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was temporarily eclipsed by a passion for metaphysics.
After three years at Jesus College, Cambridge in the
course of which he put in four months' very inefficient
service as a private in the I5th Light Dragoons he
left without taking a degree, met Southey at Oxford,
and formed with him a wonderful plan for marrying
two Bristol sisters, and emigrating to form an ideal
community in America. The marriages, being the
cheaper part of the design, duly came off. Lectures
at Bristol, a volume of verse (1797), and love in a
cottage, then followed. Under the influence of Words-
worth, The Ancient Mariner and all his finest poems
were composed in the next two years. Then came a
visit to Germany with Wordsworth, writing for the
Morning Post, and settlement at Keswick in 1800.
The next phase of his life makes dismal reading
wanderings, vast projects, opium-eating, occasional
estrangement from such firm friends as the Words-
worths and Lamb, his family left to Southey's loyal
care. In 1816 he put himself under the care of a High-
gate doctor, lived in his house for the rest of his life,
and recovered some part of his great powers. His
lectures on Shakespeare mark an epoch in criticism,
and his wonderful gift of talk never left him. There
is a pretty picture of Coleridge talking for two hours,
while Wordsworth listened with profound attention,
now and then nodding his head, though he confessed
afterwards that he had understood not one syllable.
His best poems are unique in loveliness. Coleridge
was buried at Highgate.


XXV. THE SENSITIVE PLANT. " The sensitive plant
is of course Shelley himself, ' companionless/ as he
makes himself in Adonais [the noble elegy on Keats],
' desiring what it has not, the beautiful/ " STOPFORD

XXVI. ARETHUSA. Alpheus, a river-god of the
(Dorian) Peloponnesus, pursued the water-nymph
Arethusa under the sea to Sicily, where she became the
spring of Ortygia. Shelley treats the old story quite
freely. The notion of reconciliation may have come
from Virgil's tenth Eclogue, line 4, but the treatment
is original. After filling our ears with the music of
this poem, we might well examine the truth of
its details; notice especially lines 10, 18, and 63.
Weave, woven, woof, are favourite words with
Shelley, partly no doubt for their beautiful sound ;
but there is a notion of growth, almost of life, in the
act of weaving, which suits his animated view of

PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY (1792-1822) " was born
in the purple of the English squirearchy"; but his
sympathies were stedfastly revolutionary. We hear
first of long country rambles with his sisters, and
equally long tales made up for their delight. Two
years at a private school led on to Eton in 1804 not
a promising nurse for a determined rebel; however
his prodigious memory helped him to acquire a certain
fluency in Greek and Latin. He published some very
juvenile prose romances, and entered University Col-
lege, Oxford, in 1810. There he read with intense


eagerness, often sixteen hours a day, but not the
official Aristotle. A pamphlet on The Necessity of
Atheism led to his expulsion, and a breach with his
father, Sir Timothy. His marriage at nineteen con-
firmed that breach, and ended unhappily. His first
fine poem Alastor appeared in 1816. In that year he
married Mary Godwin, and lived in Italy. There he
renewed his friendship with Byron, whom he had
already met at Geneva, and gave his life to the study
of most things and the practice of poetry. In one
year he wrote the masterpieces Prometheus Unbound
and The Cenci, besides shorter poems. In his later
works the enthusiasm for humanity which first ani-
mated him subsides into a more plaintive and personal
vein. Always a lover of boats, Shelley with some
English friends had a sailing-boat built, fast but
cranky, which upset in a squall and went down with
the owners. Shelley's body was washed ashore, and
cremated by his friends, of whom Byron was one;
the ashes were buried at Rome. " A man who has
made more sacrifices of his fortune and feelings for
others than any I ever heard of " such v/as Byron's
verdict; and all his friends loved him.

XXVII. LUCY GRAY. Solitude had a fascination
for Wordsworth; he felt deeply what he calls its
' 'self -sufficing power." This beautiful poem, of which
Wordsworth's latest biographer has said that it " will
perhaps be remembered when all other English poetry
of the century is forgotten/' begins and ends on the
note of solitude. It is founded on fact; " the way in


which the incident is treated/* so said the author,
"and the spiritualising of the character, might furnish
hints for contrasting the imaginative influences which
I have endeavoured to throw over common life, with
Crabbe's matter-of-fact style of handling subjects of
the same kind."

