Adventures in Criticism eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 306 pages of information about Adventures in Criticism.

I say “in Great Britain;” because peculiar as Mr. Swinburne’s genius would be in any country, it is doubly peculiar as the endowment of an English poet.  If there be one quality beloved above others by the inhabitants of this island, it is concreteness; and I suppose there never was a poet in the world who used less concreteness of speech than Mr. Swinburne.  Mr. Palgrave once noted that the landscape of Keats falls short of the landscape of Shelley in its comparative lack of the larger features of sky and earth; Keats’s was “foreground work” for the most part.  But what shall be said of Shelley’s universe after the immense vague regions inhabited by Mr. Swinburne’s muse?  She sings of the sea; but we never behold a sail, never a harbor:  she sings of passion—­among the stars.  We seem never to touch earth; page after page is full of thought—­for, vast as the strain may be, it is never empty—­but we cannot apply it.  And all this is extremely distressing to the Briton, who loves practice as his birthright.  He comes on a Jacobite song.  “Now, at any rate,” he tells himself, “we arrive at something definite:  some allusion, however small, to Bonny Prince Charlie.”  He reads—­

    “Faith speaks when hope dissembles;
       Faith lives when hope lies dead: 
     If death as life dissembles,
     And all that night assembles
       Of stars at dawn lie dead,
     Faint hope that smiles and trembles
       May tell not well for dread: 
       But faith has heard it said.”

“Very beautiful,” says the Briton; “but why call this a ’Jacobite Song’?” Some thorough-going admirer of Mr. Swinburne will ask, no doubt, if I prefer gush about Bonny Prince Charlie.  Most decidedly I do not.  I am merely pointing out that the poet cares so little for the common human prejudice in favor of concreteness of speech as to give us a Jacobite song which, for all its indebtedness to the historical facts of the Jacobite Risings, might just as well have been put in the mouth of Judas Maccabaeus.

Somebody—­I forget for the moment who it was—­compared Poetry with Antaeus, who was strong when his feet touched Earth, his mother; weaker when held aloft in air.  The justice of this criticism I have no space here to discuss; but the difference is patent enough between poetry such as this of Herrick—­

    “When as in silks my Julia goes,
     Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
     The liquefaction of her clothes.”

Or this, of Burns—­

    “The boat rocks at the pier o’ Leith,
       Fu’ loud the wind blaws frae the ferry,
     The boat rides by the Berwick-law,
       And I maun leave my bonny Mary.”

Or this, of Shakespeare—­

    “When daisies pied, and violets blue,
       And lady smocks all silver-white,
     And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
       Do paint the meadows with delight.”

Or this, of Milton—­

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Adventures in Criticism from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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