Part 4 out of 6
disembodied spirit as a human creature can be. The German poet, Heine,
said that liberty was the religion of this century, and of this religion
Shelley was a worshiper. His rebellion against authority began early. He
refused to fag at Eton, and was expelled from Oxford for publishing a
tract on the _Necessity of Atheism_. At nineteen, he ran away with
Harriet Westbrook, and was married to her in Scotland. Three years
later he deserted her for Mary Godwin, with whom he eloped to
Switzerland. Two years after this his first wife drowned herself in the
Serpentine, and Shelley was then formally wedded to Mary Godwin. All
this is rather startling, in the bare statement of it, yet it is not
inconsistent with the many testimonies that exist to Shelley's singular
purity and beauty of character, testimonies borne out by the evidence of
his own writings. Impulse with him took the place of conscience. Moral
law, accompanied by the sanction of power, and imposed by outside
authority, he rejected as a form of tyranny. His nature lacked
robustness and ballast. Byron, who was at the bottom intensely
practical, said that Shelley's philosophy was too spiritual and
romantic. Hazlitt, himself a Radical, wrote of Shelley: "He has a fire
in his eye, a fever in his blood, a maggot in his brain, a hectic
flutter in his speech, which mark out the philosophic fanatic. He is
sanguine-complexioned and shrill-voiced." It was, perhaps, with some
recollection of this last-mentioned trait of Shelley the man, that
Carlyle wrote of Shelley the poet, that "the sound of him was shrieky,"
and that he had "filled the earth with an inarticulate wailing."
His career as a poet began, characteristically enough, with the
publication, while at Oxford, of a volume of political rimes, entitled
_Margaret Nicholson's Remains_, Margaret Nicholson being the crazy woman
who tried to stab George III. His boyish poem, _Queen Mab_, was
published in 1813; _Alastor_ in 1816, and the _Revolt of Islam_--his
longest--in 1818, all before he was twenty-one. These were filled with
splendid, though unsubstantial, imagery, but they were abstract in
subject, and had the faults of incoherence and formlessness which make
Shelley's longer poems wearisome and confusing. They sought to embody
his social creed of perfectionism, as well as a certain vague
pantheistic system of belief in a spirit of love in nature and man,
whose presence is a constant source of obscurity in Shelley's verse. In
1818 he went to Italy, where the last four years of his life were
passed, and where, under the influences of Italian art and poetry, his
writing became deeper and stronger. He was fond of yachting, and spent
much of his time upon the Mediterranean. In the summer of 1822 his boat
was swamped in a squall, off the Gulf of Spezzia, and Shelley's drowned
body was washed ashore, and burned in the presence of Byron and Leigh
Hunt. The ashes were entombed in the Protestant cemetery at Rome, with
the epitaph, _Cor cordium_.
Shelley's best and maturest work, nearly all of which was done in Italy,
includes his tragedy, _The Cenci_, 1819, and his lyrical drama,
_Prometheus Unbound_, 1821. The first of these has a unity and a
definiteness of contour unusual with Shelley, and is, with the exception
of some of Robert Browning's, the best English tragedy since Otway.
Prometheus represented to Shelley's mind the human spirit fighting
against divine oppression, and in his portrayal of this figure he kept
in mind not only the _Prometheus_ of Aeschylus, but the Satan of
_Paradise Lost_. Indeed, in this poem, Shelley came nearer to the
sublime than any English poet since Milton. Yet it is in lyrical, rather
than in dramatic, quality that _Prometheus Unbound_ is great. If Shelley
be not, as his latest editor, Mr. Forman, claims him to be, the foremost
of English lyrical poets, he is at least the most lyrical of them. He
had, in a supreme degree, the "lyric cry." His vibrant nature trembled
to every breath of emotion, and his nerves craved ever newer shocks; to
pant, to quiver, to thrill, to grow faint in the spasm of intense
sensation. The feminine cast observable in Shelley's portrait is borne
out by this tremulous sensibility in his verse. It is curious how often
he uses the metaphor of wings: of the winged spirit, soaring, like his
skylark, till lost in music, rapture, light, and then falling back to
earth. Three successive moods--longing, ecstasy, and the revulsion of
despair--are expressed in many of his lyrics; as in the _Hymn to the
Spirit of Nature_ in _Prometheus_, in the ode _To a Skylark_, and in the
_Lines to an Indian Air_--Edgar Poe's favorite. His passionate desire to
lose himself in Nature, to become one with that spirit of love and
beauty in the universe which was to him in place of God, is expressed in
the _Ode to the West Wind_, his most perfect poem:
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is;
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep autumnal tone
Sweet, though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! be thou me, impetuous one!
In the lyrical pieces already mentioned, together with _Adonais_, the
lines _Written in the Euganean Hills_, _Epipsychidion_, _Stanzas Written
in Dejection near Naples_, _A Dream of the Unknown_, and many others,
Shelley's lyrical genius reaches a rarer loveliness and a more faultless
art than Byron's ever attained, though it lacks the directness and
momentum of Byron.
In Shelley's longer poems, intoxicated with the music of his own
singing, he abandons himself wholly to the guidance of his imagination,
and the verse seems to go on of itself, like the enchanted boat in
_Alastor_, with no one at the helm. Vision succeeds vision in glorious
but bewildering profusion; ideal landscapes and cities of cloud
"pinnacled dim in the intense inane." These poems are like the
water-falls in the Yosemite, which, tumbling from a height of several
thousand feet, are shattered into foam by the air, and waved about over
the valley. Very beautiful is this descending spray, and the rainbow
dwells in its bosom; but there is no longer any stream, nothing but an
iridescent mist. The word _ethereal_ best expresses the quality of
Shelley's genius. His poetry is full of atmospheric effects; of the
tricks which light plays with the fluid elements of water and air; of
stars, clouds, rain, dew, mist, frost, wind, the foam of seas, the
phases of the moon, the green shadows of waves, the shapes of flames,
the "golden lightning of the setting sun." Nature, in Shelley, wants
homeliness and relief. While poets like Wordsworth and Burns let in an
ideal light upon the rough fields of earth, Shelley escapes into a
"moonlight-colored" realm of shadows and dreams, among whose
abstractions the heart turns cold. One bit of Wordsworth's mountain turf
is worth them all.
By the death of John Keats (1796-1821), whose elegy Shelley sang in
_Adonais_, English poetry suffered an irreparable loss. His _Endymion_,
1818, though disfigured by mawkishness and by some affectations of
manner, was rich in promise. Its faults were those of youth, the faults
of exuberance and of a sensibility, which time corrects. _Hyperion_,
1820, promised to be his masterpiece, but he left it unfinished--"a
Titanic torso"--because, as he said, "there were too many Miltonic
inversions in it." The subject was the displacement by Phoebus Apollo of
the ancient sun-god, Hyperion, the last of the Titans who retained his
dominion. It was a theme of great capabilities, and the poem was begun
by Keats with a strength of conception which leads to the belief that
here was once more a really epic genius, had fate suffered it to mature.
The fragment, as it stands--"that inlet to severe magnificence"--proves
how rapidly Keats's diction was clarifying. He had learned to string up
his loose chords. There is nothing maudlin in _Hyperion_; all there is
in whole tones and in the grand manner, "as sublime as Aeschylus," said
Byron, with the grave, antique simplicity, and something of modern
Keats's father was a groom in a London livery-stable. The poet was
apprenticed at fifteen to a surgeon. At school he had studied Latin but
not Greek. He, who of all the English poets had the most purely Hellenic
spirit, made acquaintance with Greek literature and art only through the
medium of classical dictionaries, translations, and popular
mythologies; and later through the marbles and casts in the British
Museum. His friend, the artist Haydon, lent him a copy of Chapman's
Homer, and the impression that it made upon him he recorded in his
sonnet, _On First Looking into Chapman's Homer_. Other poems of the same
inspiration are his three sonnets, _To Homer_, _On Seeing the Elgin
Marbles_, _On a Picture of Leander_, _Lamia_, and the beautiful _Ode on
a Grecian Urn_. But Keats's art was retrospective and eclectic, the
blossom of a double root; and "golden-tongued Romance with serene lute"
had her part in him, as well as the classics. In his seventeenth year he
had read the _Faerie Queene_, and from Spenser he went on to a study of
Chaucer, Shakspere and Milton. Then he took up Italian and read Ariosto.
The influence of these studies is seen in his poem, _Isabella, or the
Pot of Basil_, taken from a story of Boccaccio; in his wild ballad, _La
Belle Dame sans Merci_; and in his love tale, the _Eve of St. Agnes_,
with its wealth of mediaeval adornment. In the _Ode to Autumn_, and _Ode
to a Nightingale_, the Hellenic choiceness is found touched with the
warmer hues of romance.
There is something deeply tragic in the short story of Keats's life. The
seeds of consumption were in him; he felt the stirrings of a potent
genius, but he knew that he could not wait for it to unfold, but must
Before high-piled books in charactry
Hold like rich garners the full-ripened grain.
His disease was aggravated, possibly, by the stupid brutality with which
the reviewers had treated _Endymion_; and certainly by the hopeless love
which devoured him. "The very thing which I want to live most for," he
wrote, "will be a great occasion of my death. If I had any chance of
recovery, this passion would kill me." In the autumn of 1820, his
disease gaining apace, he went on a sailing vessel to Italy,
accompanied by a single friend, a young artist named Severn. The change
was of no avail, and he died at Rome a few weeks after, in his
Keats was, above all things, the _artist_, with that love of the
beautiful and that instinct for its reproduction which are the artist's
divinest gifts. He cared little about the politics and philosophy of his
day, and he did not make his poetry the vehicle of ideas. It was
sensuous poetry, the poetry of youth and gladness. But if he had lived,
and if, with wider knowledge of men and deeper experience of life, he
had attained to Wordsworth's spiritual insight and to Byron's power of
passion and understanding, he would have become a greater poet than
either. For he had a style--a "natural magic"--which only needed the
chastening touch of a finer culture to make it superior to any thing in
modern English poetry, and to force us back to Milton or Shakspere for a
comparison. His tombstone, not far from Shelley's, bears the inscription
of his own choosing: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." But
it would be within the limits of truth to say that it is written in
large characters on most of our contemporary poetry. "Wordsworth," says
Lowell, "has influenced most the ideas of succeeding poets; Keats their
forms." And he has influenced these out of all proportion to the amount
which he left, or to his intellectual range, by virtue of the exquisite
quality of his _technique_.
* * * * *
1. Mrs. Oliphant's Literary History of England, 18th-19th
Centuries. London: Macmillan & Co., 1883.
2. Wordsworth's Poems. Chosen and edited by Matthew
Arnold. London, 1879.
3. Poetry of Byron. Chosen and arranged by Matthew
Arnold. London, 1881.
4. Shelley. Julian and Maddalo, Prometheus Unbound,
The Cenci, Lyrical Pieces.
5. Landor. Pericles and Aspasia.
6. Coleridge. Table-Talk, Notes on Shakspere, The Ancient
Mariner, Christabel, Love, Ode to France, Ode to the Departing
Year, Kubla Khan, Hymn before Sunrise in the Vale of Chamouni,
Youth and Age, Frost at Midnight.
7. De Quincey. Confessions of an English Opium Eater,
Flight of a Tartar Tribe, Biographical Sketches.
8. Scott. Waverley, Heart of Midlothian, Bride of Lammermoor,
Rob Roy, Antiquary, Marmion, Lady of the Lake.
9. Keats. Hyperion, Eve of St. Agnes, Lyrical Pieces.
Boston: J.R. Osgood, 1871.
[Illustration: Southey, Scott, Coleridge, Macaulay.]
FROM THE DEATH OF SCOTT TO THE PRESENT TIME.
The literature of the past fifty years is too close to our eyes to
enable the critic to pronounce a final judgment, or the literary
historian to get a true perspective. Many of the principal writers of
the time are still living, and many others have been dead but a few
years. This concluding chapter, therefore, will be devoted to the
consideration of the few who stand forth, incontestably, as the leaders
of literary thought, and who seem likely, under all future changes of
fashion and taste, to remain representatives of their generation. As
regards _form_, the most striking fact in the history of the period
under review is the immense preponderance in its imaginative literature
of prose fiction, of the novel of real life. The novel has become to the
solitary reader of to-day what the stage play was to the audiences of
Elizabeth's reign, or the periodical essay, like the _Tatler_ and
_Spectator_, to the clubs and breakfast-tables of Queen Anne's. And if
its criticism of life is less concentrated and brilliant than the drama
gives, it is far more searching and minute. No period has ever left in
its literary records so complete a picture of its whole society as the
period which is just closing. At any other time than the present, the
names of authors like Charlotte Bronte, Charles Kingsley, and Charles
Reade--names which are here merely mentioned in passing--besides many
others which want of space forbids us even to mention--would be of
capital importance. As it is, we must limit our review to the three
acknowledged masters of modern English fiction, Charles Dickens
(1812-1870), William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863), and "George
Eliot" (Mary Ann Evans, 1819-1880).
It is sometimes helpful to reduce a great writer to his lowest term, in
order to see what the prevailing bent of his genius is. This lowest term
may often be found in his early work, before experience of the world has
overlaid his original impulse with foreign accretions. Dickens was much
more than a humorist, Thackeray than a satirist, and George Eliot than a
moralist; but they had their starting-points respectively in humor, in
burlesque, and in strong ethical and religious feeling. Dickens began
with a broadly comic series of papers, contributed to the _Old Magazine_
and the _Evening Chronicle_, and reprinted in book form, in 1836, as
_Sketches by Boz_. The success of these suggested to a firm of
publishers the preparation of a number of similar sketches of the
misadventures of cockney sportsmen, to accompany plates by the comic
draughtsman, Mr. R. Seymour. This suggestion resulted in the _Pickwick
Papers_, published in monthly installments in 1836-1837. The series
grew, under Dickens's hand, into a continuous though rather loosely
strung narrative of the doings of a set of characters, conceived with
such exuberant and novel humor that it took the public by storm and
raised its author at once to fame. _Pickwick_ is by no means Dickens's
best, but it is his most characteristic and most popular book. At the
time that he wrote these early sketches he was a reporter for the
_Morning Chronicle_. His naturally acute powers of observation had been
trained in this pursuit to the utmost efficiency, and there always
continued to be about his descriptive writing a reportorial and
newspaper air. He had the eye for effect, the sharp fidelity to detail,
the instinct for rapidly seizing upon and exaggerating the salient
point, which are developed by the requirements of modern journalism.
Dickens knew London as no one else has ever known it, and, in
particular, he knew its hideous and grotesque recesses, with the strange
developments of human nature that abide there; slums like
Tom-all-Alone's, in _Bleak House_; the river-side haunts of Rogue
Riderhood, in _Our Mutual Friend_; as well as the old inns, like the
"White Hart," and the "dusky purlieus of the law." As a man, his
favorite occupation was walking the streets, where, as a child, he had
picked up the most valuable part of his education. His tramps about
London--often after nightfall--sometimes extended to fifteen miles in a
day. He knew, too, the shifts of poverty. His father--some traits of
whom are preserved in Mr. Micawber--was imprisoned for debt in the
Marshalsea prison, where his wife took lodging with him, while Charles,
then a boy of ten, was employed at six shillings a week to cover
blacking-pots in Warner's blacking warehouse. The hardships and
loneliness of this part of his life are told under a thin disguise in
Dickens's masterpiece, _David Copperfield_, the most autobiographical of
his novels. From these young experiences he gained that insight into the
lives of the lower classes and that sympathy with children and with the
poor which shine out in his pathetic sketches of Little Nell, in _The
Old Curiosity Shop_; of Paul Dombey; of poor Jo, in _Bleak House_; of
"the Marchioness," and a hundred other figures.
In _Oliver Twist_, contributed, during 1837-1838, to _Bentley's
Miscellany_, a monthly magazine of which Dickens was editor, he produced
his first regular novel. In this story of the criminal classes the
author showed a tragic power which he had not hitherto exhibited.
Thenceforward his career was a series of dazzling successes. It is
impossible here to particularize his numerous novels, sketches, short
tales, and "Christmas Stories"--the latter a fashion which he
inaugurated, and which has produced a whole literature in itself. In
_Nicholas Nickleby_, 1839; _Master Humphrey's Clock_, 1840; _Martin
Chuzzlewit_, 1844; _Dombey and Son_, 1848; _David Copperfield_, 1850,
and _Bleak House_, 1853, there is no falling off in strength. The last
named was, in some respects, and especially in the skillful
construction of the plot, his best novel. In some of his latest books,
as _Great Expectations_, 1861, and _Our Mutual Friend_, 1865, there are
signs of a decline. This showed itself in an unnatural exaggeration of
characters and motives, and a painful straining after humorous effects;
faults, indeed, from which Dickens was never wholly free. There was a
histrionic side to him, which came out in his fondness for private
theatricals, in which he exhibited remarkable talent, and in the
dramatic action which he introduced into the delightful public readings
from his works that he gave before vast audiences all over the United
Kingdom, and in his two visits to America. It is not surprising, either,
to learn that upon the stage his preference was for melodrama and farce.
His own serious writing was always dangerously close to the
melodramatic, and his humor to the farcical. There is much false art,
bad taste, and even vulgarity in Dickens. He was never quite a
gentleman, and never succeeded well in drawing gentlemen or ladies. In
the region of low comedy he is easily the most original, the most
inexhaustible, the most wonderful, of modern humorists. Creations such
as Mrs. Nickleby, Mr. Micawber, Sam Weller, Sairy Gamp, take rank with
Falstaff and Dogberry; while many others, like Dick Swiveller, Stiggins,
Chadband, Mrs. Jellyby, and Julia Mills, are almost equally good. In the
innumerable swarm of minor characters with which he has enriched our
comic literature there is no indistinctness. Indeed, the objection that
has been made to him is that his characters are too distinct--that he
puts labels on them; that they are often mere personifications of a
single trick of speech or manner, which becomes tedious and unnatural by
repetition. Thus, Grandfather Smallweed is always settling down into his
cushion, and having to be shaken up; Mr. Jellyby is always sitting with
his head against the wall; Peggotty is always bursting her buttons off,
etc. As Dickens's humorous characters tend perpetually to run into
caricatures and grotesques, so his sentiment, from the same excess,
slops over too frequently into "gush," and into a too deliberate and
protracted attack upon the pity. A favorite humorous device in his style
is a stately and roundabout way of telling a trivial incident, as where,
for example, Mr. Roker "muttered certain unpleasant invocations
concerning his own eyes, limbs, and circulating fluids;" or where the
drunken man who is singing comic songs in the Fleet received from Mr.
Smangle "a gentle intimation, through the medium of the water-jug, that
his audience were not musically disposed." This manner was original with
Dickens, though he may have taken a hint of it from the mock heroic
language of _Jonathan Wild_; but as practiced by a thousand imitators,
ever since, it has gradually become a burden.
It would not be the whole truth to say that the difference between the
humor of Thackeray and Dickens is the same as between that of Shakspere
and Ben Jonson. Yet it is true that the "humors" of Ben Jonson have an
analogy with the extremer instances of Dickens's character sketches in
this respect, namely, that they are both studies of the eccentric, the
abnormal, the whimsical, rather than of the typical and universal;
studies of manners, rather than of whole characters. And it is easily
conceivable that, at no distant day, the oddities of Captain Cuttle,
Deportment Turveydrop, Mark Tapley, and Newman Noggs will seem as
far-fetched and impossible as those of Captain Otter, Fastidious Brisk
and Sir Amorous La-Foole.
