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GERALD MASSEY:
drawn for HOUSE AND HOME by Thomas Scott,
from a photograph by W. Notman, of Montreal.


IN view of the limited space at our disposal we must assume that the main features of the story of Gerald Massey's life as told up to that period by Dr. Smiles twenty-five years ago, are known to our readers.  The boy was at work in a silk-mill or at straw plaiting when be ought to have been at school.  The progress he made when he had set to work to educate himself was miraculous, and at an amazingly early age he showed the splendid stuff that was in him.  Thrown amongst "The Men of 'Forty-eight," he with voice and pen espoused the cause of the downtrodden, exhibiting a fiery courage which was approached by no contemporary in the same cause—heroic Ernest Jones probably excepted.  Amongst those with whom Massey then associated—albeit, not agreeing with them on all on all points—we may mention Thomas Cooper, W. J. Linton, Robert Cooper, Feargus O'Connor, Julian Harney, and of course Ernest Jones.  Those were "the old John Street days"—a phrase invested with affectionate meaning by the surviving veterans of political reform who were out-and-out Radicals, not to say Chartists or Red Republicans, about the year 1848.  To relate how Massey was knocked about from pillar to post, writing, editing, lecturing, and occasionally nearly starving, until his first book of poems, published by subscription, saw the light, would be to far overrun our allotted space.  It was Hepworth Dixon who "discovered" to the outside Massey's sphere the existence of the new poet.  One day Dixon, caught in a shower of rain, took shelter in a newsvendors' doorway not a hundred miles from Gray's Inn Road.  While sanding there he was attracted by the front page of a publication, the title-line of which page (designed and engraved by W. J. Linton), was represented by "an arrangement" of bayonets and daggers.  Upon that page there appeared a poem which opened thus:—


Fling out the red Banner! its fiery front under,
    Come, gather ye, gather ye, Champions of Right!
And roll round the word, with the voice of God's thunder,
    The wrongs we've to reckon, oppressions to smite.


    The rain ceased, and Dixon went his way with the words of the "Song of the Red Republican" ringing through his brain.  Some time afterwards he called at the Athenæum office and found amongst some books that had been recently sent in for review a volume of poems by Gerald Massey.  Turning over the leaves in a cursory manner he came upon―


Fling out the red Banner!


and paused.  He had met with that before!  Dixon pocketed the book and left Wellington Street to join Douglas Jerrold, who was at that time invalided at one of the South-coast watering places.  There was a comparison of notes over the volume, and in due course the review of Massey's poems in the Athenæum, which "made" him appeared.  Jerrold, some of our readers may remember, also gave a most enthusiastic review of the verses in Lloyd's, which people's journal he then edited.  It is deserving of note that prior to the publication of the notice in the Athenæum Massey had himself striven in vain to induce "the trade" to take his book.  At that time he was engaged as collector for one of the leading publishing firms, and was therefore brought into personal contact with members of the bookselling craft.  Indulging in a digression here, let us remark that subsequently Massey joined the staff of the Athenæum, and for several years wrote a considerable number of the reviews of poetry which appeared in that journal.  With the first batch of books that were handed to him to review, Dixon sent a brief and highly characteristic note of instructions, which deserves to be remembered.  It ran as follows: "Be just; be generous; but, if you do meet with a deadly ass, sling him up!"  It is remarkable—to complete the digression—that Massey, in his capacity as reviewer, was, long afterwards, enabled to perform for a then unknown poet a task similar to that which Dixon had so warmly carried out in his case.  It was Gerald Massey who penned the notice of Jean Ingelow's poems, which made her favourably known to the readers of the Athenæum, and therefore to the reading public all over the English-speaking world.

    The poetical genius of Gerald Massey met with cordial recognition from all quarters, some most distinguished.  Amongst the friends and admirers which "Babe Christabel" and "Craigcrook Castle" won for him were Thomas Aird, Walter Savage Landor, the late Lord Lytton, and Charles Kingsley.  Aird and Lander published their testimony to his genius.  Kingsley, there is no doubt, chose him (with Thomas Cooper) as the model for the hero of "Alton Locke."  Kingsley and Massey were brought into intimate contact in connexion with a co-operative workmen's association of which the poet was secretary.  Subsequently Lady Marion Alford took him by the hand, and the late Lord Brownlow, her son, made him his friend.  Meantime Massey had won a brilliant name as an essayist and lecturer, in the Quarterly Review, and upon platforms all over Great Britain.  He had also published poems in Good Words and All the Year Round.  The poet, we may observe, cherishes the most grateful recollections of Charles Dickens, who during a lengthened period treated him in the handsomest possible manner.

    Twenty-five years ago Gerald Massey was one of the foremost few amongst living bards in the affectionate esteem of the English public.  In the highest and widest sense he was popular.  More renowned, perhaps, than his two friends and workers in the same vineyard—Alexander Smith and Sydney Dobell.  His poems on child-life and on the Crimean War had struck chords in the heart of England which promised to vibrate for ever.  It would seem to be now the fashion to ignore the part he played in glorifying the splendid deeds of England in the Crimea and in the Indian Mutiny—and yet was not he the first, if not the best, of the national bards inspired by those themes?  Only the other day we read, in a long article on the death of Longfellow, that Charles Mackay and Eliza Cook were the "lyrists of the people" in their day, and that "the minstrel of the Crimean War, and of its deep and far-reaching revolt against the enthusiastic morality which had been prevalent, was Tennyson"!  By the way, talking of Tennyson, is it not remarkable that be should have taken three subjects which Massey had treated years before, and in two instances dealt width them in a manner to invite comparison?

