Edmund Clarence Stedman

 

 

Victorian Poets.

 

Text
Editionsbericht
Werkverzeichnis
Literatur

»   »   »
Texte zur Baudelaire-Rezeption

 

MODERN criticism is scientifically applied to literature, and searches for the principles and conditions which enable us to estimate, and even to forecast, the poetic quality of any given era. It is a question whether the poet himself need be conscious of the existence and bearing of the laws under which he works. It may be a curb and detriment to his genius that he should trouble himself about them in the least. But this rests upon the character of his intellect, and includes a further question of the effects of culture.

Just here there is a difference between poetry and the cognate arts of expression, since the former has somewhat less to do with material processes and effects. The freedom of the minor sculptor's, painter's, or composer's genius is not checked, while its scope and precision are increased, by knowledge of the rules of his calling, and of their application in different regions and times. But in the case of the minor poet, excessive culture, and wide acquaintance with methods and masterpieces, often destroy spontaneity. They shut in the voice upon itself, and overpower and bewilder the singer, who forgets to utter his native, characteristic melody, awed by the chorus and symphony of the world's great songs. Full-throated, happy minstrels, like Beranger or Burns, need no knowledge of thorough-bass and the historical range of composition. Their expression is the carol of the child, the warble of [358] the sky lark scattering music at his own sweet will. Nevertheless, there is no strong imagination without vigorous intellect, and to its penetrative and reasoning faculty there comes a time when the laws which it has instinctively followed must be apparent; and, later still, it cannot blind itself to the favoring or adverse influences of period and place. Should these forces be restrictive, their baffling effect will teach the poet to recognize and deplore them, and to endeavor, though with wind and tide against him, – and how often in vain! – to make his progress noble and enduring.

With regard to the province of the critic there need, however, be no question. He must recognize and broadly observe the local, temporal, and generic conditions under which poetry is composed, or fail to render adequate judgment upon the genius of a poet. It is now well understood that the value of art depends on the importance and beneficence of the character involved; that the standard of the latter reflects and varies with the quality of the period; that only in exceptional cases, poetry rises fairly above the idealism of an age in which it is produced. Of late, and chiefly through translations from the French and German, the public mind has become somewhat aware of the advances made in the direction of true criticism, and acknowledges the philosophical character of a method signally illustrated, for example, by M. Taine, though often and justly at variance with the popular French critic's application of it to the works of prominent English writers. I trust that lovers of poetry who are familiar with the genius of Landor, Tennyson, Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Hood, Procter, Swinburne – British singers who have flourished during the last thirty years, and are, by common acceptation, representative poets – will not be repelled, by the hardness of the theme, from a reference to the characteristics of the Victorian Period, and to what I conceive to be the conditions which have sustained these poets, or against which they have struggled to pour forth their utterances with all the freedom and inspiration of some more fortunate time.

It is impossible, then, to observe the recent English era, and not to find the modern question of the relations between Poetry and Science pressing for consideration at every turn and outpost. The time has been especially characterized by a stress of scientific iconoclasm. This is mentioned as a fact; not, perforce, to be deplored; possibly as leading to a new and grander manifestation of the eternal Muse.

There are two ways of regarding natural objects; first, as they appear to the bodily eye and to the normal, untutored imagination; second, as we know they actually are, – having sought out the truth of their phenomena, the laws which underlie their beauty or repulsiveness. The former purely empirical, hitherto has been the simple and poetic function of art; the latter is that of reason, scientifically and radically informed. The one is Homeric, the other Baconian. Until Coleridge's time, his definition that poetry is the antithesis of science, though not complete, was true so far as it extended. Let us see how the ideals of an imaginative, primitive race, differ from those of the children of knowledge, who make up our later generations.

Look at the antique spirit as partially revived by a painter of the sixteenth century. The Aurora fresco in the Rospigliosi palace expresses the manner in which it once was perfectly natural to observe the perpetual, splendid phenomena of breaking day. Sunrise was the instant presence of joyous, effulgent deity. A Greek saw the morning as Guido has painted it. The Sun-God in very truth was urging on his fiery-footed steeds. The clouds were his pathway; the early morning Hour was scattering flowers, in advance, of infinite prismatic hues, and her blooming, radiant sisters were floating in air around Apollo's chariot; the earth was roseate with celestial light; the blue sea laughed beyond. Swiftly ascending Heaven's archway the retinue swept on; all was real, exuberant life and gladness; the gods were thus in waiting upon humanity, and men were the progeny of the gods. The elements of the Hellenic idealism, so often cited, are readily understood. It appeared in the blithesome imagery of a race that felt the pulses of youth, with no dogmas of the past to thicken its current and few analytical speculations to perturb it. Youth, health, and simplicity of life, brought men to accept and inform after their own longings the outward phenomena of natural things. Heaven lies about us in our infancy. I refer to the Greek feeling (as I might to that of the pastoral Hebraic age), not as to the exponent of a period superior to our own, or comparable with it in knowledge, comfort, grasp of all that enhances the average of human welfare; but as that of a poetical era, charged with what has ever, until now, made the excellence of such times – an era when gifted poets would find [359] themselves in an atmosphere favoring the production of elevated poetry, and of poetry especially among the forms of art, since this has seemed more independent than the rest of aid from material science. But there are other types of the poetical age. Pass from the simple and harmonious ideals of classicism to the romantic Gothic era, whose genius was conglomerate of old and new, and the myths of many ages and countries, but still fancy-free, or subject only to a soi-disant science as crude and wanton as the fancy itself; whose imagination was excited by chivalrous codes of honor, brave achievement, and the recurrent chances and marvels of new discovery. Such, for example, the Elizabethan period of our own literature; such the great Italian period from which it drew its forms. There was a certain largeness of mechanical achievement in the times of Dante, Boccaccio, Tasso and Ariosto, and a mass of theological inquiry, but all subject to the influence of superstition and romance. The world was only half discovered; men's fancy was constantly on the alert; nothing commonplace held the mind; to lives and ventures of merchants – though, like our own, it was a mercantile age – had a wealth of mystery, strangeness, and speculation about them, which might well make an Antonio and a Sebastian the personages of Shakespeare's and Fletcher's plays. Each part of the globe was a phantasmal or fairyland to the inhabitants of other parts. A traveler was a marked man. Somewhere in Asia was the Great Khan; later, in America, were cities of Manoa paved with gold. Nothing was extraordinary, or, rather, everything was so. The people fed on the material of poetry, and wove laurel wreaths for those who made their song.

The characteristics of the middle portion of the nineteenth century are so different from all this, that it is but natural the elder generation among us should exclaim, "Where is it now, the glory and the dream?" While other arts must change and change, the pure office of poetry is ever to idealize and prophesy of the unknown; and its lovers, forgetting that Nature is limitless in her works and transitions, mourn that – so much having been discovered, robbed of its glamour, and reduced to prosaic fact – the poet's ancient office is at last put by. Let them take fresh heart, recalling the Master's avowal that Nature's "book of secrecy" is infinite; let them note what spiritual and material spheres are yet untrod; rejoicing over the past rather than hopeless of future achievement, let them examine with me the disillusionizing process which has made their own time a turbulent, unrestful interval of transition from that which was to that which shall be; a time when, more than his perpetual wont, the poet "looks before and after, and pines for what is not."

As in chemical physics, first sublimation, then crystallization, then the sure and firm-set earth beneath our feet; so in human progress, first the ethereal fantasy of the poet, then discovery by experience and induction, bringing us to what is deemed scientific, prosaic knowledge of objects and their laws. Thus in the earlier periods, when poets composed empirically, the rarest minds welcomed and honored their productions in the same spirit. But now, if they work in this way, as many are still fain, it must be for the tender heart of women and the delight of youths, since the fitter audience of thinkers, the most elevated and eager spirits, no longer find mental sustenance in such empty magician's food. With regard to the soul of men and things, they still give rein to fancy and empiricism, for that is still unknown. Hence the new phases of psychical poetry, which formerly repelled the healthy-minded by its morbid cast. But touching material phenomena they no longer accept, even for its beauty, the language of myth and tradition; they know better; the glory may remain, but verily the dream has passed away.

