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lect; these are the master qualities, and yet we are compelled to see hereif we would not wilfully be blind or blindfold-a poet, yes, a great poet, with a perfervid fancy rather than an imagination, a poet with puny passions, a poet with no more than the momentary and impulsive sincerity of an infirm soul, a poet with small intellect and thrice a poet.
And, assuredly, if the creative arts are duly humbled in the universal contemplation of Nature, if they are accused, if they are weighed, if they are found wanting; if they are excused by nothing but our intimate human sympathy with dear and interesting imperfection; if poetry stands outdone by the passion and experience of an inarticulate soul, and painting by the splen dor of the day, and building by the forest and the cloud, there is another art also that has to be humiliated, and this is the art and science of criticism, confounded by its contemplation of such a poet. Poor little art of examination and formula! The miracle of day and night and immortality are needed to rebuke the nobler arts; but our art, the critic's, mine to-day, is brought to book, and its heart is broken, and its sincerity disgraced, by the paradoxes of the truth. Not in the heavens nor in the sub-celestial landscape does this minor art find its refutation, but in the puzzle between a man and his gift; and in part the man is ignoble and leads us by distasteful paths, and compels us to a reluctant work of literary detection. Useful is the critical spirit, but it loses heart when (to take a very definite instance) it has to ask what literary sinceritywhat value for art and letters--lived in Swinburne, who hailed a certain old friend, in a dedication, as "poet and painter" when he was pleased with him, and declared him "poetaster and dauber" when something in that dead man's posthumous autobiography
offended his own self-love; when, I say, criticism finds itself called upon, amid its admiration, to do such scavenger work, it loses heart as well as the clue, and would gladly go out into the free air of greater arts, and, with them, take exterior Nature's nobler reprobation.
I have to cite this instance of a change of mind, or of terms and titles, in Swinburne's estimate of art and letters, because it is all-important to my argument. It is a change he makes in published print, and, therefore, no private matter. And I cite it, not as a sign of moral fault, with which I have no business, but as a sign of a most significant literary insensibility-insensibility, whether to the quality of a poetaster when he wrote "poet," or to that of a poet when he wrote "poetaster," is of no matter.
Rather than justify the things I have ventured to affirm as to Swinburne's little intellect, and paltry degree of sincerity, and rachitic passion, and tumid fancy judgment-confounding things to predicate of a great poet-I turn to the happier task of praise. A great writer of English was he, and would have been one of the recurring renewers of our often renewed and incomparable language, had his words not become habitual to himself, so that they quickly lost the light, the breeze, the breath; one whose fondness for beauty deserved the serious name of love; one whom beauty at times favored and filled so visibly, by such obvious visits and possessions, favors so manifest, apparitions so overwhelming, inspirations so complete, that inevitably we forget we are speaking fictions and allegories, and imagine her a visiting power exterior to her poet; a man, moreover, of a less, not more, than manly receptiveness and appreciation, so that he was entirely and easily possessed by admirations. Less than manly we must call his extraor
dinary recklessness of appreciation; it is, as it were, ideally feminine; it is possible, however, that no woman has yet been capable of so entire an emotional impulse and impetus; more than manly it might have been but for the lack of a responsible intellect in that impulse; had it possessed such an intellectual sanction, Swinburne's admiration of Victor Hugo, Mazzini, Dickens, Baudelaire, and Théophile Gautier might-so sung-have resembled an archangel's admiration of God.
We are inclined to complain of such an objection to Swinburne's poetry as was prevalent at his earlier appearance and may be found in criticisms of the time, before the later fashion of praise set in-the obvious objection that it was as indigent in thought as affluent in words; for, though a truth, it is an inadequate truth. It might be affirmed of many a verse-writer of not unusual talent and insignificance, whose affluence of words was inselective and merely abundant, and whose poverty of thought was something less than a national disaster. Swinburne's failure of intellect was, in the fullest and most serious sense, a national disaster, and his riches in words was a national wonder. For what words they are! True, it is in their inexplicable beauty that Swinburne's art finds its absolution from the obligations meaning, according to the vulgar judgment; and we can hardly wonder.
