Prefatory (2)

Home Miscellaneous Lyrics From the Coal-fields Songs & Lyrics Biographic Sketches Prefatory (1) Prefatory (2) Oscar Wilde Family Documents Skipsey Events Main Index Site Search


 

 WILLIAM BLAKE.

An Introductory Sketch
by
Joseph Skipsey.

This introductory sketch preceded 'THE POEMS WITH SPECIMENS
OF THE PROSE OF WILLIAM BLAKE' in the Canterbury Poets series,
published by Walter Scott, London 1888.

THE remarkable poet-artist, whose poems we here submit to public attention, William Blake, was born on the 28th of November 1757, at 28 Broad Street, Carnaby Market, Golden Square, London.  His father was a hosier in poor circumstances, and this may help to account for the neglect of his early education; for all his knowledge, according to Mr Gilchrist, from whose precious and admirable book on Blake we draw the few biographic facts we are about to give, beyond that of reading and writing, was evidently self-acquired knowledge.

    From this lack of early discipline to some extent may be ascribed the premature development of his marvellous imaginative faculty—his somewhat powerful self-assertive spirit—and his early dalliance with the muses; for he was scarcely out of the years of infancy before he began to write verse, and one of the very loveliest lyrics in the English tongue was produced by Blake before he was fourteen years old.  It is merely entitled "A Song," and runs thus—

"How sweet I roamed from field to field
     And tasted all the summer's pride,
 Till I the Prince of Love beheld,
     Who in the sunny beams did glide!

 "He showed me lilies for my hair.
     And blushing roses for my brow;
 He led me through his garden fair,
     Where all his golden pleasures grow.

"With sweet May-dews my wings are wet,
     And Phœbus fired my vocal rage;
 He caught me in his silken net,
     And shut me in his golden cage.

"He loves to sit and hear me sing,
     Then, laughing, sports and plays with me;
 Then stretches out my golden wing,
     And mocks my loss of liberty."

    Talk of inspiration!—if the boy who produced that was not inspired, then who in any age ever was?  For airiness, brightness, and suggestiveness, we have only a very few such lyrics; but it is remarkable that one of those few was also produced by another "marvellous boy " at about the same age that the hosier's son was when he produced this.  The poem referred to is entitled "To Helen," and its writer was Edgar Allan Poe; and as it may be interesting to the reader to have this other jewel at hand for the sake of comparison, we here subjoin it—

            SONG TO HELEN.

"Helen, thy beauty is to me
     Like those Nicean barks of yore,
 That gently o'er a perfumed sea
     The weary, way-worn wanderer bore
     To his own native shore.

"On desperate seas long wont to roam,
     Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
 Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
     To the glory that was Greece,
     And the grandeur that was Rome.

"Lo, in you brilliant window niche
     How statue-like I see thee stand.
 The agate lamp within thy hand;
     Ah, Psyche from the regions which
     Are holy-land!"

     At the age of ten our poet-artist attended a drawing school in the Strand, and at the age of fourteen he was sent as an apprentice to an engraver, a Mr. James Basire (evidently of foreign origin), in Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields.  It is pleasant to think that while yet a boy, in his position of apprentice to an engraver, he would be brought into contact with notable people, and that he once at least did, at his master's shop, see the sweet-souled author of the Vicar of Wakefield, "whose finely marked head" he gazed at, and "thought to himself how much he should like to have such a head when he grew to be a man."

    Mr. Allingham supposes that also about the same time he may unwittingly often have met in the street, or have walked beside, "a placid, thin man of eighty-four, of erect figure and abstracted air," the greatest of modern vision-seers, "Emanuel Swedenborg; then upon a visit to England."  I venture to say that had those two wonderful beings so met, though they might not have known each other by name, they would, none the less—notwithstanding the fact that in after days, from some mysterious cause, the younger underrated the elder—have mutually hailed in each other a kindred genius, and somehow the piercing glance of the Swedish seer would have gone down into the upturned eyes of the filled-with-wonderment boy poet-artist, and a sensation would have passed through their souls that would have been remembered till the day of their death.  Men of genius have an unerring instinct for the detection of genius in others, and Blake had also the ever-attendant qualities of the highest genius, and eyes less penetrating than those of the great seer would naturally be kindly drawn to young Blake, for the open-heartedness and utter guilelessness of the boy, I imagine, was such as to be felt by all who came into contact with him; and it is gratifying to find upon record that his master, Mr. Basire himself, was among those who felt and appreciated these noble qualities in his apprentice, as it is to find that the apprentice, all through his fairly long life, retained and cherished an affection and admiration for his kind-hearted master.

    About two years after he had been bound, Mr. Basire, who must have had the utmost confidence in his drawing ability as well as in his truthfulness and honesty, sent him (to be out of harm's way—the danger of suffering from the company of other of his apprentices, of whom the good master had not so high an opinion) into Westminster Abbey and the various old churches in and near London, to make drawings from the monuments and buildings for a work he was engaged to engrave.  This would undoubtedly exert a powerful influence upon his tastes and habits, as Mr. Gilchrist intimates, and "have been singularly adapted to foster the romantic turn of his imagination, and to strengthen his affinities for the spiritual in art," and more especially, I would add, for the spiritual in poetry, of which he had already produced the delightful specimen before cited.

    On the expiration of his apprenticeship he went to study at the Royal Academy, then yet in its infancy, where he extended his acquaintanceship among artists, and soon ranked among his friends and appreciators, Stothard, Flaxman, and afterwards Fuseli—the two last named of whom set the highest value on his art genius; while Flaxman, at the same time, declared his genius for poetry to be as great as that he possessed for art.  Fuseli, who, at the time of Blake's introduction to him, was in the height of his popularity, continued his friend and champion to the end; and Flaxman, with the exception of a brief period during which an unhappy misunderstanding existed between them, was also a life-long friend and defender—and friends and defenders from the earliest stages of his poetic and artistic career our poet-artist unhappily needed.

    In his twenty-fifth year, on a Sunday, the 18th day of August in 1782, Blake was married at Battersea to Catherine Boucher, who was ordained to be throughout the years of his manhood and old age, into which the sun of fortune seldom or never threw a heart-cheering beam, a most precious helpmate.  Catherine, like himself, was poor, and of poor parents, and without a school education—a cross was affixed to her name in the marriage contract; but she had a capacity for learning, and a desire to learn—the two grand things—and under the tutorage of her husband she soon learned to read and write.  She also learned to print his engravings and how to colour; and Blake having opened an engraver's shop, we are told that she became his saleswoman.  Nay, into whatever scheme for the furtherance of his art, or the betterment of his condition, or for the gratification, as it might to the non-initiated appear, of some mere fantastic whim, he entered into, she too entered, and clearly with her whole heart and soul.  Never was a man of genius blessed with such a woman for a wife as this same little dark-eyed Catherine Boucher proved to William Blake.  Nay, I ought to say that never was a common-minded man, dullard, or dunce, so blessed—for it would seem to be written in the fate of men of genius that they should have the most unsuitable women for wives, as from the days of "Athena's wisest son," the immortal and ever beloved Socrates and his Xantippe, the private lives of the most gifted sons of fame in all nations would appear to testify.  In our nation—to mention a few—Dickens and his wife, Bulwer Lytton and his wife, Sterne and his wife, Byron and his wife, as is well known, lived all discordant lives—and even the divine Milton had his matrimonial troubles.  Of course the women in most of these cases were not to blame more than their liege lords—nay, in some cases not so much, and were evidently the greatest sufferers—as in all likelihood was the wife of Byron.  Then, what sort of a time must Jean Armour have had of it with poor Burns? or in their early marriage years what must have been that of the beautiful Anne Hathaway with the young Shakespeare, since, as Mr. John Oldcastle observes, "the dark lady with the sallow face and black eyes, which were so beautiful to Shakespeare in spite of the taste of the time, she to whom half of his sonnets were written, whoever she may have been, was not Anne Hathaway."

    Catherine Boucher was assuredly not altogether without her matrimonial troubles, but these were of a kind totally unakin to those from which Burns's Bonnie Jean must have suffered, and wholly such as would momentarily arise out of the irritability of her husband's temper, and would pass off without leaving any deep stings in her heart, seeing, as she did, that such irritability was in a great measure the result of his neglect by the world—a world to which he must have felt himself to be a herald of a new era in art and song—for such a herald he truly was.  Collins and Gray and Chatterton had each, in various degrees it is true, already pointed the way to the realisation of that same era, so far as song went; but in the lyrics, as well as the designs of Blake, was more pronounced that return, in the highest and noblest sense, to nature—to nature as seen through the magic glass of the imagination—and to which the world to some extent, through the later born Wordsworth and Coleridge and Shelley, afterwards should be aroused; though he, like those who had gone before, was destined to warble his immortal songs for the time like a nightingale in the night, unheard or unheeded.

    The first song proofs to his claim for this praise were put into print in the Poetical Sketches a short time after his marriage—that is in 1783, when Burns was only in his twenty-fourth year, and altogether unknown to fame, when Coleridge was in his eleventh year, and Wordsworth was in his thirteenth, and Byron and Shelley and Keats were as yet unborn, and several of which proofs—for nearly all the best of the said Sketches, it is surmised, were written between Blake's twelfth and twentieth years—were produced fully a decade before that period.

