English Literature Of The 19th Century:
Mrs. E. B. Browning
Historical Literature Of The Early Victorian Period
Henry Thomas Buckle
Sir Archibald Alison
Henry Hart Milman
Read More Articles About: English Literature Of The 19th Century
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The contrast between the hard life struggle and the mirth-provoking works of Thomas Hood (1798-1845) is truly pathetic. He was the jester and punster of his generation, and an exquisite song writer, yet he is best remembered by two sorrowful poems, "The Song of the Shirt" and "The Bridge of Sighs," the pitiful wail of the poor seamstress and the heart-breaking lament for the drowned outcast of society. These verses awoke the popular heart to a deep sympathy with suffering and a remorseful horror for complicity in crime. Hood was the son of a poor bookseller and had learned a little of engraving before he began to write for the press. The "London Magazine," "Punch," and other periodicals published his wares, but the remuneration was scanty. For his serious poems, excellent as are "The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies" and "The Haunted House," he got so little that he was compelled, as he expressed it, to be "a lively Hood for a livelihood." Various misfortunes deprived the poor consumptive of enjoyment of his small earnings, and he had to flee to the Continent to escape the debtors' prison. When enabled to return, he edited more than one periodical with unflagging diligence and gayety in spite of the inroads of the dread disease of which he died. Shortly before the end, Sir Robert Peel awarded him a pension.
Much more cheerful, yet even shorter, was the life of a similar genius, Winthrop Mackworth Praed (1802-1839), who also died of consumption. He was educated at Eton and Cambridge, and at both displayed his talent for verse writing. He was called to the bar, served in Parliament, and held a government office. But he is re-membered by his bright poems, which mingle spice, humor, and tender sentiment, or touch off gracefully social trifles. The best of his exquisite pictures is "The Vicar;" his "Speaker Asleep" is a keen thrust at Parliamentary practice.
Less popular than Hood, yet even more full of fun, was Richard Harris Barham (1788-1845) who, strange to say, was a clergyman, strictly attentive to his parochial duties. In spite of a crippled right arm, he was a diligent writer. His early charges were in smuggling districts, which furnished materials for his later "Ingoldsby Legends." He removed to London in 1821 and there became active in journalism, while not neglecting the church. In 1834, under the pseudonym "Thomas Ingoldsby," he began to contribute to the newly established "Bentley's Miscellany," the humorous stories in prose and verse, which made him famous. They were founded on old legends of mediaeval saints and miracles or other discoveries of his antiquarian studies. The poetical stories were a loose, rambling metre, with unexpected doggerel rhymes, which helped the fun of the narrative. Morals, equally unexpected, were often attached. Barham was a matter-of-fact Englishman and rampant Protestant of the old High Church style. Regarding the old stories as superstitions, he found in them excellent material for his wit and fancy, and still fancied he was doing good service.
Ebenezer Elliott (1781-1849), a Yorkshire man, who won fame as "the Corn-law rhymer," was a dull boy at school, and was early put to work in an iron foundry with which his father was connected. His poetic genius was awakened by his brother's reading to him Thompson's "Seasons," and was confirmed by the bequest to his father of a curate's library, containing other poetry of a high order. His first poem, "The Vernal Walk," and many others, testified his strong love for country scenes. But his deepest feeling was stirred by the sufferings of poor mechanics and their families, and in his "Corn-Law Rhymes" (1831) he gave voice to their hatred of the tax on bread. Yet Elliott himself knew these sufferings rather by observation than experience. After carrying on the business of an iron-founder at Sheffield for twenty years he retired with a competent fortune.
"The Angel in the House," an idyl of domestic love, is the chief performance of Coventry Patmore (1823-1897). It was issued in four parts, "The Betrothal" (1854), "The Espousal" (1856), "Faithful for Ever" (186o), and "The Victories of Love" (1862). Never was the perfect blessedness of married life more sweetly or chastely sung than in this quietly beautiful and somewhat mystical poem. Patmore was a native of Essex, and for over twenty years was an assistant librarian at the British Museum. In 1877 he published anonymously "The Unknown Eros and Other Poems," indicating unabated vigor, but not adding to his fame.
Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861) appeared to his friends capable of accomplishing better things than his actual work. He had distinguished himself at Rugby and Oxford, but the Tractarian controversy first attracted and then repelled him. His "Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich" relates in hexameters the aspirations and adventures of some English students with their tutor in the Highlands. Losing his religious faith, Clough resigned his Oxford fellowship, but engaged in educational work through most of his life. "Amours de Voyage" gave his impressions of Rome, as seen in a vacation. "Dipsychus" (double-minded) is a serious poem, with fine descriptive passages. "Mari magno" (on the great sea) contains homely tales of love and marriage. Clough's scepticism mars his work both in spirit and in execution, but when he forgot it, he showed genius. Matthew Arnold lamented him in "Thyrsis."
Frederick Locker-Lampson (1821-1895) was one of the modern troubadours, touching in elegant verse the whims and fancies of society. His "London Lyrics" (1857) stand at the head of this class. As a companion volume he collected from other poets "Lyra Elegantiarum (1867) and to these added a miscellany of prose and verse, partly original, called "Patchwork."