XXVIII. LAODAMIA. This, " the most majestic of
his poems, his one great utterance on heroic love/'
was written fifteen years after Lucy Gray. It was
inspired by the study of Virgil, and contains many
Virgilian echoes. For an adverse criticism see Sara
Coleridge's letter to Aubrey de Vere (1846).

79. Hercules rescued Alcestis from Death; Medea
by her magic restored ^Eson to youth. Compare lines
87, 88.

106. Notice the striking contrast with Wordsworth's
theory of style, and his own earlier practice.

158. Wordsworth later rejected this merciful con-
clusion. His stern rectitude seems to have felt it
inconsistent with what precedes, especially line 75;
Hay don says his wife made him change it. But the
best modern opinion prefers the earlier text here given.

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH (1770-1850) was born at
Cockermouth, the son of a Cumberland attorney. At
nine he went to school at Hawkshead, near Lake
Windermere ; he read all Fielding, Don Quixote, and
some of Swift, but chiefly the book of Nature, " his
lifelong mistress/' In 1787 he went up to St. John's
College, Cambridge. He was probably the first under-
graduate who ever spent a long vacation (1790) walking


in Switzerland. Having taken his degree, after a short
stay in London he spent more than a year in France,
sympathising, almost co-operating, with the moderate
revolutionaries. When the extremists got their way,
Wordsworth passed through a period of despondency
from the wreck of his high hopes for humanity. From
this he was saved by the companionship of his sister
Dorothy. Intercourse with Coleridge led to the joint
volume of Lyrical Ballads in 1798 an epoch in English
poetry. He settled at Grasmere in 1800, married two
years later Dorothy being still a comrade and
moved to Rydal Mount in 1813. Tours in Scotland
and on the Continent, occasional visits to London, and
his succession to Southey as Poet Laureate in 1843,
are the chief external events to record. His stubborn
affection was deeply tried by the mental collapse of
Dorothy. Gradually his poetry gained the public ear,
and has ever since been a formative influence and a
consoling power; but nearly all his finest work was
done in the first half of his life; his high and holy
purpose never failed, but his once fervid imagination
cooled, and his ear grew dull to beauty. He was buried
by his own desire in Grasmere churchyard.

XXIX. THE HERMIT. This story is from that medi-
aeval storehouse of tales, Gesta Romanorum\ but it
had been treated by several English writers before
Parnell. It is probably of Oriental origin.

THOMAS PARNELL (1679-1717) was born in Dublin,
his father having gone to Ireland at the Restoration.
At thirteen he entered Trinity College, Dublin, and


was ordained in 1700. He became Archdeacon of
Clogher in 1705, but he was not exactly a model parson,
for " as soon as ever he had collected in his annual
revenues, he immediately set out for England, to enjoy
the company of his dearest friends/' He was always
welcome in that brilliant company which included
Pope, Swift, Arbuthnot and Gay ; and when Parnell felt
a fit of spleen coming on he suffered a good deal from
that ambiguous disorder " he returned with all speed
to the remote parts of Ireland/' and wrote dolorous
descriptions of his surroundings. In London the wits
criticised each other's productions, and played tricks
on one another, especially on Swift. Parnell contri-
buted notes and a Life of Homer to Pope's translation
of the Iliad \ and Pope's letters are most affectionate
in tone; he collected and published the poems after
ParnelTs death. Parnell may be said to live by The
Hermit, though A Fairy Tale is pleasant reading and
not in the least ponderous. He translated Pervigilium
Veneris and Batrachomyomachia, and wrote enormous
dissertations in verse on the heroes of the Old
Testament. He was buried at Chester, where he died
on his way to Ireland. His wife had died after two
years of married life.


25. Alexander encouraged, from policy, the opinion
that Jove was his father.

29. This seems to mean erect like a cork-screw.
Such was the form assumed by Satan in Paradise
Lost, ix. 496.


37-40. Dr. Verrall says: "The see-saw is mock
majesty, the self-complacency of the drop too much/'
Young actually chose the metre of these lines for his
Ode on the Ocean, on account of its majesty!

72. Notice that the " hand " is Timotheus', the
" pride " Alexander's.

97. The Lydian mode (or style) in Greek music was
soft and voluptuous.

165. A long-drawn note was not possible on the old
stringed instruments, which were twanged like a harp,
not played with a bow; and even the notes of wind
instruments were limited in duration by the capacity
of human lungs.