    I have said that he sang unheard and unheeded, and from the first, save by a small knot of devoted friends, he always did, and in consequence, the Poetical Sketches fell still-born from the press; and this would mean, beside the excruciating pangs of disappointment only known to himself, and in a lesser degree to his own dear wife, a money loss to the poor poet which he was little able to sustain.  Nor could Blake be said to ever have earned a penny, save through his ability and labours as a designer and engraver; and though on the whole, in the opinion of competent judges, he was ever badly paid even for these, yet he managed to live—was never in a state of misery—was never reduced to pawn his manhood, or his honour, and to leave them, till out of credit, in pawn, as many who have made a mighty deal of more noise in the world than he have done; nor amid all his difficulties, except from the dearest of friends, would he submit to accept a favour, for he rightly valued his independence as of more value than rubies and gold.  Of course, his condition at times would seem miserable enough to those to whom life would be a blank if they had not a fine house to live in, a fine carriage to ride in, and all that goes to form the beau ideal of life to the vulgar mind; but this man had within him a treasury before which all such things appeared but gilded toys and empty nothings—nay, and somewhat worse, for did he not sing—

"Since all the riches of this world
     May be gifts from the devil and earthly kings;
 I should suspect that I worshipped the devil,
     If I thanked my God for worldly things.

 The countless gold of a merry heart,
     The rubies and pearls of a loving eye,
 The idle man can never bring from the mart,
     Nor the cunning hoard up in his treasury."

Did he not sing thus? And what did he sing that did not spring from the depths of his soul?

    In 1787 died Robert—a brother of Blake, and five years his junior—which was, without doubt, a severe loss to him, as, being similarly mentally constituted, the two brothers would have been of great service to each other.  However this might have been, the love between the brothers was most powerful, and the death was felt in a way that is seldom felt by one brother for the loss of another.  Days and nights had the younger, in his illness, been attended and nursed by the elder; and, when the last and most trying moment had arrived, wherein the spirit should be released from its clay bonds, the bereaved poet at least had the consolation—so he believed—of seeing it "ascend," says Mr. Gilchrist, "through the matter-of-fact ceiling" and "clapping its hands for joy!"  "No wonder he could paint such scenes;" no wonder, dear reader—and such scenes he did paint, and continued to paint to the end; and with the aid, he would declare, of this very spirit-brother, the loss of whom, through his departure from the flesh, by-the-by, I am afraid I have just magnified, since the spirits of the brothers, after this catastrophe, would seem to have become more closely united than ever; and that for the purpose of working out the art and the literary schemes which come to us as the products of William Blake only.

    The first fruit of this supposed co-operation of the two minds was the invention of a process by which the poet-artist should be both the printer as well as the illustrator of his own songs.  Long before his brother's death a part of a second series of lyrics must have been written of even greater value, upon the whole, than the neglected, but none the less immortal Poetical Sketches, and the time had now come when these should appear before the world; but the means—the means—where were the means to be had? for clearly the patronage of a certain blue-stocking circle, which had aided him in his first effort to catch the eye and ear of the reading public, had in that one good deed been exhausted; and how was the printing, not to say the publication, of this second book of songs to be effected?  The question was a vexed one, and had strained his faculties to the uttermost, when lo, his departed and deeply deplored brother appeared to him in a vision, and showed him the how, by revealing "the wished for secret," and "directing him to the technical mode by which could be produced a fac-simile of song and design;" and a book was the outcome, which was at once written by, illustrated by, and printed and engraved by William Blake.

    For an exposition of this process the reader must be referred to Mr. Gilchrist's Blake, as I am already too much indebted to that fine hook to filch this piece of information from its valuable pages, and so shall only here add that such was the way in which the ever delightful Songs of Innocence, and in which, in sooth, all Blake's after-work, song and design, were ushered into the world—that world, in this particular case, being comprised of the few curiosity-hunters who might happen to stray along Poland Street, "the long street which connects Broad Street with Oxford Street," and to which, I suppose, shortly after his brother's death, the poet had removed, for the critics were too much occupied with other and more pretentious issues to take much heed of the poet's modest thin brochure, or to have that passiveness essential to appreciate "the child-angel" pictures or "the child-angel" melodies contained therein.

    This was in 1788-1789, and six years after appeared the Songs of Experience, in which again we have a treasury of the richest jewels, and such as few ever could, beside our poet, produce when he wrote at his best; and in these three issues—Poetical Sketches, Songs of Innocence, and Songs of Experience, and a few lyrics which were produced at rare intervals in later years, and to which might be added that "strange, mystical allegory," the Book of Thel, we have comprised the harvest of our poet's true song; for though he poured forth a multitude of writings—his so-called prophecies—many passages of which are written with absolute sincerity, as Allan Cunningham said of his poems, "with infinite tenderness," and "are in verity the words of a great and wise mind," yet as there is in these, according to those most competent to judge, a lack of organic, not to say a lack of harmonic organic unity, and cannot in any just sense be termed poems, it were folly, and an injury and a drawback to his fame, to persist in classing them with his poems proper.

    Many of his poems are mystical and enigmatical, but they are nearly all characterised by that exquisite metrical gift, and rightness in point of form and colour, which Dante Rosetti said "constitute Blake's special glory among his contemporaries," but which cannot be said of the Prophecies—the Thel perhaps excepted.  His harvest, I repeat—and a golden one it is—with the exception of the precious ears specified, was reaped in the production of the last-named songs (1794), when our poet was in his thirty-seventh year, and his Prophecies; and, happily, with these his best series of designs, which included his "Canterbury Pilgrims," his "Blair's Grave," and his crowning glory as an artist, his "Designs for the Book of Job," were to be the outcome of the inspiration of his after years.

    It is remarkable that the more and more he seemed to become unable to catch the true inspiration of the poet, the more and more, and with a firmer grasp of the pencil, he seemed to be able to catch the true inspiration of the designer, and the question arises, whether the fame of Blake, or, indeed, that of any other genius, however powerful and lofty, was ever aught the better through the cultivation of two arts—whether that fame would not have been sounder, safer, and more universal, had such a genius sought and found a satisfactory expression in one art only, as that of a Homer, a Dante, or a Shakespeare did—as that of a Phidias, a Raphael, or a Handel did; or whether through two or more arts; such as were cultivated and enriched by the genius of a Michael Angelo, a Leonardo De Vinci, or by that of a William Blake, or a Dante Gabriel Rosetti.

    Much, assuredly, could be said on both sides of this question, but perhaps to small purpose, save as an exercise of the mind; for after all was said that could be said upon the subject, the career of a real genius would remain unaffected by the issue.  And the reason is clear.  Men of genius are men of genius simply because they are formed with the capacity for the reception into their internals of a divine power, and when they are caught up by that power—by the Spirit of Inspiration—as Ezekiel of old was caught up by the hair of the head, and hurried through the air, and placed among the Elders of the ages fled, in the Temple of Jerusalem, there is no saying in what trim or in what course they ought to go—nay, they themselves may have no choice in the matter. One course only for the moment may be open, and one goal in view; and in that course, and to that goal, must speed "the fiery chariot of genius," whatever follows; and if the course be up into heaven—then good; and if down into Jericho, or some other-where for which nobody cares—why, then, also good; one vessel, to common observation, being made to honour and another to dishonour; but the ways of the muse are not always scrutable, and if, under the said divine power, the said goal be in verity reached, then the poet, or the artist, or the poet-artist will know that he has done the right thing, and that right thing through the right means—and this while under the said power, inspiration, or soul-illumination, Michael Angelo, Dante Rosetti, and William Blake evidently did know.

    Of course this leaves the question yet open whether Blake did not often write, as in those sphinx-like prophetic books of his, when he was not under that divine power, and whether he did not often miss the mark, when, under some wild freak of fancy instead, he believed he had reached the desired goal.  I for one have strong doubts thereon, and that notwithstanding the fact that the highly-gifted Mr. Swinburne appears to be able to penetrate and to bring to light the most precious jewels of meaning from passages in those books, which otherwise are, to my weaker sight, as dark as a coal-pit whose intense gloom is unillumined even by the dim light of the Davy lamp.  Passages in even the most mystical, so far as my reading of them goes, however, are noted for real poetical beauty, and Thel is full of tenderness, sweetness, and delicacy throughout.  Indeed, this is a real and genuine poem, and I say this without presuming to be able to decipher in clear terms the author's drift, for I do not regard that particular ability altogether essential before such a verdict is given, so long as the product possesses to me a meaning—an undefinable one though it may be—or constitutes spells by which visions of beauty and delight may be conjured up in my imagination, and visions of which the poet himself may never have dreamed; for it is in the nature of things that the seer may see further than he thinks; that the singer may sing more than he knows; that, in short, the poet's work may awaken and arouse the mind of the reader to the perception of a star-like galaxy of ideas, before whose dazzling splendour the light of his own particular drift may seem in comparison but the insignificant piece of yellow flame of a farthing candle.

    All of our very highest inspired work is noted for this character, and Blake's best is pre-eminently so; while some of his most imperfect has a touch of it.  And as his work was, so was the man.  Lofty-minded, noble and sweet in disposition and general temper, he yet when crossed was subject to fits and outbursts of anger and spleen, which, however, were only for the moment, and the effects of which were felt by none so keenly as by himself—which were always followed by a spirit of child-like forgetfulness or forgiveness, or by a spirit which caused his irritability to be forgotten or forgiven, and which left the man the same object of affection to his friends at the last that he was to them at the first.  Hence the secret of the fact that though, from several causes anything but discreditable to himself, the circle of his friends was small, these friends were, with perhaps a single exception, life-friends; and when he had outlived nearly all these—for he did—he had the consolation to find himself begirt by a small knot of other—younger—friends more enthusiastic on the whole, and equally true—nearly all talented young artists, and who were not only destined to cheer him in his latter days, and soften with their sympathy the pillow of his death-bed, but to prove instrumental after his death in extending his fame and in defending his conduct and character, and who clearly held their friend and mentor to be wholly sane, whatever might from his words, deeds, or works be adduced by others as proofs to the contrary.

    He died upon a Sunday, being the 12th of August 1827, in his seventieth year of age, and without issue, leaving his beloved wife Catherine, who outlived him four years, a sufficient capital in his works to supply her small wants.  Setting aside the testimony of brother artists and other famous personages, it is proof sufficient that Blake had the purest and sweetest of dispositions to know that he was not only beloved by this excellent woman, but worshipped; and as a small yet precious appendage to this grand testimony, I would add that a humble female who had sat with her by his death-bed, declared afterwards, "I have been at the death, not of a man, but of a blessed angel."  That I conceive to be worth all the epitaphs to be found in all the churchyards and churches in Great Britain, with those in Westminster Abbey at their head.

JOSEPH SKIPSEY.

June 1884.

________________________

 
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE.

Prefatory Notice,
Biographical and Critical
by
Joseph Skipsey.

The following prefatory notice preceded 'THE POEMS OF SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE' in the Canterbury Poets series, published by Walter Scott, London 1887.

COME "back into memory, like as thou wert in the dayspring of thy fancies, with hope like a fiery column before thee, the dark pillar not yet named—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, metaphysician, logician, bard."  So, on his imagination recurring to the past, cried Charles Lamb, who, of all the men of his age, best knew and appreciated the great bard who sang for us and for all time the "Ancient Marinere," "Christabel," "Kubla Khan," and twenty other of the sweetest, finest, and most marvellous songs that ever flowed from the soul of a bard.

    Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born at Ottery, St. Mary, in Devonshire, on the 21st October 1772, and was the youngest child of ten by the same mother, and of thirteen by the same father, who had been twice married.  His father, the Rev. John Coleridge, was vicar of Ottery, and head master of a free grammar school, a scholar, a good, simple-minded man, and a day-dreamer; and in all these respects, and more especially the last, was in verity the image of the son—only the son dreamt such dreams, and gave expression thereunto in such music!  England, by-the-way, has often been denied the honour of being essentially a musical nation, and so far as mere tone or sense-music is concerned, this may to some extent be true; but then, how do we stand if the question be one purely of word or soul-music? and if we have not produced such masters in tone melody as Handel, and Haydn, and Mozart, and Beethoven, what nation can boast of so many masters in word melody?—nay, can the whole of Europe name four to be compared with our Shakespeare, and Milton, and Shelley, and Tennyson? not to name, perhaps, the chief of all these—even Coleridge.  Then, in Coleridge's best pieces we never have sense sacrificed to sound—each word being as essential to the expression of the idea as it is to the requirement of the metre, or the melody itself.  Some of his early verses have this character, as those entitled—

            TIME—REAL AND IMAGINARY.
                                 AN ALLEGORY.

"On the wide level of a mountain's head
    (I knew not where but 'twas some faery place),
 Their pinions, ostrich-like, for sails outspread,
    Two lovely children ran an endless race;
                 A sister and a brother!
                 That far outstripped the other:
         Yet ever runs she with reverted face,
         And looks and listens for the boy behind;
                 For he, alas! is blind!
 O'er rough and smooth, with even step he pass'd,
 And knows not whether he be first or last."

    This poem was written in our poet's sixteenth year, and when he was a student at Christ's Hospital, to which he had been sent shortly after his father's death, through the kindness of Judge Buller, and when he was about ten years of age.  At Christ's Hospital he formed a friendship more precious than rubies, and which was ordained to last through life—and, let us say, through death, for we can never imagine a period will arrive when the souls of Coleridge and Lamb will cease to have the truest and deepest sympathy for each other.  Other friendships were added in after years—that of Wordsworth and Southey in particular, and these also were to be long-lived.

     Shortly after their introduction to each other, Coleridge and Southey and another friend married three sisters, with the intention of emigrating to America and founding a settlement there—a scheme which was, of course, never carried out, and the thought of which can only excite a smile, for of all men our poet, at any rate, was the least fitted to carry such a thing into effect.  This was in the year 1795, when the poet was in his twenty-third year, and about the same time he issued a prose work in conjunction with Southey, which was followed by a periodical—The Watchman—the first number of which appeared on the 5th of February 1796.  This last named work ran to its ninth number, when, seeing the previous ones "exposed in sundry old iron shops for a penny a-piece," its projector felt mortified, dropped the undertaking, to find himself indebted to his London publishers for a sum of between eighty and ninety pounds, and for which he would have been thrown into prison had not "a man by no means affluent," he afterwards wrote, "a dear friend who had attached himself to me from my first arrival at Bristol"—where, or near where, he then lived—"come to the rescue."

    Of the unsaleable nature of his writings, and of this Watchman in particular, he had an amusing memento one morning from his servant girl; "for happening to arise at an earlier hour than usual, he observed her putting an extravagant quantity of paper into the grate in order to light the fire, and mildly checked her for her wastefulness; when, "La, sir," she replied, "why, it is only The Watchman!"  Only The Watchmen! and so fit for the fire!  Truly, at least so deemed the simple-hearted Nanny, in whose conduct in such matters we have only a reflex in miniature of that of the world, to whom even the products of the rarest genius are but lumber unless they can be turned to a cash account.  And Coleridge only found in this case one of the many facts which now forced the perplexing conclusion upon his mind, "that whatever his talents might or might not be in other respects, yet they were not of that sort that could enable" him "to become a popular writer."  A most serious reflection this for a poet not born to a fortune, since it simply means that with his special gift, the wherewithal his daily bread must be obtained is not to be had; and it was from the sting left in his heart by such reflections that he was prompted to address an exhortation to young men, to the effect that above all things they were "never (to) pursue literature as a trade."

    The advice was excellent as addressed to minds of lofty genius; for never yet did the product of such genius prove remunerative in a pounds-shillings-and-pence sense, whatever works of talent with or without genius may have proved.  I would not deny that some of our writers whose works are a thorough marketable success have very powerful genius, but I hold that it is rather through the talent with which that genius may be united that we have such a result, and in so far as genius dominates over talent, in so far will the product of a writer be crippled of the said success; and simply because, that while talent with its cleverness in prudence keeps to beaten tracks, genius with its deeper insight in its wisdom must strike into new ones—must essentially give us new' conceptions, and in modes of treatment for which the public for the time being are unprepared.  As soon as the general reader, however, is enabled through culture to rise into the plain of thought required for the appreciation of the latter, then nothing can have a more magical effect upon his mind (for there is an inexplicable charm in the product of genius which no mere talent can impart), only a very long time may have to pass before this is effected; and this at once accounts for a poet's neglect while living, and for his appreciation after he is dead. The immediate reward of the highest genius is thus upon a par with that of utter dulness; and it is well for the divinely-gifted mind to be made aware of this at the commencement of his career, so that as much suffering as possible may be avoided, as disappointment and lack of immediate success would otherwise inevitably incur.

    Coleridge, at quite an early age, was destined to learn this lesson, and the fortitude with which he endured it is not one of the least of this great man's claims to our love and admiration.  He was not diverted from his career by this bitter knowledge; assuredly not, for he felt most powerfully that he had a mission to fulfil, and saw, moreover, and most clearly, that "there's a divinity which shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will," and so, in a calm and meek spirit, set about the task to him appointed; and he ultimately found, in spite of neglect and detraction, a solace in the Muse, and that "poetry was its own exceeding great reward."  Then he knew his own value; and what though his poems were accused of obscurity, as by his own benighted generation they might well be?  "An author is obscure," he replied, "when his conceptions are dim and imperfect, and his language incorrect, or inappropriate, or involved.  A poem that abounds in allusions, like 'The Bard' of Gray, or one that impersonates high abstract truths, like Collins' 'Ode on the Poetical Character,' claims not to he popular, but should be acquitted of obscurity.  The deficiency is in the reader; but this is a charge which every poet, whose imagination is warm and rapid, must expect from his contemporaries.  Milton did not escape it, and it was adduced with virulence against Gray and Collins."

    These words are from the preface to his juvenile Poems (second edition), first printed in 1797.  He was then living at Nether Stowey, Somersetshire, to where he had removed a little time before, and where, in the same year, he first met with Wordsworth, who was about two years and a-half his elder.  The younger poet was in raptures with the older, whom he had visited at Racedown; while the older described the younger as "a noticeable man, with large grey eyes, and with a profound forehead, but apparently depressed with the weight of musing fantasy."  Could Wordsworth have seen as clearly into the nature of Coleridge as Coleridge saw into that of Wordsworth, a warmer eulogium would have been the result; but it required some experience to enable the latter to do what the former achieved at a glance.  However, the time came when a warmer praise should be given, and Wordsworth then said, "He (Coleridge) is the most wonderful man I have ever known-wonderful for the originality of his mind, and the power he possesses of throwing out grand central truths, from which might be evolved the most comprehensive systems.  He and my sister are the two beings to whom my intellect is most indebted."

    Great praise this, no doubt, and from such a mind; but even in this, we are given a view of one phase only of this "wonderful mind," and that the least important and precious—the philosophic—while the sublime genius of the poet is not even alluded to.  Did Wordsworth, then, estimate the highest qualities of that genius at their true value?  I doubt this very much, though he surely held his friend as a poet worthy of deep regard, otherwise he would not have entered into concert with him, as he shortly after the formation of their friendship did, to work out the scheme which afterwards was carried into effect in the production of the Lyrical Ballads.

