28 AUGUST 1880, Page 15



EVERY really conscientious reviewer now and then encounters a book which compels him to realise all the difficulties of his calling. His work may be descriptive, may be judicial, will, in most cases, be both; but the books to which we refer are books of which either description or criticism is so hard, that it seems well-nigh impossible. Both are evaded by a want of that in- definable quality which we may call "character." It is easy to speak of literary work which either in matter or manner is strikingly admirable, or the reverse; and even when there is no notable excess, or merit, or demerit, the critic is not daunted if he can only catch a subtle flavour of individuality ; but it is a trying task to deal with a book of verse which conforms to all the formal requirements of poetic art, and has a certain imagin- ative glow, but is altogether devoid of that salt of spontaneity without which poetry has no savour and, therefore, no reason of being.

We do not say that Mr. Symonds's poems are savourless, or that they have no right to exist, but we must say that they seem to us noticeably wanting in marked feature and indi- viduality of expression, and therefore in that power to hold and possess us which is one of the truest notes of genuine inspira- tion. We read them with a languid pleasure, but it is pleasure which never culminates in quick delight; we are visited by no thrill such as will ever follow the instant recognition of any triumphant rendering of thought or emotion, or even any per- fect felicity of phrase, of melody, of rhythm. We pass from page to page, and the journey is not unpleasant, for we travel through a fair landscape, amid beautiful shapes, and with the sound of a faint, sweet music in our ears; but when, our journey over, we turn round to look and listen once more, the landscape and the figures are lost in a. glimmering mist, and the melodies melt into one another like songs heard in a dream. Mr. Symonds's previous volume of verse was called Many Moods ; this one might very appropriately be called "More Moods," for its range of thought, feeling, and expression is identical with that of its predecessor. Some poets are always surprising us ; so long as they continue to produce we can never be sure that we are in possession of sufficient material for an adequate esti- mate of their possibilities, or even of their accomplishments ; but Mr. Symonds can be known as well in one volume as in two, as well in half-a-dozen poems as in a volume, for his attitudes of mind are soon exhausted, and his speech is the esoteric dialect of the schools of culture, not the well-worn language of the crowd. That Mr. Symonds, in these days of literary cliques, has never placed himself, never explicitly declared himself a poetical party man, is much to his credit, and his wise restraint ought to save him from the injustice of being positively classed as a member of any special coterie ; but as his sympathies are known to be largely with our latest and, we may add, loudest school, it is natural to think of his work in connection with the work of those recent poets who have carried the doctrine of Art for Art's sake to such new and startling developments. It must at once be admitted that from the peculiar extravagances of these writers Mr. Symonds is almost wholly free. There is in his poems an utter absence both of hazardous motifs and of aggressively startling treat- ment; there are no passages of either veiled or unveiled revolt from primal religious or ethical instincts, no parade of verbal legerdemain or feats of rhythmical gymnastics. Mr. Symonds's poetry reminds us at the first glance more readily of Mr. Arnold than of Mr. Swinburne, and yet there can be little doubt that he has less real affinity with the author of The Strayed Reveller and Empedoeles upon Etna than with the poets of that new Parnassus upon which Mr. Swinburne is the principal Itew and 01d. A Voltinie if -Irani: By John Addington Symonds. Loudon;

- BmIth, Viler, and On. - - "

singer. He has their intense though somewhat narrow feel- ing of the supremacy, almost the sanctity, of Art; be has

their manifest indifference to simple, uncomplicated emo- tions, such as provide themes for popular poetry ; and he, like them, has a tendency to regard contemporary life with a tender melancholy which is not unpleasant, because it lends itself so readily to musical treatment. It is only very occasionally that we detect in his verse any suggestion of the

less admirable peculiarities of the school, but ip The Love Talc of Odates and Prince Zariadres there is a passage in the least praiseworthy manner of our new erotic poets. The Princess

°dates dreams of her lover who is to be ; she sees him riding towards her, last of a lordly cavalcade,—

" And as he drew anigh, still goodlier

Than all the youths he shone, and still more near, Her spirit shivered with delicious fear ; For on her face his eyes stayed, and his breast, Whiter than moonlight, heaved with wild unrest ; And all about his brows and glorious eyes The golden tresses gleamed like live sunrise ; And as at last beneath her seat be came, She heard the heralds shout an unknown name,— Prince Zariadres ! And he rose, and she Dared not, or could not, shrink, for utterly Her soul with love was shattered ; and his mouth, Panting, half open, dry with eager drowth, Disclosed between her lips ; and so it seemed That even as she struggled and still dreamed, That show and all those sights faded, and he, With strong arms clasping, strained her stormfully To his broad bosom. 'Then she woke, and wan With joy, still felt his living mouth upon Her quivering lips; and lo ! the dream was gone !"

We have no particular sympathy with pseudo-ethical limita- tions of a poet's range ; but as a mere matter of art, we con- fess that we are repelled by the detailed descriptions of the symptoms of the mere physical hunger of passion,—the shiver-

ing spirit, the panting mouth, the dry, half-open lips, the storm- ful straining, the struggling, the clasping, and the quivering, which are here so glowingly celebrated.

It may be said that it is unfair to quote a passage which stands by itself, and is by no means representative of the amass

of Mr. Symonds's work. It would be grossly unfair if we quoted it as a sample of the volume, but we have sedulously guarded against the possibility of such an interpretation ; and it is not unfair to strive to show how the adoption of certain

artistic theories is likely to lead to results which the theorist hardly calculates upon. Tn Chastelard or Bothwell such lines as these would not seem out of place; but in the midst of Mr. Symonds's subdued and chastened melodies they strike a

discordant note. As a rule, there is little warmth in these poems, and though there is plenty of colour, it is somewhat faint and faded, like the colour of sea-flowers taken from the sea. The verses are everywhere charged with languors and regrets, and with a certain luxurious sadness, in which the poet seems to find pleasure rather than pain. A brief poem on " Summer " is a typical example of his manner of dealing with external nature, a manner not direct and frankly objective, like that of Chaucer, or spiritually interpretative, like that of Wordsworth, but purely emotional, with an emotion which seems hardly real enough to impress, or strong enough to move us :—

"0 sweet and strange what time grey morning steals

Over the misty flats, and gently stirs Bee-laden limes and pendulous abeles, To brush the dew-besprinkled gossamers From meadow grasses, and beneath black lire, In limpid streamlets or translucent lakes, To bathe amid dim heron-haunted brakes !

0 sweet and sumptuous at height of noon Languid to lie on scented summer-lawns, Fanned by faint breezes of the breathless June ; To watch the timorous and trooping fawns,

Dappled like tenderest clouds in early dawns From forth their ferny covert glide to drink, And cool lithe limbs beside the river's brink.

0 strange and sad, ere daylight disappears,

To hear the croaking of the homeward wain, Drawn by its yoke of tardy-pacing steers'

'Neath honeysuckle hedge and tangled lane ;

To breathe faint scent of roses on the wane By cottage doors, and watch the mellowing idcy Fade into saffron lines insensibly !"

It is impossible to deny beauty of a kind to verse like this, but it is beauty which quickly cloys and satiates. The melancholy Of the last stanza is gratuitous and unreal; we feel that 'Mr. Symonds is eager to be sad upon small provocation, or upon none, and therefore his sadness seems wanton 444 #ritit4g.

It would appear wholly affected and insincere, did we not find a certain justification of it in Mr. Symonds's attitude towards the great problems of the age and the ages. Beauty and love and all gracious things must be sad, as well as sweet, to one who sees behinds them no Being in whose immortality theirs is secured; and in the following sonnet, the first of a series, entitled "An Old Gordian Knot," we have Mr. Symonds's record of the vision or no vision granted to him and his fellows :

"Between those men of old who nothing knew, But sang their song and cried the world is fair, Or dreamed a dream of heaven to cheat despair, Piling void temples 'neath the voiceless blue,

And those for whom, with revelation due, Pure wisdom and the love of all things good May yet be granted in the plenitude Of ages still to corns and irons new, Stand we, who, knowing, yet know nought ; undone Is all the fabric of that former dream ; Those songs we have unlearned, and, one by one, Have cast illusions down the shoreless stream ; Tearless and passionless we greet the sun, And with cold eyes gaze on a garish gleam."

With the clue supplied by this sonnet we cannot but feel that there is a veiled allusion to another than the Titan of Caucasus, when, in the last stanza of the poem "Prometheus Dead," Mr. Symonds cries :—

" Yea, our faiths fade ; and the older

Gods who groaned and bled for men, Turn to stone and ice ; they moulder Far withdrawn from mortal ken; And in dreams and visions lonely We revoke their phantoms only, Nor bring back our dead again."

It is not to be wondered at that poetry which is the out- come neither of faith nor of denial, but of regretful scep- ticism, which sighs for while it despises the songs which have been unlearned and the illusions which have been cast to the mercy of the stream, should be wanting in grasp, in char- acter, and in virility ; for, as Mr. Ruskin has so wisely said, though there may be ground for noble thought and action in either belief or disbelief, there is none "in hesitation between ungrasped hope and uncon fronted fear." Happily, however, the great ethical foundations are for Mr. Symonds still secure,—he is too true a poet to regard morals as a department of phy- siology; and it is with a feeling of relief and enlargement that we turn from his depressing agnosticisms to the clear, bracing atmosphere of such a poem as this, on,—


Blame not the times in which we live, Nor Fortune frail and fugitive; Blame not thy parents, nor the rule Of vice or wrong once learned at school; But blame thyself, 0 man!

Although both heaven and earth combined To mould thy flesh and form thy mind, Though every thought, word, action, will, Was framed by powers beyond thee, still Thou art thyself, 0 man !

And self to take or leave is free, Feeling its own sufficiency : In spite of science, spite of fate, The judge within thee, soon or late.

Will blame but thee, 0 man !

Say not, I would, but could not—Ho Should bear the blame who fashioned me,— Call you mere change of motive choice ?' Scorning such pleas, the inner voice Cries, 'Thine the deed, 0 man !' "

This is a strong, clear utterance, and with it we take our leave of Mr. Symonds's volume. It is not in any way a re- markable book, but it undoubtedly has the interest which attaches to any utterance of a man whose sensibilities are evidently as keen as his culture is wide; and it may find admirers, but hardly, we should think, enthusiastic lovers.