169. Legend says that an angel came down from
heaven, to listen to St. Cecilia's playing on her new
invention. But the skies to which Timotheus raised
Alexander are not precisely those which the angels
inhabit. The rhetorical point of the last two lines is
excusable only on the ground, as Dr. Verrall says,
that Dryden did not take Cecilia seriously.

JOHN DRYDEN (1631-1700) was the eldest of fourteen
children ; his father was a justice of the peace for North-
amptonshire. He was educated at Westminster School,
under the famous Dr. Busby, to whom he afterwards
confided the care of his two sons. In 1750 he went up
to Trinity College, Cambridge, and took his degree in
due course. He must have worked hard, but he was
not precocious; his first poem of mark, Heroic Stanzas
in memory of Cromwell, appeared in 1658. On the
Restoration, he eulogised Charles II. with equal


fervour; indeed his opinions, both political and liter-
ary, were always rather fluid. In 1683 he made an
unhappy marriage with a lady of title. He had been
elected a Fellow of the newly formed Royal Society,
and we soon find him among the wits of Will's Coffee
House, where he presently reigned supreme. His
rhymed plays won success by degrees, and in 1668
appeared his prose Essay of Dramatic Poesie. In 1670
he became Poet Laureate. His real admiration for
Milton was oddly shown by turning Paradise Lost into
an opera, with the author's permission. But his true
powers were shown in the great satires, Absalom and
Achitophel (1681), The Medal and MacFlecknoe (1682),
and poems of religious controversy perhaps the only
readable things of the kind Religio Laid (1682) and
The Hind and the Panther (1687); he had turned
Roman Catholic in 1686. He lost the Laureateship at
the Revolution, and took to play-writing again. His
translation of Virgil and Alexander's Feast appeared
in 1697, and the Fables, which show his genius at its
height, in 1700. He was buried with great state in
Westminster Abbey.

Horace Walpole had two cats. Gray did not know
which had been drowned, hence the confusion of
colours in lines 4 and 10.

i. Notice the parody of Dry den's opening to Alex-
ander's Feast.

8. The " fair round face " is from Pope's Wife of
Bath. Gray's poems are wonderful mosaics, made


from phrases of other writers, and wrought with con-
summate art into a beautiful whole. If anyone thinks
it easy to write a fine poem with other men's phrases,
let him try it.

15. The Romans imagined each locality to have its
guardian spirit, or genius loci.

34. Nereids were the fifty daughters of the sea-god
Nereus. They sometimes helped shipwrecked sailors
or vessels; and dolphins rescued drowning men in the
old stories. See Faerie Queene iv. n, stanza 23.

42. Dr. Johnson justly remarked that the story does
not logically convey the last moral drawn from it:
" if what glistered had been gold, the cat would not
have gone into the water; and if she had, would not
less have been drowned/' Gray allows himself a piece
of mock-logic in this mock-heroic poem.

THOMAS GRAY (1716-71) was born in Cornhill, the
son of a merchant. At about eleven he went to Eton,
where his friendship with Horace Walpole began, and
he became what he remained, a scholar and a moralist;
his poetry was for long confined to Latin verses and
occasional translations. In 1734 Gray entered Peter-
house, Cambridge. The years 1739-41 were spent
abroad with Walpole. He then lived with his mother
and aunts at Stoke Pogis, and there in 1742 he wrote
his first complete poem, the Ode to Spring; also the
Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, and On
Adversity, and began the famous Elegy, finished in
1750. He spent five years at Cambridge in the study
of all Greek literature, taking " verse and prose


together, like bread and cheese," years which ended
with the famous cat poem, sent in a letter to Walpole
in 1747. The Elegy was published, almost in spite of
the author, in 1751, and had an immediate and lasting
success. He now made a new start with the great
Pindaric Odes, The Progress of Poesy (1754), and The
Bard, which took two and a half years to compose,
and owed its completion to the impulse of a Welsh
harper's music. Gray refused the Laureateship in
1757, and accepted the chair of Modern Literature
and Modern Languages at Cambridge in 1768; but
he never lectured. Tours in Scotland and the English
lakes found his early love of the picturesque fully
maintained. His last poems are remarkable as a fore-
taste of the later romantic movement ; indeed he was
in several ways before his age. He unbends delight-
fully in his excellent Letters. He never married. He
was buried at Stoke Pogis, in the churchyard which
he has made known all over the world.

way, one of the most perfect of human compositions.

