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The Study Of Literature
English Literature Of The 19th Century:
 Other Irish Story Writers

 Minor Writers

 Charles Kingsley

 Thomas Adolphus Trollope

 Charles Reade

 Charlotte Bronte

 George Eliot

 Poetry Of The Early Victorian Period

 Alfred Tennyson

 Robert Browning

 Read More Articles About: English Literature Of The 19th Century

Poetry Of The Early Victorian Period

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

After the great and sudden outburst of song in the early years of the Century there came a season of comparative lull. No thrilling voice was added to the concert, but some of the older songsters were still heard. It was hardly until Tennyson was made poet laureate on the death of Wordsworth (1850) that his popularity began. He had shown himself a disciple of Keats, worshiping beauty, and had been charged by the critics with effeminacy. But "Locksley Hall" (1842), "The Princess" (1847), and the grand elegy, "In Memoriam" (1850), testified to his original power. Henceforth his utterances became the acknowledged poetic expression of English feeling. Browning, three years younger, was still slower in obtaining popular recognition. Though he early won a few earnest devotees, his name and works did not become familiar to the public until 1869, when "The Ring and the Book," perhaps partly by its size, forced attention. Thenceforth he wrote constantly, was read with new interest and loving care, and the very obscurity of his verse gave occasion for a cult, which still prevails. But for twenty years before he had reached his fame, his wife had been well known and was regarded as the greatest female genius of her country. Her fluent verses, picturesque romanticism, religious sentiment, humanitarian feeling, strong pathos, and perhaps her own sad story, brightened by love, had given her an assured place in the affections of the people.

In this period there was a notable movement, known as Pre-Raphaelitism. It belonged chiefly to art, but extended into literature, beginning about 1840 or earlier. It was a return to the spirit of the Middle Ages, and had grown out of the Romanticism of the beginning of the Century, fostered by the ecclesiastical Oxford movement. It affected many poets, but its chief representative is Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), the son of an Italian exile who had settled in London. Rossetti was both a painter and a poet, and endeavored in his poems to express pictorial ideas. "The Blessed Damozel," his first published poem, is a typical example of his school. His gifted sister, Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1895), also belonged to this school, and her work was deeply colored by her religious feelings.

A poet who, though he published but little, had great effect upon subsequent poets, was Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883). This effect was produced by his remarkable translation or paraphrase of the Persian astronomer-poet, Omar Khayyam, which first appeared in 1859. By its ridicule of asceticism and self-denial, and its mystical materialism, it has done much to render an epicurean pessimism popular.

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) is more famous as a critic than as a poet, yet he showed considerable power in his poems, in which he endeavors to restrain the tendency to ornament and to return to the simplicity of Wordsworth, or rather of Greek.

About 1850 there was a stir of poetic feeling which was chiefly manifested in what was ultimately condemned by its name, the Spasmodic School. The leaders were the English Sydney Dobell (1824-1874) and the Scotch Alexander Smith (1829-1867). Dobell, who was afflicted with ill health, wrote two dramas, one of which, "Balder" (1853), has been compared to Ibsen's later work. Smith published "A Life Drama" (1853), which had a phenomenal, but only temporary success. The two poets, excited by the Crimean War, published together, "Sonnets on the War" (1855), and Dobell continued in the same strain in "England in the Time of War" (1856). Smith published "City Poems" (1857), and afterwards confined himself chiefly to prose description. During their vogue the young poets were extravagantly praised, but judicious critics pointed out their heaping up of imagery and sentiment and excess of passion. They were in fact heirs of the spirit of Byron, but transferred their heroes' struggles from the world of action to the world of thought. Their dramatic efforts were effectively burlesqued by W. E. Aytoun in his "Firmilian, a Spasmodic Tragedy," which silenced them.

An older poet, belonging to the same school, was Philip James Bailey, born in 1816, whose "Festas" (1839) for a while took the world by storm. It was a long poetical and philosophical colloquy between God, Lucifer, angels and men. Some admirers regarded it as a Christian reply to Goethe's "Faust." But in spite of some fine passages, it was soon neglected, and the author's later poems did not revive his reputation.

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