Our own time, so eminently scientific, so devoted to investigation of universal truth, has found such wonders in the laws of force and matter, that the poetic bearing of their phenomena has seemed of transient worth; enjoyment and excitation of the intellect through the acquisition of knowledge is valued more and more. Thinkers become unduly impressed with the relative unimportance of man and his conceptions. Our first knowledge of the amazing revelations of astronomy – which I take as a most impressive type of the cognate sciences – tends to repress self-assertion, and to make one content with accepting quietly his little share of life and action. In earlier eras of this kind, discovery and invention occupied men's minds until, fully satiated, they longed for mental rest and a return to a play of heart and fancy. Too much wisdom seemed folly indeed; dance and song and pastoral romance resumed their sway; the harpers harped anew, and from the truer life and knowledge scientifically gained, broke forth new blossoms of poetic art. But our own period has no exact prototype. It is advanced in civilization; but the time of Pericles, though also exhibit[360]ing a modern refinement, was one of scientific ignorance. There was, as we have seen, a mediæval spirit of scientific inquiry, but almost wholly guided by superstition. Even nature's laws were compelled to bow to church fanaticism; experiments were scientific and imaginative, and poetry took no alarm.

But in the nineteenth century, science, freedom of thought, refinement, and material progress have moved along together. The modern student often has been so narrowed by his investigations as to be more unjust to the poet than the latter was of old to the philosopher. Art has seemed mere pastime and amusement, as once it seemed the devil's frippery and seduction to the ascetic soul of the Puritan aglow with the gloomy or rapturous mysteries of his theology. Also by the multitude whom the practical results of science at last have thoroughly won over, and who now are impelled by more than Roman ambition to girdle the earth with engineering and conquer the elements themselves – neither the songsters nor the metaphysicians, but the physical investigators and men of action, are held to be the world's great men. The De Lesseps, Fields, Barings, and Vanderbilts, no less than Lyell, Darwin, and Agassiz, wear the bay-leaves of to-day. Religion and theology, also, are subjected to analysis and the universal tests, and at last the divine and the poet, traditionally at loggerheads, have a common bond of suffering – a union of toleration or half-disguised contempt. Eating together at the side-tables, neither is adequately consoled by reflecting that the other is no more to be envied than himself. The poet's hold upon the youthful mind and sentimental popular emotion has also measurably relaxed; for Professor Huxley, who regards poetic expression as "sensual caterwauling," and the gratification of the æsthetic perceptions as of little worth, grossly underrated his position when he said that, "at present, education is almost entirely devoted to the cultivation of the power of expression and of the sense of literary beauty." The truth is that our school-girls and spinsters wander down the lanes with Darwin, Huxley, and Youmans under their arms; or, if they carry Tennyson, Longfellow, and Morris, read them in the light of spectrum analysis, or test them by the economics of Mill and Bain. The very tendency of modern poetry to wreak its thoughts upon expression, of which Huxley so complains, naturally follows the iconoclastic overthrow of its cherished ideals, reducing it to skillful availment of the laws of form and melody. Ay, even the poets, with their intensely sympathetic natures, have caught the spirit of the age, and pronounce the verdict against themselves. The more intellectual will confess to you that they weary less of a new essay by Proctor or Tyndall than of the latest admirable poem; that, overpowered in the brilliant presence of scientific discovery, their own conceptions seem less dazzling. A thirst for more facts grows upon them; they throw aside their lyres, and renew the fascinating study, forgetful that the inspiration of Plato, Shakespeare, and other poets of old, often foreshadowed the glory of these revelations, and neglecting to chant in turn the transcendent possibilities of eras yet to come. Science, the modern Circe, beguiles them from their voyage to the Hesperides, and transforms them into her voiceless devotees.

In this iconoclasm, then, we have the most important of the symptoms which mark the recent era as a Transition Period, and presently shall observe features in the structure and composition of its poetry which justify us in thus classifying it. The Victorian poets have flourished in an equatorial region of common sense and demonstrable knowledge. Thought has outlived its childhood, yet not reached a growth from which experience and reason lead to visions more radiant than the early intuitions. The zone of youthful fancy, excited by unquestioning acceptance of outward phenomena, is now well passed; the zone of cultured imagination is still avant. At present, skepticism, analysis, scientific conquest, realism, scornful unrest. Apollo has left the heavens. The modern child knows more than the sage of antiquity.

