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Title: Views and Reviews
Author: James, Henry, 1843-1916
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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VIEWS AND REVIEWS



VIEWS
AND REVIEWS

BY
HENRY JAMES

NOW FIRST COLLECTED

INTRODUCTION BY
LE ROY PHILLIPS

COMPILER OF
"A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE WRITINGS
OF HENRY JAMES"

BOSTON
THE BALL PUBLISHING COMPANY
1908

_Copyright, 1908_
BY THE BALL PUBLISHING CO.



INTRODUCTION


_Those whose palates are accustomed to the subtle flavours of the wines
of the Rhine and Moselle can smack their lips and name the vintage at
the first taste. Likewise any one fairly familiar with the work of Mr.
James during his forty years of literary activity can, after the reading
of a single page taken at random, judge with a remarkable accuracy the
date of its composition. Yet the transition has not been abrupt and the
styles of writing which the author has adopted, early, middle and late,
have blended in such a way that he has been bringing many of his earlier
readers, though some have fallen by the wayside, along with him to a
genuine appreciation of his present work._

_It is not unnatural but disappointing that those of the present
generation who chance to meet Mr. James in one of the later novels are
not as likely to seek a second volume as those who read_ Daisy Miller
_some thirty years ago when that study first appeared, so fresh in its
note of charm and pathos, in the now almost unfindable brown wrappers
of Harper's Half Hour Series, for they may forever miss a rare
enjoyment._

_In the critical papers which make up the contents of this book, the
characteristics of the author's later style are wholly absent. Without
the date of the original appearance of these essays in periodical form
being indicated, the chronological setting of this work is apparent. No
sentences with marvelously intricate complications of construction and
with expressions involved are in the author's method at this time, while
for clearness and charm these views and reviews are admirable specimens,
showing qualities which brought Mr. James his early readers and first
made his name an essential feature of the announcements of publishers of
the more discriminating periodicals forty years ago._

_The earliest authenticated magazine article by Mr. James--printed when
he was twenty-one--is a critical notice of Nassau W. Senior's_ Essays on
Fiction _in_ The North American Review _for October, 1864. From this
time until the appearance of his first volume_--A Passionate Pilgrim and
Other Tales, _Boston: 1875--as many as one hundred and twenty-five
serious literary notices contributed to periodicals can be traced to
him_.

_During this period it must also be remembered that Mr. James was
equally employed in writing short stories, art criticism and notes of
travel, both at home and abroad, and that these were also distinctive
features of the widely scattered journals in which they appeared._

_In_ The North American Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The Galaxy,
Lippincott's Magazine, The New York Tribune, The Independent _and some
other periodicals, the authorship of such work was attributed to Mr.
James on the publication of the articles or in regularly issued
indexes._

_The articles in_ The Nation _are seldom signed, and there is no
published index showing the contributors to its files. In preparing a
recent[*] Bibliography of the writings of Henry James I had access to a
record which the late Wendell Phillips Garrison, who was Mr. Godkin's
associate from the founding of the paper and after 1881 editor in charge
until June 28, 1906, had carefully kept of every author's work which his
paper had published since its first issue. The amount of matter which
Mr. James had provided, and the variety of interests concerning which he
wrote, made an amazing array of notes. It is from the early issues of_
The Nation _that much of the contents of this volume is reprinted. Of
Mr. James's contributions to periodicals those to this paper were
perhaps the most notable as well as the most frequent. He was
represented in its first number--July 6, 1865--by some critical notes on
Henry W. Kingsley's novel_, "The Hillyars and the Bartons: A Story of
Two Families," _under the title_, "The Noble School of Fiction," _and
the name "Henry James" appears in the publisher's announced list of
contributors to the early volumes. Many of these papers which first
appeared in_ The Nation _have been reprinted, but few readers at this
distance can realize how much the esteem in which that journal was
immediately held under the editorial supervision of Mr. Godkin was due
to perhaps its youngest regular contributor._

    [*] _A Bibliography of the Writings of Henry James. Boston and
         New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1906_.

_Volumes of the collected critical papers have already
appeared_,--French Poets and Novelists, London: _1878, and_ Partial
Portraits, _London: 1888, are the more notable,--but by far the greater
part of these contemporary Essays on the literature of the late sixties
and the seventies are now almost lost in the files of old or extinct
periodicals._

_We are accustomed these later years to think of Mr. James as novelist
rather than literary essayist and he has been cited by a recent writer
as an author of fiction who becomes a critic on occasion and, he also
adds, that his analytical system of novel writing excellently fits him
for the office of critic; but, on the contrary, the papers in this
volume seem to show that his early self-training as a critic has been
the preparation for the creation of his characters in fiction._

_The true lover of Mr. James's work feels the same delightful sense of
intimate discovery in touching these early papers that an artist does in
finding a portfolio of early sketches by a beloved master whose
developed power and strength is known to him. There is the recognition
of the characteristic touch even here--the insight, the thought within a
thought, (more lately the despair of privileged psychologic athletes),
the mystery of seeing--not what is apparent to the outward eye but what
we fancied we concealed successfully within our inmost selves. There is
the extraordinary sense of his having put on paper what we really
thought--what we now think--that gives us more faith than ever in our
artist who is expression for us who feel, but who are yet dumb._

_LE ROY PHILLIPS._

_Boston, April 10, 1908._



CONTENTS


                                                     PAGE

    THE NOVELS OF GEORGE ELIOT                          1

    ON A DRAMA OF ROBERT BROWNING                      41

    SWINBURNE'S ESSAYS                                 51

    THE POETRY OF WILLIAM MORRIS
      I. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF JASON                   63
      II. THE EARTHLY PARADISE                         71

    MATTHEW ARNOLD'S ESSAYS                            83

    MR. WALT WHITMAN                                  101

    THE POETRY OF GEORGE ELIOT
      I. THE SPANISH GYPSY                            113
      II. THE LEGEND OF JUBAL                         138

    THE LIMITATIONS OF DICKENS                        153

    TENNYSON'S DRAMA
      I. QUEEN MARY                                   165
      II. HAROLD                                      196

    CONTEMPORARY NOTES ON WHISTLER VS. RUSKIN
      I. THE SUIT FOR LIBEL                           207
      II. MR. WHISTLER'S REJOINDER                    211

    A NOTE ON JOHN BURROUGHS                          217

    MR. KIPLING'S EARLY STORIES                       225



THE NOVELS OF GEORGE ELIOT


     Originally published in _The Atlantic Monthly_, October, 1866.

     This essay was written in 1866 before _Middlemarch_ or _Daniel
     Deronda_ had appeared. The former work was published in 1871-72 and
     the latter book in 1876. It was afterwards discussed at length by
     Mr. James in "Daniel Deronda: a Conversation," originally
     contributed to the _Atlantic Monthly_, December, 1876, and
     reprinted in 1888 in _Partial Portraits_.



VIEWS AND REVIEWS



THE NOVELS OF GEORGE ELIOT


The critic's first duty in the presence of an
author's collective works is to seek out some
key to his method, some utterance of his literary
convictions, some indication of his ruling theory.
The amount of labour involved in an inquiry of
this kind will depend very much upon the author.
In some cases the critic will find express declarations;
in other cases he will have to content himself
with conscientious inductions. In a writer so fond
of digressions as George Eliot, he has reason to
expect that broad evidences of artistic faith will
not be wanting. He finds in _Adam Bede_ the following
passage:--

"Paint us an angel if you can, with a floating
violet robe and a face paled by the celestial light;
paint us yet oftener a Madonna, turning her mild
face upward, and opening her arms to welcome the
divine glory; but do not impose on us any æsthetic
rules which shall banish from the region of art
those old women scraping carrots with their work-worn
hands,--those heavy clowns taking holiday
in a dingy pot-house,--those rounded backs and
stupid weather-beaten faces that have bent over the
spade and done the rough work of the world,--those
homes with their tin cans, their brown
pitchers, their rough curs, and their clusters of
onions. In this world there are so many of these
common, coarse people, who have no picturesque,
sentimental wretchedness. It is so needful we
should remember their existence, else we may happen
to leave them quite out of our religion and philosophy,
and frame lofty theories which only fit
a world of extremes....

"There are few prophets in the world,--few sublimely
beautiful women,--few heroes. I can't
afford to give all my love and reverence to such
rarities; I want a great deal of those feelings for
my every-day fellowmen, especially for the few
in the foreground of the great multitude, whose
faces I know, whose hands I touch, for whom I
have to make way with kindly courtesy....

"I herewith discharge my conscience," our author
continues, "and declare that I have had quite
enthusiastic movements of admiration toward old
gentlemen who spoke the worst English, who were
occasionally fretful in their temper, and who had
never moved in a higher sphere of influence than
that of parish overseer; and that the way in which
I have come to the conclusion that human nature
is loveable--the way I have learnt something of
its deep pathos, its sublime mysteries--has been
by living a great deal among people more or less
commonplace and vulgar, of whom you would perhaps
hear nothing very surprising if you were to
inquire about them in the neighbourhoods where
they dwelt."

But even in the absence of any such avowed
predilections as these, a brief glance over the principal
figures of her different works would assure
us that our author's sympathies are with common
people. Silas Marner is a linen-weaver, Adam
Bede is a carpenter, Maggie Tulliver is a miller's
daughter, Felix Holt is a watchmaker, Dinah Morris
works in a factory, and Hetty Sorrel is a dairy-maid.
Esther Lyon, indeed, is a daily governess;
but Tito Melema alone is a scholar. In the _Scenes
of Clerical Life_, the author is constantly slipping
down from the clergymen, her heroes, to the most
ignorant and obscure of their parishioners. Even
in _Romola_ she consecrates page after page to the
conversation of the Florentine populace. She is as
unmistakably a painter of _bourgeois_ life as Thackeray
was a painter of the life of drawing-rooms.

Her opportunities for the study of the manners
of the solid lower classes have evidently been very
great. We have her word for it that she has lived
much among the farmers, mechanics, and small
traders of that central region of England which
she has made known to us under the name of Loamshire.
The conditions of the popular life in this
district in that already distant period to which
she refers the action of most of her stories--the
end of the last century and the beginning of the
present--were so different from any that have been
seen in America, that an American, in treating
of her books, must be satisfied not to touch upon
the question of their accuracy and fidelity as pictures
of manners and customs. He can only say
that they bear strong internal evidence of truthfulness.

If he is a great admirer of George Eliot, he
will indeed be tempted to affirm that they must
be true. They offer a completeness, a rich density
of detail, which could be the fruit only of a long
term of conscious contact,--such as would make
it much more difficult for the author to fall into
the perversion and suppression of facts, than to
set them down literally. It is very probable that
her colours are a little too bright, and her shadows
of too mild a gray, that the sky of her landscapes
is too sunny, and their atmosphere too redolent of
peace and abundance. Local affection may be accountable
for half of this excess of brilliancy; the
author's native optimism is accountable for the
other half.

I do not remember, in all her novels, an instance
of gross misery of any kind not directly
caused by the folly of the sufferer. There are no
pictures of vice or poverty or squalor. There are
no rags, no gin, no brutal passions. That average
humanity which she favours is very _borné_ in intellect,
but very genial in heart, as a glance at
its representatives in her pages will convince us.
In _Adam Bede_, there is Mr. Irwine, the vicar,
with avowedly no qualification for his profession,
placidly playing chess with his mother, stroking his
dogs, and dipping into Greek tragedies; there is
the excellent Martin Poyser at the Farm, good-natured
and rubicund; there is his wife, somewhat
too sharply voluble, but only in behalf of cleanliness
and honesty and order; there is Captain Donnithorne
at the Hall, who does a poor girl a mortal
wrong, but who is, after all, such a nice, good-looking
fellow; there are Adam and Seth Bede, the
carpenter's sons, the strongest, purest, most discreet
of young rustics. The same broad felicity
prevails in _The Mill on the Floss_. Mr. Tulliver,
indeed, fails in business; but his failure only serves
as an offset to the general integrity and prosperity.
His son is obstinate and wilful; but it is
all on the side of virtue. His daughter is somewhat
sentimental and erratic; but she is more conscientious
yet.

Conscience, in the classes from which George
Eliot recruits her figures, is a universal gift. Decency
and plenty and good-humour follow contentedly
in its train. The word which sums up
the common traits of our author's various groups
is the word _respectable_. Adam Bede is pre-eminently
a respectable young man; so is Arthur Donnithorne;
so, although he will persist in going without
a cravat, is Felix Holt. So, with perhaps the
exception of Maggie Tulliver and Stephen Guest,
is every important character to be found in our
author's writings. They all share this fundamental
trait,--that in each of them passion proves
itself feebler than conscience.

The first work which made the name of George
Eliot generally known, contains, to my perception,
only a small number of the germs of her future
power. From the _Scenes of Clerical Life_ to _Adam
Bede_ she made not so much a step as a leap. Of
the three tales contained in the former work, I
think the first is much the best. It is short,
broadly descriptive, humourous, and exceedingly
pathetic. "The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend
Amos Barton" are fortunes which clever story-tellers
with a turn for pathos, from Oliver Goldsmith
downward, have found of very good account,--the
fortunes of a hapless clergyman of the
Church of England in daily contention with the
problem how upon eighty pounds a year to support
a wife and six children in all due ecclesiastical gentility.

"Mr. Gilfil's Love-Story," the second of the
tales in question, I cannot hesitate to pronounce
a failure. George Eliot's pictures of drawing-room
life are only interesting when they are linked
or related to scenes in the tavern parlour, the dairy,
and the cottage. Mr. Gilfil's love-story is enacted
entirely in the drawing-room, and in consequence
it is singularly deficient in force and reality. Not
that it is vulgar,--for our author's good taste never
forsakes her,--but it is thin, flat, and trivial. But
for a certain family likeness in the use of language
and the rhythm of the style, it would be
hard to believe that these pages are by the same
hand as _Silas Marner_.

In "Janet's Repentance," the last and longest
of the three clerical stories, we return to middle
life,--the life represented by the Dodsons in _The
Mill on the Floss_. The subject of this tale might
almost be qualified by the French epithet _scabreux_.
It would be difficult for what is called _realism_ to
go further than in the adoption of a heroine stained
with the vice of intemperance. The theme is unpleasant;
the author chose it at her peril. It must
be added, however, that Janet Dempster has many
provocations. Married to a brutal drunkard, she
takes refuge in drink against his ill-usage; and
the story deals less with her lapse into disgrace than
with her redemption, through the kind offices of
the Reverend Edgar Tryan,--by virtue of which,
indeed, it takes its place in the clerical series. I
cannot help thinking that the stern and tragical
character of the subject has been enfeebled by the
over-diffuseness of the narrative and the excess of
local touches. The abundance of the author's recollections
and observations of village life clogs the
dramatic movement, over which she has as yet a
comparatively slight control. In her subsequent
works the stouter fabric of the story is better able
to support this heavy drapery of humour and digression.

To a certain extent, I think _Silas Marner_ holds
a higher place than any of the author's works.
It is more nearly a masterpiece; it has more of
that simple, rounded, consummate aspect, that
absence of loose ends and gaping issues, which
marks a classical work. What was attempted in
it, indeed, was within more immediate reach than
the heart-trials of Adam Bede and Maggie Tulliver.
A poor, dull-witted, disappointed Methodist cloth-weaver;
a little golden-haired foundling child; a
well-meaning, irresolute country squire, and his
patient, childless wife;--these, with a chorus of
simple, beer-loving villagers, make up the _dramatis
personae_. More than any of its brother-works,
_Silas Marner_, I think, leaves upon the mind a deep
impression of the grossly material life of agricultural
England in the last days of the old _régime_,--the
days of full-orbed Toryism, of Trafalgar
and of Waterloo, when the invasive spirit of
French domination threw England back upon a
sense of her own insular solidity, and made her
for the time doubly, brutally, morbidly English.
Perhaps the best pages in the work are the first
thirty, telling the story of poor Marner's disappointments
in friendship and in love, his unmerited
disgrace, and his long, lonely twilight-life at Raveloe,
with the sole companionship of his loom, in
which his muscles moved "with such even repetition,
that their pause seemed almost as much a
constraint as the holding of his breath."

Here, as in all George Eliot's books, there is
a middle life and a low life; and here, as usual,
I prefer the low life. In _Silas Marner_, in my opinion,
she has come nearest the mildly rich tints of
brown and gray, the mellow lights and the undreadful
corner-shadows of the Dutch masters
whom she emulates. One of the chapters contains
a scene in a pot-house, which frequent reference
has made famous. Never was a group of honest,
garrulous village simpletons more kindly and humanely
handled. After a long and somewhat
chilling silence, amid the pipes and beer, the landlord
opens the conversation "by saying in a doubtful
tone to his cousin the butcher:--

"'Some folks 'ud say that was a fine beast you
druv in yesterday, Bob?'

"The butcher, a jolly, smiling, red-haired man,
was not disposed to answer rashly. He gave a
few puffs before he spat, and replied, 'And they
wouldn't be fur wrong, John.'

"After this feeble, delusive thaw, silence set in
as severely as before.

"'Was it a red Durham?' said the farrier, taking
up the thread of discourse after the lapse of
a few minutes.

"The farrier looked at the landlord, and the
landlord looked at the butcher, as the person who
must take the responsibility of answering.

"'Red it was,' said the butcher, in his good-humoured
husky treble,--'and a Durham it was.'

"'Then you needn't tell me who you bought it
of,' said the farrier, looking round with some
triumph; 'I know who it is has got the red Durhams
o' this country-side. And she'd a white star
on her brow, I'll bet a penny?'

"'Well; yes--she might,' said the butcher,
slowly, considering that he was giving a decided
affirmation. 'I don't say contrairy.'

"'I knew that very well,' said the farrier, throwing
himself back defiantly; 'if I don't know Mr.
Lammeter's cows, I should like to know who does,--that's
all. And as for the cow you bought, bargain
or no bargain, I've been at the drenching of
her,--contradick me who will.'

"The farrier looked fierce, and the mild
butcher's conversational spirit was roused a little.

"'I'm not for contradicking no man,' he said;
'I'm for peace and quietness. Some are for cutting
long ribs. I'm for cutting 'em short myself;
but _I_ don't quarrel with 'em. All I say is, it's a
lovely carkiss,--and anybody as was reasonable,
it'ud bring tears into their eyes to look at it.'

"'Well, it's the cow as I drenched, whatever it
is,' pursued the farrier, angrily; 'and it was Mr.
Lammeter's cow, else you told a lie when you said
it was a red Durham.'

"'I tell no lies,' said the butcher, with the same
mild huskiness as before; 'and I contradick none,--not
if a man was to swear himself black; he's
no meat of mine, nor none of my bargains. All I
say is, it's a lovely carkiss. And what I say I'll
stick to; but I'll quarrel wi' no man.'

"'No,' said the farrier, with bitter sarcasm,
looking at the company generally; 'and p'rhaps
you didn't say the cow was a red Durham; and
p'rhaps you didn't say she'd got a star on her
brow,--stick to that, now you are at it.'"

Matters having come to this point, the landlord
interferes _ex officio_ to preserve order. The Lammeter
family having come up, he discreetly invites
Mr. Macey, the parish clerk and tailor, to favour
the company with his recollections on the subject.
Mr. Macey, however, "smiled pityingly in answer
to the landlord's appeal, and said: 'Ay, ay; I
know, I know: but I let other folks talk. I've laid
by now, and gev up to the young uns. Ask them
as have been to school at Tarley: they've learn't
pernouncing; that's came up since my day.'"

Mr. Macey is nevertheless persuaded to dribble
out his narrative; proceeding by instalments, and
questioned from point to point, in a kind of Socratic
manner, by the landlord. He at last arrives
at Mr. Lammeter's marriage, and how the clergyman,
when he came to put the questions, inadvertently
transposed the position of the two essential
names, and asked, "Wilt thou have this man
to be thy wedded wife?" etc.

"'But the partic'larest thing of all,' pursues
Mr. Macey, 'is, as nobody took any notice on it
but me, and they answered straight off "Yes,"
like as if it had been me saying "Amen" i' the
right place, without listening to what went before.'

"'But _you_ knew what was going on well enough,
didn't you, Mr. Macey? You were live enough,
eh?' said the butcher.

"'Yes, bless you!' said Mr. Macey, pausing,
and smiling in pity at the impatience of his
hearer's imagination,--'why, I was all of a tremble;
it was as if I'd been a coat pulled by two
tails, like; for I couldn't stop the parson, I couldn't
take upon me to do that; and yet I said to myself,
I says, "Suppose they shouldn't be fast married,"
'cause the words are contrairy, and my head
went working like a mill, for I was always uncommon
for turning things over and seeing all round
'em; and I says to myself, "Is't the meaning or
the words as makes folks fast i' wedlock?" For
the parson meant right, and the bride and bride-groom
meant right. But then, when I came to
think on it, meaning goes but a little way i' most
things, for you may mean to stick things together
and your glue may be bad, and then where are
you?'"

Mr. Macey's doubts, however, are set at rest by
the parson after the service, who assures him that
what does the business is neither the meaning nor
the words, but the register. Mr. Macey then arrives
at the chapter--or rather is gently inducted
thereunto by his hearers--of the ghosts who frequent
certain of the Lammeter stables. But
ghosts threatening to prove as pregnant a theme
of contention as Durham cows, the landlord again
meditates: "'There's folks i' my opinion, they
can't see ghos'es, not if they stood as plain as
a pikestaff before 'em. And there's reason i' that.
For there's my wife, now, can't smell, not if
she'd the strongest o' cheese under her nose. I
never seed a ghost myself, but then I says to myself,
"Very like I haven't the smell for 'em." I
mean, putting a ghost for a smell or else contrairiways.
And so I'm for holding with both sides....
For the smell's what I go by.'"

The best drawn of the village worthies in _Silas
Marner_ are Mr. Macey, of the scene just quoted,
and good Dolly Winthrop, Marner's kindly patroness.
I have room for only one more specimen
of Mr. Macey. He is looking on at a New Year's
dance at Squire Cass's, beside Ben Winthrop,
Dolly's husband.

"'The Squire's pretty springy, considering his
weight,' said Mr. Macey, 'and he stamps uncommon
well. But Mr. Lammeter beats 'em all for
shapes; you see he holds his head like a sodger,
and he isn't so cushiony as most o' the oldish
gentlefolks,--they run fat in gineral;--and he's
got a fine leg. The parson's nimble enough, but
he hasn't got much of a leg: it is a bit too thick
downward, and his knees might be a bit nearer
without damage; but he might do worse, he might
do worse. Though he hasn't that grand way o'
waving his hand as the Squire has.'

"'Talk o' nimbleness, look at Mrs. Osgood,' said
Ben Winthrop.... 'She's the finest made
woman as is, let the next be where she will.'

"'I don't heed how the women are made,' said
Mr. Macey, with some contempt. 'They wear nayther
coat nor breeches; you can't make much out o'
their shapes!'"

Mrs. Winthrop, the wheelwright's wife who, out
of the fullness of her charity, comes to comfort
Silas in the season of his distress, is in her way one
of the most truthfully sketched of the author's
figures. "She was in all respects a woman of
scrupulous conscience, so eager for duties that life
seemed to offer them too scantily unless she rose
at half past four, though this threw a scarcity of
work over the more advanced hours of the morning,
which it was a constant problem for her to
remove.... She was a very mild, patient
woman, whose nature it was to seek out all the
sadder and more serious elements of life and pasture
her mind upon them." She stamps I. H. S.
on her cakes and loaves without knowing what the
letters mean, or indeed without knowing that they
are letters, being very much surprised that Marner
can "read 'em off,"--chiefly because they are
on the pulpit cloth at church. She touches upon
religions themes in a manner to make the superficial
reader apprehend that she cultivates some
polytheistic form of faith,--extremes meet. She
urges Marner to go to church, and describes the
satisfaction which she herself derives from the performance
of her religious duties.

"If you've niver had no church, there 's no
telling what good it'll do you. For I feel as set
up and comfortable as niver was, when I've been
and heard the prayers and the singing to the praise
and glory o' God, as Mr. Macey gives out,--and
Mr. Crackenthorp saying good words and more
partic'lar on Sacramen' day; and if a bit o' trouble
comes, I feel as I can put up wi' it, for I've looked
for help i' the right quarter, and giv myself up
to Them as we must all give ourselves up to at
the last: and if we've done our part, it isn't to be
believed as Them as are above us 'ud be worse nor
we are, and come short o' Theirn."

"The plural pronoun," says the author, "was
no heresy of Dolly's, but only her way of avoiding
a presumptuous familiarity." I imagine that there
is in no other English novel a figure so simple in
its elements as this of Dolly Winthrop, which is
so real without being contemptible, and so quaint
without being ridiculous.

In all those of our author's books which have
borne the name of the hero or heroine,--_Adam
Bede_, _Silas Marner_, _Romola_, and _Felix Holt_,--the
person so put forward has really played a subordinate
part. The author may have set out with
the intention of maintaining him supreme; but
her material has become rebellious in her hands,
and the technical hero has been eclipsed by the
real one. Tito is the leading figure in _Romola_.
The story deals predominantly, not with Romola
as affected by Tito's faults, but with Tito's faults
as affecting first himself, and incidentally his wife.
Godfrey Cass, with his lifelong secret, is by right
the hero of _Silas Marner_. Felix Holt, in the work
which bears his name, is little more than an occasional
apparition; and indeed the novel has no
hero, but only a heroine.

The same remark applies to _Adam Bede_, as the
work stands. The central figure of the book, by
virtue of her great misfortune, is Hetty Sorrel.
In the presence of that misfortune no one else,
assuredly, has a right to claim dramatic pre-eminence.
The one person for whom an approach to
equality may be claimed is, not Adam Bede, but
Arthur Donnithorne. If the story had ended, as
I should have infinitely preferred to see it end,
with Hetty's execution, or even with her reprieve,
and if Adam had been left to his grief, and Dinah
Morris to the enjoyment of that distinguished celibacy
for which she was so well suited, then I
think Adam might have shared the honours of pre-eminence
with his hapless sweetheart. But as it
is, the continuance of the book in his interest is
fatal to him. His sorrow at Hetty's misfortune
is not a _sufficient_ sorrow for the situation. That
his marriage at some future time was quite possible,
and even natural, I readily admit; but that
was matter for a new story.

This point illustrates, I think, the great advantage
of the much-censured method, introduced by
Balzac, of continuing his heroes' adventures from
tale to tale. Or, admitting that the author was indisposed
to undertake, or even to conceive, in its
completeness, a new tale, in which Adam, healed
of his wound by time, should address himself to
another woman, I yet hold that it would be possible
tacitly to foreshadow some such event at the
close of the tale which we are supposing to end
with Hetty's death,--to make it the logical consequence
of Adam's final state of mind. Of course
circumstances would have much to do with bringing
it to pass, and these circumstances could not
be foreshadowed; but apart from the action of
circumstances would stand the fact that, to begin
with, the event was _possible_.

The assurance of this possibility is what I should
have desired the author to place the sympathetic
reader at a stand-point to deduce for himself. In
every novel the work is divided between the writer
and the reader; but the writer makes the reader
very much as he makes his characters. When he
makes him ill, that is, makes him different, he
does no work; the writer does all. When he makes
him well, that is, makes him interested, then the
reader does quite half the labour. In making such
a deduction as I have just indicated, the reader
would be doing but his share of the task; the grand
point is to get him to make it. I hold that there
is a way. It is perhaps a secret; but until it is
found out, I think that the art of story-telling
cannot be said to have approached perfection.

When you re-read coldly and critically a book
which in former years you have read warmly and
carelessly, you are surprised to see how it changes
its proportions. It falls away in those parts which
have been pre-eminent in your memory, and it increases
in the small portions. Until I lately read
_Adam Bede_ for a second time, Mrs. Poyser was
in my mind its representative figure; for I remembered
a number of her epigrammatic sallies. But
now, after a second reading, Mrs. Poyser is the
last figure I think of, and a fresh perusal of her
witticisms has considerably diminished their classical
flavour. And if I must tell the truth, Adam
himself is next to the last, and sweet Dinah Morris
third from the last. The person immediately
evoked by the title of the work is poor Hetty
Sorrel.

Mrs. Poyser is _too_ epigrammatic; her wisdom
smells of the lamp. I do not mean to say that
she is not natural, and that women of her class
are not often gifted with her homely fluency, her
penetration, and her turn for forcible analogies.
But she is too sustained; her morality is too shrill,--too
much in _staccato_; she too seldom subsides
into the commonplace. Yet it cannot be denied
that she puts things very happily. Remonstrating
with Dinah Morris on the undue disinterestedness
of her religious notions, "But for the matter o'
that," she cries, "if everybody was to do like you,
the world must come to a stand-still; for if everybody
tried to do without house and home and eating
and drinking, and was always talking as we
must despise the things o' the world, as you say,
I should like to know where the pick of the stock,
and the corn, and the best new milk-cheeses 'ud
have to go? _Everybody 'ud be wanting to make
bread o' tail ends_, and everybody 'ud be running
after everybody else to preach to 'em, i'stead o'
bringing up their families and laying by against
a bad harvest." And when Hetty comes home late
from the Chase, and alleges in excuse that the
clock at home is so much earlier than the clock
at the great house: "What, you'd be wanting the
clock set by gentlefolks' time, would you? an' sit
up burning candle, and lie a-bed wi' the sun
a-bakin' you, like a cowcumber i' the frame?"
Mrs. Poyser has something almost of Yankee
shrewdness and angularity; but the figure of a
New England rural housewife would lack a whole
range of Mrs. Poyser's feelings, which, whatever
may be its effect in real life, gives its subject in
a novel at least a very picturesque richness of
colour; the constant sense, namely, of a superincumbent
layer of "gentlefolks," whom she and her
companions can never raise their heads unduly
without hitting.

My chief complaint with Adam Bede himself
is that he is too good. He is meant, I conceive,
to be every inch a man; but, to my mind, there
are several inches wanting. He lacks spontaneity
and sensibility, he is too stiff-backed. He lacks
that supreme quality without which a man can
never be interesting to men,--the capacity to be
tempted. His nature is without richness or responsiveness.
I doubt not that such men as he
exist, especially in the author's thrice-English
Loamshire; she has partially described them as
a class, with a felicity which carries conviction.
She claims for her hero that, although a plain
man, he was as little an ordinary man as he was
a genius.

