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Poets of the younger generation online

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Printed by Ballantyne, Hanson <V Co.
London «5r» Edinburgh


This book was ready for the press in the autumn of i8g(),
when the outbreak of the war in South Africa led to the
postponement of publication. Two years — and such years
— are a long time. There is nothing in the book that I
do not believe to-day , as I did two years ago ; but there
are many things which, were I writing ^o-day, I should
express differently. For instance, several poets who in
iSg8-gg were ''still more or less on probation," are now
on probation no longer, and the tone oj advocacy which I
have here and there adopted may perhaps seem uncalled
for. It is not my fault, however, that the great critic,
Time, has in these cases been beforehand with me. I
tried to anticipate his judgment; he has turned the tables
and anticipated mine.

A few additions have been made to the text in the
interim; but the book stands substantially as I wrote it in

Mr. E. C. Stedman's Anthology of American Poetry,
with its ^80 names, for the most part of living writers,
has shown me how superficial has been my survey
of the transatlantic field. But it has also shown me the
hopelessness of attempting to do more than cull a flower
here and there in so vast and luxuriant a prairie.


The title I originally had in mind was Living Poets of
the Younger Generation ; but while the book lay in
manuscript, the death of that very able writer, Mr. Richard
Hovey, made a melancholy gap in my list of "living"
poets. Death having, so to speak, called him out of the
rank, I have made Mr. Hovey^s portrait the frontispiece
of this volume. A fortuitous ground of selection was
the only one possible in a book in which any attempt at
comparing values, or establishing an order of merit, is
deliberately abjured.


August 1, 1901.



Beeching, H. C.

Benson, A. C.

BiNYON, Laurence

Brown, Miss Alice

Carman, Bliss

Cawein, Madison

Couch, A. T. Quiller

CouTTs, F. B. Money

Davidson, John

Hinkson, Mrs.

Hopper, Miss Nora (Mrs. Chesson)
.housman, a. e.

HousMAN, Laurence

HovEY, Richard
-Kipling, Rudyard

Le Gallienne, Richard

Meynell, Mrs.

Nesbit, Miss E. (Mrs. Bland)

Newbolt, Henry

Phillips, Stephen

Radford, Mrs.






Face page















































Roberts, Charles G. D.


face page


Santayana, George



Scott, Duncan Campbell



SiGERsoN, Miss Dora (Mrs.

Shorter) 396


Symons, Arthur



Tabb, John B,



Thompson, Francis



Trench, Frederic Herbert




Watson, Mrs. Marriott



Watson, William




Woods, Mrs.



Yeats, William Butler






Appreciation is the end and aim of the following pages.
The verb '! to appreciate " is used, rightly or wrongly, in two
senses ; it sometimes means to realise, at other times to
enhance, the value of a thing. I use the word in both
significations. While attempting to define, to appraise, the
talent of individual poets, I hope to enhance the reader's
estimate of the value of contemporary poetry as a whole.
Some readers, of course, may already have formed a higher
estimate than mine of the body of work which is here
reviewed : but the general tendency among cultivated people
is, I think, to assume that English poetry has of late entered
on a (temporary or permanent) period of decadence.
Criticism has made great play with the supercilious catch-
word '• minor poet." No one denies, of course, that there
are greater and lesser lights in the firmament of song ; but
I do most strenuously deny that the lesser lights, if they be
stars at all and not mere factitious firew^orks, deserve to be
spoken of with contempt. Now a shade of contempt has
certainly attached of late years to the term " minor poet,"
which has given it a depressing and sterilising effect. It is
this effect that I would fain counteract in some degree, by



ignoring an invidious and inessential distinction. The valid
distinction, the only one that really matters, is between true
poets and poets falsely so-called. All the writers dealt with
in the ensuing pages are, in my estimation, true poets, how-
ever small may be the bulk of their work, however unequal
its merit; for a poet should be judged by his best work, not
by his worst. I do not for a moment doubt that some of
the writers whom I discuss will be reckoned by posterity
among the major poets of our time ; others, very probably,
will take minor rank. I leave the distinction to posterity ;
it does not at present concern me. Only this I know, that
the surest way to check the growth of a rising talent is to
affix to its possessor the sneering label of " minor poet."