    Coleridge in after years gave an elaborate account of the origin of these poems, which, I think, must be now regarded in somewhat the same spirit in which most readers accept the celebrated genesis of Edgar Allen Poe's inimitable "Raven." Not that I think that either Coleridge or Wordsworth could or would be guilty of a falsehood—I would not venture to accuse even Poe of such a thing; but I do think that they, as well as Poe, and all men and women of high imagination, were liable to self-deception; and that when we are led to infer that in a poem, or in a series of poems, "the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence in the truth of nature, and the power of giving novelty by the modifying colours of imagination" were suggested by the reflection on "the sudden charm which accidents of light and shade, which moonlight or sunset diffused over a known and familiar landscape," I cannot help thinking that in their speculative rambles they had forgotten what they must have found repeatedly verified in their studies of many of our old ballads.  True, such phenomena are "the poetry of nature;" but I am only confirmed in my supposition that it was rather to the said studies than to observance of such phenomena that we owe the suggestion, when we are farther told "that the thought suggested itself that a series of poems might be composed of two sorts.  In the one, the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural; and the excellence aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them to be real," and that in a second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life, and that "the characters and incidents were to be such as will be found in every village;" for have we not in effect here only a recapitulation of what in truth are the characteristics of many of the said old ballads?

     Of course, when their scheme was carried into practice there was a difference, but the difference in the verses of Coleridge, to whom was assigned the romantic and supernatural part of the work, consisted in his supreme genius for balladry, reproducing in even finer forms the qualities which characterised such "grand old ballads," as "Alison Gross," "The Demon Lover," "Childe Rowland," and others; while in those of Wordsworth, who had to treat of subjects "chosen from ordinary life," the difference arose out of the substitution of the reflective for the dramatic quality, of which he was deficient, and not in being possessed of a sweeter simplicity and a "truth in nature," other than had already characterised a "Nut Brown Maid" or a "Winifrida," and others whose writers had evidently deemed the domestic circle as proper a haunt for the Muses as the top of Parnassus itself.  Even as renovators of the old tastes and styles in song these two great poets had been preceded by Chatterton and Blake; and the very subjects and somewhat of the modes of treatment of the latter were such as to have afforded Wordsworth with the best models in his own line had they fallen into his hands—only there is in the "Songs of Innocence," with the same childlike simplicity and truth in nature, a more ethereal grace and a sweeter melody than anywhere appears in Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads.

    I need not say that my object here is not to bring these ballads into comparison with others, but to show the fallacy of the theory put forth by their authors to account for their origin; and I think this essential, since the impression left on the mind of the reader by such accounts is, that poetry is after all not so divine a thing as most intelligent people hold it to be—is after all only the product of observation and reflection, or the exercise of the reason on recognised facts, instead of being what the wisest of all times have declared it to be—namely, the offspring of internal illumination and inspiration.  In other words, the power to produce poetry is a gift and not a thing to be acquired; and though observation and reflection may serve to quicken the poet, perception as to what would or would not be suitable to give to the world and his times, they cannot by any means enlarge that power any more than they can render it subservient and pliant to his behests.  Indeed, nothing would serve as a better verification of this old doctrine than a study of the lives and writings of the writers of the Lyrical Ballads themselves.

    In the case of Wordsworth, in whom the divine afflatus was seldom so powerful as to cause what he then penned to be so very strongly marked from what he produced in his purely normal condition, the truth of my position may not be so obvious, yet this truth is at once clear when even in his case we contrast his best with his worst verse; but in Coleridge—why just as Iago was nothing if not critical, so just was this divine bard nothing, and at times worse than nothing, if he was not carried up into the seventh heaven of song on the wings of inspiration.  Then to think how often he was carried thither, and the lays he then sung!  An "Ancient Marinere," a "Christabel," a "Kubla Khan"—what songs!—the splendour of imagination and dramatic power displayed in the first—the sweetness and delicacy of the second and third—and the weird power and the wonderful melody of all the three, and more especially of the last one!"  Such music might be said before was never made since when of old the sons of morning sang!"  And when it has been said that "such melodies were never heard, and such dreams were never dreamed, such speech never spoken, the chief thing remains to be said," in heartfelt delight writes Mr Swinburne of the two last-named poems, and what this great poet and critic thus writes has been felt by all who have read and have had the capacity to read them aright.

    Of the three precious poems named, I may observe there is a conflict of opinion as to which is the most precious.  Some critics prefer the "Ancient Marinere;" others, and Swinburne among them, prefer the "Christabel" and "Kubla Khan."  My own opinion is with those who prefer the first poem; and when we are told by Mr. Swinburne that it is more conceivable that another man should be capable of writing an "Ancient Marinere" than one capable of writing another "Christabel" or "Kubla Khan," with all respect due to his genius, I cannot but think he errs.  Nay, if we must take into account the comparative magnitude and power to charm in conception, as well as degree of perfection in execution, in judging of two or more poems, then I must emphatically say that I know of no poem to be compared with the longer ballad poem,—no poem of the same length, possessed of the same priceless qualities throughout,—no poem at once so unique in conception, so brimful of the most magical "suggestiveness, so weird, so wild, yet so rounded and so complete,—no poem whose splendour or sublimity glides so stealthily into the mind of the reader, and with such subtlety takes possession of the soul and fills it with the most supreme delight, no poem of which we are so utterly without a prophecy, much less a forerunner; and no poem of which we have had, in the remotest degree, a blood-relation or legitimate successor—no poem, as a whole, so utterly unmatched and unmatchable as this "Ancient Marinere!"

    If as much cannot be said of "Christabel," it is none the less supreme in its ethereal beauty, its honied sweetness, and almost gossamer delicacy of workmanship;—for though we have in other poems—in "Kilmeny," for instance, and more than all in "La Dame Sans Merci"—to a certain degree similar perfections, in no other narrative poem of any length have we aught to be compared with it, and the pieces named are only twigs in comparison to a full grown tree.  It has one fault; it is unfinished, and our bard had not the power to give the required finish in this case, no more than he had to do the like in that of the wonderful "Kubla Khan"—for wonderful the latter also is, and beyond all price,—though whether it is "perhaps the most wonderful of all poems," as Mr. Swinburne suggests, is altogether another question.

    I for one think it is not.  I further think that somewhat of the same wonder excited by its perusal may in some measure arise from its being left only a fragment—as paradoxical as this may seem just as perhaps feelings of interest are aroused within us at times at the sight of the horned moon, that the moon in its completed glory would fail to awaken—just as the "Paradise Lost" might have left us more filled with wonder had its divine author broken down on the completion of the first four books only, instead of retaining his power, as he did, to go on and complete the twelve—and this inasmuch as the feelings kindled by a perusal of a sublime fragment are left in all their freshness, to be carried into the speculations into which we may be hurried by the imagination as to what: the whole would have been of which the glorious portion we have read may be only a part, without risk of the satiation which so often unavoidably results from our contemplation of an embodied whole.

    Let it be borne in mind that I am here speaking of the power of a poem, or a portion of a poem, to excite wonder only; and that, of course, in a perfect whole there is a charm arising out of the very unity of its elements, in which wonder and awe may be blended and tempered with a fulfilled expectancy, which no mere fragment or portion of that poem, however sublime, can possess.  Nay, the mere fact that a fragment, however it may excite our wonder and otherwise engage our feelings, can only in the end subject us to a state of tantalization—can only arouse hopes which are never to be gratified—is in itself sufficient cause why it should not be ranked with those starry masterpieces which ever must first command our homage in the Temple of the Muses.  But if not to be classed with a "Paradise Lost," a "Hamlet," a "Faust," nor with a "Sensitive Plant," nor an "Ancient Marinere," the fragment of "Kubla Khan" is yet, as I have said, beyond measure precious, and "in reading it," as the great critic above quoted says, "we seem rapt into that paradise revealed to Swedenborg, where music, and colour, and perfume were one, and where you could hear the hues and see the harmonies of heaven."

    Of the finest quality also, and evidently from the hand of a great master, is the poem entitled "Love"—perhaps the most popular of all Coleridge's productions, and a complete poem, though originally intended as part of the "Dark Ladie"—another divine fragment, by the way, and the beauty of which also leaves a pang in the heart of the reader to think it was never allowed to grow into a rounded whole.  In yet another fragment, the "Three Graves," we have a fearful story powerfully suggested, and obviously of a nature, not to bear a more complete unfoldment—the half in this case, as in some others, being, if not greater, at least better than the whole.  In "Youth and Age," again, we have a sweeter and a diviner strain, and so in a lesser degree in "Bocaccio;" while in "Dejection" and in "France" our bard has put forth a legitimate claim to a branch of the same laurel which had circled the brows of Collins and Gray before him, and was to circle the brows of Shelley and Keats after him, as a writer of sublime odes.

     I shall here only name another of the many beautiful things in Coleridge, and that must, of course, be the so-called political poem, "Fire, Famine, and Slaughter"—the most Shakespearian strain out of Shakespeare, and out of Webster, and out of Goëthe, and out of Burns, and out of Old Balladry, that I know.  And in none of these—not in Shakespeare himself—have we aught in which a feeling so fearfully fierce finds expression in a way at once so weird and so wild, so consummately devilish in its coolness, so unutterably scathing and swift.  It is professedly a political poem, but who ever thinks of politics—of the follies, the blunders, or, if you will, the misdeeds of a Willie Pitt, or any other poor human ruler, during the perusal of this sublime effort of the Muse?  Is it not rather as if we were made to witness the castigation of a god by a god?—of an old Norse Evil Loki, for instance, by an Odin?—from whose fabled Valhalla, by the way, might we not also well imagine the inspiration to have proceeded through which this wondrous poem has been given to man?  Be this as it may, it has a smack of the Norse spirit in it as clearly, though more cunningly expressed, than that veritable Norse poem itself, transfused into English by Gray.  "The Fatal Sisters,"—as clearly as it is felt in the fearful incantations of certain other Weird Sisters who also only could have had their being from a genius in whose veins ran the magic fire that ran in the veins of those old Northern bards, whose rimes could at once wring the souls out of the bodies of the living and call the dead to life.

