Lucile reviewed in The North British Review
"Recent Poetry." The North British Review (Edinburgh) 33 (1860), p114-129.
Art V – 1. Poems and Essays. By the late William Caldwell Roscoe. Edited, with a Prefatory Memoir, by his Brother-in-Law, Richard Holt Hutton. Two vols. 1860.
2. Io in Egypt, and other Poems. By Richard Garnett. 1859.
3. Lucile. By Owen Meredith. 1860.
4. Blanche Lisle, and other Poems. By Cecil Home. 1860.
5. Poems. By Thomas Ashe. 1859.
DURING the last year or two a considerable number of volumes of poetry have appeared, some of which have perhaps as good a claim to our notice as some in the above list; and nearly all of them indicate a decided improvement of tone and intention as compared with the class which was most abundantly issued some seven years ago. There is much less straining after effect,– the effect strained after being as worthless as the power to produce it was usually inefficient. The fundamental poetical rule, "Look in thy heart, and write," has been much more commonly adhered to; and the consequence is, that a good deal of the most recent poetry, if it does not exhibit any extraordinary ability, is at least not a nuisance; if it does not give its authors a right to abiding stations in the halls of fame, it at least, as a rule, does no discredit to their intelligence and feelings as rnen and women.
We have already noticed and given emphatic praise to the late Mr W. C. Roscoe's powers as a dramatist, though we, in common with the rest of the world, were ignorant, at the time we reviewed the tragedy of “Violenzia," of the name of the author. Had this work – by much the most important piece in the two volumes just published by Mr Hutton – not been noticed by us before, we should have endeavoured to devote a separate article to this collection, which, with Mr Hutton's charmingly written biography of his brother-in-law at the beginning, constitutes one of the most graceful and readable of the season's contributions to literature. In all that Mr Roscoe has written there is a sound knowledge of, and hearty sympathy with humanity, which is oftener pretended to than really possessed by poets whom the world has pronounced much greater. Of all poetic qualities, the most essential, yet, strange to say, the most rare, are these. They are the very foundation of poety without which, whatever proud and painted superstructure is raised, and for the present applauded, no work can abide the patient test of time. On this truth we have over and over again insisted in this Review, and in the light of it we have ventured at times to give opinions upon the value of poetic works which were strongly at variance with the popular faith of the moment, but which even a very few years have already, in some instances, done much to establish. Judging what Mr Roscoe has written by this truth, we do not hesitate to declare our impression, that if' he has not won an abiding place among English poets, it is entirely because he did not see fit to give himself with the necessary abandon to the cultivation of his fully sufficient powers. The peculiar circumstances and moral conditions of the time render the production of thoroughly good poetry so extremely difficult; they demand so commanding and tender an intellect to see through the prosaic fallacies of society, and its flippant cynicisms, without despising it; a philosophy at once so subtle and so real, so courageously, nay more, unconcernedly opposed to fashionable dogmas; so clear a vision of truths which men have ceased to see clearly, or have never learned so to see, and withal so patient a devotion to the completeness of verbal expression, in a time which endeavours to make up for its substantial deficiencies by demanding an unprecedented beauty of surface, that a man, who feels the power, must, in settling with himself and his conscience whether he has the right to make himself a poet, consider whether he is justified in abandoning all other kinds of success. Mr Roscoe appears to have weighed the matter thoughtfully, and answered it conscientiously in the negative; and there is something very touching in the sonnet printed at the end of “Violenzia," in which he conveys this conclusion:–
The bubble of the silver-springing waves,
Castalian music, and that flattering sound,
Low rustling of the loved Apollian leaves,
With which my youthful hair was to be crown'd,
Grow dimmer in my ears, while Beauty grieves
Over her votary, less frequent found,
And, not untouch'd by storms, my life-boat heaves
Through the splash'd ocean-waters, outward bound.
And as the leaning mariner, his hand
Clasp'd on his oar, strives trembling to reclaim
Some loved, lost echo from the fleeting strand,
So lean I back to the poetic land;
And in my heart a sound, a voice, a name,
Hangs, as above the lamp hangs the expiring flame.
Referring our readers to our recent article on the "Modern Dramatists" for fuller proof of our assertion of Mr Roscoe's high natural powers, we must content ourselves in this place with a passage or two from the minor poems, now for the first time published by Mr Hutton. We have plenty of poets who can paint clouds, and hills, and waters, but how few who can write so well of a woman as this:
On many an English lady's face
Fair Fortune grants these eyes to gaze;
Not fair alone in form and hue,
But gracious, guileless, tender, true.
I do not say you shall not find
A fairer face or loftier mind;
But none where Love's deep fervour lies
More deep in secret-keeping eyes;
None where fair Truth from more sincere
Unstained windows gazes clear,
Or consecrated duty made
Eyes mole abash'd, yet less afraid;
Where pain so quietly hath hid
Beneath an unrevealing lid;
Or quick-accepted comfort smiled,
With all the freshness of a child.
None whence shyer, sweeter laughter
Shot, the soft voice following after.
Or as this:–
When I ask'd her, “Wilt thou kiss me?
"Nought she said, but hung her cheek so,
As if she were thinking, thinking
Whether she might do't or no.
Then her fair, kind face upturning,
One sweet touch I there did win;
As if she were thinking, thinking
Such small graces are no sin.
She therein lost no composure,
Nor ashamed did she seem;
Truly chaste may grant such favour,
And therein lose no esteem.
In a graver style, the following poem, called "Opportunity," is fine, though not complete; indeed, none of these smaller poems appear to have been more than the easily thrown off expressions of the thoughts and feelings of the moment. In “Violenzia" alone does Mr Roscoe seem really to have put forth anything like his true power.
O opportunity, thou gull of the world!
That, being present, winnest but disdain,
So small thou seem'st; but once behind us whirl'd,
A grim phantasma, shadowest all the plain.
Thou Parthian, that shoot'st thine arrows back,
Meeting our front with terror-feigning doles;
But often, turning on the flying track,
With memory-winged shafts dost wound our souls.
Thou air, which breathing we do scarce perceive,
And think it little to enjoy the light;
But when the unvalued sun hath taken leave,
Darkly thou showiest in the expanse of night.
Thou all men's torment, no man's comforter,
Lost opportunity! that shut'st the door
On all unwork'd intentions, and dost stir
Their fretting ghosts to plague our heart's deep core.
Thou sword of sharp Remorse, and sting of Time!
Passionate empoisoner of mortal tears!
Thou blaster of fresh Hope's recurring prime!
Crutch of despair, and sustenance of fears!
But oh, to those that have the wit to use thee,
Thou glorious angel, clasp'd with golden wings;
Whereon he climbing that did rightly choose thee,
Sees wondrous sights of unexpected things.
Thou instrument of never-dying fame,
To those that snatch thy often proffer'd hilt;
To those that on the door can read thy name,
Thou residence of glory ready built.
Used opportunity! thou torch of act,
And planted ladder to a high desire;
Thou one thing needful, making nothing lack'd;
Thou spark unto a laid, unlighted fire.
Richard Garnett, the author of “Io in Egypt, and other Poems," is a young man who has only to do his own powers,justice, in order to make himself a name among modern poets. It is not often that a first volume contains so much not only of promise, but of performance, as that before us. Mr Garnett, in this volume, tries his hand at two kinds of poetry,– one descriptive, and the other lyric. In the first, he seems to us to have written vividly, but not originally; in the last, when we say that he has written well, we say that he has shown originality; for there never was a good lyric produced which had not some unprecedented musical movement; and unprecedented musical movement is perhaps the most absolute of all tests of originality in poetry. We like the poem which stands first, and gives its name to the volume, as little as anything in it. The prominent place given to this piece seems to show, that Mr Garnett has not yet acquired that very necessary element of a considerable success in any art – a knowledge of the peculiarities of his own strength – which unquestionably hes in the lyric. "The Pope's Daughter," is a very intensely rendered sketch of Lucretia Borgia; but the intensity, besides having the fault of making the portrait frightful, reminds us much too strongly of Mr Browning's verse, and of a certain picture by Mr Gabriel Rossetti, which obviously suggested this poem. In proportion as Mr Garnett's verses approach the lyric, they improve. Here is a piece, half-descriptive, half-lyric, which, though not. perfect, is, on the whole, beautiful and impressive:–
BEFORE THE STORM.
O majesty of night!
The constant moon and stars
Pursued their westward path
In cold tranquillity, nor ever turn'd
One sidelong glance, to scan
Their spotless beauty tremulously glass'd
In the eternal mirror of the main.
Faint, unsubstantial clouds,
Rapid as Panic, white as ghosts, sped on;
Like guilty thoughts of night, unmeet to brave
The awful splendour of the moon's pure eye.
The restless sea rock'd on
Like a child's cradle, like a nurse the while
She croon'd her endless, soft, irregular lay.
Now to the rugged cliff
The delicate foam with humid hisses clung,
And now retreated coy;
As saying, “Kiss me not
Before the virgin moon and quiet stars.
What do they know of love?
The silent, the immutable, who pace
The self-same path for ever, as they shed
The self-same splendours from the self-same skies!
What do they know of love? How shall they comprehend
The tempest of my heart,
The magic of my smile,
My stormy passions and my sudden calms?
Wait, patient Rock, but wait
For nights without a moon,
For skies without a star,
For hurricanes unchain'd!
Wait for the sea-bird shrieking in the gust,
The sailor battling with the deep, and then,
I shake my briny locks,
I soar up from my bed,
And, thrilling with my multitude of waves,
I fall upon thy neck!"
We must confess that the last four lines seem to us sadly to diminish the elect of what is otherwise a striking and beautifully expressed thought. Mr Garnett appears to be a scholar in several modern languages, and we fancy we trace an unfortunate partiality for the worst of all schools for a lyric poet, the modern German, in which such mixed and discordant images as those in the four lines in question are very common, even with poets of name. For parity and dignity of style, an English poet has such high model in his own language, that he can scarcely turn his eyes to the verse of any other country, unless he goes back some four or five centuries, without risk of some corruption of taste.
From several equally beautiful and significant lyrics, we select
THE BALLAD OF THE BOAT.
The strearn was smooth as glass: we said, “Arise, and let's away;"
The Siren sang beside the boat that in the rushes lay;
And spread the sail and strong the oar, we gaily took our way.
When shall the sandy bar be cross'd? when shall we find the bay?
The broadening flood swells slowly out o'er cattle-dotted plains,
The stream is strong and turbulent, and dark with heavy rains,
The labourer looks up to see our shallop speed away.
When shall the sandy bar be cross'd? when shall we find the bay?
Now are the clouds like fiery shrouds; the sun, superbly large,
Slow as an oak to woodman's stroke sinks flaming at their marge.
The waves are bright with mirror'd light, as jacinths on our way.
When shall the sandy bar be cross'd? when shall we find the bay?
The moon is high up in the sky, and now no more we see
The spreading river's either bank, and surging distantly,
There booms a sullen thunder, as of breakers far away.
Now shall the sandy bar be cross'd, now shall we find the bay!
The seagull shrieks high overhead, and dimly to our sight
The moonlit crests of foaming waves gleam towering thro' the night.
We steal upon the mermaid soon, and start her from her lay,
When once the sandy bar is cross'd, and we are in the bay.
What rises white and awful as a shroud-enfolded ghost?
What roar of rampant tumult bursts in clangour on the coast?
Pull back! full back! the raging flood sweeps every oar away.
O, stream, is this thy bar of sand? O boat, is this the bay?
There is a fine moral symbolism in this and some other of Mr Garnett's lyrics, which will probably, sooner or later, place them among the popular classics. In several others we can detect no human purpose whatever; they are mere plays of fancy, which have no reason to show for their existence, and are not sufficiently beautiful to have a right to exist without reason. It may be, however, that these apparently meaningless poems have a sense too subtle for our finding. We do not say this ironicallv; for Mr Garnett's inner meaning is often veiled very deeply. his best lyrics, like much of the finest poetry which has been written, have two meanings,– one esoteric, and satisfactory enough in itself; the other esoteric, which does not appear till you look for it, as in
Our crocodile, (Psammarathis,
A priest at Ombi, totd me this,)
Our crocodile is good and dear,
And eats a damsel once a year.
To me unworthy hath he done
This favour three times – one by one
Three daughters ate! I praise, therefore,
And honour him for evermore.
Each spring there is an exhibition
Of maidens, and a competition.
The baffled fair are blank and spiteful,
The victor's triumph most delightful.
Three months secluded doth she dwell
With the high pontiff in his cell,
Due-worshipping each deity,
And Venus more especially.
Then, on an island in the Nile,
They take her to our crocodile;
He wags his tail, the great jaws stir,
And make a happy end of her.
B, a, bo! O you brainless child!
(My fourth, sir,) dirty, rude, and wild!
You'll break my heart! you'll ne'er be meet
For any crocodile to eat.'
Are we mistaken in fancying that this very humorous little piece is meant to bear an application to modern views of the end and aim of damsels, and the main object of their education?
We trust that many of our readers will send at once for Mr Garnett's volume, when we assure them that we could easily fill the whole space to be devoted to this article with extracts as good, or very nearly as good, as the three we have given. It will be Mr Garnett's own fault if he does not, before long, come before us with an irresistible claim to a fuller notice than we are now able to award him.
“Owen Meredith," whose earlier productions have been noticed in this Review with praise, comes before the world for the third time, in the poem called "Lucile." This young poet writes much too fast. It is scarcely a year ago that we were reviewing “The Wanderer," and here is a new work as long or longer than "Paradise Lost," and – we have the poet's word for it – almost as ambitious. "Owen Meredith," in his "Dedication," lays much stress upon the novelty of this effort. "In this poem," he says, “I have abandoned those forms of verse with which I had most familiarised my thoughts, and have endeavoured to follow a path on which I could discover no footprint before me, either to guide or to warn." We take it for granted that "Owen Meredith" refers to English literature only; for in French literature, with which he is obviously very well acquainted, there is certainly much that strongly reminds us both of the versification and of the poetic tone and quality of “Lucile." Indeed, its most remarkable characteristic is the extraordinary, and, as far as we can remember, unprecedented spectacle, of a really vital reproduction, in the English language, of those qualities of the modern French novel which are most unlike the ordinary characteristics of our own literature. The moral point of view from which the author of "Lucile" regards man and society is quite startlingly unlike anything we have hitherto witnessed in any English writer of similar poetic pretensions; and his ideas of such matters as virtue, genius, love, marriage, and the like, are certainly wholly original, if regard be had only to what has hitherto appeared in the verse of any English poet, or indeed in the prose of any English writer of consideration. The poem opens with a letter from the Countess de Nevers (Lucile) to Lord Alfred Vargrave. We give the commencing lines as a fair average specimen of the verse and pitch of the style:–
I hear from Bigorre you are there. I am told
You are going to marry Miss Darcy. Of old,
So long since you may have forgotten it now
(When we parted as friends, soon mere strangers to grow),
Your last words recorded a pledge – what you will –
A promise – the time is now come to fulfil.
The letters I ask you, my lord, to return,
I desire to receive from your hand. You discern
My reasons, which, therefore, I need not explain.
The lady who writes thus to Lord Vargrave is one of those combinations of almost inconceivable virtue and extreme indiscretion which are seldom met with except in the modern French romance. She and Lord Vargrave were formerly lovers, but, to quote the words of the English gentleman in relating the affair to ”Cousin John,"
She bored me. I showed it. She saw it. What next?
She reproach'd. I retorted. Of course she was vex'd.
For the ten years intervening between the separation which naturally followed, Lucile had endeavoured to assuage her sorrow by dressing, and dancing, and fascinating the society of Paris and the German baths, travelling about "unprotected," and doing her dancing without any defence against a slanderous world but that of her incomparable virtue and "genius," which seem to have consisted, up to this period, in leading a very gay life from a very grave motive, namely, the necessity of keeping in abeyance her passion for the unworthy young coxcomb whom she knew that she had “bored." This lady, on hearing that Lord Vargrave is going to be married, writes, as we have seen, without the remotest intention of disturbing his matrimonial arrangements, or of reviving old feelings. She says that “he discerns her reasons, which therefore she need not explain;" but we think she gives him credit for uncommonly quick perception, if she supposes that he could have discerned that she bids him come to her, as she says afterwards, only in order that, by seeing him altered by ten years of additional age and intercourse with the world, she may have her early impression of him, and with that, her passion for him, removed. “Cousin John," who is a curiously French representation of a bluff and honest Englishman, on being shown the summons of Lucile, and told her story, comes to the not unnatural, but quite erroneous conclusion, that she is a mischief-making coquette. He advises his cousin not to go, for
–––– Who knows what may hap?
This letter – to me –- is a palpable trap.
Lord Vargrave, however, does go, without even bidding adieu to his betrothed, with whom he is, at the time, travelling in the company of a female relative. The result is, of course, what every one but the hero and the heroine could have foreseen. They find each other a thousand times more charming than ever, and the passion of their early youth was nothing to that which is at once produced, on either side, by this interview. We can give only the main features of Lord Vargrave as he is described in his attractive maturity:–
His classical reading is great: he can quote
Horace, Juvenal, Ovid, and Martial by rote.
He has read metaphysics,– Spinoza and Kant;
And theology too: I have heard him descant
Upon Basil and Jerome. Antiquities, art,
He is fond of. He knows the old masters by heart,
And his taste is refined. I must own in this place
He is scarcely good-looking; and yet in his face
There is something that makes you gaze at it again.
You single him out from a room full of men,
And feel curious to know him. There's that in his look
Which draws you to read in it as in a book
Of some cabalist, character'd curiously o'er
With incomprehensible legended lore.
Relentless, and patient, and resolute, cold,
Unimpassion'd, and callous, and silently bold.
“Owen Meredith," we see by the above, very properly chooses a “representative man" for his hero, and with a delight in difficulties which is not uncommon in young poets, renders him the type of a class which is, of all others, perhaps the hardest to make anything of in poetry,– namely, the "fast man" of. the higher orders; the sort of man who, being, as St Paul says, “past feeling," pursues the pleasures of vanity and the senses” with greediness." Our readers will observe the irony of his "classical reading," being so “great" that he can not only quote, but quote "by rote," from certain very generally known Latin poets. We imagine, indeed, that we detect a continued under-current of irony in the description – hundreds of lines long – which is given of Lord Vargrave, in the early part of the poem. The description is probably meant to contain the hero's views of himself, rather than the views of his historian, who no doubt despises him as thoroughly as he deserves to be despised, and who means to show, by the course of his narrative, that the most contemptible and the most hateful characters – severally represented by Lord Vargrave and the Duke de Luvois – can be raised into the region of poetic interest by human passion. We are not sure that Owen Meredith has succeeded in showing this, or, indeed, that any poet could have so succeeded. A career of fashionable profligacy denaturalizes men beyond power of recovery by any such cures as those which are administered by the poet to his two heroes.
On his road to Serchon, Lord Vargrave overtakes a stranger – the Duke de Luvois – with whom he has a great deal of conversation. And here we must mention that the poem is half epic, half drama. Let us give a few lines from this conversation, as a specimen of the mode in which the poet faces the well-known difficulty of saying common things in serious verse:
Stranger. I wish to enjoy what I can,
A sunset, if only a sunset be near;
A moon such as this, if the weather be clear;
A good dinner, if hunger come with it; good wine
If I'm thirsty; a fire if I'm cold; and, in fine,
if a. woman is, pretty, to me 'tis no matter,
Be she, blonde or brunette, so she lets me look at her.
Lord Alfred. I suspect that, at Serchon, if rumour speak true,
Your choice is not limited.
Stranger. Yes. One or two
Of our young Paris ladies remain there, but yet
The season is over.
Lord Alfred. I almost forget
The place; but remember when last I was there,
I thought the best part of it then was the air
And the mountains.
Stranger. No doubt! All these baths are the same,
One wonders for what upon earth the world came To seek,
under all sorts of difficulties,
The very same things in the far Pyrenees
Which it fled from at Paris. Health, which is, no doubt,
The true object of all, not a soul talks about.
We find, from the close of this dialogue, that the Duke de Luvois is himself in love with Lucile; and it appears to be, in great. part, owing to the discovery of this circumstance, that Lord Vargrave's affection is so passionately revived for the eccentric Countess, who seems to be on the point of accepting the proposals of the Duke, when her own heart also recurs to its early passion. The Countess's apartment, into which Lord Vargrave is shown on his reaching Serchon, is thus described:–
This white, little, fragrant apartment, 'tis true,
Seemed unconsciously fashioned for some rendezvous;
But you felt, by the sense of its beauty reposed,
'Twas the shrine of a life chaste and calm. Half unclosed
In the light slept the flowers; all was pure and at rest;
All peaceful; all modest; all seem'd self-possess'd
And aware of the silence. No vestige or trace
Of a young woman's coquetry troubled the place;
Not a scarf, not a shawl.
Into this apartment Lucile enters, and her demeanour, though declared by the poet to be everything that is circumspect and proper towards the hero, does seem to us to justify "Cousin John's" worst suspicions concerning the lady's true character.
Her figure, though slight, had revived everywhere
The luxurious proportions of youth; and her hair–
Once shorn as an offering to passionate love–
Now floated or, rested redundant above
Her airy pure forehead and throat; gathered loose
Under which, by one violet knot, the profuse
Milk-white folds of a cool modest garment reposed,
Rippled faint by the breast they half hid, half disclosed;
And her simple attire thus in all things reveal'd
The fine art which so artfully all things conceal'd.
These last lines contain certainly a somewhat French representation of the nature of modesty, but we perhaps ought to judge "Owen Meredith" by his own ideal rather than ours; and there is no denying that this and many similar descriptions in ”Lucile" are very pretty and French-life-like,– as no doubt they ought to be, when a French woman is the subject. This praise, of course, we give with a reservation in favour of the Scotch and English lasses, whose object in dress is not that "all things should be reveal'd." The poet goes on to tell us that
Lord Alfred, who never conceived that Lucile
Could have look'd so enchanting, felt tempted to kneel
At her feet,–
a state of mind which could not, of course, have been foreseen by the discreet heroine, in summoning her former lover to her side just before his marriage with “Miss Darcy." The lady at first keeps him at a proper distance by a great deal of talk, in the manner of La Rochefoucauld; nevertheless, in the midst of it “she tenderly laid her light hand on his own," and behaved so amiably, on the whole, that
He felt all his plausible theories posed;
And thrill'd by the beauty of nature disclosed
In the pathos of all he had witness'd, his head
And his knee he bow'd humbly, and faltering said,
“Ah, madam, I feel that I never till now
Comprehended you – never! I blush to avow
That I have not deserved you."
Lucile replies in a manner which makes Lord Alfred say to himself; "Is this an advance?" and, at the thought, he
––––––Raised, with a passionate glance
The hand of Lucile to his lips,
unrebuked; and, of course,
The more that he look'd, that he listen'd, the more
He discover'd perfections unnoticed before.
Less salient than once, less poetic perchance,
This woman, who thus had survived the romance
That had made him its hero, and breathed him its sighs
Seemed more charming a thousand times o'er to his eyes.
Question'd much, with the interest a sister might feel,
Of Lord Alfred's new life,– of Miss Darcy – her face,
Her temper, accomplishments – pausing to trace,
The advantage derived from a Hymen so fit.
Unobserved by Lord Alfred, the time fleeted by.
To each novel sensation spontaneously
He abandoned himself,
From the hall, on a sudden, a sharp ring was heard.
It was the Duke de Luvois, in whom Lucile seems to have been in the habit of showing the same sort of sisterly interest.
––––––––––––––– There came
O'er Lord Alfred at once, at the sound of that name,
An invincible sense of vexation,
which was not diminished by observing, when he turned towards Lucile “an indefinite look of confusion."
Lord Vargrave goes out at the garden-casement as the Duke enters the door; but
–––––––––––- The Duke's visit goaded, and vex'd,
And disturb'd him. At length he resolved to remain
In the garden, and call on the Countess again
As soon as the Duke went. In short, he would stay,
Were it only to know when the Duke went away.
By this needlessly clandestine exit, the young English Lord places himself in a position which English gentlemen are usually careful to avoid, namely, one which compels him to further concealment, during which he is obliged to over-hear an offer made and equivocally received.
And here we must remark that the poet seems to us to be not quite aware of the great difficulties he has undertaken in adopting the "colloquial style" of conversation and modern manners. When Mr Tennyson makes Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere talk and act, we accept their conversations and conduct without being very critical as to the exact resemblance of what they say and do, to what such persons really would have said and done; and this we do chiefly because we are not in a position to do otherwise. It is not likely they talked and acted quite in that way, but we can suggest nothing much likelier; so we take Mr Tennyson's view of the matter. But of modern men and women, Mr Meredith's readers know probably as much as he does; and unless an English gentleman is made to “behave as such," the reader is affected with a sense of incongruity. All Mr Meredith's characters talk in a very talented way, and their conversation is probably quite as much like the conversation of living fashionables, as Mr Tennyson's Idylls are like the talk of the court of King Arthur; but the younger poet will do well to consider the above difference in the position of his readers. There is also another difficulty in the "colloquial" style, especially in the present day. The conversational style of every age has an element of slang peculiar to the age, and passing away with it; but never was our English mode of talk so loaded and debased with a transitory slang as in the present day. Now, this element must be entirely eliminated before “colloquial" English can be “poetical" English. When it is thus eliminated, there is no style of language more beautiful; but the task is one of the greatest difficulty, and requires the finest taste, and an habitual acquaintance with the models of pure English in all times. The quotations we have had occasion to make must have convinced our readers that Mr Meredith has not met this difficulty. His style, in the conversational parts of this poem, though unlike what is really talked by living men and women, abounds in the slang and slip-shod in which living men and women, especially in the higher classes, indulge. To say that a mistress “bores" her lover; to call a letter a "palpable trap;" to speak of a man as having "read" metaphysics and theology in the sense of having studied them; to affirm of another that he never "conceived" that a lady would have looked so enchanting; to talk of theories being "posed;" and to speak of a woman as “less salient" than she used to be, is not wrong because such expressions are “colloquial" English, but because they are not English at all. Our readers will easily detect other examples of what we deprecate in the lines we have quoted; and we do not exaggerate when we say that almost every one of Mr Meredith's three hundred and sixty pages contains as many examples of the fault in question as we have instanced. It is only when Mr Meredith is describing external nature that we are reminded of the force and delicacy of language which commanded our admiration in his first publication, “The Earl's Return." The most unexceptionable passage of equal length, in the present volume, is the following description of a storm:–
After noontide, the clouds, which had traversed the east
Half the day, gather'd closer, and rose, and increased.
The air changed and chill'd, as though out of the ground
There ran up the trees a compressed, hissing sound;
And the wind rose,– the guides sniff'd, like chamois, the air,
And looked at each other, and halted, and there
Unbuckled the cloaks from the saddles,– the white
Aspens rustled, and turned up their frail leaves in fright.
All announced the approach of the tempest. Ere long,
Thick darkness descended the mountains among;
And a vivid, vindictive, and serpentine flash
Gored the darkness, and shore it across with a gash.
The rain fell in large, heavy drops, and, anon,
Broke the thunder.
–––––––––And the storm is abroad in the mountains!– he fills
The crouch'd hollows and all the oracular hills
With dread voices of power. A roused million or more
Of wild echoes reluctantly rise from their hoar
Immemorial ambush, and roll in the wake
Of the cloud, whose reflection leaves livid the lake;
And the wind, that wild robber, for plunder descends
From invisible lands, o'er those black mountain ends.
He bowls as he hounds down his prey, and his lash,
Tears the hair of the timorous wild mountain ash,
That clings to the rocks, with her garments all torn,
Like a woman in fear; then he blows his hoarse horn,
And is off, the fierce guide of destruction and terror,
Up the desolate heights, 'mid an intricate error
Of mountain and mist.
The last part of this description is slovenly; but, upon the whole, the picture has a breadth that reminds us of Lord Byron, and here and there a subtilty of touch which is like Keats or Mr Browning. Of course, we can scarcely expect Owen Meredith to act upon the opinion, which we therefore address to our readers rather than to him, that his power lies in the representation of nature, and his weakness in his desire to represent men and women; and that the kind of poem in which he is really fitted to succeed is the descriptive idyll, in which an incident, requiring no more than very simple treatment, may be adorned abundantly with natural description.
We have followed the story of “Lucile" only as far as was necessary to enable our readers to judge for themselves of Owen Meredith's mode of viewing and relating events. We cannot go through all the elaborate sequel, from which it appears that the heroine is one of those saints, found chiefly in the modern French calendar, who, abjuring all recognised grounds of goodness, are virtuous, with a virtue as unequalled in degree as unprecedented in kind; and that the hero, Lord Vargrave, is one of those sinners, who, in their process of amendment and restoration, are not as the shining light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day, but rather as the sun bursting from an eclipse,– the latter being certainly the most novelesque, though not, we fear, the most life-like idea of repentance. Owen Meredith, possibly, is as well aware of this as we are, but chooses to modify human nature to suit artistic effect. If so, we think the choice is wrong even in an artistic point of view,– an opinion which we are compelled to extend to other means of "effect" adopted by this poet. For example, we think that, when Lord Vargrave's friend, Sir Ridley Macnab, calls on him, and sends in his card, an effect more "striking" than artistic is obtained by the typographical device of inserting the name in a large quadrilateral blank space, bounded with lines, by way of showing the size and general appearance of the card in question, especially as the volume contains no other pictorial adornments. Surely such modes of originality are beneath the dignity of a writer who claims to be judged by so high a standard as, it seems, Owen Meredith does, when he invokes the
Sole fountain of song, and sole source of such lays
As Time cannot quench in the dust of his days,
Muse or Spirit that inspireth, since nature began
The great epic of Life, the deep drama of man.
To this “Muse or Spirit" Owen Meredith appeals,
From the prattle of pedants, the battle of fools,
From the falsehood and forms of conventional schools.
––––––––––––––––––––––– Unto thee,
Mother Nature, that badest me sing what I feel,
And canst feel what I sing, unto thee I appeal.
For the poets pour wine; and, when 'tis new, all deny it;
But once let it be old, every trifler must try it;
[i.e., the North British or other Reviewer]
Complains of my verse, that my verse is not classic.
We conclude our notice of "Lucile" by stating our impression that its author has talents which, if he understood them, might lead to substantial distinction, but that this poem indicates that he at present does not understand them; a verdict which we deliver with the less compunction, inasmuch as "Owen Meredith" assures us–
As for you, O Polonius, you vex me but slightly.
"Poems by Thomas Ashe," have a vein of true quality in them, though its development is considerably marred by a profusion of Leigh Hunt-isms and Keats-isms of the most profligate order. Those great corrupters of English would themselves scarcely have ventured upon such a line as
When Mr Thomas Ashe is himself, he is very pleasing, as in these two sonnets:–
O cuckoo, cuckoo, on a summer's day,
Should melancholy in sweet music dwell?
[Remainder of the review not transcribed].
Last revised: xyz