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A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780-1

Lord Houghton undoubtedly had no strong vein of poetry


1809

contributed three writers of curiously contrasted character. One was Professor Blackie, an eccentric and amiable man, a translator of AEschylus, and a writer of songs of a healthy and spirited kind. The second, Dr. Thomas Gordon Hake, a poet of Parables, has never been popular, and perhaps seldom arrived at that point of projection in which poetical alchemy finally and successfully transmutes the rebel materials of thought and phrase into manifest gold; but he had very high and distinctly rare, poetical qualities. Such things as "Old Souls," "The Snake Charmer," "The Palmist," three capital examples of his work, are often, and not quite wrongly, objected to in different forms of some such a phrase as this: "Poetry that is perfect poetry ought never to subject any tolerable intellect to the necessity of searching for its meaning. It is not necessary that it should yield up the whole treasures of that meaning at once, but it must carry on the face of it such a competent quantity as will relieve the reader from postponing the poetic enjoyment in order to solve the intellectual riddle." The truth of this in the main, and the demurrers and exceptions to it in part, are pretty clear; nor is this the place to state them at length. It is sufficient to say that in Dr. Hake's verse, especially that part of it published between 1870 and 1880 under the titles _Madeline_, _Parables and Tales_, _New Symbols_, _Legends of the Morrow_ and _Maiden Ecstasy_, the reader of some poetical experience
will seldom fail to find satisfaction.

It is impossible to imagine a greater contrast than that of this poet with Lord Houghton, earlier known to everybody as Richard Monckton Milnes, who died in 1885. He was of the golden age of Trinity during this century, the age of Tennyson, and throughout life he had an amiable fancy for making the acquaintance of everybody who made any name in literature, and of many who made none. A practical and active politician, and a constant figure in society, he was also a very considerable man of letters. His critical work (principally but not wholly collected in _Monographs_) is not great in bulk but is exceedingly good, both in substance and in style. His verse, on the other hand, which was chiefly the produce of the years before he came to middle life, is a little slight, and perhaps appears slighter than it really is. Few poets have ever been more successful with songs for music: the "Brookside" (commonly called from its refrain, "The beating of my own heart"), the famous and really fine "Strangers Yet," are the best known, but there are many others. Lord Houghton undoubtedly had no strong vein of poetry. But it was always an entire mistake to represent him as either a fribble or a sentimentalist, while with more inducements to write he would probably have been one of the very best critics of his age.

It is necessary once more to approach the unsatisfactory brevity of a catalogue in order to mention, since it would be wrong to omit, Sir Samuel Ferguson (1810-86), an Irish writer who produced some pleasant and spirited work of ordinary kinds, and laboured very hard to achieve that often tried but seldom achieved adventure, the rendering into English poetry of Irish Celtic legends and literature; Alfred Domett (1811-87), author of the New Zealand epic of _Ranulf and Amohia_ and much other verse, but most safely grappled to English poetry as Browning's "Waring"; W. B. Scott (1812-90), an outlying member of the Prae-Raphaelite School in art and letters, in whom for the most part execution lagged behind conception both with pen and pencil; Charles Mackay (1814-89), an active journalist who wrote a vast deal in verse and prose, his best things perhaps being the mid-century "Cholera Chant," the once well-known song of "A good time coming," and in a sentimental strain the piece called "O, ye Tears"; and Mrs. Archer Clive, the author of the remarkable novel of _Paul Ferroll_, whose _IX. Poems by V._ attracted much attention from competent critics in the doubtful time of poetry about the middle of the century, and are really good.


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