"He was not an average man. Yet such men
as he are reared here and there in every generation
of our peasant artisans, with an inheritance of affections
nurtured by a simple family life of common
need and common industry, and an inheritance
of faculties trained in skillful, courageous
labour; they make their way upward, rarely as
geniuses, most commonly as painstaking, honest
men, with the skill and conscience to do well the
tasks that lie before them. Their lives have no
discernible echo beyond the neighbourhood where
they dwelt; but you are almost sure to find there
some good piece of road, some building, some application
of mineral produce, some improvement
in farming practice, some reform of parish abuses,
with which their names are associated by one or
two generations after them. Their employers were
the richer for them; the work of their hands has
worn well, and the work of their brains has guided
well the hands of other men."

One cannot help feeling thankful to the kindly
writer who attempts to perpetuate their memories
beyond the generations which profit immediately
by their toil. If she is not a great dramatist,
she is at least an exquisite describer. But one
can as little help feeling that it is no more than a
strictly logical retribution, that in her hour of
need (dramatically speaking) she should find them
indifferent to their duties as heroes. I profoundly
doubt whether the central object of a novel may
successfully be a passionless creature. The ultimate
eclipse, both of Adam Bede and of Felix Holt
would seem to justify my question. Tom Tulliver
is passionless, and Tom Tulliver lives gratefully in
the memory; but this, I take it, is because he is
strictly a subordinate figure, and awakens no reaction
of feeling on the reader's part by usurping
a position which he is not the man to fill.

Dinah Morris is apparently a study from life;
and it is warm praise to say, that, in spite of the
high key in which she is conceived, morally, she
retains many of the warm colours of life. But
I confess that it is hard to conceive of a woman
so exalted by religious fervour remaining so cool-headed
and so temperate. There is in Dinah Morris
too close an agreement between her distinguished
natural disposition and the action of her
religious faith. If by nature she had been passionate,
rebellious, selfish, I could better understand
her actual self-abnegation. I would look
upon it as the logical fruit of a profound religious
experience. But as she stands, heart and soul go
easily hand in hand. I believe it to be very uncommon
for what is called a religious conversion
merely to intensify and consecrate pre-existing inclinations.
It is usually a change, a wrench; and
the new life is apt to be the more sincere as the
old one had less in common with it. But, as I
have said, Dinah Morris bears so many indications
of being a reflection of facts well known to the
author,--and the phenomena of Methodism, from
the frequency with which their existence is referred
to in her pages, appear to be so familiar to her,--that
I hesitate to do anything but thankfully
accept her portrait.

About Hetty Sorrel I shall have no hesitation
whatever: I accept her with all my heart. Of all
George Eliot's female figures she is the least ambitious,
and on the whole, I think, the most successful.
The part of the story which concerns her is
much the most forcible; and there is something infinitely
tragic in the reader's sense of the contrast
between the sternly prosaic life of the good people
about her, their wholesome decency and their noon-day
probity, and the dusky sylvan path along which
poor Hetty is tripping, light-footed, to her ruin.
Hetty's conduct throughout seems to me to be
thoroughly consistent. The author has escaped the
easy error of representing her as in any degree
made serious by suffering. She is vain and superficial
by nature; and she remains so to the end.

As for Arthur Donnithorne, I would rather have
had him either better or worse. I would rather
have had a little more premeditation before his
fault, or a little more repentance after it; that is,
while repentance could still be of use. Not that,
all things considered, he is not a very fair image
of a frank-hearted, well-meaning, careless, self-indulgent
young gentleman; but the author has in
his case committed the error which in Hetty's she
avoided,--the error of showing him as redeemed by
suffering. I cannot but think that he was as weak
as she. A weak woman, indeed, is weaker than a
weak man; but Arthur Donnithorne was a superficial
fellow, a person emphatically not to be moved
by a shock of conscience into a really interesting
and dignified attitude, such as he is made to assume
at the close of the book. Why not see things
in their nakedness? the impatient reader is tempted
to ask. Why not let passions and foibles play
themselves out?

It is as a picture, or rather as a series of pictures,
that I find _Adam Bede_ most valuable. The
author succeeds better in drawing attitudes of feeling
than in drawing movements of feeling. Indeed,
the only attempt at development of character
or of purpose in the book occurs in the case of
Arthur Donnithorne, where the materials are of
the simplest kind. Hetty's lapse into disgrace is
not gradual, it is immediate: it is without struggle
and without passion. Adam himself has arrived
at perfect righteousness when the book opens; and
it is impossible to go beyond that. In his case too,
therefore, there is no dramatic progression. The
same remark applies to Dinah Morris.

It is not in her conceptions nor her composition
that George Eliot is strongest: it is in her _touches_.
In these she is quite original. She is a good deal
of a humourist, and something of a satirist; but she
is neither Dickens nor Thackeray. She has over
them the great advantage that she is also a good
deal of a philosopher; and it is to this union of
the keenest observation with the ripest reflection,
that her style owes its essential force. She is a
thinker,--not, perhaps, a passionate thinker, but
at least a serious one; and the term can be applied
with either adjective neither to Dickens nor
Thackeray. The constant play of lively and vigourous
thought about the objects furnished by her
observation animates these latter with a surprising
richness of colour and a truly human interest. It
gives to the author's style, moreover, that lingering,
affectionate, comprehensive quality which
is its chief distinction; and perhaps occasionally it
makes her tedious. George Eliot is so little tedious,
however, because, if, on the one hand, her reflection
never flags, so, on the other, her observation never
ceases to supply it with material. Her observation,
I think, is decidedly of the feminine kind: it deals,
in preference, with small things. This fact may
be held to explain the excellence of what I have
called her pictures, and the comparative feebleness
of her dramatic movement.

The contrast here indicated, strong in _Adam
Bede_, is most striking in _Felix Holt, the Radical_.
The latter work is an admirable tissue of details;
but it seems to me quite without character as a
composition. It leaves upon the mind no single
impression. Felix Holt's radicalism, the pretended
motive of the story, is utterly choked
amidst a mass of subordinate interests. No representation
is attempted of the growth of his opinions,
or of their action upon his character; he is
marked by the same singular rigidity of outline
and fixedness of posture which characterized Adam
Bede,--except, perhaps, that there is a certain inclination
towards poetry in Holt's attitude. But
if the general outline is timid and undecided in
_Felix Holt_, the different parts are even richer than
in former works. There is no person in the book
who attains to triumphant vitality; but there is
not a single figure, of however little importance,
that has not caught from without a certain reflection
of life. There is a little old waiting-woman
to a great lady,--Mrs. Denner by name,--who does
not occupy five pages in the story, but who leaves
upon the mind a most vivid impression of decent,
contented, intelligent, half-stoical servility.

"There were different orders of beings,--so ran
Denner's creed,--and she belonged to another
order than that to which her mistress belonged.
She had a mind as sharp as a needle, and would
have seen through and through the ridiculous pretensions
of a born servant who did not submissively
accept the rigid fate which had given her
born superiors. She would have called such pretensions
the wrigglings of a worm that tried to
walk on its tail.... She was a hard-headed,
godless little woman, but with a character to be
reckoned on as you reckon on the qualities of
iron."

"I'm afraid of ever expecting anything good
again," her mistress says to her in a moment of
depression.

"'That's weakness, madam. Things don't happen
because they are bad or good, else all eggs
would be addled or none at all, and at the most it
is but six to the dozen. There's good chances and
bad chances, and nobody's luck is pulled only by
one string.... There's a good deal of pleasure
in life for you yet.'

"'Nonsense! There's no pleasure for old
women.... What are your pleasures, Denner,
besides being a slave to me?'

"O, there's pleasure in knowing one is not a
fool, like half the people one sees about. And
managing one's husband is some pleasure, and
doing one's business well. Why, if I've only got
some orange-flowers to candy, I shouldn't like to
die till I see them all right. Then there's the sunshine
now and then; I like that, as the cats do.
I look upon it life is like our game at whist, when
Banks and his wife come to the still-room of an
evening. I don't enjoy the game much, but I like
to play my cards well, and see what will be the
end of it; and I want to see you make the best of
your hand, madam, for your luck has been mine
these forty years now."

And, on another occasion, when her mistress exclaims,
in a fit of distress, that "God was cruel
when he made women," the author says:--

"The waiting-woman had none of that awe
which could be turned into defiance; the sacred
grove was a common thicket to her.

"'It mayn't be good luck to be a woman,' she
said. 'But one begins with it from a baby; one
gets used to it. And I shouldn't like to be a
man,--to cough so loud, and stand straddling about
on a wet day, and be so wasteful with meat and
drink. _They're a coarse lot, I think._'"

I should think they were, beside Mrs. Denner.

This glimpse of her is made up of what I
have called the author's _touches_. She excels in
the portrayal of homely stationary figures for
which her well-stored memory furnishes her with
types. Here is another touch, in which satire predominates.
Harold Transome makes a speech to
the electors at Treby.

"Harold's only interruption came from his own
party. The oratorical clerk at the Factory, acting
as the tribune of the dissenting interest, and feeling
bound to put questions, might have been
troublesome; _but his voice being unpleasantly
sharp, while Harold's was full and penetrating,
the questioning was cried down_."

Of the four English stories, _The Mill on the
Floss_ seems to me to have most dramatic continuity,
in distinction from that descriptive, discursive
method of narration which I have attempted to
indicate. After Hetty Sorrel, I think Maggie Tulliver
the most successful of the author's young
women, and after Tito Melema, Tom Tulliver the
best of her young men. English novels abound in
pictures of childhood; but I know of none more
truthful and touching than the early pages of this
work. Poor erratic Maggie is worth a hundred
of her positive brother, and yet on the very
threshold of life she is compelled to accept him
as her master. He falls naturally into the man's
privilege of always being in the right. The following
scene is more than a reminiscence; it is
a real retrospect. Tom and Maggie are sitting
upon the bough of an elder-tree, eating jam-puffs.
At last only one remains, and Tom undertakes to
divide it.

"The knife descended on the puff, and it was
in two; but the result was not satisfactory to
Tom, for he still eyed the halves doubtfully. At
last he said, 'Shut your eyes, Maggie.'

"'What for?'

"'You never mind what for,--shut 'em when I
tell you.'

"Maggie obeyed.

"'Now, which'll you have, Maggie, right hand
or left?'

"'I'll have that one with the jam run out,' said
Maggie, keeping her eyes shut to please Tom.

"'Why, you don't like that, you silly. You
may have it if it comes to you fair, but I sha'n't
give it to you without. Right or left,--you choose
now. Ha-a-a!' said Tom, in a tone of exasperation,
as Maggie peeped. 'You keep your eyes
shut now, else you sha'n't have any.'

"Maggie's power of sacrifice did not extend so
far; indeed, I fear she cared less that Tom should
enjoy the utmost possible amount of puff, than that
he should be pleased with her for giving him the
best bit. So she shut her eyes quite close until
Tom told her to 'say which,' and then she said,
'Left hand.'

"'You've got it,' said Tom, in rather a bitter
tone.

"'What! the bit with the jam run out?'

"'No; here, take it,' said Tom, firmly, handing
decidedly the best piece to Maggie.

"'O, please, Tom, have it; I don't mind,--I
like the other; please take this.'

"'No, I sha'n't,' said Tom, almost crossly, beginning
on his own inferior piece.

"Maggie, thinking it was of no use to contend
further, began too, and ate up her half puff with
considerable relish as well as rapidity. But Tom
had finished first, and had to look on while Maggie
ate her last morsel or two, feeling in himself a
capacity for more. _Maggie didn't know Tom was
looking at her: she was see-sawing on the elder-bough,
lost to everything but a vague sense of jam
and idleness._

"'O, you greedy thing!' said Tom, when she
had swallowed the last morsel."

The portions of the story which bear upon the
Dodson family are in their way not unworthy of
Balzac; only that, while our author has treated
its peculiarities humourously, Balzac would have
treated them seriously, almost solemnly. We are
reminded of him by the attempt to classify the
Dodsons socially in a scientific manner, and to
accumulate small examples of their idiosyncrasies,
I do not mean to say that the resemblance is very
deep.

The chief defect--indeed, the only serious one--in
_The Mill on the Floss_ is its conclusion. Such
a conclusion is in itself assuredly not illegitimate,
and there is nothing in the fact of the flood, to my
knowledge, essentially unnatural: what I object to
is its relation to the preceding part of the story.
The story is told as if it were destined to have, if
not a strictly happy termination, at least one within
ordinary probabilities. As it stands, the _dénouement_
shocks the reader most painfully. Nothing
has prepared him for it; the story does not move
towards it; it casts no shadow before it. Did
such a _dénouement_ lie within the author's intentions
from the first, or was it a tardy expedient
for the solution of Maggie's difficulties? This
question the reader asks himself, but of course he
asks it in vain.

For my part, although, as long as humanity is
subject to floods and earthquakes, I have no objection
to see them made use of in novels, I would
in this particular case have infinitely preferred
that Maggie should have been left to her own devices.
I understand the author's scruples, and
to a certain degree I respect them. A lonely spinsterhood
seemed but a dismal consummation of
her generous life; and yet, as the author conceives,
it was unlikely that she would return to Stephen
Guest. I respect Maggie profoundly; but nevertheless
I ask, Was this after all so unlikely? I
will not try to answer the question. I have shown
enough courage in asking it. But one thing is
certain: a _dénouement_ by which Maggie should
have called Stephen back would have been extremely
interesting, and would have had far more
in its favour than can be put to confusion by a
mere exclamation of horror.

I have come to the end of my space without
speaking of _Romola_, which, as the most important
of George Eliot's works, I had kept in reserve. I
have only room to say that on the whole I think
it _is_ decidedly the most important,--not the most
entertaining nor the most readable, but the one in
which the largest things are attempted and
grasped. The figure of Savonarola, subordinate
though it is, is a figure on a larger scale than
any which George Eliot has elsewhere undertaken;
and in the career of Tito Melema there is a fuller
representation of the development of a character.

Considerable as are our author's qualities as an
artist, and largely as they are displayed in
"Romola," the book strikes me less as a work of
art than as a work of morals. Like all of George
Eliot's works, its dramatic construction is feeble;
the story drags and halts,--the setting is too large
for the picture; but I remember that, the first
time I read it, I declared to myself that much
should be forgiven it for the sake of its generous
feeling and its elevated morality. I still recognize
this latter fact, but I think I find it more on a
level than I at first found it with the artistic
conditions of the book.

"Our deeds determine us," George Eliot says
somewhere in _Adam Bede_, "as much as we determine
our deeds." This is the moral lesson of _Romola_.
A man has no associate so intimate as his own
character, his own career,--his present and his past;
and if he builds up his career of timid and base
actions, they cling to him like evil companions,
to sophisticate, to corrupt, and to damn him. As
in Maggie Tulliver we had a picture of the elevation
of the moral tone by honesty and generosity,
so that when the mind found itself face to face
with the need for a strong muscular effort, it was
competent to perform it; so in Tito we have a picture
of that depression of the moral tone by falsity
and self-indulgence, which gradually evokes on
every side of the subject some implacable claim,
to be avoided or propitiated. At last all his unpaid
debts join issue before him, and he finds the
path of life a hideous blind alley.

Can any argument be more plain? Can any
lesson be more salutary? "Under every guilty
secret," writes the author, with her usual felicity,
"there is a hidden brood of guilty wishes, whose
unwholesome, infecting life is cherished by the
darkness. The contaminating effect of deeds often
lies less in the commission than in the consequent
adjustment of our desires,--the enlistment of self-interest
on the side of falsity; as, on the other hand,
the purifying influence of public confession springs
from the fact, that by it the hope in lies is forever
swept away, _and the soul recovers the noble attitude
of simplicity_." And again: "Tito was experiencing
that inexorable law of human souls, that
we prepare ourselves for sudden deeds by the reiterated
choice of good or evil that gradually determines
character." Somewhere else I think she
says, in purport, that our deeds are like our children;
we beget them, and rear them and cherish
them, and they grow up and turn against us and
misuse us.

The fact that has led me to a belief in the fundamental
equality between the worth of _Romola_
as a moral argument and its value as a work of
art, is the fact that in each character it seems
to me essentially prosaic. The excellence both of
the spirit and of the execution of the book is emphatically
an obvious excellence. They make no
demand upon the imagination of the reader. It
is true of both of them that he who runs may read
them. It may excite surprise that I should intimate
that George Eliot is deficient in imagination;
but I believe that I am right in so doing. Very
readable novels have been written without imagination;
and as compared with writers who, like Mr.
Trollope, are totally destitute of the faculty,
George Eliot may be said to be richly endowed
with it. But as compared with writers whom we
are tempted to call decidedly imaginative, she
must, in my opinion, content herself with the very
solid distinction of being exclusively an observer.
In confirmation of this I would suggest a comparison
of those chapters in _Adam Bede_ which treat
of Hetty's flight and wanderings, and those of
Miss Bronté's _Jane Eyre_ which describe the heroine's
escape from Rochester's house and subsequent
perambulations. The former are throughout admirable
prose; the latter are in portions very good
poetry.

One word more. Of all the impressions--and
they are numerous--which a reperusal of George
Eliot's writings has given me, I find the strongest
to be this: that (with all deference to _Felix Holt,
the Radical_) the author is in morals and æsthetics
essentially a conservative. In morals her problems
are still the old, passive problems. I use the
word "old" with all respect. What moves her
most is the idea of a conscience harassed by the
memory of slighted obligations. Unless in the case
of Savonarola, she has made no attempt to depict
a conscience taking upon itself great and novel
responsibilities. In her last work, assuredly such
an attempt was--considering the title--conspicuous
by its absence.

Of a corresponding tendency in the second department
of her literary character,--or perhaps
I should say in a certain middle field where morals
and æsthetics move in concert,--it is very difficult
to give an example. A tolerably good one is furnished
by her inclination to compromise with the
old tradition--and here I use the word "old"
_without_ respect--which exacts that a serious story
of manners shall close with the factitious happiness
of a fairy-tale. I know few things more irritating
in a literary way than each of her final chapters,--for
even in _The Mill on the Floss_ there is a
fatal "Conclusion." Both as an artist and a
thinker, in other words, our author is an optimist;
and although a conservative is not necessarily an
optimist, I think an optimist is pretty likely to
be a conservative.



ON A DRAMA OF MR. BROWNING


     A review of _The Inn Album_, by Robert Browning, London, Smith &
     Elder; Boston, J. R. Osgood & Co. 1875. Originally published in
     _The Nation_, January 20, 1876.



ON A DRAMA OF MR. BROWNING


This is a decidedly irritating and displeasing
performance. It is growing more difficult
every year for Mr. Browning's old friends to fight
his battles for him, and many of them will feel that
on this occasion the cause is really too hopeless,
and the great poet must himself be answerable for
his indiscretions.

Nothing that Mr. Browning writes, of course,
can be vapid; if this were possible, it would be a
much simpler affair. If it were a case of a writer
"running thin," as the phrase is, there would be
no need for criticism; there would be nothing in
the way of matter to criticise, and old readers
would have no heart to reproach. But it may be
said of Mr. Browning that he runs thick rather
than thin, and he need claim none of the tenderness
granted to those who have used themselves up
in the service of their admirers. He is robust and
vigorous; more so now, even, than heretofore, and
he is more prolific than in the earlier part of his
career. But his wantonness, his wilfulness, his
crudity, his inexplicable want of secondary thought,
as we may call it, of the stage of reflection that
follows upon the first outburst of the idea, and
smooths, shapes, and adjusts it--all this alloy of
his great genius is more sensible now than ever.

_The Inn Album_ reads like a series of rough notes
for a poem--of hasty hieroglyphics and symbols,
decipherable only to the author himself. A great
poem might perhaps have been made of it, but
assuredly it is not a great poem, nor any poem
whatsoever. It is hard to say very coherently
what it is. Up to a certain point, like everything
of Mr. Browning's, it is highly dramatic and vivid
and beyond that point, like all its companions, it
is as little dramatic as possible. It is not narrative,
for there is not a line of comprehensible, consecutive
statement in the two hundred and eleven
pages of the volume. It is not lyrical, for there is
not a phrase which in any degree does the office of
the poetry that comes lawfully into the world--chants
itself, images itself, or lingers in the memory.

"That bard's a Browning; he neglects the
form!" one of the characters exclaims with irresponsible
frankness. That Mr. Browning knows
he "neglects the form," and does not particularly
care, does not very much help matters; it only
deepens the reader's sense of the graceless and
thankless and altogether unavailable character of
the poem. And when we say unavailable, we make
the only reproach which is worth addressing to a
writer of Mr. Browning's intellectual power. A
poem with so many presumptions in its favour as
such an authorship carries with it is a thing to make
some intellectual use of, to care for, to remember,
to return to, to linger over, to become intimate with.
But we can as little imagine a reader (who has not
the misfortune to be a reviewer) addressing himself
more than once to the perusal of _The Inn Album_,
as we fancy cultivating for conversational
purposes the society of a person afflicted with a
grievous impediment of speech.

Two gentlemen have been playing cards all night
in an inn-parlour, and the peep of day finds one
of them ten thousand pounds in debt to the other.
The tables have been turned, and the victim is the
actual victor. The elder man is a dissolute and
penniless nobleman, who has undertaken the social
education of the aspiring young heir of a great
commercial fortune, and has taught him so well
that the once ingenuous lad knows more than his
clever master. The young man has come down
into the country to see his cousin, who lives, hard
by at the Hall, with her aunt, and with whom his
aristocratic preceptor recommends him, for good
worldly reasons, to make a match.

Infinite discourse, of that formidable full-charged
sort that issues from the lips of all Mr.
Browning's characters, follows the play, and as
the morning advances the two gentlemen leave the
inn and go for a walk. Lord K. has meanwhile
related to his young companion the history of one
of his own earlier loves--how he had seduced a
magnificent young woman, and she had fairly
frightened him into offering her marriage. On
learning that he had meant to go free if he could,
her scorn for him becomes such that she rejects
his offer of reparation (a very fine stroke) and enters
into wedlock with a "smug, crop-haired,
smooth-chinned sort of curate-creature." The
young man replies that he himself was once in
love with a person that quite answers to this description,
and then the companions separate--the
pupil to call at the Hall, and the preceptor to catch
the train for London.

The reader is then carried back to the inn-parlour,
into which, on the departure of the gentlemen,
two ladies have been ushered. One of them
is the young man's cousin, who is playing at cross-purposes
with her suitor; the other is her intimate
friend, arrived on a flying visit. The intimate
friend is of course the ex-victim of Lord K. The
ladies have much conversation--all of it rather
more ingeniously inscrutable than that of their
predecessors; it terminates in the exit of the cousin
and the entrance of the young man. He recognizes
the curate's wife as the object of his own
stifled affection, and the two have, as the French
say, an _intime_ conversation.

At last Lord K. comes back, having missed his
train, and finds himself confronted with his
stormy mistress. Very stormy she proves to be,
and her outburst of renewed indignation and irony
contains perhaps the most successful writing in the
poem. Touched by the lady's eloquence, the
younger man, who has hitherto professed an almost
passionate admiration for his companion, begins to
see him in a less interesting light, and in fact
promptly turns and reviles him. The situation is
here extremely dramatic. Lord K. is a cynic of a
sneaking pattern, but he is at any rate a man of
ideas. He holds the destiny of his adversaries in
his hands, and, snatching up the inn album (which
has been knocking about the table during the foregoing
portions of the narrative), he scrawls upon
it his ultimatum. Let the lady now bestow her
affection on his companion, and let the latter accept
this boon as a vicarious payment of the gambling
debt, otherwise Lord K. will enlighten the
lady's husband as to the extent of her acquaintance
with himself.

He presents the open page to the heroine, who
reads it aloud, and for an answer her younger and
more disinterested lover, "with a tiger-flash yell,
spring, and scream," throws himself on the insulter,
half an hour since, his guide, philosopher,
and friend, and, by some means undescribed by
Mr. Browning puts an end to his life. This incident
is related in two pregnant lines, which,
judged by the general standard of style of the _Inn
Album_, must be considered fine:

"A tiger-flash, yell, spring and scream: halloo!
Death's out and on him, has and holds him--ugh!"

The effect is of course augmented if the reader is careful to make the
"ugh!" rhyme correctly with the "halloo!" The lady takes poison, which
she carries on her person and which operates instantaneously, and the
young man's cousin, re-entering the room, has a sufficiently tremendous
surprise.

The whole picture indefinably appeals to the imagination. There is
something very curious about it and even rather arbitrary, and the
reader wonders how it came, in the poet's mind, to take exactly that
shape. It is very much as if he had worked backwards, had seen his
dénouement first, as a mere picture--the two corpses in the inn-parlour,
and the young man and his cousin confronted above them--and then had
traced back the possible motives and sources. In looking for these Mr.
Browning has of course encountered a vast number of deep discriminations
and powerful touches of portraitures. He deals with human character as a
chemist with his acids and alkalies, and while he mixes his coloured
fluids in a way that surprises the profane, knows perfectly well what he
is about. But there is too apt to be in his style that hiss and sputter
and evil aroma which characterise the proceedings of the laboratory. The
idea, with Mr. Browning, always tumbles out into the world in some
grotesque hind-foremost manner; it is like an unruly horse backing out
of his stall, and stamping and plunging as he comes. His thought knows
no simple stage--at the very moment of its birth it is a terribly
complicated affair.

We frankly confess, at the risk of being accused of deplorable levity of
mind, that we have found this want of clearness of explanation, of
continuity, of at least superficial verisimilitude, of the smooth, the
easy, the agreeable, quite fatal to our enjoyment of _The Inn Album_. It
is all too argumentative, too curious and recondite. The people talk too
much in long set speeches, at a moment's notice, and the anomaly so
common in Browning, that the talk of the women is even more rugged and
insoluble than that of the men, is here greatly exaggerated. We are
reading neither prose nor poetry; it is too real for the ideal, and too
ideal for the real. The author of _The Inn Album_ is not a writer to
whom we care to pay trivial compliments, and, it is not a trivial
complaint to say that his book is only barely comprehensible. Of a
successful dramatic poem one ought to be able to say more.



SWINBURNE'S ESSAYS


     A review of _Essays and Studies_, by Algernon Charles Swinburne.
     London: Chatto & Windus, 1875. Originally published in _The
     Nation_, July 29, 1875.



SWINBURNE'S ESSAYS


Mr. Swinburne has by this time impressed upon the general public a
tolerably vivid image of his literary personality. His line is a
definite one; his note is familiar, and we know what to expect from him.
He was at pains, indeed, a year ago to quicken the apprehension of
American readers by an effusion directed more or less explicitly to
themselves. This piece of literature was brief, but it was very
remarkable. Mr. Emerson had had occasion to speak of Mr. Swinburne with
qualified admiration and this circumstance, coming to Mr. Swinburne's
ears, had prompted him to uncork on the spot the vials of his wrath. He
addressed to a newspaper a letter of which it is but a colourless
account to say that it embodied the very hysterics of gross
vituperation.

Mr. Swinburne has some extremely just remarks about Byron's
unamenableness to quotation, his having to be taken in the gross. This
is almost equally true of our author himself; he must be judged by all
he has done, and we must allow, in our judgment, the weight he would
obviously claim for it to his elaborate tribute to the genius of Mr.
Emerson. His tone has two distinct notes--the note of measureless praise
and the note of furious denunciation. Each is in need of a correction,
but we confess that, with all its faults, we prefer the former. That Mr.
Swinburne has a kindness for his more restrictive strain is, however,
very obvious. He is over-ready to sound it, and he is not particular
about his pretext.

Some people, he says, for instance, affirm that a writer may have a very
effective style, yet have nothing of value to express with it. Mr.
Swinburne demands that they prove their assertion. "This flattering
unction the very foolishest of malignants will hardly, in this case
(that of Mr. D. G. Rossetti), be able to lay upon the corrosive sore
which he calls his soul; the ulcer of ill-will must rot unrelieved by
the rancid ointment of such fiction." In Mr. W. M. Rossetti's edition of
Shelley there is in a certain line, an interpolation of the word
"autumn." "For the conception of this atrocity the editor is not
responsible; for its adoption he is. A thousand years of purgatorial
fire would be insufficient expiation for the criminal on whose deaf and
desperate head must rest the original guilt of defacing the text of
Shelley with this most damnable corruption."

The essays before us are upon Victor Hugo, D. G. Rossetti, William
Morris, Matthew Arnold as a poet, Shelley, Byron, Coleridge, and John
Ford. To these are added two papers upon pictures--the drawings of the
old masters at Florence and the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1868. Mr.
Swinburne, in writing of poets, cannot fail to say a great many
felicitous things. His own insight into the poetic mystery is so deep,
his perception in matters of language so refined, his power of
appreciation so large and active, his imagination, especially, so
sympathetic and flexible, that we constantly feel him to be one who has
a valid right to judge and pass sentence. The variety of his sympathies
in poetry is especially remarkable, and is in itself a pledge of
criticism of a liberal kind. Victor Hugo is his divinity--a divinity
whom indeed, to our sense, he effectually conceals and obliterates in
the suffocating fumes of his rhetoric. On the other hand, one of the
best papers in the volume is a disquisition on the poetry of Mr. Matthew
Arnold, of which his relish seems hardly less intense and for whom he
states the case with no less prodigious a redundancy of phrase.