    Of the poems here commented upon, the "Ancient Marinere" was originally published in the Lyrical Ballad Book in 1798; but the "Christabel," which was also composed near the close of the century, was only published with the "Kubla Khan" and the "Pains of Sleep" in 1816.  The same year also witnessed the issue of nearly all the others in his book entitled Sibylline Leaves, which also contained the sublime blank verse poem entitled "A Hymn before Sunrise," one of the most remarkable poems in the collection, but which the Germans assert to be a translation from a poem of one of their own poets, Frederica Brun; while our bard's apologists insist that the indebtedness is too small for the English poem to be held other than as having been merely suggested by the German one.

    Another accusation, and in this case a more formidable one, of plagiarism is brought against Coleridge as to the splendid "Hymn to Earth," in hexameters, and which is said to be only an extract from Stolberg's Hymne an die Erde, with which, and the "Hymn before Sunrise," he is said to have become acquainted on his visit to Germany—a visit that he was enabled, through the kindness of Josiah and Thomas Wedgwood, to make in 1798-9.  These accusations are painful to think of to an admirer and a lover of Coleridge; but the charge of culpability is softened when we reflect—and this again is a painful matter—that this marvellous genius had evidently undergone a sad change through the pernicious use of opium, long before the publication of the Sibylline Leaves and the Later Poems; and that during the said change a Lethe may have passed through his mind that would sweep from remembrance, among many other things, all clear knowledge at least of the sources from whence such poems may have been derived.  His visit to Germany had, assuredly, enabled him to give us a splendid translation of Schiller's "Piccolomini" and "Wallenstein;" yet I cannot help thinking that this visit ought to be regarded, upon the whole, as an unfortunate one in its results upon his after poetical activity. He had nothing from the Germans to learn as to his divine art, not even from Goëthe, had he had the good fortune to have met with the German Apollo—not even the assonantal metre of "Christabel," over which there has been so much talk, for that he had discovered in his early study of our old ballads, and, perhaps, as Mr. Theo. Watts points out, in the poems of Chatterton.  Though he added much to his stock of general information, and acquired a knowledge of German literature, ancient and modern, his naturally voracious appetite for metaphysics more than aught else was pandered to in his intercourse with the philosophers, and an impetus was thus given to his propensity for certain disquisitions, in which many, as well as he, have excelled, to the neglect of that divine gift which at times would enable him to sing such songs as only a very few bards in all time have ever sung.

    I would not be thought to underrate the philosophical and critical writings and discourses which from time to time during the long years, barren of poetic product, he produced; yet I hold it small thing to have been even the first of Shakespearian critics, in comparison to what it is to be a poet, and such a poet as he was.  By the way, it is remarkable that with all his genius for poetry, and his great powers as a dramatic critic, that he himself was not a great dramatist—that his plays written with an eye to the stage, if not altogether futile, are held by all competent judges to be vastly inferior to the plays of others who had no such poetic power nor dramatic insight as he.  In fact, his original dramas are neither an addition to his fame nor to the prized treasures of our dramatic literature, and on this account alone could have no place in the series of which this volume is a unit.  A few other pieces of inferior value, and among these the "Religious Musings," are wholly unworthy of his genius, and are also omitted; but the volume otherwise may be said to contain his complete genuine poems.

     I have only to add, that about the same time that he issued his Sibylline Leaves (1816), being a great sufferer from the effects of a long use of opium, he consigned himself to the care and treatment of Mr. Gillman, surgeon, of Highgate, with whom he lived, and in whose hospitable house he formed a centre of attraction to the most illustrious minds of Great Britain, Europe, and America, by many of whom he was visited, and repeatedly so, up till the time of his death, which occurred on the 25th July 1834, and in the sixty-second year of his age.  Besides his wife, he left two sons and a daughter, all then in the stage of middle-life.  The whole of these also had literary talent, the eldest especially so; but it is the fate of the lesser genius in a family to be always thrust out of sight by the memory of the greater, and that of the author of the "Ancient Marinere" was such that when he died the world may be said to have lost all that could be lost of the greatest poet, if we except Shelley, that England had produced since the days of Milton, and in the domain of pure poetry such a one as has not appeared in the world since.

JOSEPH SKIPSEY

July 1884.

________________________

 
EDGAR ALLAN POE.

Prefatory Notice,
Biographical and Critical
by
Joseph Skipsey.

The following prefatory notice preceded 'POE' in the Canterbury Poets series,
edited by William Sharp.

EDGAR ALLAN POE was the son of David and Elizabeth Poe, both of the histrionic profession, and was born on the 19th of January 1809, in Boston, America.  While yet a child he and a brother and a sister were left orphans by the sudden death of their father and mother at Richmond in 1811.  The attention of some kind-hearted people was soon drawn to the bereaved children, and they were  adopted into families in good position.  The boy Edgar was taken charge of by a Mr. and Mrs. Allan—a wealthy childless couple—of Richmond, and these people soon became so captivated by the beauty and manners of the child, that they resolved upon giving him the education of a gentleman, with the view, it is said, of making him their heir.  When Edgar was eight years old they brought him to England, and as their stay in this country was to be of some duration, they placed him in the care of the Rev. J. Bransby, who had a school at Stoke Newington, where he stayed for nearly two years, when his foster-parents, returning to America, took him back with them, and placed him at a school at Richmond, under the care of Professor Clarke.  He was about five years under the tuition of Dr. Clarke, during which time his progress in the Greek and Latin classics was immense.  He also became an expert athlete, and was one of the best boxers, runners, and swimmers at the school. Better still, he was accounted "a free-hearted boy—kind to his companions, and always ready to assist them with hand or head." This—the mere surface of his life—would be appreciated; but the life within of Edgar would be too vast to be understood by boys of his own age, and when the toil and strife of the day were over, I may add, on the strength of his early poems, which he was then composing, he would have moods with which they would not be able to sympathise, and for which he himself would not be able to account—such moods in a youth being the natural attendants of genius of a high order.  About this time he met with a lady, one of those rare beings whose vast though unconscious goodness and purity of soul send a shower of gladness into the hearts of all with whom they come in contact, and the effect upon the sensitive nature of the poet, whose mental condition from his infancy had evidently been an isolated one, was such as to almost electrify him, and to cause him to think of her rather as a celestial spirit than as of one possessed of the passions and weaknesses of ordinary women. This lady was a Mrs. Stannard, the mother of a school-mate of the young poet.  From the moment he met with this lady she became his idol—while she in turn clearly enough appreciated the feelings of her idolater, and entertained a mother's holy love for the boy, united with a reverence for the precocious genius which she would undoubtedly discover in his very demeanour, and more especially in the light of his beautiful eyes, and in the weird tones of his voice—if not in the gravity of much of his speech, which, I have no doubt, such a youth would be noted for.  That she should become his confidant, and the theme and inspirer of the songs of such an one, was surely natural; and when I think of some of those songs, and more particularly of the verses addressed to "Helen"—to herself—I cannot, also, help yielding my homage to the memory of the woman who inspired them.  Again, I say, this "Helen" of the poet's youth must have been a rare and precious being, and

"What though that light, through storm and night, so trembled from afar,
 What could there be more purely bright in Truth's daystar?"

I am not afraid of being misunderstood here by the pure in soul, and all who read the poet's poems are too much struck by their purity and spirituality to believe that they had their inspiration in aught save the very purest of sources.  Had it been the lot of this good lady, after the poet's introduction to her, to have lived a few years to have given him the wise counsel, and to have exercised the beneficial influence over him of which she was capable, in all likelihood his after-career would have been a happier, if not in a literary sense a yet brighter one; but this was not to be.  She was ordained to appear to him, and disappear like a dream—to shoot like a star through the gloom of his life, only to leave that gloom the more dense from the recollection of the glory by which it had for the moment been illumined.  Then, alas, alas, as he in later years sang, with him "the light of life was o'er."  And the strain upon his mind caused by the loss of this guardian spirit was indeed great, and the reaction from which was such as to drive him into courses one can never think of but with regret.  A disposition to eccentricity had repeatedly manifested itself from his infancy upwards, yet there can be no doubt as to the depth of the affliction caused him by the death of "the Helen of his youth," nor as to an impetus being somehow given to the irregularities of which he is accused, some short time after her death.  I am aware that a certain Miss Royston is cited as having about this time caused him some trouble through her marriage with another, after having shown some favour to himself; but the eternal burden of his song is that of sorrow for an idol that is dead rather than that of regret or of the pain of wounded pride, caused by the loss or the conduct of one who is yet in the flesh.  Moreover, his love is always a pure spiritual love—a love of the soul rather than of the body, however beautiful that body may be painted by his own inimitable pen; and such a love, I hold, is more likely to be inspired in the soul of a precocious genius by a pure-minded mature woman than by any girl in her teens, however charming.  These surmises may not in themselves be sufficient to form a key to the apparent inconsistencies so often laid to the charge of the poet, yet I think they will help to throw some light on the unpleasant subject, and as such ought to be kept in view while we give a hurried glance at his after-career.

