« AnteriorContinuar »
poetry because of its inherent worth, there is a significance in his work which students of literary history have not failed to mark. In a real sense Cowper was the spiritual predecessor of the great Romanticists. He had a sympathy for outcast humanity as sincere as Shelley's, if less passionate; his love of nature was as deep-seated as Wordworth's, though his musings on nature never led him to the heights which Wordsworth attained through his "impassioned contemplation.”
The best one volume edition of Cowper is the Globe (Macmillan); the volume of selections in the Athenæum Press series (Ginn) is representative and inexpensive. Southey's Life, though written long ago, is still valuable; more recent is Goldwin Smith's in the E. M. L. Leslie Stephen's essay, in his Hours in a Library, and Bagehot's, in his Literary Studies, are suggestive.
prejudices, much remains of permanent value. His best songs, written in most part during the last six years of his life, his simple pictures of Scottish domesticity, his satires on cant and makebelieve in Church and State, and his two unique contributions to English poetry, Tam O Shanter and The Jolly Beggars,-these have passed out of the narrow circle of Scottish and local verse, and have become part of the world's literature.
The best edition of Burns's poetry is the Centenary (four volumes, T. C. and E. C. Jack). The one volume Cambridge edition (Houghton Mifflin) contains the Centenary text and some of the notes. Shairp's Life, in the E. M. L., is the best brief biography. Carlyle's well known essay, Stevenson's, in his Familiar Studies of Men and Books, and Henley's, in the Centenary and Cambridge editions, are all valuable.
WORDSWORTH (1770-1850) Robert Burns lived a life of hard work, interrupted by periods of reckless and enthusiastic William Wordsworth was born at Cockermouth, relaxation; a life which from some points of view Cumberland, in 1770. After spending his school was a tragic failure, involving many besides Burns years among the lakes and hills he went up to himself in the wreck. Yet it is noteworthy that St. John's College, Cambridge, where in 1791 he such stern moralists as Wordsworth and Whittier graduated. Twice during the Revolution he should have been willing to forgive Burns's many visited France; the first time on a walking tour weaknesses, and to point only to the largeness of during one of his long vacations from Cambridge, his accomplishment.
the second in 1791, after his graduation. The He was born in Ayrshire, near the west coast first time he had been comparatively unmoved of Scotland, in 1759. His father, William Burnes, by the events that were taking place on the contiwas a hard-working man of the peasant class, but nent; the second, he was drawn into the whirl of mentally superior to the average small farmer, French politics, and became an enthusiastic supand the equal of any one in ambition for his porter of the Revolution, returning to England children. By the time Burns was fifteen he was only when his guardians recalled him by stopping doing much of the work of his father's farm; his allowance. The years from 1792 to 1795 were in 1784, when his father died, he and his brother darkened by doubt and spiritual distress. The Gilbert undertook farming for themselves, but excesses of the Terror, which he had at first tried with poor financial results. It was about this to justify as the necessary preliminary to a social time that he met Jean Armour, later his wife. regeneration, became more and more appalling; During 1785 and 1786 he wrote much of the verse gradually his faith in the French cause was shaken, on which his fame depends; had he never pub- and at the same time he began to lose faith in lished anything but the 1786 volume of Poems, humanity. From this state of despairing uncerChiefly in the Scottish Dialect, he would have tainty he was recalled by the sympathetic friendbeen sure of ultimate recognition. Here, in the ship of his sister Dorothy. On a precariously little volume printed at Kilmarnock, the proceeds small income the two began housekeeping, and of which were to defray the cost of Burns's in- under the influence of Dorothy, and freed from tended emigration to America, were The Twa the necessity of earning his daily bread, WordsDogs, The Holy Fair, The Cotter's Saturday Night, worth devoted himself as seriously as Milton had To a Mouse, To a Daisy, and the Epistle to Davie. done to preparation for the writing of poetry. The success of this venture prompted Burns to From 1795 to 1797 the brother and sister lived at change his plans, and in the same year he went Racedown, Dorsetshire; here they were visited up to Edinburgh, where he became the lion of by Coleridge, at whose suggestion the Wordsthe season. A second volume, published in worths moved to Alfoxden, Somersetshire, within Edinburgh in 1787, brought him more renown a mile and a half of Coleridge's home at Nether and a considerable sum of money. In 1788 Stowey. Here was formed one of the most notable he married Jean Armour, and took up farming of literary friendships. Coleridge encouraged at Ellisland. But his venture proved unsuccess- Wordsworth by his sympathetic praise; Wordsful, and in 1789 he was glad to fall back on an worth in turn stimulated Coleridge. Together appointment to the excise service that brought the two men tramped over the Quantock hills. him fifty pounds per year. In 1791 he moved and planned the volume that appeared in 1798 as to Dumfries, and there, after five years of hard the Lyrical Ballads. The importance of the work labor as exciseman, he died.