Matthew Arnold's canons of style, we should have said, are a positive
negation of those of Mr. Swinburne's, and it is to the credit of the
latter's breadth of taste that he should have entered into an
intellectual temperament which is so little his own. The other articles
contain similar examples of his vivacity and energy of perception, and
offer a number of happy judgments and suggestive observations. His
estimate of Byron as a poet (not in the least as a man--on this point
his utterances are consummately futile) is singularly discriminating;
his measurement of Shelley's lyric force is eloquently adequate; his
closing words upon John Ford are worth quoting as a specimen of strong
apprehension and solid statement. Mr. Swinburne is by no means always
solid, and this passage represents him at his best:--

"No poet is less forgettable than Ford; none fastens (as it were) the
fangs of his genius and his will more deeply in your memory. You cannot
shake hands with him and pass him by; you cannot fall in with him and
out again at pleasure; if he touch you once he takes you, and what he
takes he keeps his hold of; his work becomes a part of your thought and
parcel of your spiritual furniture for ever; he signs himself upon you
as with a seal of deliberate and decisive power. His force is never the
force of accident; the casual divinity of beauty which falls, as though
direct from heaven, upon stray lines and phrases of some poets, fails
never by any such heavenly chance on his; his strength of impulse is
matched by his strength of will; he never works more by instinct than by
resolution; he knows what he would have and what he will do, and gains
his end and does his work with full conscience of purpose and insistence
of design. By the might of a great will seconded by the force of a
great hand he won the place he holds against all odds of rivalry in a
race of rival giants."

On the other hand, Mr. Swinburne is constantly liable on this same line
to lapse into flagrant levity and perversity of taste; as in saying that
he cannot consider Wordsworth "as mere poet" equal to Coleridge as mere
poet; in speaking of Alfred de Musset as "the female page or attendant
dwarf" of Byron, and his poems as "decoctions of watered Byronism"; or
in alluding jauntily and _en passant_ to Gautier's _Mademoiselle de
Maupin_ as "the most perfect and exquisite book of modern times."

To note, however, the points at which Mr. Swinburne's judgment hits the
mark, or the points at which it misses it, is comparatively superfluous,
inasmuch as both of these cases seem to us essentially accidental. His
book is not at all a book of judgment; it is a book of pure imagination.
His genius is for style simply, and not in the least for thought nor for
real analysis; he goes through the motions of criticism, and makes a
considerable show of logic and philosophy, but with deep appreciation
his writing seems to us to have very little to do.

He is an imaginative commentator, often of a very splendid kind, but he
is never a real interpreter and rarely a trustworthy guide. He is a
writer, and a writer in constant quest of a theme. He has an inordinate
sense of the picturesque, and he finds his theme in those subjects and
those writers which gratify it. When they gratify it highly, he
conceives a boundless relish for them; they give him his chance, and he
turns-on the deluge of his exorbitant homage. His imagination kindles,
he abounds in their own sense, when they give him an inch he takes an
ell, and quite loses sight of the subject in the entertainment he finds
in his own word-spinning. In this respect he is extraordinarily
accomplished: he very narrowly misses having a magnificent style. On the
imaginative side, his style is almost complete, and seems capable of
doing everything that picturesqueness demands. There are few writers of
our day who could have produced this description of a thunderstorm at
sea. Mr. Swinburne gives it to us as the likeness of Victor Hugo's
genius:--

"About midnight, the thundercloud was full overhead, full of incessant
sound and fire, lightening and darkening so rapidly that it seemed to
have life, and a delight in its life. At the same hour, the sky was
clear to the west, and all along the sea-line there sprang and sank as
to music a restless dance or chase of summer lightnings across the lower
sky: a race and riot of lights, beautiful and rapid as a course of
shining Oceanides along the tremulous floor of the sea. Eastward, at the
same moment, the space of clear sky was higher and wider, a splendid
semicircle of too intense purity to be called blue; it was of no colour
nameable by man; and midway in it, between the stars and the sea, hung
the motionless full moon; Artemis watching with serene splendour of
scorn the battle of Titans and the revel of nymphs from her stainless
and Olympian summit of divine indifferent light. Underneath and about
us, the sea was paved with flame; the whole water trembled and hissed
with phosphoric fire; even through the wind and thunder I could hear the
crackling and sputtering of the water-sparks. In the same heaven and in
the same hour there shone at once the three contrasted glories, golden
and fiery and white, of moonlight, and of the double lightning, forked
and sheet; and under all this miraculous heaven lay a flaming floor of
water."

But with this extravagant development of the imagination there is no
commensurate development either of the reason or of the moral sense. One
of these defects is, to our mind, fatal to Mr. Swinburne's style; the
other is fatal to his tone, to his temper, to his critical pretensions.
His style is without measure, without discretion, without sense of what
to take and what to leave; after a few pages, it becomes intolerably
fatiguing. It is always listening to itself--always turning its head
over its shoulders to see its train flowing behind it. The train
shimmers and tumbles in a very gorgeous fashion, but the rustle of its
embroidery is fatally importunate.

Mr. Swinburne is a dozen times too verbose; at least one-half of his
phrases are what the French call phrases in the air. One-half of his
sentence is always a repetition, for mere fancy's sake and nothing more,
of the meaning of the other half--a play upon its words, an echo, a
reflection, a duplication. This trick, of course, makes a writer
formidably prolix. What we have called the absence of the moral sense of
the writer of these essays is, however, their most disagreeable feature.
By this we do not mean that Mr. Swinburne is not didactic, nor edifying,
nor devoted to pleading the cause of virtue. We mean simply that his
moral plummet does not sink at all, and that when he pretends to drop it
he is simply dabbling in the relatively very shallow pool of the
picturesque.

A sense of the picturesque so refined as Mr. Swinburne's will take one a
great way, but it will by no means, in dealing with things whose great
value is in what they tell us of human character, take one all the way.
One breaks down with it (if one treats it as one's sole support) sooner
or later in æsthetics; one breaks down with it very soon indeed in
psychology.

We do not remember in this whole volume a single instance of delicate
moral discrimination--a single case in which the moral note has been
struck, in which the idea betrays the smallest acquaintance with the
conscience. The moral realm for Mr. Swinburne is simply a brilliant
chiaroscuro of costume and posture. This makes all Mr. Swinburne's
magnificent talk about Victor Hugo's great criminals and monstrosities,
about Shelley's Count Cenci, and Browning's Guido Franchesini, and about
dramatic figures generally, quite worthless as anything but amusing
fantasy. As psychology it is, to our sense, extremely puerile; for we do
not mean simply to say that the author does not understand morality--a
charge to which he would be probably quite indifferent; but that he does
not at all understand immorality. Such a passage as his rhapsody upon
Victor Hugo's Josiane ("such a pantheress may be such a poetess," etc.)
means absolutely nothing. It is entertaining as pictorial
writing--though even in this respect as we have said, thanks to excess
and redundancy, it is the picturesque spoiled rather than achieved; but
as an attempt at serious analysis it seems to us, like many of its
companions, simply ghastly--ghastly in its poverty of insight and its
pretension to make mere lurid imagery do duty as thought.



THE POETRY OF WILLIAM MORRIS


     I. A review of _The Life and Death of Jason_: A poem. By William
     Morris, Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1867. Originally published in
     _North American Review_, October, 1867.

     II. A review of _The Earthly Paradise_: A poem. By William Morris,
     Boston: Roberts Bros. 1868. Originally published in _The Nation_,
     July 9, 1868.

     _The Earthly Paradise; Parts I and II_ as originally published in
     London by F. S. Ellis in 1868, is in one volume, and was issued the
     same year in Boston by Roberts Brothers. Parts III and IV were
     issued as volumes II and III under the same title, in London in
     1870, and in Boston in 1870-71.



THE POETRY OF WILLIAM MORRIS


I. THE LIFE AND DEATH Of JASON

In this poetical history of the fortunate--the unfortunate--Jason, Mr.
Morris has written a book of real value. It is some time since we have
met with a work of imagination of so thoroughly satisfactory a
character,--a work read with an enjoyment so unalloyed and so untempered
by the desire to protest and to criticise. The poetical firmament within
these recent years has been all alive with unprophesied comets and
meteors, many of them of extraordinary brilliancy, but most of them very
rapid in their passage. Mr. Morris gives us the comfort of feeling that
he is a fixed star, and that his radiance is not likely to be
extinguished in a draught of wind,--after the fashion of Mr. Alexander
Smith, Mr. Swinburne and Miss Ingelow.

Mr. Morris's poem is ushered into the world with a very florid birthday
speech from the pen of the author of the too famous _Poems and
Ballads_,--a circumstance, we apprehend, in no small degree prejudicial
to its success. But we hasten to assure all persons whom the knowledge
of Mr. Swinburne's enthusiasm may have led to mistrust the character of
the work, that it has to our perception nothing in common with this
gentleman's own productions, and that his article proves very little
more than that his sympathies are wiser than his performance. If Mr.
Morris's poem may be said to remind us of the manner of any other
writer, it is simply of that of Chaucer; and to resemble Chaucer is a
great safeguard against resembling Swinburne.

_The Life and Death of Jason_, then, is a narrative poem on a Greek
subject, written in a genuine English style. With the subject all
reading people are familiar, and we have no need to retrace its details.
But it is perhaps not amiss to transcribe the few pregnant lines of
prose into which, at the outset, Mr. Morris has condensed the argument
of his poem:--

"Jason the son of Æson, king of Iolchos, having come to man's estate,
demanded of Pelias his father's kingdom, which he held wrongfully. But
Pelias answered, that if he would bring from Colchis the golden fleece
of the ram that had carried Phryxus thither, he would yield him his
right. Whereon Jason sailed to Colchis in the ship Argo, with other
heroes, and by means of Medea, the king's daughter, won the fleece; and
carried off also Medea; and so, after many troubles, came back to
Iolchos again. There, by Medea's wiles, was Pelias slain; but Jason went
to Corinth, and lived with Medea happily, till he was taken with the
love of Glauce, the king's daughter of Corinth, and must needs wed her;
whom also Medea destroyed, and fled to Ægeus at Athens; and not long
after Jason died strangely."

The style of this little fragment of prose is not an unapt measure of
the author's poetical style,--quaint, but not too quaint, more
Anglo-Saxon than Latin, and decidedly laconic. For in spite of the great
length of his work, his manner is by no means diffuse. His story is a
long one, and he wishes to do it justice; but the movement is rapid and
business-like, and the poet is quite guiltless of any wanton lingering
along the margin of the subject matter,--after the manner, for instance,
of Keats,--to whom, individually, however, we make this tendency no
reproach. Mr. Morris's subject is immensely rich,--heavy with its
richness,--and in the highest degree romantic and poetical. For the most
part, of course, he found not only the great _contours_, but the various
incidents and episodes, ready drawn to his hand; but still there was
enough wanting to make a most exhaustive drain upon his ingenuity and
his imagination. And not only these faculties have been brought into
severe exercise, but the strictest good taste and good sense were called
into play, together with a certain final gift which we hardly know how
to name, and which is by no means common, even among very clever
poets,--a comprehensive sense of form, of proportion, and of real
completeness, without which the most brilliant efforts of the
imagination are a mere agglomeration of ill-reconciled beauties. The
legend of Jason is full of strangely constructed marvels and elaborate
prodigies and horrors, calculated to task heavily an author's
adroitness.

We have so pampered and petted our sense of the ludicrous of late years,
that it is quite the spoiled child of the house, and without its leave
no guest can be honourably entertained. It is very true that the
atmosphere of Grecian mythology is so entirely an artificial one, that
we are seldom tempted to refer its weird anomalous denizens to our
standard of truth and beauty. Truth, indeed, is at once put out of the
question; but one would say beforehand, that many of the creations of
Greek fancy were wanting even in beauty, or at least in that ease and
simplicity which has been acquired in modern times by force of culture.
But habit and tradition have reconciled us to these things in their
native forms, and Mr. Morris's skill reconciles us to them in his modern
and composite English.

The idea, for instance, of a _flying ram_, seems, to an undisciplined
fancy, a not especially happy creation, nor a very promising theme for
poetry; but Mr. Morris, without diminishing its native oddity, has given
it an ample romantic dignity. So, again, the sowing of the dragon's
teeth at Colchis, and the springing up of mutually opposed armed men,
seems too complex and recondite a scene to be vividly and gracefully
realized; but as it stands, it is one of the finest passages in Mr.
Morris's poem. His great stumbling-block, however, we take it, was the
necessity of maintaining throughout the dignity and prominence of his
hero. From the moment that Medea comes into the poem, Jason falls into
the second place, and keeps it to the end. She is the all-wise and
all-brave helper and counsellor at Colchis, and the guardian angel of
the returning journey. She saves her companions from the Circean
enchantments, and she withholds them from the embraces of the Sirens.
She effects the death of Pelias, and assures the successful return of
the Argonauts. And finally--as a last claim upon her interest--she is
slighted and abandoned by the man of her love. Without question, then,
she is the central figure of the poem,--a powerful and enchanting
figure,--a creature of barbarous arts, and of exquisite human passions.
Jason accordingly possesses only that indirect hold upon our attention
which belongs to the Virgilian Æneas; although Mr. Morris has avoided
Virgil's error of now and then allowing his hero to be contemptible.

A large number, however, of far greater drawbacks than any we are able
to mention could not materially diminish the powerful beauty of this
fantastic legend. It is as rich in adventure as the Odyssey, and very
much simpler. Its prime elements are of the most poetical and delightful
kind. What can be more thrilling than the idea of a great boatful of
warriors embarking upon dreadful seas, not for pleasure, nor for
conquest, nor for any material advantage, but for the simple discovery
of a jealously watched, magically guarded relic? There is in the
character of the object of their quest something heroically
unmarketable, or at least unavailable.

But of course the story owes a vast deal to its episodes, and these have
lost nothing in Mr. Morris's hands. One of the most beautiful--the well
known adventure of Hylas--occurs at the very outset. The beautiful young
man, during a halt of the ship, wanders inland through the forest, and,
passing beside a sylvan stream, is espied and incontinently loved by the
water nymphs, who forthwith "detach" one of their number to work his
seduction. This young lady assumes the disguise and speech of a Northern
princess, clad in furs, and in this character sings to her victim "a
sweet song, sung not yet to any man." Very sweet and truly lyrical it is
like all the songs scattered through Mr. Morris's narrative. We are,
indeed, almost in doubt whether the most beautiful passages in the poem
do not occur in the series of songs in the fourteenth book.

The ship has already touched at the island of Circe, and the sailors,
thanks to the earnest warnings of Medea, have abstained from setting
foot on the fatal shore; while Medea has, in turn, been warned by the
enchantress against the allurements of the Sirens. As soon as the ship
draws nigh, these fair beings begin to utter their irresistible notes.
All eyes are turned lovingly on the shore, the rowers' charmed muscles
relax, and the ship drifts landward. But Medea exhorts and entreats her
companions to preserve their course. Jason himself is not untouched, as
Mr. Morris delicately tells us,--"a moment Jason gazed." But Orpheus
smites his lyre before it is too late, and stirs the languid blood of
his comrades. The Sirens strike their harps amain, and a conflict of
song arises. The Sirens sing of the cold, the glittering, the idle
delights of their submarine homes; while Orpheus tells of the warm and
pastoral landscapes of Greece. We have no space for quotation; of course
Orpheus carries the day. But the finest and most delicate practical
sense is shown in the alternation of the two lyrical arguments,--the
soulless sweetness of the one, and the deep human richness of the other.

There is throughout Mr. Morris's poem a great unity and evenness of
excellence, which make selection and quotation difficult; but of
impressive touches in our reading we noticed a very great number. We
content ourselves with mentioning a single one. When Jason has sown his
bag of dragon's teeth at Colchis, and the armed fighters have sprung up
along the furrows, and under the spell contrived by Medea have torn each
other to death:--

    "One man was left alive, but wounded sore,
    Who, staring round about and seeing no more
    His brothers' spears against him, fixed his eyes
    Upon the queller of those mysteries.
    Then dreadfully they gleamed, and with no word,
    He tottered towards him with uplifted sword.
    But scarce he made three paces down the field,
    Ere chill death seized his heart, and on his shield
    Clattering he fell."

We have not spoken of Mr. Morris's versification nor of his vocabulary.
We have only room to say that, to our perception, the first in its
facility and harmony, and the second in its abundance and studied
simplicity, leave nothing to be desired. There are of course faults and
errors in his poem, but there are none that are not trivial and easily
pardoned in the light of the fact that he has given us a work of
consummate art and of genuine beauty. He has foraged in a
treasure-house; he has visited the ancient world, and come back with a
massive cup of living Greek wine. His project was no light task, but he
has honourably fulfilled it. He has enriched the language with a
narrative poem which we are sure that the public will not suffer to fall
into the ranks of honoured but uncherished works,--objects of vague and
sapient reference,--but will continue to read and to enjoy. In spite of
its length, the interest of the story never flags, and as a work of art
it never ceases to be pure. To the jaded intellects of the present
moment, distracted with the strife of creeds and the conflict of
theories, it opens a glimpse into a world where they will be called upon
neither to choose, to criticise, nor to believe, but simply to feel, to
look, and to listen.


II. THE EARTHLY PARADISE

This new volume of Mr. Morris is, we think, a book for all time; but it
is especially a book for these ripening summer days. To sit in the open
shade, inhaling the heated air, and, while you read these perfect fairy
tales, these rich and pathetic human traditions to glance up from your
page at the clouds and the trees, is to do as pleasant a thing as the
heart of man can desire. Mr. Morris's book abounds in all the sounds and
sights and sensations of nature, in the warmth of the sunshine, the
murmur of forests, and the breath of ocean-scented breezes. The fullness
of physical existence which belongs to climates where life is spent in
the open air, is largely diffused through its pages:

      ... "Hot July was drawing to an end,
      And August came the fainting year to mend
    With fruit and grain; so 'neath the trellises,
      Nigh blossomless, did they lie well at ease,
      And watched the poppies burn across the grass,
    And o'er the bindweed's bells the brown bee pass,
      Still murmuring of his gains: windless and bright
      The morn had been, to help their dear delight.
    ... Then a light wind arose
      That shook the light stems of that flowery close,
    And made men sigh for pleasure."

This is a random specimen. As you read, the fictitious universe of the
poem seems to expand and advance out of its remoteness, to surge
musically about your senses, and merge itself utterly in the universe
which surrounds you. The summer brightness of the real world goes
halfway to meet it; and the beautiful figures which throb with life in
Mr. Morris's stories pass lightly to and fro between the realm of poetry
and the mild atmosphere of fact. This quality was half the charm of the
author's former poem, _The Life and Death of Jason_, published last
summer. We seemed really to follow, beneath the changing sky, the
fantastic boatload of wanderers in their circuit of the ancient world.
For people compelled to stay at home, the perusal of the book in a
couple of mornings was very nearly as good as a fortnight's holiday. The
poem appeared to reflect so clearly and forcibly the poet's natural
sympathies with the external world, and his joy in personal contact with
it, that the reader obtained something very like a sense of physical
transposition, without either physical or intellectual weariness.

This ample and direct presentment of the joys of action and locomotion
seems to us to impart to these two works a truly national and English
tone. They taste not perhaps of the English soil, but of those strong
English sensibilities which the great insular race carry with them
through their wanderings, which they preserve and apply with such energy
in every terrestrial clime, and which make them such incomparable
travellers. We heartily recommend such persons as have a desire to
accommodate their reading to the season--as are vexed with a delicate
longing to place themselves intellectually in relation with the genius
of the summer--to take this _Earthly Paradise_ with them to the country.

The book is a collection of tales in verse--found, without exception, we
take it, rather than imagined, and linked together, somewhat loosely, by
a narrative prologue. The following is the "argument" of the
prologue--already often enough quoted, but pretty enough, in its
ingenious prose, to quote again:--

"Certain gentlemen and mariners of Norway, having considered all that
they had heard of the Earthly Paradise, set sail to find it, and, after
many troubles and the lapse of many years, came old men to some western
land, of which they had never before heard: there they died, when they
had dwelt there certain years, much honoured of the strange people."

The adventures of these wanderers, told by one of their number, Rolf the
Norseman, born at Byzantium--a happy origin for the teller of a heroic
tale, as the author doubtless felt--make, to begin with, a poem of
considerable length, and of a beauty superior perhaps to that of the
succeeding tales. An admirable romance of adventure has Mr. Morris
unfolded in the melodious energy of this half-hurrying, half-lingering
narrative--a romance to make old hearts beat again with the boyish
longing for transmarine mysteries, and to plunge boys themselves into a
delicious agony of unrest.

The story is a tragedy, or very near it--as what story of the search for
an Earthly Paradise could fail to be? Fate reserves for the poor
storm-tossed adventurers a sort of fantastic compromise between their
actual misery and their ideal bliss, whereby a kindly warmth is infused
into the autumn of their days, and to the reader, at least, a very
tolerable Earthly Paradise is laid open. The elders and civic worthies
of the western land which finally sheltered them summon them every month
to a feast, where, when all grosser desires have been duly pacified,
the company sit at their ease and listen to the recital of stories. Mr.
Morris gives in this volume the stories of the six midmonths of the
year, two tales being allotted to each month--one from the Greek
Mythology, and one, to express it broadly, of a Gothic quality. He
announces a second series in which, we infer, he will in the same manner
give us the stories rehearsed at the winter fireside.

The Greek stories are the various histories of Atalanta, of Perseus, of
Cupid and Psyche, of Alcestis, of Atys, the hapless son of Croesus,
and of Pygmalion. The companion pieces, which always serve excellently
well to place in relief the perfect pagan character of their elder
mates, deal of course with elements less generally known.

"Atalanta's Race," the first of Mr. Morris's Greek legends, is to our
mind almost the best. There is something wonderfully simple and
childlike in the story, and the author has given it ample dignity, at
the same time that he has preserved this quality.

Most vividly does he present the mild invincibility of his fleet-footed
heroine and the half-boyish simplicity of her demeanour--a perfect model
of a _belle inhumaine_. But the most beautiful passage in the poem is
the description of the vigil of the love-sick Milanion in the lonely
sea-side temple of Venus. The author has conveyed with exquisite art
the sense of devout stillness and of pagan sanctity which invests this
remote and prayerful spot. The yellow torch-light,

    "Wherein with fluttering gown and half-bared limb
    The temple damsels sung their evening hymn;"

the sound of the shallow flowing sea without, the young man's restless
sleep on the pavement, besprinkled with the ocean spray, the apparition
of the goddess with the early dawn, bearing the golden apple--all these
delicate points are presented in the light of true poetry.

The narrative of the adventures of Danaë and of Perseus and Andromeda
is, with the exception of the tale of Cupid and Psyche which follows it,
the longest piece in the volume. Of the two, we think we prefer the
latter. Unutterably touching is the career of the tender and helpless
Psyche, and most impressive the terrible hostility of Venus. The author,
we think, throughout manages this lady extremely well. She appears to us
in a sort of rosy dimness, through which she looms as formidable as she
is beautiful, and gazing with "gentle eyes and unmoved smiles,"

    "Such as in Cyprus, the fair blossomed isle,
    When on the altar in the summer night
    They pile the roses up for her delight,
    Men see within their hearts."

"The Love of Alcestis" is the beautiful story of the excellent wife who,
when her husband was ill, gave up her life, so that he might recover and
live for ever. Half the interest here, however, lies in the servitude of
Apollo in disguise, and in the touching picture of the radiant god doing
in perfection the homely work of his office, and yet from time to time
emitting flashes, as it were, of genius and deity, while the good
Admetus observes him half in kindness and half in awe.

The story of the "Son of Croesus," the poor young man who is slain by
his best friend because the gods had foredoomed it, is simple, pathetic,
and brief. The finest and sweetest poem in the volume, to our taste, is
the tale of "Pygmalion and the Image." The merit of execution is perhaps
not appreciably greater here than in the other pieces, but the legend is
so unutterably charming that it claims precedence of its companions. As
beautiful as anything in all our later poetry, we think, is the
description of the growth and dominance in the poor sculptor's heart of
his marvellous passion for the stony daughter of his hands. Borne along
on the steady, changing flow of his large and limpid verse, the author
glides into the situation with an ease and grace and fullness of
sympathy worthy of a great master. Here, as elsewhere, there is no sign
of effort or of strain. In spite of the studied and _recherché_
character of his diction, there is not a symptom of affectation in
thought or speech. We seem in this tale of "Pygmalion" truly to inhabit
the bright and silent workroom of a great Greek artist, and, standing
among shapes and forms of perfect beauty, to breathe the incense-tainted
air in which lovely statues were conceived and shining stones chiselled
into immortality.

Mr. Morris is indubitably a sensuous poet, to his credit be it said; his
senses are constantly proffering their testimony and crying out their
delight. But while they take their freedom, they employ it in no degree
to their own debasement. Just as there is modesty of temperament we
conceive there is modesty of imagination, and Mr. Morris possesses the
latter distinction. The total absence of it is, doubtless, the long and
short of Mr. Swinburne's various troubles. We may imagine Mr. Swinburne
making a very clever poem of this story of "Pygmalion," but we cannot
fancy him making it anything less than utterly disagreeable. The
thoroughly agreeable way in which Mr. Morris tells it is what especially
strikes us. We feel that his imagination is equally fearless and
irreproachable, and that while he tells us what we may call a sensuous
story in all its breadth, he likewise tells it in all its purity. It
has, doubtless, an impure side; but of the two he prefers the other.
While Pygmalion is all aglow with his unanswered passion, he one day
sits down before his image:

    "And at the last drew forth a book of rhymes,
    Wherein were writ the tales of many climes,
    And read aloud the sweetness hid therein
    Of lovers' sorrows and their tangled sin."

He reads aloud to his marble torment: would Mr. Swinburne have touched
that note?

We have left ourselves no space to describe in detail the other series
of tales--"The Man born to be King," "The Proud King," "The Writing on
the Image," "The Lady of the Land," "The Watching of the Falcon," and
"Ogier the Dane."

The author in his _Jason_ identified himself with the successful
treatment of Greek subjects to such a degree as to make it easy to
suppose that these matters were the specialty of his genius. But in
these romantic modern stories the same easy power is revealed, the same
admirable union of natural gifts and cultivated perceptions. Mr. Morris
is evidently a poet in the broad sense of the word--a singer of human
joys and sorrows, whenever and wherever found. His somewhat artificial
diction, which would seem to militate against our claim that his genius
is of the general and comprehensive order, is, we imagine, simply an
achievement of his own. It is not imposed from without, but developed
from within. Whatever may be said of it, it certainly will not be
accused of being unpoetical; and except this charge, what serious one
can be made?

The author's style--according to our impression--is neither Chaucerian,
Spenserian, nor imitative; it is literary, indeed, but it has a freedom
and irregularity, an adaptability to the movements of the author's mind,
which make it an ample vehicle of poetical utterance. He says in this
language of his own the most various and the most truthful things; he
moves, melts, and delights. Such at least, is our own experience. Other
persons, we know, find it difficult to take him entirely _au sérieux_.
But we, taking him--and our critical duties too--in the most serious
manner our mind permits of, feel strongly impelled, both by gratitude
and by reflection, to pronounce him a noble and delightful poet. To call
a man healthy nowadays is almost an insult--invalids learn so many
secrets. But the health of the intellect is often promoted by physical
disability. We say therefore, finally, that however the faculty may have
been promoted--with the minimum of suffering, we certainly hope--Mr.
Morris is a supremely healthy writer. This poem is marked by all that is
broad and deep in nature, and all that is elevating, profitable, and
curious in art.



MATTHEW ARNOLD'S ESSAYS


     A review of _Essays in Criticism_. By Matthew Arnold, Professor of
     Poetry in the University of Oxford. Boston: Ticknor and Fields.
     1865. Originally published in _North American Review_, July, 1865.



MATTHEW ARNOLD'S ESSAYS


Mr. Arnold's _Essays in Criticism_ come to American readers with a
reputation already made,--the reputation of a charming style, a great
deal of excellent feeling, and an almost equal amount of questionable
reasoning. It is for us either to confirm the verdict passed in the
author's own country, or to judge his work afresh. It is often the
fortune of English writers to find mitigation of sentence in the United
States.

The Essays contained in this volume are on purely literary subjects;
which is for us, by itself, a strong recommendation. English literature,
especially contemporary literature, is, compared with that of France and
Germany, very poor in collections of this sort. A great deal of
criticism is written, but little of it is kept; little of it is deemed
to contain any permanent application. Mr. Arnold will doubtless find in
this fact--if indeed he has not already signalized it--but another proof
of the inferiority of the English to the Continental school of
criticism, and point to it as a baleful effect of the narrow practical
spirit which animates, or, as he would probably say, paralyzes, the
former. But not only is his book attractive as a whole, from its
exclusively literary character; the subject of each essay is moreover
particularly interesting. The first paper is on the function of
Criticism at the present time; a question, if not more important,
perhaps more directly pertinent here than in England. The second,
discussing the literary influence of Academies, contains a great deal of
valuable observation and reflection in a small compass and under an
inadequate title. The other essays are upon the two De Guérins, Heinrich
Heine, Pagan and Mediæval Religious Sentiment, Joubert, Spinoza, and
Marcus Aurelius. The first two articles are, to our mind, much the best;
the next in order of excellence is the paper on Joubert; while the
others, with the exception, perhaps, of that on Spinoza, are of about
equal merit.

Mr. Arnold's style has been praised at once too much and too little. Its
resources are decidedly limited; but if the word had not become so
cheap, we should nevertheless call it fascinating. This quality implies
no especial force; it rests in this case on the fact that, whether or
not you agree with the matter beneath it, the manner inspires you with a
personal affection for the author. It expresses great sensibility, and
at the same time great good-nature; it indicates a mind both susceptible
and healthy. With the former element alone it would savour of
affectation; with the latter, it would be coarse. As it stands, it
represents a spirit both sensitive and generous. We can best describe
it, perhaps, by the word sympathetic. It exhibits frankly, and without
detriment to its national character, a decided French influence. Mr.
Arnold is too wise to attempt to write French English; he probably knows
that a language can only be indirectly enriched; but as nationality is
eminently a matter of form, he knows too that he can really violate
nothing so long as he adheres to the English letter.

His Preface is a striking example of the intelligent amiability which
animates his style. His two leading Essays were, on their first
appearance, made the subject of much violent contention, their moral
being deemed little else than a wholesale schooling of the English press
by the French programme. Nothing could have better proved the justice of
Mr. Arnold's remarks upon the "provincial" character of the English
critical method than the reception which they provoked. He now
acknowledges this reception in a short introduction, which admirably
reconciles smoothness of temper with sharpness of wit. The taste of this
performance has been questioned; but wherever it may err, it is
assuredly not in being provincial; it is essentially civil. Mr. Arnold's
amiability is, in our eye, a strong proof of his wisdom. If he were a
few degrees more short-sighted, he might have less equanimity at his
command. Those who sympathise with him warmly will probably like him
best as he is; but with such as are only half his friends, this freedom
from party passion, from what is after all but a lawful professional
emotion, will argue against his sincerity.

For ourselves, we doubt not that Mr. Arnold possesses thoroughly what
the French call the courage of his opinions. When you lay down a
proposition which is forthwith controverted, it is of course optional
with you to take up the cudgels in its defence. If you are deeply
convinced of its truth, you will perhaps be content to leave it to take
care of itself; or, at all events, you will not go out of your way to
push its fortunes; for you will reflect that in the long run an opinion
often borrows credit from the forbearance of its patrons. In the long
run, we say; it will meanwhile cost you an occasional pang to see your
cherished theory turned into a football by the critics. A football is
not, as such, a very respectable object, and the more numerous the
players, the more ridiculous it becomes. Unless, therefore, you are very
confident of your ability to rescue it from the chaos of kicks, you will
best consult its interests by not mingling in the game. Such has been
Mr. Arnold's choice. His opponents say that he is too much of a poet to
be a critic; he is certainly too much of a poet to be a disputant. In
the Preface in question he has abstained from reiterating any of the
views put forth in the two offensive Essays; he has simply taken a
delicate literary vengeance upon his adversaries.

For Mr. Arnold's critical feeling and observation, used independently of
his judgment, we profess a keen relish. He has these qualities, at any
rate, of a good critic, whether or not he have the others,--the science
and the logic. It is hard to say whether the literary critic is more
called upon to understand or to feel. It is certain that he will
accomplish little unless he can feel acutely; although it is perhaps
equally certain that he will become weak the moment that he begins to
"work," as we may say, his natural sensibilities. The best critic is
probably he who leaves his feelings out of account, and relies upon
reason for success. If he actually possesses delicacy of feeling, his
work will be delicate without detriment to its solidity. The complaint
of Mr. Arnold's critics is that his arguments are too sentimental.
Whether this complaint is well founded, we shall hereafter inquire; let
us determine first what sentiment has done for him. It has given him, in
our opinion, his greatest charm and his greatest worth. Hundreds of
other critics have stronger heads; few, in England at least, have more
delicate perceptions. We regret that we have not the space to confirm
this assertion by extracts. We must refer the reader to the book
itself, where he will find on every page an illustration of our meaning.
He will find one, first of all, in the apostrophe to the University of
Oxford, at the close of the Preface,--"home of lost causes and forsaken
beliefs and unpopular names and impossible loyalties." This is doubtless
nothing but sentiment, but it seizes a shade of truth, and conveys it
with a directness which is not at the command of logical demonstration.
Such a process might readily prove, with the aid of a host of facts,
that the University is actually the abode of much retarding
conservatism; a fine critical instinct alone, and the measure of
audacity which accompanies such an instinct, could succeed in placing
her on the side of progress by boldly saluting her as the Queen of
Romance: romance being the deadly enemy of the commonplace; the
commonplace being the fast ally of Philistinism, and Philistinism the
heaviest drag upon the march of civilisation.

Mr. Arnold is very fond of quoting Goethe's eulogy upon Schiller, to the
effect that his friend's greatest glory was to have left so far behind
him _was uns alle bändigt, das Gemeine_, that bane of mankind, the
common. Exactly how much the inscrutable Goethe made of this fact, it is
hard at this day to determine; but it will seem to many readers that Mr.
Arnold makes too much of it. Perhaps he does, for himself; but for the
public in general he decidedly does not. One of the chief duties of
criticism is to exalt the importance of the ideal; and Goethe's speech
has a long career in prospect before we can say with the vulgar that it
is "played out." Its repeated occurrence in Mr. Arnold's pages is but
another instance of poetic feeling subserving the ends of criticism.

The famous comment upon the girl Wragg, over which the author's
opponents made so merry, we likewise owe--we do not hesitate to declare
it--to this same poetic feeling. Why cast discredit upon so valuable an
instrument of truth? Why not wait at least until it is used in the
service of error? The worst that can be said of the paragraph in
question is, that it is a great ado about nothing. All thanks, say we,
to the critic who will pick up such nothings as these; for if he
neglects them, they are blindly trodden under foot. They may not be
especially valuable, but they are for that very reason the critic's
particular care. Great truths take care of themselves; great truths are
carried aloft by philosophers and poets; the critic deals in
contributions to truth.

Another illustration of the nicety of Mr. Arnold's feeling is furnished
by his remarks upon the quality of _distinction_ as exhibited in Maurice
and Eugénie de Guérin, "that quality which at last inexorably corrects
the world's blunders and fixes the world's ideals, [which] procures that
the popular poet shall not pass for a Pindar, the popular historian for
a Tacitus, nor the popular preacher for a Bossuet." Another is offered
by his incidental remarks upon Coleridge, in the article on Joubert;
another, by the remarkable felicity with which he has translated Maurice
de Guérin's _Centaur_; and another, by the whole body of citations with
which, in his second Essay, he fortifies his proposition that the
establishment in England of an authority answering to the French Academy
would have arrested certain evil tendencies of English literature,--for
to nothing more offensive than this, as far as we can see, does this
argument amount.

In the first and most important of his Essays Mr. Arnold puts forth his
views upon the actual duty of criticism. They may be summed up as
follows. Criticism has no concern with the practical; its function is
simply to get at the best thought which is current,--to see things in
themselves as they are,--to be disinterested. Criticism can be
disinterested, says Mr. Arnold,

     "by keeping from practice; by resolutely following the law of its
     own nature, which is to be a free play of the mind on all subjects
     which it touches, by steadily refusing to lend itself to any of
     those ulterior political, practical considerations about ideas
     which plenty of people will be sure to attach to them, which
     perhaps ought often to be attached to them, which in this country,
     at any rate, are certain to be attached to them, but which
     criticism has really nothing to do with. Its business is simply to
     know the best that is known and thought in the world, and, by in
     its turn making this known, to create a current of true and fresh
     ideas. Its business is to do this with inflexible honesty, with due
     ability; but its business is to do no more, and to leave alone all
     questions of practical consequences and applications,--questions
     which will never fail to have due prominence given to them."

We used just now a word of which Mr. Arnold is very fond,--a word of
which the general reader may require an explanation, but which, when
explained, he will be likely to find indispensable; we mean the word
_Philistine_. The term is of German origin, and has no English synonyme.
"At Soli," remarks Mr. Arnold, "I imagined they did not talk of
solecisms; and here, at the very head-quarters of Goliath, nobody talks
of Philistinism." The word _épicier_, used by Mr. Arnold as a French
synonyme, is not so good as _bourgeois_, and to those who know that
_bourgeois_ means a citizen, and who reflect that a citizen is a person
seriously interested in the maintenance of order, the German term may
now assume a more special significance. An English review briefly
defines it by saying that "it applies to the fat-headed respectable
public in general." This definition must satisfy us here. The Philistine
portion of the English press, by which we mean the considerably larger
portion, received Mr. Arnold's novel programme of criticism with the
uncompromising disapprobation which was to be expected from a literary
body, the principle of whose influence, or indeed of whose being is its
subservience, through its various members, to certain political and
religious interests.

Mr. Arnold's general theory was offensive enough; but the conclusions
drawn by him from the fact that English practice has been so long and so
directly at variance with it, were such as to excite the strongest
animosity. Chief among these was the conclusion that this fact has
retarded the development and vulgarised the character of the English
mind, as compared with the French and the German mind. This rational
inference may be nothing but a poet's flight; but for ourselves, we
assent to it. It reaches us too. The facts collected by Mr. Arnold on
this point have long wanted a voice. It has long seemed to us that, as a
nation, the English are singularly incapable of large, of high, of
general views. They are indifferent to pure truth, to _la verité vraie_.
Their views are almost exclusively practical, and it is in the nature of
practical views to be narrow. They seldom indeed admit a fact but on
compulsion; they demand of an idea some better recommendation, some
longer pedigree, than that it is true. That this lack of spontaneity in
the English intellect is caused by the tendency of English criticism, or
that it is to be corrected by a diversion, or even by a complete
reversion, of this tendency, neither Mr. Arnold nor ourselves suppose,
nor do we look upon such a result as desirable. The part which Mr.
Arnold assigns to his reformed method of criticism is a purely tributary
part. Its indirect result will be to quicken the naturally irrational
action of the English mind; its direct result will be to furnish that
mind with a larger stock of ideas than it has enjoyed under the
time-honoured _régime_ of Whig and Tory, High-Church and Low-Church
organs.

We may here remark, that Mr. Arnold's statement of his principles is
open to some misinterpretation,--an accident against which he has,
perhaps, not sufficiently guarded it. For many persons the word
_practical_ is almost identical with the word _useful_, against which,
on the other hand, they erect the word _ornamental_. Persons who are
fond of regarding these two terms as irreconcilable, will have little
patience with Mr. Arnold's scheme of criticism. They will look upon it
as an organised preference of unprofitable speculation to common sense.
But the great beauty of the critical movement advocated by Mr. Arnold is
that in either direction its range of action is unlimited. It deals with
plain facts as well as with the most exalted fancies; but it deals with
them only for the sake of the truth which is in them, and not for _your_
sake, reader, and that of your party. It takes _high ground_, which is
the ground of theory. It does not busy itself with consequences, which
are all in all to you. Do not suppose that it for this reason pretends
to ignore or to undervalue consequences; on the contrary, it is because
it knows that consequences are inevitable that it leaves them alone. It
cannot do two things at once; it cannot serve two masters. Its business
is to make truth generally accessible, and not to apply it. It is only
on condition of having its hands free, that it can make truth generally
accessible. We said just now that its duty was, among other things, to
exalt, if possible, the importance of the ideal. We should perhaps have
said the intellectual; that is, of the principle of understanding
things. Its business is to urge the claims of all things to be
understood. If this is its function in England, as Mr. Arnold
represents, it seems to us that it is doubly its function in this
country. Here is no lack of votaries of the practical, of
experimentalists, of empirics. The tendencies of our civilisation are
certainly not such as foster a preponderance of morbid speculation. Our
national genius inclines yearly more and more to resolve itself into a
vast machine for sifting, in all things, the wheat from the chaff.
American society is so shrewd, that we may safely allow it to make
application of the truths of the study. Only let us keep it supplied
with the truths of the study, and not with the half-truths of the forum.
Let criticism take the stream of truth at its source, and then practice
can take it half-way down. When criticism takes it half-way down,
practice will come poorly off.

If we have not touched upon the faults of Mr. Arnold's volume, it is
because they are faults of detail, and because, when, as a whole, a book
commands our assent, we do not incline to quarrel with its parts. Some
of the parts in these Essays are weak, others are strong; but the
impression which they all combine to leave is one of such beauty as to
make us forget, not only their particular faults, but their particular
merits. If we were asked what is the particular merit of a given essay,
we should reply that it is a merit much less common at the present day
than is generally supposed,--the merit which pre-eminently characterises
Mr. Arnold's poems, the merit, namely, of having a _subject_. Each essay
is _about_ something. If a literary work now-a-days start with a certain
topic, that is all that is required of it; and yet it is a work of art
only on condition of ending with that topic, on condition of being
written, not from it, but to it. If the average modern essay or poem
were to wear its title at the close, and not at the beginning, we wonder
in how many cases the reader would fail to be surprised by it. A book
or an article is looked upon as a kind of Staubbach waterfall,
discharging itself into infinite space.

If we were questioned as to the merit of Mr. Arnold's book as a whole,
we should say that it lay in the fact that the author takes high ground.
The manner of his Essays is a model of what criticisms should be. The
foremost English critical journal, the Saturday Review, recently
disposed of a famous writer by saying, in a parenthesis, that he had
done nothing but write nonsense all his life. Mr. Arnold does not pass
judgment in parenthesis. He is too much of an artist to use leading
propositions for merely literary purposes. The consequence is, that he
says a few things in such a way as that almost in spite of ourselves we
remember them, instead of a number of things which we cannot for the
life of us remember. There are many things which we wish he had said
better. It is to be regretted, for instance, that, when Heine is for
once in a way seriously spoken of, he should not be spoken of more as
the great poet which he is, and which even in New England he will one
day be admitted to be, than with reference to the great moralist which
he is not, and which he never claimed to be. But here, as in other
places, Mr. Arnold's excellent spirit reconciles us with his
shortcomings. If he has not spoken of Heine exhaustively, he has at all
events spoken of him seriously, which for an Englishman is a good deal.

Mr. Arnold's supreme virtue is that he speaks of all things seriously,
or, in other words, that he is not offensively clever. The writers who
are willing to resign themselves to this obscure distinction are in our
opinion the only writers who understand their time. That Mr. Arnold
thoroughly understands his time we do not mean to say, for this is the
privilege of a very select few; but he is, at any rate, profoundly
conscious of his time. This fact was clearly apparent in his poems, and
it is even more apparent in these Essays. It gives them a peculiar
character of melancholy,--that melancholy which arises from the
spectacle of the old-fashioned instinct of enthusiasm in conflict (or at
all events in contact) with the modern desire to be fair,--the
melancholy of an age which not only has lost its _naïveté_, but which
knows it has lost it.



MR. WALT WHITMAN


     An unsigned review of _Walt Whitman's_ Drum-Taps, New York, 1865.
     Originally published in _The Nation_, November 16, 1865.

     As this review has long been familiar to students of Whitman, and
     its authorship quite generally known, the original title has been
     retained here.



MR. WALT WHITMAN


It has been a melancholy task to read this book; and it is a still more
melancholy one to write about it. Perhaps since the day of Mr. Tupper's
_Philosophy_ there has been no more difficult reading of the poetic
sort. It exhibits the effort of an essentially prosaic mind to lift
itself, by a prolonged muscular strain, into poetry. Like hundreds of
other good patriots, during the last four years, Mr. Walt Whitman has
imagined that a certain amount of violent sympathy with the great deeds
and sufferings of our soldiers, and of admiration for our national
energy, together with a ready command of picturesque language, are
sufficient inspiration for a poet. If this were the case, we had been a
nation of poets. The constant developments of the war moved us
continually to strong feeling and to strong expression of it. But in
those cases in which these expressions were written out and printed with
all due regard to prosody, they failed to make poetry, as any one may
see by consulting now in cold blood the back volumes of the _Rebellion
Record_.

_Of course_ the city of Manhattan, as Mr. Whitman delights to call it,
when regiments poured through it in the first months of the war, and its
own sole god, to borrow the words of a real poet, ceased for a while to
be the millionaire, was a noble spectacle, and a poetical statement to
this effect is possible. _Of course_ the tumult of a battle is grand,
the results of a battle tragic, and the untimely deaths of young men a
theme for elegies. But he is not a poet who merely reiterates these
plain facts _ore rotundo_. He only sings them worthily who views them
from a height. Every tragic event collects about it a number of persons
who delight to dwell upon its superficial points--of minds which are
bullied by the _accidents_ of the affair. The temper of such minds seems
to us to be the reverse of the poetic temper; for the poet, although he
incidentally masters, grasps, and uses the superficial traits of his
theme, is really a poet only in so far as he extracts its latent meaning
and holds it up to common eyes. And yet from such minds most of our
war-verses have come, and Mr. Whitman's utterances, much as the
assertion may surprise his friends, are in this respect no exception to
general fashion. They are an exception, however, in that they openly
pretend to be something better; and this it is that makes them
melancholy reading.

Mr. Whitman is very fond of blowing his own trumpet, and he has made
very explicit claims for his books. "Shut not your doors," he exclaims
at the outset--

    "Shut not your doors to me, proud libraries,
    For that which was lacking among you all, yet needed most, I bring;
    A book I have made for your dear sake, O soldiers,
    And for you, O soul of man, and you, love of comrades;
    The words of my book nothing, the life of it everything;
    A book separate, not link'd with the rest, nor felt by the intellect;
    But you will feel every word, O Libertad! arm'd Libertad!
    It shall pass by the intellect to swim the sea, the air,
      With joy with you, O soul of man."

These are great pretensions, but it seems to us that the following are
even greater:

  "From Paumanok starting, I fly like a bird,
  Around and around to soar, to sing the idea of all;
  To the north betaking myself, to sing there arctic songs,
  To Kanada, 'till I absorb Kanada in myself--to Michigan then,
  To Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, to sing their songs (they are
    inimitable);
  Then to Ohio and Indiana, to sing theirs--to Missouri and Kansas
    and Arkansas to sing theirs,
  To Tennessee and Kentucky--to the Carolinas and Georgia, to sing theirs,
  To Texas, and so along up toward California, to roam accepted
    everywhere;
  To sing first (to the tap of the war-drum, if need be)
  The idea of all--of the western world, one and inseparable,
  And then the song of each member of these States."

Mr. Whitman's primary purpose is to celebrate the greatness of our
armies; his secondary purpose is to celebrate the greatness of the city
of New York. He pursues these objects through a hundred pages of matter
which remind us irresistibly of the story of the college professor who,
on a venturesome youth bringing him a theme done in blank verse,
reminded him that it was not customary in writing prose to begin each
line with a capital. The frequent capitals are the only marks of verse
in Mr. Whitman's writings. There is, fortunately, but one attempt at
rhyme. We say fortunately, for if the inequality of Mr. Whitman's lines
were self-registering, as it would be in the case of an anticipated
syllable at their close, the effect would be painful in the extreme. As
the case stands, each line stands off by itself, in resolute
independence of its companions, without a visible goal.

But if Mr. Whitman does not write verse, he does not write ordinary
prose. The reader has seen that liberty is "libertad." In like manner,
comrade is "camerado"; Americans are "Americanos"; a pavement is a
"trottoir," and Mr. Whitman himself is a "chansonnier." If there is one
thing that Mr. Whitman is not, it is this, for Béranger was a
_chansonnier_. To appreciate the force of our conjunction, the reader
should compare his military lyrics with Mr. Whitman's declamations. Our
author's novelty, however, is not in his words, but in the form of his
writing. As we have said, it begins for all the world like verse and
turns out to be arrant prose. It is more like Mr. Tupper's proverbs than
anything we have met.

But what if, in form, it _is_ prose? it may be asked. Very good poetry
has come out of prose before this. To this we would reply that it must
first have gone into it. Prose, in order to be good poetry, must first
be good prose. As a general principle, we know of no circumstance more
likely to impugn a writer's earnestness than the adoption of an
anomalous style. He must have something very original to say if none of
the old vehicles will carry his thoughts. Of course he _may_ be
surprisingly original. Still, presumption is against him. If on
examination the matter of his discourse proves very valuable, it
justifies, or at any rate excuses, his literary innovation.

But if, on the other hand, it is of a common quality, with nothing new
about it but its manners, the public will judge the writer harshly. The
most that can be said of Mr. Whitman's vaticinations is, that, cast in a
fluent and familiar manner, the average substance of them might escape
unchallenged. But we have seen that Mr. Whitman prides himself
especially on the substance--the life--of his poetry. It may be rough,
it may be grim, it may be clumsy--such we take to be the author's
argument--but it is sincere, it is sublime, it appeals to the soul of
man, it is the voice of a people. He tells us, in the lines quoted, that
the words of his book are nothing. To our perception they are
everything, and very little at that.

A great deal of verse that is nothing but words has, during the war,
been sympathetically sighed over and cut out of newspaper corners,
because it has possessed a certain simple melody. But Mr. Whitman's
verse, we are confident, would have failed even of this triumph, for the
simple reason that no triumph, however small, is won but through the
exercise of art, and that this volume is an offence against art. It is
not enough to be grim and rough and careless; common sense is also
necessary, for it is by common sense that we are judged. There exists in
even the commonest minds, in literary matters, a certain precise
instinct of conservatism, which is very shrewd in detecting wanton
eccentricities.

To this instinct Mr. Whitman's attitude seems monstrous. It is monstrous
because it pretends to persuade the soul while it slights the
intellect; because it pretends to gratify the feelings while it outrages
the taste. The point is that it does this _on theory_, wilfully,
consciously, arrogantly. It is the little nursery game of "open your
mouth and shut your eyes." Our hearts are often touched through a
compromise with the artistic sense, but never in direct violation of it.
Mr. Whitman sits down at the outset and counts out the intelligence.
This were indeed a wise precaution on his part if the intelligence were
only submissive! But when she is deliberately insulted, she takes her
revenge by simply standing erect and open-eyed. This is assuredly the
best she can do. And if she could find a voice she would probably
address Mr. Whitman as follows:--

"You came to woo my sister, the human soul. Instead of giving me a kick
as you approach, you should either greet me courteously, or, at least,
steal in unobserved. But now you have me on your hands. Your chances are
poor. What the human heart desires above all is sincerity, and you do
not appear to me sincere. For a lover you talk entirely too much about
yourself. In one place you threaten to absorb Kanada. In another you
call upon the city of New York to incarnate you, as you have incarnated
it. In another you inform us that neither youth pertains to you nor
'delicatesse,' that you are awkward in the parlour, that you do not
dance, and that you have neither bearing, beauty, knowledge, nor
fortune. In another place, by an allusion to your 'little songs,' you
seem to identify yourself with the third person of the Trinity.

"For a poet who claims to sing 'the idea of all,' this is tolerably
egotistical. We look in vain, however, through your book for a single
idea. We find nothing but flashy imitations of ideas. We find a medley
of extravagances and commonplaces. We find art, measure, grace, sense
sneered at on every page, and nothing positive given us in their stead.
To be positive one must have something to say; to be positive requires
reason, labour, and art; and art requires, above all things, a
suppression of one's self, a subordination of one's self to an idea.
This will never do for you, whose plan is to adapt the scheme of the
universe to your own limitations. You cannot entertain and exhibit
ideas; but, as we have seen, you are prepared to incarnate them. It is
for this reason, doubtless, that when once you have planted yourself
squarely before the public, and in view of the great service you have
done to the ideal, have become, as you say, 'accepted everywhere,' you
can afford to deal exclusively in words. What would be bald nonsense and
dreary platitudes in any one else becomes sublimity in you.

"But all this is a mistake. To become adopted as a national poet, it is
not enough to discard everything in particular and to accept everything
in general, to amass crudity upon crudity, to discharge the undigested
contents of your blotting-book into the lap of the public. You must
respect the public which you address; for it has taste, if you have not.
It delights in the grand, the heroic, and the masculine; but it delights
to see these conceptions cast into worthy form. It is indifferent to
brute sublimity. It will never do for you to thrust your hands into your
pockets and cry out that, as the research of form is an intolerable
bore, the shortest and most economical way for the public to embrace its
idols--for the nation to realise its genius--is in your own person.

"This democratic, liberty-loving, American populace, this stern and
war-tried people, is a great civiliser. It is devoted to refinement. If
it has sustained a monstrous war, and practised human nature's best in
so many ways for the last five years, it is not to put up with spurious
poetry afterwards. To sing aright our battles and our glories it is not
enough to have served in a hospital (however praiseworthy the task in
itself), to be aggressively careless, inelegant, and ignorant, and to be
constantly preoccupied with yourself. It is not enough to be rude,
lugubrious, and grim. You must also be serious. You must forget yourself
in your ideas. Your personal qualities--the vigour of your temperament,
the manly independence of your nature, the tenderness of your
heart--these facts are impertinent. You must be _possessed_, and you
must thrive to possess your possession. If in your striving you break
into divine eloquence, then you are a poet. If the idea which possesses
you is the idea of your country's greatness, then you are a national
poet; and not otherwise."



THE POETRY OF GEORGE ELIOT


     I. A review of _The Spanish Gypsy_. _A Poem._ By George Eliot.
     Boston: Ticknor and Fields. 1868. Originally published in _North
     American Review_, October, 1868.

     II. A review of _The Legend of Jubal, and other Poems_. By George
     Eliot. Wm. Blackwood and Sons: Edinburgh and London. 1874.
     Originally published in _North American Review_, October, 1874.



THE POETRY OF GEORGE ELIOT


I. THE SPANISH GYPSY

I know not whether George Eliot has any enemies, nor why she should have
any; but if perchance she has, I can imagine them to have hailed the
announcement of a poem from her pen as a piece of particularly good
news. "Now, finally," I fancy them saying, "this sadly over-rated author
will exhibit all the weakness that is in her; now she will prove herself
what we have all along affirmed her to be--not a serene, self-directing
genius of the first order, knowing her powers and respecting them, and
content to leave well enough alone, but a mere showy rhetorician,
possessed and prompted, not by the humble spirit of truth, but by an
insatiable longing for applause." Suppose Mr. Tennyson were to come out
with a novel, or Madame George Sand were to produce a tragedy in French
alexandrines. The reader will agree with me, that these are hard
suppositions; yet the world has seen stranger things, and been
reconciled to them. Nevertheless, with the best possible will toward our
illustrious novelist, it is easy to put ourselves in the shoes of these
hypothetical detractors. No one, assuredly, but George Eliot could mar
George Eliot's reputation; but there was room for the fear that she
might do it. This reputation was essentially prose-built, and in the
attempt to insert a figment of verse of the magnitude of _The Spanish
Gypsy_, it was quite possible that she might injure its fair
proportions.

In consulting her past works, for approval of their hopes and their
fears, I think both her friends and her foes would have found sufficient
ground for their arguments. Of all our English prose-writers of the
present day, I think I may say, that, as a writer simply, a mistress of
style, I have been very near preferring the author of _Silas Marner_ and
of _Romola_,--the author, too, of _Felix Holt_. The motive of my great
regard for her style I take to have been that I fancied it such perfect
solid prose. Brilliant and lax as it was in tissue, it seemed to contain
very few of the silken threads of poetry; it lay on the ground like a
carpet, instead of floating in the air like a banner. If my impression
was correct, _The Spanish Gypsy_ is not a genuine poem. And yet, looking
over the author's novels in memory, looking them over in the light of
her unexpected assumption of the poetical function, I find it hard at
times not to mistrust my impression. I like George Eliot well enough, in
fact, to admit, for the time, that I might have been in the wrong. If I
had liked her less, if I had rated lower the quality of her prose, I
should have estimated coldly the possibilities of her verse. Of course,
therefore, if, as I am told many persons do in England, who consider
carpenters and weavers and millers' daughters no legitimate subject for
reputable fiction, I had denied her novels any qualities at all, I
should have made haste, on reading the announcement of her poem, to
speak of her as the world speaks of a lady, who, having reached a
comfortable middle age, with her shoulders decently covered, "for
reasons deep below the reach of thought," (to quote our author), begins
to go out to dinner in a low-necked dress "of the period," and say in
fine, in three words, that she was going to make a fool of herself.

But here, meanwhile, is the book before me, to arrest all this _a
priori_ argumentation. Time enough has elapsed since its appearance for
most readers to have uttered their opinions, and for the general verdict
of criticism to have been formed. In looking over several of the
published reviews, I am struck with the fact that those immediately
issued are full of the warmest delight and approval, and that, as the
work ceases to be a novelty, objections, exceptions, and protests
multiply. This is quite logical. Not only does it take a much longer
time than the reviewer on a weekly journal has at his command to
properly appreciate a work of the importance of _The Spanish Gypsy_, but
the poem was actually much more of a poem than was to be expected. The
foremost feeling of many readers must have been--it was certainly my
own--that we had hitherto only half known George Eliot. Adding this
dazzling new half to the old one, readers constructed for the moment a
really splendid literary figure. But gradually the old half began to
absorb the new, and to assimilate its virtues and failings, and critics
finally remembered that the cleverest writer in the world is after all
nothing and no one but himself.

The most striking quality in _The Spanish Gypsy_, on a first reading, I
think, is its extraordinary rhetorical energy and elegance. The richness
of the author's style in her novels gives but an inadequate idea of the
splendid generosity of diction displayed in the poem. She is so much of
a thinker and an observer that she draws very heavily on her powers of
expression, and one may certainly say that they not only never fail her,
but that verbal utterance almost always bestows upon her ideas a
peculiar beauty and fullness, apart from their significance. The result
produced in this manner, the reader will see, may come very near being
poetry; it is assuredly eloquence. The faults in the present work are
very seldom faults of weakness, except in so far as it is weak to lack
an absolute mastery of one's powers; they arise rather from an excess of
rhetorical energy, from a desire to attain to perfect fullness and
roundness of utterance; they are faults of overstatement. It is by no
means uncommon to find a really fine passage injured by the addition of
a clause which dilutes the idea under pretence of completing it. The
poem opens, for instance, with a description of

    "Broad-breasted Spain, leaning with equal love
    (A calm earth-goddess crowned with corn and vines)
    On the Mid Sea that moans with memories,
    And on the untravelled Ocean, _whose vast tides
    Pant dumbly passionate with dreams of youth_."

The second half of the fourth line and the fifth, here, seem to me as
poor as the others are good. So in the midst of the admirable
description of Don Silva, which precedes the first scene in the
castle:--

              "A spirit framed
    Too proudly special for obedience,
    Too subtly pondering for mastery:
    Born of a goddess with a mortal sire,
    Heir of flesh-fettered, weak divinity,
    _Doom-gifted with long resonant consciousness
    And perilous heightening of the sentient soul_."

The transition to the lines in Italic is like the passage from a
well-ventilated room into a vacuum. On reflection, we see "long resonant
consciousness" to be a very good term; but, as it stands, it certainly
lacks breathing-space. On the other hand, there are more than enough
passages of the character of the following to support what I have said
of the genuine splendour of the style:--

                      "I was right!
    These gems have life in them: their colours speak,
    Say what words fail of. So do many things,--
    The scent of jasmine and the fountain's plash,
    The moving shadows on the far-off hills,
    The slanting moonlight and our clasping hands.
    O Silva, there's an ocean round our words,
    That overflows and drowns them. Do you know.
    Sometimes when we sit silent, and the air
    Breathes gently on us from the orange-trees,
    It seems that with the whisper of a word
    Our souls must shrink, get poorer, more apart?
    Is it not true?

                        DON SILVA.

                      Yes, dearest, it is true.
    Speech is but broken light upon the depth
    Of the unspoken: even your loved words
    Float in the larger meaning of your voice
    As something dimmer."