To us the Sun is a material, flaming orb, around which revolves this dark, inferior planet, obedient to central and centrifugal forces. We know that no celestial flowers bestrew his apparent pathway; that all this iridescence is but the refraction of white light through the mists of the upper skies. Let me in advance disavow regret for the present, or desire to recall the past: I simply recognize a condition which was inevitable and in the order of growth to better things. "Much of what we call sublime," said Landor, "is only the residue of infancy and the worst of it." I cannot disbelieve the words of a latter-day writer, that, "so far from being unfriendly to the poetic imagination, science will breathe into it a higher exaltation." But the change is none the less severe, and the period has been indeed trying for the votaries of song. True, that already, [361] in our glimmerings of the source and motion of the "offspring of Heaven, first-born," in our partial knowledge of the meaning of appearances, we can use this meaning for the language and basis of poetical works; but recent poets have had to contend with the fact that, while men are instructed out of the early phenomenal faith, their recognition of scientific truth has not yet become that second nature which can replace it. The poet of to-day, burdened with his new wisdom, represents the contemporary treatment when he says:

"There sinks the nebulous star we call the Sun,
 If that hypothesis of theirs be sound; "

but it is by a prosaic effort that he recalls a fact at variance with the impression of his own childhood, subduing his fancy to his judgment and to the spirit of the time. Let myths go by, and it still remains that every child is a natural Ptolemaist, who must be educated to the Copernican system, and his untutored notions generally are as far from the truth with regard to other physical phenomena.

There are passages in modern poems which nearly indicate the approaching harmony of Poetry and Science; and the essays of Tyndall and Spencer are, the question of form left out, poems in themselves; but up to the present moment the imagination, paradoxical as it may seem, has been most elevated and sustained by the contemplation of natural objects, rather as they seem to be than as we know they are. For to the pure and absorbed spirit it is the ideal only that seems real; as a lover adores the image and simulacrum of his mistress, reflected from his inner consciousness, more than the very self and substance of her being. Thus Keats, the English apprentice, surrounded himself with all Olympus' hierarchy, and breathed the freshness of Thessalian forest-winds. But, for an instance of perfect substitution of the seeming for the true, commend me to the passion and rhapsody of Heine, who on the last days of his outdoor life, blind to the loving sympathy of the actual men and women around him, falls smitten and helpless at the feet of the Venus of Milo, his loved ideal beauty, sees her looking upon him with divine pity and yearning, and hears her words, spoken only for his ear, "Dost thou not see that I have no arms, and therefore cannot help thee?" The knowledge of unreality was present to his reason, but the high poetic soul disdained it, and received such consolation as only poets know.

A transition-period may be negative, or composite, in the value of its art-productions. The dreary interval between the times of Milton and Cowper was of the former non-creative type. An eclipse of imagination prevailed and seemed to chill and benumb the poets. They tried to plod along in the well-worn paths, but, like men with bandaged eyes, went astray without perceiving it. Substituting pedantry for emotion, and still harping on the old myths, they reduced them to vapid, artificial unreality, not having the faculty of reviving their beauty by new forms of expression. Of the art to conceal art, none save a few like Collins and Goldsmith had the slightest instinct or control. As for passion, that was completely extinct. At last the soul of a later generation demanded the return to natural beauty, and the heart clamored for pulsation and utterance: Cowper, Burns, Wordsworth, Byron, and their great contemporaries arose, and with them a genuine creative literature, of which the poetry strove to express the spirit of nature and the emotions of the heart-subtile, essential elements, in which no amount of scientific environment could limit the poet's restless explorations.

Our recent transition-period ensued, but, in its composite aspect, how different from that to which I have referred! Its poets have been generously endowed at birth, and who shall say that they have not done what they could, fulfilling their mission to the attainable extent? When not creative, their genius has been wonderfully eclectic and refining. Doubtless the time has displayed the invariable characteristics of such periods; writers have busied themselves with enjoying and annotating the great works of the past; criticism has predominated — but how exact and catholic! How searching the tests by which tradition and authority have been tried; how high the standard of excellence in art; how intolerant the healthy spirit of the last thirty years toward cant and melodramatic affectation; how vigorous the crusade against sham! In all this we discern the remaining features which, though less radical in their importance than the scientific revolution, have marked the Victorian period as one of transition, and as composite in the thought and structure of its poetic art.

