'

Piccadilly ! Shops, palaces, bustle, and breeze,
The whirring of wheels and the murmur of trees,

By night or by day, whether noisy or stilly,
Whatever my mood is, I love Piccadilly.

it is in these that Mr. Locker most shows the
influence of Praed, which is decidedly less apparent
in the less local poems, in 'A Garden Lyric,' in



' On an Old Muff, ' in ' Geraldine, ' and in the sportive
and brightsome lines on ' A Human Skull ' :

A human Skull, I bought it passing cheap ;

No doubt 'twas dearer to its first employer !
I thought mortality did well to keep

Some mute memento of the Old Destroyer.

Time was, some may have prized its blooming skin ;

Here lips were woo'd, perhaps, in transport tender ;
Some may have chuck'd what was a dimpled chin,

And never had my doubt about its gender.

It may have held (to shoot some random shots)
Thy brains, Eliza Fry! or Baron Byron's;

The wits of Nelly Gwynne or Doctor Watts
Two quoted bards. Two philanthropic sirens.

But this, I trust, is clearly understood,
If man or woman, if adored or hated

Whoever own'd this Skull was not so good
Nor quite so bad as many may have stated.

Besides the playful humor of these poems, two
things especially are to be noted in them individu
ality and directness of expression. Whatever influ
ence you may think you see here of some other poet,
Horace, or Beranger, or Gautier, or Thackeray,
and the variety of these names shows the poet's
versatility, you cannot doubt that these poems
are of a truth Mr. Locker's own, stamped with his


seal, marked with his image and superscription.
Here plainly is a man with a character of his own,
looking at life through his own eyes, now laughing
with hearty gayety, again smiling a sad smile :

" I still can laugb" is still my boast,

But mirth has sounded gayer ;
And which provokes my laughter most,

The preacher or the player?
Alack, I cannot laugh at what

Once made us laugh so freely;
For Nestroy and Grassot are not,

And where is Mrs. Keeley?

Quite as noteworthy as the individuality of the
poet is his studied clearness. There is never an
inversion or an involution ; the verse is as straight
forward as prose, and as easy to be " understanded
of the people." The rhythm flows freely; the
rhymes are neat and novel, and never forced ; and
the manner never intrudes itself to the injury of
the matter. But Mr. Locker is not like Theophile
Gautier, that Benvenuto Cellini of verse, nor like
the cunning artificers of Gautier's school poets
who polish a poor little idea until they can see
themselves in it. That he is ever going over his
work with the file any one can see who will com
pare the first stanzas of 'Geraldine and I,' and of
'A Garden Lyric'; but he never overweights his


verse with a gorgeous setting, from selfish delight
in the skill of his workmanship. Indeed, Mr. Locker
sometimes has carried his search for simplicity of
statement almost too far. But so many poets now
adays are as hard to understand as a Greek chorus,
that we ought to be thankful to one who takes
pains to be clear, and direct, and unaffected.

Affectation, indeed, is always a stumbling-block
in the path of the maker of vers de societe ; but in
' London Lyrics ' there are no traces of any slip.
The poems are as simple and honest as the verse
is direct and clear. Nowhere is affectation more
easy than in addressing childhood ; and, with the
exception of Victor Hugo and Longfellow, per
haps no poet of our day has written of children as
often as Mr. Locker. He has made a ' Rhyme of
One,' and 'Little Dinky/ a rhyme of less than one
(she is twelve weeks old). He has written * To
Lina Oswald' (aged five years), and to 'Geraldine*
(who is fifteen); and 'Gertrude's Necklace* be
longed to a maiden not much older. And all
these poems to the young reveal the subdued
humor and the worldly wit we have seen in the
others written for their elders and betters, their
pastors and masters, and they have even more of
delicate tenderness and of true sentiment tainted
by no trace of sentimentality.



One of Mr. Locker's songs has a lyric grace and
an evanescent sweetness, recalling Herrick or
Suckling :


Beating Heart! we come again

Where my Love reposes ;
This is Mabel's window-pane ;

These are Mabel's roses.

Is she nested ? Does she kneel

In the twilight stilly,
Lily-clad from throat to heel,

She, my Virgin Lily ?

