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Of bitter prophecy.
The world is weary of the past,
Oh ! might it die or rest at last.'

This son of a Sussex squire was born in 1792.
Eton and Oxford could not tame his rebellious
spirit, and when, expelled from the University,
the young aristocrat went out into the world, it
was to live a strange and unconventional life. In
1818, unable longer to breathe the air of his native
land, he went into exile in Italy, where, as the
friend of Byron and Keats, he spent the rest of his
days. The death of Keats in Rome was the
occasion of that beautiful elegy, Adonais y written
on the model of Milton's Lycidas y and one of the
best of Shelley's poems. He summons up various
spirits to lament the death of Adonais, but

' Peace, peace ! he is not dead, he doth not sleep
He hath awakened from the dream of life
'Tis we, who, lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance, strike with our spirit's knife
Invulnerable nothings. We decay
Like corpses in a charnel ; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.

He has outsoared the shadow of our night ;
Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
And that unrest which men miscall delight,
Can touch him not and torture not again ;
From the contagion of the world's slow stain
He is secure, and now can never mourn
A heart grown cold, a head grown grey in vain ;
Nor, when the spirit's self has ceased to burn,
With sparkless ashes load an unlamented urn/



THREE YOUNG ROMANTICS 187

Later in the poem we come across the following
wonderful stanza with its marvellous imagery :

' The One remains, the many change and pass ;
Heaven's light for ever shines, earth's shadows fly ;
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of eternity,
Until death tramples it to fragments. Die,
If thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek !
Follow where all is fled Rome's azure sky,
Flowers, ruins, statues, music, words are weak
The glory they transfuse with fitting truth to speak.'

In his longer poems, especially in that fantastic
tale, The Revolt of Is/am, and in the noble lyrical
drama, Prometheus Unbound, we have Shelley's
longings for a new earth. Prometheus Unbound
is one of his masterpieces ; in it is worked out
the old Greek myth of the Titan who rebelled
against Jupiter, and, as punishment, was chained
to the Caucasus with the vulture gnawing at his
vitals. In the poem the Titan, Prometheus,
stands for mankind for ever struggling against
oppression (Jupiter). In the end comes Hercules
to set Prometheus free, and the last act swells to a
wonderful chorus of spirit voices, celebrating the
dawn of a new age.

But Shelley is at his highest in his shorter
poems. Here in fine feeling, miraculous melody,
and verbal magic he takes his place with the
greatest of our singers. Indeed Shakespeare, Burns,
and Shelley are the monarchs of the English lyric.

His word magic holds us in every verse of the
poem To a Skylark, with its marvellous descriptive
power :

' Hail to thee, blithe spirit

Bird thou never wert
That from heaven, or near it,

Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.



188 BOOKLAND

Higher still, and higher,

From the earth thou springest,
Like a cloud of fire ;

The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

In the golden lightning

Of the sunken sun,
O'er which clouds are bright'ning,

Thou dost float and run,
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.*

In The Sensitive Plant Shelley completes the
romantic conception of nature. To him nature
and man are interdependent ; they form one
harmonious whole:

* A Sensitive Plant in a garden grew,
And the young winds fed it with silver dew,
And it opened its fan-light leaves to the light,
And closed them beneath the kisses of Night.'

' A lady, the wonder of her kind/ tended the
flowers through the summer, but ' ere the first
leaf looked brown she died/ and in the abandoned
garden the flowers died also and everything fell
into decay. Then comes the poet's cry for some-
thing that shall not die for immortality itself :

' In this life

Of error, ignorance, and strife,
Where nothing is, but all things seem,
And we the shadows of the dream.

It is a modest creed, and yet
Pleasant if one considers it,
To own that death must be,
Like all the rest, a mockery.

That garden sweet, that lady fair,
And all sweet shapes and odours there,
In truth have never passed away :
*Tis we, 'tis ours, are changed ; not they.



THREE YOUNG ROMANTICS 189

For love, and beauty, and delight,

There is no death nor change ; their might

Exceeds our organs, which endure

No light, being themselves obscure.'