It is impossible in such a book as this to adopt any prin-
ciple of inclusion and exclusion that shall not give offence,
probably in many quarters. It may perhaps obviate some
misunderstanding if I explain the sense in which I employ
on the title-page the phrase "of the Younger Generation."
My rule has been to include only poets born since 1850 —
poets, that is to say, who have lived entirely within the half
century which has just come to an end. But I have not
looked very closely into birth certificates. My choice has been
ultimately guided by another consideration more essential
than the mere accident of age. I have dealt only with those
poets who still seemed to be more or less on probation —
whose position was still in some degree a matter of doubt.
This principle excluded not only the great poets of the older
generation, Mr. Swinburne and Mr. Meredith, but such
admirable writers as Mr. W. E. Henley, Mr. Robert
Bridges, and Mr. Austin Dobson, whose uncontested genius
needs no further vindication.

I am far from assuming that my list includes all those

poets who, in point of age and position, might justly have

claimed a place in it. I'he output of verse, as all reviewers

know, is so huge, that very probably the work of more than



one poet whom I would willingly have included lies buried
in the mass, and has never happened to come within my
ken. Other writers, again, I have regretfully omitted for no
better reason than that their work does not happen to chime
with my idiosyncrasy. Intellectually, I can recognise its
merit ; but it does not touch my emotions : it leaves me cold.
I could name several writers whose work I have read and
re-read, while preparing this book, in the hope that my mere
formal approval would kindle at some point or other into
vital admiration ; but no amount of mental friction has
generated the electric spark. I am quite willing to believe
that in some of these cases the fault, the limitation, is on my
side ; but this belief has not induced me to affect a warmth
I do not feel. The one merit I claim for my criticism is
sincerity. The things I praise are the things I genuinely
and spontaneously enjoy ; and I could not if I would simulate
such enjoyment. Every one, I presume, is subject to these
personal limitations of taste ; at any rate, when I find a man
who professes to enjoy everything in literature, I am apt to
doubt whether he really enjoys anything. And enjoyment
is to my thinking the essence, the soul, of poetical criticism.
Familiarity with critical canons, power of logical analysis,
breadth of philosophic intelligence, will be of no avail if the
critic lack that emotional sensibility to which poetry (not in
its emotional passages alone) makes its peculiar, its specific

The expression and justification of enjoyment being, then,
the highest function of criticism — or at any rate the main
purpose of this book — I have included only those poets whose
work, or some substantial portion of it, gives me genuine
pleasure. At the same time I have by no means refrained
from criticism in the narrower sense of the word. What I
have attempted in each case has been the definition or
delimitation of a talent. Every poet, even the greatest, has
done less mature and more mature, less successful and more


successful, work, My effort has been to encourage readers
to seek for and cling to what is noble, rare and permanent
in a poet's work, not to persuade them, against all precedent
and common sense, that any poet is infallible and evenly
inspired throughout the whole mass of his production.

One somewhat inconvenient restriction I felt it necessary
to impose upon myself from the outset. It would have been
impertinent and essentially uncritical on my part to attempt
to marshal the writers with whom I dealt in any order of
merit, to range them in an ascending or descending scale.
And as an imperfect and casual marshalling would have
been as invidious as an exhaustive one, I found myself com-
pelled to forswear all comparison whatsoever between the
poets on my list. The essays are ranged in alphabetical
order, and each writer is treated as though he or she were
the only poet of the younger generation in England or
America. This self-denying ordinance has cost me not a
little trouble. Innumerable are the times when I have
checked myself on the verge of slipping into the comparative
mood. In some cases I have had to renounce what seemed
to me a desirable elucidation or apt illustration, because it
would have involved a parallel or contrast between two of
the poets in question. Even where such confrontation
would apparently have redounded to the honour of both, I
have regarded it as the thin end of the wedge and have
resolutely foregone it. Perhaps I have carried this scruple to
the point of pedantry. I merely note it as one of the
conditions which, rightly or wrongly, I felt to be imposed
on me.

It follows from this that I could attempt no grouping in
schools, or tracing of general tendencies. Regarding each
poet as an isolated phenomenon, related only to the litera-
ture of the past, I have had to confine myself almost entirely
to aesthetic criticism, the somewhat schoolmasterish testing
of methods and results by standards generalised from the


practice, as I understood it, of our classic writers. The
poet's philosophy I have in every case accepted without
cavil, trying to define it no doubt, and remonstrating when
it seemed to me obscure (for lucidity, after all, is a technical
quality like another), but neither examining into its merits,
nor attempting to place it in relation to the intellectual
currents of the time. For such an attempt, indeed, my
knowledge would probably not have sufficed ; wherefore I
had the less difficulty in renouncing it. As for grouping the
poets in schools, that, too, was a task I readily pretermitted ;
for the main characteristic of almost all the men and women
of whom I treat seems to me to be their marked individuality,
their total dissimilarity one from another. Here and there,
two, or perhaps three, might have been bracketed together ;
but from the point of view of a contemporary, the only
perspective as yet attainable, it seems to me that the
majority of the writers here dealt with defy co-ordination,
and stand alone. If the reader will simply glance through
the extracts I have been permitted to make, I think he will
feel that whatever be the absolute power of this body of
work, its variety could scarcely have been surpassed at any
period of our literature. ^

If philosophical criticism was impossible to me, psycho-
logical criticism was almost equally out of the question. In
very few cases had I any data to go upon, except those
afforded by the poems themselves. " The most important
data of all ! " it may be said, truly enough ; and I have of
course tried to throw into relief such character-traits as I
found imprinted on the work before me. But psychological
criticism, to be of much value, must consist in the harmoni-
sation of the talent and temperament revealed in the work of
art, with family and personal history, or at least with non-
artistic manifestations of idiosyncrasy and opinion. It
must consist in the synthesis of external and internal data,
the tracing of effects in art to causes in character and


environment. It implies, in a word, a certain amount of
biographical information, proceeding either from books or
from personal knowledge. Now, in most cases, no such
knowledge was available to me, and in no case did I regard
it as my business to go in search of it, or to make use of
such chance rumours as happened to have reached my ears.
It would be possible, no doubt, for a writer of extraordinary
tact and skill to go over exactly the ground I have covered
and produce a gallery of critical character-sketches, instead
of the series of talent-definitions here presented. Such a
work would, under present conditions, be one of extreme
delicacy ; and I, for my part, felt no impulse to attempt it.
There is a time for everything, and, in the case of most of
the poets here dealt with, the time for psychological criticism,
in the full sense of the word, has not yet come. When it
does come, I hope the critics who take the task in hand
may not find my preliminary studies of talent quite unhelpful
towards the ultimate co-ordination of talent and character.

It may not be quite superfluous to mention that many of
the poets here treated of are personally unknown to me,
while with none have I more than the merest passing
acquaintance. Whatever the errors of my criticism, they
are in no case due to clique-enthusiasm.

Only one of the ensuing essays — that on Mr. A. E.
Housman, reprinted by permission from the Fortnightly
Review — has already appeared in anything like its present
shape. In other papers I have embodied occasional passages
and phrases from articles in the Daily Chronicle, the Pall
Mall Gazette, the Westmitister Gazette, the Sketch, and the
Pall Mall Magazine. But to all intents and purposes the
book is entirely new.

Mr. John M. Robertson, in his very able New Essays
towards a Critical Method (1897), advances a plea for
scientific criticism which puts to shame the irresponsible


dilettantism of the following pages. I have already ex-
plained why, even had I possessed Mr. Robertson's intel-
lectual machinery, I could scarcely have applied it to
advantage in dealing with the productions of living men
and women whose work is, by hypothesis, far from complete,
and whose personal history is not yet before the public.
One of Mr. Robertson's suggestions, however, which he
puts forward as a far-off ideal, seems to me perfecdy prac-
ticable even in the " ignorant present." It amounts to this,
that the critic should give the reader and the person criticised
an opportunity of checking his individual judgments, and
estimating their value, by a reference to his general culture
and habit of mind ; so that (for example) an author whom
he condemns in the present may know what authors of the
past fall under a similar ban, and may possibly take comfort
from the company in which he finds himself. But I will
let Mr. Robertson himself expound his proposals. He
writes :

The perfect scientific critic, the critic of the future perhaps, might
be conceived as prefacing his e%'ery judgment — or the body of his
judgments — with a confession of faith, bias, temperament, and
training. As thus: "I have a leaning towards what is called
'exact' [or religious or mystical] thought, with [or without] a
tenderness for certain forms of arbitrary [or spiritual] sentiment
which prevail among many people I know and like. I value poetry
as a stimulus to sympathy and moral zeal [or, as the beautiful
expression of any species of feeling] , caring little [or much] for
cadence and phrase as such ; accordingly I value Browning and
Dante and Hugo above Heine and Musset and Tennyson * [or vice
versa]. ... I am reverent [or irreverent] of august tradition and
social propriety ; and I have little taste [or, I care above all things]
in imaginative literature, for those forms called realistic, as aiming
at a close fidelity to everyday fact [or, for those exercises of invention
which carry me most completely out of my normal relation to my

* If this were other than a mere formula, in which the particular
names used are of no importance, one could not but wonder to find
Dante figuring among the scorners of " cadence and phrase." — W. A.



surroundings] . I am a Unitarian [or a Baptist, or a Catholic, or an
Agnostic], having been brought up in that persuasion [or haxdng

come to that waj* of thinking in mature Ufe]. In politics I am .

My main physical diathesis is . Finally, I am years of age

in this year ."

This is more than a merely sportive suggestion on Mr.
Robertson's part. The day may very well come when
every critic will be called upon to fill up some such
schedule of temperament and qualification, in order that
readers may know clearly through what medium they are
invited to conte.mplate any given work of art.* Nowadays
we are far enough from any such ideal. We do not even
demand to know the name of a critic, so as to correlate
one judgment with another ; much less do we make any
formal inquiry into his culture, his temperament, his
prejudices. Yet it is only by such vague knowledge on
these points as we can glean from the internal evidence
his work affords, that we are able to attach anything like
their true value to the simplest terms he employs. Engine-
drivers are examined (at least we hope so) lest perchance
they should prove to be colour-bhnd; but we apply no
such tests to critics, though they are called upon to make
infinitely subtler discriminations than the mere distinguish-
ing of a red light from a green.

There is all the more likelihood, however, of Mr.
Robertson's suggestion finding acceptance, since it is
eminently comfortable to the egotist within us. Without
inquiring whether I am fulfilling a duty or yielding to a
temptation, I propose to give the reader some such material
for checking the judgments contained in the following
pages as Mr. Robertson's scientific ideal demands. Poetry
being the sole question at issue, I shall confine my con-

• It might perhaps be desirable, for the guidance of the persons
criticised, that a statement of the critic's athletic record, his chest-
measurement and his fighting weight should be included.


fidences to such matters as seem to bear directly or in-
directly upon my qualifications as a critic of poetry.

In the first place, I am a pure-bred Scotchman. There
is some vague family legend of an ancestor of my father's
having come from England with Oliver Cromwell and
settled in Glasgow; but I never could discover any
evidence for it. The only thing that speaks in its favour
is that my name, common in England, is uncommon in
Scotland. My maternal grandfather and grandmother both
came of families that seem to have dwelt from time im-
memorial in and about Perth, at the gateway of the
Highlands. This being so, it appears very improbable that
there should not be some Keltic admixture in my blood ;
but I cannot absolutely lay my finger on any " Mac "
among my forbears. Both my parents belong to families
of a deeply religious cast of mind, ultra-orthodox in dogma,
heterodox, and even vehemently dissenting, on questions of
church government. I can trace some way back in my
mother's family a strain of good, sound, orthodox literary
culture and taste; of specially poetical faculty, little or
none. It may perhaps be worth mentioning that one of
my great-grandfathers or great-grand-uncles printed, and I
believe edited, an edition of the poets, mucii esteemed in
its day.

The earliest symptom I can find in myself that can
possibly be taken as showing any marked relation to the
poetic side of life, is an extreme susceptibility (very clearly
inherited from my father) to simple, pathetic music. It is
related that, even in my infancy, one special tune — the
Adeste Fideles — if so much as hummed in my neigh-
bourhood, would always make me howl lustily ; and indeed
to this day it seems to me infinitely pathetic. I have
carried through life, without any sort of musical gift, and
with a very imperfect apprehension of tonality, harmony,
and the refinements and complexities of musical expres-


sion, this keen sensibility to the emotional effect of certain
lovely rhythms and simple curves of notes. I am not sure
that Lascia chHo pianga, Che faro settza Euridice, and the
cantabile in Chopin's Funeral March do not seem to me
the very divinest utterances of the human spirit, before
which all the achievements of all the poets fade and grow
dim. But it is all one to me (or very nearly so) whether
they are reeled off on a barrel-organ or performed by the
greatest singers, the finest orchestra. Nay, my own per-
formances of them, in the silent chamber-concerts of
memory, are enough to bring the tears to my eyes.

I cannot remember that the poetry I learned at school
interested or pleased me particularly — " On Linden, when
the sun was low," " Fitz-James was brave, yet to his heart,"
"The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold," and
so forth. At about the normal age, fourteen to fifteen, I
was seized with the normal attack of Byronism, knew by
heart "The Isles of Greece," "Then rose from sea to sky
the wild farewell,"

Slow sinks, more lovely ere his race be run,
Along Morea's hills the setting sun,

with other gems, and bought and read devoutly Moore's
life of my hero. The first composition of mine that ever
found its way into print was some sort of rhapsody (in
prose) on Byron at Missolonghi. The attack passed oft" in
six months or so, and I am not aware that it left behind
any permanent ill effects. About the same time I read the
greater part of Tlie Faery Queen, with a certain pleasure,
but without any real appreciation. It was from ^Vords-
worth, whom I read for a college essay, that I learned the
true meaning of the word poetry. I did not win the prize,
but I won what was much more valuable — a perception, as
yet vague and uncertain enough, of the distinction between
fustian and style. Let me not be understood to imply in



this phrase anything like wholesale disrespect for Byron.
He is undoubtedly one of the most striking figures in the
marvellous romance of English literature : a great man of
letters always, a great poet sometimes, but a great artist only
by chance, if, indeed, that be not a contradiction in terms.
We return to Byron occasionally, with amusement, refresh-
ment, admiration ; Wordsworth we have always with us.

Coleridge, of course, came to me in the train of Words-
worth, and The Ancient Mariner seemed to me at seventeen,
what it seems to me now, the most magical of poems, an
inspiration and a miracle. But my feeling for the more
intimate refinements of the art was still very backward.
Tennyson I read with pleasure, but cared principally for
Locksley Hall, The Dream of Fair Women, Come into the
Garden, Maud, and such sugar-plums, exquisite though they
be. Keats had as yet taken no hold on me. Milton I
could not read.

The Scotch school and college course in my day was care-

Online LibraryWilliam ArcherPoets of the younger generation → online text (page 1 of 38)