Adventures in Criticism eBook

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

                    “the broad circumference
     Hung on his shoulders like the moon, whose orb,
     Through optic glass the Tuscan artist views
     At evening from the top of Fesole,
     Or in Valdarno....”

And such lines as these by Mr. Swinburne—­

    “The dark dumb godhead innate in the fair world’s life
       Imbues the rapture of dawn and of noon with dread,
     Infects the peace of the star-shod night with strife,
       Informs with terror the sorrow that guards the dead. 
       No service of bended knee or of humbled head
     May soothe or subdue the God who has change to wife: 
       And life with death is as morning with evening wed.”

Take Burns’s song, “It was a’ for our right-fu’ King,” and set it beside the Jacobite song quoted above, and it is clear at once that with Mr. Swinburne we pass from the particular and concrete to the general and abstract.  And in this direction Mr. Swinburne’s muse has steadily marched.  In his “Erechtheus” he tells how the gods gave Pallas the lordship of Athens—­

“The lordship and love of the lovely land,
The grace of the town that hath on it for crown
But a headband to wear
Of violets one-hued with her hair.”

Here at least we were allowed a picture of Athens:  the violet crown was something definite.  But now, when Mr. Swinburne sings of England, we have to precipitate our impressions from lines fluid as these:—­

“Things of night at her glance took flight:  the
strengths of darkness recoiled and sank: 
Sank the fires of the murderous pyres whereon wild
agony writhed and shrank: 
Rose the light of the reign of right from gulfs of
years that the darkness drank.”


“Change darkens and lightens around her, alternate
in hope and in fear to be: 
Hope knows not if fear speak truth, nor fear whether
hope be not blind as she: 
But the sun is in heaven that beholds her immortal,
and girdled with life by the sea.”

I suspect, then, that a hundred years hence, when criticism speaks calm judgment upon all Mr. Swinburne’s writings, she will find that his earlier and more definite poems are the edge of his blade, and such volumes as “Astrophel” the heavy metal behind it.  The former penetrated the affections of his countrymen with ease:  the latter followed more difficultly through the outer tissues of a people notoriously pachydermatous to abstract speech.  And criticism will then know if Mr. Swinburne brought sufficient impact to drive the whole mass of metal deep.

A Voice chanting in the Void.

At present in these later volumes his must seem to us a godlike voice chanting in the void.  For, fit or unfit as we may be to grasp the elusive substance of his strains, all must confess the voice of the singer to be divine.  At once in the range and suppleness of his music he is not merely the first of our living poets, but incomparable.  In learning he has Robert Bridges for a rival, and no other.  But no amount of learning could give us 228 pages of music that from first to last has not a flaw.  Rather, his marvellous ear has taken him safely through metres set by his learning as so many traps.  There is one metre, for instance, that recurs again and again in this volume.  Here is a specimen of it:—­

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Adventures in Criticism from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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