XXXIII. THE COLUBRIAD. The energy of these
compact lines where not a word is wasted, the rigid
relevance of all the details, and the colloquial vigour
of the vocabulary, contribute to make a quite unique
little poem. ,

De Grasse was a French admiral beaten by Hood
and captured in 1782 by Rodney. His long queue tied


up with ribbons was fine material for English carica-
turists, especially Gillray.

WILLIAM COWPER (1731-1800) was born in his
father's rectory at Berkhampstead. At the age of
six he lost his mother, whose tenderness he com-
memorated fifty years later in some beautiful lines.
An unhappy time at a boarding-school, and two years
in the house of " a female oculist of great renown "
for the good of his eyes led to Westminster School.
There he became a good classical scholar, and has left
a pleasant account of his master, Vincent Bourne.
After leaving at eighteen, he was articled for three
years to an attorney, lived in the Temple, and dabbled
in journalism. At thirty-two his delicate constitution
broke down, but after about two years in a private
asylum he recovered, and settled at Huntingdon as a
boarder with the Rev. William Unwin, whose widow
became two years later his staunch comrade and house-
keeper at Olney. She tended him with unfailing love
during sixteen months of another mental collapse.
Gardening and the care of three tame hares now
occupied him, and urged by Mrs. Unwin he wrote a
series of Moral Satires. But he was too kindly for a
satirist. Friendship with the vivacious and fashion-
able Lady Austin inspired John Gilpin, The Loss of
the Royal George (a wonder of simple majesty) , and the
long and fine poem The Task. This was published in
1782, and made Cowper famous. The advent of his
cousin Lady Hesketh inspired a number of the admir-
able short poems. But he over-worked himself with


a blank verse translation of Homer (1784-91). Mrs.
Unwin lost her faculties and died in 1796, and though
other good friends were found, his last years were
passed in gloom. Cowper's Letters are some of the
best in the language.


10. The phrase " potatoes and point " describes this
frugal and imaginative form of relish ; it also suggests
distressing poverty, and admirable self-control.

21. Sir Joshua Reynolds, the great painter, was
another member of the Johnson and Burke fraternity.

28 ff. This is an adaptation of a Greek epigram,

copied by Voltaire, of a man and a snake.

OLIVER GOLDSMITH (1728-74), the son of an Irish
clergyman, was educated at village schools and at
Trinity College, Dublin. He took his degree in 1749
and inclined to medicine, which he studied after false
starts at various professions. This merely nominal
study was continued at Edinburgh and Leyden, and
in 1754 his rambling, unpractical character sent him
travelling about the Continent on foot, with a flute
for his companion. Two years later he was in London.
After a miserable experience as usher in a Peckham
"academy" he took to writing criticism for the
reviews, on the edge of utter destitution. An Enquiry
into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe
attracted some attention, and in 1760 he contributed


to the Public Ledger a series of articles published two
years later as The Citizen of the World. In the following
year Johnson saved him from immediate distress by
selling the manuscript of The Vicar of Wakefield for
60, but it was not published till Goldsmith's fame
was established by the appearance of his poem, The
Traveller, in 1764. Two years later the famous novel
appeared, and went through three editions in six
months. At intervals of two years were produced
the comedy The Goodnatured Man, the poem The
Deserted Village, and the comedy She Stoops to Conquer,
and in two years more Goldsmith was dead. He never
married. He was buried in Westminster Abbey with
a stately Latin inscription by Johnson, which states
that he handled almost every kind of literary com-
position, and adorned them all. Let us add that he
had a great gift of humour, and what always goes
with it a tender heart.

no admirer of war. Read his admirable War Song
of Dinas Vawr.

THOMAS LOVE PEACOCK (1785-1866) was the son of
a London glass merchant. He had his schooling from
eight to thirteen at Eaglefield Green, and at sixteen
moved to London with his mother. We hear dimly
of mercantile occupations, and definitely of arduous lin-
guistic labours at the British Museum, and two volumes
of verse. In 1808-9 ne was * or s i x months private
secretary to Sir Home Popham on board the Venerable,


which he genially describes as "this floating inferno."
In 1810 appeared his first work of note, The Genius
of the Thames. In 1812 Peacock met Shelley, was
his continual companion for some years, and later the
recipient of his remarkable letters from abroad. The
first of his very original novels, Headlong Hall, ap-
peared in 1815, and Nightmare Abbey, which contains
a lively portrait of Shelley, followed three years later.
Successive years now saw his appointment at the India
House, and his marriage with Miss Jane Gryffydh,
whom he had only met eight years before in Wales,
and whose hand he now courageously acquired by post.
His rather paradoxical article on The Four Ages of
Poetry is chiefly notable for having provoked Shelley's
Defence of Poetry. Maid Marian (1822), The Mis-
fortunes of Elphin (1829), an d Crotchet Castle (1831),
are delightful specimens of Peacockian comedy. In
1836 he succeeded James Mill as Chief Examiner of
Indian Correspondence. It is interesting now to find
that he prepared a memorandum on a projected
Euphrates expedition; he also secured the construc-
tion of iron steamers, till then unknown, for navigation
to India. His evidence before Parliamentary Com-
mittees is said to reveal very considerable powers of
mind as indeed one would only expect in a friend of
Shelley; and he had humour and a pleasant vein of
sarcasm, in both of which Shelley was conspicuously

of the Baltic [Campbell] and The Battle of the Shannon


[sic] are two masterpieces of lyric narrative, the one
triumphant in tragedy, the other transcendant in
comedy/ ' SWINBURNE .

This appeared in Punch, I3th May, 1848. William
Smith O'Brien was a leader of the Young Ireland
party, a deputation from which had been received by
the French government on 3rd April, and the soiree
here celebrated had been held on 2gth April. The
movement was not entirely humorous. Mitchell, editor
of the United Irishman, was transported; O'Brien,
Meagher and others were condemned to death, but
the sentences were reduced to transportation. After
eight years an amnesty was granted to O'Brien.

7. A mixture of William III. and his general in
Ireland, the Duke of Schomberg.

49, 53. Bohea and congou are kinds of Chinese tea.

96. " To cut one's stick " means " to clear out."

107. Peelers, also called Bobbies, from Sir Robert
Peel who invented the policeman.

born at Calcutta, where his father was secretary to
the Board of Revenue. He was brought home at six,
showed an early taste for drawing, went to private
schools, and was at Charterhouse from 1822 to 1828.
It seems to have been a rough place in those days;
Thackeray showed no promise as a scholar, but made
a name by his humorous verses. His two years at
Trinity College, Cambridge, served to make some good
friends Edward FitzGerald, Kinglake, Tennyson, and
Venables who had broken Thackeray's nose in a fight at


school. Some residence at Weimar gave him materials
for the later description of court life in Pumpernickel.
He read law in London, and tried to get his caricatures
published. Then his considerable fortune somehow dis-
appeared, he determined to be an artist, and in 1834
settled in Paris. There he married an Irish lady, and
was soon back in London, trying journalism. The
Yellowphtsh Papers in Eraser's Magazine (1838) is the
first work we associate with Thackeray. His wife
fell ill, and despite his devoted nursing had to be
sent to a home, where she long survived her husband
in a state of gentle imbecility. Much of his work, both
of pen and pencil, was now done in Punch, to which
he contributed the Snob Papers that first made him
famous. His masterpiece, Vanity Fair, came out in
monthly numbers with his own illustrations (1847-48),
and gradually became popular. Pendennis, Lectures on
the English Humorists (given in England and America),
Esmond, The Newcomes, Lectures on the Four Georges
(given in America, and repeated all over England),
followed in succession. Thackeray was the first editor
of the Cornhill Magazine (1860-62); it was a great
success; several of his novels with his illustrations
came out in it ; and it brought him a welcome 4000
a year. In reading Thackeray we think of Shakespeare's

He is a great observer and he looks

Quite through the deeds of men;

but Tennyson held him " a lovable man/' and he was
devoted to children.

THOMAS HOOD (1799-1845) was the son of a London


bookseller. After some private schooling he entered a
merchant's counting-house at the age of thirteen, but
his health could not stand the confinement. Next he
was articled to an engraver, with the same result, and
then he took to literature. In 1824 he married a sister
of Keats's friend, J. H. Reynolds, and Lamb's pathetic
lines On an Infant Dying as soon as Born relate to their
first child. The long and pleasing Plea of the Mid-
summer Fairies appeared in 1827, and two years later
Hood became editor of The Gem, which printed much
good verse including the editor's Dream of Eugene
Aram. Then Hood experienced Scott's collapse with-

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Online LibraryGeorge Green LoaneA book of story poems → online text (page 10 of 11)