I may say in general, that the author's admirers must have found in _The
Spanish Gypsy_ a presentment of her various special gifts stronger and
fuller, on the whole, than any to be found in her novels. Those who
valued her chiefly for her humour--the gentle humour which provokes a
smile, but deprecates a laugh--will recognise that delightful gift in
Blasco, and Lorenzo, and Roldan, and Juan,--slighter in quantity than in
her prose-writings, but quite equal, I think, in quality. Those who
prize most her descriptive powers will see them wondrously well embodied
in these pages. As for those who have felt compelled to declare that she
possesses the Shakespearian touch, they must consent, with what grace
they may, to be disappointed. I have never thought our author a great
dramatist, nor even a particularly dramatic writer. A real dramatist, I
imagine, could never have reconciled himself to the odd mixture of the
narrative and dramatic forms by which the present work is distinguished;
and that George Eliot's genius should have needed to work under these
conditions seems to me strong evidence of the partial and incomplete
character of her dramatic instincts. An English critic lately described
her, with much correctness, as a critic rather than a creator of
characters. She puts her figures into action very successfully, but on
the whole she thinks for them more than they think for themselves. She
thinks, however, to wonderfully good purpose. In none of her works are
there two more distinctly human representations than the characters of
Silva and Juan. The latter, indeed, if I am not mistaken, ranks with
Tito Melema and Hetty Sorrel, as one of her very best conceptions.

What is commonly called George Eliot's humour consists largely, I think,
in a certain tendency to epigram and compactness of utterance,--not the
short-clipped, biting, ironical epigram, but a form of statement in
which a liberal dose of truth is embraced in terms none the less
comprehensive for being very firm and vivid. Juan says of Zarca that

            "He is one of those
    Who steal the keys from snoring Destiny,
    And make the prophets lie."

Zarca himself, speaking of "the steadfast mind, the undivided will to
seek the good," says most admirably,--

    "'Tis that compels the elements, _and wrings
    A human music from the indifferent air_."

When the Prior pronounces Fedalma's blood "unchristian as the
leopard's," Don Silva retorts with,--

    "Unchristian as the Blessed Virgin's blood.
    Before the angel spoke the word, 'All hail!'"

Zarca qualifies his daughter's wish to maintain her faith to her lover,
at the same time that she embraces her father's fortunes, as

    "A woman's dream,--who thinks by smiling well
    To ripen figs in frost."

This happy brevity of expression is frequently revealed in those rich
descriptive passages and touches in which the work abounds. Some of the
lines taken singly are excellent:--

    "And bells make Catholic the trembling air";

and,

    "Sad as the twilight, all his clothes ill-girt";

and again

    "Mournful professor of high drollery."

Here is a very good line and a half:--

    "The old rain-fretted mountains in their robes
    Of shadow-broken gray."

Here, finally, are three admirable pictures:--

    "The stars thin-scattered made the heavens large,
    Bending in slow procession; in the east,
    Emergent from the dark waves of the hills,
    Seeming a little sister of the moon,
    Glowed Venus all unquenched."

    "Spring afternoons, when delicate shadows fall
    Pencilled upon the grass; high summer morns,
    When white light rains upon the quiet sea,
    And cornfields flush for ripeness."

    "Scent the fresh breath of the height-loving herbs,
    That, trodden by the pretty parted hoofs
    Of nimble goats, sigh at the innocent bruise,
    And with a mingled difference exquisite
    Pour a sweet burden on the buoyant air."

But now to reach the real substance of the poem, and to allow the reader
to appreciate the author's treatment of human character and passion, I
must speak briefly of the story. I shall hardly misrepresent it, when I
say that it is a very old one, and that it illustrates that very common
occurrence in human affairs,--the conflict of love and duty. Such, at
least, is the general impression made by the poem as it stands. It is
very possible that the author's primary intention may have had a breadth
which has been curtailed in the execution of the work,--that it was her
wish to present a struggle between nature and culture, between education
and the instinct of race. You can detect in such a theme the stuff of a
very good drama,--a somewhat stouter stuff, however, than _The Spanish
Gypsy_ is made of. George Eliot, true to that didactic tendency for
which she has hitherto been remarkable, has preferred to make her
heroine's predicament a problem in morals, and has thereby, I think,
given herself hard work to reach a satisfactory solution. She has,
indeed, committed herself to a signal error, in a psychological
sense,--that of making a Gypsy girl with a conscience. Either Fedalma
was a perfect Zincala in temper and instinct,--in which case her
adhesion to her father and her race was a blind, passionate, sensuous
movement, which is almost expressly contradicted,--or else she was a
pure and intelligent Catholic, in which case nothing in the nature of a
struggle can be predicated. The character of Fedalma, I may say, comes
very near being a failure,--a very beautiful one; but in point of fact
it misses it.

It misses it, I think, thanks to that circumstance which in reading and
criticising _The Spanish Gypsy_ we must not cease to bear in mind, the
fact that the work is emphatically a _romance_. We may contest its being
a poem, but we must admit that it is a romance in the fullest sense of
the word. Whether the term may be absolutely defined I know not; but we
may say of it, comparing it with the novel, that it carries much farther
that compromise with reality which is the basis of all imaginative
writing. In the romance this principle of compromise pervades the
superstructure as well as the basis. The most that we exact is that the
fable be consistent with itself. Fedalma is not a real Gypsy maiden. The
conviction is strong in the reader's mind that a genuine Spanish Zincala
would have somehow contrived both to follow her tribe and to keep her
lover. If Fedalma is not real, Zarca is even less so. He is interesting,
imposing, picturesque; but he is very far, I take it, from being a
genuine _Gypsy_ chieftain. They are both ideal figures,--the offspring
of a strong mental desire for creatures well rounded in their elevation
and heroism,--creatures who should illustrate the nobleness of human
nature divorced from its smallness. Don Silva has decidedly more of the
common stuff of human feeling, more charming natural passion and
weakness. But he, too, is largely a vision of the intellect; his
constitution is adapted to the atmosphere and the climate of romance.
Juan, indeed, has one foot well planted on the lower earth; but Juan is
only an accessory figure. I have said enough to lead the reader to
perceive that the poem should not be regarded as a rigid transcript of
actual or possible fact,--that the action goes on in an artificial
world, and that properly to comprehend it he must regard it with a
generous mind.

Viewed in this manner, as efficient figures in an essentially ideal and
romantic drama, Fedalma and Zarca seem to gain vastly, and to shine with
a brilliant radiance. If we reduce Fedalma to the level of the heroines
of our modern novels, in which the interest aroused by a young girl is
in proportion to the similarity of her circumstances to those of the
reader, and in which none but the commonest feelings are required,
provided they be expressed with energy, we shall be tempted to call her
a solemn and cold-blooded jilt. In a novel it would have been next to
impossible for the author to make the heroine renounce her lover. In
novels we not only forgive that weakness which is common and familiar
and human, but we actually demand it. But in poetry, although we are
compelled to adhere to the few elementary passions of our nature, we do
our best to dress them in a new and exquisite garb. Men and women in a
poetical drama are nothing, if not distinguished.

    "Our dear young love,--its breath was happiness!
    But it had grown upon a larger life,
    Which tore its roots asunder."

These words are uttered by Fedalma at the close of the poem, and in them
she emphatically claims the distinction of having her own private
interests invaded by those of a people. The manner of her kinship with
the Zincali is in fact a very much "larger life" than her marriage with
Don Silva. We may, indeed, challenge the probability of her relationship
to her tribe impressing her mind with a force equal to that of her
love,--her "dear young love." We may declare that this is an unnatural
and violent result. For my part, I think it is very far from violent; I
think the author has employed her art in reducing the apparently
arbitrary quality of her preference for her tribe. I say reducing; I do
not say effacing; because it seems to me, as I have intimated, that just
at this point her art has been wanting, and we are not sufficiently
prepared for Fedalma's movement by a sense of her Gypsy temper and
instincts. Still, we are in some degree prepared for it by various
passages in the opening scenes of the book,--by all the magnificent
description of her dance in the Plaza:--

    "All gathering influences culminate
    And urge Fedalma. Earth and heaven seem one,
    Life a glad trembling on the outer edge
    Of unknown rapture. Swifter now she moves,
    Filling the measure with a double beat
    And widening circle; now she seems to glow
    With more declaréd presence, glorified.
    Circling, she lightly bends, and lifts on high
    The multitudinous-sounding tambourine,
    And makes it ring and boom, then lifts it higher,
    Stretching her left arm beauteous."

We are better prepared for it, however, than by anything else, by the
whole impression we receive of the exquisite refinement and elevation of
the young girl's mind,--by all that makes her so bad a Gypsy. She
possesses evidently a very high-strung intellect, and her whole conduct
is in a higher key, as I may say, than that of ordinary women, or even
ordinary heroines. She is natural, I think, in a poetical sense. She is
consistent with her own prodigiously superfine character. From a lower
point of view than that of the author, she lacks several of the
desirable feminine qualities,--a certain womanly warmth and petulance, a
graceful irrationality. Her mind is very much too lucid, and her
aspirations too lofty. Her conscience, especially, is decidedly
over-active. But this is a distinction which she shares with all the
author's heroines,--Dinah Morris, Maggie Tulliver, Romola, and Esther
Lyon,--a distinction, moreover, for which I should be very sorry to hold
George Eliot to account. There are most assuredly women and women. While
Messrs. Charles Reade and Wilkie Collins, and Miss Braddon and her
school, tell one half the story, it is no more than fair that the author
of _The Spanish Gypsy_ should, all unassisted, attempt to relate the
other.

Whenever a story really interests one, he is very fond of paying it the
compliment of imagining it otherwise constructed, and of capping it with
a different termination. In the present case, one is irresistibly
tempted to fancy _The Spanish Gypsy_ in prose,--a compact, regular
drama: not in George Eliot's prose, however: in a diction much more
nervous and heated and rapid, written with short speeches as well as
long. (The reader will have observed the want of brevity, retort,
interruption, rapid alternation, in the dialogue of the poem. The
characters all talk, as it were, standing still.) In such a play as the
one indicated one imagines a truly dramatic Fedalma,--a passionate,
sensuous, irrational Bohemian, as elegant as good breeding and native
good taste could make her, and as pure as her actual sister in the
poem,--but rushing into her father's arms with a cry of joy, and losing
the sense of her lover's sorrow in what the author has elsewhere
described as "the hurrying ardour of action." Or in the way of a
different termination, suppose that Fedalma should for the time value at
once her own love and her lover's enough to make her prefer the latter's
destiny to that represented by her father. Imagine, then, that, after
marriage, the Gypsy blood and nature should begin to flow and throb in
quicker pulsations,--and that the poor girl should sadly contrast the
sunny freedom and lawless joy of her people's lot with the splendid
rigidity and formalism of her own. You may conceive at this point that
she should pass from sadness to despair, and from despair to revolt.
Here the catastrophe may occur in a dozen different ways. Fedalma may
die before her husband's eyes, of unsatisfied longing for the fate she
has rejected; or she may make an attempt actually to recover her fate,
by wandering off and seeking out her people. The cultivated mind,
however, it seems to me, imperiously demands, that, on finally
overtaking them, she shall die of mingled weariness and shame, as
neither a good Gypsy nor a good Christian, but simply a good figure for
a tragedy. But there is a degree of levity which almost amounts to
irreverence in fancying this admirable performance as anything other
than it is.

After Fedalma comes Zarca, and here our imagination flags. Not so George
Eliot's: for as simple imagination, I think that in the conception of
this impressive and unreal figure it appears decidedly at its strongest.
With Zarca, we stand at the very heart of the realm of romance. There is
a truly grand simplicity, to my mind, in the outline of his character,
and a remarkable air of majesty in his poise and attitude. He is a _père
noble_ in perfection. His speeches have an exquisite eloquence. In
strictness, he is to the last degree unreal, illogical, and rhetorical;
but a certain dramatic unity is diffused through his character by the
depth and energy of the colours in which he is painted. With a little
less simplicity, his figure would be decidedly modern. As it stands, it
is neither modern nor mediæval; it belongs to the world of intellectual
dreams and visions. The reader will admit that it is a vision of no
small beauty, the conception of a stalwart chieftain who distils the
cold exaltation of his purpose from the utter loneliness and obloquy of
his race:--

    "Wanderers whom no God took knowledge of,
    To give them laws, to fight for them, or blight
    Another race to make them ampler room;
    A people with no home even in memory,
    No dimmest lore of giant ancestors
    To make a common hearth for piety";

a people all ignorant of

        "The rich heritage, the milder life,
    Of nations fathered by a mighty Past."

Like Don Silva, like Juan, like Sephardo, Zarca is decidedly a man of
intellect.

Better than Fedalma or than Zarca is the remarkably beautiful and
elaborate portrait of Don Silva, in whom the author has wished to
present a young nobleman as splendid in person and in soul as the
dawning splendour of his native country. In the composition of his
figure, the real and the romantic, brilliancy and pathos, are equally
commingled. He cannot be said to stand out in vivid relief. As a piece
of painting, there is nothing commanding, aggressive, brutal, as I may
say, in his lineaments. But they will bear close scrutiny. Place
yourself within the circumscription of the work, breathe its atmosphere,
and you will see that Don Silva is portrayed with a delicacy to which
English story-tellers, whether in prose or verse, have not accustomed
us. There are better portraits in Browning, but there are also worse; in
Tennyson there are none as good; and in the other great poets of the
present century there are no attempts, that I can remember, to which we
may compare it. In spite of the poem being called in honour of his
mistress, Don Silva is in fact the central figure in the work. Much more
than Fedalma, he is the passive object of the converging blows of Fate.
The young girl, after all, did what was easiest; but he is entangled in
a network of agony, without choice or compliance of his own. It is an
admirable subject admirably treated. I may describe it by saying that it
exhibits a perfect aristocratic nature (born and bred at a time when
democratic aspirations were quite irrelevant to happiness), dragged down
by no fault of its own into the vulgar mire of error and expiation. The
interest which attaches to Don Silva's character revolves about its
exquisite human weakness, its manly scepticism, its antipathy to the
trenchant, the absolute, and arbitrary. At the opening of the book, the
author rehearses his various titles:--

    "Such titles with their blazonry are his
    Who keeps this fortress, sworn Alcaÿde,
    Lord of the valley, master of the town,
    Commanding whom he will, himself commanded
    By Christ his Lord, who sees him from the cross,
    And from bright heaven where the Mother pleads;
    By good Saint James, upon the milk-white steed,
    Who leaves his bliss to fight for chosen Spain;
    By the dead gaze of all his ancestors;
    And by the mystery of his Spanish blood,
    Charged with the awe and glories of the past."

Throughout the poem, we are conscious, during the evolution of his
character, of the presence of these high mystical influences, which,
combined with his personal pride, his knightly temper, his delicate
culture, form a splendid background for passionate dramatic action. The
finest pages in the book, to my taste, are those which describe his
lonely vigil in the Gypsy camp, after he has failed in winning back
Fedalma, and has pledged his faith to Zarca. Placed under guard, and
left to his own stern thoughts, his soul begins to react against the
hideous disorder to which he has committed it, to proclaim its kinship
with "customs and bonds and laws," and its sacred need of the light of
human esteem:--

                                  "Now awful Night,
    Ancestral mystery of mysteries, came down
    Past all the generations of the stars,
    And visited his soul with touch more close
    Than when he kept that closer, briefer watch,
    Under the church's roof, beside his arms,
    And won his knighthood."

To be appreciated at their worth, these pages should be attentively
read. Nowhere has the author's marvellous power of expression, the
mingled dignity and pliancy of her style, obtained a greater triumph.
She has reproduced the expression of a mind with the same vigorous
distinctness as that with which a great painter represents the
expression of a countenance.

The character which accords best with my own taste is that of the
minstrel Juan, an extremely generous conception. He fills no great part
in the drama; he is by nature the reverse of a man of action; and,
strictly, the story could very well dispense with him. Yet, for all
that, I should be sorry to lose him, and lose thereby the various
excellent things which are said of him and by him. I do not include his
songs among the latter. Only two of the lyrics in the work strike me as
good: the song of Pablo, "The world is great: the birds all fly from
me"; and, in a lower degree, the chant of the Zincali, in the fourth
book. But I do include the words by which he is introduced to the
reader:--

          "Juan was a troubadour revived,
    Freshening life's dusty road with babbling rills
    Of wit and song, living 'mid harnessed men
    With limbs ungalled by armour, ready so
    To soothe them weary and to cheer them sad.
    Guest at the board, companion in the camp,
    A crystal mirror to the life around:
    Flashing the comment keen of simple fact
    Defined in words; lending brief lyric voice
    To grief and sadness; hardly taking note
    Of difference betwixt his own and others';
    But, rather singing as a listener
    To the deep moans, the cries, the wildstrong joys
    Of universal Nature, old, yet young."

When Juan talks at his ease, he strikes the note of poetry much more
surely than when he lifts his voice in song:--

    "Yet if your graciousness will not disdain
    A poor plucked songster, shall he sing to you?
    _Some lay of afternoons,--some ballad strain
    Of those who ached once, but are sleeping now
    Under the sun-warmed flowers?_"

Juan's link of connection with the story is, in the first place, that he
is in love with Fedalma, and, in the second, as a piece of local colour.
His attitude with regard to Fedalma is indicated with beautiful
delicacy:--

    "O lady, constancy has kind and rank.
    One man's is lordly, plump, and bravely clad,
    Holds its head high, and tells the world its name:
    Another man's is beggared, must go bare,
    And shiver through the world, the jest of all,
    But that it puts the motley on, and plays
    Itself the jester."

Nor are his merits lost upon her, as she declares, with no small
force,--

    "No! on the close-thronged spaces of the earth
    A battle rages; Fate has carried me
    'Mid the thick arrows: I will keep my stand,--
    Nor shrink, and let the shaft pass by my breast
    To pierce another. O, 'tis written large,
    The thing I have to do. But you, dear Juan,
    Renounce, endure, are brave, unurged by aught
    Save the sweet overflow of your good-will."

In every human imbroglio, be it of a comic or a tragic nature, it is
good to think of an observer standing aloof, the critic, the idle
commentator of it all, taking notes, as we may say, in the interest of
truth. The exercise of this function is the chief ground of our interest
in Juan. Yet as a man of action, too, he once appeals most irresistibly
to our sympathies: I mean in the admirable scene with Hinda, in which he
wins back his stolen finery by his lute-playing. This scene, which is
written in prose, has a simple realistic power which renders it a truly
remarkable composition.

Of the different parts of _The Spanish Gypsy_ I have spoken with such
fullness as my space allows: it remains to add a few remarks upon the
work as a whole. Its great fault is simply that it is not a genuine
poem. It lacks the hurrying quickness, the palpitating warmth, the
bursting melody of such a creation. A genuine poem is a tree that breaks
into blossom and shakes in the wind. George Eliot's elaborate
composition is like a vast mural design in mosaic-work, where great
slabs and delicate morsels of stone are laid together with wonderful
art, where there are plenty of noble lines and generous hues, but where
everything is rigid, measured, and cold,--nothing dazzling, magical, and
vocal. The poem contains a number of faulty lines,--lines of twelve, of
eleven, and of eight syllables,--of which it is easy to suppose that a
more sacredly commissioned versifier would not have been guilty.
Occasionally, in the search for poetic effect, the author decidedly
misses her way:--

                              "All her being paused
    In resolution, _as some leonine wave_," etc.

A "leonine" wave is rather too much of a lion and too little of a wave.
The work possesses imagination, I think, in no small measure. The
description of Silva's feelings during his sojourn in the Gypsy camp is
strongly pervaded by it; or if perchance the author achieved these
passages without rising on the wings of fancy, her glory is all the
greater. But the poem is wanting in passion. The reader is annoyed by a
perpetual sense of effort and of intellectual tension. It is a
characteristic of George Eliot, I imagine, to allow her impressions to
linger a long time in her mind, so that by the time they are ready for
use they have lost much of their original freshness and vigour. They
have acquired, of course, a number of artificial charms, but they have
parted with their primal natural simplicity. In this poem we see the
landscape, the people, the manners of Spain as through a glass smoked
by the flame of meditative vigils, just as we saw the outward aspect of
Florence in _Romola_. The brightness of colouring is there, the artful
chiaroscuro, and all the consecrated properties of the scene; but they
gleam in an artificial light. The background of the action is admirable
in spots, but is cold and mechanical as a whole. The immense rhetorical
ingenuity and elegance of the work, which constitute its main
distinction, interfere with the faithful, uncompromising reflection of
the primary elements of the subject.

The great merit of the characters is that they are marvellously well
_understood_,--far better understood than in the ordinary picturesque
romance of action, adventure, and mystery. And yet they are not
understood to the bottom; they retain an indefinably factitious air,
which is not sufficiently justified by their position as ideal figures.
The reader who has attentively read the closing scene of the poem will
know what I mean. The scene shows remarkable talent; it is eloquent, it
is beautiful; but it is arbitrary and fanciful, more than
unreal,--untrue. The reader silently chafes and protests, and finally
breaks forth and cries, "O for a blast from the outer world!" Silva and
Fedalma have developed themselves so daintily and elaborately within the
close-sealed precincts of the author's mind, that they strike us at last
as acting not as simple human creatures, but as downright _amateurs_ of
the morally graceful and picturesque. To say that this is the ultimate
impression of the poem is to say that it is not a great work. It is in
fact not a great drama. It is, in the first place, an admirable study of
character,--an essay, as they say, toward the solution of a given
problem in conduct. In the second, it is a noble literary performance.
It can be read neither without interest in the former respect, nor
without profit for its signal merits of style,--and this in spite of the
fact that the versification is, as the French say, as little _réussi_ as
was to be expected in a writer beginning at a bound with a kind of verse
which is very much more difficult than even the best prose,--the
author's own prose. I shall indicate most of its merits and defects,
great and small, if I say it is a romance,--a romance written by one who
is emphatically a thinker.


II. THE LEGEND OF JUBAL AND OTHER POEMS

When the author of _Middlemarch_ published, some years since, her first
volume of verse, the reader, in trying to judge it fairly, asked himself
what he should think of it if she had never published a line of prose.
The question, perhaps, was not altogether a help to strict fairness of
judgment, but the author was protected from illiberal conclusions by the
fact that, practically, it was impossible to answer it. George Eliot
belongs to that class of pre-eminent writers in relation to whom the
imagination comes to self-consciousness only to find itself in
subjection. It was impossible to disengage one's judgment from the
permanent influence of _Adam Bede_ and its companions, and it was
necessary, from the moment that the author undertook to play the poet's
part, to feel that her genius was all of one piece.

People have often asked themselves how they would estimate Shakespeare
if they knew him only by his comedies, Homer if his name stood only for
the _Odyssey_, and Milton if he had written nothing but "Lycidas" and
the shorter pieces. The question of necessity, inevitable though it is,
leads to nothing. George Eliot is neither Homer nor Shakespeare nor
Milton; but her work, like theirs, is a massive achievement, divided
into a supremely good and a less good, and it provokes us, like theirs,
to the fruitless attempt to estimate the latter portion on its own
merits alone.

The little volume before us gives us another opportunity; but here, as
before, we find ourselves uncomfortably divided between the fear, on the
one hand, of being bribed into favour, and, on the other, of giving
short measure of it. The author's verses are a narrow manifestation of
her genius, but they are an unmistakeable manifestation. _Middlemarch_
has made us demand even finer things of her than we did before, and
whether, as patented readers of _Middlemarch_, we like "Jubal" and its
companions the less or the more, we must admit that they are
characteristic products of the same intellect.

We imagine George Eliot is quite philosopher enough, having produced her
poems mainly as a kind of experimental entertainment for her own mind,
to let them commend themselves to the public on any grounds whatever
which will help to illustrate the workings of versatile
intelligence,--as interesting failures, if nothing better. She must feel
they are interesting; an exaggerated modesty cannot deny that.

We have found them extremely so. They consist of a rhymed narrative, of
some length, of the career of Jubal, the legendary inventor of the lyre;
of a short rustic idyl in blank verse on a theme gathered in the Black
Forest of Baden; of a tale, versified in rhyme, from Boccaccio; and of a
series of dramatic scenes called "Armgart,"--the best thing, to our
sense, of the four. To these are added a few shorter pieces, chiefly in
blank verse, each of which seems to us proportionately more successful
than the more ambitious ones. Our author's verse is a mixture of
spontaneity of thought and excessive reflectiveness of expression and
its value is generally more in the idea than in the form. In whatever
George Eliot writes you have the comfortable certainty, infrequent in
other quarters, of finding an idea, and you get the substance of her
thought in the short poems, without the somewhat rigid envelope of her
poetic diction.

If we may say, broadly, that the supreme merit of a poem is in having
warmth, and that it is less and less valuable in proportion as it cools
by too long waiting upon either fastidious skill or inefficient skill,
the little group of verses entitled "Brother and Sister" deserve our
preference. They have extreme loveliness, and the feeling they so
abundantly express is of a much less intellectualised sort than that
which prevails in the other poems. It is seldom that one of our author's
compositions concludes upon so simply sentimental a note as the last
lines of "Brother and Sister":--

    "But were another childhood-world my share,
    I would be born a little sister there!"

This will be interesting to many readers as proceeding more directly
from the writer's personal experience than anything else they remember.
George Eliot's is a personality so enveloped in the mists of reflection
that it is an uncommon sensation to find one's self in immediate contact
with it. This charming poem, too, throws a grateful light on some of the
best pages the author has written,--those in which she describes her
heroine's childish years in _The Mill on the Floss_. The finest thing
in that admirable novel has always been, to our taste, not its
portrayal of the young girl's love-struggles as regards her lover, but
those as regards her brother. The former are fiction,--skilful fiction;
but the latter are warm reality, and the merit of the verses we speak of
is that they are coloured from the same source.

In "Stradivarius," the famous old violin-maker affirms in every pregnant
phrase the supreme duty of being perfect in one's labour, and lays down
the dictum, which should be the first article in every artist's faith:--

                  "'Tis God gives skill,
    But not without men's hands: He could not make
    Antonio Stradivari's violins
    Without Antonio."

This is the only really inspiring working-creed, and our author's
utterance of it justifies her claim to having the distinctively artistic
mind, more forcibly than her not infrequent shortcomings in the
direction of an artistic _ensemble_.

Many persons will probably pronounce "A Minor Prophet" the gem of this
little collection, and it is certainly interesting, for a great many
reasons. It may seem to characterise the author on a number of sides. It
illustrates vividly, in the extraordinary ingenuity and flexibility of
its diction, her extreme provocation to indulge in the verbal licence
of verse. It reads almost like a close imitation of Browning, the great
master of the poetical grotesque, except that it observes a discretion
which the poet of _Red-Cotton Night-caps_ long ago threw overboard. When
one can say neat things with such rhythmic felicity, why not attempt it,
even if one has at one's command the magnificent vehicle of the style of
_Middlemarch_?

The poem is a kindly satire upon the views and the person of an American
vegetarian, a certain Elias Baptist Butterworth,--a gentleman,
presumably, who under another name, as an evening caller, has not a
little retarded the flight of time for the author. Mr. Browning has
written nothing better than the account of the Butterworthian "Thought
Atmosphere":--

    "And when all earth is vegetarian,
    When, lacking butchers, quadrupeds die out,
    And less Thought-atmosphere is re-absorbed
    By nerves of insects parasitical,
    Those higher truths, seized now by higher minds,
    But not expressed (the insects hindering),
    Will either flash out into eloquence,
    Or, better still, be comprehensible,
    By rappings simply, without need of roots."

The author proceeds to give a sketch of the beatific state of things
under the vegetarian _régime_ prophesied by her friend in

        "Mildly nasal tones,
    And vowels stretched to suit the widest views."

How, for instance,

        "Sahara will be populous
    With families of gentlemen retired
    From commerce in more Central Africa,
    Who order coolness, as we order coal,
    And have a lobe anterior strong enough
    To think away the sand-storms."

Or how, as water is probably a non-conductor of the Thought-atmosphere,

    "Fishes may lead carnivorous lives obscure,
    But must not dream of culinary rank
    Or being dished in good society."

Then follows the author's own melancholy head-shake and her reflections
on the theme that there can be no easy millennium, and that

                                          "Bitterly
    I feel that every change upon this earth
    Is bought with sacrifice";

and that, even if Mr. Butterworth's axioms were not too good to be true,
one might deprecate them in the interest of that happiness which is
associated with error that is deeply familiar. Human improvement, she
concludes, is something both larger and smaller than the vegetarian
bliss, and consists less in a realised perfection than in the sublime
dissatisfaction of generous souls with the shortcomings of the actual.
All this is unfolded in verse which, if without the absolute pulse of
spontaneity, has at least something that closely resembles it. It has
very fine passages.

Very fine, too, both in passages and as a whole, is "The Legend of
Jubal." It is noteworthy, by the way, that three of these poems are on
themes connected with music; and yet we remember no representation of a
musician among the multitudinous figures which people the author's
novels. But George Eliot, we take it, has the musical sense in no small
degree, and the origin of melody and harmony is here described in some
very picturesque and sustained poetry.

Jubal invents the lyre and teaches his companions and his tribe how to
use it, and then goes forth to wander in quest of new musical
inspiration. In this pursuit he grows patriarchally old, and at last
makes his way back to his own people. He finds them, greatly advanced in
civilisation, celebrating what we should call nowadays his centennial,
and making his name the refrain of their songs. He goes in among them
and declares himself, but they receive him as a lunatic, and buffet him,
and thrust him out into the wilderness again, where he succumbs to their
unconscious ingratitude.

    "The immortal name of Jubal filled the sky,
    While Jubal, lonely, laid him down to die."

In his last hour he has a kind of metaphysical vision which consoles
him, and enables him to die contented. A mystic voice assures him that
he has no cause for complaint; that his use to mankind was everything,
and his credit and glory nothing; that being rich in his genius, it was
his part to give, gratuitously, to unendowed humanity; and that the
knowledge of his having become a part of man's joy, and an image in
man's soul, should reconcile him to the prospect of lying senseless in
the tomb. Jubal assents, and expires.

