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A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780-1

All poets have always attempted


Rossetti's

second volume, while it added only too little to the bulk of his work--for much of it consisted of a revised issue of "The House of Life"--added greatly to its enjoyment. But it produced no new kind, unless certain extensions of the ballad-scheme into narrative poems of considerable length--"Rose-Mary," "The White Ship," and "The King's Tragedy"--be counted as such. "Rose-Mary" in particular exhibits the merits and defects of the poet in almost the clearest possible light, and it may be safely said that no English poet, not the very greatest, need have been ashamed of such a stanza as this, where there is no affectation worth speaking of, where the eternal and immortal commonplaces of poetry are touched to newness as only a master touches, and where the turn of the phrase and verse is impeccable and supreme:--

And lo! on the ground Rose-Mary lay, With a cold brow like the snows ere May, With a cold breast like the earth till Spring-- With such a smile as the June days bring When the year grows warm for harvesting.

Here, as elsewhere, it has seemed better to postpone most of the necessary general criticism of schools and groups till the concluding chapter, but in this particular respect the paucity of individuals which our scheme leaves (though Miss Rossetti and Mr. O'Shaughnessy will give valuable assistance presently), may make a few words desirable, even if they be partly repetition and

partly anticipation. We find in Rossetti a strong influence of pictorial on poetic art; an overpowering tendency to revert to the forms and figures, the sense and sentiment of the past, especially the mediaeval past; and a further tendency to a mysticism which is very often, if not always, poetic in character, as indeed mysticism generally if not always is. We find in point of form a distinct preference for lyric over other kinds, a fancy for archaic language and schemes of verse, a further fancy for elaborate and ornate language (which does not, however, exclude perfect simplicity when the poet chooses), and above all, a predilection for attempting and a faculty for achieving effects of verbal music by cunning adjustment of vowel and consonant sound which, though it had been anticipated partially, and as it were accidentally in the seventeenth century, and had been after the Romantic revival displayed admirably by Coleridge and Keats, and brought to a high pitch by Tennyson, was even further elaborated and polished by the present school. Indeed, they may be said to have absolutely finished this poetical appeal as a distinct and deliberate one. All poets have always attempted, and all poets always will attempt, and when they are great, achieve these enchanting effects of mere sound. But for some considerable time it will not be possible (indeed it will be quite impossible until the structure, the intonation, the phrase of English have taken such turns as will develop physical possibilities as different from those of our language as ours are from those of the seventeenth century) for any poets to get distinctly great effects in the same way. It is proof enough of this that, except the masters, no poet for many years now _has_ achieved a great effect by this means, and that the most promising of the newer school, whether they may or may not have found a substitute, are abandoning it.


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