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artistic gifts; his poetry is richly colored, his verse is curiously and skilfully wrought, but his work is not entirely wholesome, manly, or sincere. His poetic world lies beyond the limits of our ordinary experience, - a shadowy world, ruled by mystery, wonder, beauty, and love, and lit by another light than that of common day. He represents a late stage of that romantic movement, that sense of the mysterious and the supernatural that we find in Coleridge, that worship of beauty which we find in Keats. Some of Rossetti's sonnets are among the best in the language. He was also fond of the ballad form, and many of his best known poems, such as The King's Tragedy and The White Ship, belong to this class.
Rossetti's was a strange, wayward genius, and in his contradictory nature strength and weakness were curiously mingled. At first he was full of youthful hope and energy, and as we think of him in his last years, shut in his London library with his dreams of beauty and his drugs, we feel that something was wrong with his life, and something lacking in his work. Yet, whatever we may miss in Rossetti's poetry, he holds a high, although not the highest, place among the leading poets of the Victorian age.
William Morris. — Among the band of devoted followers that Rossetti gathered around him in the earlier part of his career was WILLIAM MORRIS (18341896), a man of varied talent and restless energy. Morris tried his hand at painting, architecture, and poetry. In 1863, with Rosetti and several others, he founded an establishment for household decoration. Morris was the leading spirit, although by no means the greatest artist, in this enterprise, which was deservedly successful. But while Morris's energy expended itself
in many directions while he made household furniture, stained-glass windows, curtains, rugs or tapestry, or sought to improve the art of printing or book-making,
one controlling motive gave unity to his work. A true lover of beauty himself, he tried in innumerable ways to stimulate a national love of the beautiful, to refine the popular taste, and to mitigate the ugliness or commercialism of modern life.
In early manhood Morris met Rossetti and was strongly influenced by his magnetic and dominant personality. Like the other members of the little group, Morris was strongly attracted to the Middle Ages, and his first book, The Defense of Guinevere and other Poems (1858) consists of a series of remarkable medieval studies. In many of these poems everything is studiously unreal; the knights, the maidens with large eyes, yellow hair, and decorative figures, - all those objects and images which were the “theatrical properties” of the Pre-Raphaelites
are freely introduced. Morris showed the same avoidance of the problems and vexations of modern life in The Earthly Paradise (1868-1870), containing the most popular and possibly the best of his poems. The Earthly Paradise, it has been said, “is fit reading for sleepy summer afternoons." We are transported to an enchanted region, a world of beautiful illusions, where everything seems shadowy and remote. Our dreamy contentment is disturbed by no cry of human passion; it is interrupted by no real earnestness of mood, by no memorable thought; we are permitted to glide along on the smooth current of the even, melodious, and (it must be confessed) somewhat monotonous verse. Morris did not attempt to do more in The Earthly Paradise than bring a temporary repose and forgetfulness through art.
Dreamer of dreams, born out of my due time,
But Morris was no mere dreamer, he was a burly, robust man, full of vitality, a fighter and a reformer. In his later years, he faced, as Ruskin did, the pressing social questions of his time, and strove manfully to set the crooked straight. He became a socialist, and his belief in the possibility of social reform gave a hopefulness and vigor to his work; he was a prolific writer both in poetry and in prose; he had unquestionably a strong influence upon the social, artistic, and literary life of his time, but there is a diffuseness in his poetry which is likely to tell against its permanence.
Swinburne. — Another poet associated with the PreRaphaelite Brotherhood was ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE (1837–1909), the eldest son of Admiral Charles Henry Swinburne, who came of an old and honorable Northumbrian family. He was educated at Eton and at Oxford. He early began a long friendship with William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, and Rossetti, who was nine years his senior. But while Swinburne, like Morris and Rossetti, lived in an ideal world of art and beauty; while, like his brother poets, he often chose to write on classic or medieval themes, his temper, unlike theirs, was not gentle and dreamy, but stirring, rebellious, and defiant. The first book of Swinburne's which made a decided impression was his noble drama, Atalanta in Calydon (1865), which is among the greatest reproductions of classical tragedy in English literature. Its pathos is true and restrained; and in its choruses, with their superb union of force and grace, with the exultant and impetuous lightness of their lyrical flight, the world heard for the first time the marvelous music
of the great modern master of English verse. In 1866 the publication of Swinburne's Poems and Ballads awoke a tempest of mingled praise and condemnation. After this time Swinburne wrote steadily and produced a number of historical dramas and other poems.
Swinburne's ultimate place among English poets is still uncertain. Every one admits his gifts of expression; but many feel that he is not merely fluent, but too often unrestrained and diffuse. Swinburne, in fact, was an artist, not a philosopher. He was guided by impulse, by feeling, not by careful thought or a well-balanced judgment; and, when he assayed to think, his highly emotional nature, combined as it was with an extraordinary volubility, led him into extremes. In spirit Byron and Swinburne, while separated by obvious differences in form, have much in common.
Both men show the same genuine, but shallow, ardor for liberty; the same impatience of restraint; the same passionate rebellion against the order of things. To Swinburne, life was bitterness; love a consuming passion, an added misery; death a welcome oblivion which shall cure all and end all. Man, indeed, is the one being in Creation worthy of reverence, “the master of things," and in the progress of man towards some undefined goal, Swinburne found, or attempted to find, a ground of consolation and of hope. In such ideas there is nothing either original or profound. Swinburne's lack of philosophic insight should not blind us to the splendor of his poetic achievement, nor should the glorious melody, the profuse beauty of his verse, lead us to attribute to his poetry virtues which it cannot be said to possess.
Robert Browning, the most stimulating and original poet of his time, was born in Camberwell, a London suburb, in 1812. His father, a clerk in the Bank of England, was a cultivated man, an omnivorous reader, a student of the classics, and an art critic of no mean ability. He early taught his son Robert to read Greek and Latin, making his declensions amusing to him by setting them in rhymes. At eight years of age the boy began to translate the Odes of Horace. His mother was a gentle, sensitive woman, whom he dearly loved, and whose music early entered into his soul. Camberwell, which was at that time almost like the country, is on the south side of the Thames, not far from Herne Hill, where Ruskin lived. The boy could ramble about under the trees, and hear the nightingales sing. He loved to go to a quiet spot near three big elm trees, and gaze at London. He could see the great towers of Westminster Abbey rising above the roofs as out of a great plain, and the gold cross on the dome of St. Paul's gleam in the sunshine. The mystery of the great city with its countless throngs of people appealed strongly to his imagination. He was largely taught at home, although he went for a time to school at Peckham, which near Camberwell. His father preferred giving his son a private tutor and lessons in music at home, to sending him to a public school and the univerversity, which was the more regular training for an English boy. Browning heard a few lectures at the University of London, and then he went abroad as to a larger university, first to Russia, and then to Italy,