was two-fold. Historically it is significant in the Burns's poetry has at times been overpraised, development of Romanticism as the first example especially by Scottish critics; but after all allow- of conscious protest against the ideals of Pseudoances have been made for national or personal Classicism. And here the the two friends published some of their noblest work—the Lines on Tintern Abbey, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,-poems which would have brought distinction to any volume.
pathy and understanding, and both were animated by the same Divinity
“Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And rolls through all things.” Other men had held such a philosophy; it remained for Wordsworth to give expression to it in the noblest verse of the nineteenth century.
The best one-volume editions of Wordsworth are the Oxford (Oxford Univ. Press), the Cambridge (Houghton Mifflin), and the Globe (Macmillan). The Life by Myers, in the E. M. L., is an adequate survey; Legouis's La Jeunesse de Guillaume Wordsworth (translated by Matthews, Dent and Co.), is an exhaustive study of the years covered by The Prelude. Arnold's essay in the Essays in Crilicism, Pater's in Appreciations, and Sir Walter Raleigh's Wordsworth are all authoritative. For contemporary criticism nothing is better than Coleridge's in the Biographia Literaria.
When the Lyrical Ballads appeared the two poets, with Dorothy Wordsworth, were already on their way to Germany, where Wordsworth wrote some of his brief lyrics and began The Prelude. Returning to England in 1799, he took a house at Grasmere, in the lake country where he had grown up, and where he was to make his home for-the rest of his life. In 1802 he married Mary Hutchinson; in 1813 he moved to Rydal Mount, a few miles from Grasmere. The same year he was pensioned by the government by being appointed Distributor of Stamps for Westmoreland. The remainder of his life was uneventful. Like others of his circle, he grew more and more conservative as time passed; occasionally he made a trip to Scotland or the continent, but there is little to record until 1843. In this year the laureateship fell vacant through the death of Southey; the appointment of Wordsworth was a tribute to his genius and a mark of the esteem in which he was held by the nation. Seven years later he died, and was buried in the churchyard at Grasmere.
Wordsworth wrote his finest verse comparatively early in his life.
Tintern Abbey appeared in 1798; the best sonnets soon after the turn of the century; The Prelude, though not published until 1850, was completed in 1805; the Intimations of Immortalily was published in 1807. During his last forty years he added much to the bulk of his poetry, but wrote few of his greatest poems. And yet fame came to Wordsworth late in life. In 1800 he was an innovator, whose theories appeared heretical, and whose great work was curiously intermingled with poems that the critics quickly singled out for ridicule. By 1840, however, the theories propounded in the preface to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads had in part been accepted by the public, and in part modified by Wordsworth himself; his poor work was being forgotten; and his great contribution to the world's literature had been recognized
The precise nature of this contribution cannot be explained in the present limits, but two suggestions can be made: no poet had ever written so nobly of the beauties of nature; few poets had done more than Wordsworth to point out the essential dignity of mankind. And in one respect Wordsworth was unique. Always keenly sensitive to the beauty of nature, and aware that from association with nature came peace and consolation to mankind, Wordsworth cast about for a reason for a phenomenon difficult to explain by any theory that regarded nature as inanimate or unconscious. In Tintern Abbey he suggests his solution of the problem. In moments of mystic contemplation it had been vouchsafed to him to see the divine unity of all creation; a spiritual unity, in which nature and man were but different manifestations of the same creative Power, and capable of influencing one another because each was conscious of the other's sym
