Mr. Moxon inscribes as a motto on his title-page four lines of Mr. Wordsworth’s vindication of his own use of the sonnet-form—
In truth, the prison, into which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence to me,
In sundry moods ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the sonnet’s scanty plot of ground.
Yes, Mr. Moxon, to him perhaps, but not to every one—the “plot of ground” which is “scanty” to an elephant is a wilderness to a mouse; and the garment in which Wordsworth might feel straitened hangs flabby about a puny imitator. There seems no great modesty in the estimate which Mr. Moxon thus exhibits of his own superior powers, but we fear there is, at least, as much modesty as truth—for really, so far from being “bound” within the narrow limit of the sonnet, it seems to us to be
—a world too wide
For his shrunk shank.
Ordinary sonneteers, as we have said, will spin a single thought through the fourteen lines. Mr., Moxon will draw you out a single thought into fourteen sonnets:—and these are his best—for most of the others appear to us mere soap bubbles, very gay and gaudy, but which burst at the fourteenth line and leave not the trace of an idea behind. Of two or three Mr. Moxon has kindly told us the meaning, which, without that notice, we confess we should never have guessed.
* * * * *
Another of the same genus—though, he had just told us
My love I can compare with nought on earth—
is like nought on earth we ever read but Dean Swift’s song of similes. I will prove, he says, that
An artless lamb—
A hawthorn tree—
A dove that singeth—
A lily,—and finally,
—I in truth will prove
These are not half so fair as she I love.
Sonnet iii, p. 43.
Such heterogeneous compliments remind us of Shacabac’s gallantry to Beda in Blue Beard: “Ah, you little rogue, you have a prettier mouth than an elephant, and you know it!”—A fawn-coloured countenance rivalling in fairness a laburnum blossom, seems to us a more dubious type of female beauty than even an elephant’s mouth.
Love, it may be said, has carried away better poets and graver men than Mr. Moxon seems to be, into such namby-pamby nonsense; but Mr. Moxon is just as absurd in his grief or his musings, as in his love.
When he hears a nightingale—“sad Philomel!”—he concludes that the bird was originally created for no other purpose than to prophesy in Paradise the fall of man, or, as he chooses to collocate the words,