Classic History Books


Great Britain and Her Queen - by Anne E. Keeling

literary entremets" designed to please the fastidious taste of a cultured and leisured class, which
was the just description of our periodical literature at large not so very long ago. The number of our

imaginative writers - poets and romancers, but especially the latter - has been out of all proportion great.

We give the place of honour, as is their due, to the singers rather than to the story-tellers, the more

readily since the popular taste, it cannot be denied, chooses its favourites in inverse order as a rule.

When Her Majesty ascended the throne, one brilliant poetical constellation was setting slowly, star by
star. Keats and Shelley and Byron, none of them much older than the century, had perished in their early

prime between 1820 and 1824; Scott had sunk under the storms of fortune in 1832; the fitful glimmer of

Coleridge's genius vanished in 1834, and a year later "the gentle Elia" too was gone. Southey, who still

held the laureate-ship in 1837, had faded out of life in 1843, and was succeeded in his once-despised

office by William Wordsworth, who, with Rogers and Leigh Hunt and Moore, lived far into the new

reign, uniting the Georgian and the Victorian school of writers. Thomas Hood, the poet of the poor and

oppressed, whose too short life ended in 1845, gives in his serious verse such thrilling expression to the

impassioned, indignant philanthropy, which has actuated many workers and writers of our own period,

that it is not easy to reckon him with the older group. His song rings like that of Charles Kingsley, poet,

novelist, preacher, and "Christian socialist," who did not publish his "Saint's Tragedy" till three years

after Hood was dead.

There has, indeed, been no break in the continuity of our great literary history; while one splendid group
was setting, another as illustrious was rising. Tennyson, who on Wordsworth's death in 1850 received at

Queen Victoria's hand the "laurel greener from the brows of him that uttered nothing base," had

published his earliest two volumes of poems some years before Her Majesty's accession; and of that rare

poetic pair, the Brownings, each had already given evidence of the great powers they possessed, Robert

Browning's tragedy of "Strafford" being produced on the stage in 1837, while his future wife's translation

of the "Prometheus Bound" saw the light four years earlier. The Victorian period can boast no greater

poetic names than these, each of which is held in highest reverence by its own special admirers. The

patriotic fervour with which Lord Tennyson has done almost all his laureate work, the lucid splendour of

his style, the perfect music of his rhythm, and the stinging sharpness with which he has sometimes

chastised contemporary sins, have all combined to win for him a far wider popularity than even that

accorded to the fine lyrical passion of Mrs. Browning, or to the deep-thoughted and splendid, but often

perplexing and ruggedly phrased, dramatic and lyric utterances of her husband. All three have honoured

themselves and their country by a majestic purity of moral and religious teaching - an excellence shared

by many of their contemporaries, whose powers would have won them a first place in an age and country

less fruitful of genius; but not so conspicuous in some younger poets, later heirs of fame, whose lot it

may be to carry on the traditions of Victorian greatness into another reign.

There are not a few writers of our day whose excellent prose work has won more of popular favour than
their verse, which notwithstanding is of high quality. Such was the "unsubduable old Roman," Walter

Savage Landor, a contemporary of Byron and Wordsworth, who long outlived them, dying in 1864. Such

- to bring two extremes together - are the critic and poet Matthew Arnold, the poet and theologian John

Henry Newman. Intimately associated in our thought with the latter, who has enriched our devotional

poetry with one touching hymn, is Keble, the singer par excellence of the "Catholic revival," and

the most widely successful religious poet of the age, though only very few of his hymns have reached the

heart of the people like the far more direct and fervent work of the Wesleys and their compeers. He is

even excelled in simplicity and passion, though not in grace and tenderness, by two or three other

workers in the same field, who belong to our day, and whose verse is known more widely than their

 

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