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Outlines of English and American Literature by William J. Long

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between two great political upheavals, the English Revolution of
1688 and the French Revolution of 1789. Some of the chief
characteristics of that literature--such as the emphasis on form,
the union of poetry with politics, the prevalence of satire, the
interest in historical subjects--have been accounted for, in part
at least, in our summary of the history of the period.

The writings of the century are here arranged in three main
divisions: the reign of formalism (miscalled classicism), the
revival of romantic poetry, and the development of the modern
novel. Our study of the so-called classic period includes: (1) The
meaning of classicism in literature. (2) The life and works of
Pope, the leading poet of the age; of Swift, a master of satire; of
Addison and Steele, the graceful essayists who originated the
modern literary magazine. (3) The work of Dr. Johnson and his
school; in which we have included, for convenience, Edmund Burke,
most eloquent of English orators, and Gibbon the historian, famous
for his _Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire_.

Our review of the romantic writers of the age covers: (1) The work
of Collins and Gray, whose imaginative poems are in refreshing
contrast to the formalism of Pope and his school. (2) The life and
works of Goldsmith, poet, playwright, novelist; and of Burns, the
greatest of Scottish song writers. (3) A glance at other poets,
such as Cowper and Blake, who aided in the romantic revival. (4)
The renewed interest in ballads and legends, which showed itself in
Percy's _Reliques of Ancient English Poetry_, and in two
famous forgeries, the _Ossian_ poems of Macpherson and _The
Rowley Papers_ of the boy Chatterton.

Our study of the novel includes: (1) The meaning of the modern
novel, as distinct from the ancient romance. (2) A study of Defoe,
author of _Robinson Crusoe_, who was a forerunner of the
modern realistic novelist. (3) The works of Richardson and of
Fielding, contrasting types of eighteenth-century story-tellers.
(4) The influence of Richardson's sentimentality, of Fielding's
realism, and of Goldsmith's moral purity on subsequent English

SELECTIONS FOR READING. Typical selections are given in Manly,
English Poetry and English Prose, Century Readings, and other
miscellaneous collections. Important works of major writers are
published in inexpensive editions for school use, a few of which
are named below.

Pope's poems, selected, in Standard English Classics, Pocket
Classics, Riverside Literature, and other series. (See Texts, in
General Bibliography.)

Selections from Swift's works, in Athenaum Press, Holt's English
Readings, Clarendon Press. Gulliver's Travels, in Standard English
Classics, in Ginn and Company's Classics for Children, in
Carisbrooke Library, in Temple Classics.

Selections from Addison and Steele, in Athenaum Press, Golden
Treasury, Maynard's English Classics. Sir Roger de Coverley Papers,
in Standard English Classics, Riverside Literature, Academy

Chesterfield's Letters to his son, selected, in Ginn and Company's
Classics for Children, and in Maynard's English Classics.

Boswell's Life of Johnson, in Clarendon Press, Temple Classics,
Everyman's Library.

Burke's Speeches, selected, in Standard English Classics, Pocket
Classics, English Readings.

Selections from Gray, in Athenaum Press, Canterbury Poets,
Riverside Literature.

Goldsmith's Deserted Village and Vicar of Wakefield, in Standard
English Classics, King's Classics; She Stoops to Conquer, in Pocket
Classics, Belles Lettres Series, Cassell's National Library.

Sheridan's The Rivals, in Athenaum Press, Camelot Series, Riverside
Literature, Everyman's Library.

Poems of Burns, selected, in Standard English Classics, Riverside
Literature, Silver Classics.

Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, school edition by Ginn and Company; the
same in Everyman's Library, Pocket Classics.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. For extensive manuals and texts see the General
Bibliography. The following works deal chiefly with the eighteenth

_HISTORY_. Morris, Age of Queen Anne and the Early Hanoverians
(Epochs of Modern History Series); Sydney, England and the English
in the Eighteenth Century; Susan Hale, Men and Manners in the
Eighteenth Century; Ashton, Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne;
Thackeray, The Four Georges.

_LITERATURE_. L. Stephen, English Literature in the Eighteenth
Century; Perry, English Literature in the Eighteenth Century;
Seccombe, The Age of Johnson; Dennis, The Age of Pope; Gosse,
History of English Literature in the Eighteenth Century; Whitwell,
Some Eighteenth-Century Men of Letters; Phelps, Beginnings of the
English Romantic Movement; Beers, English Romanticism in the
Eighteenth Century; Thackeray, English Humorists.

_Pope_. Life, by Courthope; by L. Stephen (English Men of
Letters Series). Essays, by Thackeray, in English Humorists; by L.
Stephen, in Hours in a Library; by Lowell, in My Study Windows.

_Swift_. Life, by Forster; by L. Stephen (E. M. of L.).
Essays, by Thackeray, in English Humorists; by Dobson, in
Eighteenth Century Vignettes.

_Addison and Steele_. Life of Addison, by Courthope (E. M. of
L.). Life of Steele, by Dobson. Essays by Macaulay, by Thackeray,
by Dobson.

_Johnson_. Life, by Boswell (for personal details); by L.
Stephen (E. M. of L.). Hill, Dr. Johnson: his Friends and his
Critics. Essays by Macaulay, by Thackeray, by L. Stephen.

_Burke_. Life, by Morley (E. M. of L.), by Prior. Macknight,
Life and Times of Burke.

_Gibbon_. Life, by Morrison (E. M. of L.). Essays, by Birrell,
in Collected Essays; by L. Stephen, in Studies of a Biographer; by
Harrison, in Ruskin and Other Literary Estimates; by Sainte-Beuve,
in English Portraits.

_Gray_. Life, by Gosse. Essays by Lowell, M. Arnold, L.
Stephen, Dobson.

_Goldsmith_. Life, by Washington Irving, by Dobson (Great
Writers Series), by Black (E. M. of L.), by Forster. Essays, by
Macaulay; by Thackeray, in English Humorists; by Dobson, in

_Burns_. Life, by Shairp (E. M. of L.), by Blackie (Great
Writers). Carlyle's Essay on Burns, in Standard English Classics
and other school editions. Essays, by Stevenson, in Familiar
Studies of Men and Books; by Hazlitt, in Lectures on the English
Poets; by Henley, in Introduction to the Cambridge Edition of

_The Novel. Raleigh, The English Novel; Cross, Development of the
English Novel; Perry, A Study of Prose Fiction; Symonds,
Introduction to the Study of English Fiction; Dawson, Makers of
English Fiction.

_Defoe_. Life, by Minto (E. M. of L.), by William Lee. Essay
by L. Stephen, in Hours in a Library.

_Richardson_. Life, by Thomson, by Dobson. Essays, by L.
Stephen, in Hours in a Library; by Dobson, in Eighteenth Century

_Fielding_. Life, by Dobson (E. M. of L.). Lawrence, Life and
Times of Fielding. Essays by Lowell, L. Stephen, Dobson; Thackeray,
in English Humorists; G. B. Smith, in Poets and Novelists.

_FICTION_. Thackeray, Henry Esmond, and The Virginians; Scott,
Guy Mannering, Rob Roy, Heart of Midlothian, Redgauntlet; Reade,
Peg Woffington.



Two voices are there; one is of the sea,
One of the mountains; each a mighty voice:
In both from age to age thou didst rejoice,
They were thy chosen music, Liberty!

Wordsworth, "Sonnet to Switzerland"

The many changes recorded in the political and literary history of
nineteenth-century England may be grouped under two heads: the progress of
democracy in government, and the triumph of romanticism in literature. By
democracy we mean the assumption by common men of the responsibilities of
government, with a consequent enlargement of human liberty. Romanticism, as
we use the term here, means simply that literature, like politics, has
become liberalized; that it is concerned with the common life of men, and
that the delights of literature, like the powers of government, are no
longer the possession of the few but of the many.

HISTORICAL OUTLINE. To study either democracy or romanticism, the
Whig party or the poetry of Wordsworth, is to discover how greatly
England was influenced by matters that appeared beyond her borders.
The famous Reform Bill (1832) which established manhood suffrage,
the emancipation of the slaves in all British colonies, the
hard-won freedom of the press, the plan of popular
education,--these and numberless other reforms of the age may be
regarded as part of a general movement, as the attempt to fulfill
in England a promise made to the world by two events which occurred
earlier and on foreign soil. These two events, which profoundly
influenced English politics and literature, were the Declaration of
Independence and the French Revolution.


In the Declaration we read, "We hold these truths to be
self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these
are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Glorious words!
But they were not new; they were old and familiar when Jefferson
wrote them. The American Revolution, which led up to the
Declaration, is especially significant in this: that it began as a
struggle not for new privileges but for old rights. So the
constructive character of that Revolution, which ended with a
democracy and a noble constitution, was due largely to the fact
that brave men stood ready to defend the old freedom, the old
manhood, the old charters, "the good old cause" for which other
brave men had lived or died through a thousand years.

A little later, and influenced by the American triumph, came
another uprising of a different kind. In France the unalienable
rights of man had been forgotten during ages of tyranny and class
privilege; so the French Revolution, shouting its watchwords of
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, had no conception of that liberty
and equality which were as ancient as the hills. Leaders and
followers of the Revolution were clamoring for new privileges, new
rights, new morals, new creeds. They acclaimed an "Age of Reason"
as a modern and marvelous discovery; they dreamed not simply of a
new society, but of a new man. A multitude of clubs or parties,
some political, some literary or educational, some with a pretense
of philosophy, sprang up as if by magic, all believing that they
must soon enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but nearly all forgetful of
the fact that to enter the Kingdom one must accept the old
conditions, and pay the same old price. Partly because of this
strange conception of liberty, as a new thing to be established by
fiat, the terrible struggle in France ended in the ignoble military
despotism of Napoleon.


These two revolutions, one establishing and the other clamoring for
the dignity of manhood, created a mighty stir throughout the
civilized world. Following the French Revolution, most European
nations were thrown into political ferment, and the object of all
their agitation, rebellion, upheaval, was to obtain a greater
measure of democracy by overturning every form of class or caste
government. Thrones seemed to be tottering, and in terror of their
houses Continental sovereigns entered into their Holy Alliance
(1815) with the unholy object of joining forces to crush democracy
wherever it appeared.

THE REVOLUTION AND LITERATURE. The young writers of liberty-loving England
felt the stir, the _sursum_ of the age. Wordsworth, most sedate of
men, saw in the French Revolution a glorious prophecy, and wrote with
unwonted enthusiasm:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven.

Coleridge and Southey formed their grand scheme of a Pantisocracy, a
government of perfect equality, on the banks of the Susquehanna. Scott
(always a Tory, and therefore distrustful of change) reflected the
democratic enthusiasm in a score of romances, the chief point of which was
this: that almost every character was at heart a king, and spake right
kingly fashion. Byron won his popularity largely because he was an
uncompromising rebel, and appealed to young rebels who were proclaiming the
necessity of a new human society. And Shelley, after himself rebelling at
almost every social law of his day, wrote his _Prometheus Unbound_,
which is a vague but beautiful vision of humanity redeemed in some magical
way from all oppression and sorrow.

