The Victorian age has provided poetry to suit almost all tastes. In striking contrast with those who wrestled with the eternal verities are such poets and essayists as Austin Dobson (1840- ), long a clerk of the London Board of Trade, and Arthur Symons (1865- ), a poet and discriminating prose critic. Austin Dobson, who is fond of eighteenth-century subjects, is at his best in graceful society verse. His poems show the touch of a highly skilled metrical artist who has been a careful student of French poetry. His ease of expression, freshness, and humor charm readers of his verse without making serious demands on their attention. His best poems are found in Vignettes in Rhyme (1873), At the Sign of the Lyre (1885), and Collected Poems (1913).
In choice of subject matter, Arthur Symons sometimes suggests the Cavalier poets. He has often squandered his powers in acting on his theory that it is one of the provinces of verse to record any momentary mood, irrespective of its value. His deftness of touch and acute poetic sensibility are evident in such short poems as Rain on the Down, Credo, A Roundel of Rest and The Last Memory.
[Illustration: DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI. From the drawing by himself, National Portrait Gallery.]
The Pre-Raphaelite Movement.—In 1848 three artists, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), William Holman-Hunt (1827-1910), and John Everett Millais (1829-1896), formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Others soon joined the movement which was primarily artistic, not literary. Painting had become imitative. The uppermost question in the artist’s mind was, “How would Raphael or some other authority have painted this picture?” The new school determined to paint things from a direct study of nature, without a thought of the way in which any one else would have painted them. They decided to assume the same independence as the Pre-Raphaelite artists, who expressed their individuality in their own way. Keats was the favorite author of the new school. The artists painted subjects suggested by his poems, and Rossetti thought him “the one true heir of Shakespeare.”
When the Pre-Raphaelite paintings were violently attacked, Ruskin examined them and decided that they conformed to the principles which he had already laid down in the first two volumes of Modern Painters (1843, 1846), so he wrote Pre-Raphaelitism (1851) as the champion of the new school. It has been humorously said that some of the painters of this school, before beginning a new picture, took an oath “to paint the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
The new movement in poetry followed this revolt in art. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the head of the literary Pre-Raphaelites, though born in London, was of Italian parentage in which there was a strain of English blood. His poem, The Blessed Damozel (first published in 1850), has had the greatest influence of any Pre-Raphaelite literary production. This poem was suggested by The Raven (1845), the work of the American, Edgar Allan Poe. Rossetti said:—