17 MARCH 1855, Page 17

OWEN MEREDITH'S romits.• THE affectedly natural style in poetry which

is now predominant, is perhaps not so much a fashion as a reaction against long-esta- blished artificial modes, which influenced thought and manners as well as the belles lettres. The sturdy plainness and na- turalness of the old Englishman went out when the Second Charles and his hybrid followers came in. The artificial gloss in courtly and urban taste and manners spread at once to light literature, and continued to affect all persons whom letters influence, for a

century and a half. This mode itself was in a great degree a re- action against the starched solemnity of the Puritans. For some generations it had a vital spirit, which attained its acme under Pope, and then rapidly declined, till by the close of the century it had reached the deadest formalism. A natural reaction ensued. Burns and Cowper may be said to have led the way ; but it first appeared in its present form with Wordsworth and his fellows rather than followers. Their choice of common sometimes of truly " low " subjects, and their bald naturalness of treatment, received due censure, while scant credit was given to their bold rejection of a worn-out mannerism, their original perception of a new interest attached to the "annals of the poor," their strength of thought, and very often their plain felicity of expression. The diluted imi- tation of the olden popular poetry by Scott—the egotism misan- thropy, and morbid force of Byron—the mawkish sentinientality and silly simplicity of what was called the Cockney School—all originated in the struggles against a formalism which revolted men's minds.

The same feeling still continues. We see it not only in simpler manners, plainer speech, and costumes the very reverse of the oldfashioned "dress," but in the Prseraphaelite style of art. In poetry it reigns supreme among the better and more independent minds ; for the mob of poetasters still imitate Byron, Scott, and the drawingroom school of whom Mrs. Hemans was the head. Of this "natural" school Tennyson is undoubtedly the present leader. In some of his best pieces he probably exhibits the highest perfec- tion to which the merely natural can attain ; for it is idle to ex- pect from it the heroic, or the highest lyric, or genuine tragedy. In some of his worst pieces the Laureate shows to what bathos the merely natural can come. In justice to his fellows or his followers— imitators are yet to appear—it should be said that they exhibit more of the beauties than the faults of their chief.

Among this band Mr. Owen Meredith is entitled to take a place,

though he is yet far from having developed the powers that are in him. Naturalness of expression runs into affectation; the metre is sometimes peculiar in itself, and from negligence or love of sin- gularity becomes harsh in the execution; his perception of natural beauty runs wild, and description overlays his theme instead of setting it off: his subjects are not always good in themselves, or else they are improperly treated. But he has the spirit and feeling of a genuine poet; the defects of his volume are such as judgment could have prevented, and in many cases even revision remove. The poems which best exhibit the genius or peculiarities ofntheir author are " Good-n*ht in the Porch," "The Earl's Ite,, turn," Tue Artist," and "The Wife's Tragedy." Of these, the Good-zug t is the best, and the most distinctive of the band to which the writer belongs not only by the mode of execution, but the fact of the poem depending rather upon its treatment than its subjeot. The theme is an immature poet taking his last look at the well-known. ditIC.1yrt„eumblisnehstf,bTyhcehEarlapia'ans ReantdurrikiaLThe Artist, and other Poems. By Owen Mere- seenes of childhood, as dying he sits with his sister in the porch of his home; the thoughts of the past mingling with the features and feelings of the present, especially of an unhappy attachment which the lady trifled with after the fashion of Tennyson's Lady Clara Vere de Vere. The metre of this extract, it will be observed, is peculiar; the middle of the lines having a rhyme, so that the stanza might be broken down into air lines. The germ of the senti- ment—the last lingering look upon life—may be found in Gray ; but it is expanded and enforced with great pathos and felicity.

" Yes, sad indeed it seems each night—and sadder, dear, for your sweet sake ! To watch the last low lingering light, and know not where the morn may break.

Tonight we sit together here. Tomorrow night will come. . . . 'where?

0 child ! howe'er assured be faith, to say farewell is fraught with gloom, When, like one flower, the germs of death and genius ripen toward the tomb, And earth each day, as some fond face at parting, gains a graver grace.

There's not a flower, there's not a tree in this old garden where we sit, But what some fragrant memory is closed and folded up in it. Tonight the dog-rose smells as wild, as fresh, as when I was a child.

'Tis eight years since (do you forget ?) we set those lilies near the wall : You were a blue-eyed child ; even yet I seem to see the ringlets fall— The golden ringlets, blown behind your shoulders in the merry wind.

Ah me ! old times, they cling, they cling ! And oft by yonder green old gate The field shows through, in morns of spring, an eager boy, I paused elate With all sweet fancies loosed from school. And oft, you know, when eves were cool,

In summer-time, and throdgh the trees young gnats began to be about, With some old book upon your knees 'twas here you watch'd the stare come out ;

While oft, to please me, you sang through some foolish song I made for you.

And there's my epic—I began when life seem'd long, though longer art— And all the glorious deeds of man made golden riot in my heart— Eight books . . . . it will not number nine ! I die before my heroine.

Sister! they say that drowning men in one wild moment can recall Their whole life long, and feel again the pain—the bliss—that throng'd it all : Last night those phantoms of the past again came crowding round me fast.

Near morning, when the lamp was low, against the wall they seem'd to flit And, ; as the wavering light Motild glom or fall, they came and went with it. The ghost of boyhood seem'd to gaze down the dark verge of vanish'd days."

"The Artist" might as well be called The Poet, for it consists of didactic advice which as well applies to him as to a painter. It is not so popularly -effective as most of the other pieces ; but it exhibits much thought, often just, and next to the "Good- night in the Porch" is the most distinctive poem in the book. The following, if not wholly sound, is true from its point of view.

"Nor serve the subject overmuch ;

Norrhythm ancl rhyme, nor colour and form : Know Truth bath all great graces, such

As shall with them thy werk inform.

We ransack 11.iatary's tatter'd page ; We prate of epoch and costume; Call this, and that, the Classic Age ; Choose tunic now, now helm and plume : But while we halt in weak debate 'Twixt that and this appropriate theme, The offended wild-flowers stare and wait, The bird hoots at us from the stream.

Next, as to Jana. What's beautiful We recognize in form and face ;

And judge ie thus, and thus, by rule, As perfect laathringaperfect grace:

If through the effect we drag the muse, Dissect, divide, anatomize,

Results are loetloattisome laws, And all the *lent beauty dies ; rill we, instead of bloom and light, See only sinews, nerves, and veins : Nor will the effect and cause unite,

For one is lost if one remains.

But from some higher point behold This dense, perplexing complication.; And laws involved in laws untold, And orb into thy contemplation.

God, when he made the seed, conceived

The flower ; and all the work of sun And rain, before the stem was leaved, In that prenatal thought was done : The girl who twines in her soft hair The orange-flower, with love's devotion,

By the mere act of being fair

Sets countless laws of life in motion : So thou, by one thought thoroughly great, Shalt, without heed thereto, fulfil

All laws of art. Create ! create!

Dissection leaves the dead dead still."

"The Earl's Return" inclines to the quaint and grotesque. The

descriptions of a wild, bare, and spirit-saddening landscape, with the manners and occupations of the retainers in a feudal castle, not

only impede the story but are pushed to excess in themselves.

Power is displayed in the execution, and the manner throws over the piece an appearance of novelty, though the elements are really old. The gloomy sea and barren shore, with the depressing influ- ence of the whole scene resemble the opening of a romance by one of the novel-writing Bells, or an imitator. A rough, mysterious, feudal chief or freebooter—an ill-assorted marriage—a lovely and usgleetod but beloved wife—a disguised minstrel turning out an

a of somebody, for something—with a castle on fire, an a=ter

upon it, and the wicked master blunt or spirited off—are

the common property uf romancists. Turn where we will we meet these things, in poetry, in prose, and on "the boards." "The Wife's Tragedy" consists of three acts or rather scenes : the evening before the flight; the husband, an earl, gazing on his wife's picture, taking a review of the case, tracing the cause, and discover- ' mg an excuse ; the deathbed of the deserted and guilty woman, with her husband bestowing his pardon. There is nothing offensive in the treatment, nor in the sentiment beyond a weak senti- mentality which tends to a confusion between vice and virtue : but the choice of subject is one that should be protested against. Our older authors were vicious and coarse enough ; they might be of evil example enough ; some of their gallants had the fascinations of wit, gayety, and accomplishments, which often attend the vi- cious in real life : but nobody was in danger of mistaking wrong for right in the examples, though logical attempts might be made to puzzle the reason. The morbid sentimental school, which came in, we think, with The Stranger and The Sorrows of Werter, and has since shown more skill as it advanced in growth, saps mo- rality by exciting sympathy with the erring or in plainer English the guilty, dwelling upon excuses which often amount to no- thing, and exhibiting punishment less to point the moral than to produce commiseration. There is an equal objection in a critical point of view. The precise guilt and its excuses in every particu- lar case can only be known to Omniscience. It is possible that some of the worst offenders to mortal judgment may have the most excuse ; equally possible that the accuser may be more guilty than the accused—" the usurer hangs the cozener." Each particular case must stand upon its special particulars, which we cannot ascertain fully, sometimes not at all. But a poet has to deal with generals, not exceptions. A murder might perhaps be justified if we knew all ; but no great poet has inculcated murder, or any other crime or vice, either by direct exhortation or by lessening the horror with which the crime is regarded. "Clytemnestra," a classical tragedy on the return and death of Agamemnon, exhibits great power and much poetry, but except perhaps in the choruses not the distinctive manner of the writer. The classical and lofty associations and the Greek models he has had in his eye have raised his style. In this drama, it may be observed, he suggests reasons for Clytemnestra's guilt, but not so much excuses. The choruses are well managed, and effect a purpose.