All these and other writers of the age give the impression, as we read them
now, that they were gloriously expectant of a new day of liberty that was
about to dawn on the world. Their romantic enthusiasm, so different from
the cold formality of the age preceding, is a reflection, like a rosy
sunset glow, of the stirring scenes of revolution through which the world
had just passed.

* * * * *


There is but one way to know Wordsworth, and that way leads to his nature
poems. Though he lived in a revolutionary age, his life was singularly
uneventful. His letters are terribly prosaic; and his _Excursion_, in
which he attempted an autobiography, has so many dull lines that few have
patience to read it. Though he asserted, finely, that there is but one
great society on earth, "the noble living and the noble dead," he held no
communion with the great minds of the past or of the present. He lived in
his own solitary world, and his only real companion was nature. To know
nature at first hand, and to reflect human thought or feeling in nature's
pure presence,--this was his chief object. His field, therefore, is a small
one, but in that field he is the greatest master that England has thus far


LIFE. Wordsworth is as inseparably connected with the English Lake
District as Burns with the Lowlands or Scott with the Border. A
large part of the formative period of his life was spent out of
doors amid beautiful scenery, where he felt the abounding life of
nature streaming upon him in the sunshine, or booming in his ears
with the steady roar of the March winds. He felt also (what
sensitive spirits still feel) a living presence that met him in the
loneliest wood, or spoke to him in the flowers, or preceded him
over the wind-swept hills. He was one of those favored mortals who
are surest of the Unseen. From school he would hurry away to his
skating or bird-nesting or aimless roaming, and every new day
afield was to him "One of those heavenly days that cannot die."


From the Lake Region he went to Cambridge, but found little in
college life to attract or hold him. Then, stirred by the promise
of the Revolution, he went to France, where his help was eagerly
sought by rival parties; for in that day every traveler from
America or England, whether an astute Jefferson or a lamblike
Wordsworth, was supposed to be, by virtue of his country, a master
politician Wordsworth threw himself rather blindly into the
Revolution, joined the Girondists (the ruling faction in 1792) and
might have gone to the guillotine with the leaders of that party
had not his friends brought him home by the simple expedient of
cutting off his supply of money. Thus ended ingloriously the only
adventure that ever quickened his placid life.

For a time Wordsworth mourned over the failure of his plans, but
his grief turned to bitterness when the Revolution passed over into
the Reign of Terror and ended in the despotism of Napoleon. His
country was now at war with France, and he followed his country,
giving mild support to Burke and the Tory party. After a few
uncertain years, during which he debated his calling in life, he
resolved on two things: to be a poet, and to bring back to English
poetry the romantic spirit and the naturalness of expression which
had been displaced by the formal elegance of the age of Pope and


For that resolution we are indebted partly to Coleridge, who had
been attracted by some of Wordsworth's early poems, and who
encouraged him to write more. From the association of these two men
came the famous _Lyrical Ballads_ (1798), a book which marks
the beginning of a new era in English poetry.

To Wordsworth's sister Dorothy we are even more indebted. It was
she who soothed Wordsworth's disappointment, reminded him of the
world of nature in which alone he was at home, and quietly showed
him where his power lay. As he says, in _The Prelude_

She whispered still that brightness would return,
She, in the midst of all preserved me still
A poet, made me seek beneath that name,
And that alone, my office upon earth


The latter half of Wordsworth's life was passed in the Lake Region,
at Grasmere and Rydal Mount for the most part, the continuity being
broken by walking trips in Britain or on the Continent. A very
quiet, uneventful life it was, but it revealed two qualities which
are of interest to Wordsworth's readers. The first was his devotion
to his art; the second was his granite steadfastness. His work was
at first neglected, while the poems of Scott, Byron and Tennyson in
succession attained immense popularity. The critics were nearly all
against him; misunderstanding his best work and ridiculing the
rest. The ground of their opposition was, that his theory of the
utmost simplicity in poetry was wrong; their ridicule was made
easier by the fact that Wordsworth produced as much bad work as
good. Moreover, he took himself very seriously, had no humor, and,
as visitors like Emerson found to their disappointment, was
interested chiefly in himself and his own work. For was he not
engaged in the greatest of all projects, an immense poem (_The
Recluse_) which should reflect the universe in the life of one
man, and that man William Wordsworth? Such self-satisfaction
invited attack; even Lamb, the gentlest of critics, could hardly
refrain from poking fun at it:

"Wordsworth, the great poet, is coming to town; he is to
have apartments in the Mansion House. He says he does not
see much difficulty in writing like Shakespeare, if he had
a mind to try it. It is clear that nothing is wanting but
the mind."

[Sidenote: HIS TRIUMPH]

Slowly but surely Wordsworth won recognition, not simply in being
made Laureate, but in having his ideal of poetry vindicated. Poets
in England and America began to follow him; the critics were
silenced, if not convinced. While the popularity of Scott and Byron
waned, the readers of Wordsworth increased steadily, finding him a
poet not of the hour but of all time. "If a single man plant
himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide," says
Emerson, "the huge world will come around to him." If the reading
world has not yet come around to Wordsworth, that is perhaps not
the poet's fault.

WORDSWORTH: HIS THEME AND THEORY. The theory which Wordsworth and Coleridge
formulated was simply this: that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of
powerful human feeling. Its only subjects are nature and human nature; its
only object is to reflect the emotions awakened by our contemplation of the
world or of humanity; its language must be as direct and simple as
possible, such language as rises unbidden to the lips whenever the heart is
touched. Though some of the world's best poets have taken a different view,
Wordsworth maintained steadily that poetry must deal with common subjects
in the plainest language; that it must not attempt to describe, in elegant
phrases, what a poet is supposed to feel about art or some other subject
selected for its poetic possibilities.


In the last contention Wordsworth was aiming at the formal school of
poetry, and we may better understand him by a comparison. Read, for
example, his exquisite "Early Spring" ("I heard a thousand blended notes").
Here in twenty-four lines are more naturalness, more real feeling finely
expressed, than you can find in the poems of Dryden, Johnson and Addison
combined. Or take the best part of "The Campaign," which made Addison's
fortune, and which was acclaimed the finest thing ever written:

So when an angel by divine command
With rising tempests shakes a guilty land,
(Such as of late o'er pale Britannia past)
Calm and serene he drives the furious blast;
And, pleased th' Almighty's orders to perform,
Rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm.

To know how artificial that famous simile is, read a few lines from
Wordsworth's "On the Sea-Shore," which lingers in our mind like a strain of
Handel's music:

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o'er the Sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder--everlastingly.

If such comparisons interest the student, let him read Addison's "Letter to
Lord Halifax," with its Apostrophe to Liberty, which was considered sublime
in its day:

O Liberty, thou goddess heavenly bright,
Profuse of bliss, and pregnant with delight!
Eternal pleasures in thy presence reign,
And smiling Plenty leads thy wanton train;
Eased of her load, Subjection grows more light,
And Poverty looks cheerful in thy sight;
Thou mak'st the gloomy face of nature gay,
Giv'st beauty to the sun, and pleasure to the day.

Place beside that the first four lines of Wordsworth's sonnet "To
Switzerland" (quoted at the head of this chapter), or a stanza from his
"Ode to Duty":

Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead's most benignant grace;
Nor know we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face:
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds,
And fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong,
And the most ancient heavens, through thee, are fresh and strong.

To follow such a comparison is to understand Wordsworth by sympathy; it is
to understand also the difference between poetry and formal verse.

THE POEMS OF WORDSWORTH. As the reading of literature is the main thing,
the only word of criticism which remains is to direct the beginner; and
direction is especially necessary in dealing with Wordsworth, who wrote
voluminously, and who lacked both the critical judgment and the sense of
humor to tell him what parts of his work were inferior or ridiculous:

There's something in a flying horse,
There's something in a huge balloon!

To be sure; springs in the one, gas in the other; but if there were
anything more poetic in horse or balloon, Wordsworth did not discover it.
There is something also in a cuckoo clock, or even in

A household tub, one such as those
Which women use to wash their clothes.

Such banalities are to be found in the work of a poet who could produce the
exquisite sonnet "On Westminster Bridge," the finely simple "I Wandered
Lonely as a Cloud," the stirring "Ode to Duty," the tenderly reflective
"Tintern Abbey," and the magnificent "Intimations of Immortality," which
Emerson (who was not a very safe judge) called "the high water mark of
poetry in the nineteenth century." These five poems may serve as the first
measure of Wordsworth's genius.


A few of Wordsworth's best nature poems are: "Early Spring," "Three Years
She Grew," "The Fountain," "My Heart Leaps Up," "The Tables Turned," "To a
Cuckoo," "To a Skylark" (the second poem, beginning, "Ethereal minstrel")
and "Yarrow Revisited." The spirit of all his nature poems is reflected in
"Tintern Abbey," which gives us two complementary views of nature,
corresponding to Wordsworth's earlier and later experience. The first is
that of the boy, roaming foot-loose over the face of nature, finding, as
Coleridge said, "Rhythm in all thought, and joyance everywhere." The second
is that of the man who returns to the scenes of his boyhood, finds them as
beautiful as ever, but pervaded now by a spiritual quality,--"something
which defies analysis, undefined and ineffable, which must be felt and
perceived by the soul."

It was this spiritual view of nature, as a reflection of the Divine, which
profoundly influenced Bryant, Emerson and other American writers. The
essence of Wordsworth's teaching, in his nature poems, appears in the last
two lines of his "Skylark," a bird that soars the more gladly to heaven
because he must soon return with joy to his own nest:

Type of the wise, who soar but never roam:
True to the kindred points of heaven and home.


Of the poems more closely associated with human life, a few the best are:
"Michael," "The Highland Reaper," "The Leech Gatherers," "Margaret" (in
_The Excursion_), "Brougham Castle," "The Happy Warrior," "Peel Castle
in a Storm," "Three Years She Grew," "She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways"
and "She was a Phantom of Delight." In such poems we note two significant
characteristics: that Wordsworth does not seek extraordinary characters,
but is content to show the hidden beauty in the lives of plain men and
women; and that his heroes and heroines dwell, as he said, where "labor
still preserves his rosy face." They are natural men and women, and are
therefore simple and strong; the quiet light in their faces is reflected
from the face of the fields. In his emphasis on natural simplicity, virtue,
beauty, Wordsworth has again been, as he desired, a teacher of multitudes.
His moral teaching may be summed up in three lines from _The

The primal duties shine aloft like stars;
The charities that soothe and heal and bless
Are scattered at the feet of man like flowers.

[Sidenote: THE SONNETS]

In the number and fine quality of his sonnets Wordsworth has no superior in
English poetry. Simplicity, strength, deep thought, fine feeling, careful
workmanship,--these qualities are present in measure more abundant than can
be found elsewhere in the poet's work:

Bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells.