Soon the wan, the wistful stars,

Fading, will forsake her ;
Elves of light, on beamy bars,

Whisper then, and wake her.

Let this friendly pebble plead

At the flowery grating ;
If she hear me, will she heed ?

Mabel, I am waiting.

Mabel will be decked anon,

Zoned in bride's apparel ;
Happy zone ! oh, hark to yon

Passion-shaken carol.

Sing thy song, thou tranced thrush,

Pipe thy best, thy clearest ;
Hush, her lattice moves, O, hush

Dearest Mabel! dearest.


Is not this a marvel of refinement and restraint ?
It is as purely a lyric as the song of the thrush
itself. Especially in poems like this is it that Mr.
Locker is wholly other than Praed, with whom
people persist in linking him. He has at once a
finer vein of poetry and a broader vein of humor.
Perhaps, after all, humor is Mr. Locker's chief
characteristic, a gentle humor, always under
control, and never boisterous or burly, yet frank
and free and full of mischief, the humor of a
keen observer, who is at once a gentleman and a
poet. What, for example, can be more comic in
conception, or more clear-cut in execution, than


I recollect a nurse call'd Ann,

Who carried me about the grass,
And one fine day a fine young man

Came up and kissed the pretty lass.
She did not make the least objection !

Thinks I "Aba!
Wben I can talk I'll tell mamma ! "
And that's my earliest recollection.

It is in this quality of humor mainly, and in the
fact that his verse is more individual than imper
sonal, that Mr. Locker's gifts differ from those of
Mr. Austin Dobson. There is no need to make

134 P N AND INK.

a comparison of Mr. Locker's work with Mr.
Dobson's ; and, at best, comparisons are futile.
Criticism is nowadays the tenth muse, and I am
sure that Mrs. Malaprop would say that compari
sons do not become that young woman. Suffice
it to state that Mr. Frederick Locker and Mr. Aus
tin Dobson stand, each on his own ground, at the
head of the poets who sing of English society as it
is. Mr. Locker is the elder, and it was to him
that Mr. Dobson dedicated his ' Proverbs in Porce
lain/ in these lines :

Is it to kindest friend I send

This nosegay gathered new ?
Or is it more to critic sure,

To singer clear and true ?
I know not which, indeed, nor need:

All three I found in you.




s Mr. Lang told us in his sympathetic
paper on M. Theodore de Banville,
some literary reputations are like the
fairies in that they cannot cross run
ning water. Others again, it seems
to me, are rather like the misty genii of the Ara
bian Nights, which loom highest when seen from
afar. Poe, for example, is more appreciated in
England than at home; and Cooper is given a
more lofty rank by French than by American
critics. In much the same manner, we note,
Carlyle gained the ear of an American audience
when he was not listened to with attention in
Great Britain ; and the scattered verses of Praed
were collected together for American admirers
long before the appearance of an English edition.
And so it is, I think, with Mr. Austin Dobson,
whose position as a leader in one division of Eng-


lish poetry was recognized more immediately and
more unhesitatingly in these United States than
in his native Great Britain. To Mr. Dobson the
young school of American writers of familiar
verse to use Cowper's admirable phrase look
up as to a master ; and his poems are read and
pondered and imitated by not a few of the more
promising of our younger poets.

Mr. Austin Dobson was born at Plymouth, Jan
uary 1 8, 1840. He comes of a family of civil
engineers, and it was as an engineer that his
grandfather, toward the end of the last century,
went to France, where he settled, and married a
French lady. Among the earliest recollections of
Mr. Dobson's father was his arrival in Paris on
one side of the Seine as the Russians arrived on
the other. This must have been in 1814. But
the French boy had long become an English man
when the poet was born. At the age of eight or
nine Austin Dobson was taken by his parents
so a biographer tells us "to Holyhead, in the
island of Anglesea; he was educated atBeaumaris,
at Coventry, and finally at Strasburg, whence he
returned, at the age of sixteen, with the inten
tion of becoming a civil engineer." But in De
cember, 1856, he accepted an appointment in the
civil service, where he has remained ever since.



