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delivered himself of these oracles-as hopeless as any that were ever delivered at Delphi,-he goes on to exclaim: "What temptations to go astray are here held forth to those whose thoughts have been little disciplined by the_Understanding": a phrasing sprung, probably, I should say, from some study in German metaphysics. Some parts of his essay appear to me to point in the direction of elemental chaos.
18. Moir.-Another poet, David Macbeth Moir, speaks thus of the poet in action :
which, like Shakespeare's rhapsody touching the "in a fine frenzy rolling," "" 1 conveys no information to the inquirer at all, but rather leaves him in a state of dazed bewilderment, or conjures up within his imagination some vision of a gentleman in a fit.
19. Carlyle.-Carlyle declares that "All right poems are [songs]; that whatsoever is not sung is properly no Poem, but a piece of Prose cramped into jingling lines." 2 I think it is a great mistake; for it seems to me that the Lyrical is only a branch of poetry; Poetry is the genus, whereof the Lyrical is but a species.
20. Ruskin.-Ruskin says: "I come, after some embarrassment, to the conclusion that poetry is the suggestion by the imagination of noble grounds for the noble emotions.' I mean by the noble emotions those four principal sacred passions: Love, Veneration, Admiration, and Joy (this latter especially if unselfish), and their oppo
1 Though it forms part of the splendid passage on the Creative Imagination.-' Midsummer Night's Dream,' v. 1.
2 Heroes and Hero Worship.' The Hero as a Poet, p. 90.
sites-Hatred, Indignation (or Scorn), Horror, and Grief-this last when unselfish becomes compassion.' Further, he says it is the power of assembling by the help of the Imagination such images as will excite these feelings, "that constitutes the power of the poet, or, literally, of the 'Maker.” ” 1 Again, there is much vagueness in this theory. It cannot, I am afraid, be of much service to us in our endeavours to arrive at an articulate judgment or appreciation of a poem or of a work of art.
21. Emerson.-Emerson says that "the Poet conforms things to his thoughts"; that he "invests dust and stones with humanity, and makes them the words of Reason." "The Imagination," he adds, "may be defined to be the use which Reason makes of the natural world." Some vague striving after truth in this doctrine, I daresay, but it is not expressed in such a way as to give us any help in criticising or appreciating a poem, or of understanding what poetry really
22. Swinburne.-It must be a most elusive subject. Swinburne records that he would rather preserve Kubla Khan' and 'Christabel' than any other of Coleridge's poems, whilst Charles Lamb says of the former: "I am almost afraid that 'Kubla Khan' is an owl that won't bear daylight. I fear lest it should be discovered by the lantern of typography and clear reducting to letters, no better than nonsense or no sense. When I was young I used to chant with ecstasy 'Mild Arcadians ever blooming,' till somebody told me it was meant to be nonsense. "3 In this case of 'Kubla Khan,' I think there can be no doubt that Lamb was the better critic.
1 'Modern Painters,' Vol. ii. pp. 12-13.
2 Essays and Studies,' p. 265.
3 'Works,' Vol. ii. p. 129.
23. His Hugonic Raptures.-I should say generally that no one treats us to more curious things in the way of criticism and critical doctrine than Swinburne. Speaking of 'L'Année Terrible' of Victor Hugo, he says it is a book "written in tears and blood and characters of flame." Symbolising the book as a child, he declares: "It is visibly of divine birth, and has the blood of the immortals, but he was brought forth with heartbreak," and so on.1 Now what on earth is anybody in his sober senses to ascertain from such an outburst? Yet it is but the Keynote of the Hugo Essays-in which he ranges from a welter of incoherent panegyric and rhapsody over Hugo down to an abusive agony of rancour against other persons.2 As a critical maledictor Mr Swinburne might walk arm-in-arm with the Right Reverend Bishop Ernulphus, or with the ecclesiastic in The Jackdaw of Rheims.'
24. Dante Gabriel Rossetti is one of his great favourites. In that poet he discovers "white flames of delight," seeming effusions of an instant, insuppressible sense of memory," and other extraordinary qualities. Well, that kind of language may be very fine, but what does it mean? The sane man cannot but wish to find a meaning both in the written and in the spoken word. What, then, is a "white flame of delight" in an author? What is the "seeming effusion of an instant, insuppressible sense of memory"? I am foiled in my efforts to extract a meaning out of this phrasing; and, indeed, I find myself forced to the conclusion that it is nothing better than a welter of muddled metaphorical panegyric, ex
1 'Essays and Studies,' pp. 17-18.
2 Some pages of these Essays' are simply filled with turgid denunciations of men whom he regards in an unfriendly mannere.g., pp. 38-39. Let dogs delight to bark and bite, but gentlemen shouldn't.
pressive of nothing sane. In the same essay he rapturously quotes one of the most cum brous lines in Rossetti-descriptive of a lady's charms—
"Large lovely arms, and a neck like a tower,"
almost droll in its elephantine awkwardness, as an exquisite stroke of poetic art.1
25. His eulogiums on Shelley and Keats.-Listen, further, to his eulogiums on Shelley and Keats. Shelley, he declares, "outsang all poets on record but some two or three throughout all time"; that "his depths and heights of inner and outer music are as divine as nature's, and not sooner exhaustible"; ; that "he was alone the perfect singing god"; that "his thoughts, words, and deeds all sang together"; that "he was born a son and soldier of light"; an "archangel winged and weaponed for angels' work," and so on. It suggests, I should say, a mere fit of rhapsodical hysterics in the writer; but apart from its intrinsic fatuity, which must be evident at a glance to any sober-minded reader of Shelley, collate and contrast this passage with the following on Keats. The latter, he assures us, "has indeed a divine magic of language applied to nature" that "here he is unapproachable"; that this is his throne, and he may bid all the Kings of song come bow to it"; and that the "Ode to Autumn"" renders nature as no man but Keats ever could." 2 Thus we find him engaged not only in the hottest of warfare with Commonsense, but also in the hottest of critical warfare with himself; for if Shelley "was alone the perfect singing god"-a very funny kind of god
1'Essays and Studies,' p. 69.
2 Ib., p. 216. It is the foolish language of panegyric, but the ode is a fine one-not the artificial utterance of volition, but the spontaneous expression of true and warm emotion.
certainly, how was it possible that Keats, at the same moment, should sit on a throne and "bid all the Kings of song come bow to him"? Even if a critic finds reason to worship those whom he regards as true "bards," he ought not to grovel before them. Mr Swinburne's "bardic devotions lead him to assume this attitude too frequently. It is not a delectable sight. He should keep his breath and preserve his dignity. Even in discussing Dryden's "Hind and Panther," he falls into his rhapsodic attitude, and speaks of that poem as being " opulent and superb in august eloquence and passionate humour." 1 Such a posture is unsatisfactory at any time, but it is surely nothing less than ridiculous in the presence of that particular work. There is much windblown rhetoric in these essays.
26. His Art Criticisms.—In a well-known work Alexander Pope spoke of the effusions of some of the poets of his own day as the offspring of Folly and Frenzy. What would he have said, I wonder, if he had lived to read in Mr Swinburne of Raphael's "perfect grace and godhead of heavenly humanity"? It might pass as an attempt to chaff a deceased painter. In his note on designs of the old Masters at Florence, he propounds the conundrum : What, indeed, is lovelier, or luxuriously loving, than a strong and graceful snake of the nobler kind?" In the words of Carlyle about some other person, he seems to utter the palpably absurd as if it were a mere truism.
27. His strange doctrine that Art takes no care of Fact.-Indeed, I do not know any writer who cuts a more singular figure in the general field of criticism than Mr Swinburne. Art, he tells us, "is very life itself, and knows nothing of death. She is absolute truth, and takes no care of fact.”