COLERIDGE (1772-1834) Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in Devonshire, in 1772. He received his preparatory education at Christ's Hospital, London, where his precocity gained for him the title of "the inspired charity boy.” Here he met Lamb, whose essays picture the life of these early years, and who remained one of his few constant friends. From Christ's Hospital Coleridge went up to Cambridge University just as Wordsworth was leaving. His career was erratic, and in 1794 he left without a degree. He had already met Robert Southey, with whom he planned the ideal commonwealth on the banks of the Susquehanna which the dreamers named “Pantisocracy. In 1795 he married; in 1796 he brought out his first volume of verse. In 1797 he visited the Wordsworths at Racedown; the next year, in company with Wordsworth, he was planning the Lyrical Ballads. To this volume Coleridge contributed four poems, most important of which was The Rime of The Ancient Mariner. In 1798, the year of the Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge went with Wordsworth to Germany, and plunged into the study of German philosophy and literature. In 1800 he settled at Keswick, a few miles from Grasmere, where he had the companionship of Wordsworth and Southey. The remainder of his life was in many ways unfortunate. His poetical powers were stunted by his addiction to laudanum; he planned much, but accomplished little. Occasional lectures on literature, much brilliant but rather formless conversation on philosophy, and very little actual writing, occupied his last twenty years. Like Wordsworth and Southey, he became more and more conservative as he grew older, and looked back with horror on the youthful enthusiasms of his republican days.
Much of Coleridge's prose work is significant and interesting, but it is as the author of the
Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, and Christabel, that he is remembered. In these poems he was using material the most unusual, often frankly supernatural; but by the witchery of his art was able to induce in the reader what he himself in a fine phrase calls the “momentary suspension of disbelief which constitutes poetic faith.” He was one of the great geniuses of English literature, and one of the pathetic group the promise of whose early years was never completely fulfilled. But in the case of Coleridge the actual accomplishment, fragmentary though it is, is sufficient to merit all the praise that time has brought him.
The best edition of Coleridge's poetry is the two volume publication of the Oxford University Press; the Globe (Macmillan) is convenient, and contains an admirable biographical sketch by J. D. Campbell, which is not surpassed in value by Traill's Life in the E. M. L. William Hazlitt's My First Acquaintance With Poets is a classic portrait of Coleridge as he appeared to a gifted contemporary; Carlyle's portrait in his Life of John Sterling (chap. “Coleridge') is brilliant if somewhat unsympathetic.
SCOTT (1771-1832) Sir Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh, in 1771, the son of an attorney, and a member of the Clan Buccleuch. After a boyhood spent in reading, and assimilating Scottish legend, he entered the University of Edinburgh, but did not take a degree. When he was twenty-one he was called to the bar, and though his practice was never extensive, he was always in more or less intimate contact with the law. His first literary work of importance was a group of translations from the German, Bürger's Lenore appearing as Scott's William and Helen. In 1802-03 he published The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, the best collection of Scottish ballads until Child's great work began to appear in 1882. Between 1805 and 1810 Scott won an international reputation as a narrative poet through The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, and The Lady of the Lake. In 1813 he bought Abbotsford, where he established himself as a country gentleman. About this time Byron's poetry began winning the popularity which Scott's had formerly enjoyed. Realizing that he could not compete with Byron, Scott took up a manuscript untouched since 1805, wrote the last two-thirds f it in six weeks, and in 1814 published Waverley, the first of his historical novels. Between 1814 and 1832 he wrote in all thirty-two novels, and did a good deal of other literary work besides. At the accession of George IV Scott was knighted and created a baronet; at this time-1821–he was probably the largest figure in the English literary world. But in 1826 the wheel of Fortune turned. In this year two publishing houses in which Scott was interested failed with large liabilities. Refusing to take advantage of the bankruptcy laws, although he knew that he was legally entitled to their protection, Scott undertook single-handed to pay off an indebtedness of nearly one hundred and twenty thousand pounds. For six years he
worked at the task, writing novels and receiving compensation at a rate unheard of, and turning over the proceeds to the creditors. But his life was not long enough. In 1831 a paralytic stroke enfeebled his powers, if not his will; in 1832 he died, leaving a part of the debt to be cleared off by royalties received after his death.
Scott's contribution to English literature was great and many-sided. His work as editor and collector of Scottish ballads was more valuable than that of any of his contemporaries; his poetical romances are among the best examples of English narrative verse. But his chief glory is the magnificent series of novels: the studies of Scottish life and manners, such as The Heart of Midlothian, and the tales of past history, such as Ivanhoe and Quentin Durward. Through these novels Scott made the largest single contribution to the great stock of English fiction.
The best source of information about Scott is the Life by his son-in-law, J. G. Lockhart (7 vols., Black). Briefer biographies are Hutton's, in the E. M. L., and Saintsbury's (Scribner's). Sir Walter's own Journal (David Douglas) gives interesting first-hand information concerning the later years of his life.
BYRON (1788–1824) George Gordon Byron was born in London, January, 1788, but lived for some years of his youth in Scotland. In 1798, through the death of a great-uncle, he became the sixth Baron Byron, and the inheritor of the ruined family seat, Newstead Abbey. As a boy he was hot-tempered, proud, and unnecessarily sensitive on account of à lameness that never left him. In 1805 he began at Trinity College, Cambridge, a career which was boisterously irregular, and only slightly distinguished by the appearance in 1807 of a volume of poems called Hours of Idleness. In 1809, when he had come of age, he took his seat in the House of Lords, and in the same year began the wanderings over Europe which were later to be described in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, of which the first two cantos appeared in 1812. The result of this publication Byron has recorded in his statement that he awoke one morning and found himself famous. The next year, 1813, The Giaour began the series of oriental tales that outdid even Childe Harold in popularity. In January, 1815, he married Miss Anna Milbanke; a year later the two had separated, Lady Byron returning to her father's home, and the poet, ostracized by society, going to Switzerland, where for some time he was in the company of the Shelleys. From 1816 to 1819 he was much of the time in Venice, living a life that was currently reported to be a riot of debauchery, and in which, when all allowances have been made for the exaggerations of scandalous gossip, there were many black passages. The third and fourth cantos of Harold appeared in 1818; the same year he began Don Juan, publish ing it at intervals from 1819 till his death. His dramas, of which Cain and Manfred are the greatest, appeared between 1821 and 1824; in 1822 he published the Vision of Judgment, a reply
July of 1822 Shelley was drowned while sailing in the Gulf of Spezzia.
To understand Shelley one must think of him as both poet and philosopher. His poetical reputation rests primarily upon his lyric power. Even in Prometheus it is the lyrical and not the dramatic elements that make the work successful; in the better known and briefer works, such as The Cloud, To a Skylark, To Night, and the Ode to the West Wind, the imagery is daringly magnificent, and the technique virtually perfect. But Shelley was at least as much interested in his message as in the form which this message assumed. Living in the years when the conservative reaction after the failure of the French Revolution was most pronounced, he never allowed his faith in humanity to be shaken, but constantly urged the perfectibility of mankind, and the power of love to regenerate the world. When once custom had been abolished, warfare ended, and the tyranny of church and state forever broken, then, Shelley believed, the golden age of freedom and love shadowed forth in the last act of Prometheus Unbound would be realized on the earth. There was, of course, much of the dreamer in Shelley; but to call him with Arnold "a beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain,” is to do him scant justice. For in some respects-as witness his sympathy for animals, his hatred of war, and his passionate longing for intellectual and religious freedom, -Shelley's weakness was only that of the man “ahead of his times.” And the very essence of his philosophy, self-sacrifice for the good of the world, was nearer the essence of Christianity than the Churchmen who condemned him for atheism were willing to admit.
Good one volume editions of Shelley's poetry are the Globe (Macmillan), Cambridge (Houghton Mifflin), and Oxford (Oxford Univ. Press). The Life by Dowden (two vols., Lippincott), is exhaustive, but is somewhat injured by a good deal of special pleading. Symonds's Life, in the E. M. L., is an excellent brief biography. Trelawney's Recollections of the Last Days of Byron and Shelley is a vivid contemporary account of the close of Shelley's life.
to Southey's eulogy of George III, and one of the most successful of all parodies. In 1823 the Greek revolutionists appealed to Byron for help against Turkey; to their call he responded enthusiastically and unselfishly. In January, 1824, he reached Greece; three months he spent at Missolonghi, drilling troops and combating fever; and then he died.
