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one turns his eyes. It is this sense of the age not being poetical -of its affording the Singer no song of triumph, no elegy of regret, which keeps men of the highest powers from the cultivation of the Muse. It is not that people, now-a-days, are indifferent to poetry. Those who declaim against the age as being too practical or too earnest for the indulgence of poetry, make the egregious mistake of confounding the public indifference to their poems with an indifference to poetry itself

. The old poets were never more widely diffused, more thoroughly enjoyed, than at present. The men who had something to sing, and sung it, are still listened to; but the feeble variations of those airs, which our modern singers thrust upon the public, find no listeners, because they have no charm.

This, then, is the great obstacle to a poet's success in the present day : there is nothing for him to sing! Those who believe they are writing poems, do little more than vary the themes of those who have gone before them. Instead of a man being stung with a resistless impulse to utter something he has thought, or felt, or seen in this world, and to utter it in impassioned music, he stands up in the market-place, and with more or less skill declaims to you what he has gathered of the utterances of Byron, of Wordsworth, of Shelley, of Keats, or of Scott. You, having heard the original strain, decline listening to his murderous reminiscence ; while he, draping himself in his neglect, tells you that you are dead to the influence of poetry.'

So inevitable is imitation, that not only are all the herd of versewriters to be classed under various schools,'-one belonging to the school of Byron-another to the school' of Wordsworth, as if Poets were Pedagogues, instructing ingenious youth in the emotions they are to feel, in the opinions they are to hold, and in the things they are to observe !—but even such a distinguished Poet as Tennyson, perhaps the only one of our day who deserves the name of poet—even he submits to the necessity, and imitates Wordsworth. Having apparently put 'all his sufferings into

. song,' he took to copying Wordsworth, and then was wisely silent.

Another example of this imitative tendency, which is forced upon writers by the absence of any materials in the age itself, is afforded in the tragedy of the Patrician's Daughter,' by Mr. Marston. The author was convinced that dramatists are on the wrong scent in endeavouring on the stage to represent the Past. He felt that a dramatic poet should hold up to his age the very ·body of the time. He knew that passions were as violenttragedies as terrible-characters as strongly marked now as of old; and he determined to select a subject from the present age. Now, one would think that in a drama written, as it were, upon theory -written to prove the truth of such a proposition—the author would be careful to avoid all imitation, and still more careful to paint the age with accuracy. But it turned out that the author imitated both Bulwer and Knowles; and as to accuracy, if he had been so wide of the mark in an historical tragedy, the critics would have torn him to pieces. The actors were men in frock coats and white kid gloves—their language was full of Elizabethan idioms and phrases—and the manners were of no age. In fact, he had imposed upon himself a task greater than he was aware of: he had endeavoured to enfranchise himself from imitationto see with his own eyes.

To be able to see for yourself, and to picture to others what you have seen, are the first great characteristics of genius. To ordinary eyes a flock of sheep present few indications of variety; one sheep is indistinguishable from another sheep. To the shepherd's eye each differs from each, and has its separate name : to him, a thousand minute appearances distinguish one from the other, because his practised eye sees at a glance that which the unpractised eye could with difficulty discern even when pointed out. In the same way the man of genius is endowed with vision so keen, that where ordinary men observe only the broad distinctions of character, he detects all the myriad shades of difference; he is enabled to individualize. In consequence of this faculty, he is enabled to see things in their truth, because he sees for himself. The greater part of mankind neither see for themselves nor think for themselves. And rare as it is for a man to have that clear intellectual vision, it is perhaps as rare for him to have such powers of expression that he shall be able to write out what he really means. Any one who has handled the pen must be sensible of the astonishing difficulty there is in resisting the temptation to set down the phrases which memory so readily brings forward as expressive of what is in the mind, rather than allow what is in the mind to shape its own expression. Hence the absence of spontaneity in style. Men neither write as they think, nor as they speak, but as they remember others to have written. Instead of regarding style as the incarnation of their own thoughts, and consequently striving to make it as personal and distinct as they can, they regard it as an ornamental dress in which they ought to clothe their thoughts, and are careful to clothe them according to the fashion. No wonder that there are few good writers! No wonder that it is rare to meet with a piece of writing, in prose or verse, which conveys any clear, distinct, truthful picture of the thing described.

It will be readily admitted, therefore, that imitation is the rock


upon which almost all writers must split; because, except in the case of a man of genius, writers are unable to think for themselves, and to write out distinctly what is in their minds. Imitation is not here limited to the obvious parodying of one particular master -as in the case of a writer belonging to the school of Byron, or to the school' of Wordsworth; this is the lowest, vulgarest form of imitation, and arises from a narrow view of the nature of poetry-arises, indeed, from a confusion of success with the conditions of success. But there is a less direct, less obvious imita

a tion, which men fall into, and which consists in adopting the opinions and the language of certain writers who have been their study, and whom they are forced to repeat, because they cannot see for themselves, think for themselves, nor write for themselves. Among the sand-numerous productions which crowd upon the age, how few pages are there of which the writers can say that ' is mine-emphatically mine; neither appropriated from another,

'nor dressed according to the fashion; but born within my own experience, and clothed by me after my manner.' If we descend from these preliminary considerations to the

application of them to the

subject before us, we shall easily point out how and why Robert Browning has attained his present position. He is assuredly not a great poet; he is not even a distinguished poet, whose works will be gathered into future collections; but he is nevertheless a man who stands out in relief from his contemporaries—he is a writer of whom one must speak with the respect due to originality. In an age more favourable to the production of poetry, he might have been conspicuous; for he is endowed with some portion of the great faculty which we may metaphorically call the eye to see. Deficient in some of the great requisites of his art, he has that one primary requisite: the power of seeing for himself and writing in his own language. Robert Browning is Robert Browning-call him sublime or call him feeble, take any view you will of his poems, you must still admit that he is one standing up to speak to mankind in his speech, not theirs—what he thinks, not what they think. We do not say that there are no traces of other poets in his works: he is of his age, and no man can pretend to escape its infinence; he

e has studied poetry, and no man can at all times separate in his mind the acquired from the generated; but we do say emphatically that he is, in our strict and narrow sense of the term, no imitator, but an original thinker and an original writer.

Unfortunately, this high praise demands some qualification, and we are forced to add, that he is neither a deep thinker nor a musical writer. So that, although his originality has created for him an eminent position amongst a race of imitators, he has

never yet been able to charm the public-he has never produced anything like Mariana at the Moated Grange,' 'Locksley Hall,' Ulysses,'' Enone,' 'Godiva,' or the Miller's Daughter,' (we mention those least resembling each other,) with which Tennyson has built himself a name. Nor do we anticipate that he will ever do so. He has now been some years before the public, and in various characters. His first poem, which (unlucky circumstance!) is still regarded as his best, was Paracelsus. We well remember its appearance, and the attention it drew on the new poet, who, being young, was held destined to achieve great things. As a first work, it was assuredly remarkable. It had good thoughts, clear imagery, genuine original speech, touches of simple pathos, caprices of fancy, and a power of composition which made one hope that more experience and practice would ripen him into a distinguished poet. There were two objections, which occurred to us at the time. We did not lay much stress upon them, as the author was evidently young. Age and practice, we thought, would certainly remove them. They were the sort of faults most likely to be found in youthful works—viz., a great mistake in the choice of subject, and an abruptness, harshness, and inelegance of versification. It was pardonable in a young man to make a quack his hero; it looked a paradox, tempting to wilful and skilful ingenuity. On the other hand, it also betokened, or seemed to betoken, a want of proper earnestness and rectitude of mind—a love rather of the extraordinary than of the true. Paracelsus was not the hero a young man should have chosen; and yet one felt that he was just the hero a young man would choose. It seems to us that what this betokened has come to pass, and that in his subsequent works we have, if not the same fault, yet a fault which springs, we take it, from the same source. His conceptions are either false or feeble. In the work which succeeded Paracelsus,' we noted a repetition of the very error itself-viz., in the attempt to idealize into a hero that great but desperate Strafford, the wicked earl,' as he was called, and as his actions prove him. Meanwhile the other fault-that, namely, of harshness and abruptness-was carried almost to a ridiculous extent; the language was spasmodic, and tortured almost into the style of Alfred Jingle, Esq., in Pickwick, as the Edinburgh Reviewer remarked at the time. Next, after an interval of two or three years, if our memory serves us, came Sordello. What the merit or demerit of conception in that poem may be, no one can presume to say; for except the author himself and the printer's reader (in the course of duty), no earthly being ever toiled through that work. Walking on a new-ploughed field of damp clayey soil, would be skating compared to it.

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Even his staunchest admirers could say nothing to Sordello. Great as is the relish for the obscure and the involved in some minds, there was no one found to listen to these Sybilline incoherences. Other uealers in the obscure have at least charmed the ear with a drowsy music, but Sordello's music was too grating and cacophonous to admit of the least repose. Whether Browning is to this day convinced of his mistake we know not, but to our ever-renewed surprise we often see Sordello advertised. That he has not burnt every copy he could by any means lay hands on, is to be explained only upon the principle which makes a mother cherish more fondly the reprobate or the cripple of her family.

This much, at any rate, is significant; he has ventured on no such experiment on the public patience since Sordello. The subsequent poems here collected, as Bells and Pomegranates, are always readable, if not often musical, and are not insults to our ears. But, as we hinted, the old objections still remain. He has not yet learned to take due pains with his subject, nor to write clearly and musically. It appears as if he sat down to write poetry without the least preparation; that the first subject which presented itself was accepted, as if any canvass was good enough to be embroidered upon. And respecting his versification, it appears as if he consulted his own ease more than the reader's; and if by any arbitrary distribution of accents he could make the verse satisfy his own ear, it must necessarily satisfy the ear of another. At the same time, he occasionally pours forth a strain of real melody, and always exhibits great powers of rhyming. One of the most evenly written of his pieces happens to be a great favourite of ours, and we quote it here for the sake of its manful, sorrowful reproaches.





“Just for a handful of silver he left us,

Just for a riband to stick in his coat-
Got the one gift of which fortune bereft us,

Lost all the others.she lets us devote;
They, with the gold to give, doled him out silver,

So much was theirs who so little allowed:
How all our copper had gone for his service!

Rags-were they purple, his heart had been proud!
We that had loved him so, followed him, honoured him,

Lived in his mild and magnificent eye;
Learned his great language, caught his clear accents,

Made him our pattern to live and to die!
No. XII.


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