In these three lines from "On the Sonnet" (which should be read entire) is
the explanation why Wordsworth, who was often diffuse, found joy in
compressing his whole poem into fourteen lines. A few other sonnets which
can be heartily recommended are: "Westminster Bridge," "The Seashore," "The
World," "Venetian Republic," "To Sleep," "Toussaint L'Ouverture,"
"Afterthoughts," "To Milton" (sometimes called "London, 1802") and the
farewell to Scott when he sailed in search of health, beginning, "A trouble
not of clouds or weeping rain."

Not until one has learned to appreciate Wordsworth at his best will it be
safe to attempt _The Prelude, or the Growth of a Poet's Mind_. Most
people grow weary of this poem, which is too long; but a few read it with
pleasure for its portrayal of Wordsworth's education at the hand of Nature,
or for occasional good lines which lure us on like miners in search of
gold. _The Prelude_, though written at thirty-five, was not published
till after Wordsworth's death, and for this reason: he had planned an
immense poem, dealing with Nature, Man and Society, which he called _The
Recluse_, and which he likened to a Gothic cathedral. His _Prelude_
was the "ante-chapel" of this work; his miscellaneous odes, sonnets and
narrative poems were to be as so many "cells and oratories"; other parts of
the structure were _The Home at Grasmere_ and _The Excursion_,
which he may have intended as transepts, or as chapels.

Wordsworth's body was buried in the churchyard See _The Excursion_, Book V]

This great work was left unfinished, and one may say of it, as of Spenser's
_Faery Queen_, that it is better so. Like other poets of venerable
years Wordsworth wrote many verses that were better left in the inkpot; and
it is a pity, in dealing with so beautiful and necessary a thing as poetry,
that one should ever reach the point of saying, sadly but truthfully,
"Enough is too much."

* * * * *


The story of these two men is a commentary on the uncertainties of literary
fortune. Both won greater reward and reputation than fell to the lot of
Wordsworth; but while the fame of the latter poet mounts steadily with the
years, the former have become, as it were, footnotes to the great
contemporary with whom they were associated, under the name of "Lake
Poets," for half a glorious century.


SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE (1772-1834). The tragedy _Remorse_, which
Coleridge wrote, is as nothing compared with the tragedy of his own life.
He was a man of superb natural gifts, of vast literary culture, to whose
genius the writers of that age--Wordsworth, Hazlitt, Lamb, De Quincey,
Shelley, Landor, Southey--nearly all bear witness. He might well have been
a great poet, or critic, or philosopher, or teacher; but he lacked the will
power to direct his gifts to any definite end. His irresolution became
pitiful weakness when he began to indulge in the drug habit, which soon
made a slave of him. Thereafter he impressed all who met him with a sense
of loss and inexpressible sorrow.


Coleridge began to read at three years of age; at five he had gone
through the Bible and the Arabian Nights; at thirty he was perhaps
the most widely read man of his generation in the fields of
literature and philosophy. He was a student in a famous charity
school in London when he met Charles Lamb, who records his memories
of the boy and the place in his charming essay of "Christ's
Hospital." At college he was one of a band of enthusiasts inspired
by the French Revolution, and with Southey he formed a plan to
establish in America a world-reforming Pantisocracy, or communistic
settlement, where all should be brothers and equals, and where a
little manual work was to be tempered by much play, poetry and
culture. Europeans had queer ideas of America in those days. This
beautiful plan failed, because the reformers did not have money
enough to cross the ocean and stake out their Paradise.


The next important association of Coleridge was with Wordsworth and
his sister Dorothy, in Somerset, where the three friends planned
and published the _Lyrical Ballads_ of 1798. In this work
Wordsworth attempted to portray the charm of common things, and
Coleridge to give reality to a world of dreams and fantasies.
Witness the two most original poems in the book, "Tintern Abbey"
and "The Ancient Mariner."

During the latter part of his life Coleridge won fame by his
lectures on English poetry and German philosophy, and still greater
fame by his conversations,--brilliant, heaven-scaling monologues,
which brought together a company of young enthusiasts. And
presently these disciples of Coleridge were spreading abroad a new
idealistic philosophy, which crossed the ocean, was welcomed by
Emerson and a host of young writers or reformers, and appeared in
American literature as Transcendentalism.


Others who heard the conversations were impressed in a
somewhat different way. Keats met Coleridge on the road,
one day, and listened dumbfounded to an ecstatic discourse
on poetry, nightingales, the origin of sensation, dreams
(four kinds), consciousness, creeds, ghost stories,--"he
broached a thousand matters" while the poets were walking a
space of two miles.

Walter Scott, meeting Coleridge at a dinner, listened with
his head in a whirl to a monologue on fairies, the
classics, ancient mysteries, visions, ecstasies, the
psychology of poetry, the poetry of metaphysics. "Zounds!"
says Scott, "I was never so bethumped with words."

Charles Lamb, hurrying to his work, encountered Coleridge
and was drawn aside to a quiet garden. There the poet took
Lamb by a button of his coat, closed his eyes, and began to
discourse, his right hand waving to the rhythm of the
flowing words. No sooner was Coleridge well started than
Lamb slyly took out his penknife, cut off the button, and
escaped unobserved. Some hours later, as he passed the
garden on his return, Lamb heard a voice speaking most
musically; he turned aside in wonder, and there stood
Coleridge, his eyes closed, his left hand holding the
button, his right hand waving, "still talking like an

Such are the stories, true or apocryphal, of Coleridge's
conversations. Their bewildering quality appears, somewhat dimmed,
in his prose works, which have been finely compared with the flight
of an eagle on set wings, sweeping in wide circles, balancing,
soaring, mounting on the winds. But we must note this difference:
that the eagle keeps his keen eye on the distant earth, and always
knows just where he is; while Coleridge sees only the wonders of
Cloudland, and appears to be hopelessly lost.


The chief prose works of Coleridge are his _Biographia Literaria_ (a
brilliant patchwork of poetry and metaphysics), _Aids to Reflection_,
_Letters and Table Talk_ (the most readable of his works), and
_Lectures and Notes on Shakespeare_. These all contain fine gold, but
the treasure is for those doughty miners the critics rather than for
readers who go to literature for recreation. Among the best of his
miscellaneous poems (and Coleridge at his best has few superiors) are
"Youth and Age," "Love Poems," "Hymn before Sunrise," "Ode to the Departing
Year," and the pathetic "Ode to Dejection," which is a reflection of the
poet's saddened but ever hopeful life.

Two other poems, highly recommended by most critics, are the fragments
"Kubla Khan" and "Christabel"; but in dealing with these the reader may do
well to form his own judgment. Both fragments contain beautiful lines, but
as a whole they are wandering, disjointed, inconsequent,--mere sketches,
they seem, of some weird dream of mystery or terror which Coleridge is
trying in vain to remember.


The most popular of Coleridge's works is his imperishable "Rime of the
Ancient Mariner," a wildly improbable poem of icebound or tropic seas, of
thirst-killed sailors, of a phantom ship sailed by a crew of ghosts,--all
portrayed in the vivid, picturesque style of the old ballad. When the
"Mariner" first appeared it was dismissed as a cock-and-bull story; yet
somehow readers went back to it, again and again, as if fascinated. It was
passed on to the next generation; and still we read it, and pass it on. For
this grotesque tale differs from all others of its kind in that its lines
have been quoted for over a hundred years as a reflection of some profound
human experience. That is the genius of the work: it takes the most
fantastic illusions and makes them appear as real as any sober journey
recorded in a sailor's log book. [Footnote: In connection with the "Ancient
Mariner" one should read the legends of "The Flying Dutchman" and "The
Wandering Jew." Poe's story "A Manuscript Found in a Bottle" is based on
these legends and on Coleridge's poem.]

At the present time our enjoyment of the "Mariner" is somewhat hampered by
the critical commentaries which have fastened upon the poem, like barnacles
on an old ship. It has been studied as a type of the romantic ballad, as a
moral lesson, as a tract against cruelty to animals, as a model of college
English. But that is no way to abuse a poet's fancy! To appreciate the
"Mariner" as the author intended, one should carry it off to the hammock or
orchard; there to have freedom of soul to enjoy a well-spun yarn, a
gorgeous flight of imagination, a poem which illustrates Coleridge's
definition of poetry as "the bloom and the fragrance of all human
knowledge, thoughts, emotions, language." It broadens one's sympathy, as
well as one's horizon, to accompany this ancient sailor through scenes of
terror and desolation:

O Wedding-Guest! this soul hath been
Alone on a wide, wide sea:
So lonely 't was, that God himself
Scarce seemed there to be.

In the midst of such scenes come blessed memories of a real world, of the
beauty of unappreciated things, such as the "sweet jargoning" of birds:

And now 'twas like all instruments,
Now like a lonely flute;
And now it is an angel's song,
That makes the heavens be mute.

It ceased; yet still the sails made on
A pleasant noise till noon,
A noise like of a hidden brook
In the leafy month of June,
That to the sleeping woods all night
Singeth a quiet tune.

Whoever is not satisfied with that for its own sake, without moral or
analysis, has missed the chief interest of all good poetry.

ROBERT SOUTHEY. In contrast with the irresolution of Coleridge is the
steadfastness of Southey (1774-1843), a man of strong character, of
enormous industry. For fifty years he worked steadily, day and half the
night, turning out lyrics, ballads, epics, histories, biographies,
translations, reviews,--an immense amount of stuff, filling endless
volumes. Kind nature made up for Southey's small talent by giving him a
great opinion of it, and he believed firmly that his work was as immortal
as the _Iliad_.

[Illustration: ROBERT SOUTHEY]

With the exception of a few short poems, such as the "Battle of Blenheim,"
"Lodore," "The Inchcape Rock" and "Father William" (parodied in the
nonsense of _Alice in Wonderland_), the mass of Southey's work is
already forgotten. Deserving of mention, however, are his _Peninsular
War_ and his _Life of Nelson_, both written in a straightforward
style, portraying patriotism without the usual sham, and a first-class
fighting man without brag or bluster. Curious readers may also be attracted
by the epics of Southey (such as _Madoc_, the story of a Welsh prince
who anticipated Columbus), which contain plenty of the marvelous adventures
that give interest to the romances of Jules Verne and the yarns of Rider

It as Southey's habit to work by the clock, turning out chapters as another
man might dig potatoes. One day, as he plodded along, a fairy must have
whispered in his car; for he suddenly produced a little story, a gem, a
treasure of a story, and hid it away in a jungle of chapters in a book
called _The Doctor_. Somebody soon discovered the treasure; indeed,
one might as well try to conceal a lighted candle as to hide a good story;
and now it is the most famous work to be found in Southey's hundred volumes
of prose and verse. Few professors could give you any information
concerning _The Doctor_, but almost any child will tell you all about
"The Three Bears." The happy fate of this little nursery tale might
indicate that the final judges of literature are not always or often the
learned critics.