His lyrics are fashioned not only of beautiful
words, but also of the joy and sorrow of his own
heart, and his saddest songs are the sweetest ;
there is, generally, beyond the mere words, a
subtle suggestion of something sad. He listens to*
the rapture of the skylark with all the admiration
that the already quoted verses reveal, but also
with a tinge of sadness at the heart that rises to
the surface in a later stanza of the same poem :

4 We look before and after,

And pine for what is not :
Our sincerest laughter

With some pain is fraught ;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.'

In 1822 Shelley, only thirty, was drowned off
the Italian coast. The body was washed ashore
and cremated, and the ashes were buried, near the
grave of Keats, in the English cemetery at Rome.

A modern poet, Francis Thompson, in an essay
on Shelley, perhaps the finest piece of writing in
our language, says that, of the poet, as of the child,
* the universe is his box of toys. He dabbles his
fingers in the day-fall. He is gold-dusty with
tumbling amidst stars. He makes bright mischief
with the moon. The meteors nuzzle their noses
in his hand. He teases into growling the kennelled
thunder, and laughs at the shaking of its fiery
chain. He dances in and out of the gates of
heaven : its floor is littered with his broken fancies.
He runs wild over the fields of ether. He chases
the rolling world. He gets between the feet of the
horses of the sun. He stands in the lap of patient



190 BOOKLAND

nature, and twines her loosened tresses after a
hundred wilful fashions, to see how she will look
best in his song/

JOHN KEATS

Among the imperishable things of English
poetry is the slender volume that holds the verse
of Keats, who died at Rome, at the early age of
twenty-six, whilst on a journey to Italy in search
of health. The poems of Keats show the most
perfect workmanship and reveal him as the climax
of the romantic movement. But he in no way
resembles Byron or Shelley. There is not that
bitter discontent with the scheme of things as they
are, nor the passion to frame the world anew. In
the beautiful world of his artistic senses, that
trumpet call, Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, is stilled.
To him poetry has no traffic with philosophies,
politics, or revolutions. As he says in Lamia :

' Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy ?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven :
We know her woof, her texture ; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an angel's wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air and gnomed mine
Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made
The tender-person'd Lamia melt into a shade.'

Finding this machine-made world hard and cold,
he seeks escape into the kingdom of beauty within
his own mind. In the famous opening lines of
Endymion he declares his message :
4 A thing of beauty is a joy for ever ;

Its loveliness increases ; it will never

Pass into nothingness ; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us ; and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing' ;



THREE YOUNG ROMANTICS 191

and in the closing lines of his ode To a Grecian Urn,
he repeats the one and only tenet of his poetic
creed :

1 Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know/

Keats found the beauty he sought, in many
quarters, including Greek art and myth, tales of
the Middle Ages, and in nature itself.

His passport to the beauty of Greek mythology
was Chapman's Translation of Homer, which he
celebrates in one of his finest sonnets :

* Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen ;

Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told,

That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne,

Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold :
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken ;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

He stared at the Pacific and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.'

Out of the Greek myths he drew the material
for Endymion, the story of the beautiful young
shepherd, beloved of Diana, and for Hyperion,
the story of the defeat of the Titans. This last
poem is an unfinished fragment, but the student
should not fail to read it for its gorgeous imagery
and dazzling language.

Out of the romances of the Middle Ages he drew
the material for Isabella and The Eve of St. Agnes,
but he retold the legends in language full of rich
and vivid colouring. The following lines are taken



192 BOOKLAND

from the second of these poems, and describe a
room :

* A casement high and triple-arch'd there was,
All garlanded with carven imageries,
Of fruits and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,
And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,
As are the tiger-moth's deep-damask'd wings ;
And in the midst, 'mong thousand heraldries,
And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings,
A shielded scutcheon blushed with blood of queens and
kings.'