              "A quenched sun-wave,
    The all-creating Presence for his grave."

This is very noble and heroic doctrine, and is enforced in verse not
unworthy of it for having a certain air of strain and effort; for surely
it is not doctrine that the egoistic heart rises to without some
experimental flutter of the wings. It is the expression of a pessimistic
philosophy which pivots upon itself only in the face of a really
formidable ultimatum. We cordially accept it, however, and are tolerably
confident that the artist in general, in his death-throes, will find
less repose in the idea of a heavenly compensation for earthly neglect
than in the certainty that humanity is really assimilating his
productions.

"Agatha" is slighter in sentiment than its companions, and has the vague
aroma of an idea rather than the positive weight of thought. It is very
graceful. "How Lisa loved the King" seems to us to have, more than its
companions, the easy flow and abundance of prime poetry; it wears a
reflection of the incomparable naturalness of its model in the
_Decameron_. "Armgart" we have found extremely interesting, although
perhaps it offers plainest proof of what the author sacrifices in
renouncing prose. The drama, in prose, would have been vividly dramatic,
while, as it stands, we have merely a situation contemplated, rather
than unfolded, in a dramatic light. A great singer loses her voice, and
a patronising nobleman, who, before the calamity, had wished her to
become his wife, retire from the stage, and employ her genius for the
beguilement of private life, finds that he has urgent business in
another neighbourhood, and that he has not the mission to espouse her
misfortune. Armgart rails tremendously at fate, often in very striking
phrase. The Count of course, in bidding her farewell, has hoped that
time will soften her disappointment:--

    "That empty cup so neatly ciphered, 'Time,'
    Handed me as a cordial for despair.
    Time--what a word to fling in charity!
    Bland, neutral word for slow, dull-beating pain,--
    Days, months, and years!"

We must refer the reader to the poem itself for knowledge how
resignation comes to so bitter a pain as the mutilation of conscious
genius. It comes to Armgart because she is a very superior girl; and
though her outline, here, is at once rather sketchy and rather rigid,
she may be added to that group of magnificently generous women,--the
Dinahs, the Maggies, the Romolas, the Dorotheas,--the representation of
whom is our author's chief title to our gratitude. But in spite of
Armgart's resignation, the moral atmosphere of the poem, like that of
most of the others and like that of most of George Eliot's writings, is
an almost gratuitously sad one.

It would take more space than we can command to say how it is that at
this and at other points our author strikes us as a spirit mysteriously
perverted from her natural temper. We have a feeling that, both
intellectually and morally, her genius is essentially of a simpler order
than most of her recent manifestations of it. Intellectually, it has run
to epigram and polished cleverness, and morally to a sort of conscious
and ambitious scepticism, with which it only half commingles. The
interesting thing would be to trace the moral divergence from the
characteristic type. At bottom, according to this notion, the author of
_Romola_ and _Middlemarch_ has an ardent desire and faculty for
positive, active, constructive belief of the old-fashioned kind, but she
has fallen upon a critical age and felt its contagion and dominion. If,
with her magnificent gifts, she had been borne by the mighty general
current in the direction of passionate faith, we often think that she
would have achieved something incalculably great.



THE LIMITATIONS OF DICKENS


     A review of _Our Mutual Friend_. By Charles Dickens. New York:
     Harper Brothers. 1865. Originally published in _The Nation_,
     December 21, 1865.



THE LIMITATIONS OF DICKENS


_Our Mutual Friend_ is, to our perception, the poorest of Mr. Dickens's
works. And it is poor with the poverty not of momentary embarrassment,
but of permanent exhaustion. It is wanting in inspiration. For the last
ten years it has seemed to us that Mr. Dickens has been unmistakeably
forcing himself. _Bleak House_ was forced; _Little Dorrit_ was laboured;
the present work is dug out as with a spade and pickaxe.

Of course--to anticipate the usual argument--who but Dickens could have
written it? Who, indeed? Who else would have established a lady in
business in a novel on the admirably solid basis of her always putting
on gloves and tying a handkerchief around her head in moments of grief,
and of her habitually addressing her family with "Peace! hold!" It is
needless to say that Mrs. Reginald Wilfer is first and last the occasion
of considerable true humour. When, after conducting her daughter to Mrs.
Boffin's carriage, in sight of all the envious neighbours, she is
described as enjoying her triumph during the next quarter of an hour by
airing herself on the doorstep "in a kind of splendidly serene trance,"
we laugh with as uncritical a laugh as could be desired of us. We pay
the same tribute to her assertions, as she narrates the glories of the
society she enjoyed at her father's table, that she has known as many as
three copper-plate engravers exchanging the most exquisite sallies and
retorts there at one time. But when to these we have added a dozen more
happy examples of the humour which was exhaled from every line of Mr.
Dickens's earlier writings, we shall have closed the list of the merits
of the work before us.

To say that the conduct of the story, with all its complications,
betrays a long-practised hand, is to pay no compliment worthy the
author. If this were, indeed, a compliment, we should be inclined to
carry it further, and congratulate him on his success in what we should
call the manufacture of fiction; for in so doing we should express a
feeling that has attended us throughout the book. Seldom, we reflected,
had we read a book so intensely _written_, so little seen, known, or
felt.

In all Mr. Dickens's works the fantastic has been his great resource;
and while his fancy was lively and vigorous it accomplished great
things. But the fantastic, when the fancy is dead, is a very poor
business. The movement of Mr. Dickens's fancy in Mr. Wilfer and Mr.
Boffin and Lady Tippins, and the Lammles and Miss Wren, and even in
Eugene Wrayburn, is, to our mind, a movement lifeless, forced,
mechanical. It is the letter of his old humour without the spirit. It is
hardly too much to say that every character here put before us is a mere
bundle of eccentricities, animated by no principle of nature whatever.

In former days there reigned in Mr. Dickens's extravagances a
comparative consistency; they were exaggerated statements of types that
really existed. We had, perhaps, never known a Newman Noggs, nor a
Pecksniff, nor a Micawber; but we had known persons of whom these
figures were but the strictly logical consummation. But among the
grotesque creatures who occupy the pages before us, there is not one
whom we can refer to as an existing type. In all Mr. Dickens's stories,
indeed, the reader has been called upon, and has willingly consented, to
accept a certain number of figures or creatures of pure fancy, for this
was the author's poetry. He was, moreover, always repaid for his
concession by a peculiar beauty or power in these exceptional
characters. But he is now expected to make the same concession, with a
very inadequate reward.

What do we get in return for accepting Miss Jenny Wren as a possible
person? This young lady is the type of a certain class of characters of
which Mr. Dickens has made a specialty, and with which he has been
accustomed to draw alternate smiles and tears, according as he pressed
one spring or another. But this is very cheap merriment and very cheap
pathos. Miss Jenny Wren is a poor little dwarf, afflicted as she
constantly reiterates, with a "bad back" and "queer legs," who makes
doll's dresses, and is for ever pricking at those with whom she
converses in the air, with her needle, and assuring them that she knows
their "tricks and their manners." Like all Mr. Dickens's pathetic
characters, she is a little monster; she is deformed, unhealthy,
unnatural; she belongs to the troop of hunchbacks, imbeciles, and
precocious children who have carried on the sentimental business in all
Mr. Dickens's novels; the little Nells, the Smikes, the Paul Dombeys.

Mr. Dickens goes as far out of the way for his wicked people as he does
for his good ones. Rogue Riderhood, indeed, in the present story, is
villainous with a sufficiently natural villainy; he belongs to that
quarter of society in which the author is most at his ease. But was
there ever such wickedness as that of the Lammles and Mr. Fledgeby? Not
that people have not been as mischievous as they; but was any one ever
mischievous in that singular fashion? Did a couple of elegant swindlers
ever take such particular pains to be aggressively inhuman?--for we can
find no other word for the gratuitous distortions to which they are
subjected. The word _humanity_ strikes us as strangely discordant, in
the midst of these pages; for, let us boldly declare it, there is no
humanity here.

Humanity is nearer home than the Boffins, and the Lammles, and the
Wilfers, and the Veneerings. It is in what men have in common with each
other, and not what they have in distinction. The people just named have
nothing in common with each other, except the fact that they have
nothing in common with mankind at large. What a world were this world if
the world of _Our Mutual Friend_ were an honest reflection of it! But a
community of eccentrics is impossible. Rules alone are consistent with
each other; exceptions are inconsistent. Society is maintained by
natural sense and natural feeling. We cannot conceive a society in which
these principles are not in some manner represented. Where in these
pages are the depositaries of that intelligence without which the
movement of life would cease? Who represents nature?

Accepting half of Mr. Dickens's persons as intentionally grotesque,
where are those examplars of sound humanity who should afford us the
proper measure of their companions' variations? We ought not, in justice
to the author, to seek them among his weaker--that is, his mere
conventional--characters; in John Harmon, Lizzie Hexam, or Mortimer
Lightwood; but we assuredly cannot find them among his stronger--that
is, his artificial creations.

Suppose we take Eugene Wrayburn and Bradley Headstone. They occupy a
half-way position between the habitual probable of nature and the
habitual impossible of Mr. Dickens. A large portion of the story rests
upon the enmity borne by Headstone to Wrayburn, both being in love with
the same woman. Wrayburn is a gentleman, and Headstone is one of the
people. Wrayburn is well-bred, careless, elegant, sceptical, and idle:
Headstone is a high-tempered, hard-working, ambitious young
schoolmaster. There lay in the opposition of these two characters a very
good story. But the prime requisite was that they should _be_
characters: Mr. Dickens, according to his usual plan, has made them
simply figures, and between them the story that was to be, the story
that should have been, has evaporated. Wrayburn lounges about with his
hands in his pockets, smoking a cigar, and talking nonsense. Headstone
strides about, clenching his fists and biting his lips and grasping his
stick.

There is one scene in which Wrayburn chaffs the schoolmaster with easy
insolence, while the latter writhes impotently under his well-bred
sarcasm. This scene is very clever, but it is very insufficient. If the
majority of readers were not so very timid in the use of words we should
call it vulgar. By this we do not mean to indicate the conventional
impropriety of two gentlemen exchanging lively personalities; we mean to
emphasise the essentially small character of these personalities. In
other words, the moment, dramatically, is great, while the author's
conception is weak. The friction of two _men_, of two characters, of two
passions, produces stronger sparks than Wrayburn's boyish repartees and
Headstone's melodramatic commonplaces.

Such scenes as this are useful in fixing the limits of Mr. Dickens's
insight. Insight is, perhaps, too strong a word; for we are convinced
that it is one of the chief conditions of his genius not to see beneath
the surface of things. If we might hazard a definition of his literary
character, we should, accordingly, call him the greatest of superficial
novelists. We are aware that this definition confines him to an inferior
rank in the department of letters which he adorns; but we accept this
consequence of our proposition. It were, in our opinion, an offence
against humanity to place Mr. Dickens among the greatest novelists. For,
to repeat what we have already intimated, he has created nothing but
figure. He has added nothing to our understanding of human character. He
is master of but two alternatives: he reconciles us to what is
commonplace, and he reconciles us to what is odd. The value of the
former service is questionable; and the manner in which Mr. Dickens
performs it sometimes conveys a certain impression of charlatanism. The
value of the latter service is incontestable, and here Mr. Dickens is an
honest, an admirable artist.

But what is the condition of the truly great novelist? For him there are
no alternatives, for him there are no oddities, for him there is nothing
outside of humanity. He cannot shirk it; it imposes itself upon him. For
him alone, therefore, there is a true and a false; for him alone, it is
possible to be right, because it is possible to be wrong. Mr. Dickens is
a great observer and a great humourist, but he is nothing of a
philosopher.

Some people may hereupon say, so much the better; we say, so much the
worse. For a novelist very soon has need of a little philosophy. In
treating of Micawber, and Boffin, and Pickwick, _et hoc genus omne_, he
can, indeed, dispense with it, for this--we say it with all
deference--is not serious writing. But when he comes to tell the story
of a passion, a story like that of Headstone and Wrayburn, he becomes a
moralist as well as an artist. He must know _man_ as well as _men_, and
to know man is to be a philosopher.

The writer who knows men alone, if he have Mr. Dickens's humour and
fancy, will give us figures and pictures for which we cannot be too
grateful, for he will enlarge our knowledge of the world. But when he
introduces men and women whose interest is preconceived to lie not in
the poverty, the weakness, the drollery of their natures, but in their
complete and unconscious subjection to ordinary and healthy human
emotions, all his humour, all his fancy, will avail him nothing if, out
of the fullness of his sympathy, he is unable to prosecute those
generalisations in which alone consists the real greatness of a work of
art.

This may sound like very subtle talk about a very simple matter. It is
rather very simple talk about a very subtle matter. A story based upon
those elementary passions in which alone we seek the true and final
manifestation of character must be told in a spirit of intellectual
superiority to those passions. That is, the author must understand what
he is talking about. The perusal of a story so told is one of the most
elevating experiences within the reach of the human mind. The perusal of
a story which is not so told is infinitely depressing and
unprofitable.



TENNYSON'S DRAMA


     I. A review of _Queen Mary_. _A Drama._ By Alfred Tennyson. Boston:
     J. R. Osgood. 1875. Originally published in _The Galaxy_,
     September, 1875.

     _Queen Mary_ was produced at the Lyceum Theatre, London, in 1876.
     Mr. Irving playing the part of Philip II. It was Tennyson's wish
     that he should appear as Cardinal Pole, but in the acting version
     that character was eliminated. The part of Philip has been
     immortalized by Whistler's celebrated painting of Irving in that
     rôle. ED.

     II. A review of _Harold_. _A Drama._ By Alfred Tennyson. London.
     1877. Originally published in _The Nation_, January 18, 1877.



TENNYSON'S DRAMA


I. QUEEN MARY

A new poem by Mr. Tennyson is certain to be largely criticised, and if
the new poem is a drama, the performance must be a great event for
criticism as well as for poetry. Great surprise, great hopes, and great
fears had been called into being by the announcement that the author of
so many finely musical lyrics and finished, chiselled specimens of
narrative verse, had tempted fortune in the perilous field of the drama.

Few poets seemed less dramatic than Tennyson, even in his most dramatic
attempts--in "Maud," in "Enoch Arden," or in certain of the _Idyls of
the King_. He had never used the dramatic form, even by snatches; and
though no critic was qualified to affirm that he had no slumbering
ambition in that direction, it seemed likely that a poet who had
apparently passed the meridian of his power had nothing absolutely new
to show us. On the other hand, if he had for years been keeping a gift
in reserve, and suffering it to ripen and mellow in some deep corner of
his genius, while shallower tendencies waxed and waned above it, it was
not unjust to expect that the consummate fruit would prove magnificent.

On the whole, we think that doubt was uppermost in the minds of those
persons who to a lively appreciation of the author of "Maud" added a
vivid conception of the exigencies of the drama. But at last _Queen
Mary_ appeared, and conjecture was able to merge itself in knowledge.
There was a momentary interval, during which we all read, among the
cable telegrams in the newspapers, that the London _Times_ affirmed the
new drama to contain more "true fire" than anything since Shakespeare
had laid down the pen. This gave an edge to our impatience; for "fire,"
true or false, was not what the Laureate's admirers had hitherto claimed
for him. In a day or two, however, most people had the work in their
hands.

Every one, it seems to us, has been justified--those who hoped (that is,
expected), those who feared, and those who were mainly surprised. _Queen
Mary_ is both better and less good than was to have been supposed, and
both in its merits and its defects it is extremely singular. It is the
least Tennysonian of all the author's productions; and we may say that
he has not so much refuted as evaded the charge that he is not a
dramatic poet. To produce his drama he has had to cease to be himself.
Even if _Queen Mary_, as a drama, had many more than its actual faults,
this fact alone--this extraordinary defeasance by the poet of his
familiar identity--would make it a remarkable work.

We know of few similar phenomena in the history of literature--few such
examples of rupture with a consecrated past. Poets in their prime have
groped and experimented, tried this and that, and finally made a great
success in a very different vein from that in which they had found their
early successes. But the writers in prose or in verse are few who, after
a lifetime spent in elaborating and perfecting a certain definite and
extremely characteristic manner, have at Mr. Tennyson's age suddenly
dismissed it from use and stood forth clad from head to foot in a
disguise without a flaw. We are sure that the other great English
poet--the author of "The Ring and the Book,"--would be quite incapable
of any such feat. The more's the pity, as many of his readers will say!

_Queen Mary_ is upward of three hundred pages long; and yet in all these
three hundred pages there is hardly a trace of the Tennyson we know. Of
course the reader is on the watch for reminders of the writer he has
greatly loved; and of course, vivid signs being absent, he finds a
certain eloquence in the slightest intimations. When he reads that

                        ----"that same tide
    Which, coming with our coming, seemed to smile
    And sparkle like our fortune as thou saidest,
    Ran sunless down and moaned against the piers,"

he seems for a moment to detect the peculiar note and rhythm of "Enoch
Arden" or "The Princess." Just preceding these, indeed, is a line which
seems Tennysonian because it is in a poem by Tennyson:

    "Last night I climbed into the gate-house, Brett,
    And scared the gray old porter and his wife."

In such touches as these the Tennysonian note is faintly struck; but if
the poem were unsigned, they would not do much toward pointing out the
author. On the other hand, the fine passages in _Queen Mary_ are
conspicuously deficient in those peculiar cadences--that exquisite
perfume of diction--which every young poet of the day has had his hour
of imitating. We may give as an example Pole's striking denial of the
charge that the Church of Rome has ever known trepidation:

                        "What, my Lord!
    The Church on Petra's rock? Never! I have seen
    A pine in Italy that cast its shadow
    Athwart a cataract; firm stood the pine--
    The cataract shook the shadow. To my mind
    The cataract typed the headlong plunge and fall
    Of heresy to the pit: the pine was Rome.
    You see, my Lords,
    It was the shadow of the Church that trembled."

This reads like Tennyson doing his best not to be Tennyson, and very
fairly succeeding. Well as he succeeds, however, and admirably skilful
and clever as is his attempt throughout to play tricks with his old
habits of language, and prove that he was not the slave but the master
of the classic Tennysonian rhythm, I think that few readers can fail to
ask themselves whether the new gift is of equal value with the old. The
question will perhaps set them to fingering over the nearest volume of
the poet at hand, to refresh their memory of his ancient magic. It has
rendered the present writer this service, and he feels as if it were a
considerable one. Every great poet has something that he does supremely
well, and when you come upon Tennyson at his best you feel that you are
dealing with poetry at its highest. One of the best passages in _Queen
Mary_--the only one, it seems to me, very sensibly warmed by the "fire"
commemorated by the London _Times_--is the passionate monologue of Mary
when she feels what she supposes to be the intimations of maternity:

    "He hath awaked, he hath awaked!
    He stirs within the darkness!
    Oh Philip, husband! how thy love to mine
    Will cling more close, and those bleak manners thaw,
    That make me shamed and tongue-tied in my love.
    The second Prince of Peace--
    The great unborn defender of the Faith,
    Who will avenge me of mine enemies--
    He comes, and my star rises.
    The stormy Wyatts and Northumberlands
    And proud ambitions of Elizabeth,
    And all her fiercest partisans, are pale
    Before my star!
    His sceptre shall go forth from Ind to Ind!
    His sword shall hew the heretic peoples down!
    His faith shall clothe the world that will be his,
    Like universal air and sunshine! Open,
    Ye everlasting gates! The King is here!--
    My star, my son!"

That is very fine, and its broken verses and uneven movement have great
felicity and suggestiveness. But their magic is as nothing, surely, to
the magic of such a passage as this:

    "Yet hold me not for ever in thine East;
    How can my nature longer mix with thine?
    Coldly thy rosy shadows bathe me, cold
    Are all thy lights, and cold my wrinkled feet
    Upon thy glimmering thresholds, where the stream
    Floats up from those dim fields about the homes
    Of happy men that have the power to die,
    And grassy barrows of the happier dead.
    Release me and restore me to the ground;
    Thou seëst all things, thou wilt see my grave;
    Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn;
    I, earth in earth, forget these empty courts,
    And thee returning on thy silver wheels."

In these beautiful lines from "Tithonus" there is a purity of tone, an
inspiration, a something sublime and exquisite, which is easily within
the compass of Mr. Tennyson's usual manner at its highest, but which is
not easily achieved by any really dramatic verse. It is poised and
stationary, like a bird whose wings have borne him high, but the beauty
of whose movement is less in great ethereal sweeps and circles than in
the way he hangs motionless in the blue air, with only a vague tremor of
his pinions. Even if the idea with Tennyson were more largely dramatic
than it usually is, the immobility, as we must call it, of his phrase
would always defeat the dramatic intention. When he wishes to represent
movement, the phrase always seems to me to pause and slowly pivot upon
itself, or at most to move backward. I do not know whether the reader
recognizes the peculiarity to which I allude; one has only to open
Tennyson almost at random to find an example of it:

    "For once when Arthur, walking all alone,
    Vext at a rumour rife about the Queen,
    Had met her, Vivien being greeted fair,
    Would fain have wrought upon his cloudy mood
    With reverent eyes mock-loyal, shaken voice,
    And fluttered adoration."

That perhaps is a subtle illustration; the allusion to Teolin's dog in
"Aylmer's Field" is a franker one:

    ----"his old Newfoundlands, when they ran
    To lose him at the stables; for he rose,
    Two-footed, at the limit of his chain,
    Roaring to make a third."

What these pictures present is not the action itself, but the poet's
complex perception of it; it seems hardly more vivid and genuine than
the sustained posturings of brilliant _tableaux vivants_. With the poets
who are natural chroniclers of movement, the words fall into their
places as with some throw of the dice, which fortune should always
favour. With Scott and Byron they leap into the verse _à pieds joints_,
and shake it with their coming; with Tennyson they arrive slowly and
settle cautiously into their attitudes, after having well scanned the
locality. In consequence they are generally exquisite, and make
exquisite combinations; but the result is intellectual poetry and not
passionate--poetry which, if the term is not too pedantic, one may
qualify as static poetry. Any scene of violence represented by Tennyson
is always singularly limited and compressed; it is reduced to a few
elements--refined to a single statuesque episode. There are, for
example, several descriptions of tournaments and combats in the _Idyls
of the King_. They are all most beautiful, but they are all curiously
delicate. One gets no sense of the din and shock of battle; one seems to
be looking at a bas relief of two contesting knights in chiselled
silver, on a priceless piece of plate. They belong to the same family as
that charming description, in Hawthorne's _Marble Faun_, of the sylvan
dance of Donatello and Miriam in the Borghese gardens. Hawthorne talks
of the freedom and frankness of their mirth and revelry; what we seem to
see is a solemn frieze in stone along the base of a monument. These are
the natural fruits of geniuses who are of the brooding rather than the
impulsive order. I do not mean to say that here and there Tennyson does
not give us a couplet in which motion seems reflected without being made
to tarry. I open "Enoch Arden" at hazard, and I read of Enoch's ship
that

                            ----"at first indeed
    Thro' many a fair sea-circle, day by day,
    Scarce rocking, her full-busted figure-head
    Stared o'er the ripple feathering from her bows."

I turn the page and read of

    "The myriad shriek of wheeling ocean fowl,
    The league-long roller thundering on the reef,
    The moving whisper of huge trees that branched
    And blossomed in the zenith";

of

    "The sunrise broken into scarlet shafts
    Among the palms and ferns and precipices;
    The blaze upon the waters to the east;
    The blaze upon his island overhead;
    The blaze upon the waters to the west;
    Then the great stars that globed themselves in Heaven,
    The hollower-bellowing Ocean, and again
    The scarlet shafts of sunrise."

These lines represent movement on the grand natural scale--taking place
in that measured, majestic fashion which, at any given moment, seems
identical with permanence. One is almost ashamed to quote Tennyson; one
can hardly lay one's hand on a passage that does not form part of the
common stock of reference and recitation. Passages of the more impulsive
and spontaneous kind will of course chiefly be found in his lyrics and
rhymed verses (though rhyme would at first seem but another check upon
his freedom); and passages of the kind to which I have been calling
attention, chiefly in his narrative poems, in the _Idyls_ generally, and
especially in the later ones, while the words strike one as having been
pondered and collated with an almost miserly care.

But a man has always the qualities of his defects, and if Tennyson is
what I have called a static poet, he at least represents repose and
stillness and the fixedness of things, with a splendour that no poet
has surpassed. We all of this generation have lived in such intimacy
with him, and made him so much part of our regular intellectual meat and
drink, that it requires a certain effort to hold him off at the proper
distance for scanning him. We need to cease mechanically murmuring his
lines, so that we may hear them speak for themselves.

Few persons who have grown up within the last forty years but have
passed through the regular Tennysonian phase; happy few who have paid it
a merely passive tribute, and not been moved to commit their emotions to
philosophic verse, in the metre of "In Memoriam"! The phase has lasted
longer with some persons than with others; but it will not be denied
that with the generation at large it has visibly declined. The young
persons of twenty now read Tennyson (though, as we imagine, with a
fervour less intense than that which prevailed twenty years ago); but
the young persons of thirty read Browning and Dante Rossetti, and Omar
Kheyam--and are also sometimes heard to complain that poetry is dead and
that there is nothing nowadays to read.

We have heard Tennyson called "dainty" so often, we have seen so many
allusions to the "Tennysonian trick," we have been so struck, in a
certain way, with M. Taine's remarkable portrait of the poet, in
contrast to that of Alfred de Musset, that every one who has anything of
a notion of keeping abreast of what is called the "culture of the time"
is rather shy of making an explicit, or even a serious profession of
admiration for his earlier idol. It has long been the fashion to praise
Byron, if one praises him at all, with an apologetic smile; and Tennyson
has been, I think, in a measure, tacitly classed with the author of
"Childe Harold" as a poet whom one thinks most of while one's taste is
immature.

This is natural enough, I suppose, and the taste of the day must travel
to its opportunity's end. But I do not believe that Byron has passed, by
any means, and I do not think that Tennyson has been proved to be a
secondary or a tertiary poet. If he is not in the front rank, it is hard
to see what it is that constitutes exquisite quality. There are poets of
a larger compass; he has not the passion of Shelley nor the transcendent
meditation of Wordsworth; but his inspiration, in its own current, is
surely as pure as theirs. He depicts the assured beauties of life, the
things that civilisation has gained and permeated, and he does it with
an ineffable delicacy of imagination. Only once, as it seems to me (at
the close of "Maud"), has he struck the note of irrepressible emotion,
and appeared to say the thing that must be said at the moment, at any
cost. For the rest, his verse is the verse of leisure, of luxury, of
contemplation, of a faculty that circumstances have helped to become
fastidious; but this leaves it a wide province--a province that it fills
with a sovereign splendour.

When a poet is such an artist as Tennyson, such an unfaltering,
consummate master, it is no shame to surrender one's self to his spell.
Reading him over here and there, as I have been doing, I have received
an extraordinary impression of talent--talent ripened and refined, and
passed, with a hundred incantations, through the crucible of taste. The
reader is in thoroughly good company, and if the language is to a
certain extent that of a coterie, the coterie can offer convincing
evidence of its right to be exclusive. Its own tone is exquisite; listen
to it, and you will desire nothing more.

Tennyson's various _Idyls_ have been in some degree discredited by
insincere imitations, and in some degree, perhaps, by an inevitable
lapse of sympathy on the part of some people from what appears their
falsetto pitch. That King Arthur, in the great ones of the series, is
rather a prig, and that he couldn't have been all the poet represents
him without being a good deal of a hypocrite; that the poet himself is
too monotonously unctuous, and that in relating the misdeeds of
Launcelot and Guinevere he seems, like the lady in the play in "Hamlet,"
to "protest too much" for wholesomeness--all this has been often said,
and said with abundant force. But there is a way of reading the
_Idyls_, one and all, and simply enjoying them. It has been, just now,
the way of the writer of these lines; he does not exactly know what may
be gained by taking the other way, but he feels as if there were a
pitiful loss in not taking this one. If one surrenders one's sense to
their perfect picturesqueness, it is the most charming poetry in the
world. The prolonged, delicate, exquisite sustentation of the pictorial
tone seems to me a marvel of ingenuity and fancy. It appeals to a highly
cultivated sense, but what enjoyment is so keen as that of the
cultivated sense when its finer nerve is really touched? The _Idyls_ all
belong to the poetry of association; but before they were written we had
yet to learn how finely association could be analysed, and how softly
its chords could be played upon. When Enoch Arden came back from his
desert island,

    "He like a lover down through all his blood
    Drew in the dewy, meadowy morning breath
    Of England, blown across her ghostly wall."

Tennyson's solid verbal felicities, his unerring sense of the romantic,
his acute perception of everything in nature that may contribute to his
fund of exquisite imagery, his refinement, his literary tone, his aroma
of English lawns and English libraries, the whole happy chance of his
selection of the Arthurian legends--all this, and a dozen minor graces
which it would take almost his own "daintiness" to formulate, make him,
it seems to me, the most charming of the _entertaining_ poets. It is as
an entertaining poet I chiefly think of him; his morality, at moments,
is certainly importunate enough, but elevated as it is, it never seems
to me of so fine a distillation as his imagery. As a didactic creation I
do not greatly care for King Arthur; but as a fantastic one he is
infinitely remunerative. He is doubtless not, as an intellectual
conception, massive enough to be called a great figure; but he is,
picturesquely, so admirably self-consistent, that the reader's
imagination is quite willing to turn its back, if need be, on his
judgment, and give itself up to idle enjoyment.

As regards Tennyson's imagery, anything that one quotes in illustration
is, as I have said, certain to be extremely familiar; but even
familiarity can hardly dull the beauty of such a touch as that about
Merlin's musings:

    "So dark a forethought rolled about his brain,
    As on a dull day in an Ocean cave
    The blind wave feeling round his long sea-hall
    In silence."

Or of that which puts in vivid form the estrangement of Enid and
Geraint:

                              "The two remained
    Apart by all the chamber's width, and mute
    As creatures voiceless through the fault of birth,
    Or two wild men, supporters of a shield,
    Painted, who stare at open space, nor glance
    The one at other, parted by the shield."

Happy, in short, the poet who can offer his heroine for her dress

        ----"a splendid silk of foreign loom,
    Where, like a shoaling sea, the lovely blue
    Played into green."

I have touched here only upon Tennyson's narrative poems, because they
seemed most in order in any discussion of the author's dramatic faculty.
They cannot be said to place it in an eminent light, and they remind one
more of the courage than of the discretion embodied in _Queen Mary_.
Lovely pictures of things standing, with a sort of conscious stillness,
for their poetic likeness, measured speeches, full of delicate harmonies
and curious cadences--these things they contain in plenty, but little of
that liberal handling of cross-speaking passion and humour which, with a
strong constructive faculty, we regard as the sign of a genuine
dramatist.

The dramatic form seems to me of all literary forms the very noblest, I
have so extreme a relish for it that I am half afraid to trust myself to
praise it, lest I should seem to be merely rhapsodizing. But to be
really noble it must be quite itself, and between a poor drama and a
fine one there is, I think, a wider interval than anywhere else in the
scale of success. A sequence of speeches headed by proper names--a
string of dialogues broken into acts and scenes--does not constitute a
drama; not even when the speeches are very clever and the dialogue
bristles with "points."

The fine thing in a real drama, generally speaking, is that, more than
any other work of literary art, it needs a masterly structure. It needs
to be shaped and fashioned and laid together, and this process makes a
demand upon an artist's rarest gifts. He must combine and arrange,
interpolate and eliminate, play the joiner with the most attentive
skill; and yet at the end effectually bury his tools and his sawdust,
and invest his elaborate skeleton with the smoothest and most polished
integument. The five-act drama--serious or humourous, poetic or
prosaic--is like a box of fixed dimensions and inelastic material, into
which a mass of precious things are to be packed away. It is a problem
in ingenuity and a problem of the most interesting kind. The precious
things in question seem out of all proportion to the compass of the
receptacle; but the artist has an assurance that with patience and skill
a place may be made for each, and that nothing need be clipped or
crumpled, squeezed or damaged. The false dramatist either knocks out
the sides of his box, or plays the deuce with the contents; the real one
gets down on his knees, disposes of his goods tentatively, this, that,
and the other way, loses his temper but keeps his ideal, and at last
rises in triumph, having packed his coffer in the one way that is
mathematically right. It closes perfectly, and the lock turns with a
click; between one object and another you cannot insert the point of a
penknife.

To work successfully beneath a few grave, rigid laws, is always a strong
man's highest ideal of success. The reader cannot be sure how deeply
conscious Mr. Tennyson has been of the laws of the drama, but it would
seem as if he had not very attentively pondered them. In a play,
certainly, the subject is of more importance than in any other work of
art. Infelicity, triviality, vagueness of subject, may be outweighed in
a poem, a novel, or a picture, by charm of manner, by ingenuity of
execution; but in a drama the subject is of the essence of the work--it
_is_ the work. If it is feeble, the work can have no force; if it is
shapeless, the work must be amorphous.

_Queen Mary_, I think, has this fundamental weakness; it would be very
hard to say what its subject is. Strictly speaking, the drama has none.
To the statement, "It is the reign of the elder daughter of Henry
VIII.," it seems to me very nearly fair to reply that that is not a
subject. I do not mean to say that a consummate dramatist could not
resolve it into one, but the presumption is altogether against it. It
cannot be called an intrigue, nor treated as one; it tends altogether to
expansion; whereas a genuine dramatic subject should tend to
concentration.

Madame Ristori, that accomplished tragédienne, has for some years been
carrying about the world with her a piece of writing, punctured here and
there with curtain-falls, which she presents to numerous audiences as a
tragedy embodying the history of Queen Elizabeth. The thing is worth
mentioning only as an illustration; it is from the hand of a prolific
Italian purveyor of such wares, and is as bad as need be. Many of the
persons who read these lines will have seen it, and will remember it as
a mere bald sequence of anecdotes, roughly cast into dialogue. It is not
incorrect to say that, as regards form, Mr. Tennyson's drama is of the
same family as the historical tragedies of Signor Giacometti. It is
simply a dramatised chronicle, without an internal structure, taking its
material in pieces, as history hands them over, and working each one up
into an independent scene--usually with rich ability. It has no shape;
it is cast into no mould; it has neither beginning, middle, nor end,
save the chronological ones.

A work of this sort may have a great many merits (those of _Queen Mary_
are numerous), but it cannot have the merit of being a drama. We have,
indeed, only to turn to Shakespeare to see how much of pure dramatic
interest may be infused into an imperfect dramatic form. _Henry IV._ and
the others of its group, _Richard III._, _Henry VIII._, _Antony and
Cleopatra_, _Julius Cæsar_, are all chronicles in dialogue, are all
simply Holinshed and Plutarch transferred into immortal verse. They are
magnificent because Shakespeare could do nothing weak; but all
Shakespearian as they are, they are not models; the models are _Hamlet_
and _Othello_, _Macbeth_ and _Lear_. Tennyson is not Shakespeare, but in
everything he had done hitherto there had been an essential perfection,
and we are sorry that, in the complete maturity of his talent, proposing
to write a drama, he should have chosen the easy way rather than the
hard.

He chose, however, a period out of which a compact dramatic subject of
the richest interest might well have been wrought. For this, of course,
considerable invention would have been needed, and Mr. Tennyson had
apparently no invention to bring to his task. He has embroidered
cunningly the groundwork offered him by Mr. Froude, but he has
contributed no new material. The field offers a great stock of dramatic
figures, and one's imagination kindles as one thinks of the multifarious
combinations into which they might have been cast. We do not pretend of
course to say in detail what Mr. Tennyson might have done; we simply
risk the affirmation that he might have wrought a somewhat denser
tissue. History certainly would have suffered, but poetry would have
gained, and he is writing poetry and not history. As his drama stands,
we take it that he does not pretend to have deepened our historic light.

Psychologically, picturesquely, the persons in the foreground of Mary's
reign constitute a most impressive and interesting group. The
imagination plays over it importunately, and wearies itself with
scanning the outlines and unlighted corners. Mary herself unites a dozen
strong dramatic elements--in her dark religious passion, her unrequited
conjugal passion, her mixture of the Spanish and English natures, her
cruelty and her conscience, her high-handed rule and her constant
insecurity. With her dark figure lighted luridly by perpetual
martyr-fires, and made darker still by the presence of her younger
sister, radiant with the promise of England's coming greatness; with
Lady Jane Grey groping for the block behind her; her cold fanatic of a
husband beside her, as we know him by Velasquez (with not a grain of
fanaticism to spare for her); with her subtle ecclesiastical cousin Pole
on the other side, with evil counsellors and dogged martyrs and a
threatening people all around her, and with a lonely, dreary,
disappointed and unlamented death before her, she is a subject made to
the hand of a poet who should know how to mingle cunningly his darker
shades. Tennyson has elaborated her figure in a way that is often
masterly; it is a success--the greatest success of the poem. It is
compounded in his hands of very subtle elements, and he keeps them from
ever becoming gross.

The Mary of his pages is a complex personage, and not what she might so
easily become--a mere picturesque stalking-horse of melodrama. The art
with which he has still kept her sympathetic and human, at the same time
that he has darkened the shadows in her portrait to the deepest tone
that he had warrant for, is especially noticeable. It is not in Mr.
Tennyson's pages that Mary appears for the first time in the drama; she
gives her name to a play of Victor Hugo's dating from the year 1833--the
prime of the author's career. I have just been reading over _Marie
Tudor_, and it has suggested a good many reflections. I think it
probable that many of the readers of _Queen Mary_ would be quite unable
to peruse Victor Hugo's consummately unpleasant production to the end;
but they would admit, I suppose, that a person who had had the stomach
to do so might have something particular to say about it.

If one had an eye for contrasts, the contrast between these two works is
extremely curious. I said just now that Tennyson had brought no
invention to his task; but it may be said, on the other side, that
Victor Hugo has brought altogether too much. If Tennyson has been unduly
afraid of remodelling history, the author of _Marie Tudor_ has known no
such scruples; he has slashed into the sacred chart with the shears of a
_romantique_ of 1830. Although Tennyson, in a general way, is an
essentially picturesque poet, his picturesqueness is of an infinitely
milder type than that of Victor Hugo; the one ends where the other
begins. With Victor Hugo the horrible is always the main element of the
picturesque, and the beautiful and the tender are rarely introduced save
to give it relief. In _Marie Tudor_ they cannot be said to be introduced
at all; the drama is one masterly compound of abominable horror; horror
for horror's sake--for the sake of chiaroscuro, of colour, of the
footlights, of the actors; not in the least in any visible interest of
human nature, of moral verity, of the discrimination of character.

What Victor Hugo has here made of the rigid, strenuous, pitiable English
queen seems to me a good example of how little the handling of sinister
passions sometimes costs a genius of his type--how little conviction or
deep reflection goes with it. There was a Mary of a far keener tragic
interest than the epigrammatic Messalina whom he has portrayed; but her
image was established in graver and finer colours, and he passes
jauntily beside it, without suspecting its capacity. Marie Tudor is a
lascivious termagant who amuses herself, first, with caressing an
Italian adventurer, then with slapping his face, and then with dabbling
in his blood; but we do not really see why the author should have given
his heroine a name which history held in her more or less sacred
keeping; one's interest in the drama would have been more comfortable if
the persons, in their impossible travesty, did not present themselves as
old friends. It is true that the "Baron of Dinasmonddy" can hardly be
called an old friend; but he is at least as familiar as the Earl of
Clanbrassil, the Baron of Darmouth in Devonshire, and Lord South-Repps.

_Marie Tudor_, then has little to do with nature and nothing with either
history or morality; and yet, without a paradox, it has some very strong
qualities. It is at any rate a genuine drama, and it succeeds thoroughly
well in what it attempts. It is moulded and proportioned to a definite
scenic end, and never falters in its course. To read it just after you
have read _Queen Mary_ brings out its merits, as well as its defects;
and if the contrast makes you inhale with a double satisfaction the
clearer moral atmosphere of the English work, it leads you also to
reflect with some gratitude that dramatic tradition, in our modern era,
has not remained solely in English hands.

Mr. Tennyson has very frankly fashioned his play upon the model of the
Shakespearian "histories." He has given us the same voluminous list of
characters; he has made the division into acts merely arbitrary; he has
introduced low-life interlocutors, talking in archaic prose; and
whenever the fancy has taken him, he has culled his idioms and epithets
from the Shakespearian vocabulary. As regards this last point, he has
shown all the tact and skill that were to be expected from so approved a
master of language. The prose scenes are all of a quasi-humourous
description, and they emulate the queer jocosities of Shakespeare more
successfully than seemed probable; though it was not to be forgotten
that the author of the "Palace of Art" was also the author of the
"Northern Farmer." These few lines might have been taken straight from
_Henry IV._ or _Henry VIII._:

     "No; we know that you be come to kill the Queen, and we'll pray for
     you all on our bended knees. But o' God's mercy, don't you kill the
     Queen here, Sir Thomas; look ye, here's little Dickon, and little
     Robin, and little Jenny--though she's but a side cousin--and all,
     on our knees, we pray you to kill the Queen farther off, Sir
     Thomas."

The poet, however, is modern when he chooses to be:

                          "Action and reaction,
    The miserable see-saw of our child-world,
    Make us despise it at odd hours, my Lord."

That reminds one less of the Elizabethan than of the Victorian era. Mr.
Tennyson has desired to give a general picture of the time, to reflect
all its leading elements and commemorate its salient episodes. From this
point of view England herself--England struggling and bleeding in the
clutches of the Romish wolf, as he would say--is the heroine of the
drama. This heroine is very nobly and vividly imaged, and we feel the
poet to be full of a retroactive as well as a present patriotism. It is
a plain Protestant attitude that he takes; there is no attempt at
analysis of the Catholic sense of the situation; it is quite the old
story that we learned in our school-histories as children. We do not
mean that this is not the veracious way of presenting it; but we notice
the absence of that tendency to place it in different lights, accumulate
_pros_ and _cons_, and plead opposed causes in the interest of ideal
truth, which would have been so obvious if Mr. Browning had handled the
theme. And yet Mr. Tennyson has been large and liberal, and some of the
finest passages in the poem are uttered by independent Catholics. The
author has wished to give a hint of everything, and he has admirably
divined the anguish of mind of many men who were unprepared to go with
the new way of thinking, and yet were scandalised at the license of the
old--who were willing to be Catholics, and yet not willing to be
delivered over to Spain.

Where so many episodes are sketched, few of course can be fully
developed; but there is a vivid manliness of the classic English type in
such portraits as Lord William Howard and Sir Ralph Bagenhall--poor Sir
Ralph, who declares that

    "Far liefer had I in my country hall
    Been reading some old book, with mine old hound
    Couch'd at my hearth, and mine old flask of wine
      Beside me,"

than stand as he does in the thick of the trouble of the time; and who
finally is brought to his account for not having knelt with the commons
to the legate of Charles V. We have a glimpse of Sir Thomas Wyatt's
insurrection, and a portrait of that robust rebel, who was at the same
time an editor of paternal sonnets--sonnets of a father who loved

    "To read and rhyme in solitary fields,
    The lark above, the nightingale below,
    And answer them in song."

We have a very touching report of Lady Jane Grey's execution, and we
assist almost directly at the sad perplexities of poor Cranmer's
eclipse. We appreciate the contrast between the fine nerves and
many-sided conscience of that wavering martyr, and the more comfortable
religious temperament of Bonner and Gardiner--Bonner, apt "to gorge a
heretic whole, roasted, or raw;" and Gardiner, who can say,

    "I've gulpt it down; I'm wholly for the Pope,
    Utterly and altogether for the Pope,
    The Eternal Peter of the changeless chair,
    Crowned slave of slaves and mitred king of kings.
    God upon earth! What more? What would you have?"

Elizabeth makes several appearances, and though they are brief, the poet
has evidently had a definite figure in his mind's eye. On a second
reading it betrays a number of fine intentions. The circumspection of
the young princess, her high mettle, her coquetry, her frankness, her
coarseness, are all rapidly glanced at. Her exclamation--

                      "I would I were a milkmaid,
    To sing, love, marry, churn, brew, bake, and die,
    And have my simple headstone by the church,
    And all things lived and ended honestly"--

marks one limit of the sketch; and the other is indicated by her reply
to Cecil at the end of the drama, on his declaring, in allusion to Mary,
that "never English monarch dying left England so little":

                              "But with Cecil's aid
    And others', if our person be secured
    From traitor stabs, we will make England great!"

The middle term is perhaps marked by her reception of the functionary
who comes to inform her that her sister bids her know that the King of
Spain desires her to marry Prince Philibert of Savoy:

                        "I thank you heartily, sir,
    But I am royal, tho' your prisoner,
    And God hath blessed or cursed me with a nose--
    Your boots are from the horses."

The drama is deficient in male characters of salient interest. Philip is
vague and blank, as he is evidently meant to be, and Cardinal Pole is a
portrait of a character constitutionally inapt for breadth of action.
The portrait is a skilful one, however, and expresses forcibly the pangs
of a sensitive nature entangled in trenchant machinery. There is a fine
scene near the close of the drama in which Pole and the Queen--cousins,
old friends, and for a moment betrothed (Victor Hugo characteristically
assumes Mary to have been her cousin's mistress)--confide to each other
their weariness and disappointment. Mary endeavours to console the
Cardinal, but he has only grim answers for her:

    "Our altar is a mound of dead men's clay,
    Dug from the grave that yawns for us beyond;
    And there is one Death stands beside the Groom,
    And there is one Death stands beside the Bride."

_Queen Mary_, I believe, is to be put upon the stage next winter in
London. I do not pretend to forecast its success in representation; but
it is not indiscrete to say that it will suffer from the absence of a
man's part capable of being made striking. The very clever Mr. Henry
Irving has, we are told, offered his services, presumably to play either
Philip or Pole. If he imparts any great relief to either figure, it will
be a signal proof of talent. The actress, however, to whom the part of
the Queen is allotted will have every reason to be grateful. The
character is full of colour and made to utter a number of really
dramatic speeches. When Renard assures her that Philip is only waiting
for leave of the Parliament to land on English shores she has an
admirable outbreak:

    "God change the pebble which his kingly foot
    First presses into some more costly stone
        Than ever blinded eye. I'll have one mark it
    And bring it me. I'll have it burnished firelike;
    I'll set it round with gold, with pearl, with diamond.
    Let the great angel of the Church come with him,
    Stand on the deck and spread his wings for sail!"

Mary is not only vividly conceived from within, but her physiognomy, as
seen from without, is indicated with much pictorial force:

              "Did you mark our Queen?
    The colour freely played into her face,
    And the half sight which makes her look so stern
    Seemed, through that dim, dilated world of hers,
    To read our faces."

In the desolation of her last days, when she bids her attendants go to
her sister and

    "Tell her to come and close my dying eyes
    And wear my crown and dance upon my grave,"

Mary, to attest her misery, seats herself on the ground, like Constance
in "King John"; and the comment of one of her women hereupon is
strikingly picturesque:

    "Good Lord! how grim and ghastly looks her Grace,
    With both her knees drawn upward to her chin.
    There was an old-world tomb beside my father's,
    And this was opened, and the dead were found
    Sitting, and in this fashion; she looks a corpse."

The great merit of Mr. Tennyson's drama, however, is not in the
quotableness of certain passages, but in the thoroughly elevated spirit
of the whole. He desired to make us feel of what sound manly stuff the
Englishmen of that Tudor reign of terror needed to be, and his verse is
pervaded by the echo of their deep-toned refusal to abdicate their
manhood. The temper of the poem, on this line, is so noble that the
critic who has indulged in a few strictures as to matters of form feels
as if he had been frivolous and niggardly. I nevertheless venture to
add in conclusion that _Queen Mary_ seems to me a work of rare ability
rather than great inspiration; a powerful _tour de force_ rather than a
labour of love. But though it is not the best of a great poet's
achievement, only a great poet could have written it.


II. HAROLD

The author of _Queen Mary_ seems disposed to show us that that work was
not an accident, but rather, as it may be said, an incident of his
literary career. The incident has just been repeated, though _Harold_
has come into the world more quietly than its predecessor.

It is singular how soon the public gets used to unfamiliar notions. By
the time the reader has finished _Harold_ he has almost contracted the
habit of thinking of Mr. Tennyson as a writer chiefly known to fame by
"dramas" without plots and dialogues without point. This impression it
behooves him, of course, to shake off if he wishes to judge the book
properly. He must compare the author of "Maud" and the earlier _Idyls_
with the great poets, and not with the small. _Harold_ would be a
respectable production for a writer who had spent his career in
producing the same sort of thing, but it is a somewhat graceless anomaly
in the record of a poet whose verse has, in a large degree, become part
of the civilisation of his day.

_Queen Mary_ was not, on the whole, pronounced a success, and _Harold_,
roughly speaking, is to _Queen Mary_ what that work is to the author's
earlier masterpieces. _Harold_ is not in the least bad: it contains
nothing ridiculous, unreasonable, or disagreeable; it is only decidedly
weak, decidedly colourless, and tame. The author's inspiration is like a
fire which is quietly and contentedly burning low. The analogy is
perfectly complete. The hearth is clean swept and the chimney-side is
garnished with its habitual furniture; but the room is getting colder
and colder, and the occasional little flickers emitted by the mild
embers are not sufficient to combat the testimony of the poetical
thermometer. There is nothing necessarily harsh in this judgment. Few
fires are always at a blaze, and the imagination, which is the most
delicate machine in the world, cannot be expected to serve longer than a
good gold repeater. We must take what it gives us, in every case, and be
thankful. Mr. Tennyson is perfectly welcome to amuse himself with
listening to the fainter tick of his honoured time-piece; it is going
still, unquestionably; it has not stopped. Only we may without rudeness
abstain from regulating our engagements by the indications of the
instrument.

_Harold_ seems at first to have little, in form, that is characteristic
of the author--little of the thoroughly familiar Tennysonian quality.
Nevertheless, there is every now and then a line which arrests the ear
by the rhythm and cadence which have always formed the chief mystery in
the art of imitating the Laureate.

Meeting in the early pages such a line as

    "What, with this flaming horror overhead?"

we should suspect we were reading Tennyson if we did not know it; and
our suspicion would he amply confirmed by half a dozen other lines:

    "Taken the rifted pillars of the wood."

    "My greyhounds fleeting like a beam of light."

    "Suffer a stormless shipwreck in the pools."

    "That scared the dying conscience of the king."

_Harold_ is interesting as illustrating, in addition to _Queen Mary_,
Mr. Tennyson's idea of what makes a drama. A succession of short scenes,
detached from the biography of a historical character, is, apparently,
to his sense sufficient; the constructive side of the work is thereby
reduced to a primitive simplicity. It is even more difficult to imagine
acting _Harold_ than it was to imagine acting _Queen Mary_; and it is
probable that in this case the experiment will not be tried. And yet the
story, or rather the historical episode, upon which Mr. Tennyson has
here laid his hand is eminently interesting.

Harold, the last of the "English," as people of a certain way of feeling
are fond of calling him--the son of Godwin, masterful minister of Edward
the Confessor, the wearer for a short and hurried hour of the English
crown, and the opponent and victim of William of Normandy on the field
of Hastings--is a figure which combines many of the elements of romance
and of heroism. The author has very characteristically tried to
accentuate the moral character of his hero by making him a sort of
distant relation of the family of Galahad and Arthur and the other
moralising gallants to whom his pages have introduced us. Mr. Tennyson's
Harold is a warrior who talks about his "better self," and who alludes
to

                "Waltham, my foundation
    For men who serve their neighbour, not themselves,"

--a touch which transports us instantly into the atmosphere of the
Arthurian Idyls. But Harold's history may be very easily and properly
associated with a moral problem, inasmuch as it was his unhappy fortune
to have to solve, practically, a knotty point which might have been more
comfortably left to the casuists. Shipwrecked during Edward's life upon
the coast of Normandy, he is betrayed into the hands of Duke William,
who already retains as hostage one of his brothers (the sons of Godwin
were very numerous, and they all figure briefly, but with a certain
attempt at individual characterisation, in the drama). To purchase his
release and that of his brother, who passionately entreats him, he
consents to swear by certain unseen symbols, which prove afterwards to
be the bones of certain august Norman saints, that if William will
suffer him to return to England, he will, on the Confessor's death,
abstain from urging the claim of the latter's presumptive heir and do
his utmost to help the Norman duke himself to the crown.

This scene is presented in the volume before us. Harold departs and
regains England, and there, on the king's death, overborne by
circumstances, but with much tribulation of mind, violates his oath, and
himself takes possession of the throne. The interest of the drama is in
a great measure the picture of his temptation and remorse, his sense of
his treachery and of the inevitableness of his chastisement. With this
other matters are mingled: Harold's conflict with his disloyal brother
Tostig, Earl of Northumberland, who brings in the King of Norway to
claim the crown, and who, with his Norwegian backers, is defeated by
Harold in battle just before William comes down upon him. Then there is
his love-affair with Edith, ward of the Confessor, whom the latter,
piously refusing to hear of his violation of his oath, condemns him to
put away, as penance for the very thought. There is also his marriage
with Aldwyth, a designing person, widow of a Welsh king whom Harold has
defeated, and who, having herself through her parentage, strong English
interests, inveigles Harold into a union which may consolidate their
forces.

Altogether, Harold is, for a hero, rather inclined to falter and
succumb. It is to his conscience, however, that he finally succumbs; he
loses heart and goes to meet William at Hastings with a depressing
presentiment of defeat. Mr. Tennyson, however, as we gather from a
prefatory sonnet, which is perhaps finer than anything in the drama
itself, holds that much can be said for the "Norman-slandered hero," and
declares that he has nothing to envy William if

    "Each stands full face with all he did below."

Edith, Harold's repudiated lady-love, is, we suppose, the heroine of the
story, inasmuch as she has the privilege of expiring upon the corpse of
the hero. Harold's defeat is portrayed through a conversation between
Edith and Stigand, the English and anti-papal Archbishop of Canterbury,
who watches the fight at Senlac from a tent near the field, while the
monks of Waltham, outside, intone a Latin invocation to the God of
Battles to sweep away the Normans.

The drama closes with a scene on the field, after the fight, in which
Edith and Aldwyth wander about, trying to identify Harold among the
slain. On discovering him they indulge in a few natural recriminations,
then Edith loses her head and expires by his side. William comes in,
rubbing his hands over his work, and intimates to Aldwyth that she may
now make herself agreeable to _him_. She replies, hypocritically, "My
punishment is more than I can bear"; and with this, the most dramatic
speech, perhaps in the volume, the play terminates. Edith, we should
say, is a heroine of the didactic order. She has a bad conscience about
Harold's conduct, and about her having continued on affectionate terms
with him after his diplomatic marriage with Aldwyth. When she prays for
Harold's success she adds that she hopes heaven will not refuse to
listen to her because she loves "the husband of another"; and after he
is defeated she reproaches herself with having injured his prospects--

    "For there was more than sister in my kiss."

Though there are many persons in the poem it cannot be said that any of
them attains a very vivid individuality. Indeed, their great number, the
drama being of moderate length, hinders the unfolding of any one of
them.

Mr. Tennyson, moreover, has not the dramatic touch; he rarely finds the
phrase or the movement that illuminates a character, rarely makes the
dialogue strike sparks. This is generally mild and colourless, and the
passages that arrest us, relatively, owe their relief to juxtaposition
rather than to any especial possession of the old Tennysonian energy.
Now and then we come upon a few lines together in which we seem to catch
an echo of the author's earlier magic, or sometimes simply of his
earlier manner. When we do, we make the most of them and are grateful.
Such, for instance, is the phrase of one of the characters describing
his rescue from shipwreck. He dug his hands, he says, into

    "My old fast friend the shore, and clinging thus
    Felt the remorseless outdraught of the deep
    Haul like a great strong fellow at my legs."

Such are the words in which Wulfnoth, Harold's young brother, detained
in Normandy, laments his situation:

                            "Yea, and I
    Shall see the dewy kiss of dawn no more
    Make blush the maiden-white of our tall cliffs,
    Nor mark the sea-bird rouse himself and hover
    Above the windy ripple, and fill the sky
    With free sea-laughter."

In two or three places the author makes, in a few words, a picture, an
image, of considerable felicity. Harold wishes that he were like Edward
the Confessor,

    "As holy and as passionless as he!
    That I might rest as calmly! Look at him--
    The rosy face, and long, down-silvering beard,
    The brows unwrinkled as a summer mere."

We may add that in the few speeches allotted to this monarch of virtuous
complexion this portrait is agreeably sustained. "Holy, is he?" says the
Archbishop, Stigand, of him to Harold--

    "A conscience for his own soul, not his realm;
    A twilight conscience lighted thro' a chink;
    Thine by the sun."

And the same character hits upon a really vigorous image in describing,
as he watches them, Harold's exploits on the battle-fields:

    "Yea, yea, for how their lances snap and shiver,
    Against the shifting blaze of Harold's axe!
    War-woodman of old Woden, how he fells
    The mortal copse of faces!"

We feel, after all, in Mr. Tennyson, even in the decidedly minor key in
which this volume is pitched, that he has once known how to turn our
English poetic phrase as skilfully as any one, and that he has not
altogether forgotten the art.



CONTEMPORARY NOTES ON WHISTLER VS. RUSKIN


     I. Originally published as an unsigned note in _The Nation_,
     December 19, 1878. The jury allowed Whistler one farthing damages.

     II. Originally published as an unsigned note in _The Nation_,
     February 13, 1879.

     The pamphlet here referred to was entitled _Whistler vs. Ruskin:
     Art and Art-Critics_. London: Chatto & Windus. 1878. This essay was
     afterwards reprinted in _The Gentle Art of Making Enemies_, London,
     1890.



CONTEMPORARY NOTES ON WHISTLER VS. RUSKIN


I. THE SUIT FOR LIBEL

The London public is never left for many days without a _cause célèbre_
of some kind. The latest novelty in this line has been the suit for
damages brought against Mr. Ruskin by Mr. James Whistler, the American
painter, and decided last week. Mr. Whistler is very well known in the
London world, and his conspicuity, combined with the renown of the
defendant and the nature of the case, made the affair the talk of the
moment. All the newspapers have had leading articles upon it, and people
have differed for a few hours more positively than it had come to be
supposed that they could differ about anything save the character of the
statesmanship of Lord Beaconsfield. The injury suffered by Mr. Whistler
resides in a paragraph published more than a year ago in that strange
monthly manifesto called _Fors Clavigera_, which Mr. Ruskin had for a
long time addressed to a partly edified, partly irritated, and greatly
amused public. Mr. Ruskin spoke at some length of the pictures at the
Grosvenor Gallery, and, falling foul of Mr. Whistler, he alluded to him
in these terms:

"For Mr. Whistler's own sake, no less than for the protection of the
purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay ought not to have admitted works into the
gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly
approached the aspect of wilful imposture. I have seen and heard much of
cockney impudence before now, but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask
200 guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face."

Mr. Whistler alleged that these words were libellous, and that, coming
from a critic of Mr. Ruskin's eminence, they had done him,
professionally, serious injury; and he asked for £1,000 damage. The case
had a two days' hearing, and it was a singular and most regrettable
exhibition. If it had taken place in some Western American town, it
would have been called provincial and barbarous; it would have been
cited as an incident of a low civilisation. Beneath the stately towers
of Westminster it hardly wore a higher aspect.

A British jury of ordinary tax-payers was appealed to decide whether Mr.
Whistler's pictures belonged to a high order of art, and what degree of
"finish" was required to render a picture satisfactory. The painter's
singular canvases were handed about in court, and the counsel for the
defence, holding one of them up, called upon the jury to pronounce
whether it was an "accurate representation" of Battersea Bridge.
Witnesses were summoned on either side to testify to the value of Mr.
Whistler's productions, and Mr. Ruskin had the honour of having his
estimate of them substantiated by Mr. Frith. The weightiest testimony,
the most intelligently, and apparently the most reluctantly delivered,
was that of Mr. Burne Jones, who appeared to appreciate the ridiculous
character of the process to which he had been summoned (by the defence)
to contribute, and who spoke of Mr. Whistler's performance as only in a
partial sense of the word pictures--as being beautiful in colour, and
indicating an extraordinary power of representing the atmosphere, but as
being also hardly more than beginnings, and fatally deficient in finish.
For the rest the crudity and levity of the whole affair were decidedly
painful, and few things, I think, have lately done more to vulgarise the
public sense of the character of artistic production.

The jury gave Mr. Whistler nominal damages. The opinion of the
newspapers seems to be that he has got at least all he deserved--that
anything more would have been a blow at the liberty of criticism. I
confess to thinking it hard to decide what Mr. Whistler ought properly
to have done, while--putting aside the degree of one's appreciation of
his works--I quite understand his resentment. Mr. Ruskin's language
quite transgresses the decencies of criticism, and he has been laying
about him for some years past with such promiscuous violence that it
gratifies one's sense of justice to see him brought up as a disorderly
character. On the other hand, he is a chartered libertine--he has
possessed himself by prescription of the function of a general scold.
His literary bad manners are recognised, and many of his contemporaries
have suffered from them without complaining. It would very possibly,
therefore, have been much wiser on Mr. Whistler's part to feign
indifference. Unfortunately, Mr. Whistler's productions are so very
eccentric and imperfect (I speak here of his paintings only; his
etchings are quite another affair, and altogether admirable) that his
critic's denunciation could by no means fall to the ground of itself. I
wonder that before a British jury they had any chance whatever; they
must have been a terrible puzzle.

The verdict, of course, satisfies neither party; Mr. Ruskin is formally
condemned, but the plaintiff is not compensated. Mr. Ruskin too,
doubtless, is not gratified at finding that the fullest weight of his
disapproval is thought to be represented by the sum of one farthing.


II. MR. WHISTLER'S REJOINDER

I may mention as a sequel to the brief account of the suit Whistler v.
Ruskin, which I sent you a short time since, that the plaintiff has
lately published a little pamphlet in which he delivers himself on the
subject of art-criticism.

This little pamphlet, issued by Chatto & Windus, is an affair of
seventeen very prettily-printed small pages; it is now in its sixth
edition, it sells for a shilling, and is to be seen in most of the
shop-windows. It is very characteristic of the painter, and highly
entertaining; but I am not sure that it will have rendered appreciable
service to the cause, which he has at heart. The cause that Mr. Whistler
has at heart is the absolute suppression and extinction of the
art-critic and his function. According to Mr. Whistler the art-critic is
an impertinence, a nuisance, a monstrosity--and usually, into the
bargain, an arrant fool.

Mr. Whistler writes in an off-hand, colloquial style, much besprinkled
with French--a style which might be called familiar if one often
encountered anything like it. He writes by no means as well as he
paints; but his little diatribe against the critics is suggestive, apart
from the force of anything that he specifically urges. The painter's
irritated feeling is interesting, for it suggests the state of mind of
many of his brothers of the brush in the presence of the bungling and
incompetent disquisitions of certain members of the fraternity who sit
in judgment upon their works.

"Let work be received in silence," says Mr. Whistler, "as it was in the
days to which the penman still points as an era when art was at its
apogee." He is very scornful of the "penman," and it is on the general
ground of his being a penman that he deprecates the existence of his
late adversary, Mr. Ruskin. He does not attempt to make out a case in
detail against the great commentator of pictures; it is enough for Mr.
Whistler that he is a "littérateur," and that a littérateur should
concern himself with his own business. The author also falls foul of Mr.
Tom Taylor, who does the reports of the exhibitions in the _Times_, and
who had the misfortune, fifteen years ago, to express himself rather
unintelligently about Velasquez.

"The Observatory at Greenwich under the direction of an apothecary,"
says Mr. Whistler, "the College of Physicians with Tennyson as
president, and we know what madness is about! But a school of art with
an accomplished littérateur at its head disturbs no one, and is actually
what the world receives as rational, while Ruskin writes for pupils and
Colvin holds forth at Cambridge! Still, quite alone stands Ruskin, whose
writing is art and whose art is unworthy his writing. To him and his
example do we owe the outrage of proffered assistance from the
unscientific--the meddling of the immodest--the intrusion of the
garrulous. Art, that for ages has hewn its own history in marble and
written its own comments on canvas, shall it suddenly stand still and
stammer and wait for wisdom from the passer-by?--for guidance from the
hand that holds neither brush nor chisel? Out upon the shallow conceit!
What greater sarcasm can Mr. Ruskin pass upon himself than that he
preaches to young men what he cannot perform? Why, unsatisfied with his
conscious power, should he choose to become the type of incompetency by
talking for forty years of what he has never done?"

Mr. Whistler winds up by pronouncing Mr. Ruskin, of whose writings he
has perused, I suspect, an infinitesimally small number of pages, "the
Peter Parley of Painting." This is very far, as I say, from exhausting
the question; but it is easy to understand the state of mind of a London
artist (to go no further) who skims through the critiques in the local
journals. There is no scurrility in saying that these are for the most
part almost incredibly weak and unskilled; to turn from one of them to a
critical _feuilleton_ in one of the Parisian journals is like passing
from a primitive to a very high civilisation. Even, however, if the
reviews of pictures were very much better, the protest of the producer
as against the critic would still have a considerable validity.

Few people will deny that the development of criticism in our day has
become inordinate, disproportionate, and that much of what is written
under that exalted name is very idle and superficial. Mr. Whistler's
complaint belongs to the general question, and I am afraid it will never
obtain a serious hearing, on special and exceptional grounds. The whole
artistic fraternity is in the same boat--the painters, the architects,
the poets, the novelists, the dramatists, the actors, the musicians, the
singers. They have a standing, and in many ways a very just, quarrel
with criticism; but perhaps many of them would admit that, on the whole,
so long as they appeal to a public laden with many cares and a great
variety of interests, it gratifies as much as it displeases them. Art is
one of the necessities of life; but even the critics themselves would
probably not assert that criticism is anything more than an agreeable
luxury--something like printed talk. If it be said that they claim too
much in calling it "agreeable" to the criticised, it may be added in
their behalf that they probably mean agreeable in the long run.



A NOTE ON JOHN BURROUGHS


     An unsigned review of _Winter Sunshine_. By John Burroughs. New
     York: Hurd & Houghton. 1876. Originally published in _The Nation_,
     January 27, 1876.



A NOTE ON JOHN BURROUGHS


This is a very charming little book. We had noticed, on their appearance
in various periodicals, some of the articles of which it is composed,
and we find that, read continuously, they have given us even more
pleasure. We have, indeed, enjoyed them more perhaps than we can show
sufficient cause for. They are slender and light, but they have a real
savour of their own.

Mr. Burroughs is known as an out-of-door observer--a devotee of birds
and trees and fields and aspects of weather and humble wayside
incidents. The minuteness of his observation, the keenness of his
perception of all these things, give him a real originality which is
confirmed by a style sometimes indeed idiomatic and unfinished to a
fault, but capable of remarkable felicity and vividness. Mr. Burroughs
is also, fortunately for his literary prosperity in these days, a
decided "humourist"; he is essentially and genially an American, without
at all posing as one, and his sketches have a delightful oddity,
vivacity, and freshness.

The first half of his volume, and the least substantial, treats of
certain rambles taken in the winter and spring in the country around
Washington; the author is an apostle of pedestrianism, and these pages
form a prolonged rhapsody upon the pleasures within the reach of any one
who will take the trouble to stretch his legs. They are full of charming
touches, and indicate a real genius for the observation of natural
things. Mr. Burroughs is a sort of reduced, but also more humourous,
more available, and more sociable Thoreau. He is especially intimate
with the birds, and he gives his reader an acute sense of how sociable
an affair, during six months of the year, this feathery lore may make a
lonely walk. He is also intimate with the question of apples, and he
treats of it in a succulent disquisition which imparts to the somewhat
trivial theme a kind of lyrical dignity. He remarks, justly, that women
are poor apple-eaters.

But the best pages in his book are those which commemorate a short visit
to England and the rapture of his first impressions. This little sketch,
in spite of its extreme slightness, really deserves to become classical.
We have read far solider treatises which contained less of the essence
of the matter; or at least, if it is not upon the subject itself that
Mr. Burroughs throws particularly powerful light, it is the essence of
the ideal traveller's spirit that he gives us, the freshness and
intensity of impression, the genial bewilderment, the universal
appreciativeness. All this is delightfully _naïf_, frank, and natural.

"All this had been told, and it pleased me so in the seeing that I must
tell it again," the author says; and this is the constant spirit of his
talk. He appears to have been "pleased" as no man was ever pleased
before; so much so that his reflections upon his own country sometimes
become unduly invidious. But if to be appreciative is the traveller's
prime duty, Mr. Burroughs is a prince of travellers.

"Then to remember that it was a new sky and a new earth I was beholding,
that it was England, the old mother at last, no longer a faith or a
fable but an actual fact, there before my eyes and under my feet--why
should I not exult? Go to! I will be indulged. These trees, those
fields, that bird darting along the hedge-rows, those men and boys
picking blackberries in October, those English flowers by the roadside
(stop the carriage while I leap out and pluck them), the homely domestic
look of things, those houses, those queer vehicles, those thick-coated
horses, those big-footed, coarsely-clad, clear-skinned men and women;
this massive, homely, compact architecture--let me have a good look, for
this is my first hour in England, and I am drunk with the joy of seeing!
This house-fly let me inspect it, and that swallow skimming along so
familiarly."

One envies Mr. Burroughs his acute relish of the foreign spectacle even
more than one enjoys his expression of it. He is not afraid to start and
stare; his state of mind is exactly opposed to the high dignity of the
_nil admirari_. When he goes into St. Paul's, "my companions rushed
about," he says, "as if each one had a search-warrant in his pocket; but
I was content to uncover my head and drop into a seat, and busy my mind
with some simple object near at hand, while the sublimity that soared
about me stole into my soul." He meets a little girl carrying a pail in
a meadow near Stratford, stops her and talks with her, and finds an
ineffable delight in "the sweet and novel twang of her words. Her family
had emigrated to America, failed to prosper, and come back; but I hardly
recognise even the name of my own country in her innocent prattle; it
seemed like a land of fable--all had a remote mythological air, and I
pressed my enquiries as if I was hearing of this strange land for the
first time."

Mr. Burroughs is unfailingly complimentary; he sees sermons in stones
and good in everything; the somewhat dusky British world was never
steeped in so intense a glow of rose-colour. Sometimes his optimism
rather interferes with his accuracy--as when he detects "forests and
lakes" in Hyde Park, and affirms that the English rural landscape does
not, in comparison with the American, appear highly populated. This
latter statement is apparently made apropos of that long stretch of
suburban scenery, pure and simple, which extends from Liverpool to
London. It does not strike us as felicitous, either, to say that women
are more kindly treated in England than in the United States, and
especially that they are less "leered at." "Leering" at women is happily
less common all the world over than it is sometimes made to appear for
picturesque purposes in the magazines; but we should say that if there
is a country where the art has not reached a high stage of development,
it is our own.

It must be added that although Mr. Burroughs is shrewd as well as
_naïf_, the latter quality sometimes distances the former. He runs over
for a week to France. "At Dieppe I first saw the wooden shoe, and heard
its dry, senseless clatter upon the pavement. How suggestive of the
cramped and inflexible conditions with which human nature has borne so
long in these lands!" But in Paris also he is appreciative--singularly
so for so complete an outsider as he confesses himself to be--and
throughout he is very well worth reading. We heartily commend his little
volume for its honesty, its individuality, and, in places, its really
blooming freshness.



MR. KIPLING'S EARLY STORIES


     Originally published as an _Introduction_ to the Continental
     edition of _Soldiers Three_. By Rudyard Kipling; volume 59 of the
     _English Library_, Leipzig, Heinemann and Balestier Limited,
     London. 1891.



MR. KIPLING'S EARLY STORIES


It would be difficult to answer the general question whether the books
of the world grow, as they multiply, as much better as one might suppose
they ought, with such a lesson of wasteful experiment spread perpetually
behind them. There is no doubt, however, that in one direction we profit
largely by this education: whether or not we have become wiser to
fashion, we have certainly become keener to enjoy. We have acquired the
sense of a particular quality which is precious beyond all others--so
precious as to make us wonder where, at such a rate, our posterity will
look for it, and how they will pay for it. After tasting many essences
we find freshness the sweetest of all. We yearn for it, we watch for it
and lie in wait for it, and when we catch it on the wing (it flits by so
fast) we celebrate our capture with extravagance. We feel that after so
much has come and gone it is more and more of a feat and a _tour de
force_ to be fresh. The tormenting part of the phenomenon is that, in
any particular key, it can happen but once--by a sad failure of the law
that inculcates the repetition of goodness. It is terribly a matter of
accident; emulation and imitation have a fatal effect upon it. It is
easy to see, therefore, what importance the epicure may attach to the
brief moment of its bloom. While that lasts we all are epicures.

This helps to explain, I think, the unmistakeable intensity of the
general relish for Mr. Rudyard Kipling. His bloom lasts, from month to
month, almost surprisingly--by which I mean that he has not worn out
even by active exercise the particular property that made us all, more
than a year ago, so precipitately drop everything else to attend to him.
He has many others which he will doubtless always keep; but a part of
the potency attaching to his freshness, what makes it as exciting as a
drawing of lots, is our instinctive conviction that he cannot, in the
nature of things, keep that; so that our enjoyment of him, so long as
the miracle is still wrought, has both the charm of confidence and the
charm of suspense. And then there is the further charm, with Mr.
Kipling, that this same freshness is such a very strange affair of its
kind--so mixed and various and cynical, and, in certain lights, so
contradictory of itself. The extreme recentness of his inspiration is as
enviable as the tale is startling that his productions tell of his being
at home, domesticated and initiated, in this wicked and weary world. At
times he strikes us as shockingly precocious, at others as serenely
wise. On the whole, he presents himself as a strangely clever youth who
has stolen the formidable mask of maturity and rushes about, making
people jump with the deep sounds, and sportive exaggerations of tone,
that issue from its painted lips. He has this mark of a real vocation,
that different spectators may like him--must like him, I should almost
say--for different things; and this refinement of attraction, that to
those who reflect even upon their pleasures he has as much to say as to
those who never reflect upon anything. Indeed there is a certain amount
of room for surprise in the fact that, being so much the sort of figure
that the hardened critic likes to meet, he should also be the sort of
figure that inspires the multitude with confidence--for a complicated
air is, in general, the last thing that does this.

By the critic who likes to meet such a bristling adventurer as Mr.
Kipling I mean, of course, the critic for whom the happy accident of
character, whatever form it may take, is more of a bribe to interest
than the promise of some character cherished in theory--the appearance
of justifying some foregone conclusion as to what a writer or a book
"ought," in the Ruskinian sense, to be; the critic, in a word, who has,
_à priori_, no rule for a literary production but that it shall have
genuine life. Such a critic (he gets much more out of his opportunities,
I think, than the other sort) likes a writer exactly in proportion as he
is a challenge, an appeal to interpretation, intelligence, ingenuity,
to what is elastic in the critical mind--in proportion indeed as he may
be a negation of things familiar and taken for granted. He feels in this
case how much more play and sensation there is for himself.

Mr. Kipling, then, has the character that furnishes plenty of play and
of vicarious experience--that makes any perceptive reader foresee a rare
luxury. He has the great merit of being a compact and convenient
illustration of the surest source of interest in any painter of
life--that of having an identity as marked as a window-frame. He is one
of the illustrations, taken near at hand, that help to clear up the
vexed question in the novel or the tale, of kinds, camps, schools,
distinctions, the right way and the wrong way; so very positively does
he contribute to the showing that there are just as many kinds, as many
ways, as many forms and degrees of the "right," as there are personal
points in view. It is the blessing of the art he practises that it is
made up of experience conditioned, infinitely, in this personal way--the
sum of the feeling of life as reproduced by innumerable natures; natures
that feel through all their differences, testify through their
diversities. These differences, which make the identity, are of the
individual; they form the channel by which life flows through him, and
how much he is able to give us of life--in other words, how much he
appeals to us--depends on whether they form it solidly.

This hardness of the conduit, cemented with a rare assurance, is perhaps
the most striking idiosyncrasy of Mr. Kipling; and what makes it more
remarkable is that incident of his extreme youth which, if we talk about
him at all, we cannot affect to ignore. I cannot pretend to give a
biography or a chronology of the author of "Soldiers Three," but I
cannot overlook the general, the importunate fact that, confidently as
he has caught the trick and habit of this sophisticated world, he has
not been long of it. His extreme youth is indeed what I may call his
window-bar--the support on which he somewhat rowdily leans while he
looks down at the human scene with his pipe in his teeth; just as his
other conditions (to mention only some of them), are his prodigious
facility, which is only less remarkable than his stiff selection; his
unabashed temperament, his flexible talent, his smoking-room manner, his
familiar friendship with India--established so rapidly, and so
completely under his control; his delight in battle, his "cheek" about
women--and indeed about men and about everything; his determination not
to be duped, his "imperial" fibre, his love of the inside view, the
private soldier and the primitive man. I must add further to this list
of attractions the remarkable way in which he makes us aware that he
has been put up to the whole thing directly by life (miraculously, in
his teens), and not by the communications of others. These elements, and
many more, constitute a singularly robust little literary character (our
use of the diminutive is altogether a note of endearment and enjoyment)
which, if it has the rattle of high spirits and is in no degree
apologetic or shrinking, yet offers a very liberal pledge in the way of
good faith and immediate performance. Mr. Kipling's performance comes
off before the more circumspect have time to decide whether they like
him or not, and if you have seen it once you will be sure to return to
the show. He makes us prick up our ears to the good news that in the
smoking-room too there may be artists; and indeed to an intimation still
more refined--that the latest development of the modern also may be,
most successfully, for the canny artist to put his victim off his guard
by imitating the amateur (superficially, of course) to the life.

These, then, are some of the reasons why Mr. Kipling may be dear to the
analyst as well as, M. Renan says, to the simple. The simple may like
him because he is wonderful about India, and India has not been "done";
while there is plenty left for the morbid reader in the surprises of his
skill and the _fioriture_ of his form, which are so oddly independent of
any distinctively literary note in him, any bookish association. It is
as one of the morbid that the writer of these remarks (which doubtless
only too shamefully betray his character) exposes himself as most
consentingly under the spell. The freshness arising from a subject
that--by a good fortune I do not mean to underestimate--has never been
"done," is after all less of an affair to build upon than the freshness
residing in the temper of the artist. Happy indeed is Mr. Kipling, who
can command so much of both kinds. It is still as one of the morbid, no
doubt--that is, as one of those who are capable of sitting up all night
for a new impression of talent, of scouring the trodden field for one
little spot of green--that I find our young author quite most curious in
his air, and not only in his air, but in his evidently very real sense,
of knowing his way about life. Curious in the highest degree and well
worth attention is such an idiosyncrasy as this in a young Anglo-Saxon.
We meet it with familiar frequency in the budding talents of France, and
it startles and haunts us for an hour. After an hour, however, the
mystery is apt to fade, for we find that the wondrous initiation is not
in the least general, is only exceedingly special, and is, even with
this limitation, very often rather conventional. In a word, it is with
the ladies that the young Frenchman takes his ease, and more
particularly with the ladies selected expressly to make this attitude
convincing. When they have let him off, the dimnesses too often
encompass him. But for Mr. Kipling there are no dimnesses anywhere, and
if the ladies are indeed violently distinct they are not only strong
notes in a universal loudness. This loudness fills the ears of Mr.
Kipling's admirers (it lacks sweetness, no doubt, for those who are not
of the number), and there is really only one strain that is absent from
it--the voice, as it were, of the civilised man; in whom I of course
also include the civilised woman. But this is an element that for the
present one does not miss--every other note is so articulate and direct.

It is a part of the satisfaction the author gives us that he can make us
speculate as to whether he will be able to complete his picture
altogether (this is as far as we presume to go in meddling with the
question of his future) without bringing in the complicated soul. On the
day he does so, if he handles it with anything like the cleverness he
has already shown, the expectation of his friends will take a great
bound. Meanwhile, at any rate, we have Mulvaney, and Mulvaney is after
all tolerably complicated. He is only a six-foot saturated Irish
private, but he is a considerable pledge of more to come. Hasn't he, for
that matter, the tongue of a hoarse siren, and hasn't he also mysteries
and infinitudes almost Carlylese? Since I am speaking of him I may as
well say that, as an evocation, he has probably led captive those of
Mr. Kipling's readers who have most given up resistance. He is a piece
of portraiture of the largest, vividest kind, growing and growing on the
painter's hands without ever outgrowing them. I can't help regarding
him, in a certain sense, as Mr. Kipling's tutelary deity--a landmark in
the direction in which it is open to him to look furthest. If the author
will only go as far in this direction as Mulvaney is capable of taking
him (and the inimitable Irishman is like Voltaire's Habakkuk, _capable
de tout_) he may still discover a treasure and find a reward for the
services he has rendered the winner of Dinah Shadd. I hasten to add that
the truly appreciative reader should surely have no quarrel with the
primitive element in Mr. Kipling's subject-matter, or with what, for
want of a better name, I may call his love of low life. What is that but
essentially a part of his freshness? And for what part of his freshness
are we exactly more thankful than for just this smart jostle that he
gives the old stupid superstition that the amiability of a story-teller
is the amiability of the people he represents--that their vulgarity, or
depravity, or gentility, or fatuity are tantamount to the same qualities
in the painter itself? A blow from which, apparently, it will not easily
recover is dealt this infantine philosophy by Mr. Howells when, with the
most distinguished dexterity and all the detachment of a master, he
handles some of the clumsiest, crudest, most human things in
life--answering surely thereby the play-goers in the sixpenny gallery
who howl at the representative of the villain when he comes before the
curtain.

Nothing is more refreshing than this active, disinterested sense of the
real; it is doubtless the quality for the want of more of which our
English and American fiction has turned so wofully stale. We are ridden
by the old conventionalities of type and small proprieties of
observance--by the foolish baby-formula (to put it sketchily) of the
picture and the subject. Mr. Kipling has all the air of being disposed
to lift the whole business off the nursery carpet, and of being perhaps
even more able than he is disposed. One must hasten of course to
parenthesise that there is not, intrinsically, a bit more luminosity in
treating of low life and of primitive man than of those whom
civilisation has kneaded to a finer paste: the only luminosity in either
case is in the intelligence with which the thing is done. But it so
happens that, among ourselves, the frank, capable outlook, when turned
upon the vulgar majority, the coarse, receding edges of the social
perspective, borrows a charm from being new; such a charm as, for
instance, repetition has already despoiled it of among the French--the
hapless French who pay the penalty as well as enjoy the glow of living
intellectually so much faster than we. It is the most inexorable part
of our fate that we grow tired of everything, and of course in due time
we may grow tired even of what explorers shall come back to tell us
about the great grimy condition, or, with unprecedented items and
details, about the gray middle state which darkens into it. But the
explorers, bless them! may have a long day before that; it is early to
trouble about reactions, so that we must give them the benefit of every
presumption. We are thankful for any boldness and any sharp curiosity,
and that is why we are thankful for Mr. Kipling's general spirit and for
most of his excursions.

Many of these, certainly, are into a region not to be designated as
superficially dim, though indeed the author always reminds us that India
is above all the land of mystery. A large part of his high spirits, and
of ours, comes doubtless from the amusement of such vivid, heterogeneous
material, from the irresistible magic of scorching suns, subject
empires, uncanny religions, uneasy garrisons and smothered-up
women--from heat and colour and danger and dust. India is a portentous
image, and we are duly awed by the familiarities it undergoes at Mr.
Kipling's hand and by the fine impunity, the sort of fortune that
favours the brave, of _his_ want of awe. An abject humility is not his
strong point, but he gives us something instead of it--vividness and
drollery, the vision and the thrill of many things, the misery and
strangeness of most, the personal sense of a hundred queer contacts and
risks. And then in the absence of respect he has plenty of knowledge,
and if knowledge should fail him he would have plenty of invention.
Moreover, if invention should ever fail him, he would still have the
lyric string and the patriotic chord, on which he plays admirably; so
that it may be said he is a man of resources. What he gives us, above
all, is the feeling of the English manner and the English blood in
conditions they have made at once so much and so little their own; with
manifestations grotesque enough in some of his satiric sketches and
deeply impressive in some of his anecdotes of individual responsibility.

His Indian impressions divide themselves into three groups, one of
which, I think, very much outshines the others. First to be mentioned
are the tales of native life, curious glimpses of custom and
superstition, dusky matters not beholden of the many, for which the
author has a remarkable _flair_. Then comes the social, the Anglo-Indian
episode, the study of administrative and military types, and of the
wonderful rattling, riding ladies who, at Simla and more desperate
stations, look out for husbands and lovers; often, it would seem, and
husbands and lovers of others. The most brilliant group is devoted
wholly to the common soldier, and of this series it appears to me that
too much good is hardly to be said. Here Mr. Kipling, with all his
off-handedness, is a master; for we are held not so much by the greater
or less oddity of the particular yarn--sometimes it is scarcely a yarn
at all, but something much less artificial--as by the robust attitude of
the narrator, who never arranges or glosses or falsifies, but makes
straight for the common and the characteristic. I have mentioned the
great esteem in which I hold Mulvaney--surely a charming man and one
qualified to adorn a higher sphere. Mulvaney is a creation to be proud
of, and his two comrades stand as firm on their legs. In spite of
Mulvaney's social possibilities, they are all three finished brutes; but
it is precisely in the finish that we delight. Whatever Mr. Kipling may
relate about them forever will encounter readers equally fascinated and
unable fully to justify their faith.

Are not those literary pleasures after all the most intense which are
the most perverse and whimsical, and even indefensible? There is a logic
in them somewhere, but it often lies below the plummet of criticism. The
spell may be weak in a writer who has every reasonable and regular
claim, and it may be irresistible in one who presents himself with a
style corresponding to a bad hat. A good hat is better than a bad one,
but a conjuror may wear either. Many a reader will never be able to say
what secret human force lays its hand upon him when Private Ortheris,
having sworn "quietly into the blue sky," goes mad with homesickness by
the yellow river and raves for the basest sights and sounds of London. I
can scarcely tell why I think "The Courting of Dinah Shadd" a
masterpiece (though, indeed, I can make a shrewd guess at one of the
reasons), nor would it be worth while perhaps to attempt to defend the
same pretension in regard to "On Greenhow Hill"--much less to trouble
the tolerant reader of these remarks with a statement of how many more
performances in the nature of "The End of the Passage" (quite admitting
even that they might not represent Mr. Kipling at his best) I am
conscious of a latent relish for. One might as well admit while one is
about it that one has wept profusely over "The Drums of the Fore and
Aft," the history of the "Dutch courage" of two dreadful dirty little
boys, who, in the face of Afghans scarcely more dreadful, saved the
reputation of their regiment and perished, the least mawkishly in the
world, in a squalor of battle incomparably expressed. People who know
how peaceful they are themselves and have no bloodshed to reproach
themselves with needn't scruple to mention the glamour that Mr.
Kipling's intense militarism has for them, and how astonishing and
contagious they find it, in spite of the unromantic complexion of
it--the way it bristles with all sorts of ugliness and technicalities.
Perhaps that is why I go all the way even with "The Gadsbys"--the
Gadsbys were so connected (uncomfortably, it is true) with the army.
There is fearful fighting--or a fearful danger of it--in "The Man Who
Would be King"; is that the reason we are deeply affected by this
extraordinary tale? It is one of them, doubtless, for Mr. Kipling has
many reasons, after all, on his side, though they don't equally call
aloud to be uttered.

One more of them, at any rate, I must add to these unsystematised
remarks--it is the one I spoke of a shrewd guess at in alluding to "The
Courting of Dinah Shadd." The talent that produces such a tale is a
talent eminently in harmony with the short story, and the short story
is, on our side of the Channel and of the Atlantic, a mine which will
take a great deal of working. Admirable is the clearness with which Mr.
Kipling perceives this--perceives what innumerable chances it gives,
chances of touching life in a thousand different places, taking it up in
innumerable pieces, each a specimen and an illustration. In a word, he
appreciates the episode, and there are signs to show that this
shrewdness will, in general, have long innings. It will find the
detachable, compressible "case" an admirable, flexible form; the
cultivation of which may well add to the mistrust already entertained
by Mr. Kipling, if his manner does not betray him, for what is clumsy
and tasteless in the time-honoured practice of the "plot." It will
fortify him in the conviction that the vivid picture has a greater
communicative value than the Chinese puzzle. There is little enough
"plot" in such a perfect little piece of hard representation as "The End
of the Passage," to cite again only the most salient of twenty examples.

But I am speaking of our author's future, which is the luxury that I
meant to forbid myself--precisely because the subject is so tempting.
There is nothing in the world (for the prophet) so charming as to
prophesy, and as there is nothing so inconclusive the tendency should be
repressed in proportion as the opportunity is good. There is a certain
want of courtesy to a peculiarly contemporaneous present even in
speculating, with a dozen differential precautions, on the question of
what will become in the later hours of the day of a talent that has got
up so early. Mr. Kipling's actual performance is like a tremendous walk
before breakfast, making one welcome the idea of the meal, but consider
with some alarm the hours still to be traversed. Yet if his breakfast is
all to come, the indications are that he will be more active than ever
after he has had it. Among these indications are the unflagging
character of his pace and the excellent form, as they say in athletic
circles, in which he gets over the ground. We don't detect him
stumbling; on the contrary, he steps out quite as briskly as at first,
and still more firmly. There is something zealous and craftsman-like in
him which shows that he feels both joy and responsibility. A whimsical,
wanton reader, haunted by a recollection of all the good things he has
seen spoiled; by a sense of the miserable, or, at any rate, the
inferior, in so many continuations and endings, is almost capable of
perverting poetic justice to the idea that it would be even positively
well for so surprising a producer to remain simply the fortunate,
suggestive, unconfirmed and unqualified representative of what he has
actually done. We can always refer to that.





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