And, first, their wholesome aversion to cant results largely from the peace, security, and ultra-comfortableness of the English people. It has been a time of repose and luxury, a felicitous Saturnian era, when all rare things that poets dream of are close at hand. [362] We see disease averted, life prolonged and increasing in average duration, the masses clothed and housed, vice punished, virtue rewarded, the landscape beautiful with the handiwork of culture and thrift. Granted: but in most countries advanced to the front of modern refinement, the dominant spirit has been antagonistic to the production of great and lasting poetry – and of this above other arts. For it is the passion of song that makes it lofty and enduring, and the snows of Hecla have overlaid human passion in English common life during most of the Victorian age. I am not deploring the so-called materialism of our century, for this may be more heroic and beneficial to mankind than the idealism of the past. Nevertheless, and without magnifying the poet's office, it is fair to assume that, although a poetical era may not be best for the contemporary world, it is well for a poet to be born in such an era, and not ill for literature that he was so born.

Having thus gone beyond the zone of idealism and the morning halo of impulsive deed and speech, we have reached the noonday of common sense, breeding, facts as they are. Men do not mouth it in the grand manner, for the world has no patience to hear them, and deems them stagy or affected. Human emotions are the same, but modern training tones us down to that impassibility wherein the thorough-bred Christian woman has been said to rival the Indian squaw; madmen are not, as of old, thought to be inspired; eccentricity bores us; and poets, who should be prophets, are loth to boldly dare and differ. Men's hearts beat on forever, but Thackeray's Englishmen are ashamed to acknowledge it at their meetings and partings. The Platonists taught that the body should be despised; we quietly ignore the heart and soul. The time is offhand, chaffy, and must be taken in its mood. A point was very fairly made by "Shakespeare's Scholar," in his essay on "The Play of the Period," that the latter days have been unfavorable to strong dramatic verse, the highest form of poetry, and the surest mark of a true poetical era. The modern English have not been devoted to intense heroic feeling: whether above or below it, who shall say? but certainly not within it. The novel is our drama; true, but chiefly the photographic novel of conventional life; others have obtained a hearing slowly, by accident, or by sheer force of genius. We subject our tears to analysis, but do not care for tragic rage; avoiding high excitements, as carefully as Septimius Felton in his effort to perpetuate life, we distribute our passion in a hundred petty emotions, and rather than be exalted are content with the usufruct of our five external wits. Domestic peace and comfort have resulted in absence of enthusiasm, and the rise and prolongation of an idyllic school in art. Adventure is the English amusement, not a mode of action; but the converse of this was true in the days of Raleigh, Drake, Sydney, and Richard Grenville. Not that England is wholly utilitarian, "domestic, student, sensualist," as has been charged, but she has well defined and studied the science of society. All this the Victorian poets have had to contend with as poets, or adapt themselves to as clever artists, and, above all, men of their time.

Lastly, however, we find that the structural, artistic phases of modern English poetry, in scorn of the stilted conventionalism of the eighteenth century, have been of the most composite range, variety, and perfection. Of course the natural forms were long since discovered, but lyrists have learned that combinations are endless, so that new styles, if not new orders, are constantly brought out. In the ultra-critical spirit of the time, they enhance the strength and beauty of their measures by every feasible process, and the careful adaptation of form to theme. This is an excellence not to be under-estimated; for if, as Huxley asserts, "expression is not valuable for its own sake," it is at least the wedded body of inspiration, employing the poet's keenest sensibilities, and lending such value to thought as the cutting of a diamond adds to the rugged stone. Never was the technique of poetry so well understood as since the time of Keats and the rise of Tennyson and his school. The best models are selected by the song-writers, the tale-tellers, the preachers in verse; and a neophyte of to-day would disdain the triteness and crudeness of the master-workmen of fifty years ago. The greater number, instead of restricting themselves to a specialty, range over and include all departments of their art, and are lyrists, balladists, and idyllists by turn, achieving excellence in every direction except the dramatic, which indeed but few venture upon. Modern poetry, in short, has been as composite as modern architecture; and if, as in the case of the latter, grotesque and tawdry combinations abound, there also are many strong and graceful structures, which excel those of former periods in richness and harmony of adornment. The rhythm of every dainty lyrical inspiration which heralded the morning of English minstrelsy has been caught and adapted by the song-writers, all [363] of whom, from Barry Cornwall and Hood to Kingsley and Jean Ingelow, have new arrangements and fantasia of their own. The extreme of word-music and word-painting has been attained, together with a peculiar condensation in imagery and thought; so that, whereas the poets of the last era, for all their strength of wing, occupied whole passages with a single image, their more refined successors discover its essential quality, somewhat as chemists condense the active principle of a plant into the crystalline salt, and express it by a single adjective or epithet. If "the light that gilds" our recent English poetry be "the light of sunset," it is indeed beautiful with all prismatic hues, and its lusters are often as attractive in themselves as for the truth and beauty which they serve to illumine.

