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Victorian Poetry

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
This book is called Victorian Poetry for convenience. It does not, it need hardly be said, pretend to anything like a thorough examination of the voluminous poetry of the Victorian era in all its aspects. Significant criticism of Tennyson alone, to take a single instance, has already filled many volumes, a reflection which may well make the title chosen for this little book look like an impertinence. But while the present study does not profess to any exhaustiveness, it is about Victorian poetry, so that I may perhaps be allowed the choice, which is an easy one. Certain omissions in the poets dealt with will occur to every reader. Chief of these, perhaps, is Mr. Thomas Hardy, but although Mr. Hardy might be claimed as at least partly Victorian in date he seems as a poet to belong to a later age in everything else. His own achievement is post-Victorian in character, and his influence upon the tradition of English poetry is one that is too presently active for definition yet awhile. So that I felt that to bring a consideration of his poetry into these notes would be to disturb the balance of the scheme. The same thing may be said, perhaps with rather less excuse, about George Meredith. He, more strictly than Mr. Hardy, belongs to the Victorian age, but it is by accident rather than by character. American poetry, save for a casual reference here and there, I have not mentioned at all. To have done so would not have furthered my design, nor could I have done it adequately within that design. Whitman, who is a law unto himself, could come into no design and needs a separate gospelling. This brief study inevitably deals chiefly with the work of Tennyson, Browning, Arnold, Rossetti, Swinburne and Morris. Poets of almost equal eminence, such as Coventry Patmore, Mrs. Browning and Christina Rossetti, are less constant motifs, but, I hope, not unduly neglected. Of the great number of less celebrated poets, who contributed beautifully to the poetry of their time, I have referred only to such as have afforded some apt illustration for an immediate argument. Poets like Landor and Emily Brontë, although they worked into the early part of the period dealt with, Landor, indeed, well into it, have not been treated as Victorians, since they belonged by nature no more to the Victorian age than did Wordsworth. There could be no hard dividing line between the two parts of the study. Frequent references to the content matter of Victorian poetry were inevitable in a consideration of its technique, just as it has suited the argument often to refer back from the substance to the manner. For the rest, the main purpose of the essay has been merely to note some poetical characteristics of an age and their relation to the poetical characteristics of other ages.