    Some of Gerald Massey's finest verse is to be found in the two important volumes published subsequently to "Craigcrook Castle."  We allude to "Havelock's March" and "A Tale of Eternity."  Nevertheless, the former of those poems was cold-shouldered by the critics, and the latter treated in some instances with flippancy and injustice.  So righteously incensed was the poet by an onslaught on the awfully powerful story which appeared in a well-known journal, he hit back again hard, in a series of epigram of which these may be cited as specimens:


You were disappointed with my work, ah, true,
It was not meant, my friend, to mirror you;
The only thing on earth you care to view.
            *            *            *            *            *            *
As precious metal must be put to proof,
    And stampt before it pass,
Is mine made current, branded by the hoof
    Of a most patent ass!


    Since 1873-4 Massey has made no considerable additions to his poems.  At that period he contributed several remarkable efforts to Cassell's Magazine.  One was "Scarlett's Three Hundred—Charge of the Heavy Cavalry at Balaclava, Oct. 26, 1854."  This was a re-modelled lyric.  It had appeared in a briefer form amongst "The War Waits" years before.  Meeting with an officer who bad been engaged in the charge, and who described it to him, Massey took up the piece again, added thereto several new stanzas, and re-shaped the others.  The result is a magnificent lyric.  At this juncture "Starlet's Three Hundred" possesses peculiar interest.  Tennyson has tackled the same subject, not successfully.  Without making an elaborate comparison between the two works, it may be said that none of the lines in Massey's are afflicted with lameness or "string-halt."  The late Dr. Punshon used to make a great effect, at the end of one of his orations, by reciting Massey's stirring poem, "To-Day and To-Morrow."  It will interest the reader to know that the poet has added a new stanza.  It has not been published, but here it is:


'Tis weary watching, wave by wave,
    And yet the tide heaves onward;
We climb like corals grave by grave,
    Yet pave a path that's sunward!
We are beaten back in many a fray,
    But newer strength we borrow,
And where the vanguard camps to-day,
    The rear shall rest to-morrow!


    In "The Stoker of the Megæra," a picturesqne and powerful ballad which appeared in Cassell's Magazine in 1873, there are five or six lines which opponents of the Channel Tunnel might quote.  Of course Massey had no Channel Tunnel in his mind's eye when he wrote them, but they are none the less fitting on that account:


If we cannot keep the sea, you lubbers!
    Your cent. per cent. must stop.
If we do not keep the sea, you lubbers!
    How can you keep the shop?
Our Empire's built a-top of the wave,
    Not at the bottom.


    No notice of Gerald Massey's career would be complete without a cordial precognition of his splendid explication of the Sonnets of Shakspeare.  The germ of this great work first appeared in the Quarterly Review.  Many so-called literary analysts had attempted to solve the mystery of the sonnets before he undertook the task, but without success.  It was he who found the key and let daylight into the dark chambers of Shakspeare's complex secret, a fact which German and French critics have not been slow to acknowledge.  [Ed.―see also "The Secret Drama of Shakspeare's Sonnets".]

    The magnificent lines which abound in "A Tale of Eternity" were passed over with slimy contempt by the reporter-reviewers, because the motif of the poem was spiritualistic.  The "Tale" unfolds a page of the author's awful personal experience of the phenomena with which he declares he has been brought face to face for many years.  But the treatment bestowed on "A Tale of Eternity" by the reviewers was warmly generous compared with that which his latest work, "A Book of the Beginnings," has received at their hands.  The fruits of eleven years daring exploration of a hitherto unknown region dismissed in a dozen lines!  It would pay a collector of the curiosities of literature—if such things can be termed literature—to gather up the notices of "A Book of the Beginnings" for the diversion of a not remote posterity.  But three adequate reviews of this marvellous book have appeared.  One was from the pen of Captain Burton, in the Athenæum.  A notice in the same journal by the Athenæum's own young man—retained on the establishment for horse-collar grinning, as the late Herr von Joel was retained at Evans's Music Hall—should be "taken" along with the renowned traveller's opinion of Massey's work, just by way of giving it piquancy.  Mr. George St. Clair, George Dawson's successor at Birmingham, has also borne testimony to the wondrous nature of the work; and a distinguished German scientist has followed suit.  The gentleman who does the books for the Daily Telegraph must have spent at least ten minutes in providing "the largest circulation in the world" with his view of the author's eleven years' amazing labours.  Having failed to find Jumbo under the head of Africa, the reviewer naturally concluded that there was something wrong.  The Spectator declined to say anything about a work which dared so much, and, we venture to hope, returned the book forthwith to the author.  Well, all this sort of thing is very pitiful.  An enquirer who sets to work to discover the sources of language, and the origin of myths and religions, and who uses the frank method of Darwin and Wallace in his research, deserves more respectful treatment than this.  "A Book of the Beginnings"* is simply the most extraordinary work that has appeared in this country, or, for that matter, in any other during the century.  It is a book to be answered, not sneered down, and he who essays to reply to it must dive to the depths which the author himself has reached.  Let enquirers after the truth, no matter what their colour or religion, read "A Book of the Beginnings" in the spirit which abides in the words— Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."

    Our portrait has been specially drawn for HOUSE AND HOME by Mr. Thomas Scott, from a photograph by Mr. W. Notman, of Montreal.

___________


* "A Book of the Beginnings."  By Gerald Massey.  Beautifully printed, on special paper, by Clay, Sons & Taylor.  In 2 vols. imperial 8vo. cloth.  Containing an attempt to recover and reconstitute the lost Origins of the Myths and Mysteries, Types and Symbols, Religion and Languages, with Egypt for the Mouthpiece and Africa as the Birthplace.  Williams and Norgate.

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