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resolved to face the respon- memory of a transient phase, sibilities which that situation and after the lapse of thirty-six implies. And if the public pro- years we may contemplate Mr test of Lord Dundonald reminds Swinburne's early poems withthe Canadians of the ominous out prejudice or passion. risk they run, it will not have But in order to help us to a been made in vain.
right judgment concerning his
works, Mr Swinburne has unThat hitherto there should dertaken to be his own critic, have been no complete and and in a dedicatory epistle sets uniform edition of Mr Swin- out to explain the meaning and burne's poems is not a little purport of his poetry.
This remarkable. For Mr Swin- habit of self-criticism is not burne holds a high and even a without its inconveniences; unique place among modern and though it has enabled Mr poets. Though you may find a Swinburne to write a score of hint of his cadences in Dryden entertaining pages, we hope and the Elizabethans, he seems that it will not be generally to derive from nowhere, and followed. Even Mr Swinburne displays more clearly than al- misses his mark, and while he most any writer of his century is obligingly candid in autobiothe authentio stamp of origin- graphy, he is far more brilliant ality. He has played new in poetry than in criticism. tunes upon the English tongue, Indeed his criticism is little he has attempted to arouse else than a trumpet - call of emotions which were before satisfaction. He has nothing foreign to our literature, and to regret, he tells us, and nothhe has done all this in a style ing to recant. When a writer, and manner at once fresh and says he, "finds nothing that he exotic. It is not for nothing could wish to cancel, to alter, that he is the master of many or to unsay in any page that tongues, that he writes in he has ever laid before his French or Greek with equal readers, he need not be seriously facility: he has sometimes for- troubled by the inevitable congotten, in his enthusiasm for a sciousness that the work of his foreign language, the limita- early youth is not and cannot tions of his own, and he has be unnaturally like the work of used metres which are contrary a very young man,
That, of to the tradition and to the course, is perfectly true, though genius of English. The result it needs not a heaven - born is that his curiosity now and critic to say it. Every page of again becomes eccentricity, and 'Poems and Ballads' sparkles since it is always easier to with the brightness and extraimitate a complex talent than vagance of youth. Young in the classic balance of simplicity, spirit, young
courage, Mr Swinburne was for many young in speed of verse and years the favourite sport of thought, it is mature only parodists. That, however, is in workmanship, and either forgotten or remains the poets have ever flashed upon
the world with a book at once The workman's skill is so great, so strange and masterly as the stanzas are composed with this.
so light a grace, that you forThat it has conspicuous faults get, as you read, the difference none will deny. It is too ob- between accent and quantity; viously arranged to startle the you are persuaded to believe citizens. The jargon of passion, that a master may set our with its “lilies and languors English words to the music of and its “roses and raptures,
ancient Greece. more highly artificial In disburdening his soul, Mr than it did thirty years ago. Swinburne proves,
as many No reader of to-day, however another has proved, that, while good his intentions may be, can he despises the critics, he has read “Faustine (for instance) collated their opinions_with without a smile. Even had the an unnecessary care.
He is · Ballad of Burdens' and `Before amused and satisfied that scornDawn' not been imitated to ful or mournful censors have weariness, it would still be been unable to distinguish difficult to regard them quite between * confessions of posiseriously. But for first tive fact
excursions of volume of miscellaneous verse absolute fancy.” Of course, the where shall you match the pretension of critics who made “Poems and Ballads'? Where this distinction was absurd. shall you find an equal skill But Mr Swinburne, in confessin the management of strange ing that “there are photometres and stranger fancies? graphs from life in the book, To twist the English tongue and there are sketches from into Sapphios may suggest the imagination," seems to share ingenuity of the exercise-maker their absurdity. Photography rather than the inspiration of from life, or realism, is an affair the poet; but if it is to be done, of treatment as well as of obhow could it be done with a servation, and Mr Swinburne, finer beauty than in these lines in treating experience and fancy which follow ?
in precisely the same spirit, has “Then to me so lying awake a vision
abolished the difference between Came without sleep over the seas and them. He may have treasured
“photographs from life” in his Softly touched my eyelids and lip; mind or in his note-book, but and I too, Full of the vision,
in composing his verses he Saw the white implacable Aphrodite,
transformed reality to imaginaSaw the hair unbound and the feet un tion, and resolutely sifted from sandalled
his work the lightest suspicion Shine as fire of sunset on western waters; of actual life. Does he not,
Saw the reluctant Feet, the straining plumes of the doves then, in attempting a false disthat drew her,
tinction, involve himself in the Looking always, looking with necks charge of folly which he brings
reverted, Back to Lesbos, back to the hills where against his censors ? under
Again, Mr Swinburne proShone Mitylene."
tests, with an inapposite energy,
that, though he has acknow- Mr Chamberlain, “What I ledged the sway of illustrious have said, I have said.” As friends and masters, he has he would change no word of never rendered a blind obedi- his poems, as he would retract ence to any man. “ Mazzini no vigorously advocated opinion, was no more a Pope or a Dic- so he is serenely content with tator," he writes, “than I was what life has brought him. He a parasite or papist. Dictation boasts with Shelley that he has and inspiration are rather dif- been fortunate in friendships; ferent things.” Of course they fortunate, also, in enmities. To are, and in saying this to an have been fortunate in friendintelligent reader, he is surely ship is to have won happiness, speaking to the already con- and it is with a proud humility verted. No one would ever that Mr Swinburne declares doubt the independence of Mr that, “when writing of Landor, Swinburne's judgment. He has of Mazzini, and of Hugo, I been fighting his own battles write of men who have honoured for so many years that his me with the assurance and the worst enemy could scarce ac- evidence of their cordial and cuse him of seeing eye to eye,” affectionate regard."
” And, if with Victor Hugo or he has won many an honourGiuseppe Mazzini. Nor need able friendship, he has paid he have defended himself the pleasant debt in tributary against the charge of incon
the sistency. What is consistency praises of Richard Burton and but the meanest of the vices, of Christina Rosetti,
Rosetti, — "the the boast of a stunted mind, saintly and secluded poetess, the idle clinging in age to the and " the adventurous and stunted formula of youth? unsaintly hero,” —and in each Even where Mr Swinburne has case the praise is perfectly changed his mind so completely genuine. as he changed it concerning Charles Lamb, as Mr SwinWalt Whitman, the difference burne reminds us, wrote for is rather interesting than antiquity, and in a similar blameworthy, and though in spirit he declares that “when he politics he defends the consist- writes plays it is with a view ency of every passing word he to their being acted at the has uttered with the principles Globe, the Red Bull, or the that he proclaimed in his youth, Black Friars," and we need on the ingenious ground that not complain if we never see "monarchists and anarchists “Marino Faliero" or "Locrine" may be advocates of national with any other eye than that dissolution and reactionary of the mind. Indeed, Mr Swindivision: republicans cannot burne has been so loyal to the be,” we cannot think that the dramatic tradition of the sevendefence was worth making. teenth century that he could
But the distinguishing mark not (and does not) expect his of Mr Swinburne's preface is a dramas to win popularity. wise
arrogance. He says, with How should an audience, well
trained to hear a Girl from sky; he, too, has watched “the Somewhere, tolerate blank verse revels and the terrors and the upon the stage ? No; Mr glories of the sea.” NevertheSwinburne's plays are written less, books have been his conto be read, and to carry on stant inspiration, and he has an ancient and august tradi- paid the debt exacted by his tion. If their inspiration is from preference. He is too obviously books more than from life, what artistic to claim a place among of that? Mr Swinburne, at any the serene masters of the world; rate, does not share the modern he is too highly skilled in rhecontempt of literature, and in toric and sleight of hand to go an elegant passage defends down the ages as the voice and books against reproach hurled prophet of his time; and yet at them by the laureates of so long as music appeals to the action, who forget, in their ear, so long as the brain defacile denunciation, that they lights in the mastery of words, too are known to the world so long will the poems of Mr merely through the printed Swinburne be read with admirpage. "Not to the very hum- ation and delight. blest and simplest lover of poetry," writes Mr Swinburne, “ Marlowe and Shakespeare, “will it seem incongruous or Æschylus and Sappho," says strange, suggestive of imperfect Mr Swinburne,“ do not live for sympathy with life or deficient us only in the dusty shelves inspiration from nature, that of libraries.” But there is a the very words of Sappho kind of literature which, not should be heard and recognised altogether deservedly, seldom in the notes of nightingales, emerges from the dust, and the glory of the presence of which interests the historian dead poets imagined in the rather than the poet. Such is presence of the glory of the the literature discussed with sky, the lustre of their ad- the utmost skill and erudition vent and their passage felt in Professor Ker's "The Dark visible as in vision on the live Ages' (W. Blackwood & Sons). and limpid floorwork of the But even the “Dark Ages” are cloudless and sunset-coloured rather a name than a reality sky.” He at any rate is no a convenient label which “half-brained creature to whom denotes a period, while it does books are other than living small justice to its character. things”; he does not “see with The long night of the middle the eyes of a bat and draw age, if it were not broken by with the fingers of a mole his flashes of sunlight, was interdullard's distinction between rupted by strange and even books and life.” In his poetry, splendid dreams. The classical at any rate, books have meant tradition was not dead, indeed more to him than life, and his it never died, and the Teutonic eulogy of them is an act of nations, at a time when the loyalty. But he, too, has world was “darkest," brought looked out upon the earth and new material and an originality
of style into the literature of and intricate metaphysicians Europe. On the one hand was deserve the title.” Moreover, & poetry whose naïveté pro- the Dark Ages played their claimed it a fresh thing; on part in the great Romantic the other hand was a literature movement, wherein Gray and in Latin, the real language of Peroy were eminent forerunners. the Dark Ages, which pre
Even Ossian was for someserved the classical forms both thing in the revival, and, in in verse and prose.
There were Professor Ker's words, “the books, there were schools, there success of Macpherson proved learned men,
who studied that the Dark Ages were not not merely Latin but Greek, in themselves enough to alarm and had some knowledge of the the reader.” far East. But even though the But if the writers who flourAge were dark in name only, ished before the Crusades were it was an interlude in the his
not distinguished, we cannot tory of literature. As Pro- but admire the universality of fessor Ker says, “Dr Johnson their interest. There was no is hardly farther from ‘Beowulf' kind of literature which they than Chaucer is.” But that is did not essay. They studied because, while Johnson and grammar, rhetoric, and diaChaucer speak the
lectic with the utmost energy ; tongue, the writers of the they imitated Cicero and Virgil; Dark Ages wrote either a they found opinions ready-made Latin which was the decad- in Plato; the Venerable Bede ence of a great tradition, or composed a treatise on prosody; a vernacular which rarely rose and Apuleius and Lucian were to a literary language. “To examples to many whose names go back to the ninth or tenth are long since forgotten. In century,” says Professor Ker, other words, the Dark Ages “is to find a different world. were learning all things, they Not only are the languages of were reconstructing the old a more ancient type; the ways mythologies and inventing new of imagination are different, allegories, and if they can be the tunes of poetry are differ called dark theirs was the darkent, and there are still older ness which comes before sunthings than those of the ninth rise. For history the writers century with which the trav. of the Middle Age had little eller has to be acquainted." aptitude. As Professor Ker It is not strange, therefore, says, “The historical genius that the Middle Age was long was muffled in Latin prose.' regarded as the dark period of But that mythology was not time. Goldsmith, who is not dead is proved by the “Edda.' commonly esteemed a scholar, Nor was the period destitute of attempted to correct the popu- Epio poetry, which might boast lar fallacy.
"The most bar such works as Beowulf' and barous times," said he, “had “Roland.' But though the men of learning, if comment- medieval epios have some touch ators, compilers, polemic divines, in them of the Homerio spirit,