Thus he has been able to act on the advice of
Coleridge, often urged again by Dr. Holmes, to
the effect "that a literary man should have an
other calling." Dr. Holmes adds the sly sug
gestion that he should confine himself to it ;
and this is what for nearly ten years Mr.
Dobson did. He dabbled a little in art, having,
like Theophile Gautier, the early ambition of be
coming a painter. He learned to draw a little on
wood. He wrote a little, mostly in prose. In
fact, there are only four poems in the first edition
of ' Vignettes in Rhyme ' which were written be
fore 1868. It was in this year that Si. Paul's
magazine was started by Anthony Trollope, an
editor at once sympathetic and severe ; he ap
preciated good work, and was unsparing in the
kindly criticism which might make it better. In
St. Paul's, therefore, between March, 1868, and
March, 1874, appeared nearly twoscore of Mr.
Dobson's pieces, including some of his very best :
' Tu Quoque/ ' A Dialogue from Plato/ ' Une
Marquise,' ' An Autumn Idyll/ ' Dorothy/ ' A
Gentleman of the Old School/ ' A vice/ with its
hazardous, bird-like effect, French in a way and in
exquisite taste, and the subtle and pathetic
' Drama of the Doctor's Window/ In October,
1873, tnere was published the first edition of


' Vignettes in Rhyme,' and the poet received for
the first time that general recognition which de
nies itself to the writer of verses scattered here
and there, throughout magazines and newspapers.
' Vignettes in Rhyme ' passed into its third edi
tion ; and less than four years after its appearance
Mr. Dobson made a second collection of his verses,
published in May, 1877, as 'Proverbs in Porce
lain.' From these two volumes the author made
a selection, adding a few poems written since the
appearance of the second book, and thus prepared
the collective American volume, called ' Vignettes
in Rhyme,' issued by Henry Holt & Co. in 1880,
with a graceful and alluring introduction by Mr.
Stedman. ' Old- World Idylls,' published in Lon
don in the fall of 1883, is based on this American
selection of 1880. It has been followed by 'At
the Sign of the Lyre,' which includes most of the
poetry he wrote before 1885. Unfortunately we
have not Mr. Dobson's complete poems even in
these two collections, for his own fastidious taste
has excluded poems which the less exacting reader
had learned to like, and which the admirers of fine
humorous verse will not willingly let die. Let us
hope that there will be vouchsafed to us, in due
time, a volume in which we may treasure Mr.
Dobson's 'Complete Poetical Works.' Akin to



the fastidiousness which rejects certain poems
altogether and quite as annoying to many is
the fastidiousness with which the poet is contin
ually going over his verses with a file, polishing
until they shine again, smoothing an asperity
here, and there rubbing out a blot. This is
always a dangerous pastime, and the poet is rarely
well advised who attempts it, as all students of
Lord Tennyson will bear witness. If the poet is
athirst for perfection, he may lay his poems by
for the Horatian space of nine years, but when
they are once printed and published, he had best
keep his hands off them. Of course the most
of Mr. Dobson's alterations are unexceptionable
improvements, yet there are a few that we reject
with abhorrence.

Mr. Aldrich has said that Mr. Dobson " has the
grace of Suckling and the finish of Herrick, and is
easily master of both in metrical art." The beauty
of his poetry is due in great measure to its lyric
lightness. He has many lines and many whole
poems which sing themselves into the memory,
and cannot be thrust thence. Who that has made
acquaintance with the 'Ladies of St. James's'
can forget "Phillida, my Phillida " ? And who
cannot at will call up before him Autonoe and
Rosina and Rose and all the other " damosels,



blithe as the belted bees," whom the poet has
set before us with so much breezy freshness ?
To know them is to love them, and to love
the poet who has sung them into being. Next
to the airy grace and the flowing and unfailing
humor which inform all Mr. Dobson's poems,
perhaps the quality which most deserves to be
singled out is their frank and hearty wholesome-
ness. There is nothing sickly about them, or
morbid, or perverse, as there is about so much
contemporary British verse. Mr. Dobson is entirely
free from the besetting sin of those minor poets
who sing only in a minor key. He has no trace
of affectation, and no taint of sentimentality. He
is simple and sincere. His delicacy is manly, and
not effeminate. There is a courtly dignity about
all his work ; and there is nowhere a hint of bad
taste. Mr. Locker once spoke to me of the ' Un
finished Song/ and said that "the spirit is so
beautiful"; and of a truth the spirit of all Mr.
Dobson's work is beautiful. There is unfailing
elevation. Mr. Dobson, injoubert's phrase, never
forgets that the lyre is a winged instrument. Here
is a lyric, not one of his best known, and not in
the style he most frequently attempts ; but it is
lifted out of commonplace, though the subject is


hackneyed and worn; it soars, and sings as it
soars, like the lark :


When Spring comes laughing

By vale and hill,
By wind-flower walking

And daffodil,
Sing stars of morning,

Sing morning skies,
Sing blue of speedwell,

And my Love's eyes.

When comes the Summer,

Full-leaved and strong,
And gay birds gossip

The orchard long,
Sing hid, sweet honey

That no bee sips ;
Sing red, red roses,

And my Love's lips.

When Autumn scatters

The leaves again,
And piled sheaves bury

The broad-wheeled wain,
Sing flutes of harvest

Where men rejoice ;
Sing rounds of reapers,

And my Love's voice.


But when comes Winter

With hail and storm,
And red fire roaring

And ingle warm,
Sing first sad going

Of friends that part ;
Then sing glad meeting,

And my Love's heart.

And with all this elevation and lyric lightness
there is no lack of true pathos and genuine feeling
for the lowly and the hopeless. More than once
has Mr. Dobson expressed his sympathy for the
striving, and especially for those strugglers who
are handicapped in the race, and who eat their
hearts in silent revolt against hard circumstances :

Ah, Reader, ere you turn the page,

I leave you this for moral :
Remember those who tread life's stage
With weary feet and scantest wage,

And ne'er a leaf for laurel.

The best of Mr. Dobson 's poems result from a
happy mingling of a broad and genial humanity
with an extraordinarily fine artistic instinct. Just
as Chopin declared that there were paintings at the
sight of which he heard music, so it may be said
that there are poems the hearing of which calls up
a whole gallery of pictures. Side by side with



the purely lyric pieces are as many more as purely
pictorial. The ' Cure's Progress,' for example, is
it not a like masterpiece of genre? And the bal
lade ' On a Fan, that Belonged to the Marquise de
Pompadour,' with its wonderful movement and
spirit, and its apt suggestion of the courtiers and
courtesans "thronging the CEil-de-Boeuf through,"
is it not a perfect picture of

The little great, the infinite small thing

That ruled the hour when Louis Quinze was king?

This is a Fragonard, as the other is a Meissonnier.
It is not that the pathetic ' Story of Rosina ' has
for its hero Francois Boucher, or that other poems
abound in references to Watteau and Vanloo and
Hogarth ; it is not even that these references
are never at random, and always reveal an exact
knowledge and a nice appreciation ; it is rather
that Mr. Dobson is a painter at heart, in a degree
far from common even in these days of so-called
" word-painting." He excels in the art of calling
up a scene before you by a few motions of his
magic pen ; and, once evoked, the scene abides
with you alway. Mr. E. A. Abbey told me that
once in a nook of rural England he happened
suddenly on a sun-dial, and that lines from Mr.
Dobson's poem with that title rose to his lips at



once, and he felt as though nature had illustrated
the poet.

This delightful effect is produced by no abuse
of the customary devices of "word-painting,"
and by no squandering of " local color." On the
contrary, Mr. Dobson is sober in his details, and
rarely wastes time in description. He hits off a
scene in a few happy strokes ; there is no piling
of a Pelion of adjectives on an Ossa of epithets.
The picture is painted with the utmost economy
of stroke. Mr. Dobson's method is like that of
the etchers who work in the bath ; his hand needs
to be both swift and sure. Thus there is always
a perfect unity of tone ; there is always a shutting
out of everything which is not essential to the pict
ure. Consider the ballad of the Armada and the
'Ballad of Beau Brocade,' a great favorite with
Dr. Holmes, by the way, and see if one is not
as truly seventeenth century in thought and feeling
as the other is eighteenth century, while both are
thoroughly and robustly English. And how cap-
tivatingly Chinese are the verses about the " little
blue mandarin " !

Of the French pictures I have already spoken,
but inadequately, since I omitted to cite the ' Prov
erbs in Porcelain/' which I should ascribe to a
French poet, if I knew any Frenchman who could


have accomplished so winning a commingling of
banter and of grace, of high breeding and of play
fulness. How Roman are the various Horatian
lyrics, and, above all, how Greek is 'Autonoe'!
" ' Autonoe,'" as a friend writes me, "is the most
purely beautiful of all Mr. Dobson's work. It does
not touch the heart, but it rests the spirit. Most
so-called ' classicism ' shows us only the white
temple, the clear high sky, the outward beauty
of form and color. This gives us the warm air
of spring and the life that pulses in a girl's veins
like the soft swelling of sap in a young tree. This
is the same feeling that raises 'As You Like It'
above all pastoral poetry. Our nineteenth cen
tury sensibilities are so played on by the troubles,
the sorrows, the little vital needs and anxieties
of the world around us, that sometimes it does
us good to get out into the woods and fields
of another world entirely, if only the atmosphere
is not chilled and rarefied by the lack of the breath
of humanity. There are times when the ' Drama
of the Doctor's Window' would excite us, but
when 'Autonoe' would rest us and not with
a mere selfish intellectual rest."

About twelve years ago, early in 1 876, Mr. Dob-
son began to turn his attention to what are gener
ally known as the French forms of verse, although


they are not all of them French. Oddly enough,
it happens that the introduction, at Mr. Dobson's
hands, of these French forms into English literature
is due indirectly at least to an American. In
criticising Mr. Dobson's earlier verses in 'Victorian
Poets/ Mr. Stedman amiably admonished him that
"such a poet, to hold the hearts he has won, not
only must maintain his quality, but strive to vary
his style." This warning from the American
critic, this particular Victorian poet, perhaps hav
ing some inner monitions of his own, took to
heart, and he began at once to cast about for some
new thing. His first find was the 'Odes Funam-
bulesques' of M. Theodore de Banville, the reviver
of the triolet, the rondeau, and the ballade. Here
was a new thing a truly new thing, since it was
avowedly an old thing. Mr. Dobson had written
a set of triolets already, in 1874; it was in May,

1876, that he published the first original ballade
ever written in English, the firm and vigorous
'Prodigals,' slightly irregular in its repetition of
rhymes, but none the less a most honorable begin
ning. Almost at the same time he attempted also
the rondeau and the rondel. A year later, in May,

1877, he published his second volume of verse,
'Proverbs in Porcelain/ and this, followed almost
immediately by Mr. Gosse's easy and learned ' Plea


for Certain Exotic Forms of Verse,' in the CornUll
Magazine of July, 1877, drew general attention to
the new weapons with which the poet's armory
had been enriched.

It would be idle to maintain that they have met
with universal acceptance. Mr. Stedman, when
introducing the author to the American public,
confesses that he is not certain whether to thank
Mr. Dobson or to condole with him on bringing
into fashion the ballade and the rondeau and its
fellows. Perhaps this was partly due to the sudden
rush of versifiers who wreaked themselves on
these forms, and did their little best to bring them
into disrepute. Perhaps it was due to a wider dis
like of metrical limitations and of all that tempts the
poet to expend any of his strength otherwise than
on the straightforward delivery of his message.

Yet rhyme itself, as M. Edmond Scherer tells us,
"is a very curious thing, and it is a very com
plex pleasure which it gives. We do not like to
confess how great in every art is the share of
difficulty vanquished, and yet it is difficulty van
quished which gives the impression of surprise,
and it is surprise which gives interest ; it is the
unexpected which gives us the sense of the writer's
power." The testimony of Sidney Lanier an
untiring student of his art and its science is to


the same effect: "It is only cleverness and small
talent which is afraid of its spontaneity ; the
genius, the great artist, is forever ravenous after
new forms, after technic; he will follow you to

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Online LibraryBrander MatthewsPen and ink; papers on subjects of more or less importance → online text (page 7 of 14)