When Dickens was looking about for some one to take Seymour's place as
illustrator of _Pickwick_, Thackeray applied for the job, but without
success. He was then a young man of twenty-five, and still hesitating
between art and literature. He had begun to draw caricatures with his
pencil when a school-boy at the Charter House, and to scribble them with
his pen when a student at Cambridge, editing _The Snob_, a weekly
under-graduate paper, and parodying the prize poem _Timbuctoo_ of his
contemporary at the university, Alfred Tennyson. Then he went abroad to
study art, passing a season at Weimar, where he met Goethe and filled
the albums of the young Saxon ladies with caricatures; afterward living
a bohemian existence in the Latin quarter at Paris, studying art in a
desultory way, and seeing men and cities; accumulating portfolios full
of sketches, but laying up stores of material to be used afterward to
greater advantage when he should settle upon his true medium of
expression. By 1837, having lost his fortune of five hundred pounds a
year in speculation and gambling, he began to contribute to _Fraser's_,
and thereafter to the _New Monthly_, Cruikshank's _Comic Almanac_,
_Punch_, and other periodicals, clever burlesques, art criticisms by
"Michael Angelo Titmarsh," _Yellowplush Papers_, and all manner of
skits, satirical character sketches, and humorous tales, like the _Great
Hoggarty Diamond_ and the _Luck of Barry Lyndon_. Some of these were
collected in the _Paris Sketch-Book_, 1840, and the _Irish Sketch-Book_,
1843; but Thackeray was slow in winning recognition, and it was not
until the publication of his first great novel, _Vanity Fair_, in
monthly parts, during 1846-1848, that he achieved any thing like the
general reputation that Dickens had reached at a bound. _Vanity Fair_
described itself, on its title-page, as "a novel without a hero." It was
also a novel without a plot--in the sense in which _Bleak House_ or
_Nicholas Nickleby_ had a plot--and in that respect it set the fashion
for the latest school of realistic fiction, being a transcript of life,
without necessary beginning or end. Indeed, one of the pleasantest
things to a reader of Thackeray is the way which his characters have of
re-appearing, as old acquaintances, in his different books; just as, in
real life, people drop out of mind and then turn up again in other years
and places. _Vanity Fair_ is Thackeray's masterpiece, but it is not the
best introduction to his writings. There are no illusions in it, and,
to a young reader fresh from Scott's romances or Dickens's sympathetic
extravagances, it will seem hard and repellent. But men who, like
Thackeray, have seen life and tasted its bitterness and felt its
hollowness know how to prize it. Thackeray does not merely expose the
cant, the emptiness, the self-seeking, the false pretenses, flunkeyism,
and snobbery--the "mean admiration of mean things"--in the great world
of London society; his keen, unsparing vision detects the base alloy in
the purest natures. There are no "heroes" in his books, no perfect
characters. Even his good women, such as Helen and Laura Pendennis, are
capable of cruel injustice toward less fortunate sisters, like little
Fanny; and Amelia Sedley is led, by blind feminine instinct, to snub and
tyrannize over poor Dobbin. The shabby miseries of life, the numbing and
belittling influences of failure and poverty on the most generous
natures, are the tragic themes which Thackeray handles by preference. He
has been called a cynic, but the boyish playfulness of his humor and his
kindly spirit are incompatible with cynicism. Charlotte Bronte said that
Fielding was the vulture and Thackeray the eagle. The comparison would
have been truer if made between Swift and Thackeray. Swift was a cynic;
his pen was driven by hate, but Thackeray's by love, and it was not in
bitterness but in sadness that the latter laid bare the wickedness of
the world. He was himself a thorough man of the world, and he had that
dislike for a display of feeling which characterizes the modern
Englishman. But behind his satiric mask he concealed the manliest
tenderness, and a reverence for every thing in human nature that is good
and true. Thackeray's other great novels are _Pendennis_, 1849; _Henry
Esmond_, 1852, and _The Newcomes_, 1855--the last of which contains his
most lovable character, the pathetic and immortal figure of Colonel
Newcome, a creation worthy to stand, in its dignity and its sublime
weakness, by the side of Don Quixote. It was alleged against Thackeray
that he made all his good characters, like Major Dobbin and Amelia
Sedley and Colonel Newcome, intellectually feeble, and his brilliant
characters, like Becky Sharp and Lord Steyne and Blanche Amory, morally
bad. This is not entirely true, but the other complaint--that his women
are inferior to his men--is true in a general way. Somewhat inferior to
his other novels were _The Virginians_, 1858, and _The Adventures of
Philip_, 1862. All of these were stories of contemporary life, except
_Henry Esmond_ and its sequel, _The Virginians_, which, though not
precisely historical fictions, introduced historical figures, such as
Washington and the Earl of Peterborough. Their period of action was the
18th century, and the dialogue was a cunning imitation of the language
of that time. Thackeray was strongly attracted by the 18th century. His
literary teachers were Addison, Swift, Steele, Gay, Johnson, Richardson,
Goldsmith, Fielding, Smollett, and Sterne, and his special master and
model was Fielding. He projected a history of the century, and his
studies in this kind took shape in his two charming series of lectures
on _The English Humorists_ and _The Four Georges_. These he delivered in
England and in America, to which country he, like Dickens, made two
[Illustration: Carlyle, Ruskin, Thackeray, Dickens.]
Thackeray's genius was, perhaps, less astonishing than Dickens's; less
fertile, spontaneous, and inventive; but his art is sounder, and his
delineation of character more truthful. After one has formed a taste for
his books, Dickens's sentiment will seem overdone, and much of his humor
will have the air of buffoonery. Thackeray had the advantage in another
particular: he described the life of the upper classes, and Dickens of
the lower. It may be true that the latter offers richer material to the
novelist, in the play of elementary passions and in strong native
developments of character. It is true, also, that Thackeray approached
"society" rather to satirize it than to set forth its agreeableness.
Yet, after all, it is "the great world" which he describes, that world
upon which the broadening and refining processes of a high civilization
have done their utmost, and which, consequently, must possess an
intellectual interest superior to any thing in the life of London
thieves, traveling showmen, and coachees. Thackeray is the equal of
Swift as a satirist, of Dickens as a humorist, and of Scott as a
novelist. The one element lacking in him--and which Scott had in a high
degree--is the poetic imagination. "I have no brains above my eyes" he
said; "I describe what I see." Hence there is wanting in his creations
that final charm which Shakspere's have. For what the eyes see is not
The great woman who wrote under the pen-name of George Eliot was a
humorist, too. She had a rich, deep humor of her own, and a wit that
crystallized into sayings which are not epigrams only because their
wisdom strikes more than their smartness. But humor was not, as with
Thackeray and Dickens, her point of view. A country girl, the daughter
of a land agent and surveyor at Nuneaton, in Warwickshire, her early
letters and journals exhibit a Calvinistic gravity and moral severity.
Later, when her truth to her convictions led her to renounce the
Christian belief, she carried into positivism the same religious
earnestness, and wrote the one English hymn of the religion of humanity:
O, let me join the choir invisible, etc.
Her first published work was a translation of Strauss's _Leben Jesu_,
1846. In 1851 she went to London and became one of the editors of the
Radical organ, the _Westminster Review_. Here she formed a connection--a
marriage in all but the name--with George Henry Lewes, who was, like
herself, a freethinker, and who published, among other things, a
_Biographical History of Philosophy_. Lewes had also written fiction,
and it was at his suggestion that his wife undertook story writing. Her
_Scenes of Clerical Life_ were contributed to _Blackwood's Magazine_ for
1857, and published in book form in the following year. _Adam Bede_
followed in 1859, the _Mill on the Floss_ in 1860, _Silas Marner_ in
1861, _Romola_ in 1863, _Felix Holt_ in 1866, and _Middlemarch_ in 1872.
All of these, except _Romola_, are tales of provincial and largely of
domestic life in the midland counties. _Romola_ is an historical novel,
the scene of which is Florence in the 15th century; the Florence of
Macchiavelli and of Savonarola.
George Eliot's method was very different from that of Thackeray or
Dickens. She did not crowd her canvas with the swarming life of cities.
Her figures are comparatively few, and they are selected from the
middle-class families of rural parishes or small towns, amid that
atmosphere of "fine old leisure;" whose disappearance she lamented. Her
drama is a still-life drama, intensely and profoundly inward. Character
is the stuff that she works in, and she deals with it more subtly than
Thackeray. With him the tragedy is produced by the pressure of society
and its false standards upon the individual; with her, by the malign
influence of individuals upon one another. She watches "the stealthy
convergence of human fates," the intersection at various angles of the
planes of character, the power that the lower nature has to thwart,
stupefy, or corrupt the higher, which has become entangled with it in
the mesh of destiny. At the bottom of every one of her stories there is
a problem of the conscience or the intellect. In this respect she
resembles Hawthorne, though she is not, like him, a romancer, but a
There is a melancholy philosophy in her books, most of which are tales
of failure or frustration. The _Mill on the Floss_ contains a large
element of autobiography, and its heroine, Maggie Tulliver, is, perhaps,
her idealized self. Her aspirations after a fuller and nobler existence
are condemned to struggle against the resistance of a narrow, provincial
environment, and the pressure of untoward fates. She is tempted to seek
an escape even through a desperate throwing off of moral obligations,
and is driven back to her duty only to die by a sudden stroke of
destiny. "Life is a bad business," wrote George Eliot, in a letter to a
friend, "and we must make the most of it." _Adam Bede_ is, in
construction, the most perfect of her novels, and _Silas Marner_ of her
shorter stories. Her analytic habit gained more and more upon her as she
wrote. _Middlemarch_, in some respects her greatest book, lacks the
unity of her earlier novels, and the story tends to become subordinate
to the working out of character studies and social problems. The
philosophic speculations which she shared with her husband were
seemingly unfavorable to her artistic growth, a circumstance which
becomes apparent in her last novel, _Daniel Deronda_, 1877. Finally in
the _Impressions of Theophrastus Such_, 1879, she abandoned narrative
altogether, and recurred to that type of "character" books which we have
met as a flourishing department of literature in the 17th century,
represented by such works as Earle's _Microcosmographie_ and Fuller's
_Holy and Profane State_. The moral of George Eliot's writings is not
obtruded. She never made the artistic mistake of writing a novel of
purpose, or what the Germans call a _tendenz-roman_; as Dickens did, for
example, when he attacked imprisonment for debt, in _Pickwick_; the poor
laws, in _Oliver Twist_; the Court of Chancery, in _Bleak House_; and
the Circumlocution office, in _Little Dorrit_.