I wish it were not customary to write of one art in the terms of another, and I use the words "music" and "musical" under protest, because the world has been so delighted to call verse that is pleasant to the ear "musical," that it has not supplied me with another and more specialized and appropriate word. Swinburne is a complete master of the rhythm and rhyme, the time and accent, the pause, the balance, the flow of vowel and clash of consonant, that make the
and the rest of the buoyant familiar lines. I confess there is something too obvious, insistent, emphatic, too much that is analogous to dance-music to give me more than a slight pleasure; but it is possible that I am prejudiced by a dislike of English anapæsts. (I am aware that the classic terms are not really applicable to our English metres, into which quantity enters so little, but the reader will understand that I mean the metre of the lines just quoted.) I do not find these anapæsts in the Elizabethan or in the seventeenth century poets, or most rarely. They were dear to the eighteenth century, and, much more than the heroic couplet, are the distinctive metre of that age. They swaggeror, worse, they strut-in its lighter verse, from its first year to its last. Swinburne's anapæsts are far too delicate for swagger or strut; but for all their dance, all their spring, all their flight, all their flutter, we are compelled to perceive that, as it were, they perform. I love to see English poetry move to many measures, to many numbers, but always with the simple iambic and the simple trochaic foot. Those two are enough for the infinite variety, the epic, the drama, the lyric, of our poetry. It is, accordingly, in these old traditional and proved
metres that Swinburne's beautiful music seems to me most worthy, most controlled, and most lovely. There is his best dignity, and therefore his best beauty. For even beauty is not to be thrust upon us; she is not to solicit us or offer herself thus to the first comer; and in the most admired of those flying lyrics she is thus immoderately lavish of herself. "He lays himself out." wrote Francis Thompson in an anonymous criticism of which I am glad to make known the authorship. "to delight and seduce. The great poets entice by a glorious accident but allurement, in Mr. Swinburne's poetry, is the alpha and omega." This is true of all that he has written, but it is true, in a more fatal sense, of these famous tunes of his "music." Nay, delicate as they are, we are convinced that it is the less delicate ear that most surely takes much pleasure in them, the dull ear that chiefly they delight.
Compare with such luxurious jingles the graver music of this "Vision of Spring in Winter":
Sunrise it sees not, neither set of star, Large nightfall, nor imperial plenilune,
Nor strong sweet shape of the fullbreasted noon;
But where the silver-sandalled shadows are,
Too soft for arrows of the sun to mar, Moves with the mild gait of an ungrown moon.
Even more valuable than this exquisite rhymed stanza is the blank verse which Swinburne released into new energies, new liberties, and new movements. Milton, it need hardly be said, is the master of those who know how to place and displace the stress and accent of the English heroic line. His most majestic hand undid the mechanical bonds of the national line and
made it obey the unwritten laws of his genius. His blank verse marches, pauses, lingers, and charges. It feels the strain, it yields, it resists; it is all-expressive. But if the practice of some of the poets succeeding him had tended to make it rigid and tame again, Swinburne was a new liberator. He writes when he ought, with a finely appropriate regularity, as in the lovely line on the forest glades
That fear the faun's and know the dryad's foot,
in which the rule is completely kept, every step of the five stepping from the unaccented place to the accented without a tremor. (I must again protest that I use the word "accent" in a sense that has come to be adapted to English prosody, because it is so used by all writers on English metre, and is therefore understood by the reader, but I think "stress" the better word.) But having written this perfect English-iambic line so wonderfully fit for the sensitive quiet of the woods, he turns the page to the onslaught of such lines-heroic lines with a difference-as report the shortbreathed messenger's reply to Althea's question by whose hands the boar of Calydon had died:
A maiden's and a prophet's and thy son's.
It is lamentable that in his latest blank verse Swinburne should have made a trick and a manner of that most energetic device of his by which he leads the line at a rush from the first syllable to the tenth, and on to the first of the line succeeding, with a great recoil to follow, as though a rider brought a horse to his haunches. It is in the same boar hunt:
And fiery with invasive eyes, And bristling with intolerable hair, Plunged;
Sometimes we may be troubled with a misgiving that Swinburne's fine narrative, as well as his descriptive writing of other kinds, has a counterpart in the programme-music of the new composers. It is even too descriptive, too imitative of things, and seems to outrun the province of words, somewhat as that does the province of notes. But, though this hunting, and checking, and floating, and flying in metre may be to strain the arts of prosody and diction, with how masterly a hand is the straining accomplished! The spear, the arrow, the attack, the charge, the footfall, the pinion, nay, the very stepping of the moon, the walk of the wind, are mimicked in this enchanting verse. Like to programme-music we must call it, but I wish the concert-platform had ever justified this slight perversion of aim, this excess-almost corruption-of one kind of skill, thus miraculously well.
Now, if Swinburne's exceptional faculty of diction led him to immoderate expressiveness, to immodest sweetness, to a jugglery, and prestidigitation, and conjuring of words, to transformations and transmutations of sound-if, I say, his extraordinary gift of diction brought him to this exaggeration of the manner, what a part does it not play in the matter of his poetry! So overwhelming a place does it take in this man's art that I believe the words to hold and use his meaning, rather than the meaning to compass and grasp and use the word. I believe that Swinburne's thoughts have their source, their home, their origin, their authority and mission in those two places his own vocabulary and the passion of other men. This is a grave charge.
First, then, in regard to the passion of other men. I have given to his own emotion the puniest name I could find for it; I have no nobler name for his intellect. But other men
had thoughts, other men had passions; political, sexual, natural, noble, vile, ideal, gross, rebellious, agonizing, imperial, republican, cruel, compassionate; and with these he fed his verses. Upon these and their life he sustained, he fattened, he enriched his poetry. Mazzini in Italy, Gautier and Baudelaire in France, Shelley in England, made for him a base of passionate and intellectual supplies. With them he kept the all-necessary line of communication. We cease, as we see their active hearts possess his active art to think a question as to his sincerity seriously worth asking; what sincerity he has is so absorbed in the one excited act of receptivity. That, indeed, he performs with all the will, all the precipitation, all the rush, all the surrender, all the whole-hearted weakness of his subservient and impetuous nature. I have not named the Greeks, nor the English Bible, nor Milton, as his inspirers. These he would claim; they are not his. He received too partial, too fragmentary, too arbitrary an inheritance of the Greek spirit, too illusory an idea of Milton, of the English Bible little more than a tone;-this poet of eager, open capacity, this poet who is little more intellectually, than a tooready, too-vacant capacity, for those three august severities has not room enough.
Charged, then, with other men's purposes-this man's Italian patriotism, this man's hatred of God (by that name, for God has been denied, as a fiction, but Swinburne and his prompters temporarily acknowledge Him to detest Him), this man's love of sin (by that name, for sin has been denied, as an illusion, but Swinburne, following Baudelaire, acknowledges it to love it), this man's despite against the Third Empire or what not, this man's cry for a liberty granted or gained long ago— a cry grown vain, this man's contempt
for the Boers-nay, was it so much as a man, with a man's evil to answer for, that furnished him here; was it not rather that less guilty fool, the crowd? this man's-nay, this boy'serotic sickness, or his cruelty-charged with all these, Swinburne's poetry is primed; it explodes with thunder and fire.
But such fraternity is somewhat too familiar for dignity; such community of goods parodies the Franciscans. As one friar goes darned for another's rending, having no property in cassock or cowl, so does many a poet, not in humility, but in a paradox of pride, boast of the past of oth
And yet one might rather choose to make use of one's fellow-men's old shoes rather than to put their old secrets to usufruct, and dress poetry in a motley of past passions, twice corrupt. Promiscuity of love we have heard of; Pope was accused, by Lord Hervey's indignation and wit, of promiscuity of hatred, and of scattering his disfavors in the stews of an indiscriminate malignity; and here is another promiscuity-that of memories, and of a licence partaken.
But by the unanimous poets' splendid love of the landscape and the skies, by this also was Swinburne possessed, and in this he triumphed. By this, indeed, he profited; here he joined an innumerable company of that heavenly host of earth. Let us acknowledge his honorable alacrity here, his quick fellowship, his magnificent adoption, his filial tenderness-nay, his fraternal union with his poets. No tourist's admiration for all things French, no tourist's politics in Italy-and Swinburne's French and Italian admirations have the tourist manner of enthusiasm― prompts him here. Here he aspires to brotherhood with the supreme poets of supreme England, with the sixteenth century, the seventeenth, and the nineteenth, the impassioned centuries of song. Happy is he to be admit
ted among these, happy is he to merit by his wonderful voice to sing their raptures. Here is no humiliation in ready-made lendings; their ecstasy becomes him. He is glorious with them, and we can imagine this benign and indulgent Nature confounding together the sons she embraces, and making her poets-the primary and the secondary, the greater and the lesser-all equals in her arms. Let us see him in that company where he looks noble amongst the noble; let us not look upon him in the company of the ignoble, where he looks ignobler still, being servile to them; let us look upon him with the lyrical Shakespeare, Vaughan, Blake, Wordsworth, Patmore, Meredith; not with Baudelaire and Gautier; with the poets of the forest and the sun, and not with those of the alcove. We can make peace with him for love of them; we can imagine them thankful to him who, poor and perverse in thought in so many pages, could yet join them in such a song as this:
And her heart sprang in Iseult, and she drew
With all her spirit and life the sunrise through,
And through her lips the keen triumphant air,
Sea-scented, sweeter than land-roses
And through her eyes the whole rejoicing east
Sun-satisfied, and all the heaven at feast
Spread for the morning; and the imperious mirth
Of wind and light that moved upon the earth,
Making the spring, and all the fruitful might
And strong regeneration of delight That swells the seedling leaf and sapling man.
He, nevertheless, who was able, in high company, to hail the sea with such fine verse, was not ashamed, in low