24 JANUARY 1891, Page 22



WE can all tell social and occasional verse when we see it ; but where is there to be discovered a definition which can. in any true sense be described as adequate and satisfactory ? All attempts to limit the scope of this form of poetry will be found at once to be unsuccessful. We cannot say that it must not treat of this subject or of that, for if we do, we shall find ourselves instantly confronted with poems dealing with the very matter sought to be excluded, which are yet perfect examples of social and occasional verse. In truth, what separates this form of composition from the rest of poetry is not the theme, but the manner. Vera de socUte consists in the method of writing adopted, not in the subject. It is style alone which is the determinant. Mr. Frederick Locker-Lampson, a new edition of whose delightful Lyra Blegantiarum is just published, has recognised this fact in his attempt to describe the attributes of social and occasional verse. In his Preface, he tells "Occasional Verse should be short, graceful, refined, and fanciful, not seldom distinguished by chastened sentiment, and often playful. The tone should notbe pitched high ; it should be terse and idiomatic, and rather in the conversational key ; the rhythm should be crisp and sparkling, and the rhyme frequent and never forced, while the entire poem should be marked by tasteful moderation, high finish, and completeness; for, however trivial the subject-matter may be, indeed, rather in proportion to its triviality, subordination to the rules of composition, and perfection of execution, are of the utmost * Lyra Vogantiarnin a Collodion of sonzo of ilia Lost Sooita and Occosionat Verse by Deconood Authors. Edited by F. Lookyor.Lrimpson, assisted by Coulson Kernaliatt. Revisod end enlarged edition. "Minerva Library." London Ward, Look, and Co.

importance." But though Mr. Locker-Lampson is so sound in his theories, he fails sometimes in practice. In his selection of poems for his anthology, he has admitted one or two which, in our opinion, ought to have been excluded. For example, he has given us Browning's "Youth and Art." The poem is, we confess, singularly charming, and we can perfectly well understand the editor's temptation to admit it; but it has no place in the Lyra Elogantiarum. We say this not because of the genuine note of pathos with which it closes, but simply because of the literary mood in which it is composed. In the first place, the touch of grotesqueness with which the poet, as so often, has here purposely invested his work, renders it unfit to be classed as occasional verse of the kind intended by Mr. Locker-Lampson. That grotesqueness is most effective in the poem, and its use is perfectly legitimate ; but it is a note which the strings of the "Lyra Elegantiarnm" have not sufficient compass to sound. Again, the dramatic method of rendering the thought of the poem is a fatal objection to its inclusion in the present collection. We have no desire to say that occasional verse should be merely reflective, but it must not aim at such strong impersonation and characterisation as does "Youth and Art." To show how full of pathos ant emotion a poem may be while it keeps all the essentials of vers

de socigtg—using that term in its wider and acquired sense—we may quote the late Lord Houghton's "Shadows." This is as

rightly, as Browning's "Youth and Art" is wrongly, included in Mr. Locker-Lampson's collection :—

"They seemed to those who saw them meet

The casual friends of every day,

Her smile was undisturbed and sweet, His courtesy was free and gay.

But yet if one the other's name In some unguarded moment hoard, The heart you thought so calm and tame, Would struggle like a captured bird : And letters of mere formal phrase Were blistered with repeated tears,— it'd this was not the work of days, But had gone on for years and years! Alas ! .:hat Love was not too strong For maiden shame and manly pride! Alas ! that they delayed so long The goal of mutual bliss beside. Yet what no chance could then reveal, And neither would be first to own, Let fate and courage now conceal, When truth could bring remorse alone."

This poem is as good example of the more serious side of vers de soaCto as can well be given. But for the literary attitude, it would be an ordinary lyric. As it is, it is fitly found beside Praed's masterpieces. Walter Savage Landor's verses frequently afford examples to illustrate our meaning. Of two poems similar in subject, it is often obvious, owing to the difference of treatment pursued, that one is vers de societC, and one is not. For example :—

" You smiled, you•spoke, and I believed, By every word and smile deceived. Another man would hope no more Nor hope I what I hoped before

But let not this last wish be vain ; Deceive, deceive me once again!"

This is pure vers de socielo. The following, however—verses which Charles Lamb declared he had lived upon for six months —have the true lyric cry :— " I what avails the sceptered race !

Ah I what the form divine! What every virtue, every grace ! Rose Aylmer, all were thine.

Rose Aylmer, whom those wakeful eyes

• May weep, but never see, A night of memories and of sighs I consecrate to thee."

In quoting this, and one or two others of Landor's poems, we think Mr. Locker.Lampson has erred, though his error is one for which many readers will be personally grateful, as it gives them an opportunity of making acquaintance or renewing their friendship with some of the most beautiful short poems in the English language. Mr. Locker-Lampson has, of course, every right to select either,—

" I hardly know one flower that grows On my small garden plot; Perhaps I may have seen a Rose, And said, Forget-me-not :"

" Fair maiden! when I look at thee, I wish I could be young and free ; But both at once, ah I who could be ?"


for both are perfect instances of what he is looking for; but there are others where the handling of the theme forbids inclusion in his volume.

Prom another side, we cannot help thinking that Mr. Locker-Lampson has not been strict enough, though here again his sins of admission include some of the favourite poems of the present writer. Vers de societ6 have nothing of comedy or broad humour, and therefore we have no right to Swift's "Mrs. Harris's Petition." Though it wrings our heart to say so, the presence of the inimitable petition to the Lords Justices is a blot upon the Lyra Elegantiarum. The same must he said of Moore's delightful "Paddy's Metamor- phosis," which, though we condemn, we cannot resist the- pleasure of quoting :—

" About fifty years since, in the days of our daddies,

That plan was commenced which the wise now applaud, Of shipping off Ireland's most turbulent Paddies, As good raw materials for settlers, abroad.

Some West Indian Island, whose name I forget, Was the region then chosen for this scheme so romantic And such the success the first colony met, That a second, soon after, set sail o'er the Atlantic.

Behold them now safe at the long look'd-for shore, Sailing in between banks that the Shannon might greet,. And thinking of friends whom, but two years before, They had sorrow'd to lose, but would soon again meet.

And, hark ! from the shore a glad welcome there came- Arrah, Paddy from Cork, is it you, my sweet boy P' While Pat stood astounded, to hear his own name Thus haird by black devils, who caper'd for joy !

Can it possibly be ?—half amazement—half doubt, Pat listens again—rubs his eyes and looks steady ; Then heaves a deep sigh, and in horror yells out, Good Lord !—only think—black and curly already !'• Deceived by that well-mimick'd brogue in hie ears,

Pat read his own doom in these wool-headed figures,. And thought, what a climate, in less than two years, To turn a whole cargo of Pats into niggers !


'Tis thus, hut alas ! by a moral more true Than is told in this rival of Ovid's best stories, Your Whigs, when in office a short year or two,

By a lusus :tallow, all turn into Tories.

And thus, when I hear them strong measures' advise, Ere the seats that they sit on have time to got steady, I say, while I listen, with tears in my eyes, 'Good Lord !—only think—black and curly already !"

Moore never wrote anything more delightfully humorous, but it is at once too burlesque in treatment, and too full of pure. fun, to be ranked as vors de societo. The method employed is that of broad comedy, and it is this, not the political element, which places it outside the scope of The Lyre of Elegances.

That this is so, may be seen in a moment by a reference to Praed's charming stanzas,—" Verses on Seeing the Speaker

Asleep in his Chair during one of the Debates of the First Reformed Parliament," "Sleep, Mr. Speaker, sleep while you may ; " or to the poem entitled "Mars Disarmed by Love." In the latter, the feeling of the poem is intensely bitter, and the aim entirely that of the satirist ; but the technique belongs throughout to the writer of vers de sociCte- A still better example of the fact that it is not the satiric in- tention, but the style of writing which, as a rule, makes it impossible to class satires under the heading of vers de societC, is to be .found in Mr. Oliver Wendell Holmes's "The Sweet Little Man." No poet ever twisted a more terrible scourge- with which to lash the degenerate portion of his countrymen, and to force them to remember their duty to the fatherland,. Yet the little poem is pure versdc soaote, and, but for the

fact that the Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table is still alive, would doubtless have been included in the present collection.

It seems almost ungracious, with a volume so charming, and in spite of the one or two microscopic faults we have pointed out, so perfect, to complain of omissions. Besides, it sounds something very like an impertinence to accuse an editor sc. deeply read in English literature as Mr. Locker-Lampson, of overlooking or ignoring suitable matter. We feel cer- tain, however, that he will pardon any apparent presumption.

If we suggest verses be has not yet seen, he will be glad to consider them ; and in cases where he has already given the award the other way, he will not mind a further argument on appeal. Surely he ought not to have omitted the delightful verses of Pope which begin :— " I know a thing that's most uncommon,— Envy, be silent and attend,— I know a reasonable woman,

Handsome and witty, yet a friend."

Again, there is a passage, easily detachable from the text, in Pope's Epistle to Mr. Jervas, the painter, which has every right -to be present. Referring to Jervas's portraits of the Duchess .of Bridgewater, Lady Worsley, and other beauties of the day, occur two couplets which may be quoted in justification of our plea :— " Beauty, frail flower that every season fears, Blooms in thy colours for a thousand years. Thus Churchill's race shall other hearts surprise, And other beauties envy Worsley's eyes."

Another author, from whom at least one poem has been missed, is Sir Charles Sedley. Mr. Locker-Lampson gives a good many examples of his verse, but he should not have left out the lines beginning,—

" Love still has something of the sea

From which his mother rose;" -or the song with the refrain,—

" Phyllis, without frown or smile, Sat and knotted all the while."

Here, too, is a copy of verses of the same period which might well find a place in The Lyre of Elegances "Julia, young, wanton threw the gathered snow, Nor feared I burning from the watery blow ; ''Tie cold,' I cried ; but, ah ! too soon I found Sent by that hand it dealt a scorching wound. Resistless fair, we fly thy power in vain, Who turn'st to fiery darts the frozen rain. Burn, Julia, burn like me, and that desire With water which thou kindlest quench with fire."

We cannot, however, find space to set forth any more of the poems that have a claim to be included in the Lyra

Elegantiarum. We will only say, in conclusion, that if a touch- -stone is wanted for determining what is true vers de societd and what not, it is to be found in the writings of Freed. Taking everything into consideration, he is the most perfect master of the art, and we cannot recall a line of his which has not the true manner of this sort of writing. Whether he is humorous or serious, pathetic or cynical, his touch is always

'unexceptionable in this respect. His verses are a standard by which all past and future attempts may be judged. As our last word, we will quote Mr. Locker-Lampson's quotation from Pliny, which aptly describes the works of Praed and of all other writers of vers cia soci41.5 :—

" These pieces commonly go under the title of poetical amuse- ments; but these amusements have sometimes gained as much reputation to their authors, as works of a more serious nature. It is surprising how much the mind is .entertained and enlivened by these little poetical compositions, as they turn upon subjects -of gallantry, satire, tenderness, politeness, and everything, in -short, that concerns life, and the affairs of the world."