myself described the other day as being the most unpublished of Living Authors.
There were reasons for this. It happens that I have not hitherto had a Publisher
to keep my books before the public. There has never been a collected edition of
my poems; and the four separate volumes have been out of print for many years.
Thus their old friends have been passing away without the chance of my making
new ones. Meantime another generation of readers has arisen to whom my
poems may prove to be "as good as MS." To these I have to introduce
myself, or rather the writings of my other, earlier, self, who is now almost a
stranger to myself !
These two volumes contain the better part of the earlier four,
together with a hundred pages of additional matter. I give them the title of
"MY LYRICAL LIFE,"
because that only includes one half of my literary life.
By "Poems Old and New" it is not meant that all
the new ones are recently written, but that they will be new to the readers of the
Volumes previously printed.
With some obvious exceptions the poems earliest written
are collected in the Second series, whilst those that were written latest appear
in the First volume. They are not rigidly arranged upon any set plan or system,
although there is at times a sort of sequence in the grouping, either of subjects
or in accordance with the chronology.
I have done what I could in that way to eke out the reader's interest by giving
as much variety as was possible within the limited scope of lyrical poetry, which
cannot have the advantage of a cumulative interest.
It should be remembered, that the writer of lyrical poems is not always the speaker
of them! The Lyrist has the liberty if not the latitude of the dramatist in representing
other characters, situations, standpoints, or moods, than those which may be strictly
personal to himself. Hence Robert Browning's descriptive title of
"Dramatic Lyrics." Many of my Lyrics are also dramatic in the sense
of the writer
being moved and the poetry written on behalf of other people. As a matter of fact, the
poem of "Babe Christabel" was not founded on a personal sorrow of my own.
I do not say this with the object of shirking any personal responsibility for the contents
of these volumes. Nor am I about to put forth a private theory of poetry such as might supply
the most suitable frame for my own portrait.
I am, as a matter of course, aware that in the estimation
of some readers, including a few personal friends, the
"Last Lyrics" in these volumes may suffice to damn all the rest!
But that cannot
be helped. It has been my luck all along the line of my Lyrical Life to fight upon the weaker
side—the side, however, that I have lived to see at times victorious.
I was a Home-Ruler thirty years ago! Also it was
my lot to start in life with something of
The spirit that can stand alone
As the Minority of one;
Or with the faithful few be found
Working and waiting till the rest come round.
No one will dare to impugn my patriotism, or doubt that I am English to the heart-roots, even
though my latest lyrics are devoted to the cause of another nationality than ours—even though
I do think there are other ways of wooing and winning than by brute conquest and brutal
coercion, whether in the individual, social, or national life; and that the time has come for humaner methods to be applied. Still, it is possible that if we have no sympathy with the
subject-matter, be it political, patriotic, domestic, or spiritualistic, we are more or less
incapable of justly appraising the poetry.
Much of my verse is bound up with the political and patriotic life of our time.
Some of the pieces,
such as "Havelock's March," published in 1860, and others on the "Second Empire,"
are more properly historic photographs, rather than Poems in the Esthetic sense.
are national; and such things may have their place as illustrations in historic records.
the matter might be, I have always written for the subject with all my heart.
Also, for the truth's sake I ought to explain that the kind of Spiritualism, Gnosticism, or
Neo-Naturalism to be found in my poetry is no delusive Idealism derived from hereditary belief in
a physical resurrection of the dead! Neither am I making a new attempt to cheat the ignorant by
false pretences of knowledge. My faith in our future life is founded upon facts in nature and
realities of my own personal experience; not upon any falsification of natural fact.
have been more or less known to me personally during forty years of familiar face-to-face
acquaintanceship, therefore my certitude is not premature; they have given me the proof palpable
that our very own human identity and intelligence do persist after the blind of darkness has been
drawn down in death. The Spiritualist who has plumbed the void of death as I have, and touched this
solid ground of fact, has established a faith that can neither be undermined nor overthrown.
done with the poetry of desolation and despair; the sighs of unavailing regret, and all the
passionate wailing of unfruitful pain. He cannot be bereaved in soul!
And I have had ample
testimony that my poems have done welcome work, if only in helping to destroy the tyranny of death,
which has made so many mental slaves afraid to live.
I see myself referred to at times as a poet who has not fulfilled the
promise of his early work!
It is true that some twenty years ago my singing on
the old lines ceased. First, there was the insuperable
difficulty of living by the poetry that one
would gladly have lived for! No one lives by poetry
in England except the Laureate. Not even those
who have been most generously assisted by such
a Prince amongst publishers as was Alexander Strahan,
who did his best (I fear) to ruin his own
business in trying to help poets and others to
live by their writings. Independently of this difficulty
I had then almost ceased to look upon the writing of poetry
as the special work of my literary life; and since that time,
instead of nursing ancient delusions by poetizing mis-
interpreted Mythology, I have been strenuously seeking to
get rid of them by Explanation.
Hence it has been said of me, my life and work, by a friendly singer—
"Behold a Poet who could even forego
The joy peculiar to the Singer's Soul,
His pleasant dream of fame, his proffered seat
Upon the heights to which his Spirit soared,
To dive for treasures where but few could breathe,
And dredge the, old sea-bottoms of the Past.
Lover of Beauty who gave up all for Truth!
And having wrought through gears of sacrifice,
And brought his message to the unwelcoming world,
He, calm, contented, leaves the rest with God;
As if he, reeked not, though the Bark were wrecked,
The treasure being landed safe on shore."1
1 Sheen and Shade, by J. R. and B.
M. R. Printed by Richard Clay and Sons, 1887.
The result of this change, which I hope to fully justify before my day's darg is
done, is that these volumes contain the lush-leafiness of the Spring- time,
alluded to so warmly by Walter Savage Landor, with something of the Summer's
bloom, but do not show the ripened tints of Autumn's gold. My "Lyrical Life"
may contain the flower, but the fruit of my whole life has to be looked for elsewhere by those
who are in sympathy with my purpose.
I had not attained the larger, more objective outlook of my later life when
called away from poetry to "prospect" for other treasures in my search for truth.
Possibly this fact of my breaking -off midway in life may be thought to give me a kind of right
to rank with those Poets who died young, and thus invited a gentler judgment for their verse.
It was not that I felt the fount and source of song had dried up within or without.
Nor was it owing to any spiritual lassitude from lack of faith in
man, or woman either. I had neither lost heart in the present, nor hope for the
future; nor had I begun to think that human life had come to the dregs of its days.
Although I am growing old myself—at least the years say so—I cannot bewail the changes
going on around us fast and faster, for it is by change the world renews and must renew
its youth, unheeding all the lamentations of old age, the cries of warning and prophecies
of woe that proceed from those who keep on calling for double drags to be put
on, whilst we are ascending the hill, because they fear lest the summit ahead
of us should only reveal a precipice beyond.
We are in the pangs of sloughing;
but we are getting good riddance of much impedimenta bequeathed to us as the
burden of the past, which the race has been so painfully, and, as was thought,
most dutifully, lugging along!
The false faiths are fading; but it is in the light of a truer knowledge.
Gods are going in order that the whole Gods may come. There is finer fish in the
unfathomed sea of the future than any we have yet landed.
It is only in our time that the data have been collected for
rightly interpreting the Past of Man, and for portraying the long and vast
procession of his slow but never-ceasing progress through the sandy wilderness
of an uncultivated earth into the world of work with the ever-quickening
consciousness of a higher, worthier life to come. And without this measure
of the human past we could have no true gauge of the growth that is possible in
Indeed it seems to me that we are only just beginning to lay hold of this life in
earnest; only just standing on the very threshold of true thought; only just
now attaining a right mental method of thinking, through a knowledge of Evolution; only just getting in line with natural law, and seeking earnestly to stand
level-footed on that ground of reality which must ever and everywhere be the
one lasting foundation of all that is permanently true.
It is only of late that the Tree of Knowledge has begun to lose its evil character,
to be planted anew, and spread its roots in the fresh ground of every
Board-School, with its fruits no longer accursed, but made free to all.
I sometimes think the genuine passion for essential truth is
growing, with our keener moral sense, so that one may almost expect to see the
time when the Writer can earn his living by telling the truth!
We are beginning to see the worst evils now afflicting the human race are man-made,
and do not come into the world by decree of Fate or fiat of God; and that which
is man-made is also remediable by man. Not by man alone! For Woman is about to
take her place by his side as true help-mate and ally in carrying on the work of
the world, so that we may look upon the Fall of Man as being gradually
superseded by the Ascent of Woman. And here let me say parenthetically, that I
consider it to be of the first necessity for women to obtain the Parliamentary
Franchise before they can hope to stand upon a business footing of practical
equality with men; and therefore I have no sympathy with those would-be abortionists,
who have been somewhat too "previously" trying to take the life of Woman
-Suffrage in embryo before it should have the chance of being brought to birth.
Some of the most generous critics of my early volumes prophesied that they contained
immortal verse. Whether they did or not remains to be tested by that fierce furnace and
crucible of the future, which await the work of all. Doubtless these will reduce to cinders
much of the poetry of the present, and consume to ashes many of the artificial Immortelles
that friendly hands have fondly placed upon the brows of the
"Immortals prematurely brought to birth."
Personally I form no overweening estimate of the value of my verse. The Prefatory lines of
twenty years ago were written in all sincerity. I think the poems real so far as they go,
but their range is very limited. They will not let me speak proudly of them; yet I do not
think they are outgrown and superseded, or I should not have reprinted them.
On looking back at these Writings of my more youthful years, I cannot help wishing
that they had been worthier, but I also feel thankful to find they are no worse.
I am glad
to know the ghost of my former self, now raised, is not appalling as it might have been.
after all the brooding patience of long research, and the painful labour spent in writing
big books to stand on library shelves, I feel no shame in confessing the fact that it is very
pleasant to come at last and nestle near the warm heart of one's lovers and friends in a Pocket
Edition of one's poetry.