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Nevertheless in that correspondence between herself and Mr. Horne on her system of rhyming, which forms perhaps the most valuable part of the work that Mr. Horne has dedicated to her niemory, there can be no doubt that Mr. Horne gets the best of the argument. He maintained that the fact was, 'whether the poetess intended it or not, that she was introducing a system of rhyming the first syllables and leaving the rest to a question of euphonious quantity.' His criticism was particularly directed against the rhymes in the Dead Pan, which the authoress as energetically defended. Miss Mitford, who was always candid in her judgment of her friend, supported Mr. Horne's view.
It will of course be understood that we are not complaining of that occasional violation of exact rhyme which only adds to the general harmony. No one with an ear would think of complaining of such a stanza as this from the Vision of Poets
• Cleaving the incense clouds that rise
But what of this from The Lost Bower?
*Face to face with the true mountains
From the air about the hill,
or this from The Dead Pan ?
• Christ hath sent us down the angels;
Take, again, the sonnet called Patience taught by Nature. There are only two rhymes in the octave, and one set of four is thus made up — birds, herds, girds, swards. • Birds' is an almost impracticable rhyme for the octave of a Petrarchan sonnet, and obviously the poetess has not solved the difficulty implied in starting upon it. But licence in rhyming is not the only licence she permits herself. Her use of words is often capricious and extravagant. She turns substantives into adjectives, she adds an adverbial termination to an adverb, she invents outright dozens of words, is she is hard pressed for a rhyme. Here for instance she secures an admirable effect by a wrong use of a Chaucerian adjective:
* And Keats the real
(Vision of Poets.) In an exquisite stanza she finds a rhyme for 'morning'in ‘many a mist's inurning. In another place we have
•When beneath the palace-lattice
You ride slow as you have done,
Will you oftly
Sweetest eyes, were ever seen!' That'oftly' is terrible. This kind of catalogue could be extended indefinitely. Such words as 'fantasque,' “percipiency,' 'humiliant,'' vatic,'' sentiency,'' aspectable,''horrent' are current coir in her language, and often give it a fantastic air. She is a little spoilt by that 'over-effluence of music,' which she herself blamed in Barry Cornwall. The delight in beautifully sounding words is as great with her as it was with Keats ; but Keats, though he allowed himself considerable latitude in his blank verse (Hyperion is full of coined and curious words), was most rigorous with himself in his rhymed verse. A poet who is enamoured of perfection will allow himself liberties anywhere and everywhere except for the sake of evading a difficulty. Now enamoured of perfection Mrs. Browning was not. The poems which, from what may be called a technical point of view, may be counted irreproachable, may, if we except the Sonnets, almost be reckoned on the fingers. Her Sonnets are among the very best work she has produced. Perhaps indeed her greatest poetic success is to be found in the Sonnets from the Portuguese,-sonnets, it need hardly be said, which are not 'from the Portuguese' at all, but are the faintly disguised presentment of the writer's most intimate experience. Into the 'sonnet's narrow room'she has poured the full flood of her profoundest thought, and yet the minuteness and exquisiteness of the mould has at the same time compelled a rigorous pruning alike of superabundant imagery and of harmonious vei bosity, which has had the happiest results. She is one of the greatest sonnet writers in our language, worthy for this at all events to be ranked side by side with Milton and with Wordsworth.
Our own generation is probably inclined to give the poetess less than her due, and for obvious reasons. The art of versemaking has been carried to a point of technical perfection that she hardly dreamt of, and her laxity offends. Moreover, her innocent and heartfelt enthusiasms fall a little dully on the ear of a perverse and critical generation. We should call her naive, almost silly, where she has merely been artless and confiding. Her enthusiasm for Bulwer Lytton's weaker work and the traces of his influence on her earlier poems we cannot easily away with. There are passages in Aurora Leigh, particularly the passages describing the bad people, which might make an unkindly critic describe the authoress as a hysterical school-girl ; and indeed it would not be easy to confute the critic, except by putting passage against passage, and showing how, with her, a lapse is always followed by a rise. What valuable and original elements her thought possesses have for the most part been absorbed long ago, have become common property, and are no longer recognisable as hers. The great struggle for Italian unity has inspired some of her best verses, and that struggle has already become very much a matter of ancient history. Yet in spite of all deductions that can be made — deductions, be it remembered, which are sometimes to be counted against the reader, and only sometimes against the poetess—she remains an attractive and delightful personage, and she has stamped enough of herself upon her poetry to give it an enduring charm. Her deep tenderness and genuineness of feeling, showing themselves in such poems as the Cry of the Children or Cowper's Grave, will never fail of their rightful power. She has touched all the chief human relationships, that of friend and friend, that of husband and wise, that of mother and child, with an exquisite insight and sensitiveness and delicacy, and her style, when she touches them, attains almost always that noble and severe simplicity which is so greatly to be preferred to her most luscious and copious versification. She has added a charm to motherhood only less than that added by Raffaelle himself, and the pleasant fate will be hers of being faithfully read by many a generation of youthful lovers.
WILLIAM T. ARNOLD.
I have been in the meadows all the day,
I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless ;
SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE.
I thought once how Theocritus had sung
To bear a gift for mortals, old or young :
Thou hast thy calling to some palace floor,
Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand