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The distinctions of style, of course, are very great; but the
general character of the diction, the imagery, even of the rhythm, is
more or less identical. The stamp of the same age is upon them,--they
are hall-marked 1820._

_It is perhaps too early to decide that this will never be the case with
the Victorian lyrics. While we live in an age we see the distinction of
its parts, rather than their co-relation. It is said that the Japanese
Government once sent over a Commission to report upon the art of Europe;
and that, having visited the exhibitions of London, Paris, Florence, and
Berlin, the Commissioners confessed that the works of the European
painters all looked so exactly alike that it was difficult to
distinguish one from another. The Japanese eye, trained in absolutely
opposed conventions, could not tell the difference between a Watts and a
Fortuny, a Théodore Rousseau and a Henry Moore. So it is quite possible,
it is even probable, that future critics may see a close similarity
where we see nothing but divergence between the various productions of
the Victorian age. Yet we can judge but what we discern; and certainly
to the critical eye to-day it is the absence of a central tendency, the
chaotic cultivation of all contrivable varieties of style, which most
strikingly seems to distinguish the times we live in._

_We use the word "Victorian" in literature to distinguish what was
written after the decline of that age of which Walter Scott, Coleridge,
and Wordsworth were the survivors. It is well to recollect, however,
that Tennyson, who is the Victorian writer_ par excellence, _had
published the most individual and characteristic of his lyrics long
before the Queen ascended the throne, and that Elizabeth Barrett, Henry
Taylor, William Barnes, and others were by this date of mature age. It
is difficult to remind ourselves, who have lived in the radiance of that
august figure, that some of the most beautiful of Tennyson's lyrics,
such as "Mariana" and "The Dying Swan" are now separated from us by as
long a period of years as divided them from Dr. Johnson and the author
of "Night Thoughts." The reflection is of value only as warning us of
the extraordinary length of the epoch we still call "Victorian." It
covers, not a mere generation, but much more than half a century. During
this length of time a complete revolution in literary taste might have
been expected to take place. This has not occurred, and the cause may
very well be the extreme license permitted to the poets to adopt
whatever style they pleased. Where all the doors stand wide open, there
is no object in escaping; where there is but one door, and that one
barred, it is human nature to fret for some violent means of evasion.
How divine have been the methods of the Victorian lyrists may easily be
exemplified_:--

_"Quoth tongue of neither maid nor wife
To heart of neither wife nor maid,
Lead we not here a jolly life
Betwixt the shine and shade?_

_"Quoth heart of neither maid nor wife
To tongue of neither wife nor maid,
Thou wagg'st, but I am worn with strife,
And feel like flowers that fade."_

_That is a masterpiece, but so is this:--_

_"Nay, but you who do not love her,
Is she not pure gold, my mistress?
Holds earth aught--speak truth--above her?
Aught like this tress, see, and this tress,
And this last fairest tress of all,
--So fair, see, ere I let it fall?_

_"Because, you spend your lives in praisings,
To praise, you search the wide world over:
Then why not witness, calmly gazing,
If earth holds aught--speak truth--above her?
Above this tress, and this I touch,
But cannot praise, I love so much!"_

_And so is this:--_

_"Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will._

_"This be the verse yon grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill."_

_But who would believe that the writers of these were contemporaries?_

_If we examine more closely the forms which lyric poetry has taken since
1830, we shall find that certain influences at work in the minds of our
leading writers have led to the widest divergence in the character of
lyrical verse. It will be well, perhaps, to consider in turn the leading
classes of that work. It was not to be expected that in an age of such
complexity and self-consciousness as ours, the pure song, the simple
trill of bird-like melody, should often or prominently be heard. As
civilization spreads, it ceases to be possible, or at least it becomes
less and less usual, that simple emotion should express itself with
absolute naïveté. Perhaps Burns was the latest poet in these islands
whose passion warbled forth in perfectly artless strains; and he had the
advantage of using a dialect still unsubdued and unvulgarized.
Artlessness nowadays must be the result of the most exquisitely finished
art; if not, it is apt to be insipid, if not positively squalid and
fusty. The obvious uses of simple words have been exhausted; we cannot,
save by infinite pains and the exercise of a happy genius, recover the
old spontaneous air, the effect of an inevitable arrangement of the only
possible words._