So far as progress is a change from the simple to the complex, from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous, we may hold that an advance is making in English art. But a period of transition is also one of doubt and turbulence; one of which it is especially requisite to bear in mind the characteristics in order to obtain a true appreciation of the leading poets who represent it. For we must consider an artist's good or ill fortune, his struggles and temptations, his aids and encouragements; remembering that the most important art of any period is that which most nearly illustrates its manners, thoughts, and emotions in imaginative language or form. Through his sensitive organization the poet is exquisitely affected by the spirit of his time; and, to render his work of future moment, seeks to reflect that spirit, or confines himself to expression of the spiritual experiences common to all ages and all man kind. Mr. Emerson, in his search for the underlying principle of things, finds it a defect in Homer, Shakespeare, and Milton, that their works are clogged with restrictions of times, personages, and places. Yet these are the world's great names; it has no greater. The potent allegory of their poems comes nearer to us than the abstract Shastas. Their personages and places are but the media through which the Protean forms of nature are set forth. The statement of unmixed thought and beauty has not been the splendor of the masters. And while it is true that nature and history are the poet's work-shop, and all material his property, the studies and reproductions of foreign or antique models, except as practice-work, are of less value than what he can show or say of his own time.

Hence it is of the highest importance to the poet that he should live in a sympathetic, or cooperative, if not heroic period. In studying the minor poets, we see with especial clearness the adverse influences of a transition era, composite though it be. A likeness of manner and language is common to the Elizabethan writers, various as were their themes and natural gifts. The same is apparent in the Cromwellian period with regard to Marvell, Shirley, and their contemporaries. But now, as if in despair of finding new themes to suit their respective talents, yet driven on to expression, we discern the Victorian poets – one copying the refrains and legendary feeling of illuminated missals and black-letter lays; another recasting the most enchanting and famous romances of Christendom in delicious language and measures caught from Chaucer himself; others adopting the quaint religious manner of Herbert and Vaughan; a host essaying new and conscientious presentations of the undying beauty of Greek mythologic lore. We see them dallying with sweet sense and sound, until our taste for melody and color is more than surfeited. Conscious of this, a few, with a spasmodic effort to be original, break away in disdain of all art, palming off a "saucy roughness" for strength and coarseness for vigor; and even this return to chaos wins the favor of many who, from very sickness of over-refinement, pass to the other extreme, and welcome the meaner work for a time because it is a change. The effect of novelty gives every fashion a temporary hold; but the calmer vision looks above and along the succession of modes, and seeks what is in itself ennobling; and every disguise of dilettanteism, aristocratic or democratic, whether it struts in the rags of Autolycus, or steals the robe of Prospero and apes his majestic mien, must ultimately fall away. In the search for a worthy theme, more than one of the poets to whom I refer has, by a tour de force, allied himself to some heroic mission of the day. On the other hand, honest agitators have been moved by passionate zeal for their several causes, to outbursts of rhythmical expression. In most cases the lyrics of either class have been rhetorical and eloquent rather than truly poetical. Finally, in the wide diffusion of a partial culture, the Victorian period has been noteworthy for the multitudes of its tolerable poets. It has been a time of English minnesingers, hosts of them chanting "the old eternal song."

[364] But the poets of such a period are like a collection of trout in water that has become stagnant or turbid. The graceful smaller fry, unconscious that the real difficulty is in the atmosphere about them, one after another yield to it and lose their color, flavor, and elastic life. But the few noble masters of the pool adapt themselves to the new condition, or resist it altogether, and abide till the disorder of the waters is assuaged. Reviewing the poetic genius of the closing era, we find at least one strong spirit maintaining an independent beauty and vigor through successive generations, composing the rarest prose and poetry with slight regard to temporal mode or hearing – a man neither of nor for an age – who has but lately passed away. He was one who could withstand the adverse influences of any period, for he held the mission of the highest, and laid hold of both the future and the past. But there are men and men, says Mr. Warrington. Another, of a different cast, the acknowledged master of the composite school, has reflected his own period by adapting his poems to its landscape, manners, and speculation, with such union of strength and varied elegance as even English literature has seldom displayed. We find a woman – an inspired singer, if there ever was one – all fire and air, her song and soul alike devoted to liberty, aspiration, and ethereal love. A poet, her masculine complement, whose name is rich with the added glory of her renown, represents the antiquity of his race by study of mediæval themes, and exhibits to the modern lover, noble, statesman, thinker, priest, their prototypes in ages long gone by; he constantly exalts passion above reason, while reasoning himself, withal, in the too curious fashion of the present day; again, he is the exponent of what dramatic spirit is still left to England, that of psychological analysis, which turns the human heart inside out, judging it not from outward action in the manner of the early, simply objective masters of the stage. Youngest and latest, we find a phenomenal genius, the extreme product of the time, carrying its artistic and spiritual features to that excess which foretokens exhaustion; possessed of unprecedented control over the rhythm and assonance of English verse; and, both in the purpose and structure of his work, to be studied as a force of expression carried to its furthest limits, and a sign of the reaction or transformation which surely is even now at hand.

For that the years of transition are near an end, and that, in England and America, a creative poetic literature, adapted to the new order of thought and the new aspirations of humanity, will speedily grow into form, I believe to be evident wherever our common tongue is the language of imaginative expression. The idyllic philosophy in which Wordsworth took refuge from the cant and melodrama of his predecessors, has fulfilled its immediate mission; the art which was born with Keats and found its perfect work in Tennyson, already seems faultily faultless and over-refined. A craving for more dramatic, spontaneous utterance is prevalent with the new generation. There is an instinct that to interpret the hearts and souls of men and women is the poet's highest function; a disposition to throw aside precedents – to study life, dialect, and feeling, as our painters study landscape, out of doors and at first hand. Considered as the floating land-drift of a new possession, even careless and faulty work after this method is eagerly received; although in England, so surfeited of the past and filled with vague desire, the faculty to discriminate between the richer and poorer fabric seems blunted and sensational; experimental novelties are set above the most admirable compositions in a manner already familiar; just as an uncouth carving or piece of foreign lacker-work is more prized than an exquisite specimen of domestic art, because it is strange and breathes some unknown, spicy fragrance of a new-found clime. The transition-period, doubtless, will be prolonged by the ceaseless progress of the scientific revolution, occupying men's imaginations and constantly readjusting the basis of language and illustration. Ere long, some new Lucretius may come to reinterpret the nature of things, confirming many of the ancient prophecies, and substituting for the wonder of the remainder the still more wondrous testimony of the lens, the laboratory, and the millennial rocks. The old men of the Jewish captivity wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundations of the new temple, because its glory in their eyes, in comparison of that builded by Solomon, was as nothing; but the prophet assured them that the Desire of all nations should come, and that the glory of the latter house should be greater than of the former. But I do not endeavor to anticipate the future of English song. It may be lowlier or loftier than now, but certainly it will show a change, and my faith in the reality of progress is broad enough to include the field of poetic art.

 

 

 

 

Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

Scribner's Monthly,
an Illustrated Magazine for the People.
Bd. 5, 1873, Nr. 3, Januar, S. 357-364.

Gezeichnet: Edmund C. Stedman (Inhaltsverzeichnis).

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).


Scribner's Monthly   online
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000544996

 

 

Verarbeitet in

 

 

 

Werkverzeichnis


Verzeichnis

Stedman, Laura / Gould, George M.: Life and Letters of Edmund Clarence Stedman.
2 Bde. New York: Moffat, Yard 1910.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000377085
URL: https://archive.org/details/lifeandletterse00goulgoog   [Bd.2]
Bd. 2, S. 613-654: Bibliography.



Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Elements of the Art of Poetry.
In: The Galaxy. An Illustrated Magazine of Entertaining Reading.
Bd. 1, 1866, 1. Juli, S. 408-415.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000054839

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Victorian Poets.
In: Scribner's Monthly, an Illustrated Magazine for the People.
Bd. 5, 1873, Nr. 3, Januar, S. 357-364.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000544996

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Victorian Poets.
Boston: James R. Osgood 1876 [zuerst: 1875].
URL: https://archive.org/details/cu31924013268697
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001370082

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Edgar Allan Poe.
Boston: Houghton, Mifflin 1881.
URL: https://archive.org/details/edgarallanpoe00stedgoog
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009591571

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Some London Poets.
In: Harper's New Monthly Magazine.
Bd. 64, 1882, Nr. 384, Mai, S. 874-892.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008919716
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008882057

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Poets of America.
Boston u. New York: Houghton, Mifflin 1885.
URL: https://archive.org/details/poetsamerica02stedgoog
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/011210468

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: The Twilight of the Poets.
In: The Century Magazine.
Bd. 30, 1885, Nr. 5, September, S. 787-800.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006057380
URL: http://www.unz.com/print/Century/

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: The Nature and Elements of Poetry.
Boston u. New York: Houghton, Mifflin 1892.
URL: https://archive.org/details/natureelementsof00steduoft
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001899938

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: A Victorian Anthology, 1837-1895.
Illustrating the Editor's Critical Review of British Poetry in the Reign of Victoria.
Boston u. New York: Houghton, Mifflin 1895.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001111909
URL: https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.178942

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: An American Anthology, 1787-1900.
Selections Illustrating the Editor's Critical Review of American Poetry in the Nineteenth Century.
Boston u. New York: Houghton, Mifflin 1900.
URL: https://archive.org/details/anamericananthol00stedrich
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100406501

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Victorian Poets.
Revised, and Extended, by a Supplementary Chapter to the Fiftieth Year of the Period Under Review.
Boston u. New York: Houghton, Mifflin 1903.
URL: https://archive.org/details/victorianpoet00sted
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006544079

Stedman, Edmund Clarence: Genius and Other Essays.
New York: Moffat, Yard 1911.
URL: https://archive.org/details/geniusandothere00stedgoog
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006518627

 

 

 

Literatur

Bischoff, Volker: Edmund Clarence Stedman's Aesthetics. In: American Poetry Between Tradition and Modernism, 1865-1914. Hrsg. von Roland Hagenbüchle. Regensburg 1984, S. 55-69.

Brandmeyer, Rudolf: Poetiken der Lyrik: Von der Normpoetik zur Autorenpoetik. In: Handbuch Lyrik. Theorie, Analyse, Geschichte. Hrsg. von Dieter Lamping. 2. Aufl. Stuttgart 2016, S. 2-15.

Bristow, Joseph (Hrsg.): The Victorian Poet. Poetics and Persona. London u.a. 1987.

Cohen, Michael: E. C. Stedman and the Invention of Victorian Poetry. In: Victorian Poetry 43.2 (2005), S. 165-188.

Christ, Carol T.: Victorian Poetics. In: A Companion to Victorian Poetry. Hrsg. von Richard Cronin u.a. Malden, MA 2002, S. 1-21.

Ehlers, Sarah: Making It Old: The Victorian/Modern Divide in Twentieth-Century American Poetry. In: Modern Language Quarterly 73.1 (2012), S. 37-67.

Martus, Steffen u.a. (Hrsg.): Lyrik im 19. Jahrhundert. Gattungspoetik als Reflexionsmedium der Kultur. Bern u.a. 2005 (= Publikationen zur Zeitschrift für Germanistik, 11).

Rauch, Alan: Poetry and Science. In: A Companion to Victorian Poetry. Hrsg. von Richard Cronin u.a. Malden, MA 2002, S. 475-92.

Renker, Elizabeth: The "Genteel Tradition" and Its Discontents. In: The Cambridge History of American Poetry. Hrsg. von Alfred Bendixen u.a. Cambridge 2015, S. 403-424.

Renker, Elizabeth: Realist Poetics in American Culture, 1866-1900. Oxford 2018.

 

 

Edition
Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer