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'Tis over the hill and over the dale
They ride from the mountain fast and far; And now have they learned a soothfast tale, True tidings of the host of war.
It was summer-tide and the Month of Hay,
When the moon was high we drank in the hall,
And they drank to the guests and were kind and blithe, And they said: Come back when the chestnuts fall, And the wine-carts wend across the hythe.
Come oft and o'er again, they said;
Wander your ways; but we abide For all the world in the little stead;
For wise are we, though the world be wide.
Yea, come in arms if ye will, they said;
For wise are we, though the world be wide.
The Hon. Roden Noel.
RODEN BERKELEY WRIOTHESLEY NOEL was the son of the first Earl of Gainsborough (second creation) by his fourth marriage, that with Lady Frances Jocelyn, daughter of the Earl of Roden. He was born on the 27th of August, 1834. At the age of twelve he went to Harrow, where he remained for two years; and then to a private tutor, the Rev. Charles Harbin, at Hindon, Wiltshire. Here he stayed for more than five years, forming that taste for philosophy, which persisted through his life-time and powerfully influenced his genius as a poet. Of few writers can it be said so truly that the child was father to the man, or that the scenes in which they lived, the predilections for one form of nature or another they were led to cherish, have so deeply penetrated the fibre and the marrow of their art. It is therefore of importance, in the case of Roden Noel, to dwell upon the several phases of his early life. His childhood was passed at Exton Park, Rutlandshire, Lord Gainsborough's seat; and impressions from that time may be traced in the opening of "A Modern Faust," and the poem addressed "To my Mother." He also visited his grandfather Lord Roden's Irish place at Tollymore. The influence of beautiful wild Irish scenery, and the memory of Irish legends are observable in much of his most fascinating descriptive
poetry, especially in "Melcha," and, I think too, in the "Water Nymph and the Boy." At the age of twenty Mr. Noel went to Cambridge, where he studied with a view to the church, it being then designed that he should occupy a family living. Later on, he decided that his vocation was not for clerical duties. During his university life, he travelled with his parents in France, Germany, and Italy; and directly after taking the honorary degree of M.A. he spent two years alone in the East, visiting Egypt, Nubia, the Holy Land, Palmyra, then Lebanon, Greece, Turkey. In the course of these travels he met with many wild adventures, formed many curious intimacies, and suffered frequently from fever, which seriously affected his health. It was while lying dangerously ill at Beirout that he made the acquaintance of a family with whom he was afterwards connected by marriage. Madame de Bröe, the wife of the Director of the Ottoman Bank in that city, nursed him through his illness, and in 1863 he married their eldest daughter Alice. Mr. Noel had three children by this marriage, the youngest of whom, Eric, died at the age of five, and is the subject of one of his finest books of poems, as it certainly may be called his most pathetic, "A Little Child's Monument."
These Oriental wanderings were in many ways decisive for Mr. Noel's quality as an artist. They stimulated that intense feeling for colour, that sense of the sublimity of nature, the infinity of the desert, the abysses of the mystic past, which distinguish his poetry in so remarkable a manner. It is enough to mention "Mencheres," "Palmyra," "The Dweller in Two Worlds," and "A Vision of the Desert." But
those who are acquainted with his first volume of verse ("Behind the Veil," 1863, now withdrawn from circulation as being too crude in style and substance), must feel that the East made Mr. Noel vocal as a poet. Written under Shelley's influence, this book exhibits an extraordinary wealth of loaded luminous description, an Oriental luxuriance and vividness of colouring, a jungle of speculations, ideas, emotions, steeped in philosophical mysticism, and glowing with rich sensuous imagery. Mr. Noel was, I think, right in omitting "Behind the Veil" from the canon of his works; for the poem is certainly immature and incoherent, displaying but little command over thought and less power over metre and language. Still, to the appreciative student of his style, it will always remain an object of great interest. We find here the embryo of all his qualities and defects-qualities which have been strengthened and developed, defects which have gradually been overcome in the formation of a style peculiar to himself: a style about which (as also in the case of Robert Browning and George Eliot) there may be very different opinions, but which is characteristic of his individual genius.
After Mr. Noel had returned to England and married, he spent some time in a house at Kew, lent him by Lady Jocelyn; and there it was that he composed one of his most remarkable philosophical poems "Pan," the first of a long list of impassioned descants on the higher pantheism. In tracing the external influences of life upon his temperament, it will for the rest suffice to say that during some years he amused himself with mountain climbing-he was a member of the English Alpine Club-and that the
sea has always been his passion. Like a brotherpoet of distinction, Mr. Swinburne, he was an excellent swimmer; and his books abound in poetry evincing the deepest sympathy with the sea in all its moods, the keenest observation of its varying aspects. Merely to mention "Thalatta," Tintadgel," and "Suspiria," is enough.
Omitting "Behind the Veil," which Mr. Noel did not recognise as in existence, I find that his true literary career starts with the publication of "Beatrice, and other Poems" in 1868. This was followed by "The Red Flag" in 1872, by "Livingstone in Africa " in 1874, by "The House of Ravensburg" in 1877, by "A Little Child's Monument" in 1881, by "Songs of the Heights and Deeps" in 1885, and by "A Modern Faust, and other Poems" in 1888. We have here a large mass of work in poetical form to deal with. In addition, he proved his strength as a critic by his "Essays on Poetry and Poets " (1886); as an editor by selections from Spenser and from Otway's dramas; as a biographer by his "Life of Byron" (1890). A word should here be said about Mr. Noel's prose, since the specific temper of a man's mind, especially the logic of it, betrays itself in this vehicle, and the student of one who is pre-eminently a poet may find a clue here to the poet's strength and weakness as a singer. Speaking candidly, I do not think that Mr. Noel ever mastered the art of prose-expression. He does not understand the importance of transitions, of the lucid development of his theme, of the serenity conferred on style by simple and decisive statement. Like a volcano, he pours forth quantities of matter, glowing from the central furnace of his heart and brain; just observations,