Byron has to his credit four distinct accomplishments, any one of which, unless it be the first, would have made him a poet of rank. He expressed in his verse, and in his personality, the melancholy pride and despair, and the revolt against society, which were general in Europe during the years following the collapse of the French Revolution, but which have come to be considered characteristically “Byronic. He was a brilliant teller of tales, which, though lacking many of the finer poetic qualities, are yet masterly narratives. He was a descriptive poet whose pictures of the grander manifestations of Nature's power were painted with a sweep and magnificence unequalled in English verse. And in Don Juan, his masterpiece, he showed himself a daring and trenchant critic of contemporary society, and of the foibles of human nature at large. It is to his carelessness of form, and his lack of intellectual power, that Byron owes the refusal of the world to grant him a place in the small circle of the greatest poets.
The best one volume edition of Byron is the Cambridge (Houghton Miffin); the standard library edition is that of G. E. Prothero and E. H. Coleridge (John Murray). Essays and biographical memoirs have been numerous; Nichol's Life, in the E. M. L., and Noel's, in the Great Writers series, are both good. Matthew Arnold's volume of selections in the Golden Treasury series is prefaced by a valuable essay.
SHELLEY (1792–1822) Percy Bysshe Shelley was born in Field Place, Sussex, in 1792. After some years at Eton, where the yoke of educational tradition galled him, he went up to Oxford in October, 1810. In March, 1811, he was expelled for having written a pamphlet entitled On the Necessity of Atheism, and left college determined to give his life to the cause of intellectual freedom. During the summer of the same year he eloped with Harriet Westbrook, a London school-girl, whom he married in Edinburgh. His life with her came to an end in the summer of 1814 when he left England with Mary Godwin, the brilliant daughter of William Godwin, whose philosophical liberalism strengthened Shelley in his defiance of law and tradition. In 1816 Harriet Westbrook Shelley drowned herself; shortly thereafter Shelley married Mary Godwin. By 1818 he was living in Italy, virtually as an exile, deprived by law of the custody of Harriet's children, and fearing to return to England lest further legal action be taken against him. But here in Italy he did his greatest work, Prometheus Unbound, The Cenci, Adonais, and Hellas, besides a large number of magnificent lyrics, all appearing between 1818 and 1822. In
KEATS (1795-1821) John Keats was born in London, in 1795. He was the son of Thomas Keats, at first chief hostler and later manager of the “Swan and Hoop" inn, and of Frances Jennings, whose father was the proprietor of the inn. When Keats was eight years old his parents, eager for his advancement, sent him to school at Enfield. Here he won the literary prizes “as a matter of course.” His father died in 1804, and at the death of his mother in 1810 Keats found himself under the guardianship of two successful but somewhat narrowminded merchants. They at once withdrew him from school and apprenticed him to a surgeon at Edmonton. In 1814, when his indenture was cancelled by mutual agreement, he was sufficiently interested in medicine to continue his studies in the London hospitals. But already his chief written in actual collaboration with his sister: the Tales from Shakespeare (1807). But although Lamb had written some verse and a good deal oi prose before the Tales appeared, and had published his collected Works in 1818, it was not till 1820 that he began the series of essays by which he is best known. In this year the London Magasine was established; to it Lamb contributed the Essays of Elia. The latter years of his life were uneventful. His sister demanded an increasing amount of care, and though his pension brought him leisure, he did little after its bestowal to add to his reputation as a man of letters.
The charm of Lamb's essays is due in part to the humor and pathos which pervade them, and in part to the intimate relationship which Lamb at once establishes between himself and the reader. Writing as if for a circle of friends, Lamb has put his own personality into his essays so completely that he has become one of the best known of English writers, while by his simple unpretentiousness he has concealed an art as great as Addison's, albeit of a very different sort.
The best edition of Lamb's works is that of E. V. Lucas (Methuen), who is also the author of the best biography.
concern was with poetry, and in 1815 he wrote at least one of his great sonnets, On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer. By the latter part of 1816 he had definitely made up his mind to give his life to poetry; in 1817 appeared his first volume, Poems by John Keats, containing the sonnet on Homer and Sleep and Poetry, besides some less noteworthy verse. In the spring of 1818 came Endymion, which at first passed unnoticed, but later was savagely attacked by Blackwood's and the Quarterly for its formlessness and lack of restraint. Towards the end of 1818 Keats met Fanny Brawne, with whom he was soon in love, but whom he could not marry on account of his poor health. In February of 1820 he was definitely threatened with consumption; when in July his third volume, containing the great odes and The Eve of St. Agnes, appeared, Keats was so ill that a voyage to Italy was proposed as the only means of saving his life. In the middle of September he sailed with his friend Severn, and reached Rome in December. Here, in February, 1821, he died, and was buried in the Protestant cemetery.
Keats was first and last an artist, keenly sensitive to beauty, and comparatively unaffected by the changes that came over Europe during his lifetime. Yearning for an ideal beauty as his own hero Endymion longed for his moon-goddess, Keats gratified this desire through the creation of beauty in his verse. In the 1817 volume, and in Endymion, it was largely beauty of detail that occupied him, beauty of lines and passages rich with "a fine excess of sensuous imagery. But the poems of 1820, especially St. Agnes and the odes, have all the imaginative richness of the earlier work, and are strengthened by a sense of form that had hitherto been lacking.
Good editions of Keats's poems are the Cambridge (Houghton Mifflin), the Globe (Macmillan), and the Oxford (Oxford Univ. Press). The best is H. Buxton Forman's (Gowans and Gray, Glasgow; 4 vols.). Sir Sidney Colvin's Life in the E. M. L. is a good brief biography.
LAMB (1775-1834) Charles Lamb was born in London in 1775, the son of a lawyer's clerk. From 1782 to 1789 he was a student at Christ's Hospital, where he formed with Coleridge a friendship that was to be life-long. After leaving school he went to work as a clerk in the South Sea House; in April of 1792 he moved to the East India House and began the service that was to be ended thirty-three years later when Lamb was pensioned by the Company. The year 1796 brought tragedy into the household of his father, with whom Lamb was still living. A taint of insanity ran in the family; in this year Mary Lamb became violently insane and killed her mother. The rest of his life Lamb spent in caring for his sister-the Bridget Elia of the essays—who was subject to the recurrence of her malady, but who in her rational periods was a sympathetic and stimulating companion. Lamb's first literary work of importance was
HAZLITT (1778–1830) William Hazlitt, the son of a Unitarian minister, was educated for the ministry, studied art for a time, was encouraged by Coleridge to pursue an interest in metaphysics, and first came before the public as a writer on philosophical subjects. The maturing of his tastes finally led him to literature and journalism. He wrote for several of the dailies and periodicals, doing most work for Leigh Hunt's Examiner. He was acquainted with the Lake poets, Lamb, and the London literary set, and though he sooner or later quarrelled with almost all his friends the estrangement was not usually permanent. His work of greatest general interest was done in Characters of Shakespeare's Plays (1817), Lectures on the English Poets (1818), English Comic Writers (1819), Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth (1821), and two collections of miscellaneous essays, Table Talk and Tke Plain Speaker. His interest in the French Revolution and Napoleon led him to write a life of Napoleon, not very much esteemed. Personally Hazlitt was shy, irascible, and curiously susceptible to feminine attraction. As a critic he is at once independent and dogmatic, of fine taste, and on the whole sympathetic in his attitude toward the newer spirit in literature. With Lamb and Coleridge he did valuable service to the cause of literature by helping to establish a proper appreciation of Shakespeare and his fellow dramatists. His style, not so intimate or charming as Lamb's, has a rich personal flavor and vivacity, and is superior to Lamb's in point and vigor.
The standard edition of Hazlitt is edited by Waller and Glover (Dent). Augustine Birrel's Life (E. M. L.) is good; more extensive are the Memoirs (2 vols., 1867) by W. C. Hazlitt.