* * * * *


The above title is often applied to Byron and Shelley, and for two reasons,
because they were themselves rebellious of heart, and because they voiced
the rebellion of numerous other young enthusiasts who, disappointed by the
failure of the French Revolution to bring in the promised age of happiness,
were ready to cry out against the existing humdrum order of society. Both
poets were sadly lacking in mental or moral balance, and finding no chance
in England to wage heroic Warfare against political tyranny, as the French
had done, they proceeded in rather head long fashion to an attack on well
established customs in society, and especially did they strike out wildly
against "the monster Public Opinion." Because the "monster" was stronger
than they were, and more nearly right, their rebellion ended in tragedy.

Where Southey lived, 1803-1839]

LIFE OF BYRON. In the life of George Gordon, Lord Byron
(1788-1824), is so much that call for apology or silence that one
is glad to review his career in briefest outline.

Of his family, noble in name but in nothing else, the least said
the better. He was born in London, but spent his childhood in
Aberdeen, under the alternate care or negligence of his erratic
mother. At ten he fell heir to a title, to the family seat of
Newstead Abbey, and to estates yielding an income of some L1400 per
year,--a large income for a poet, but as nothing to a lord
accustomed to make ducks and drakes of his money. In school and
college his conduct was rather wild, and his taste fantastic For
example, he kept a bulldog and a bear in his rooms, and read
romances instead of books recommended by the faculty. He tells us
that he detested poetry; yet he wrote numerous poems which show
plainly that he not only read but copied some of the poets.
[Footnote: These poems (revised and published as _Hours of
Idleness_) were savagely criticized in the _Edinburgh
Review_. Byron answered with his satiric _English Bards and
Scotch Reviewers_, which ridiculed not only his Scottish critics
but also Wordsworth, Scott,--in fact, most of the English poets,
with the exception of Pope, whom he praised as the only poet
ancient or modern who was not a barbarian.]


At twenty-one Byron entered the House of Lords, and almost
immediately thereafter set sail for Lisbon and the Levant. On his
return he published the first two cantos of _Childe Harold's
Pilgrimage_, which made him famous. Though he affected to
despise his triumph, he followed it up shrewdly by publishing
_The Giaour_, _The Corsair_ and _Lara_, in which the
same mysterious hero of his first work reappears, under different
disguises, amid romantic surroundings. The vigor of these poems
attracted many readers, and when it was whispered about that the
author was recounting his own adventures, Byron became the center
of literary interest. At home he was a social lion; abroad he was
acclaimed the greatest of British poets. But his life tended more
and more to shock the English sense of decency; and when his wife
(whom he had married for her money) abruptly left him, public
opinion made its power felt. Byron's popularity waned; his vanity
was wounded; he left his country, vowing never to return. Also he
railed against what he called British hypocrisy.

[Illustration: LORD BYRON After the portrait by T. Phillips]

In Geneva he first met Shelley, admired him, was greatly helped by
him, and then grossly abused his hospitality. After a scandalous
career in Italy he went to help the Greeks in their fight for
independence, but died of fever before he reached the battle line.

THE POETRY OF BYRON. There is one little song of Byron which serves well as
the measure of his poetic talent. It is found in _Don Juan_, and it
begins as follows:

'T is sweet to hear
At midnight on the blue and moonlit deep
The song and oar of Adria's gondolier,
By distance mellow'd, o'er the waters sweep;
'T is sweet to see the evening star appear;
'T is sweet to listen, as the night-winds creep
From leaf to leaf; 't is sweet to view on high
The rainbow, based on ocean, span the sky.

'T is sweet to hear the watch-dog's honest bark
Bay deep-mouthed welcome as we draw near home;
'T is sweet to know there is an eye will mark
Our coming, and look brighter when we come;
'T is sweet to be awaken'd by the lark,
Or lulled by falling waters; sweet the hum
Of bees, the voice of girls, the song of birds,
The lisp of children, and their earliest words.

That is not great poetry, and may not be compared with a sonnet of
Wordsworth; but it is good, honest sentiment expressed in such a melodious
way that we like to read it, and feel better after the reading. In the next
stanza, however, Byron grows commonplace and ends with:

Sweet is revenge, especially to women,
Pillage to soldiers, prize-money to seamen.

And that is bad sentiment and worse rime, without any resemblance to
poetry. The remaining stanzas are mere drivel, unworthy of the poet's
talent or of the reader's patience.

It is so with a large part of Byron's work; it often begins well, and
usually has some vivid description of nature, or some gallant passage in
swinging verse, which stirs us like martial music; then the poem falls to
earth like a stone, and presently appears some wretched pun or jest or
scurrility. Our present remedy lies in a book of selections, in which we
can enjoy the poetry without being unpleasantly reminded of the author's
besetting sins of flippancy and bad taste.

[Sidenote: MANFRED]

Of the longer poems of Byron, which took all Europe by storm, only three or
four are memorable. _Manfred_ (1817) is a dramatic poem, in which the
author's pride, his theatric posing, his talent for rhythmic expression,
are all seen at their worst or best. The mysterious hero of the poem lives
in a gloomy castle under the high Alps, but he is seldom found under roof.
Instead he wanders amidst storms and glaciers, holding communion with
powers of darkness, forever voicing his rebellion, his boundless pride, his
bottomless remorse. Nobody knows what the rebellion and the remorse are all
about. Some readers may tire of the shadowy hero's egoism, but few will
fail to be impressed by the vigor of the verse, or by the splendid
reflection of picturesque scenes. And here and there is a lyric that seems
to set itself to music.

Mont Blanc is the monarch of mountains,
They crowned him long ago
On a throne of rocks, in a robe of clouds,
With a diadem of snow


_Cain_ (1821) is another dramatic poem, reflecting the rebellion of
another hero, or rather the same hero, who appears this time as the elder
son of Adam. After murdering his brother, the hero takes guidance of
Lucifer and explores hell; where, instead of repentance, he finds occasion
to hate almost everything that is dear to God or man. The drama is a kind
of gloomy parody of Milton's _Paradise Lost_, as _Manfred_ is a
parody of Goethe's _Faust_. Both dramas are interesting, aside from
their poetic passages, as examples of the so-called Titan literature, to
which we shall presently refer in our study of Shelley's _Prometheus_.


The most readable work of Byron is _Childe Harold's Pilgrimage_, a
brilliant narrative poem, which reflects the impressions of another
misanthropic hero in presence of the romantic scenery of the Continent. It
was the publication of the first two cantos of this poem in 1812, that made
Byron the leading figure in English poetry, and these cantos are still
widely read as a kind of poetic guidebook. To many readers, however, the
third and fourth cantos are more sincere and more pleasurable. The most
memorable parts of _Childe Harold_ are the "Farewell" in the first
canto, "Waterloo" in the third, and "Lake Leman," "Venice," "Rome," "The
Coliseum", "The Dying Gladiator" and "The Ocean" in the fourth. When one
has read these magnificent passages he has the best of which Byron was
capable. We have called _Childe Harold_ the most readable of Byron's
works, but those who like a story will probably be more interested in
_Mazeppa_ and _The Prisoner of Chillon_.



One significant quality of these long poems is that they are intensely
personal, voicing one man's remorse or rebellion, and perpetually repeating
his "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!" They are concerned with the same
hero (who is Byron under various disguises) and they picture him as a
proud, mysterious stranger, carelessly generous, fiendishly wicked,
profoundly melancholy, irresistibly fascinating to women. Byron is credited
with the invention of this hero, ever since called Byronic; but in truth
the melodramatic outcast was a popular character in fiction long before
Byron adopted him, gave him a new dress and called him Manfred or Don Juan.
A score of romances (such as Mrs. Radcliffe's _The Italian_ in
England, and Charles Brockden Brown's _Wieland_ in America) had used
the same hero to add horror to a grotesque tale; Scott modified him
somewhat, as the Templar in _Ivanhoe_, for example; and Byron made him
more real by giving him the revolutionary spirit, by employing him to voice
the rebellion against social customs which many young enthusiasts felt so
strongly in the early part of the nineteenth century.


The vigor of this stage hero, his rebellious spirit, his picturesque
adventures, the gaudy tinsel (mistaken for gold) in which he was
dressed,--all this made a tremendous impression in that romantic age.
Goethe called Byron "the prince of modern poetry, the most talented and
impressive figure which the literary world has ever produced"; and this
unbalanced judgment was shared by other critics on the Continent, where
Byron is still regarded as one of the greatest of English poets.

Swinburne, on the other hand, can hardly find words strong enough to
express his contempt for the "blare and brassiness" of Byron; but that also
is an exaggeration. Though Byron is no longer a popular hero, and though
his work is more rhetorical than poetical, we may still gladly acknowledge
the swinging rhythm, the martial dash and vigor of his best verse. Also,
remembering the Revolution, we may understand the dazzling impression which
he made upon the poets of his day. When the news came from Greece that his
meteoric career was ended, the young Tennyson wept passionately and went
out to carve on a stone, "Byron is dead," as if poetry had perished with
him. Even the coldly critical Matthew Arnold was deeply moved to write:

When Byron's eyes were closed in death
We bowed our head, and held our breath.
He taught us little, but our soul
Had _felt_ him like the thunder roll.

LIFE OF SHELLEY. The career of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) is,
in comparison with that of Byron, as a will-o'-the-wisp to a
meteor. Byron was of the earth earthy; he fed upon coarse food,
shady adventures, scandal, the limelight; but Shelley

Seemed nourished upon starbeams, and the stuff
Of rainbows and the tempest and the foam.

He was a delicate child, shy, sensitive, elflike, who wandered
through the woods near his home, in Sussex, on the lookout for
sprites and hobgoblins. His reading was of the wildest kind; and
when he began the study of chemistry he was forever putting
together things that made horrible smells or explosions, in
expectation that the genii of the _Arabian Nights_ would rise
from the smoke of his test tube.

[Sidenote: A YOUNG REBEL]

At Eton the boy promptly rebelled against the brutal fagging
system, then tolerated in all English schools. He was presently in
hot water, and the name "Mad Shelley," which the boys gave him,
followed him through life. He had been in the university (Oxford)
hardly two years when his head was turned by some book of shallow
philosophy, and he printed a rattle-brained tract called "The
Necessity of Atheism." This got him into such trouble with the Dons
that he was expelled for insubordination.


Forthwith Shelley published more tracts of a more rebellious kind.
His sister Helen put them into the hands of her girl friend,
Harriet Westbrook, who showed her belief in revolutionary theories
by running away from school and parental discipline and coming to
Shelley for "protection." These two social rebels, both in the
green-apple stage (their combined age was thirty-five), were
presently married; not that either of them believed in marriage,
but because they were compelled by "Anarch Custom."

After some two years of a wandering, will-o'-the-wisp life, Shelley
and his wife were estranged and separated. The young poet then met
a certain William Godwin, known at that time as a novelist and
evolutionary philosopher, and showed his appreciation of Godwin's
radical teaching by running away with his daughter Mary, aged
seventeen. The first wife, tired of liberalism, drowned herself,
and Shelley was plunged into remorse at the tragedy. The right to
care for his children was denied him, as an improper person, and he
was practically driven out of England by force of that public
opinion which he had so frequently outraged or defied.


Life is a good teacher, though stern in its reckoning, and in Italy
life taught Shelley that the rights and beliefs of other men were
no less sacred than his own. He was a strange combination of hot
head and kind heart, the one filled with wild social theories, the
other with compassion for humanity. He was immensely generous with
his friends, and tender to the point of tears at the thought of
suffering men,--not real men, such as he met in the streets (even
the beggars in Italy are cheerful), but idealized men, with
mysterious sorrows, whom he met in the clouds. While in England his
weak head had its foolish way, and his early poems, such as
_Queen Mab_, are violent declamations. In Italy his heart had
its day, and his later poems, such as _Adonais_ and
_Prometheus Unbound_, are rhapsodies ennobled by Shelley's
love of beauty and by his unquenchable hope that a bright day of
justice must soon dawn upon the world. He was drowned (1822) while
sailing his boat off the Italian coast, before he had reached the
age of thirty years.

THE POETRY OF SHELLEY. In the longer poems of Shelley there are two
prominent elements, and two others less conspicuous but more important. The
first element is revolt. The poet was violently opposed to the existing
order of society, and lost no opportunity to express his hatred of Tyranny,
which was Shelley's name for what sober men called law and order. Feeding
his spirit of revolution were numerous anarchistic theories, called the new
philosophy, which had this curious quality: that they hotly denied the old
faith, law, morality, as other men formulated such matters, and fervently
believed any quack who appeared with a new nostrum warranted to cure all
social disorders.

The second obvious element in Shelley's poetry is his love of beauty, not
the common beauty of nature or humanity which Wordsworth celebrated, but a
strange "supernal" beauty with no "earthly" quality or reality. His best
lines leave a vague impression of something beautiful and lovely, but we
know not what it is.

Less conspicuous in Shelley's poems are the sense of personal loss or grief
which pervades them, and the exquisite melody of certain words which he
used for their emotional effect rather than to convey any definite meaning.
Like Byron he sang chiefly of his own feelings, his rage or despair, his
sorrow or loneliness. He reflected his idea of the origin and motive of
lyric poesy in the lines:

Most wretched men
Are cradled into poetry by wrong;
They learn in suffering what they teach in song,--

an idea which Poe adopted in its entirety, and which Heine expressed in a
sentimental lyric, telling how from his great grief he made his little

Aus meinen groszen Schmerzen
Mach' ich die kleinen Lieder.

Hardly another English poet uses words so musically as Shelley (witness
"The Cloud" and "The Skylark"), and here again his idea of verbal melody
was carried to an extreme by Poe, in whose poetry words are used not so
much to express ideas as to awaken vague emotions.

[Sidenote: ALASTOR]

All the above-named qualities appear in _Alastor_ (the Spirit of
Solitude), which is less interesting as a poem than as a study of Shelley.
In this poem we may skip the revolt, which is of no consequence, and follow
the poet in his search for a supernally lovely maiden who shall satisfy his
love for ideal beauty. To find her he goes, not among human habitations,
but to gloomy forests, dizzy cliffs, raging torrents, tempest-blown
seashore,--to every place where a maiden in her senses would not be. Such
places, terrible or picturesque, are but symbols of the poet's soul in its
suffering and loneliness. He does not find his maiden (and herein we read
the poet's first confession that he has failed in life, that the world is
too strong for him); but he sees the setting moon, and somehow that pale
comforter brings him peace with death.

[Sidenote: PROMETHEUS]

In _Prometheus Unbound_ Shelley uses the old myth of the Titan who
rebelled against the tyranny of the gods, and who was punished by being
chained to a rock. [Footnote: The original tragedy of _Prometheus
Bound_ was written by Aschylus, a famous old Greek dramatist. The same
poet wrote also _Prometheus Unbound_, but the latter drama has been
lost. Shelley borrowed the idea of his poem from this lost drama.] In this
poem Prometheus (man) is represented as being tortured by Jove (law or
custom) until he is released by Demogorgon (progress or necessity);
whereupon he marries Asia (love or goodness), and stars and moon break out
into a happy song of redemption.

Obviously there is no reality or human interest in such a fantasy. The only
pleasurable parts of the poem are its detached passages of great melody or
beauty; and the chief value of the work is as a modern example of Titan
literature. Many poets have at various times represented mankind in the
person of a Titan, that is, a man written large, colossal in his courage or
power or suffering: Aschylus in _Prometheus_, Marlowe in
_Tamburlaine_, Milton in Lucifer, of _Paradise Lost_, Goethe in
_Faust_, Byron in _Manfred_, Shelley in _Prometheus
Unbound_. The Greek Titan is resigned, uncomplaining, knowing himself to
be a victim of Fate, which may not be opposed; Marlowe's Titan is bombastic
and violent; Milton's is ambitious, proud, revengeful; Goethe's is cultured
and philosophical; Byron's is gloomy, rebellious, theatrical. So all these
poets portray each his own bent of mind, and something also of the temper
of the age, in the character of his Titan. The significance of Shelley's
poem is in this: that his Titan is patient and hopeful, trusting in the
spirit of Love to redeem mankind from all evil. Herein Shelley is far
removed from the caviling temper of his fellow rebel Byron. He celebrates a
golden age not of the past but of the future, when the dream of justice
inspired by the French Revolution shall have become a glorious reality.

[Sidenote: HIS BEST POEMS]

These longer poems of Shelley are read by the few; they are too vague, with
too little meaning or message, for ordinary readers who like to understand
as well as to enjoy poetry. To such readers the only interesting works of
Shelley are a few shorter poems: "The Cloud," "To a Skylark," "Ode to the
West Wind," "Indian Serenade," "A Lament," "When the Lamp is Lighted" and
some parts of _Adonais_ (a beautiful elegy in memory of Keats), such
as the passage beginning, "Go thou to Rome." For splendor of imagination
and for melody of expression these poems have few peers and no superiors in
English literature. To read them is to discover that Shelley was at times
so sensitive, so responsive to every harmony of nature, that he seemed like
the poet of Alastor,

A fragile lute, on whose harmonious strings
The breath of Heaven did wander.

The breath of heaven is constant, but lutes and strings are variable
matters of human arrangement. When Shelley's lute was tuned to nature it
brought forth aerial melody; when he strained its strings to voice some
social rebellion or anarchistic theory it produced wild discord.

* * * * *

JOHN KEATS (1795-1821)

A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness, but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams and health and quiet breathing.

The above lines, from _Endymion_, reflect the ideal of the young
singer whom we rank with the best poets of the nineteenth century. Unlike
other romanticists of that day, he seems to have lived for poetry alone and
to have loved it for its own sake, as we love the first spring flowers. His
work was shamefully treated by reviewers; it was neglected by the public;
but still he wrote, trying to make each line perfect, in the spirit of
those medieval workmen who put their hearts into a carving that would rest
on some lofty spire far above the eyes of men. To reverence beauty wherever
he found it, and then in gratitude to produce a new work of beauty which
should live forever,--that was Keats's only aim. It is the more wonderful
in view of his humble origin, his painful experience, his tragic end.

LIFE. Only twenty-five years of life, which included seven years of
uncongenial tasks, and three of writing, and three of wandering in
search of health,--that sums up the story of Keats. He was born in
London; he was the son of a hostler; his home was over the stable;
his playground was the dirty street. The family prospered, moved to
a better locality, and the children were sent to a good school.
Then the parents died, and at fifteen Keats was bound out to a
surgeon and apothecary. For four years he worked as an apprentice,
and for three years more in a hospital; then, for his heart was
never in the work, he laid aside his surgeon's kit, resolving never
to touch it again.


Since childhood he had been a reader, a dreamer, but not till a
volume of Spenser's _Faery Queen_ was put into his hands did
he turn with intense eagerness to poetry. The influence of that
volume is seen in the somewhat monotonous sweetness of his early
work. Next he explored the classics (he had read Virgil in the
original, but he knew no Greek), and the joy he found in Chapman's
translation of Homer is reflected in a noble sonnet. From that time
on he was influenced by two ideals which he found in Greek and
medieval literature, the one with its emphasis on form, the other
with its rich and varied coloring.

[Illustration: JOHN KEATS]

During the next three years Keats published three small volumes,
his entire life's work. These were brutally criticized by literary
magazines; they met with ridicule at the hands of Byron, with
indifference on the part of Scott and Wordsworth. The pathetic
legend that the poet's life was shortened by this abuse is still
repeated, but there is little truth in it. Keats held manfully to
his course, having more weighty things than criticism to think
about. He was conscious that his time was short; he was in love
with his Fannie Brawne, but separated from her by illness and
poverty; and, like the American poet Lanier, he faced death across
the table as he wrote. To throw off the consumption which had
fastened upon him he tried to live in the open, making walking
trips in the Lake Region; but he met with rough fare and returned
from each trip weaker than before. He turned at last to Italy,
dreading the voyage and what lay beyond. Night fell as the ship put
to sea; the evening star shone clear through the storm clouds, and
Keats sent his farewell to life and love and poetry in the sonnet

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art.

He died soon after his arrival in Rome, in 1821. Shelley, who had
hailed Keats as a genius, and who had sent a generous invitation to
come and share his home, commemorated the poet's death and the
world's loss in _Adonais_, which ranks with Milton's
_Lycidas_, Tennyson's _In Memoriam_ and Emerson's
_Threnody_ among the great elegiac poems of our literature.

THE WORK OF KEATS. The first small volume of Keats (_Poems_, 1817)
seems now like an experiment. The part of that experiment which we cherish
above all others is the sonnet "On Chapman's Homer," which should be read
entire for its note of joy and for its fine expression of the influence of
classic poetry. The second volume, _Endymion_, may be regarded as a
promise. There is little reality in the rambling poem which gives title to
the volume (the story of a shepherd beloved of a moon-goddess), but the
bold imagery of the work, its Spenserian melody, its passages of rare
beauty,--all these speak of a true poet who has not yet quite found himself
or his subject. A third volume, _Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes
and Other Poems_ (1820), is in every sense a fulfillment, for it
contains a large proportion of excellent poetry, fresh, vital, melodious,
which improves with years, and which carries on its face the stamp of

[Sidenote: HIS BEST POEMS]

The contents of this little volume may be arranged, not very accurately, in
three classes, In the first are certain poems that by their perfection of
form show the Greek or classic spirit. Best known of these poems are the
fragment "Hyperion," with its Milton-like nobility of style, and "Lamia,"
which is the story of an enchantress whom love transforms into a beautiful
woman, but who quickly vanishes because of her lover's too great
curiosity,--a parable, perhaps, of the futility of science and philosophy,
as Keats regarded them.

Of the poems of the second class, which reflect old medieval legends, "The
Pot of Basil," "The Eve of St. Agnes" and "La Belle Dame sans Merci" are
praised by poets and critics alike. "St. Agnes," which reflects a vague
longing rather than a story, is the best known; but "La Belle Dame" may
appeal to some readers as the most moving of Keats's poems. The essence of
all old metrical romances is preserved in a few lines, which have an added
personal interest from the fact that they may reveal something of the
poet's sad love story.

In the third class are a few sonnets and miscellaneous poems, all permeated
by the sense of beauty, showing in every line the genius of Keats and his
exquisite workmanship. The sonnets "On the Sea," "When I have Fears," "On
the Grasshopper and Cricket" and "To Sleep"; the fragment beginning "In a
drear-nighted December"; the marvelous odes "On a Grecian Urn," "To a
Nightingale" and "To Autumn," in which he combines the simplicity of the
old classics with the romance and magic of medieval writers,--there are no
works in English of a similar kind that make stronger appeal to our ideal
of poetry and of verbal melody. Into the three stanzas of "Autumn," for
example, Keats has compressed the vague feelings of beauty, of melancholy,
of immortal aspiration, which come to sensitive souls in the "season of
mists and mellow fruitfulness." It may be compared, or rather contrasted,
with another poem on the same subject which voices the despair in the heart
of the French poet Verlaine, who hears "the sobbing of the violins of

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l'automne
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur

KEATS: AN ESSAY OF CRITICISM. Beyond recommending a few of his poems for
their beauty, there is really so little to be said of Keats that critics
are at their wit's end to express their appreciation. So we read of Keats's
"pure aestheticism," his "copious perfection," his "idyllic visualization,"
his "haunting poignancy of feeling," his "subtle felicities of diction,"
his "tone color," and more to the same effect. Such criticisms are
doubtless well meant, but they are harder to follow than Keats's
"Endymion"; and that is no short or easy road of poesy. Perhaps by trying
more familiar ways we may better understand Keats, why he appeals so
strongly to poets, and why he is so seldom read by other people.


The first characteristic of the man was his love for every beautiful thing
he saw or heard. Sometimes the object which fascinated him was the
widespread sea or a solitary star; sometimes it was the work of man, the
product of his heart and brain attuned, such as a passage from Homer, a
legend of the Middle Ages, a vase of pure lines amid the rubbish of a
museum, like a bird call or the scent of violets in a city street. Whatever
the object that aroused his sense of beauty, he turned aside to stay with
it a while, as on the byways of Europe you will sometimes see a man lay
down his burden and bare his head before a shrine that beckons him to pray.
With this reverence for beauty Keats had other and rarer qualities: the
power to express what he felt, the imagination which gave him beautiful
figures, and the taste which enabled him to choose the finest words, the
most melodious phrases, wherewith to reflect his thought or mood or

Such was the power of Keats, to be simple and reverent in the presence of
beauty, and to give his feeling poetic or imaginative expression. In
respect of such power he probably had no peer in English literature. His
limitations were twofold: he looked too exclusively on the physical side of
beauty, and he lived too far removed from the common, wholesome life of

[Sidenote: SENSE AND SOUL]

To illustrate our criticism: that man whom we saw by the wayside shrine
acknowledged the presence of some spiritual beauty and truth, the beauty of
holiness, the ineffable loveliness of God. So the man who trains a child,
or gives thanks for a friend, or remembers his mother, is always at heart a
lover of beauty,--the moral beauty of character, of comradeship, of
self-sacrifice. But the poetry of Keats deals largely with outward matters,
with form, color, melody, odors, with what is called "sensuous" beauty
because it delights our human senses. Such beauty is good, but it is not
supreme. Moreover, the artist who would appeal widely to men must by
sympathy understand their whole life, their mirth as well as their sorrow,
their days of labor, their hours of play, their moments of worship. But
Keats, living apart with his ideal of beauty, like a hermit in his cell,
was able to understand and to voice only one of the profound interests of
humanity. For this reason, and because of the deep note of sadness which
sounds through all his work like the monotone of the sea, his exquisite
poems have never had any general appreciation. Like Spenser, who was his
first master, he is a poet's poet.

* * * * *


In the early nineteenth century the Literary Annuals appeared, took root
and flourished mightily in England and America. These annuals (such a
vigorous crop should have been called hardy annuals) were collections of
contemporary prose or verse that appeared once a year under such
sentimental names as "Friendship's Offering," "The Token" and "The
Garland." That they were sold in large numbers on both sides of the
Atlantic speaks of the growing popular interest in literature. Moreover,
they served an excellent purpose at a time when books and libraries were
less accessible than they are now. They satisfied the need of ordinary
readers for poetry and romance; they often made known to the world a
talented author, who found in public approval that sweet encouragement
which critics denied him; they made it unlikely that henceforth "some mute,
inglorious Milton" should remain either mute or inglorious; and they not
only preserved the best work of minor poets but, what is much better, they
gave it a wide reading.

Thanks to such collections, from which every newspaper filled its Poet's
Corner, good poems which else might have hid their little light under a
bushel--Campbell's "Hohenlinden," Mrs. Hemans' "Landing of the Pilgrim
Fathers," Hunt's "Abou ben Adhem," Hood's "The Song of the Shirt," and many
others--are now as widely known as are the best works of Wordsworth or

[Illustration: LEIGH HUNT]

We can name only a few poets of the age, leaving the reader to form
acquaintance with their songs in an anthology. Especially worthy of
remembrance are: Thomas Campbell, who greatly influenced the American poets
Halleck and Drake; Thomas Moore, whose _Irish Melodies_ have an
attractive singing quality; James Hogg (The Ettrick Shepherd); John Keble,
author of _The Christian Year_; Thomas Hood; Felicia Hemans; and Leigh
Hunt, whose encouragement of Keats is as memorable as his "Abou ben Adhem"
or "The Glove and the Lions." There are other poets of equal rank with
those we have ventured to name, and their melodious quality is such that a
modern critic has spoken of them, in terms commonly applied to the
Elizabethans, as "a nest of singing birds"; which would be an excellent
figure if we could forget the fact that birds in a nest never sing. Their
work is perhaps less imaginative (and certainly less fantastic) than that
of Elizabethan singers, but it comes nearer to present life and reality.

One of the least known of these minor poets, Thomas Beddoes, was gifted in
a way to remind us of the strange genius of Blake. He wrote not much, his
life being too broken and disappointed; but running through his scanty
verse is a thread of the pure gold of poetry. In a single stanza of his
"Dream Pedlary" he has reflected the spirit of the whole romantic movement:

If there were dreams to sell,
What would you buy?
Some cost a passing bell,
Some a light sigh
That shakes from Life's fresh crown
Only a rose leaf down.
If there were dreams to sell,
Merry and sad to tell,
And the crier rang the bell,
What would you buy?

* * * * *


To read Scott is to read Scotland. Of no other modern author can it so
freely be said that he gave to literature a whole country, its scenery, its
people, its history and traditions, its ideals of faith and courage and

That is a large achievement, but that is not all. It was Scott, more than
any other author, who brought poetry and romance home to ordinary readers;
and with romance came pleasure, wholesome and refreshing as a drink from a
living spring. When he began to write, the novel was in a sad
state,--sentimental, sensational, fantastic, devoted to what Charles Lamb
described as wildly improbable events and to characters that belong neither
to this world nor to any other conceivable one. When his work was done, the
novel had been raised to its present position as the most powerful literary
influence that bears upon the human mind. Among novelists, therefore, Scott
deserves his title of "the first of the modern race of giants."

LIFE. To his family, descendants of the old Borderers, Scott owed
that intensely patriotic quality which glows in all his work. He is
said to have borne strong resemblance to his grandfather, "Old
Bardie Scott," an unbending clansman who vowed never to cut his
beard till a Stuart prince came back to the throne. The clansmen
were now citizens of the Empire, but their loyalty to hereditary
chiefs is reflected in Scott's reverence for everything pertaining
to rank or royalty.


He was born (1771) in Edinburgh, but his early associations were
all of the open country. Some illness had left him lame of foot,
and with the hope of a cure he was sent to relatives at Sandy
Knowe. There in the heart of the Border he spent his days on the
hills with the shepherds, listening to Scottish legends. At bedtime
his grandmother told him tales of the clans; and when he could read
for himself he learned by heart Percy's _Reliques of Ancient
Poetry_. So the scenes which he loved because of their wild
beauty became sacred because of their historical association. Even
in that early day his heart had framed the sentiment which found
expression in his _Lay of the Last Minstrel_:

Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said:
This is my own, my native land?

[Sidenote: WORK AND PLAY]

At school, and at college at Edinburgh, the boy's heart was never
in his books, unless perchance they contained something of the
tradition of Scotland. After college he worked in his father's law
office, became an advocate, and for twenty years followed the law.
His vacations were spent "making raids," as he said, into the
Highlands, adding to his enormous store of old tales and ballads. A
companion on one of these trips gives us a picture of the man:

"Eh me, sic an endless fund o' humour and drollery as he
had wi' him! Never ten yards but we were either laughing or
roaring and singing. Whenever we stopped, how brawlie he
suited himsel' to everybody! He aye did as the lave did;
never made himsel' the great man, or took ony airs in the

This boyish delight in roaming, in new scenes, in new people met
frankly under the open sky, is characteristic of Scott's poems and
novels, which never move freely until they are out of doors. The
vigor of these works may be partially accounted for by the fact
that Scott was a hard worker and a hearty player,--a capital

[Sidenote: HIS POEMS]

He was past thirty when he began to write. [Footnote: This refers
to original composition. In 1796 Scott published some translations
of German romantic ballads, and in 1802 his _Minstrelsy of the
Scottish Border_. The latter was a collection of old ballads, to
some of which Scott gave a more modern form.] By that time he had
been appointed Clerk of Sessions, and also Sheriff of Selkirkshire
(he took that hangman's job, and kept it even after he had won
fame, just for the money there was in it); and these offices,
together with his wife's dowry, provided a comfortable income. When
his first poem, _The Lay of the Last Minstrel_ (1805), met
with immense success he gladly gave up the law, and wrote
_Marmion_ (1808) and _The Lady of the Lake_ (1810). These
increased his good fortune; but his later poems were of inferior
quality, and met with a cool reception. Meanwhile Byron had
appeared to dazzle the reading public. Scott recognized the greater
poetic genius of the author of _Childe Harold_, and sought
another field where he was safe from all rivals.

[Illustration: WALTER SCOTT]


Rummaging in a cabinet one day after some fishing tackle, he found
a manuscript long neglected and forgotten. Instead of going fishing
Scott read his manuscript, was fascinated by it, and presently
began to write in headlong fashion. In three weeks he added
sixty-five chapters to his old romance, and published it as
_Waverley_ (1814) without signing his name. Then he went away
on another "raid" to the Highlands. When he returned, at the end of
the summer, he learned that his book had made a tremendous
sensation, and that Fame, hat in hand, had been waiting at his door
for some weeks.

In the next ten years Scott won his name of "the Wizard of the
North," for it seemed that only magic could produce stories of such
quality in such numbers: _Guy Mannering_, _Rob Roy_,
_Old Mortality_, _Redgauntlet_, _Heart of
Midlothian_, portraying the deathless romance of Scotland; and
_Ivanhoe_, _Kenilworth_, _The Talisman_ and other
novels which changed dull history to a drama of fascinating
characters. Not only England but the Continent hailed this
magnificent work with delight. Money and fame poured in upon the
author. Fortune appeared for once "with both hands full." Then the
crash came.

To understand the calamity one must remember that Scott regarded
literature not as an art but as a profitable business; that he
aimed to be not a great writer but a lord of high degree. He had
been made a baronet, and was childishly proud of the title; his
work and his vast earnings were devoted to the dream of a feudal
house which should endure through the centuries and look back to
Sir Walter as its noble founder. While living modestly on his
income at Ashestiel he had used the earnings of his poems to buy a
rough farm at Clarty Hole, on the Tweed, and had changed its
unromantic name to Abbotsford. More land was rapidly added and
"improved" to make a lordly estate; then came the building of a
castle, where Scott entertained lavishly, as lavishly as any laird
or chieftain of the olden time, offering to all visitors "the
honors of Scotland."

[Illustration: ABBOTSFORD]

Enormous sums were spent on this bubble, and still more money was
needed. To increase his income Scott went into secret partnership
with his publishers, indulged in speculative ventures, ran the firm
upon the shoals, drew large sums in advance of his earnings.
Suddenly came a business panic; the publishing firm failed
miserably, and at fifty five Scott, having too much honest pride to
take advantage of the bankruptcy laws, found himself facing a debt
of more than a hundred thousand pounds.

[Sidenote: HIS LAST YEARS]

His last years were spent in an heroic struggle to retrieve his
lost fortunes. He wrote more novels, but without much zest or
inspiration; he undertook other works, such as the voluminous
_Life of Napoleon_, for which he was hardly fitted, but which
brought him money in large measure. In four years he had repaid the
greater part of his debt, but mind and body were breaking under the
strain. When the end came, in 1832, he had literally worked himself
to death. The murmur of the Tweed over its shallows, music that he
had loved since childhood, was the last earthly sound of which he
was conscious. The house of Abbotsford, for which he had planned
and toiled, went into strange hands, and the noble family which he
had hoped to found died out within a few years. Only his work
remains, and that endures the wear of time and the tooth of

THE POEMS OF SCOTT. Three good poems of Scott are _Marmion_, _The
Lay of the Last Minstrel_ and _The Lady of the Lake_; three others,
not so good, are _Rokeby_, _Vision of Don Roderick_ and _Lord
of the Isles_. Among these _The Lady of the Lake_ is such a
favorite that, if one were to question the tourists who annually visit the
Trossachs, a surprisingly large number of them would probably confess that
they were led not so much by love of natural beauty as by desire to visit
"Fair Ellen's Isle" and other scenes which Scott has immortalized in verse.

We may as well admit frankly that even the best of these poems is not
first-class; that it shows careless workmanship, and is lacking in the
finer elements of beauty and imagination. But Scott did not aim to create a
work of beauty; his purpose was to tell a good story, and in that he
succeeded. His _Lady of the Lake_, for example, has at least two
virtues: it holds the reader's attention; and it fulfills the first law of
poetry, which is to give pleasure.


Another charm of the poems, for young readers especially, is that they are
simple, vigorous, easily understood. Their rapid action and flying verse
show hardly a trace of conscious effort. Reading them is like sweeping
downstream with a good current, no labor required save for steering, and
attention free for what awaits us around the next bend. When the bend is
passed, Scott has always something new and interesting: charming scenery,
heroic adventure, picturesque incidents (such as the flight of the Fiery
Cross to summon the clans), interesting fragments of folklore, and
occasionally a ballad like "Lochinvar," or a song like "Bonnie Dundee,"
which stays with us as a happy memory long after the poem is forgotten.

A secondary reason for the success of these poems was that they satisfied a
fashion, very popular in Scott's day, which we have not yet outgrown. That
fashion was to attribute chivalrous virtues to outlaws and other merry men,
who in their own day and generation were imprisoned or hanged, and who
deserved their fate. Robin Hood's gang, for example, or the Raiders of the
Border, were in fact a tough lot of thieves and cutthroats; but when they
appeared in romantic literature they must of course appeal to ladies; so
Scott made them fine, dashing, manly fellows, sacrificing to the fashion of
the hour the truth of history and humanity. As Andrew Lang says:

"In their own days the Border Riders were regarded as public
nuisances by statesmen, who attempted to educate them by means of
the gibbet. But now they were the delight of fine ladies,
contending who should be most extravagant in encomium. A blessing
on such fine ladies, who know what is good when they see it!"
[Footnote: Quoted in Nicoll and Seccombe, _A History of English
Literature_, Vol. Ill, p. 957.]

SCOTT'S NOVELS. To appreciate the value of Scott's work one should read
some of the novels that were fashionable in his day,--silly, sentimental
novels, portraying the "sensibilities" of imaginary ladies. [Footnote: In
America, Cooper's first romance, _Precaution_ (1820), was of this
artificial type. After Scott's outdoor romances appeared, Cooper discovered
his talent, and wrote _The Spy_ and the Leather-Stocking tales. Maria
Edgeworth and Jane Austen began to improve or naturalize the English novel
before Scott attempted it.] That Scott was influenced by this inane fashion
appears plainly in some of his characters, his fine ladies especially, who
pose and sentimentalize till we are mortally weary of them; but this
influence passed when he discovered his real power, which was to portray
men and women in vigorous action. _Waverley_, _Rob Roy_,
_Ivanhoe_, _Redgauntlet_,--such stories of brave adventure were
like the winds of the North, bringing to novel-readers the tang of the sea
and the earth and the heather. They braced their readers for life, made
them feel their kinship with nature and humanity. Incidentally, they
announced that two new types of fiction, the outdoor romance and the
historical novel, had appeared with power to influence the work of Cooper,
Thackeray, Dickens and a host of minor novelists.



The most convenient way of dealing with Scott's works is to arrange
them in three groups. In the first are the novels of Scotland:
_Waverley_, dealing with the loyalty of the clans to the
Pretender; _Old Mortality_, with the faith and struggles of
the Covenanters; _Redgauntlet_, with the plots of the
Jacobites; _The Abbot_ and _The Monastery_, with the
traditions concerning Mary Queen of Scots; _Guy Mannering, The
Antiquary_ and _The Heart of Midlothian_, with private life
and humble Scottish characters.

In the second group are the novels which reveal the romance of
English history: _Ivanhoe_, dealing with Saxon and Norman in
the stormy days when Richard Lionheart returned to his kingdom;
_Kenilworth_, with the intrigues of Elizabeth's Court; _The
Fortunes of Nigel_, with London life in the days of Charles
First; _Woodstock_, with Cromwell's iron age; _Peveril of
the Peak_, with the conflict between Puritan and Cavalier during
the Restoration period.

In the third group are the novels which take us to foreign lands:
_Quentin Durward_, showing us the French court as dominated by
the cunning of Louis Eleventh, and _The Talisman_, dealing
with the Third Crusade.

In the above list we have named not all but only the best of
Scott's novels. They differ superficially, in scenes or incidents;
they are all alike in motive, which is to tell a tale of adventure
that shall be true to human nature, no matter what liberties it may
take with the facts of history.


In all these novels the faults are almost as numerous as the virtues; but
while the faults appear small, having little influence on the final result,
the virtues are big, manly, wholesome,--such virtues as only the greatest
writers of fiction possess. Probably all Scott's faults spring from one
fundamental weakness: he never had a high ideal of his own art. He wrote to
make money, and was inclined to regard his day's labor as "so much
scribbling." Hence his style is frequently slovenly, lacking vigor and
concentration; his characters talk too much, apparently to fill space; he
caters to the romantic fashion (and at the same time indulges his Tory
prejudice) by enlarging on the somewhat imaginary virtues of knights,
nobles, feudal or royal institutions, and so presents a one-sided view of

On the other hand, Scott strove to be true to the great movements of
history, and to the moral forces which, in the end, prevail in all human
activity. His sympathies were broad; he mingled in comradeship with all
classes of society, saw the best in each; and from his observation and
sympathy came an enormous number of characters, high or low, good or bad,
grave or ridiculous, but nearly all natural and human, because drawn from
life and experience.


Another of Scott's literary virtues is his love of wild nature, which led
him to depict many grand or gloomy scenes, partly for their own sake, but
largely because they formed a fitting background for human action. Thus,
_The Talisman_ opens with a pen picture of a solitary Crusader moving
across a sun-scorched desert towards a distant island of green. Every line
in that description points to action, to the rush of a horseman from the
oasis, to the fierce trial of arms before the enemies speak truce and drink
together from the same spring. Many another of Scott's descriptions of wild
nature is followed by some gallant adventure, which we enjoy the more
because we imagine that adventures ought to occur (though they seldom do)
amid romantic surroundings.


WHAT TO READ. At least one novel in each group should be read; but if it be
asked, Which one? the answer is as much a matter of taste as of judgment.
Of the novels dealing with Scottish life, _Waverley_, which was
Scott's first attempt, is still an excellent measure of his story-telling
genius; but there is more adventurous interest in _Old Mortality_ or
_Rob Roy_; and in _The Heart of Midlothian_ (regarded by many as
the finest of Scott's works) one feels closer to nature and human nature,
and especially to the heart of Scotland. _Ivanhoe_ is perhaps the best
of the romances of English history; and of stories dealing with adventure
in strange lands, _The Talisman_ will probably appeal strongest to
young readers, and _Quentin Durward_ to their elders. To these may be
added _The Antiquary_, which is a good story, and which has an element
of personal interest in that it gives us glimpses of Scott himself,
surrounded by old armor, old legends, old costumes,--mute testimonies to
the dreams and deeds of yesterday's men and women.

Such novels should be read once for the story, as Scott intended; and then,
if one should grow weary of modern-problem novels, they may be read again
for their wholesome, bracing atmosphere, for their tenderness and wisdom,
for their wide horizons, for their joy of climbing to heights where we look
out upon a glorious Present, and a yet more glorious Past that is not dead
but living.

* * * * *


Of the work of Walter Scott we have already spoken. When such a genius
appears, dominating his age, we think of him as a great inventor, and so he
was; but like most other inventors his trail had been blazed, his way
prepared by others who had gone before him. His first romance,
_Waverley_, shows the influence of earlier historical romances, such
as Jane Porter's _Thaddeus of Warsaw_ and _Scottish Chiefs_; in
his later work he acknowledged his indebtedness to Maria Edgeworth, whose
_Castle Rackrent_ had aroused enthusiasm at the beginning of the
nineteenth century. In brief, the romantic movement greatly encouraged
fiction writing, and Scott did excellently what many others were doing

Two things are noticeable as we review the fiction of this period: the
first, that nearly all the successful writers were women; [Footnote: The
list includes: Fanny Burney, Ann Radcliffe, Jane Porter, Maria Edgeworth,
Susan Ferrier, Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan), Mary Brunton, Hannah More,
Mary Russell Mitford,--all of whom were famous in their day, and each of
whom produced at least one "best seller"] the second, that of these writers
only one, the most neglected by her own generation, holds a secure place in
the hearts of present-day readers. If it be asked why Jane Austen's works
endure while others are forgotten, the answer is that almost any trained
writer can produce a modern romance, but it takes a genius to write a
novel. [Footnote: The difference between the modern romance and the novel
is evident in the works of Scott and Miss Austen. Scott takes an unusual
subject, he calls up kings, nobles, chieftains, clansmen, robber barons,--a
host of picturesque characters; he uses his imagination freely, and makes a
story for the story's sake. Miss Austen takes an ordinary country village,
observes its people as through a microscope, and portrays them to the life.
She is not interested in making a thrilling story, but in showing us men
and women as they are; and our interest is held by the verity of her
portrayal. (For a different distinction between romance and novel, see "THE
EARLY ENGLISH NOVEL" above, Chapter VI.)]

[Illustration: MRS. HANNAH MORE]

JANE AUSTEN. The rare genius of Miss Austen (1775-1817) was as a forest
flower during her lifetime. While Fanny Burney, Jane Porter and Maria
Edgeworth were widely acclaimed, this little woman remained almost unknown,
following no school of fiction, writing for her own pleasure, and
destroying whatever did not satisfy her own sense of fitness. If she had
any theory of fiction, it was simply this: to use no incident but such as
had occurred before her eyes, to describe no scene that was not familiar,
and to portray only such characters as she knew intimately, their speech,
dress, manner, and the motives that governed their action. If unconsciously
she followed any rule of expression, it was that of Cowper, who said that
to touch and retouch is the secret of almost all good writing. To her
theory and rule she added personal charm, intelligence, wit, genius of a
high order. Neglected by her own generation, she has now an ever-widening
circle of readers, and is ranked by critics among the five or six greatest
writers of English fiction.

[Sidenote: HER LIFE]

Jane Austen's life was short and extremely placid. She was born
(1775) in a little Hampshire village; she spent her entire life in
one country parish or another, varying the scene by an occasional
summer at the watering-place of Bath, which was not very exciting.
Her father was an easy-going clergyman who read Pope, avoided
politics, and left preaching to his curate. She was one of a large
family of children, who were brought up to regard elegance of
manner as a cardinal virtue, and vulgarity of any kind as the
epitome of the seven deadly sins. Her two brothers entered the
navy; hence the flutter in her books whenever a naval officer comes
on a furlough to his native village. She spent her life in homely,
pleasant duties, and did her writing while the chatter of family
life went on around her. Her only characters were visitors who came
to the rectory, or who gathered around the tea-table in a
neighbor's house. They were absolutely unconscious of the keen
scrutiny to which they were subjected; no one whispered to them, "A
chiel's amang ye, takin' notes"; and so they had no suspicion that
they were being transferred into books.

The first three of Miss Austen's novels were written at Steventon,
among her innocent subjects, but her precious manuscripts went
begging in vain for a publisher. [Footnote: _Northanger
Abbey_, _Pride and Prejudice_ and _Sense and
Sensibility_ were written between 1796 and 1799, when Jane
Austen had just passed her twenty-first year. Her first novel was
bought by a publisher who neglected to print it. The second could
not be sold till after the third was published, in 1811.] The last
three, reflecting as in a glass the manners of another parish, were
written at Chawton, near Winchester. Then the good work suddenly
began to flag. The same disease that, a little later, was to call
halt to Keats's poetry of beauty now made an end of Miss Austen's
portrayal of everyday life. When she died (1817) she was only
forty-two years old, and her heart was still that of a young girl.
A stained-glass window in beautiful old Winchester Cathedral speaks
eloquently of her life and work.


If we must recommend one of Miss Austen's novels, perhaps _Pride and
Prejudice_ is the most typical; but there is very little to justify this
choice when the alternative is _Northanger Abbey_, or _Emma_, or
_Sense and Sensibility_, or _Persuasion_, or _Mansfield
Park_. All are good; the most definite stricture that one can safely
make is that _Mansfield Park_ is not so good as the others. Four of
the novels are confined to country parishes; but in _Northanger Abbey_
and _Persuasion_ the horizon is broadened to include a watering place,
whither genteel folk went "to take the air."

The characters of all these novels are: first, the members of five or six
families, with their relatives, who try to escape individual boredom by
gregariousness; and second, more of the same kind assembled at a local fair
or sociable. Here you meet a dull country squire or two, a feeble-minded
baronet, a curate laboriously upholding the burden of his dignity, a doctor
trying to hide his emptiness of mind by looking occupied, an uncomfortable
male person in tow of his wife, maiden aunts, fond mammas with their
awkward daughters, chatterboxes, poor relations, spoiled children,--a
characteristic gathering. All these, except the spoiled children, talk with
perfect propriety about the weather. If in the course of a long day
anything witty is said, it is an accident, a phenomenon; conversation
halts, and everybody looks at the speaker as if he must have had "a rush of
brains to the head."


Such is Jane Austen's little field, an eddy of life revolving endlessly
around small parish interests. Her subjects are not even the whole parish,
but only "the quality," whom the favored ones may meet at Mrs. B's
afternoon at home. They read proper novels, knit wristlets, discuss fevers
and their remedies, raise their eyebrows at gossip, connive at matrimony,
and take tea. The workers of the world enter not here; neither do men of
ideas, nor social rebels, nor the wicked, nor the happily unworthy poor;
and the parish is blessed in having no reformers.

In this barren field, hopeless to romancers like Scott, there never was
such another explorer as Jane Austen. Her demure observation is marvelously
keen; sometimes it is mischievous, or even a bit malicious, but always
sparkling with wit or running over with good humor. Almost alone in that
romantic age she had no story to tell, and needed none. She had never met
any heroes or heroines. Plots, adventures, villains, persecuted innocence,
skeletons in closets,--all the ordinary machinery of fiction seemed to her
absurd and unnecessary. She was content to portray the life that she knew
best, and found it so interesting that, a century later, we share her
enthusiasm. And that is the genius of Miss Austen, to interest us not by a
romantic story but by the truth of her observation and by the fidelity of
her portrayal of human nature, especially of feminine nature.


There is one more thing to note in connection with Miss Austen's work;
namely, her wholesome influence on the English novel. In _Northanger
Abbey_ and in _Sense and Sensibility_ she satirizes the popular
romances of the period, with their Byronic heroes, melodramatic horrors and
perpetual harping on some pale heroine's sensibilities. Her satire is
perhaps the best that has been written on the subject, so delicate, so
flashing, so keen, that a critic compares it to the exploit of Saladin (in
_The Talisman_) who could not with his sword hack through an iron
mace, as Richard did, but who accomplished the more difficult feat of
slicing a gossamer veil as it floated in the air.

Such satire was not lost; yet it was Miss Austen's example rather than her
precept which put to shame the sentimental romances of her day, and which
influenced subsequent English fiction in the direction of truth and
naturalness. Young people still prefer romance and adventure as portrayed
by Scott and his followers, and that is as it should be; but an
increasingly large number of mature readers (especially those who are
interested in human nature) find a greater charm in the novel of characters
and manners, as exemplified by Jane Austen.

* * * * *


From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century (or from Shakespeare to
Wordsworth) England was preparing a great literature; and then appeared
writers whose business or pleasure it was to appreciate that literature, to
point out its virtues or its defects, to explain by what principle this or
that work was permanent, and to share their enjoyment of good prose and
poetry with others,--in a word, the critics.

In the list of such writers, who give us literature at second hand, the
names of Leigh Hunt, William Hazlitt, Walter Savage Landor, Charles Lamb
and Thomas De Quincey are written large. The two last-named are selected
for special study, not because of their superior critical ability (for
Hazlitt was probably a better critic than either), but because of a few
essays in which these men left us an appreciation of life, as they saw it
for themselves at first hand.

CHARLES LAMB (1775-1834). There is a little book called _Essays of
Elia_ which stands out from all other prose works of the age. If we
examine this book to discover the source of its charm, we find it pervaded
by a winsome "human" quality which makes us want to know the man who wrote
it. In this respect Charles Lamb differs from certain of his
contemporaries. Wordsworth was too solitary, Coleridge and De Quincey too
unbalanced, Shelley too visionary and Keats too aloof to awaken a feeling
of personal allegiance; but the essays of Lamb reveal two qualities which,
like fine gold, are current among readers of all ages. These are sympathy
and humor. By the one we enter understandingly into life, while the other
keeps us from taking life too tragically.

[Illustration: CHARLES LAMB.
From the engraving by S. Aslent Edwards]

[Sidenote: HIS LIFE]

Lamb was born (1775) in the midst of London, and never felt at home
anywhere else. London is a world in itself, and of all its corners
there were only three that Lamb found comfortable. The first was
the modest little home where he lived with his gifted sister Mary,
reading with her through the long evenings, or tenderly caring for
her during a period of insanity; the second was the commercial
house where he toiled as a clerk; the third was the busy street
which lay between home and work,--a street forever ebbing and
flowing with a great tide of human life that affected Lamb
profoundly, mysteriously, as Wordsworth was affected by the hills
or the sea.

The boy's education began at Christ's Hospital, where he met
Coleridge and entered with him into a lifelong friendship. At
fifteen he left school to help support his family; and for the next
thirty-three years he was a clerk, first in the South Sea House,
then in the East India Company. Rather late in life he began to
write, his prime object being to earn a little extra money, which
he sadly needed. Then the Company, influenced partly by his
faithful service and partly by his growing reputation, retired him
on a pension. Most eagerly, like a boy out of school, he welcomed
his release, intending to do great things with his pen; but
curiously enough he wrote less, and less excellently, than before.
His decline began with his hour of liberty. For a time, in order
that his invalid sister might have quiet, he lived outside the
city, at Islington and Enfield; but he missed the work, the street,
the crowd, and especially did he miss his old habits. He had no
feeling for nature, nor for any art except that which he found in
old books. "I hate the country," he wrote; and the cause of his
dislike was that, not knowing what to do with himself, he grew
weary of a day that was "all day long."

Where Charles Lamb worked for many years. From an engraving by
M. Tombleson, after a drawing made by Thomas H Shepherd in 1829]

The earlier works of Lamb (some poems, a romance and a drama) are of little
interest except to critics. The first book that brought him any
considerable recognition was the _Tales from Shakespeare_. This was a
summary of the stories used by Shakespeare in his plays, and was largely
the work of Mary Lamb, who had a talent for writing children's books. The
charm of the _Tales_ lies in the fact that the Lambs were so familiar
with old literature that they reproduced the stories in a style which might
have done credit to a writer in the days of Elizabeth. The book is still
widely read, and is as good as any other if one wants that kind of book.
But the chief thing in _Macbeth_ or _The Tempest_ is the poetry,
not the tale or the plot; and even if one wants only the story, why not get
it from Shakespeare himself? Another and better book by Lamb of the same
general kind is _Specimens of English Dramatic Poets Contemporary with

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