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NINETEENTH CENTURY LYRICS

For lyric excellence the period of nearly one hundred years between Lyrical Ballads (1798) and Tennyson's Crossing the Bar (1889) was as eminent as any in our history. Much of this excellence lies in the work of the greater poets, all of whom, from Wordsworth to Tennyson, Browning and Swinburne, will perhaps live to after times for their short flights of song, elegy, idyl, or dramatic monologue rather than by virtue of their more ambitious work. Men of less notable power than the very greatest must particularly depend, for a perpetuity of fame,' upon those brief pieces or passages where their imperfect or less sustained genius gets for a moment a perfect, or happy, or distinctive utterance. Literature would be the poorer without these happier snatches of its less distinguished warblers, and the nineteenth century is peculiarly rich in minor singers of this description. One grace of the minor singer is his frequent recognition of his minority and his contentedness to sing in a light or a minor key, leaving the 'C Major of this life' to his robuster brethren. If he lack this self-denial or wisdom, time will not hesitate to do for him what he fails to do for himself. Thus, while Southey's obese epics are strangling in dust we can still enjoy a ballad or two. Landor, with all his elegance and elevation may prove too great a tax on our patience unless we can select out a few choicely cut 'gems of purest ray,' sparkling with gallantry and gracious sentiment. There may be little hope of pleasure in Campbell's Pleas ures of Hope; but his battle hymns can still bring a tingle to the blood which has any British infusion. The inimitable joviality of Peacock's songs will tempt some to read them in their setting, his novels. Tom Hood, for his humanitarian sympathy, his tragic insight, and his literary refinement when he throws off his Comic Almanac manner, will interest as long as greater and more fortunate poets. The busiest of us can afford to listen for a moment to the bubbling pastoral music of Barnes, the Dorsetshire Burns.' We need not entangle ourselves among the fantastic situations and impossible characters of Death's Jest Book in order to feel Beddoes' tuneful diabolism; we get the essence of it in his dirges and night pieces. Not the least interesting phase of nineteenth century poetry is its inclination to plane away the barrier between poetry and prose and approach the natural or easy-going nanner of colloquial speech. This careless, over the walnuts and the wine' kind of talk had been introduced by Byron into his Don Juan; the tone is happily and more innocently hit by Tennyson in Will Waterproof's Lyrical Monologue; and is conspicuous in Peacock's songs and in the love poetry of Coventry Patmore. Praed, Thackeray, and Locker-Lampson convey in poetry that nice blending of frivolity, light cynicism, obscured sentiment, and good breeding which characterise the gentle man-of-the-city. In Austin Dobson there is superadded a fragile renaissance of eighteenth century teacup times of hood and hoop, Or when the patch was worn.' Most of this poetry is tinged with delicate regret for the fresher, simpler and more heroic times that are gone. The darker and more terrible pessimism which is bred by modern cities found a voice in Thomson's City of Dreadful Night; the querulous rebellion of a sensitive but feebler artistic temperament may be heard in the Songs' of O'Shaughnessey. Of somewhat more professional scope than any of these were the poems of Mrs. Browning, the most Sapphic of English poetesses; and Miss Rossetti's sad, sweet songs of devotion and renunciation are the best of their kind. The feminine interpretation of love, humanity, and religion found in these two a more adequate expression than elsewhere in English poetry. Finally, the scholarly and sincere, if sometimes harsh, spiritual remonstrances of Arthur Hugh Clough are most worthy to supplement those of Tennyson, Browning and Matthew Arnold.

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