Next to the novel, the essay has been the most overflowing literary form
used by the writers of this generation--a form characteristic, it may
be, of an age which "lectures, not creates." It is not the essay of
Bacon, nor yet of Addison, nor of Lamb, but attempts a complete
treatment. Indeed, many longish books, like Carlyle's _Heroes and Hero
Worship_ and Ruskin's _Modern Painters_, are, in spirit, rather literary
essays than formal treatises. The most popular essayist and historian of
his time was Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), an active and
versatile man, who won splendid success in many fields of labor. He was
prominent in public life as one of the leading orators and writers of
the Whig party. He sat many times in the House of Commons, as member for
Calne, for Leeds, and for Edinburgh, and took a distinguished part in
the debates on the Reform bill of 1832. He held office in several Whig
governments, and during his four years' service in British India, as
member of the Supreme Council of Calcutta, he did valuable work in
promoting education in that province, and in codifying the Indian penal
law. After his return to England, and especially after the publication
of his _History of England from The Accession of James II.,_ honors and
appointments of all kinds were showered upon him. In 1857 he was raised
to the peerage as Baron Macaulay of Rothley.
Macaulay's equipment, as a writer on historical and biographical
subjects, was, in some points, unique. His reading was prodigious, and
his memory so tenacious that it was said, with but little exaggeration,
that he never forgot any thing that he had read. He could repeat the
whole of _Paradise Lost_ by heart, and thought it probable that he could
rewrite _Sir Charles Grandison_ from memory. In his books, in his
speeches in the House of Commons, and in private conversation--for he
was an eager and fluent talker, running on often for hours at a
stretch--he was never at a loss to fortify and illustrate his positions
by citation after citation of dates, names, facts of all kinds, and
passages quoted _verbatim_ from his multifarious reading. The first of
Macaulay's writings to attract general notice was his article on
_Milton_, printed in the August number of the _Edinburgh Review_ for
1825. The editor, Lord Jeffrey, in acknowledging the receipt of the
manuscript, wrote to his new contributor, "The more I think, the less I
can conceive where you picked up that style." That celebrated
style--about which so much has since been written--was an index to the
mental character of its owner. Macaulay was of a confident, sanguine,
impetuous nature. He had great common sense, and he saw what he saw
quickly and clearly, but he did not see very far below the surface. He
wrote with the conviction of an advocate, and the easy omniscience of a
man whose learning is really nothing more than "general information"
raised to a very high power, rather than with the subtle penetration of
an original or truly philosophic intellect, like Coleridge's or De
Quincey's. He always had at hand explanations of events or of characters
which were admirably easy and simple--too simple, indeed, for the
complicated phenomena which they professed to explain. His style was
clear, animated, showy, and even its faults were of an exciting kind. It
was his habit to give piquancy to his writing by putting things
concretely. Thus, instead of saying, in general terms--as Hume or Gibbon
might have done--that the Normans and Saxons began to mingle about 1200,
he says: "The great-grandsons of those who had fought under William and
the great grandsons of those who had fought under Harold began to draw
near to each other." Macaulay was a great scene painter, who neglected
delicate truths of detail for exaggerated distemper effects. He used the
rhetorical machinery of climax and hyperbole for all that it was worth,
and he "made points"--as in his essay on _Bacon_--by creating
antithesis. In his _History of England_ he inaugurated the picturesque
method of historical writing. The book was as fascinating as any novel.
Macaulay, like Scott, had the historic imagination, though his method of
turning history into romance was very different from Scott's. Among his
essays the best are those which, like the ones on _Lord Clive, Warren
Hastings_, and _Frederick the Great_, deal with historical subjects; or
those which deal with literary subjects under their public historic
relations, such as the essays on _Addison, Bunyan_, and _The Comic
Dramatists of the Restoration_. "I have never written a page of
criticism on poetry, or the fine arts," wrote Macaulay, "which I would
not burn if I had the power." Nevertheless his own _Lays of Ancient
Rome_, 1842, are good, stirring verse of the emphatic and declamatory
kind, though their quality may be rather rhetorical than poetic.
Our critical time has not forborne to criticize itself, and perhaps the
writer who impressed himself most strongly upon his generation was the
one who railed most desperately against the "spirit of the age." Thomas
Carlyle (1795-1881) was occupied between 1822 and 1830 chiefly in
imparting to the British public a knowledge of German literature. He
published, among other things, a _Life of Schiller_, a translation of
Goethe's _Wilhelm Meister_, and two volumes of translations from the
German romancers--Tieck, Hoffmann, Richter, and Fouque--and contributed
to the _Edinburgh_ and _Foreign Review_ articles on Goethe, Werner,
Novalis, Richter, German playwrights, the _Nibelungen Lied_, etc. His
own diction became more and more tinctured with Germanisms. There was
something Gothic in his taste, which was attracted by the lawless, the
grotesque, and the whimsical in the writings of Jean Paul Richter. His
favorite among English humorists was Sterne, who has a share of these
same qualities. He spoke disparagingly of "the sensuous literature of
the Greeks," and preferred the Norse to the Hellenic mythology. Even in
his admirable critical essays on Burns, on Richter, on Scott, Diderot,
and Voltaire, which are free from his later mannerism--written in
English, and not in Carlylese--his sense of spirit is always more lively
than his sense of form. He finally became so impatient of art as to
maintain--half-seriously--the paradox that Shakspere would have done
better to write in prose. In three of these early essays--on the _Signs
of the Times_, 1829; on _History_, 1830, and on _Characteristics_,
1831--are to be found the germs of all his later writings. The first of
these was an arraignment of the mechanical spirit of the age. In every
province of thought he discovered too great a reliance upon systems,
institutions, machinery, instead of upon men. Thus, in religion, we have
Bible societies, "machines for converting the heathen." "In defect of
Raphaels and Angelos and Mozarts, we have royal academies of painting,
sculpture, music." In like manner, he complains, government is a
machine. "Its duties and faults are not those of a father, but of an
active parish-constable." Against the "police theory," as distinguished
from the "paternal" theory, of government, Carlyle protested with ever
shriller iteration. In _Chartism_, 1839, _Past and Present_, 1843, and
_Latter-day Pamphlets,_ 1850, he denounced this _laissez faire_ idea.
The business of government, he repeated, is to govern; but this view
makes it its business to refrain from governing. He fought most fiercely
against the conclusions of political economy, "the dismal science"
which, he said, affirmed that men were guided exclusively by their
stomachs. He protested, too, against the Utilitarians, followers of
Bentham and Mill, with their "greatest happiness principle," which
reduced virtue to a profit-and-loss account. Carlyle took issue with
modern liberalism; he ridiculed the self-gratulation of the time, all
the talk about progress of the species, unexampled prosperity, etc. But
he was reactionary without being conservative. He had studied the French
Revolution, and he saw the fateful, irresistible approach of democracy.
He had no faith in government "by counting noses," and he hated talking
Parliaments; but neither did he put trust in an aristocracy that spent
its time in "preserving the game." What he wanted was a great individual
ruler; a real king or hero; and this doctrine he set forth afterward
most fully in _Hero Worship_, 1841, and illustrated in his lives of
representative heroes, such as his _Cromwell's Letters and Speeches_,
1845, and his great _History of Frederick the Great,_ 1858-1865.
Cromwell and Frederick were well enough; but as Carlyle grew older his
admiration for mere force grew, and his latest hero was none other than
that infamous Dr. Francia, the South American dictator, whose career of
bloody and crafty crime horrified the civilized world.
The essay on _History_ was a protest against the scientific view of
history which attempts to explain away and account for the wonderful.
"Wonder," he wrote in _Sartor Resartus_, "is the basis of all worship."
He defined history as "the essence of innumerable biographies." "Mr.
Carlyle," said the Italian patriot, Mazzini, "comprehends only the
individual. The nationality of Italy is, in his eyes, the glory of
having produced Dante and Christopher Columbus." This trait comes out in
his greatest book, _The French Revolution_, 1837, which is a mighty
tragedy enacted by a few leading characters--Mirabeau, Danton, Napoleon.
He loved to emphasize the superiority of history over fiction as
dramatic material. The third of the three essays mentioned was a
Jeremiad on the morbid self-consciousness of the age, which shows
itself, in religion and philosophy, as skepticism and introspective
metaphysics; and in literature, as sentimentalism, and "view-hunting."
But Carlyle's epoch-making book was _Sartor Resartus_ (The Tailor
Retailored), published in _Fraser's Magazine_ for 1833-1834, and first
reprinted in book form in America. This was a satire upon shams,
conventions, the disguises which overlie the most spiritual realities of
the soul. It purported to be the life and "clothes-philosophy" of a
certain Diogenes Teufelsdroeckh, Professor _der Allerlei
Wissenschaft_--of things in general--in the University of Weissnichtwo.
"Society," said Carlyle, "is founded upon cloth," following the
suggestions of Lear's speech to the naked bedlam beggar: "Thou art the
thing itself: unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare,
forked animal as thou art;" and borrowing also, perhaps, an ironical
hint from a paragraph in Swift's _Tale of a Tub_: "A sect was
established who held the universe to be a large suit of clothes....If
certain ermines or furs be placed in a certain position, we style them a
judge; and so an apt conjunction of lawn and black satin we entitle a
bishop." In _Sartor Resartus_ Carlyle let himself go. It was willful,
uncouth, amorphous, titanic. There was something monstrous in the
combination--the hot heart of the Scot married to the transcendental
dream of Germany. It was not English, said the reviewers; it was not
sense; it was disfigured by obscurity and "mysticism." Nevertheless even
the thin-witted and the dry-witted had to acknowledge the powerful
beauty of many chapters and passages, rich with humor, eloquence,
poetry, deep-hearted tenderness, or passionate scorn.
[Illustration: Geo. Eliot, Froude, Browning, Tennyson.]
Carlyle was a voracious reader, and the plunder of whole literatures is
strewn over his pages. He flung about the resources of the language with
a giant's strength, and made new words at every turn. The concreteness
and the swarming fertility of his mind are evidenced by his enormous
vocabulary, computed greatly to exceed Shakspere's, or any other single
writer's in the English tongue. His style lacks the crowning grace of
simplicity and repose. It astonishes, but it also fatigues.
Carlyle's influence has consisted more in his attitude than in any
special truth which he has preached. It has been the influence of a
moralist, of a practical rather than a speculative philosopher. "The end
of man," he wrote, "is an action, not a thought." He has not been able
to persuade the time that it is going wrong, but his criticisms have
been wholesomely corrective of its self-conceit. In a democratic age he
has insisted upon the undemocratic virtues of obedience, silence, and
reverence. _Ehrfurcht_, reverence--the text of his address to the
students of Edinburgh University in 1866--is the last word of his
In 1830 Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892), a young graduate of Cambridge,
published a thin duodecimo of 154 pages entitled _Poems, Chiefly
Lyrical_. The pieces in this little volume, such as the _Sleeping
Beauty, Ode to Memory_, and _Recollections of the Arabian Nights_, were
full of color, fragrance, melody; but they had a dream-like character,
and were without definite theme, resembling an artist's studies, or
exercises in music--a few touches of the brush, a few sweet chords, but
no _aria_. A number of them--_Claribel, Lilian, Adeline, Isabel,
Mariana, Madeline_--were sketches of women; not character portraits,
like Browning's _Men and Women_, but impressions of temperament, of
delicately differentiated types of feminine beauty. In _Mariana_,
expanded from a hint of the forsaken maid in Shakspere's _Measure for
Measure_, "Mariana at the moated grange," the poet showed an art then
peculiar, but since grown familiar, of heightening the central feeling
by landscape accessories. The level waste, the stagnant sluices, the
neglected garden, the wind in the single poplar, re-enforce, by their
monotonous sympathy, the loneliness, the hopeless waiting and weariness
of life in the one human figure of the poem. In _Mariana_, the _Ode to
Memory_, and the _Dying Swan_, it was the fens of Cambridge and of his
native Lincolnshire that furnished Tennyson's scenery.
Stretched wide and wild, the waste enormous marsh,
Where from the frequent bridge,
Like emblems of infinity,
The trenched waters run from sky to sky.
A second collection, published in 1833, exhibited a greater scope and
variety, but was still in his earlier manner. The studies of feminine
types were continued in _Margaret, Fatima, Eleanore, Mariana in the
South_, and _A Dream of Fair Women_, suggested by Chaucer's _Legend of
Good Women_. In the _Lady of Shalott_ the poet first touched the
Arthurian legends. The subject is the same as that of _Elaine_, in the
_Idylls of the King_, but the treatment is shadowy, and even
allegorical. In _OEnone_ and the _Lotus Eaters_ he handled Homeric
subjects, but in a romantic fashion which contrasts markedly with the
style of his later pieces, _Ulysses_ and _Tithonus._ These last have the
true classic severity, and are among the noblest specimens of weighty
and sonorous blank verse in modern poetry. In general, Tennyson's art is
unclassical. It is rich, ornate, composite; not statuesque so much as
picturesque. He is a great painter, and the critics complain that in
passages calling for movement and action--a battle, a tournament, or the
like--his figures stand still as in a tableau; and they contrast such
passages unfavorably with scenes of the same kind in Scott, and with
Browning's spirited ballad, _How we brought the Good News from Ghent to
Aix_. In the _Palace of Art_ these elaborate pictorial effects were
combined with allegory; in the _Lotus Eaters_, with that expressive
treatment of landscape noted in _Mariana_; the lotus land, "in which it
seemed always afternoon," reflecting and promoting the enchanted
indolence of the heroes. Two of the pieces in this 1833 volume, the _May
Queen_ and the _Miller's Daughter_, were Tennyson's first poems of the
affections, and as ballads of simple rustic life they anticipated his
more perfect idyls in blank verse, such as _Dora_, the _Brook, Edwin
Morris_, and the _Gardener's Daughter._ The songs in the _Miller's
Daughter_ had a more spontaneous lyrical movement than any thing he had
yet published, and foretokened the lovely songs which interlude the
divisions of the _Princess_, the famous _Bugle Song_, the no-less famous
_Cradle Song_, and the rest. In 1833 Tennyson's friend, Arthur Hallam,
died, and the effect of this great sorrow upon the poet was to deepen
and strengthen the character of his genius. It turned his mind in upon
itself, and set it brooding over questions which his poetry had so far
left untouched; the meaning of life and death, the uses of adversity,
the future of the race, the immortality of the soul, and the dealings of
God with mankind.
Thou madest Death: and, lo, thy foot
Is on the skull which thou hast made.
His elegy on Hallam, _In Memoriam_, was not published till 1850. He
kept it by him all those years, adding section after section, gathering
up into it whatever reflections crystallized about its central theme. It
is his most intellectual and most individual work; a great song of
sorrow and consolation. In 1842 he published a third collection of
poems, among which were _Locksley Hall_, displaying a new strength, of
passion; _Ulysses_, suggested by a passage in Dante: pieces of a
speculative cast, like the _Two Voices_ and the _Vision of Sin_; the
song _Break, Break, Break_, which preluded _In Memoriam_; and, lastly,
some additional gropings toward the subject of the Arthurian romance,
such as _Sir Galahad, Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere_, and _Morte d'
Arthur._ The last was in blank verse, and, as afterward incorporated in
the _Passing of Arthur_, forms one of the best passages in the _Idylls
of the King_. The _Princess, a Medley_, published in 1849, represents
the eclectic character of Tennyson's art; a mediaeval tale with an
admixture of modern sentiment, and with the very modern problem of
woman's sphere for its theme. The first four _Idylls of the King_, 1859,
with those since added, constitute, when taken together, an epic poem on
the old story of King Arthur. Tennyson went to Malory's _Morte Darthur_
for his material, but the outline of the first idyl, _Enid_, was taken
from Lady Charlotte Guest's translation of the Welsh _Mabinogion_. In
the idyl of _Guinevere_ Tennyson's genius reached its high-water mark.
The interview between Arthur and his fallen queen is marked by a moral
sublimity and a tragic intensity which move the soul as nobly as any
scene in modern literature. Here, at least, the art is pure and not
"decorated;" the effect is produced by the simplest means, and all is
just, natural, and grand. _Maud_--a love novel in verse--published in
1855, and considerably enlarged in 1856, had great sweetness and beauty,
particularly in its lyrical portions, but it was uneven in execution,
imperfect in design, and marred by lapses into mawkishness and excess
in language. Since 1860 Tennyson has added little of permanent value to
his work. His dramatic experiments, like _Queen Mary_, are not, on the
whole, successful, though it would be unjust to deny dramatic power to
the poet who has written, upon one hand, _Guinevere_ and the _Passing of
Arthur_, and upon the other the homely dialectic monologue of the
When we tire of Tennyson's smooth perfection, of an art that is over
exquisite, and a beauty that is well-nigh too beautiful, and crave a
rougher touch, and a meaning that will not yield itself too readily, we
turn to the thorny pages of his great contemporary, Robert Browning
(1812-1889). Dr. Holmes says that Tennyson is white meat and Browning is
dark meat. A masculine taste, it is inferred, is shown in a preference
for the gamier flavor. Browning makes us think; his poems are puzzles,
and furnish business for "Browning Societies." There are no Tennyson
societies, because Tennyson is his own interpreter. Intellect in a poet
may display itself quite as properly in the construction of his poem as
in its content; we value a building for its architecture, and not
entirely for the amount of timber in it. Browning's thought never wears
so thin as Tennyson's sometimes does in his latest verse, where the
trick of his style goes on of itself with nothing behind it. Tennyson,
at his worst, is weak. Browning, when not at his best, is hoarse.
Hoarseness, in itself, is no sign of strength. In Browning, however, the
failure is in art, not in thought.
He chooses his subjects from abnormal character types, such as are
presented, for example, in _Caliban upon Setebos_, the _Grammarian's
Funeral, My Last Duchess_ and _Mr. Sludge, the Medium_. These are all
psychological studies, in which the poet gets into the inner
consciousness of a monster, a pedant, a criminal, and a quack, and gives
their point of view. They are dramatic soliloquies; but the poet's
self-identification with each of his creations, in turn, remains
incomplete. His curious, analytic observation, his way of looking at
the soul from outside, gives a doubleness to the monologues in his
_Dramatic Lyrics_, 1845, _Men and Women_, 1855, _Dramatis Personae_,
1864, and other collections of the kind. The words are the words of
Caliban or Mr. Sludge; but the voice is the voice of Robert Browning.
His first complete poem, _Paracelsus_, 1835, aimed to give the true
inwardness of the career of the famous 16th century doctor, whose name
became a synonym with charlatan. His second, _Sordello_, 1840, traced
the struggles of an Italian poet who lived before Dante, and could not
reconcile his life with his art. _Paracelsus_ was hard, but _Sordello_
was incomprehensible. Browning has denied that he was ever perversely
crabbed or obscure. Every great artist must be allowed to say things in
his own way, and obscurity has its artistic uses, as the Gothic builders
knew. But there are two kinds of obscurity in literature. One is
inseparable from the subtlety and difficulty of the thought or the
compression and pregnant indirectness of the phrase. Instances of this
occur in the clear deeps of Dante, Shakspere, and Goethe. The other
comes from a vice of style, a willfully enigmatic and unnatural way of
expressing thought. Both kinds of obscurity exist in Browning. He was a
deep and subtle thinker, but he was also a very eccentric writer;
abrupt, harsh, disjointed. It has been well said that the reader of
Browning learns a new dialect. But one need not grudge the labor that is
rewarded with an intellectual pleasure so peculiar and so stimulating.
The odd, grotesque impression made by his poetry arises, in part, from
his desire to use the artistic values of ugliness, as well as of
obscurity; to avoid the shallow prettiness that comes from blinking the
disagreeable truth: not to leave the saltness out of the sea. Whenever
he emerges into clearness, as he does in hundreds of places, he is a
poet of great qualities. There are a fire and a swing in his _Cavalier
Tunes_, and in pieces like the _Glove_ and the _Lost_ _Leader_; and
humor in such ballads as the _Pied Piper of Hamelin_ and the _Soliloquy
of the Spanish Cloister_, which appeal to the most conservative reader.
He seldom deals directly in the pathetic, but now and then, as in
_Evelyn Hope_, the _Last Ride Together_, or the _Incident of the French
Camp_, a tenderness comes over the strong verse
A film the mother eagle's eye
When her bruised eaglet breathes.
Perhaps the most astonishing example of Browning's mental vigor is the
huge composition, entitled _The Ring and the Book,_ 1868; a narrative
poem in twenty-one thousand lines in which the same story is repeated
eleven times in eleven different ways. It is the story of a criminal
trial which occurred at Rome about 1700, the trial of one Count Guido
for the murder of his young wife. First the poet tells the tale himself;
then he tells what one half the world said and what the other; then he
gives the deposition of the dying girl, the testimony of witnesses, the
speech made by the count in his own defense, the arguments of counsel,
etc., and, finally, the judgment of the pope. So wonderful are
Browning's resources in casuistry, and so cunningly does he ravel the
intricate motives at play in this tragedy and lay bare the secrets of
the heart, that the interest increases at each repetition of the tale.
He studied the Middle Age carefully, not for its picturesque externals,
its feudalisms, chivalries, and the like; but because he found it a rich
quarry of spiritual monstrosities, strange outcroppings of fanaticism,
superstition, and moral and mental distortion of all shapes. It
furnished him especially with a great variety of ecclesiastical types,
such as are painted in _Fra Lippo Lippi, The Heretic's Tragedy,_ and
_The Bishop Orders his Tomb in St. Praxed's Church._
Browning's dramatic instinct always attracted him to the stage. His
tragedy, _Strafford_ (1837), was written for Macready, and put on at
Covent Garden Theater, but without pronounced success. He wrote many
fine dramatic poems, like _Pippa Passes, Colombe's Birthday_, and _In a
Balcony_; and at least two good acting plays, _Luria_ and _A Blot in the
Scutcheon._ The last named has recently been given to the American
public, with Lawrence Barrett's careful and intelligent presentation of
the leading role. The motive of the tragedy is somewhat strained and
fantastic, but it is, notwithstanding, very effective on the stage. It
gives one an unwonted thrill to listen to a play, by a contemporary
English writer, which is really literature. One gets a faint idea of
what it must have been to assist at the first night of _Hamlet_.
1. English Literature in the Reign of Victoria. Henry
Morley. (Tauchnitz Series.)
2. Victorian Poets. E.C. Stedman. Boston: Houghton,
Mifflin & Co., 1886.
3. Dickens. Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, David
Copperfield, Bleak House, Tale of Two Cities.
4. Thackeray. Vanity Fair, Pendennis, Henry Esmond,
5. George Eliot. Scenes of Clerical Life, Mill on the
Floss, Silas Marner, Romola, Adam Bede, Middlemarch.
6. Macaulay. Essays, Lays of Ancient Rome.
7. Carlyle. Sartor Resartus, French Revolution, Essays
on History, Signs of the Times, Characteristics, Burns, Scott,
Voltaire, and Goethe.
8 The Works of Alfred Tennyson. London: Stranham
& Co., 1872. 6 vols.
9. Selections from the Poetical Works of Robert Browning.
London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1880. 2 vols.
[From the general prologue to the Canterbury Tales.]
There was also a nonne, a prioresse,
That of hire smiling was ful simple and coy;
Hire gretest othe n'as but by Seint Eloy;
And she was cleped madame Eglentine.
Ful wel she sange the service devine,
Entuned in hire nose ful swetely;
And Frenche she spake ful fayre and fetisly
After the scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe,
For Frenche of Paris was to hire unknowe.
At mete was she wel ytaught withalle;
She lette no morsel from hire lippe falle,
Ne wette hire fingres in hire sauce depe.
Wel coude she carie a morsel, and wel kepe,
Thatte no drope ne fell upon hire brest.
In curtesie was sette ful moche hire lest.
Hire over lippe wiped she so clene
That in hire cuppe was no ferthing sene
Of grese, whan she dronken hadde hire draught.
Ful semely after hire mete she raught.
And sikerly she was of grete disport
And ful plesant and amiable of port,
And peined hire to contrefeten chere
Of court, and ben estatelich of manere
And to ben holden digne of reverence.
But for to speken of hire conscience,
She was so charitable and so pitous,
She wolde wepe if that she saw a mous
Caughte in a trappe, if it were ded or bledde.
Of smale houndes hadde she, that she fedde
With rested flesh and milk and wastel brede.
But sore wept she if on of hem were dede,
Or if men smote it with a yerde smert:
And all was conscience and tendre herte.
[Footnote 23: Called.]
[Footnote 24: Neatly.]
[Footnote 25: Stratford on the Bow (river): a small village where such
French as was spoken would be provincial.]
[Footnote 26: Delight.]
[Footnote 27: Farthing, bit.]
[Footnote 28: Reached.]
[Footnote 29: Surely.]
[Footnote 30: Took pains to imitate court manners.]
[Footnote 31: Worthy.]
[Footnote 32: Fine bread.]
[Footnote 33: Stick.]
[Footnote 34: Smartly.]
PALAMON'S FAREWELL TO EMELIE.
[From the Knightes Tale.]
Naught may the woful spirit in myn herte
Declare o point of all my sorwes smerte
To you, my lady, that I love most.
But I bequethe the service of my gost
To you aboven every creature,
Sin that my lif ne may no lenger dure.
Alas the wo! alas the peines stronge
That I for you have suffered, and so longe!
Alas the deth! alas min Emelie!
Alas departing of our compagnie!
Alas min hertes quene! alas my wif!
Min hertes ladie, euder of my lif!
What is this world? what axen men to have?
Now with his love, now in his colde grave
Alone withouten any compagnie.
Farewel my swete, farewel min Emelie,
And softe take me in your armes twey,
For love of God, and herkeneth what I sey.
[Footnote 35: One.]
[Footnote 36: Since.]
[Footnote 37: Ask.]
[Footnote 38: Two.]
[Footnote 39: Hearken.]
EMELIE IN THE GARDEN.
[From the Knightes Tale.]
Thus passeth yere by yere, and day by day,
Till it felle ones in a morwe of May
That Emelie, that fayrer was to sene
Than is the lilie upon his stalke grene,
And fresher than the May with floures newe,
(For with the rose colour strof hire hewe;
I n'ot which was the finer of hem two)
Er it was day, as she was wont to do,
She was arisen and all redy dight,
For May wol have no slogardie a-night.
The seson priketh every gentil herte,
And maketh him out of his slepe to sterte,
And sayth, "Arise, and do thin observance."
This maketh Emelie han remembrance
To dou honour to May, and for to rise.
Yclothed was she fresh for to devise.
Hire yelwe here was broided in a tresse
Behind hire back, a yerde long I gesse.
And in the gardin at the sonne uprist
She walketh up and doun wher as hire list.
She gathereth floures, partie white and red,
To make a sotel gerlond for hire bed,
And as an angel hevenlich she song.
[Footnote 40: Morning.]
[Footnote 41: See.]
[Footnote 42: Know not.]
[Footnote 43: Dressed.]
[Footnote 44: Describe.]
[Footnote 45: Sunrise.]
[Footnote 46: Wherever it pleases her.]
[Footnote 47: Subtle, cunningly enwoven.]
[From the Millere's Tale.]
Fayre was this yonge wif, and therwithal
As any wesel hire body gent and smal
A seint she wered, barred al of silk,
A barm-cloth eke as white as morne milk
Upon hire lendes ful of many a gore,
White was hire smok, and brouded al before
And eke behind on hire colere aboute
Of cole-black silk within and eke withoute.
The tapes of hire white volupere
Were of the same suit of hire colere;
Hire fillet brode of silk and set ful hye;
And sikerly she had a likerous eye,
Ful smal ypulled were hire browes two,
And they were bent and black as any slo,
She was wel more blisful on to see
Than is the newe perjenete tree,
And softer than the wolle is of a wether.
And by hire girdle heng a purse of lether,
Tasseled with silk and perled with latoun,
In all this world to seken up and doun
Ther n'is no man so wise that coude thenche
So gay a popelot or swiche a wenche.
Ful brighter was the shining of hire hewe
Than in the tour, the noble yforged newe.
But of hire song, it was as loud and yerne
As any swalow sitting on a berne.
Thereto she coude skip and make a game
As any kid or calf folowing his dame.
Hire mouth was swete as braket or the meth,
Or horde of apples laid in hay or heth.
Winsing she was, as is a jolly colt,
Long as a mast, and upright as a bolt.
A broche she bare upon hire low colere.
As brode as is the bosse of a bokelere.
Hire shoon were laced on hire legges hie;
She was a primerole, a piggesnie,
For any lord, to liggen in his bedde,
Or yet for any good yeman to wedde.
[Footnote 48: Trim and slim.]
[Footnote 49: Girdle.]
[Footnote 50: Apron.]
[Footnote 51: Morning's milk.]
[Footnote 52: Loins.]
[Footnote 53: Embroidered.]
[Footnote 54: Collar.]
[Footnote 55: Cap.]
[Footnote 56: Surely.]
[Footnote 57: Wanton.]
[Footnote 58: Trimmed fine.]
[Footnote 59: Young pear.]
[Footnote 60: Ornamented with pearl-shaped beads of a metal resembling
[Footnote 61: Think.]
[Footnote 62: Puppet.]
[Footnote 63: Such.]
[Footnote 64: Brisk.]
[Footnote 65: A sweet drink of ale, honey, and spice.]
[Footnote 66: Mead.]
[Footnote 67: Skittish.]
[Footnote 68: Buckler.]
[Footnote 69: Primrose.]
[Footnote 70: Pansy.]
[Footnote 71: Lie.]
[Footnote 72: Yeoman.]
* * * * *
ANONYMOUS BALLADS OF THE SIXTEENTH AND SEVENTEENTH CENTURIES.
WALY, WALY BUT LOVE BE BONNY.
O waly, waly up the bank,
And waly, waly down the brae,
And waly, waly yon burn side,
Where I and my love wont to gae.
I lean'd my back unto an aik,
I thought it was a trusty tree;
But first it bow'd and syne it brak,
Sae my true love did lightly me.
O waly, waly but love be bonny,
A little time while it is new;
But when 'tis auld it waxeth cauld,
And fades away like the morning dew.
O wherefore should I busk my head?
Or wherefore should I kame my hair?
For my true love has me forsook,
And says he'll never love me mair.
Now Arthur-Seat shall be my bed,
The sheets shall ne'er be fyl'd by me;
Saint Anton's well shall be my drink,
Sinn my true love has forsaken me.
Martinmas' wind, when wilt thou blaw
And shake the green leaves off the tree?
O gentle death, when wilt thou come?
For of my life I'm aweary.
'Tis not the frost that freezes fell,
Nor blawing snow's inclemency;
'Tis not sic cauld that makes me cry,
But my love's heart grown cauld to me.
When we came in by Glasgow town
We were a comely sight to see;
My love was clad in the black velvet,
And I myself in cramasie.
But had I wist, before I kissed,
That love had been sae ill to win,
I'd lock'd my heart in a case of gold,
And pin'd it with a silver pin.
Oh, oh, if my young babe were born,
And set upon the nurse's knee,
And I myself were dead and gane,
And the green grass growing over me!
[Footnote 73: An exclamation of sorrow, woe! alas!]
[Footnote 74: Hillside.]
[Footnote 75: Brook.]
[Footnote 76: Oak.]
[Footnote 77: Then.]
[Footnote 78: Adorn.]
[Footnote 79: Comb.]
[Footnote 80: At the foot of Arthur's-Seat, a cliff near Edinburgh.]
[Footnote 81: Crimson.]
THE TWO CORBIES.
As I was walking all alane
I heard twa corbies making a mane;
The tane unto the t'other say,
"Where sail we gang and dine to-day?"
"In behint yon auld fail dyke,
I wot there lies a new-slain knight;
And naebody kens that he lies there
But his hawk, his hound, and lady fair.
"His hound is to the hunting gane,
His hawk to fetch the wild fowl hame,
His lady's ta'en another mate,
So we may mak our dinner sweet.
"Ye'll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I'll pick out his bonny blue een;
Wi' ae lock o' his gowden hair,
We'll theck our nest when it grows bare.
"Mony a one for him makes mane,
But nane sail ken where he is gane;
O'er his white banes, when they are bare,
The wind sail blow for evermair."
BONNIE GEORGE CAMPBELL.
Hie upon Highlands and low upon Tay,
Bonnie George Campbell rade out on a day.
Saddled and bridled and gallant rade he;
Hame cam' his horse, but never cam' he.
Out came his auld mother, greeting fu' sair;
And out cam' his bonnie bride, riving her hair.
Saddled and bridled and booted rade he;
Toom hame cam' the saddle, but never cam' he.
"My meadow lies green and my corn is unshorn;
My barn is to bigg and my babie's unborn."
Saddled and bridled and booted rade he;
Toom cam' the saddle, but never cam' he.
[Footnote 82: The two ravens.]
[Footnote 83: Turf.]
[Footnote 84: Neck-bone.]
[Footnote 85: One.]
[Footnote 86: Thach.]
[Footnote 87: Weeping.]
[Footnote 88: Empty.]
[Footnote 89: Build.]
THE SUITOR'S LIFE.
Full little knowest thou that hast not tride,
What hell it is in suing long to bide;
To lose good days that might be better spent;
To wast long nights in pensive discontent:
To speed to-day, to be put back to-morrow;
To feed on hope, to pine with feare and sorrow;
To have thy prince's grace, yet want her peere's:
To have thy asking, yet waite manie yeers,
To fret thy soule with crosses and with cares;
To eate thy heart through comfortlesse dispaires:
To fawne, to crowche, to waite, to ride, to ronne,
To spend, to give, to want, to be undone!
THE MUSIC OF THE BOWER OF BLISS.
[From the _Faerie Queene_. Book II. Canto XII.]
Eftsoones they heard a most melodious sound,
Of all that mote delight a daintie eare,
Such as attonce might not on living ground,
Save in this paradise, be heard elsewhere:
Right hard it was for wight which did it heare,
To read what manner of music that mote bee;
For all that pleasing is to living eare
Was there consorted in one harmonee;
Birdes, voices, instruments, windes, waters, all agree.
The joyous birdes, shrouded in chearefull shade,
Their notes unto the voyce attempred sweet;
Th' angelicall soft trembling voyces made
To th' instruments divine respondence meet;
The silver sounding instruments did meet
With the base murmure of the waters fall;
The waters fall with difference discreet,
Now soft, now loud, unto the wind did call;
The gentle warbling wind low answered to all....
The whiles some one did chaunt this lovely lay;
Ah! see, whoso fayre thing doest faine to see,
In springing flowre the image of thy day!
Ah! see the virgin rose, how sweetly shee
Doth first peepe foorth with bashfull modestee,
That fairer seemes the lesse ye see her may!
Lo! see, soone after how more bold and free
Her bared bosome she doth broad display;
Lo! see, soone after how she fades and falls away.
So passeth, in the passing of a day,
Of mortall life the leafe, the bud, the flowre;
Ne more doth florish after first decay,
That earst was sought to deck both bed and bowre
Of many a lady, and many a paramowre!
Gather therefore the rose whilst yet is prime,
For soone comes age that will her pride deflowre:
Gather the rose of love whilst yet is time,
Whilst loving thou mayst loved be with equall crime.
[Footnote 90: A reference to Lord Burleigh's hostility to the poet]
[Footnote 91: Might.]
[Footnote 92: At once.]
[Footnote 93: Bass.]
THE HOUSE OF SLEEP.
[From the _Faerie Queene_. Book I. Canto I.]
He, making speedy way through spersed ayre,
And through the world of waters wide and deepe,
To Morpheus' house doth hastily repaire:
Amid the bowels of the earth full steepe
And low, where dawning day doth never peepe,
His dwelling is; there Tethys his wet bed
Doth ever wash, and Cynthia still doth steepe
In silver deaw his ever-drouping hed,
Whiles sad Night over him her mantle black doth spred....
And more to lulle him in his slumber soft,
A trickling streame from high rock tumbling downe,
And ever-drizling raine upon the loft,
Mixt with a murmuring winde, much like the sowne
Of swarming bees, did cast him in a swowne.
No other noyse, nor people's troublous cryes,
As still are wont t'annoy the walled towne,
Might there be heard; but careless quiet lyes
Wrapt in eternall silence farre from enimyes.
[Footnote 94: Rejoice.]
[Footnote 95: First, formerly.]
[Footnote 96: Spring.]
Then hate me when thou wilt: if ever, now:
Now, while the world is bent my deeds to cross,
Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
And do not drop in for an after loss.
Ah! do not when my heart hath scaped this sorrow,
Come in the rearward of a conquered woe;
Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,
To linger out a purposed overthrow.
If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
When other petty griefs have done their spite;
But in the onset come: So shall I taste
At first the very worst of fortune's might;
And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
Compared with loss of thee, will not seem so.
[From _As You Like It_.]
Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh ho! Sing heigh ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly,
Then heigh ho! the holly!
This life is most jolly.
Freeze, freeze thou bitter sky,
Thou dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot;
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remembered not.
Heigh ho! sing heigh ho! etc.
THE SLEEP OF KINGS.
[From _Henry IV_.--Part II.]
How many thousand of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature's soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down,
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hushed with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,
Under the canopy of costly state,
And lull'd with sounds of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile,
In loathsome beds; and leav'st the kingly couch,
A watch-case, or a common 'larum bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship-boy's eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge;
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them
With deaf'ning clamors in the slippery clouds,
That, with the hurly, death itself awakes?
Can'st thou, O partial sleep! give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude;
And, in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low-lie-down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
FALSTAFF AND BARDOLPH.
[From _Henry IV_.--Part I.]
_Falstaff_. Bardolph, am I not fallen away vilely since this last
action? do I not bate? do I not dwindle?
Why, my skin hangs about me like an old lady's loose gown; I am wither'd
like an old apple-John.
Well, I'll repent, and that suddenly, while I am in some liking; I shall
be out of heart shortly, and then I shall have no strength to repent.
An I have not forgotten what the inside of a church is made of, I am a
peppercorn, a brewer's horse: the inside of a church! Company,
villainous company hath been the spoil of me:
_Bardolph_. Sir John, you are so fretful, you cannot live long.
_Fal_. Why, there it is. Come, sing me a bawdy song; make me merry. I
was as virtuously given, as a gentleman need to be; virtuous enough:
swore little; diced, not above seven times a week; paid money that I
borrowed, three or four times; lived well, and in good compass: and now
I live out of all order, out of all compass.
_Bard_. Why you are so fat, Sir John, that you must needs be out of all
compass; out of all reasonable compass, Sir John.
_Fal_. Do thou amend thy face, and I'll amend my life: Thou art our
admiral, thou bearest the lantern in the poop--but 'tis in the nose of
thee; thou art the knight of the burning lamp.
_Bard_. Why, Sir John, my face does you no harm.
_Fal_ No, I'll be sworn; I make as good use of it as many a man doth of
a death's head or a _memento mori_: I never see thy face but I think
upon hell-fire, and Dives that lived in purple; for there he is in his
robes, burning, burning. If thou wert anyway given to virtue, I would
swear by thy face; my oath should be: By this fire: but thou art
altogether given over; and wert indeed, but for the light of thy face,
the son of utter darkness. When thou runn'st up Gad's Hill in the night
to catch my horse, if I did not think thou hadst been an _ignis fatuus_,
or a ball of wildfire, there's no purchase in money. O, thou art a
perpetual triumph, an everlasting bonfire-light! Thou hast saved me a
thousand marks in links and torches, walking with thee in the night
betwixt tavern and tavern; but the sack that thou hast drunk me, would
have bought me lights as good cheap, at the dearest chandler's in
Europe. I have maintained that Salamander of yours with fire, any time
this two and thirty years; Heaven reward me for it!
THE SEVEN AGES OF MAN.
[From _As You Like It_.]
_Jacques_. All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;
Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel,
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school: and then, the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow: Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like a pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth: And then the justice,
In fair round belly, with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well-saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing.
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind, to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune;
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them? To die--to sleep--
No more; and, by a sleep, to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to--'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished: to die, to sleep;
To sleep! perchance to dream; ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect,
That makes calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of disprized love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus take
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life;
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will;
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard, their currents turn away
And lose the name of action.
[Footnote 97: Without.]
DETACHED PASSAGES FROM THE PLAYS.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Our revels now are ended: these our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself--
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprisoned in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and uncertain thoughts
Imagine howling! 'tis too horrible!
O who can hold a fire in his hand,
By thinking on the frosty Caucasus?
Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite
By bare imagination of a feast?
Or wallow naked in December snow,
By thinking on fantastic summer's heat?
O no! the apprehension of the good
Gives but the greater feeling to the worse.
She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek; she pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy,
She sat, like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief.
Ah me! for aught that ever I could read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth:
But either it was different in blood;
Or, if there were a sympathy in choice,
War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it;
Making it momentary as a sound,
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream,
Brief as the lightning in the collied night,
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,
And ere a man hath power to say, Behold!
The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
So quick bright things come to confusion.
[Footnote 98: Small sword.]
[Footnote 99: Burdens.]
[Footnote 100: Cloud.]
[Footnote 101: Encompassed.]
[Footnote 102: Black.]
[Footnote 103: Caprice, whim.]
[From the Essays.]
Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural
fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other. Certainly,
the contemplation of death, as the wages of sin, and passage to another
world, is holy and religious; but the fear of it, as a tribute due unto
nature, is weak. Yet in religious meditations there is sometimes mixture
of vanity and of superstition. You shall read in some of the friars'
books of mortification, that a man should think with himself what the
pain is, if he have but his finger's end pressed or tortured; and
thereby imagine what the pains of death are, when the whole body is
corrupted and dissolved; when many times death passeth with less pain
than the torture of a limb; for the most vital parts are not the
quickest of sense. And by him that spake only as a philosopher and
natural man, it was well said, _Pompa mortis magis terret quam mors
ipsa._ Groans and convulsions, and a discolored face, and friends
weeping, and blacks and obsequies, and the like, show death terrible. It
is worthy the observing, that there is no passion in the mind of man so
weak but it mates and masters the fear of death, and therefore death is
no such terrible enemy, when a man hath so many attendants about him
that can win the combat of him. Revenge triumphs over death; love
slights it; honor aspireth to it; grief flieth to it; fear
preoccupateth it. It is as natural to die as to be born; and to a
little infant perhaps the one is as painful as the other. He that dies
in an earnest pursuit is like one that is wounded in hot blood: who, for
the time, scarce feels the hurt; and therefore a mind fixed and bent
upon somewhat that is good doth avert the dolours of death; but, above
all, believe it, the sweetest canticle is _Nunc dimittis_ when a
man hath obtained worthy ends and expectations. Death hath this also,
that it openeth the gate to good fame, and extinguisheth envy:
_Extinctus amabitur idem_.
[Footnote 104: The shows of death terrify more than death itself.]
[Footnote 105: Anticipates.]
[Footnote 106: Now thou dismissest us.]
[Footnote 107: The same man will be loved when dead.]
Studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief
use for delight is in privateness and retiring: for ornament, is in
discourse; and for ability, is in the judgment and disposition of
business; for expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars,
one by one; but the general counsels, and the plots and marshaling of
affairs come best from those that are learned. To spend too much time
in studies, is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation;
to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar: they
perfect nature, and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities
are like natural plants, that need pruning by study; and studies
themselves do give forth directions too much at large, except they be
bounded in by experience. Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire
them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their own use; but that
is a wisdom without them and above them, won by observation. Read not to
contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find
talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be
tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested;
that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but
not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence
and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made
of them by others; but that would be only in the less important
arguments, and the meaner sorts of books; else distilled books are,
like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading maketh a full man,
conference a ready man, and writing an exact man; and therefore, if a
man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little,
he had need have a present wit; and if he read little, he had need have
much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not. Histories make men wise;
poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral,
grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend: _Abeunt studia in
mores_; nay, there is no stand or impediment in the wit, but may be
wrought out by fit studies: like as diseases of the body may have
appropriate exercises--bowling is good for the stone and reins, shooting
for the lungs and breast, gentle walking for the stomach, riding for the
head and the like; so, if a man's wit be wandering, let him study the
mathematics; for in demonstrations, if his wit be called away never so
little, he must begin again; if his wit be not apt to distinguish or
find differences, let him study the school-men, for they are _Cymini
sectores_; if he be not apt to beat over matters, and to call up
one thing to prove and illustrate another, let him study the lawyers'
cases: so every defect of the mind may have a special receipt.
[Footnote 108: Attentively.]
[Footnote 109: Subjects.]
[Footnote 110: Studies pass into the character.]
[Footnote 111: Hair-splitters.]
It was a high speech of Seneca (after the manner of the Stoics), that
"the good things which belong to prosperity are to be wished, but the
good things that belong to adversity are to be admired"--_Bona rerum
secundarum optabilia, adversarum mirabilia_. Certainly, if miracles be
the command over Nature, they appear most in adversity. It is yet a
higher speech of his than the other (much too high for a heathen), "It
is true greatness to have in one the frailty of a man and the security
of a god "--_Vere magnum habere fragilitatem hominis, securitatem dei_.
This would have done better in poesy, where transcendencies are more
allowed; and the poets indeed have been busy with it; for it is in
effect the thing which is figured in that strange fiction of the ancient
poets, which seemeth not to be without mystery; nay, and to have
some approach to the state of a Christian; "that Hercules, when he went
to unbind _Prometheus_ (by whom human nature is represented), sailed the
length of the great ocean in an earthen pot or pitcher," lively
describing Christian resolution, that saileth in the frail bark of the
flesh through the waves of the world. But, to speak in a _mean_ the
virtue of prosperity is temperance, the virtue of adversity is
fortitude, which in morals is the more heroical virtue. Prosperity is
the blessing of the Old Testament, adversity is the blessing of the New,
which carrieth the greater benediction, and the clearer revelation of
God's favor. Yet, even in the Old Testament, if you listen to David's
harp, you shall hear as many hearse-like airs as carols; and the pencil
of the Holy Ghost hath labored more in describing the afflictions of Job
than the felicities of Solomon. Prosperity is not without many fears and
distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes. We see in
needle-works and embroideries it is more pleasing to have a lively work
upon a sad and solemn ground, than to have a dark and melancholy work
upon a lightsome ground: judge, therefore, of the pleasure of the heart
by the pleasure of the eye. Certainly virtue is like precious odors,
most fragrant when they are incensed or crushed: for prosperity
doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue.
[Footnote 112: An allegorical meaning.]
[Footnote 113: Moderately, that is, without poetic figures.]
[Footnote 114: Burnt.]
SONG TO CELIA.
Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I'll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove's nectar sup
I would not change for thine.
I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
Not so much honoring thee,
As giving it a hope, that there
It could not withered be.
But thou thereon did'st only breathe
And sent'st it back to me:
Since when it grows and smells, I swear,
Not of itself, but thee.
It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make men better be;
Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sere:
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May,
Although it fall and die that night;
It was the plant and flower of light.
In small proportions we just beauty see;
And in short measures life may perfect be.
EPITAPH ON THE COUNTESS OF PEMBROKE.
Underneath this sable hearse
Lies the subject of all verse,
Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother;
Death, ere thou hast slain another,
Learn'd and fair and good as she,
Time shall throw a dart at thee.
THE THANKLESS MUSE.
[From _The Poetaster_.]
O this would make a learned and liberal soul
To rive his stained quill up to the back,
And damn his long-watched labours to the fire--
Things that were born when none, but the still night
And his dumb candle, saw his pinching throes;
Were not his own free merit a more crown,
Unto his travails than their reeling claps.
This 'tis that strikes me silent, seals my lips,
And apts me rather to sleep out my time,
Than I would waste it in contemned strifes
With these vile Ibides, these unclean birds
That make their mouths their clysters, and still purge
From their hot entrails. But I leave the monsters
To their own fate. And, since the Comic Muse
Hath proved so ominous to me, I will try
If tragedy have a more kind aspect:
Her favors in my next I will pursue,
Where, if I prove the pleasure but of one,
So he judicious be, he shall be alone
A theater unto me. Once I'll 'say
To strike the ear of time in those fresh strains,
As shall, beside the cunning of their ground,
Give cause to some of wonder, some despite,
And more despair to imitate their sound.
I, that spend half my nights and all my days
Here in a cell, to get a dark pale face,
To come forth worth the ivy or the bays,
And in this age can hope no other grace--
Leave me! There's something come into my thought
That must and shall be sung high and aloof,
Safe from the wolf's black jaw and the dull ass's hoof.
[Footnote 115: Applauses.]
[Footnote 116: Plural of ibis.]
[Footnote 117: That is, I will try once for all.]
[Footnote 118: That is, envy and stupidity.]
JOHN FLETCHER AND FRANCIS BEAUMONT.
A SONG OF TRUE LOVE DEAD.
[From _The Maid's Tragedy_.]
Lay a garland on my hearse
Of the dismal yew;
Maidens willow branches bear;
Say I died true:
My love was false, but I was firm
From my hour of birth:
Upon my buried body lie
Lightly, gentle earth.
A SONG OF CRUEL LOVE.
[From _Rollo, Duke of Normandy_.]
Take, oh take those lips away,
That so sweetly were forsworn,
And those eyes, the break of day,
Lights that do mislead the morn;
But my kisses bring again,
Seals of love, though sealed in vain.
Hide, oh hide those hills of snow,
Which thy frozen bosom bears,
On whose tops the pinks that grow
Are of those that April wears;
But first set my poor heart free,
Bound in those icy chains by thee.
[From _The Nice Valor_.]
Hence, all your vain delights,
As short as are the nights
Wherein you spend your folly!
There's naught in this life sweet,
If man were wise to see't,
But only melancholy:
O sweetest melancholy!
Welcome, folded arms and fixed eyes,
A sigh that piercing mortifies,
A look that's fastened on the ground,
A tongue chained up without a sound!
Fountain-heads and pathless groves,
Places which pale passion loves,
Moonlight walks when all the fowls
Are warmly housed, save bats and owls,
A midnight bell, a parting groan,
These are the sounds we feed upon;
Then stretch our bones in a still gloomy valley:
Nothing's so dainty sweet as lovely melancholy.
[Footnote 119: The first stanza of this song was probably Shakspere's.]
[Footnote 120: This should be compared with Milton's _Il Penserosa_.]
CAESAR'S LAMENT OVER POMPEY.
[From _The False One._]
O thou conqueror,
Thou glory of the world once, now the pity: