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still have a rich volume of fine poetry. In his hours of true inspiration Byron proved himself to be a master of poetic form, in pure lyrics, in lyrical drama, in romantic, picturesque, passionate, and satiric verse. But his claim to high poetic rank lies in the imaginative power of the man. Those who will not admit him to be a poet at all, admit the magnetism of his personal force. He had that rare creative genius which belongs to those who have stirred whole ages and diverse races. There is a curious French phrase which hits off this quality: "he had fire in his belly." With all his ribaldry and pose, Byron had flashes of that fire which burned in King David, in Eschylus, in Dante, and in Milton. He had the power which created new epochs in Greece, in Italy, which still, after nearly a hundred years, continues to resound in France, in Germany, in Scandinavia, in Russia, and in America. He literally created Greece as a nation; and he must be counted as one of the founders of Italian independence. Manfred has in it a sort of Dantesque vision of Man and Destiny, which lifts it above any similar English poem of the nineteenth century, and places it beside Faust, as Goethe so justly and generously felt. Tens of thousands of cultivated men and women in Europe and in America delight in Byron, while they never heard of Keats and never read a line of Wordsworth; and some fastidious critics tell us that is because Byron is "obvious." Byron is obvious in the sense of not being obscure; indeed, Horace or Pope is not more perfectly intelligible and direct. But it is not poetic mastery to be able to construct enigmas in verse; and it is one of the fads of our time to vaunt the industrious interpretation of metrical cryptograms.
world. He is even a national poet both in Italy and in Greece. He has spoken to the hearts as well as to the imagin ation of whole races: he strikes light and heat out of everything he touches: he moves the thought and warms the spirit as only an original genius can. It is affectation to tell us that the man who does this is not a poet because he flung off a good deal of scrambling stuff which he ought to have burnt.
It is an ancient jest that Childe Harold is only Baedeker in rhyme, and that the Greek lyrics are artificial heroics. Why, half the sense of mysterious antiquity and poetic color which the nineteenth century felt for Italy-all the passion it felt for the Alps-was due to Byron, who did for the English and for Americans what Goethe did for Germans and Madame de Staël and Rousseau did for the French. As to love of the sea, no verse has ever done so much as Byron's. Greek patriotism is literally the creation of Byron, for to every Hellene Byron is what Burns is to every Scot. This power of Byron to fuse his ideas into whole races places him as the first in rank, as he is the first in time, of the poets of the nineteenth century. In this palpable historic force, neither Shelley, nor Keats, nor Wordsworth approach Byron. Their reputation is strictly English: Byron's is European. They are read only by the cultivated, Byron by all. Now, we cannot assign to Tennyson either the European vogue or the universal popularity which for nearly a hundred years Byron has possessed.
We must not be misled by Swinburne's spasmodic reviling of Byron. His mouthing in praise of Marlowe and in abuse of Byron is a type of that ill-balanced partisan criticism which does so much harm. Never trust a poet to judge a poet, nor a painter to judge a picture. They have loves and hates of their own manner or pet fancy. Now, Morley's estimate of
Byron is far more broad and just. Swinburne had an exquisite sense of melody, albeit of a somewhat languorous and monotonous note. Indeed, he often indulged in what schoolboys call "nonsense verses"-Latin lines which would scan but meant nothing. Our age is too prone to value the grace and music of mere words rather than thought, passion, and vision. It is a sign of a pedant's affectation to take Swinburne to be a greater poet than Byron. And for the same reason we must not allow Tennyson's exquisite form to blind us to the mass, the variety, the electric shock of Byron's thunder-peal.
When we weigh Byron in this scale taking account of his mass, variety, and fire, and, above all his power over men of different race and language-it is impossible to place Tennyson above him. Tennyson is purely, permanently English-nor do Scotland, Wales, Ireland, much less the Alps, the Apennines, Rome, Venice, Athens, the Atlantic, or the Egean, ever wring from him a cry of love and joy. Can we suppose that a century hence Englishmen will chant their Tennyson as Scots chant Burns, or as Italians and Greeks still worship Byron? Byron, Shelley, and Keats lived in worlds of antique mystery and passion, of broadly European nature, of the manifold humanity common to all men of any tongue who care for imaginative work. Tennyson's "measured language" and "sad mechanic exercise," however beautiful and enchanting, belong exclusively to English homes, rectories, colleges, and cathedral closes-are eminently local, insular, and academic. No, it is only in the Fellows' common-room and in country parsonages that Tennyson is still held to be the typical poet of the nineteenth century.
Nor can any true lover of poetry rank Tennyson above Shelley. For, in the first place, Shelley has a polish of
form at least equal to that of Tennyson, if we allow for the accidents of Shelley's text. And the true lover of poetry finds in Prometheus, in Hellas, in the West Wind, in the Skylark a melodious thrill such as not only Tennyson never sounded, but no English poet save Shakespeare and Milton alone. It is true that there is a great deal of Shelley which is too subtle and too ethereal for "the general," and perhaps will ever remain the privilege of the cultured few, and for the most part of English race.
Shelley has no small measure of Byron's human and social enthusiasm, of his passion for the splendor and majesty of Nature, of that trumpet-note of humanity, of that vision of a regenerate future, which in Byron redeem his many sins against true taste. If Shelley did not impose his personality upon his age as did Byron, he was undoubtedly a far more consummate master of his poetic instrument. And in this he must be counted as even superior to Tennyson; whilst it would be difficult to produce any important addition to English poetry in the veteran Victorian poet which we could not match in the earlier Georgian poet, cut off in his prime. To rank Tennyson above Shelley would be to rank him also above Byron. And yet, with all his faultless metrical resources, Tennyson wants the intellectual force of Byron and the intellectual distinction of Shelley.
The case is different with Keats; for Keats himself is only a promise, and his small volume of poems is itself but a fragment. We must never forget that what we prize of Keats was written before he was twenty-four-at an age before Milton had written Lycidas or Shakespeare had written Venus and Adonis. As I said once, Keats was "an unformed, untrained, neuropathic youth of genius whose whole achievement came earlier in life than that of
almost any other man recorded in our literature, indeed in any literature." It is rather irritating to find some neuropathic critics of our decadence asserting that Keats's really magical gift for poetic form-a gift that reminds us of that of Sappho or Theocritus-was enough to constitute him a poet of the first rank. Keats will always be to us a great "Perhaps"-one who might have been one knows not what-si qua fata aspera rumpat. Yet, whatever the wonderful promise of the hapless youth, neither his range of vision, nor his force, nor his intellect were such as to place him in the foremost rank. The large achievement, the serious thought, and the inexhaustible fancy of Tennyson are of an altogether different order and appeal to a far maturer mind.
We more easily compare Tennyson with Wordsworth. Both had very long life, wholly and solely devoted to the poetic art; they were essentially poets of Nature; both given to meditation, moral and religious musing rather than to action; both have exercised a permanent influence over the poetic ideal of their age. Wordsworth carried his love of solitary musing and of rustic simplicity to a point where they often degenerated into tiresome reiteration and even laughable banality; whilst Tennyson's unerring taste kept him free from such vexatious commonplace. The most ardent Wordsworthians agree to leave out of account no small part of Wordsworth's immense product; whilst no loyal Tennysonian would imitate their example. Though Tennyson published much which is not equal to his best, he never wearies us with truly unreadable prosing as does Wordsworth. Yet Wordsworth's best is of an order quite as high as is Tennyson's best. To say the truth, I turn more often to the Excursion than to In Memoriam; and there are sonnets, odes, and lyrics of
Wordsworth which I would not sacrifice even to save the Idylls, Maud, and lyrics of Tennyson's early and best
Neither Coleridge, nor Scott, nor Burns, nor Campbell, nor Landor belong to the first rank as poets, however ardent be our delight in their special triumphs. The Ancient Mariner, Christabel, and a few lyrics and hymns are a joy forever; but the sum of Coleridge's muse is neither full enough nor powerful enough to place him beside Byron, Shelley, or Tennyson. Burns is so exclusively national, and Scott is so entirely the romancist, that we do not count either as in the foremost roll of English poetry, with all the exquisite ring of their lovely songs and ballads. And Campbell, Landor, and some others who have left us memorable things have not given us enough in measure and in power to place them amongst the greatest names of the nineteenth century.
The twentieth century will adjudge this rank to' Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Keats, and beyond question Tennyson will be held to be their peer. Their peer, I say, not their superior; or if superior to any one of the four, to Keats, on the ground that his work is fragmentary and immature. But I cannot believe that any other poet of the second half of the century will permanently be placed beside the great men of the first half. Our beloved Robert Browning belongs in a sense to the first as well as to the second half of the nineteenth century; and, though he touches at times on Byron's and on Shelley's themes, he must be counted rather of the later Victorian world. By the "later Victorian world" I mean that of subtle, psychologic, analytic conception, of elaborately minted phrase, and daring metrical experiments.
Browning had rare genius, a keen and broad view of life, masculine phil
osophy, creative power; and in these gifts he was more akin to Byron than was Tennyson. We need not deny the contention of ardent Browningites that his mental force was both deeper and more robust than that of Tennyson. But a poet needs not only mental force but unique form, melody, grace, the inevitable and unforgettable word which gives wings to his thought. Browning has given us now and then a ballad and a lyric of glorious music, apparently to show us that he could write musical verse when he deigned to humor us. But a great poet does not bury profound ideas in cryptograms that we have to unravel as if they were puzzle-locks, nor does he twist and torture the King's English into queer vocables that raise a smile.
We have just lost two men of genius, both of whom were typical examples of the later Victorian world-though in quite opposite veins. Meredith was a brilliant novelist rather than a poet; and all he had to say in poetryand he had the poetic soul-would have been more truly said in prose. Nature had denied him an ear for music in verse to which he seems insensible, just as Beethoven's deafness never permitted him to hear his own magnificent symphonies. For all its subtlety and originality, Meredith's verse is unreadable by reason of its intolerable cacophony. I doubt if he ever wrote a piece which would have satisfied Ten. nyson's infallible sense of harmonious rhythm.
Swinburne, on the other hand, with a marvellous gift of harmonious rhythm, seemed to regard this quality as the be-all and end-all of poetry. For my part, I cannot feel that he ever added much after he first burst upon the world with the splendid promise of his Atalanta in 1865, though for more than forty years he continued to The Nineteenth Century and After.
publish poems. His marvellous metrical agility, 'the melodious piping in honied words "long-drawn-out," the apparently inexhaustible fountain of harmonies at his command, all this for a time is fascinating. But erelong the flow of mellifluous epithets and of haunting rhymes begins to pall on us The verse lives in a tarantula of alliteration, assonance, consonance, and artful concatenation of sounds. It is very beautiful; but at last it becomes monotonous, cloying, a mannerism. And what does it all come to in the end? What is there to think out? What does it mean? For what is all this passion? And why do these interminable sonatas never end-or why, indeed, should they end? Only in the decadence of a silver age could Swinburne be placed in a rank with Tennyson.
If neither Browning nor Swinburne will hereafter take rank with Tennyson, surely no others of his contemporaries or successors will do so. Let us have done with cliques, and schools, and fads! For my part I honor and enjoy them all in turn; but I will not let my honor or my delight blind me to defects in those I love; nor will a balanced judgment suffer me to exalt a favorite for some conspicuous charm. Shakespeare and Milton stand apart in a world of their own, without rival or peer-hors concours-for they are the poets not of English literature but of all literature. Chaucer and Spenser are more honored than read; the men of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are more read than honored. And we now feel sure that Tennyson will hold an honored place with the great names of the nineteenth century-not above them, hardly below them, but finally enrolled in their glorious company.
LITERARY ASPECTS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.
Life, on the whole, is governed by certain great commonplaces which at our peril we forget. In previous articles I have drawn attention to the fact, constantly disregarded by men who write "Progress" on their banners, that our civilization comes from the South, and that the adventurous Northern races found in Greeks and Romans the masters by whom they were educated. Athens will ever be the school of philosophy and science; Rome has never ceased to be the representative of law. But religion, however closely in touch with Plato by its theology, or with Justinian by its canons of discipline, is, and must remain, Hebrew till the world's end. "The Hebrew," says De Quincey, "by introducing himself to the secret places of the human heart, and sitting there as incubator over the awful germs of the spiritualities that connect man with unseen worlds, has perpetuated himself as a power in the human system; he is coenduring with man's race, and careless of all revolutions in literature or in the composition of society." And St. Paul -the reconciler of East and West"Israelites, to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the Fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came." Whether we like it or no, therefore, we speak and think about religion in an Oriental language, not akin to the Teuton, most foreign in structure and movement to Latin, the antithesis of Greek by its essential form. It is curious to reflect that, whereas the Jew became our teacher and thereby planted his very idioms in the heart of Europe, there had been a day when
1 "Works," vol. x, 250, "On Language.". * Romans, ix, 4, 5.
his cousin, the Phoenician, might have got the start of him. What would have happened after the defeat of Cannæ if Hannibal had marched on Rome? Livy tells the tale of his refusing to follow fortune, and how Maherbal exclaimed in despair, "Vincere scis, Hannibal; victoria uti nescis." That day's delay, concludes the historian, was looked upon as the salvation of the city and the empire. Hannibal, whose name is pure Hebrew, signifying “God be gracious," lost his opportunity; and the Phoenician dialect, which might have grown into an imperial language, spoken from Sicily to the Shetlands, dwindled away, leaving an inscription here and there, with some eighteen corrupt lines as its epitaph in the Pœnulus of Plautus.'
Undoubtedly, between the sons of Tyre and those who went out to subdue the world from the mountain fastness of Salem there was a difference as of life and death. The Carthaginian was a trader and nothing more. His "factories" were places of exchange on the coast; the only shadow of a real dominion which he established lay across the Pillars of Hercules; neither religion nor civilization owed an idea to the middleman of classic antiquity. Suppose Hannibal had triumphed in Rome; it is hard to imagine that his people would have welcomed or spread the Hebrew revelation, in which their man-devouring god Baal is termed their shame and an unclean idol. Rome put down Carthage; and, in the three centuries following, Israel was given time to develop from the prophetic scrolls that New Testament which is its spiritual legacy to mankind, while a "holy remnant" made proselytes in all the great cities, and
Livy, xxii, 51.
4 "Ponulus," Act v, sc. i, 2.