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CHAPTER VI

POETRY AND PATRIOTISM

Moore-Campbell-Wolfe

With the entrance of the introspective spirit into modern life has come, among the readers of poetry, an indifference to literature that does not grapple with problems, that is not addressed to the solution of physical and metaphysical questions. The distinctive, moral, and didactic tone of English literature, its prevailing seriousness of aim was lost at one period alone, the period of the Restoration, when the wits and beaux were the men of letters, and the Stuart Court the patron of poetry. The poetry of the Restoration was avowedly a poetry of pleasure. But the spirit of moral purpose reasserted itself almost immediately. The ethical impulse of Pope and Johnson was carried on by Crabbe and Cowper. With the influx of the new tide of thought at the beginning of the present century that impulse was spiritualised and deepened, and in Carlyle we had the high priest of what he himself called 'gospel' literature, literature with a deliberate, moral and spiritual intention. The literature of joy has now been for long out of vogue; a sternness of resolve to deal only with matters of the soul, such as was the motive of the poetry of the Middle Ages like Dante's, has been the mastering force in the nineteenth century. We have been for long in the shadow of a creed almost pessimistic, even when

most spiritual, governed by the advice of Goethe, -'Try to understand yourself and things around you. All this is well : but self-consciousness may occupy too much of life ; and, meanwhile, the wise spirit of cheerfulness has not had due honour done her in the houses of latter-day authors.

There are signs, indeed, of a large and freer ideal, which shall include joy among its duties, for which ideal Browning was a strong champion. It is still, however, doubtful whether, 'As You like it,' or, The Midsummer's Night's Dream,' would not, if produced to-day, be deemed frivolous, and beneath the dignity of a great author, and whether Milton's 'L'Allegro,' would be treated as other than a graceful piece of society-verse not at all comparable with a poem wrestling with the psychic evolution of man. Although seriousness of purpose marks the greater portion of the poetry of the early part of this century, the bards of passion condescended at times, as Byron and Moore did, to become bards of mirth, with salutary results for the body politic and social. Besides, by the poetry of mirth, the intellectual and moral stress was relieved by poetry less highly pitched, by verses which appealed to universal instincts, but demanded less activity of imagination, less fulness of emotion on the reader's part, and were thus welcome. What a relief after verse like this, the familiar consuming emotions of Shelley,

'I faint, I perish with my love ! I grow

Frail as a cloud whose splendours pale
Under the evening's ever-changing glow;

I die like mist upon the gale,

And like a wave under the calm I fail ;' or, after this, his familiar politico-religious strain,

'Gray Power was seated
Safely on her ancestral throne ;
And Faith, the Python undefeated,
Even to its blood-stained step dragged on
Her foul and wounded train, and men
Were trampled and deceived again,'

to catch the gay lilt of

6

Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere,

With its roses the brightest that earth ever gave,
Its temples, and grottos, and fountains as clear

As the love-lighted eyes that hang over their wave?

the stir of coming fray in this :

‘Pibroch of Donuil Dhu,

Pibroch of Donuil,
Wake thy wild voice anew,

Summon Clan Conuil.'

We expect a poet to be acquainted with, even to be inspired by the highest thought of his own day, but none the less do we expect that the slighter tendencies, the less exalted moods should have their place in the poetry of an epoch. Our theology, and our politics, and our political economy, if we are ready to allow these departments of our intellectual life to be visited by the poet, as well as the department of our emotions, which will include much beside our love affairs—we must suffer him in less arduous hours to tune his lyre to sprightlier measures. Doubtless the minor currents of an epoch will not carry the poet, who trusts to them only, to the main river of lasting song, which flows steadily down the years. That poetry has the best chance of survival, which, in addition to the ideas of the times in which it was produced, contains matter

of permanent human interest; and poetry has a better chance of survival than prose, because it presents its matter in a more permanently interesting, because more intensified, and impassioned and vital form. The wit and humour of ‘Moore's Rhymes on the Road,' or 'The Fudge Family in Paris,' have little attraction for the reader of to-day, they were not in the main stream of the determining tendencies of the age ; but Moore was not wholly bard of mirth, and because he was a bard of passion also, he survives, and will survive. His reputation was made before Byron's, he was a popular poet before Shelley's name was even known; and because he came before the great lights of the time, his own has suffered temporary eclipse. Matthew Arnold has warned us against permitting the historic estimate of a poet to tinge the real estimate of him; but while it may willingly be conceded that Moore cannot be ranked as his contemporaries ranked him, there is danger of losing sight of the unquestionable debt owed to him by his greater successors. Tennyson wrote of his own contribution to English poetry, and the success of his imitators,

. Most can raise the flowers now,
For all have got the seed.'

And we may say of Moore that his fluid, easy manner, his introduction and mastery of new metrical forms, his natural lyrical note, were full of suggestion and teaching to the poets who followed him. Save what came from Burns, there had not been heard in England a true song from the time of the Cavalier and Roundhead campaigns. If he were not himself a great poet, Moore was undoubtedly the master from whom many great poets had their first lessons

in the essentials of poetic art, music, and grace of form. It it not, perhaps, too much to say that, although infinitely stronger in every intellectual and poetic quality, Byron owes the music of his best songs directly to Moore. It were hardly misleading to sign the name of Thomas Moore after these verses, for example :

O, talk not to me of a name great in story ;
The days of our youth are the days of our glory;
And the myrtle and ivy of sweet two-and-twenty
Are worth all your laurels, though never so plenty.'

The honeyed smoothness of Moore's melodies does not now fascinate the ear accustomed to the more complex harmony of modern artists ; but they were a marvel and a revelation of the possibilities of language in his own day, and to ears accustomed to the monotonous tinkle of the heroic couplet in inferior hands. Like Scott, Moore did not attempt to make poetry a vehicle for abstract philosophising, or for the presentation of theories of the universe. For this reason, because he did not choose to make the burden of life's mystery a brooding presence in his poetry, he is excluded from the sacred company of the poets, and ranked among the authors of vers de société by the same class of critics who speak of Macaulay as a writer of clever editorials. Let it be granted that sweetness rather than strength is the distinctive feature of 'Lalla Rookh' and of the Irish Melodies;' it was a sweetness recovered to English poetry after an absence of more than a hundred years, a sweetness unborrowed and genuine which it could ill have spared. To appreciate it aright, read over Roger's Pleasures of Memory,' or any other of the poems of this poet, who carried over into the nineteenth the best traditions of the

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