    As I have intimated, he was but a mere youth when Mrs. Stannard died—in fact he was a schoolboy—and "as such was here and there," as Mr. Stedman says, "till 1826, when he passed a winter at the University of Virginia.  He ended his brief course in the school of ancient and modern languages with a successful examination; but after much dissipation and gambling, which deeply involved him in debt."  A rupture, as might have been expected, ensued between him and his guardian—Mr. Allan finally refusing to countenance Edgar's extravagances; and the young man betook himself to his aunt, Mrs. Maria Clemm of Baltimore, in whose house he found a home for about two years, during which time he acted as tutor to his cousin Virginia, who was then a beautiful child, and who afterwards became his wife.  In 1829 his foster-mother, Mrs. Allan, died, when a reconciliation was effected between him and Mr. Allan, and he was asked to choose a profession.  He chose that of Arms, and found an appointment at West Point; but of this he soon tired—he could not endure military discipline, and ere long brought about his expulsion, and so again incurred the displeasure of his patron.  This gentleman by this time had again married, and as the second wife was likely to have children, and as these children would naturally enough be considered the heirs of their father's possessions, an intimation was given to the effect that in future Edgar must provide for himself. High words are said to have ensued on the occasion, which only served the purpose of ventilating the justly excited anger of Edgar, and of causing the doors of Mr. Allan to be the more securely bolted in future against the young man who, from his boyhood, had been taught to consider Mr. Allan's house as his own home.  He now published a volume of poems, some of which had been printed while he yet stayed with his aunt, chiefly valuable as containing the germs of several of his later masterpieces.  Two or three of them, however, have a positive value—such as the "Sonnet to Science," and more especially his verses beginning, "Helen, thy beauty is to me," and that exquisite lyric in Aalraaf beginning "Ligeia, Ligeia, my beautiful one, whose harshest idea will to melody run."  Indeed, up to this period I am not aware of any verses produced by an American that would bear comparison for pure poetic power with these two lyrics, the products of this outcast youth.  They are noted for that delicacy of touch, purity of sentiment, and rarity of melody, which were afterwards to characterise all his best poems.  Whether Poe realised any money on this publication is a question, and if he did, it could not have been much, and must have been soon spent, as he is supposed to have had no other means on which he could live; and what became of him for two years after making another vain attempt to gain admission into the home of his boyhood is not positively known. He had been thrust from the rich man's house, it is supposed without a penny in his pocket, on the wide, wide world, to sink or swim for what his Richmond patrons appeared to care; and somehow he had managed to swim, and when he did again turn up (1833) it was as the winner of a hundred dollar prize, which had been offered by the proprietors of a periodical—the Saturday Visitor—for the best tale that should be sent to them.  The tale for which the prize was adjudged to Poe was the "MS. found in a Bottle;" and the gentlemen who adjudged it, on finding the author in a state of the deepest distress, at once became his friends, and secured him employment on journals over which they had influence.

    He was now fairly launched upon the career of a journalist, and tale after tale, and critique after critique, came from his pen with a surprising rapidity; and before the lapse of many years several periodicals—the Saturday Visitor, the Literary Messenger, Graham's Magazine, the Broadway Journal, and others—were all enriched and had their fame widened by his various productions.  In 1836 he married his young cousin, the beautiful Virginia Clemm, for whom he possessed and always had cherished the sweetest and tenderest feelings; and every nerve was strained to provide a comfortable home for her and her dear widow mother, who continued to live with him and Virginia, and to care for them and to assist them all through the few years of their married life, and who, even after the death of her idolised daughter (1847), continued to be a mother in the noblest sense of the word to the bereaved poet.  And somehow he managed to provide the desired home and to maintain it, though his literary labours, brilliant and successful as they undoubtedly were, were only very poorly remunerated.  This want of adequate remuneration for his work, and a consequent want of adequate means for his household needs, was the chief cause of his frequent dissatisfaction with his employers.  About these changes there has been much foolish controversy, and many, without looking further than the length of their noses, have ascribed them to a bad and querulous disposition of the poet, and his use or abuse of strong drink.  That Poe, from his extreme nervousness, was naturally somewhat sharp-tempered, is likely enough, and quite as likely is it that in moments of deep depression he resorted to alcoholic stimulants; but that he was worse in these respects than other men who pass through life without a supposed stain on their character, and who have neither the keen sensibility nor the trials to put their temper to the test, on the one hand, nor are subject, nor have anything to cause them to be subjected, to the heart and soul-sickening depressions to which this brave man was subject, on the other, I very much doubt.  Edgar Poe for years—I might say for the whole of his literary life—was condemned to work like a literary hack for a hack's wages, though at the same time much of his work was the finest of its kind, and such as not more than two or three writers in the whole world of English letters had, at the period, a capacity to produce.  I am here speaking in particular of his tales, not of his great poems, for the very best of these had not yet appeared, and the merits of the few pieces that had been issued in pamphlet or book form, and in the columns of the magazines, were unknown to the mass of readers until "The Raven" took the world of letters by storm, and produced a sensation throughout America, and wherever the English tongue was spoken, such as no single poem had ever done before or is likely to do again.  His "Hans Pfaal," his "Berenice," his "Ligeia," his "Gold Bug," for which he, in 1843 (as with " MS. found in a Bottle "), gained a one hundred dollar prize, were all known to magazine readers when "The Raven" was ushered into the world, and brought with it the golden day of Poe's popularity.  Still, his income was far from being equal to his needs, and to increase this, he delivered a lecture about this period on "The Poets and Poetry of America," in which he was tempted to make an onslaught on the writers of the fashionable verse of the times; and this lecture being followed up by a series of papers on the literati of New York, in which a similar mode of procedure was adopted, he excited the animosity of the scourged scribblers, and involved himself in a literary warfare, and so created a host of enemies, who never rested satisfied so long as they could see a chance of doing him harm while he lived, or while there appeared one bright spot on his character, which they could, by hook or crook, blacken after he was dead.  The papers here spoken of were issued in the columns of the Broadway Journal, of which he had become editor and proprietor—positions which, notwithstanding the wide circulation of the journal, he, from want of funds, we are given to understand, failed to keep, and this would clearly be to him a bitter trial.  In the meantime, his beautiful Virginia sickened and died; and this long-dreaded blow was such as to drive him into a state of frenzy from which he cannot be said to have ever wholly recovered.  In his extremity he resorted, as on other disastrous occasions, to the dangerous nepenthe of strong drink; and this only subjected him the more to adversity, which, after the death of his beloved young wife, now "followed fast and followed faster" until the bitter end.  How that end was effected is a mystery as deep as that which at first sight envelops some of his own weird tales.  All that we are certain of is that he was, on the 7th of October 1849, discovered lying on a bench by a wharf in Baltimore, in a state of insensibility, and having been recognised, was taken to the hospital, where he died the same night.  His enemies, of course, ascribe his death to his having taken an excessive quantity of alcoholic stimulants; the Baltimoreans, however, may be quite as right who ascribe it to foul play.  So ended the career of the finest and most brilliant poetic genius that America has yet produced.