In these lines we have the luxuriance of sensation
and of language that mark all the verses of Keats.
It is only natural that a poet who could write
in this rich fashion of a room should show the
same characteristics when he wrote of nature. He
does not reason ; he sings, and, in one of his
letters, he exclaims : * Oh, for a life of sensations
rather than of thoughts.' He is the poet of the
senses, and, when he treats of nature, it is his
impressions of sight, sound, and perfume that
crowd upon the senses rather than explanations or
reflections that appeal to the colder intellect. His
ode To Autumn opens :

' Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun ;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run ;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core ;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel ; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease ;

For Summer has o'erbrimmed their clammy cells.



THREE YOUNG ROMANTICS 193

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn ;
Hedge- crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden- croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.*

The ode To a Nightingale, perhaps the finest
lyric in our language, is the greatest of the poet's
achievements. We give the last two verses :

* Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird !

No hungry generations tread thee down ;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard

In ancient days by emperor and clown :
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path

Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn ;

The same that oft-times hath
Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn ! the very word is like a bell

To toll me back from thee to my sole self !
Adieu ! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu ! adieu ! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side ; and now 'tis buried deep

In the next valley-glades :
Was it a vision, or a waking dream ?

Fled is that music : do I wake or sleep ? '



OTHER BOOKS TO READ

Poems. Byron. Golden Treasury Series.
Selected Poems. Shelley, edited by Thompson. Cam-
bridge University Press.
Poems. Keats. World's Classics.
Shelley. Francis Thompson. Burns and Gates.
Shelley: the Man and the Poet. Clutton Brock. Methuen.
Records of Shelley and Byron. Trelawney. Routledge.
Keats. Colvin. English Men of Letters Series.

N




CHAPTER XX
ESSAYS

HE Romantic Age is one of poetry
rather than of prose, and the greatest
books are the poems of Wordsworth
and Coleridge ; but there is also
much interesting work by critics
and essayists.
Modern journalism began with Defoe, Addison,
and Steele. During the years of tumult through
which they lived the newspaper made great strides,
and before the end of the eighteenth century The
Times, The Morning Post, and The Morning
Chronicle had all been launched. The beginning
of the next century saw a further development of
journalism in the foundation of the modern
critical review and magazine. Among the first
of these to be established were The Edinburgh
Review, The Quarterly, Blackwood's Magazine, and
The London Magazine, and among the men who
wrote for The London Magazine were Hazlitt, De
Quincey, and Lamb. Of these the greatest was
Lamb.

Lamb was born in that romantic part of London
known as the Temple, in the year 1775. At the
early age of seven he became a scholar at Christ's
Hospital, where he remained seven years, made
the acquaintance and won the affection of his
young schoolfellow, Coleridge. At fourteen, he
became a clerk, and, at fifty, retired on a com-

IM



ESSAYS 195

fortable pension, granted him by the East India
Company, whose service he had entered thirty-
three years before. Thenceforward he was free
to dream over old plays and old books and to write
as many new ones as he pleased. That, in very
brief, is the story of Lamb he was born, bred,
and died a Londoner.

Lamb not only lived all his life in London ; he
loved London all his life. And just as Wordsworth
painted the pleasures of the country in verse that
may live for ever, so Lamb depicted the delights of
the town in a prose that we cannot think will ever
die. In a letter to Wordsworth Lamb writes :

* I have passed all my days in London, until I have
formed as many and intense local attachments as any of
you mountaineers can have done with dead nature. The
lighted shops of the Strand and Fleet Street ; the innumer-
able trades, tradesmen, and customers, coaches, waggons,
playhouses, all the bustle and wickedness round about
Covent Garden ; the very women of the Town ; the watch-
men, drunken scenes, rattles ; life awake, if you awake, at
all hours of the night ; the impossibility of being dull in
Fleet Street ; the crowds, the very dirt and mud, the sun
shining upon houses and pavements, the print-shops, the
old bookstalls, parsons cheapening books, coffee-houses,
steams of soups from kitchens, the pantomimes London
itself a pantomime and a masquerade all these things
work themselves into my mind, and feed me, without a
power of satiating me. The wonder of these sights impels
me into night walks about her crowded streets, and I often
shed tears in the motley Strand from fullness of joy at so
much life. All these emotions must be strange to you ;
so are your rural emotions to me. But consider, what
must I have been doing all my life, not to have lent great
portions of my heart with usury to such scenes/

In connection with the above extract, it is in-
teresting to notice that London has been the



196 BOOKLAND

birthplace or home of nearly all our great writers.
Our two chief literary shrines are London and
Stratford-on-Avon, but the latter has only Shake-
speare, while there is no telling the tale of Lon-
don^ possessions Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, Ben
Jonson, Pope, Gray, and Blake.

The romantic movement in literature, and the
political movements that came to a climax in the
French Revolution, are but two aspects of one
thing ' the passion for simplification and for a
return to nature as a refuge from the artificial
complexities of society/ At first literature re-
presents the turmoil of the age ; later, when the
work of reform was begun, it became the preacher
of dreams and ideals, tried to create rather than
to destroy, and gave us the poets considered in the
last chapter and the prose writers to be considered
in this.

A great deal of the new prose arose out of a new
interest in old writings, the writings of that earlier
period of Romance, the Elizabethan. Its forgotten
treasures were unearthed and spread out in rich
abundance for the readers of the more popular
magazines and reviews. It was partly this interest
in the past that produced the Tales from Shake-
speare, published in 1807, of which Lamb's sister
Mary wrote the comedies, while he told the
tragedies.

But Lamb's greatest work is the Essays of Elia y
the delight of all readers for all time ; it is the most
human and the most engaging book ever written.
To read it is to listen to the charming gossip of its
writer. He begins in the first essay, The South-
Sea House, by telling of his life at the office,
amusing us with quaint pictures of his fellow-
clerks ; in Christ's Hospital Five-and-Thirty Years
Ago he talks of his schooldays and his boy friend



ESSAYS 197

Coleridge. Listen to this, as Lamb draws his chair
up closer and confides in you by his fireside :

* I told how good she was to all her grandchildren, having
us to the great house in the holidays, where I in particular
used to spend many hours by myself, in gazing upon the old
busts of the twelve Caesars, that had been emperors of
Rome, till the old marble heads would seem to live again,
or I to be turned into marble with them ; how I never could
be tired with roaming about that huge mansion with its vast
empty rooms, with their worn-out hangings, fluttering
tapestry, and carved oak panels, with the gilding almost
rubbed out ; sometimes in the spacious old-fashioned
gardens, which I had almost to myself, unless when now
and then a solitary gardening man would cross me ; and
how the nectarines and peaches hung upon the walls, with-
out my even offering to pluck them, because they were for-
bidden fruit, unless now and then and because I had more
pleasure in strolling about among the old melancholy-look-
ing yew-trees or the firs, and picking up the red berries and
the fir-apples, which were good for nothing but to look at, or
in lying about upon the fresh grass with all the fine garden
smells around me, or basking in the orangery, till I could
almost fancy myself ripening too along with the oranges
and the limes in that grateful warmth, or in watching the
dace that darted to and fro in the fish-pond at the bottom
of the garden, with here and there a great sulky pike hang-
ing midway down the water in silent state, as if it mocked
at their impertinent friskings. I had more pleasure in
these busy-idle diversions than in all the sweet flavours of
peaches, nectarines, oranges, and such-like common baits
of children.'

In these essays we see Lamb in all his moods.
In the Dream-Children, from which the previous
quotation is taken, we have one extreme deep
pathos ; in the one that follows, from the Dis-
sertation on Roast Pig, we have the other extreme
whimsical humour:

* The art of roasting, or rather broiling (which I take to



198 BOOKLAND

be the elder brother) was accidentally discovered in the
manner following. The swine-herd, Ho-ti, having gone
out into the woods one morning, as his manner was, to
collect mast for his hogs, left his cottage in the care of his
eldest son Bo-bo, a great lubberly boy, who being fond of
playing with fire, as younkers of his age commonly are, let
some sparks escape into a bundle of straw, which kindling
quickly, spread the conflagration over every part of their
poor mansion, till it was reduced to ashes. Together with
the cottage (a sorry antediluvian makeshift of a building,
you may think it), what was of much more importance, a
fine litter of new-farrowed pigs, no less than nine in number,
perished. China pigs have been esteemed a luxury all over
the Bast, from the remotest periods that we read of. Bo-bo
was in the utmost consternation, as you may think ; not so
much for the sake of the tenement, which his father and he
could easily build up again with a few dry branches, and the
labour of an hour or two, at any time, as for the loss of
the pigs. While he was thinking what he should say to his
father, and wringing his hands over the smoking remnants
of one of those untimely sufferers, an odour assailed his
nostrils, unlike any scent which he had before experienced.
What could it proceed from ? not from the burnt cottage
he had smelt that smell before indeed this was by no
means the first accident of the kind which had occurred
through the negligence of this unlucky young firebrand.
Much less did it resemble that of any known herb, weed, or
flower. A premonitory moistening at the same time over-
flowed his nether lip. He knew not what to think. He
next stooped down to feel the pig, if there were any signs of
life in it. He burnt his fingers, and to cool them he applied
them in his booby fashion to his mouth. Some of the
crumbs of the scorched skin had come away with his fingers,
and for the first time in his life (in the world's life, indeed,
for before him no man had known it) he tasted cracking !
Again he felt and fumbled at the pig. It did not burn him
so much now, still he licked his fingers from a sort of habit.
The truth at length broke into his slow understanding, that
it was the pig that smelt so, and the pig that tasted so
delicious ; and surrendering himself up to the new-born
pleasure, he fell to tearing up whole handfuls of the



ESSAYS 199

scorched skin with the flesh next it, and was cramming
it down his throat in his beastly fashion, when his sire
entered amid the smoking rafters, armed with retributory
cudgel, and finding how affairs stood, began to rain blows
upon the young rogue's shoulders, as thick as hailstones,
which Bo-bo heeded not any more than if they had been
flies. The tickling pleasure, which he experienced in his
lower regions, had rendered him quite callous to any in-
conveniences he might feel in those remote quarters. His
father might lay on, but he could not beat him from his pig,
till he had fairly made an end of it, when, becoming a little
more sensible of his situation, something like the following
dialogue ensued :

' " You graceless whelp, what have you got there devour-
ing ? Is it not enough that you have burnt me down three
houses with your dog's tricks, and be hanged to you ! but
you must be eating fire, and I know not what what have
you got there, I say ? "

' " O father, the pig, the pig ! do come and taste how nice
the burnt pig eats."

1 The ears of Ho-ti tingled with horror. He cursed his
son, and he cursed himself that ever he should beget a son
that should eat burnt pig.

* Bo-bo, whose scent was wonderfully sharpened since
morning, soon raked out another pig, and fairly rending
it asunder, thrust the lesser half by main force into the fists
of Ho-ti, still shouting out, " Eat, eat, eat the burnt pig,
father, only taste O Lord ! " with such-like barbarous
ejaculations, cramming all the while as if he would choke.

4 Ho-ti trembled in every joint while he grasped the
abominable thing, wavering whether he should not put his
son to death for an unnatural young monster, when the
crackling scorching his fingers, as it had done his son's, and
applying the same remedy to them, he in his turn tasted
some of its flavour, which, make what sour mouths he
would for a pretence, proved not altogether displeasing to
him. In conclusion (for the manuscript here is a little
tedious), both father and son fairly set down to the mess,
and never left off till they had despatched all that remained
of the litter.

' Bo-bo was strictly enjoined not to let the secret escape,



200 BOOKLAND

for the neighbours would certainly have stoned them for a
couple of abominable wretches, who could think of improv-
ing upon the good meat which God had sent them. Never-
theless, strange stories got about. It was observed that
Ho-ti's cottage was burnt down now more frequently than
ever. Nothing but fires from this time forward. Some would


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