_This beautiful direct simplicity, however, was not infrequently secured
by Tennyson, and scarcely less often by Christina Rossetti, both of whom
have left behind them jets of pure emotional melody which compare to
advantage with the most perfect specimens of Greek and Elizabethan song.
Tennyson did not very often essay this class of writing, but when he
did, he rarely failed; his songs combine, with extreme naturalness and
something of a familiar sweetness, a felicity of workmanship hardly to
be excelled. In her best songs, Miss Rossetti is scarcely, if at all,
his inferior; but her judgment was far less sure, and she was more ready
to look with complacency on her failures. The songs of Mr. Aubrey de
Vere are not well enough known; they are sometimes singularly charming.
Other poets have once or twice succeeded in catching this clear natural
treble,--the living linnet once captured in the elm, as Tusitala puts
it; but this has not been a gift largely enjoyed by our Victorian
poets._

_The richer and more elaborate forms of lyric, on the contrary, have
exactly suited this curious and learned age of ours. The species of
verse which, originally Italian or French, have now so abundantly and so
admirably been practised in England that we can no longer think of them
as exotic, having found so many exponents in the Victorian period that
they are pre-eminently characteristic of it. "Scorn not the Sonnet,"
said Wordsworth to his contemporaries; but the lesson has not been
needed in the second half of the century. The sonnet is the most solid
and unsingable of the sections of lyrical poetry; it is difficult to
think of it as chanted to a musical accompaniment. It is used with great
distinction by writers to whom skill in the lighter divisions of poetry
has been denied, and there are poets, such as Bowles and Charles
Tennyson-Turner, who live by their sonnets alone. The practice of the
sonnet has been so extended that all sense of monotony has been lost. A
sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning differs from one by D. G. Rossetti
or by Matthew Arnold to such excess as to make it difficult for us to
realize that the form in each case is absolutely identical._

_With the sonnet might be mentioned the lighter forms of elaborate
exotic verse; but to these a word shall be given later on. More closely
allied to the sonnet are those rich and somewhat fantastic
stanza-measures in which Rossetti delighted. Those in which Keats and
the Italians have each their part have been greatly used by the
Victorian poets. They lend themselves to a melancholy magnificence, to
pomp of movement and gorgeousness of color; the very sight of them gives
the page the look of an ancient blazoned window. Poems of this class are
"The Stream's Secret" and the choruses in "Love is enough." They satisfy
the appetite of our time for subtle and vague analysis of emotion, for
what appeals to the spirit through the senses; but here, again, in
different hands, the "thing," the metrical instrument, takes wholly
diverse characters, and we seek in vain for a formula that can include
Robert Browning and Gabriel Rossetti, William Barnes and Arthur Hugh
Clough._

_From this highly elaborated and extended species of lyric the
transition is easy to the Ode. In the Victorian age, the ode, in its
full Pindaric sense, has not been very frequently used. We have
specimens by Mr. Swinburne in which the Dorian laws are closely adhered
to. But the ode, in a more or less irregular form, whether pæan or
threnody, has been the instrument of several of our leading lyrists. The
genius of Mr. Swinburne, even to a greater degree than that of Shelley,
is essentially dithyrambic, and is never happier than when it spreads
its wings as wide as those of the wild swan, and soars upon the very
breast of tempest. In these flights Mr. Swinburne attains to a volume of
sonorous melody such as no other poet, perhaps, of the world has
reached, and we may say to him, as he has shouted to the Mater
Triumphalis:--_

_"Darkness to daylight shall lift up thy pæan,
Hill to hill thunder, vale cry back to vale,
With wind-notes as of eagles Æschylean,
And Sappho singing in the nightingale."_

_Nothing could mark more picturesquely the wide diversity permitted in
Victorian lyric than to turn from the sonorous and tumultuous odes of
Mr. Swinburne to those of Mr. Patmore, in which stateliness of
contemplation and a peculiar austerity of tenderness find their
expression in odes of iambic cadence, the melody of which depends, not
in their headlong torrent of sound, but in the cunning variation of
catalectic pause. A similar form has been adopted by Lord De Tabley for
many of his gorgeous studies of antique myth, and by Tennyson for his
"Death of the Duke of Wellington." It is an error to call these iambic
odes "irregular," although they do not follow the classic rules with
strophe, antistrophe, and epode.



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