Obrázky na stránke


the admirable balance of all the faculties." 1 So Addington Symonds: Poetry cannot be estimated apart from intellectual and moral contents." 2 In absolute opposition to Mr Swinburne, I think it will be found that all the great poets of the world, without exception, have been men of the finest understanding; or, conversely, that the finest understanding, the sanest of Common-sense, is necessary for the equipment of the great poet. I would remind him that even his favourite poet, Keats, is utterly opposed to him on this point. Distressed with apprehensions of failure, he comforted himself in a poetical Epistle to his brother George in these splendid lines :

"What though I leave this dull and earthly mould,
Yet shall my spirit lofty converse hold

With after times. The patriot shall feel
My stern alarum and unsheathe his steel;
Or in the Senate thunder out my numbers
To startle princes from their easy slumbers.
The Sage will mingle with his moral theme
My happy thoughts sententious: he will teem
With lofty periods when my verses fire him,
And then I'll stoop from Heaven to inspire him.”

Swinburne's ideal poet recalls Carlyle's Marquis Saint Huruge in The French Revolution': "Cracked or half-cracked was the tall Marquis's head; uncracked were his lungs." For the love of God, let us insist on having poets sound

[ocr errors]

Sanity of True Genius: the Last Essays of Elia,' p. 62. 2 'Renaissance in Italy,' Vol. vii. p. 161. To the same effect Ruskin: "The marvellous stupidity of this age of lecturers is that they do not see that what they call 'principles of composition' are mere principles of common-sense in everything as well as in pictures and buildings."-On the Old Road,' Vol. i. pp. 301-2. So Byron: "In my mind the highest of all poetry is ethical poetry, as the highest of all earthly objects must be moral truth." "He who can reconcile poetry with truth and wisdom is the only true poet in its real sense."-Moore's 'Byron,' Vol. vii. pp. 369, 376.

in the head, however defective they may be in power of lungs !

31. But Swinburne is partly right as to the elusiveness of Poetry.-But when he tells us that "the test of the highest poetry is that it eludes all test" ; that there "must be something in the mere progress and resonance of the words; some secret in the very cadence and motion of the lines, inexplicable by the most sympathetic acuteness of criticism," I there is a large measure of truth in the doctrine. Carlyle says something to the same effect: "Poetry is inspiration has in it a certain spirituality and divinity which no dissecting knife will discover; arises in the most secret and most sacred region of a Man's Soul,' and so forth.2 Yet I think there may be some exaggeration in these sayings; and I hope we shall be able to find that whilst there are doubtlessly some subtleties present in high poetry which lie beyond the power of analysis both in word and thought, there are yet certain principles discoverable in it which may be perceived and appreciated even by the ordinary well-balanced intellect.


32. His Partialities and Hostilities.—Another word about Mr Swinburne and we shall pass on. In his critical pronouncements he very properly desires "above all things, to preserve in all things the golden mean of scrupulous moderation "-a very just sentiment, but unhappily he forgets to practise it; and generally he speaks in the language either of rhapsody or vituperation. In phrasing about Shelley, or Keats, or Rossetti, or Hugo, or any other, indeed, of his prime favourites, rhapsodical panegyric is the vein in which he usually indulges. (Cervantes tells us that

1 'Miscellanea,' pp. 126-7. See review of this book, 'Athenæum,' 1886, Vol. i. p. 803.

''Essays,' Vol. ii. p. 279.




Dulcinea was a subject that would merit all the praises that hyperbolical eloquence could bestow." 1 Mr Swinburne should write about Dulcinea.) When, on the other hand, he turns upon one whom he regards with disfavour-Byron, for example, he metamorphoses his pen into a very dagger, and makes most inky stabs at his reputation. Most people, I fancy, see something to admire in Childe Harold.' Not so Mr Swinburne. "It is impossible to express, says he, "how much Childe Harold' gains by being done out of wretchedly bad metre into decently good prose. Nor do his strictures extend only to Childe Harold.' In all the compositions of his highly composite nature, he declares that there was neither a note of real music, nor a gleam of real imagination "-mark, neither a note nor a gleam; that he was "of all remembered poets the most wanting in distinction of any kind; the most dependent for his effects upon the most vulgar and violent resources of rant and cant and glare and splash and splutter." It is no part of my present purpose to enter into any defence of Byron or his works. I speak of Mr Swinburne's comments upon him as I have spoken of his comments on other writers-mainly to show with what difficulties and uncertainties criticism is



1 'Don Quixote,' Part ii. chap. 73.


2 'Miscellanea,' p. 76. Contrast with his panegyric on Hugo in 'A Study of Victor Hugo.' He thinks that, as a dramatist, Voltaire stands nearer to Corneille, and Dryden nearer to Shakespeare than Byron to Voltaire or to Dryden.-' Miscellanea,' p. 86. Nichol's work he looks upon as the most brilliant and searching estimate ever given of Byron's character, his work and his career."-Ib., p. 80. With Swinburne's opinion of 'Childe Harold' contrast that of Sir E. Brydges, who, speaking of the 4th canto, says: "Whoever reads it, and is not impressed with the many grand virtues as well as gigantic powers of the mind that wrote it, seems to me to afford a proof both of insensibility of heart and great stupidity of intellect."-Moore's 'Byron,' Vol. viii., note, p. 268.

hedged about; but in passing I would just remark on the injudicial character of his expressions regarding Byron. It is probably a happy thing for the critic that he or his works were not before the public when Byron was busy with his tomahawk,1 or when Pope was out scalping certain


33. Mr Churton Collins on Mr Swinburne.—Mr Churton Collins, I think, estimates Mr Swinburne at his right value. He wrote of him in 1886: 66 One of the kindest friends I have ever had has been Mr Swinburne. But I believe, rightly or wrongly, that his critical opinions are often wild, unsound, and even absurd; that his prose style is still oftener intolerably involved, florid, and diffuse; and that he has, in consequence, exercised a most pernicious influence on contemporary style and contemporary literature." If Mr Swinburne had been occupying a professional chair, Mr Collins declares that, in the interests of education, he would have protested against his election.2


34. Vernon Lee.-Another somewhat oracular critic of Literature and Art, Vernon Lee, declares that the artist "can think, imagine, and feel only in a given manner" ; that "his religious conceptions have taken the place of his artistic creations ; that "art has destroyed the supernatural " ; and that "the artist has swallowed up the believer." The Delphic Oracle is understood to have had a great talent in obscurity and ambiguity; but it appears that some of our critics could compete with the Oracle in that particular kind of utterance. In the sentences


1 Far too busy with his tomahawk! "No more Keats, I entreat-flay him alive; if some of you don't, I must skin him myself. There is no bearing the drivelling idiotism of the manikin."-Moore's 'Byron,' Vol. iv. pp. 353-4. All very deplorable. 24 Athenæum,' 1886, Vol. ii. p. 569.

36 Belcaro,' p. 87.

quoted, the author seems to have achieved a veritable triumph in self-obfuscation. In the same book she asserts that "no symphony, no picture, no poem, can give us that delight, that delusory imaginative pleasure which we receive as children from a tawdry engraving or a hideous doll," 1 surely a most inapposite and extravagant comparison; but in commenting upon musical art, she remarks very sensibly that "we try to force music to talk a language which it does not speak and which we do not understand, obtaining nothing but unintelligible and incoherent forms in an anxiety to obtain intelligible and logical thoughts." 2

35. Eugène Véron on Artists.-A French critic, Eugène Véron, declares that "the artist cares very little indeed about the essence of things "; that he simply interprets his personal impression without troubling himself about anything else " ; that "in place of applying himself to the


manifestation of the essence or dominant characteristic of things," he expresses "spontaneously and unconsciously the essence or characteristic of his own personality"; and that "the greater his genius, the greater energy and individuality will such a manifestation display "; 3 so that in looking, say, at a portrait by Reynolds or Raeburn, you are not to expect to find a representation of the appearance and of the vital characteristics of the subject of the portrait, but rather "the essence or characteristic "of Reynolds or Raeburn! Error, I think, is fairly evident on the face of the doctrine. 36. His view of poets and poetry.-He is equally

1 'Belcaro,' p. 96. 2 Ib., p. 128.

3'Esthetics,' p. 74. A critic in the 'Athenæum' teaches a doctrine exactly contrary to that of M. Véron: "This is the merit and distinction of Art; to be more real than reality, to be not Nature, but Nature's essence."-March 1885, p. 339.

« PredošláPokračovať »