Edgar Allen Poe
November 1848
from a Daguerreotype


    The career of Edgar Poe was one of harassment, strife, and sorrow—gilded, indeed, with a series of splendid literary triumphs; and his death was a tragic one—as lamentable and as tragic as that of Shelley, as that of Chatterton, or that even of Marlowe of "the mighty line" himself.  "And for this," cry his enemies, with Griswold at their head, "he was himself to blame."  But that is a base lie.  That we have in Edgar Poe an illustration of the paradox that an individual may be a wise writer without being a wise man, many of his friends are inclined to admit, and may be admitted if we are supposed to always have prudence of conduct combined with high power of thinking; only it is quite possible that such errors or follies attributable to Poe may have arisen out of circumstances over which no power of thought could have given him control.  His temperament, not a lack of wisdom, essentially rendered him a being of extremes.  Under powerful opposition and provocation he would seem at times to have been a very "Imp of the Perverse," while at others—and this was his general mood—he was as gentle and as docile as a child; and many of the noblest women of America who had had the good fortune to come in contact with him would have added to this, that he was as lovable. I think, after reading what can be said for and against the accused one, as Mr. Ingrain and Mr. Gill before they sat down to write their respective lives of our poet appear to have done, there can be no two opinions on this point.  Indeed, the more attention an unbiassed reader pays to the subject, the more convinced he becomes of the treachery and unpardonable nature of the conduct of Griswold and his confreres towards their antagonist.  Had Griswold been a weakling, and unfit from lack of ability to sit in judgment on the poet and his life, he could have been more easily pardoned; but he was not entirely that, and his estimate of the poet's genius betrays symptoms that he must have had some faint perception at least of the greatness of the subject he attempted to deal with.  On that point the poet was safe, simply because everybody, as well as his adversary, had the facts of the case before them on which to form an opinion for themselves; and the critic was acute enough to see this, and had the craft to perceive that the easiest way for him to work out his purpose would be to chime in with the pæan which the world sung, and would be sure to sing, to the genius that had conferred upon it so many glorious gifts in prose and verse, and to concentrate his efforts instead on the defamation of his private life and character—a matter which only few were in a position to defend; and simply because Poe, in his endeavours to obtain the best possible remuneration for his services, had been driven from town to town, and from state to state, with a swiftness that left it difficult for any except a few people to really know much about the man apart from the writer.  A few, however, were in possession of the required facts, and these few readily took up the cudgels on the poet's behalf; "but," as Mr. Ingram observes, "as Griswold's memoir prefaced the poet's works, and all refutations and objections were published in the ephemeral pages of periodicals until 1874, the veritable scandalum magnatum remained unexpunged," and so continued to propagate and spread abroad the mischief its author had intended it should.  And the evil effect of it in consequence is dominant to this day in many quarters, though a glance at the paragraph in which the chief charges are couched is in itself almost sufficient to show their hollowness. What are those charges?  "Passion in him," says Griswold, "comprehended many of the worst emotions that militate against human happiness. . . You could not contradict him but you raised in him quick choler."  That might be; but is choler one of the worst emotions?  I have generally found it in company with open-heartedness, honesty, and truth—qualities which Griswold denies Poe to have possessed.  But again, "You could not speak of wealth but his cheek paled with gnawing envy."  This would have been a great pity if it had been true, but would have only shown that Poe must have greatly underrated the wealth—the mental wealth—of which he was possessed, and which was of more value than the coffer of a millionaire.  If such had been so, then the poet must have been a humble-minded man and a modest one.  But what says Griswold to this?  "The natural advantages of this poor boy—his beauty, his readiness, his daring spirit, that breathed around him like a fiery atmosphere, had raised his constitutional self-confidence into an arrogance that turned his very claims to admiration into prejudice against him."  Then Poe was not so modest after all?  Not quite.  "He had," adds Griswold, "a morbid desire" for what is "called ambition, but no wish for the esteem or love of his species; only the hard wish to succeed, NOT SHINE."  And why?—"that he might have the right to despise a world that galled his self-conceit."  Now I submit that the utter fallacy of this statement will be at once apparent if we only reflect for a moment on the fact that if success could only have given our poet "the right to despise a world"—by which big phrase, I take it, Griswold simply meant one of the many small groups of writers which formed the American world of letters—then that right, such as it was, had been achieved at the very outset of his career, since, as I have shown in his very earliest literary efforts, he had surpassed every other writer that America had produced.  Having achieved what he desired, what need was there for him to spend his life in one huge endeavour simply to do it over again?  Again, what in the name of reason can Griswold mean by the words self-conceit as applied to Edgar Allan Poe?  We speak of a man as being self-conceited when he has a ridiculously high notion of his self-importance; but what notion had Poe of himself that was not justifiable on the strength of his supreme abilities?  How many more than a dozen writers were living in the fifth decade of the present century that were worthy to help this man off with his boots? and yet, forsooth, because on matters of taste he happened to speak in a tone of authority, he is to be accused by a third-rate essayist of self-conceit!  On whom ought the stigma to rest?  On him who has enriched the world of literature with some of its most precious jewels in shape of tale and song, or on him whose strongest claim to consideration is a sinister one—is a fiendish attempt to damn to infamy the inspired author of these same treasures?  Whether had Edgar Allan Poe or Rufus Griswold the most self-conceit?  To talk of Edgar Poe being self-conceited and arrogant, and envious, and choleric, and what not!  Then "this was not the worst," though "bad enough," says Rufus, "for these salient angles were all varnished over with a cold, repellant cynicism—his passions vented themselves in sneers."  Poe, as I have inferred, had his foibles, truly, and this habit of sneering, which he sometimes adopted in his controversies, was one of them; but his sneers were always directed at those who deserved nothing else, if they were to be answered at all.  Perhaps his silence, could he have thought so, would have been better, as assuredly it would have been more keenly felt, since the passion for notoriety of some of his thick-skinned assailants was such that they would have risked their lives only to have had it said that they had dared to put their heads in the lion's mouth.

    But let us change the theme, and let us glance a few moments at the works—at the tales, poems, and critiques of Edgar Poe.  The least valuable of these appear to me to be the so-called humorous or grotesque—not but these are excellent in their way—only the kind is not of the highest.  Moreover, other writers have produced their equals; but who besides Poe has written anything to equal the "Ligeia," "Eleanora," the "Assignation," or the "Mask of the Red Death," and one or two others of the poet's serious tales?  These pieces are in prose form, but they have all the harmonic organic completeness and aerial beauty of fine poems—I had nearly said of Poe's own finest poems.  Of the very best of the latter it would not be too much to say that they are among the very finest things that ever sprang from the depths of the human soul.  Their very titles have become names which serve to conjure up in the imagination of the reader scenes of the most weird beauty, and such as none save the best poets have ever imagined or realised.  The sphere of the poet's activity in general lay "out of space" and "out of time," and it must be conceded to have been only a small sphere; "but it was," as Hannay observed, "a magic one," and it was Poe's own. Hints he may have had for two or three of his best pieces, as some critics think, or for all of them for that matter, as all creative artists more or less have had; but it is not the mere suggestion, but what is developed out of it, that forms the charm and the value of a poem. The ray of light in itself may be valuable, but it requires a prism to resolve it into the charming variety of colour which glorifies the rainbow; and so only in the hands of a true poet can the most precious hint be shown to possess the possibilities of the beauty essential to a poem.  Such was the power displayed by Burns in the many snatches of old song which he converted into a series of lyrics so charming, that had he done nothing else in verse, he had done sufficient to keep his name green for all time.  But the poet must sometimes perform even a greater miracle than aught Burns performed with such old verse before his supposed borrowed materials can be shown to possess the required poetic value.  The hint is not always so precious as the said ray of light or old verse, and may only contain one among a thousand thoughts essential to the poet's purpose, and the touch of genius required to show its utility in such a case can only fitly find its parallel in the power that enables Nature herself to elicit from apparently the most heterogeneous elements the ingredients and the qualities with which she builds up and renders glorious with perfume and colour the most perfect blossom in the lap of Flora.  Such is the power displayed by Shakespeare in his immortal works, and such the power evinced by Tennyson in his.  True, all great poets have a vast personal experience from which they are able to draw the rarest poetic symbol; but they have over and above a culture which gives them possession of the wisdom of their own and of other eras; and it is as much owing to the rare ability with which they utilise this in the working out of their grand designs that their pages possess that luminosity that arrests, and ever must arrest with delight, the attention of the intelligent reader.  Nor are their works less essentially original on that account; the aids thus obtained are not only used in a way which genius only can, but in a way that the special genius of each of the said poets only can use them, and bear the impress of such genius to such a degree that the product itself can only be well characterised by an epithet derived from the poet's name.  We not only use, I would remark, with propriety and from choice, such terms as Shakespearean, Miltonic, Tennysonian, and the like when we want to express the character of some poem, but often from sheer necessity—from the circumstance that no amount of language would otherwise convey such a comprehensive idea of what we mean; and it is the power to impress his individuality upon his writings that gives the poet a claim to be considered original.  Not so much is it the subject itself as the how—the ability with which a subject is handled—that we most prize in a poem, a picture, or a piece of sculpture.  Of course some subjects in themselves are attractive, while others are unfit for artistic purposes; but such attractiveness is not to be compared with that charm which the "right promethean fire" can impart to even less favourable subjects; while, on the other hand, a true poet will in general select those subjects on which his genius can be exercised to the best advantage.

    These remarks may be verified by a reference to the writings of our best poets, and emphatically by a reference to those of Edgar Poe himself.  From some reason he loved to brood over not only the terrible, but the horrible, and not only over death, but the life in death.  The grave and the "phosphoresence of putrefaction" at times afforded favourite themes and material for poem and tale; and yet see in "The Conqueror Worm," and "For Annie," as well as in several of his prose pieces, what he has been able to witch out of it all.  In general, however, his themes are more consonant with the perfection of his treatment; though even in these, as Griswold observed, "his imagery was from the worlds which no mortal can see but with the vision of genius."  With the "sheeted memories of the past," with the spectral tenants of some Haunted Palace, or with some entombed Ulalume in some "misty mid-region of Weir," the poet's sympathies have their abiding place, and into the weird homes of these weird and silent people we are led, and therein held with a spell as powerful as that ascribed to the Evil Eye, or possessed by his own grim Raven from the "Night's Plutonian Shore."  And this spell, as sweet as it is potent, from whence proceeds it, if not from a music which at once emanates from and reflects a feeling that has its roots in the very bottom of the poet's soul?  The truth and depth of those feelings, I contend, cannot be doubted; no more than I can doubt that it was from his rare ability to give an adequate expression to such feeling, and from no other cause, that he was enabled to bring to our apprehension visions of "the gloomiest or ghastliest grandeur," or of "the most airy and delicious beauty," and to hold us in a spell of wonder and delight. That Poe was a master in logic is patent to all who have read almost any one of his tales or critiques; but that the subtlety of his reasoning powers, as some of his critics have thought, was sufficient to enable him to produce his marvellous poems without his first having being possessed—inspired—illuminated—by the feelings he sought to express in those poems, is a supposition almost too glaringly absurd to need refutation.  That feelings can only be conceivable to a soul who can feel or has felt—as the perfume of the rose can only be known to one who has the sense of smelling, and has smelt one; or as the flavour of the juice of the grape can only be apprehended by one who has the sense of taste, and has tasted it; or as the charm of some rare melody can only be appreciated by one who is not deaf, or has not always been so, and has heard one, is self-evident; and so assuredly can the power to express such feelings and apprehension only reside in the soul who has the capacity to conceive them.  That one born blind may be found who can talk about colours in a somewhat sensible way is possible, and may, on certain grounds foreign to our subject, be accounted for; but has such a one a thorough conception of what he talks about?—that's the rub; for I argue that without such a conception of the feeling—or the effect, as Poe himself would have put it—desired to be produced, no such feeling or effect were possible.

