Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription

Document Title: The Fortnightly Review, Volume 13
Author: Chapman and Hall (publisher)
Date of publication: 1873
Publisher: Chapman and Hall
Printer: Virtue and Co.
Volume: 13 (new series)

The full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.

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Parables and Tales. By Thomas Gordon Hake, Author of Madeline, &c. With Illustrations by Arthur Hughes. (Chapman & Hall.)
The quality of finish in poetic execution is of two kinds. The first and highest is that where the work has been all mentally “cartooned,” as it were, beforehand, by a process intensely conscious, but patient and silent,—an occult evolution of life: then follows the glory of wielding words, and we see the hand of Dante, as that of Michael Angelo,—or almost as that quickening Hand which Michael Angelo has dared to embody,—sweep from left to right, fiery and final. Of this order of poetic action,—the omnipotent freewill of the artist's mind,—our curbed and slackening world may seem to have seen the last. It has been succeeded by another kind of “finish,” devoted and ardent, but less building on ensured foundations than self–questioning in the very moment of action or even later: yet by such creative labour also the evening and the morning may be blent to a true day, though it be often but a fitful or an unglowing one. Not only with this second class, but even with those highest among consummate workers, productiveness must be found, at the close of life, to have been comparatively limited; though never failing, where a true master is in question, of such mass as is necessary to robust vitality.
That Dr. Hake is to be ranked with those poets who, in striving to perfect what they do as best they may, resolve to have a tussle for their own with Oblivion, is evident on comparison of his present little volume with its prede– cessor of a year or two ago. A portion of its contents is reproduced from that former book, but so remoulded by a searching self-criticism as to give the reader the best possible guarantee of its being worth his while to follow the author in his future course. We believe, on the whole, that Dr. Hake will do well in cultivating chiefly, as he does here, the less intricate of his poetic tendencies. His former poem of Madeline,—a tragic narrative couched in a metre, and invested with an imagery, which recalled the Miltonic ode or the Petrarchian canzone,—presented, amid much that was unmanageable, some striking elements of success. But there were other compositions in the same volume to which some readers must have turned with astonishment, after reading Madeline, and wondered that the writer who had so much genuine command over the heart as these displayed should be at pains to put his thoughts elsewhere in a difficult and exclusive form. Such a book does not get rapidly abroad, yet the piece called Old Souls is probably already secure of a distinct place in the literature of our day, and we believe the same may be predicted of other poems in the little collection just issued.
The finest new poem here is the Blind Boy, which gives scope to all the poet's sympathies by summoning the beloved beauties of visible nature round the ideal of a mysterious exclusion and isolation. Speaking of the aim alone, we may say that perhaps there is hardly in Wordsworth himself any single poem of equal length which from so central a stand-point interpenetrates the seen with the unseen, bounded always in a familiar circle of ideas. The blind
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boy—heir to the lands and sea-coast which are dark to him alone—has their beauties transmitted to him by description through his loving sister's eyes and lips. Some of the opening stanzas, wherein the poet spreads the scenery before us, are very direct and spacious:—
  • Clouds, folded round the topmost peaks,
  • Shut out the gorges from the sun
  • Till midday, when the early streaks
  • Of sunshine down the valley run;
  • But where the opening cliffs expand,
  • The early sea-light breaks on land.
  • Before the sun, like golden shields,
  • The clouds a lustre shed around;
  • Wild shadows gambolling o'er the fields;
  • 10Tame shadows stretching o'er the ground.
  • Towards noon the great rock-shadow moves,
  • And takes slow leave of all it loves.
Editorial Note: quotation of Thomas Hake's The Blind Boy, lines 7-18
The descriptions become yet more beautiful, and assume an under-current of relative significance, when the sister and brother are the speakers:—
  • She tells him how the mountains swell,
  • How rocks and forests touch the skies;
  • He tells her how the shadows dwell
  • In purple dimness on his eyes,
  • Whose tremulous orbs the while he lifts,
  • As round his smile their spirit drifts.
  • More close around his heart to wind,
  • She shuts her eyes in childish glee,
  • “To share,” she said, “his peace of mind;
  • 10To sit beneath his shadow-tree.”
  • So, half in play, the sister tries
  • To find his soul within her eyes.
  • His hand in hers, she walks along
  • And leads him to the river's brink;
  • She stays to hear the water's song,
  • Closing her eyes with him to think.
  • His ear more watchful than her own,
  • Caught up the ocean's distant moan.
  • “The river's flow is bright and clear,”
  • 20The blind boy said, “and were it dark
  • We should no less its music hear:
  • Sings not at eventide the lark?
  • Still when the ripples pause, they fade
  • Upon my spirit like a shade.”
  • “Yet, brother, when the river stops,
  • And in the quiet bay is hushed,
  • E'en though its gentle murmur drops,
  • 'Tis bright as when by us it rushed;
  • It is not like a shade the more,
  • 30Except beneath the wooded shore.”
Editorial Note: quotation of Thomas Hake's The Blind Boy, lines 61-90
The second stanza here has much of that colossal infancy of expression which we find in William Blake. Such touches, sometimes quite masterly, as here, sometimes striving with what yet remains but half said, are characteristic of this poet.
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The blind boy—blind early but not from his birth—speaks again:—
  • “The waves with mingling echoes fall;
  • And memories of a long-lost light
  • From far-off mornings seem to call,
  • And what I hear comes into sight.
  • The beauteous skies flash back again,
  • But, ah! the light will not remain!”
Editorial Note: quotation of Thomas Hake's The Blind Boy, lines 133-138
The stanzas which follow are perhaps the most subtle and suggestive in the poem:—
  • Awhile he pauses; as he stops,
  • Her little hand the sister moves
  • And pebbles on the water drops,
  • As it runs up the sandy grooves;
  • Or to her ear a shell applies,
  • With parted lips and dreaming eyes.
  • “That noise!” said he, with lifted hand.
  • “The sea-gull's scream and flapping wings.
  • Before the wind it flies to land,
  • 10And omens of a tempest brings.”
  • She tells him how the sea-bird pale
  • Whirls wildly on the coming gale.
  • “And is the sea alone? Even now
  • I hear faint mutterings.” “'Tis the waves.”
  • “It seems a murmur sweeping low
  • And hurrying through the distant caves.
  • I hear again that smothered tone,
  • As if the sea were not alone.”
Editorial Note: quotation of Thomas Hake's The Blind Boy, lines 139-156
Less elevated in tone than the Blind Boy, but perhaps still more complete from the artistic point of view, in the clear flow of its familiar observation and homely pathos, is the poem entitled the Cripple. We have given the Blind Boy the higher place on account of its more ideal treatment; but a careful reading of the Cripple will show it to be nothing less than a master-piece in its simple way, and so blended together in its parts that it is very difficult to extract from it so as to convey the emotional impression which the verses produce when read in sequence. The cripple is the helpless son of a poor village widow, charwoman or washerwoman as the chance presents itself.
  • As a wrecked vessel on the sand,
  • The cripple to his mother clung:
  • Close to the tub he took his stand
  • While she the linen washed and wrung;
  • And when she hung it out to dry
  • The cripple still was standing by.
  • When she went out to char, he took
  • His fife, to play some simple snatch
  • Before the inn hard by the brook,
  • 10While for the traveller keeping watch,
  • Against the horse's head to stand,
  • Or hold its bridle in his hand.
  • Sometimes the squire his penny dropped
  • Upon the road for him to clutch,
  • Which, as it rolled, the cripple stopped,
  • Striking it nimbly with his crutch.
  • The groom, with leathern belt and pad,
  • E'en found a copper for the lad.
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  • The farmer's wife her hand would dip
  • 20Down her deep pocket with a sigh;
  • Some halfpence in his hand would slip,
  • When there was no observer nigh;
  • Or give him apples for his lunch,
  • That he loved leisurely to munch.
  • But for the farmer, what he made,
  • At market table he would spend,
  • And boys who used not plough or spade
  • Had got the parish for their friend;
  • He paid his poor-rates to the day,
  • 30So let the boy ask parish-pay.
  • Yet would the teamster feel his fob,
  • The little cripple's heart to cheer,
  • Himself of penny pieces rob,
  • That he begrudged to spend in beer;
  • His boy, too, might be sick or sore,
  • So gave he of his thrifty store.
Editorial Note: quotation of Thomas Hake's The Cripple, lines 67-102
All this is a good deal lost without the aid of the preceding introductory picture of village life. The above passage is succeeded by a charming brook– side description of the cripple's favourite haunt. What follows we must pursue to the close, though the extract be rather a long one:—
  • There with soft notes his fife he filled—
  • A mere tin plaything from the mart,
  • With holes at equal distance drilled,
  • To which his fingers grace impart,
  • While it obeys his lips' control,
  • And is a crutch unto his soul.
  • At church he longed his fife to try,
  • Where oboe gave its doleful note,
  • Where fiddle scraped harsh melody,
  • 10Where bass the rustic vitals smote.
  • Such music then was all in vogue,
  • And psalms were sung in village brogue.
  • His cheerful ways gave many cause
  • For wonder; nay, his very joy
  • To others' mirth would give a pause:
  • His soul so like his body's toy,
  • So childish, yet with face of age,
  • Beginning at life's latter stage.
  • Dead is his crutch on moping days—
  • 20'Tis so they call his sickly fits,
  • When by his side his crutch he lays,
  • And in the chimney-corner sits,
  • Hobbling in spirit near the yew
  • That in the village churchyard grew.
  • Ah! it befell at harvest–time—
  • Such are the ways of Providence,—
  • That the poor widow in her prime
  • Was fever-struck, and hurried hence;
  • Then did he wish indeed to lie
  • 30Between her arms and with her die.
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  • Who shall the cripple's woes beguile?
  • Who earn the bread his mouth to feed?
  • Who greet him with a mother's smile?
  • Who tend him in his utter need?
  • Who lead him to the sanded floor?
  • Who put his crutch behind the door?
  • Who set him in his wadded chair,
  • And after supper say his grace?
  • Who to invite a loving air
  • 40His fife upon the table place?
  • Who, as he plays, her eyes shall lift
  • In wonder at a cripple's gift?
  • Who ask him all the news that chanced—
  • Of farmer's wife in coat and hat,
  • Of squire who to the city pranced—
  • To draw him out in lively chat?
  • This flood of love, now but a surf
  • Left on a nameless mound of turf.
  • Some it made sigh, and some made talk,
  • 50To see the guardian of the poor
  • Call for the boy to take a walk,
  • And lead him to the workhouse door:
  • With lifted hands and boding look
  • They watched him cross the village brook.
Editorial Note: quotation of Thomas Hake's The Cripple, lines 127-180
Old Morality is a poem differing much from the two already dwelt upon, as being a kind of light satirical allegory, yet having an affinity to them by its rustic surroundings, and producing much the same impression as the old verse- inscribed Emblems of a whole school of Dutch and English moralists. We hardly think it possible to extract from this piece; nor, though full of thoughtful perceptive whimsicality, does it quite possess that consequent clear- headedness which must be the first principle of all allegory, whether serious or humorous, whereof twilight is the true atmosphere, but fog the utter destruction. Nevertheless we may refer the reader to the poem itself, as one characterized by flashes of genial wisdom and by delicate and pleasurable execution. The sound of its title recalls rather awkwardly Scott's Old Mortality, (a kind of trivial obstruction by no means beneath artistic notice;) and for the symbolism of the poem it seems to us that another representative name— “Old Veracity” for instance—would have been actually more to the purpose than the word “morality,” which men have long conspired to beset with endless ambiguities.
We have not yet noticed the poem entitled Mother and Child which stands first in the volume, and which has a more distinctly dramatic aim than appears in its other contents. We must admit that this poem is far from satis- fying us. Its subject is this. A young lady, leaving the Opera, sees suddenly in the street a mother and infant whose aspect—that of the child especially, which seems confused in her mind with the face of her affianced lover,— continues to haunt her memory most painfully. Meeting them again by accident, she makes enquiry and finds that the child is in fact her lover's illegitimate offspring; whereupon she expresses by words and by good deeds the gratitude due to the unconscious agents of her own rescue from the hands of him who had ruined and abandoned another. This invention is striking and certainly not impossible; but to reconcile us to its exceptional features, it
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requires much more individuality in the working out, and much more space for the purpose, than are here bestowed upon it. Its steady abruptness in disposing one after another, of incidents sufficiently surprising to give us pause, recalls somewhat the pseudo-ballads of a past generation, and its execution is certainly stiffer and more prosaic than is the case with any other piece in the series. However, it has, like all its author puts forth, the genuine charm of human sympathy, and on a wider canvas its conception might probably have been developed to good purpose.
The present writer has on a former occasion spoken elsewhere of several poems here reproduced from the earlier volume,— notably of Old Souls and the subtly exquisite Lily of the Valley. He will here only note that—with the exception of Old Souls, which needed and has received hardly any modi- fication—every piece which Dr. Hake has presented for the second time has been made his own afresh by that double of himself, the self-critic, who should be one always with the poet. We do not venture to say that harmony of sound and clearness of structure have been everywhere equally mastered throughout the present collection; but so much has been done that to doubt further pro- gress in fresh work would be unjust to the author. Though disposed to encourage him to the pursuit chiefly of the path in poetry which this volume follows, we should not regret to find his thoughts clothed sometimes in more varied and even more adventurous lyrical forms.
Though much has been said concerning the matter-of-fact tendencies of the reading public which poets desire to enlist, it must we think be admitted that the simpler and more domestic order of themes has not been generally, of late years, the most widely popular. Indeed these have probably had less than their due in the balance of immediate acceptance. It would be easy to point to examples,—for instance, to the work which Mr. Allingham has done so well in this field,—above all, to his very memorable book, Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland,—a solid and undeniable achievement, no less a historical record than a searching poetic picture of those manners which can alone be depicted with a certainty of future value,—the manners of our own time. Yet such a book as this seems yet to have its best day to come. Should Dr. Hake's more restricted, but lovely and sincere, contributions to the poetry of real life, not find the immediate response they deserve, he may at least remember that others also have failed to meet at once with full justice and recognition. But we will hope for good encouragement to his present and future work; and can at least assure the lover of poetry (but indeed we have proved it to him by quotation,) that in these simple pages he shall find not seldom a humanity limpid and pellucid,—the well-spring of a true heart, with which his tears must mingle as with their own element.
Dr. Hake has been fortunate in the beautiful drawings which Mr. Arthur Hughes has contributed to his little volume. No poet could have a more con- genial yokefellow than this gifted and imaginative artist. The lovely little picture which heads the Lily of the Valley must satisfy even the most jealous admirer of the poem, and that to the Blind Boy leaves nothing to desire, full as it is of a gracious and kindred melancholy. The illustration to Old Morality is another decided success, except perhaps for the too plump and juvenile sexton; and that to the Cripple has great sweetness, only the poor widow here is hardly “in her prime” as described in the text, and her son thus looks more like her grandson. We should be glad to find the poet and the artist again in company.
D. G. Rossetti.
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