MR. TUPPER'S WORK AS A POET.*
ALL the greater poets have formed the taste which they themselves satisfy. Every one has remarked the struggle through which, Wordsworth had to pass before, in the evening of his days, he
found a generation in whom he had instillel a thirst for the-. "lonely rapture of lonely minds," and full of gratitude for the clear draughts of melody with which he slaked that thirst. Even Mr- Tennyson had to fight his way over minds that rebelled against the rich double blossoms and heavy hyacinth-like odours of a style- so saturated with sentiment, till they learned to long for the beauty they had at first despised. The same may be said with.. even more obvious truth of the rugged humour and keen imagi- native fidelity of Mr. Browning's muse. And so we cannot wonder that it is comparatively late in his career before Martin Farquhar Tupper has wrung for himself the vacant throne waiting for him among the immortals, and after a long and glorious term of popularity among those who know
when their hearts are touched without being able to justify their taste to the intellect, has been adopted by the suffrage_ of mankind and the final decree of publishers into the same rank with Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning. Mr. Tupper quite conscious that the critical mament of his fame has at length.
arrived. In a preface marked by his usual sententious wisdom,- he explains why he askil the admission which has not been denied him to this brotherhood of poets : —
"It has occurred to me to request the famous poetical Soso of Dover Street to authorize a Selection from my various Rhymes and Rhythms in MoxoN's Miniature Series, and aware (as I needs must be by this time) that I have readers and friends in many nooks and corners of our habitable globe, I have done my beet, to fill this niche, and to answer my publishers' purpose as well as my own, by grouping as a Selection not alone several such poems as the world has been kind enough here-. tofore to mint-mark with its approbation, but also some that have been. found fault with, and others that are quite new. A man who has run. the gauntlet of so-called criticism fearlessly and successfully for well- nigh thirty years, is not at this hour careful to catch vain praises, or to escape from as vain censures. Let us all retain our opinions peaceably ; • Moron's it i4qt..re Parts. A Selection from the Works of Martin Farquhar Tupper, M.A., D.0 P.R.S. L.nthn: Edward Moxon. and if anyone will honestly judge sa author, let him first read his works ; the very last thing thought of by certain professional critics. Englishmen, however, of every class, are in the main lovers of fair play : especially when all that is asked of them is an open field and no favour. To such I commend this beautifully printed volume as a more book specimen worthy of the ELzxviss. MARTIN F. TOPPER. "Austray, December, 1865."
A man of less accurate mind would have thought it needless to point out that his popularity extends only to the habitable globe, but it is one of the distinctions which has endeared Mr. Tupper to his many admirers that he brings out into clear view those univer- sal and half-unconscious assumptions of human thought, the in- disputable character of which is recognized as soon as they are put
down in his massive and lucid English before the readers. The public will hail with satisfaction the award which assigns Mr. Tupper his place beside the great poets of our generation, and we cannot doubt that the noble company of the great poets who strove in vain for that recognition which Mr. Tupper has gloriously achieved, will rise up to ratify the judgment :-
" The inheritors of unfulfilled renown
Rose from their thrones, built beyond mortal thought Far in the Unapparent. Chatterton Rose pale, his solemn agony had not Yet faded from him ; Sidney, as he fought And as he fell, and as he lived and loved, Sublimely mild, a spirit without spot Arose ; and Lucan by his death approved : Oblivion as they rose shrunk like a thing reproved.
" And many more whose names on earth are dark,
But whose transmitted effluence cannot die So long as fire outlives the parent spark, Rose robed in dazzling immortality.
' Thou art become as one of us,' they cry ; `It was for thee yon kingless sphere has long Swung blind in unascended majesty, -Silent alone amid a heaven of song.
Assume thy winged throne, thou Vesper of our throng.' "
If such a winged throne could be kept for Keats, with his rich and sensuous but unhnman imaginings, how much larger and steadier a seat must be reserved for the graceful, intellectual embon- point, the large, full-bottomed humanity of Tupper's cheery genius.
Oblivion never " shrank like a thing reproved " as it shrinks beneath the accents we have already quoted of our own domestic poet, no less "sublimely mild" than Sidney's. Tupper indeed has not yet left us, and long may his throne swing kingless in un- ascended majesty, if that soft vesper light is to set for us before it rises for them. But this is at least the moment which pre- figures his reception among the immortals, and the fitting time therefore to say a word of his extraordinary powers.
As we began by remarking, Tupper has formed the taste which he satisfies. To one not familiar with Tupper there is a certain disappointment at first, such as many complained of in reading, for instance, Wordsworth's lines written near Tintern Abbey, in the meditative egotism which may be observed in him no less than in Wordsworth. The disciples of Wordsworth are reconciled to this by the necessarily prophetic character of those who bring new lessons to mankind. As a thoughtful critic wrote, —" It came to pass in those days that William Wordsworth went up into the hills." And that no doubt suggested the true character of Wordsworth's poetic mission. With Mr. Tupper the explanation is somewhat dif- ferent. He, too, as he tells us, " magnifies his office," but the egotism essential to him is not a mere consequence of the simplest way of reporting the thoughts which came to the writer, as in Wordsworth's case, for he is not so much the mere canal of his thoughts, the aqueduct by which they reach us, as the very object and substance of most of his finest thoughts, the vision itself, no less than the stage on which the vision appears. This is the first stumblingblock to his disciples. But then, when they come to see what there is in that genial personality, that it is a sort of glori- fied Anglo-Saxon essence which frankly unveils itself under the mere appearance of egotism, the apparent stumblingblock becomes a step to genuine admiration. Take, for instance, the following gay and delicate verses on Mr. Tupper's " beautiful brain," seem- ing to paint the first singing, as it were, of the kettle of genius before the evaporation of prose into verse begins,—lines which, with a significant meaning, which we shall presently understand, Mr. Tupper has named " Sloth."
" ' A little more sleep, a little more slumber,
A little more folding the hands to sleep,' For quick-footed dreams, without order or number,
Over my mind are beginning to creep,—
Rare is the happiness thus to be raptured By your wild whispers, my Fanciful train, And, like a linnet, be carelessly captured In the soft nets of my beautiful brain.
" Touch not these curtains ! your hand will be tearing Delicate tissues of thoughts and of things;
Call me not!—your cruel voice will be scaring Flocks of young visions on gossamer wings :
Leave me, 0 leave me ! for in your rude presence Nothing of all my bright world can remain,—
Thou art a blight to this garden of pleasance, Thou art a blot on my beautiful brain !
"Cease your dull lecture on cares and employment, Let me forget awhile trouble and strife, Leave me to peace,—let me husband enjoyment, This is the heart and the marrow of life !
For to my feeling the choicest of pleasares Is to lie thus, without peril or pain, Lazily listening the musical measures Of the sweet voice in my beautiful brain !
"Hush,—for the halo of calmness is spreading Over my spirit as mild as a dove ; Hush,—for the angel of comfort is shedding Over my body his vial of love ; Hash,—for new slumbers are over me stealing, Thus would I court them again and again, Hush,—for my heart is intoxicate,—reeling In the swift waltz of my beautiful brain ! "
The seeming egotism of this poem, attributing, as it appears to do, beauty of a high order even to the whitey-brown nerve-tissue of Mr. Tupper's brain itself, vanishes as soon as its extraordinary subtlety and boldness of conception are fully perceived. Mr. Tupper, dream-absorbed, and caught in the soft nets of his own beautiful brain,— Mr. Tupper, finding any disturbing agency, whether of domestic servant or of that " hind" elsewhere more than once referred to by him, or indeed of any other interrupting influ- ence, a blot on the intrinsic beauty of the brain in the network of
which he is a struggling captive,—Mr. Tupper, half-lulled again by the "sweet vision" in that beautiful brain,—finally, Mr. Tupper's heart reeling "in the swift waltz" of his beautiful brain,—are all, especially the last, metaphors so bold that the earnest student of his poetry is driven to look beneath the surface. And there he
sees at once that the poet sees really in himself the genius of Eng- land,—that he sees that it is the peculiar danger of England to be even too much ruled by her intellectual class, to be caught, in short, "in the soft net of her beautiful brain,"—that the agency which is most unpleasantly awakening her, and preventing her from giving herself up to that influence, is the true " blot on her beautiful brain," namely, the labouring class, giving rise no doubt to the condition-of-England question, — that in spite of this awakening blot on the brain the voice of the intellectual syren is still in danger of prevailing—nay, that finally, the very heart of England is yielding to the intoxication, and whirling madly about in the swift waltz of the intellectual thoughts which can neither sober it nor govern themselves. And now we see why he has named the lines " Sloth." It is moral sloth which prevents the will and heart of England from asserting themselves against the toils laid for them by the morbidly active brain.
Mr. Tupper is often as impressive as this, but not often quite so subtle. You must study him indeed, like all great poets, to grasp his full greatness, but usually his apparent drift and his real drift are one and the same. And, as in this poem, he himself almost always stands, and usually without any sort of disguise, for the English character. Take, for instance, the grand lines on Energy," beginning:-
" Indomitable merit
Of the stout old Saxon mind, That makes a man inherit The glories of his kind— That scatters all around him Until he stands sublime, With nothing to confound him, The conqueror of Time."
The whole piece is unfortunately to long for quotation, but we must show how simply and powerfully, after this introduction to show us that he is really speaking of the English national mind, he glides into his usual identification of that mind with his own repre- sentative personality. He speaks of the manifest destiny which urges on his own " energies ethereal," but he is only the microcosm in which we see the delineation of the macrocosm indicated at the commencement of the poem :—
" Unflinching and unfearing, The flatterer of none, And in good courage wearing The honours I have won ! Let Circumstance oppose me, I beat it to my will ;
And if the flood o'erflows me, I dive and stein it still,— No hindering dull material
Shall conquer or control My energies ethereal—
My gladiator soul ! I will contrive occasion, Not tamely bide my time ; No Capture, but Creation Shall make my sport sublime !
Let lower spirits linger For sign by beck or nod, I always see the finger Of an onward-urging God !"
How fine is that contrast :-
" My energies ethereal, My gladiator soul."
An "ethereal gladiator,"—that is what Mr. Tupper would make out of the strong Anglo-Saxon stuff of which his country men are made. That is what Mr. Tupper has already made out of himself.
But it is not only in teaching us to see really broad and com- prehensive thoughts in the apparent egotism of his reflections that Mr. Tupper has educated the taste which he gratifies. As Wordsworth educated us to appreciate truly the (almost naked) simplicity which he always observed, so Tupper has educated us to appreciate truly a simplicity of another kind,—a cooing, domestical simplicity, almost dovey in its sweetness and innocence, which when closely associated with the strong Anglo-Saxon feelings we have described,—the ' gladiator-soul' element of Mr. Tupper's poetry,—makes a very rare combination indeed. Take, for example, the second stanza in the poem called "Foes Parnassi," or " Solace of Song " :— " Ah thou fairy fount of sweetness,
Well I wot how dear though art In thy purity and meetness To my hot and thirsty heart, When, with sympathetic fleetness, I have raced from thought to thought, And, array'd in maiden neatness, By her natural taste well taught, Thy young Naiad, thy Pieria, My melodious Egeria,
Winsomely finds out my fancies Frank as Sappho, as unsought,—
And with innocent wife-like glances Close beside my spirit dances,
As a sister Ariel ought,—
Tripping at her wanton will, With unpremeditated skill,
Like a gashing mountain rill,
Or a bright Bacchante, reeling Through the flights of thought and feeling, Half concealing, half revealing Whateoe'er of spirit's fire, Beauty kindling with desire, Can be caught in Word's attire; Eves Fons Parnassi, Fore ebrie Parnassi."
The unchastened mind, as yet uncultivated by Mr. Tupper's influence, will revolt against this, as the enemies of Wordsworth who composed the parody about " naughty Nancy Lake " rebelled against his simplicity. But the dove of Mr. 'Tupper's muse will overcome them at last, and make them see the exquisite taste and feeling of " an innocent wife-like " Egeria,—how completely it rids us of any of the ambiguous feelings excited by the story of Numa and Egeria,—an Egeria, too, who does not dance in Mr: Tupper's presence at all without having her sister with her. Even so, we may per- haps a little regret some of the last lines. We don't think " an innocent wife-like" Egeria should have been at all like a Bacchante, even a Bacchante in " Word's attire," though we have no doubt that is a very respectable attire. We don't think the allusion quite in Mr. Tupper's ordinary tone. Still the innocent sweetness of the general conception is perhaps even enhanced by the slip.
The same exquisite purity of feeling shows itself in Mr. Tupper's clove of crystals and all symbols of purity. The thoughts shooting through his brain when " the calm chaos-brooding dove " of Silence is present with him he likens to crystals, in spite of the partial painfulness of the suggestion of crystals dancing about in the soft net of a " beautiful brain."
"Dear Nurse of Thought, palm chaos-brooding dove, Thee, Silence, well I love ; Mother of Fancy, friend and sister mine, Silence, my heart is thine.
"Rarer than Eloquence, and sweeter far Thy dulcet pauses are • Stronger than Music, charm she ne'er so well, Is, Silence, thy soft spell.
"The rushing crystals throb about my brain, And thrill, and shoot again,—
Their teeming imagery crowds my sphere, If Silence be but here."
There is no doubt a certain intentional incongruity between the dove-like character of Silence and her crystallizing modus operandi on the brain. The one is soft purity, the other hard purity ; and Mr. Tupper means to teach us by the contrast how really con- sistent is the soft cooing of domestic peace with the hard and luminous brilliance of poetic conception. He is very happy in conveying moral lessons by these metaphors In an address to the flying years he says,—
" EaKU! FUGACE8.
"The flying years ! the flying years !
How rapidly they wing away,— With all their covey'd hopes and fears, A mingled flock of grave and gay,"
—where every one will feel at once the originality and beauty of the phrase "coveyed hopes and fears." It transports you immediately to the partridge-field, you hear the whirr of the startled brood as, like hopes and fears, they rise from their nest in the bosom of earth, and the report of the gun which brings down one and leaves the others,—a living type of the apparently harsh and capricious selections of destiny. Yet does not the sportsman select the fattest partridge for his aim, just as destiny so often destroys the richest, hest-fed hopes, and leaves the lean ones uninjured?
But we must conclude arbitrarily, or we should never conclude at all ; and as Tupper finely says,—a truth which, like all his truths, has grown upon us more and more the more deeply we study his works,-
" All created yearnings tend In a rapid ever stronger
To that cataract, The End."
That we should feel such a creature-yearning at all while reading Mr. Tupper is the strongest proof we could bring of the rare general- izing power whieh belongs to his wise, genial, and innocent poetic nature.