    That our poet in his "Philosophy of Composition" should have afforded a plea for the foolish doctrine which has been put to such vile use by his enemies is to be regretted; and yet, though his having put forth such a theory is somewhat of a mystery, I think it is not an utterly unsolvable one, and that too without implying anything that would form a heinous offence against truth as the world goes.  Poe, in short, was fond of a hoax, and I can conceive it possible the "Philosophy of Composition" was begun in such a spirit, but that as he progressed in his work he became a dupe to the subtlety of his own reasoning, and so was hurried into the promulgation of that against which his better instincts would at other moments have rebelled.  Be this as it may, the celebrated essay in question can only be accepted as a clever attempt to account for what already existed.  It would have been more to the purpose had Poe been able to show how other ingenious people, as well as himself, could have produced other such poems as "The  Raven," but this he did not do, otherwise we should have had a flood of them ere now; and until we have such I hold we are justified in rejecting his theory as unsound.  Of inquiries into such matters I would observe we have had more than enough; for could we fathom the processes through which a poet is always able to produce his masterpieces, what would be our gain?  Would our grand poems have for us then a deeper significance, and be able to possess us with richer feelings and sentiments, and confer upon us a more exquisite delight than they do now?  This I doubt and of one thing we are sure, and that is, whenever a powerful passion for analysis takes possession of a reader, instead of yielding himself up to the influence of a poem, he is more apt to pry into the processes, or to try to do so, whence such influence is supposed to have proceeded, and having, as he imagines, plucked the heart from the mystery, he is more apt to chuckle over his own success than to congratulate the poet upon his.  The pleasure derivable in such a case may be a refined one, but is it a noble one?—nay, how far is above that of the solver of a conundrum, or the winner of a game of chess, whose pleasure, though refined if you like, is surely an utterly selfish one, and not one in which others, as well as himself, can participate.  Of course we have critics and critics.  I allude to the many, and one need not be reminded that among a thousand there are a small group who themselves, being possessed of true poetic instinct, can crown the lesser pleasure of the verse-analyst with the diviner joy to be derived from a due appreciation of the poem.  Some of the critiques of those writers are, indeed, ornaments and not eye-sores in our literary treasury; and among the finest of these, by-the-by, are some of the critiques of the poet under review.

    Edgar Poe was always in the right when he was true to his own feelings—when he was not driven by need, hunger, and hardship to cater for popularity, to try to hoax or cajole his readers or his patrons; always in the right when he was at liberty to choose a subject after his own heart, and had leisure to work it out after his own fashion.  This is shown in the fact that his most elaborate critiques—the "Philosophy of Composition" excepted—are those in which his most profound judgments are pronounced.  His reviews of the poems of Mrs. Browning, of the "Orion" of R. H. Horne, the ballads of Longfellow, and the tales of Hawthorne, are of this stamp; and so is his Essay on the Poetic Principle.  The theory propounded in the latter and some other of his papers—namely, "That a long poem is a flat contradiction in terms," has excited the opposition of some critics, and with apparent reason; and yet on the whole it is surely better that such a notion should obtain among literary aspirants than the old one, which I am sorry to say is still current, that no poem can be termed great that is not a long one. The evil fruit of this last belief is evident; the notion results in the further belief that to be truly great the poet must write a long poem, and so encourages the production of vast volumes of verse that a sensitive mind is at a loss what to do with, since it is generally supposed that one, to be in a position to judge of the merits of a book, must first have read it through, and so, to satisfy his conscience, he feels, at whatever cost of precious time and vital force, he must either do this or be prepared to listen in silence, while some Master Holofernes, who has found something in it to fit exactly his own hobby-horse, extols it as such a magnificent book "as never was," and its author as another Shakespeare, though the huge product itself may only consist of a mass of the veriest twaddle that was ever penned.  Few things surely can be more pitiable to see than that of a poor wretch who has set himself the dreary task to wade through such fearful verse-books, raising his head at long intervals, with a sigh, to count the pages, and so to compare the long suffering he may have endured with the longer suffering that may yet remain to be endured, before his Herculean labours are at an end.  I speak in sincerity when I say that the supposed necessity of any one having to do this is a huge evil, and that we owe our best thanks to Edgar Poe for having bravely tried to put an end to it even at the risk of our losing a really noble long poem once in a couple of centuries or so.  The loss, after all, would not be so great as many people imagine, since the very few poets who have shown a capacity for writing valuable long poems have in general shown a capacity for the production of still more valuable short ones—that is, if the time consumed in the production of long poems could be utilised in the production of short ones. This the author himself can only tell; but if he cannot so utilise his time, then let him write his long poem, for surely it would have been a loss to the world had Milton not written his, or have given us several such poems as "Comus," "Lycidas," "L'Allegro," or "Il Penseroso" instead.  Milton's, however, was an exceptional case, since great as he was in a short poem, he was, perhaps, yet greater in a long one, and this cannot be said of any other English poet since his time.  Compare Coleridge's short poems, for instance, with his long ones—his "Ancient Mariner," his "Christabel," his "Genevieve," with the "Remorse" and his other dramas; or Shelley's short poems with his long ones; his "Sensitive Plant" and the "Epipsychidion" with the "Revolt of Islam," and even the "Cenci;" or Tennyson's short poems, for example, with his long ones—his "Ænone," his "Locksley Hall," or the "Grandmother" with his later epics and dramas, and then let us ask ourselves the question, How much would have been our loss if even this trio of supreme poets had been able, without any actual loss of time, to have confined their efforts to the production of short poems only?  Excellent as the dramas of Shelley at least, and the epics of Tennyson undoubtedly are, both of these poets have shown a capacity for finer, rarer, more precious, and so greater work in their short poems than they have in their long ones; and so on the strength of the former, rather than on that of the latter, must essentially rest their claims to consideration as poets.  If that consideration be the highest, as I believe it is, then they are poets of the highest order, and that on the strength of their short poems.  This fact is not to be ignored, and cannot be too emphatically insisted upon, since, if it can be shown that rank in literature is fixed rather by quality than quantity in writing, it may have the tendency to cause aspirants to the laurel to concentrate their efforts to give "infinite riches in a little room," rather than to scatter a few golden grains over interminable acres which might, indeed, possibly be reached by the mere plodding bookworm, but which could prove of no service to the world of intelligent readers whatever.

    In his "Essay on the Poetic Principle," and his other critiques, Poe laboured to impress such views as these upon the minds of his readers; while in his practice as a poet and as a tale-writer, he has illustrated the general truth of his theories in a way that few poets have been able to do.  Like the poets just named, his genius was essentially lyrical, and like theirs his verse was of the finest quality, though the lyrics of Edgar Poe were too few in number for their author to bear a fair comparison with Tennyson or with Shelley; while he had no poetic jewels of sufficient size to justify them in being placed alongside of two or three of Coleridge's master-works.  In the narrowness and unearthliness of his sphere, and in his having made the best that was possible out of his "cribbed, cabined, and confined" conditions, he would endure a better comparison with the forerunner of all these—namely, Collins; and if he excels Collins in the sweetness and magic of his melody—as great a musician as the elder poet was—he is excelled by Collins in turn in the deeper significance of his symbols, as well as in the greater rapidity and surety with which he was able to shoot direct to the mark at which he aimed.  The younger had a decided advantage over the elder poet in the power with which he was able to impart a human interest to some of his exquisite poems, which causes them to be relished by all classes of readers, while the creations of Collins are not to be appreciated by any save the most imaginative minds.  To those who can appreciate them, however, it must be added, they possess a charm through which, like those of the more popular poet, their immortality is clearly ensured.  In the speciality of melody, as I have said, he excels Collins, and indeed all others except some two or three of the very greatest poets in the English tongue; and yet in this speciality, in which he is so supreme, he has been all but equalled at times by one who in other respects was altogether unlike either Collins or himself—I mean the Irish poet, James Clarence Mangan.  It has been supposed that Poe caught the idea of utilising for musical effects—as he has done in "Lenore," "Eulalie," and other pieces—the refrain derived from the repetition of some emphatically significant word or line of the poem, from the practice of Mangan, in whose "Times of the Barmecides," and "Dark Rosaleen," such refrains are made to play a similar effective part.  That may be, but it must not be overlooked that Edgar Poe was essentially lyrical to the very core, and that he has produced melodies as fine as "Lenore," or "Eulalie," in which the refrain is not adopted, as "Israfel," and "The Haunted Palace," for instance, and that his melodies at all times—even those which possess the refrain—have a distinct character, and bear the Edgar Poe impress just as Clarence Mangan's bear his.  I speak of Mangan on the merit of some lyrics solely, which are to be found in two or three Irish ballad books published by Duffy of Dublin, and which, besides the splendid and pathetic "Times of the Barmecides" and "Dark Rosaleen," the "Lament for the Tironian Princes," and "Cahal Mor of the Wine Red Hand," are equally worthy of special remark. The most of these lyrics are professedly translations, for which profession there may just possibly be a groundwork of fact; but setting aside these, and judging him upon the pieces which were all his own, he was a sublime lyrist, but unfortunately one who, like his more famous brother bard of "The Bells" and "The Raven "—in whose veins also, by-the-by, the wild Irish blood ran—was unhappy in his life and unhappy in his death.  He was born in Dublin, 1803, and died there 1849, the same year that was also made memorable by the death of America's finest and most brilliant bard, the flower of whose genius is contained in this volume.

JOSEPH SKIPSEY.

October 1884.

 


 

[Home] [Miscellaneous Lyrics] [From the Coal-fields] [Songs & Lyrics] [Biographic Sketches] [Prefatory (1)] [Prefatory (2)] [Oscar Wilde] [Family Documents] [Skipsey Events] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk