A Rhyming Chronicle of Incidents and Feelings
Edited by Edward Harston, M.A., Vicar of Tamworth.
London: Longman and Co.
A pleasing little collection of poems. Much of the volume is mere
rhyme, but it contains likewise some genuine poetry. The author
has fancy, and an ardent love for the beautiful in nature. An
antique simplicity of diction, however, too frequently degenerates into
a familiarity of expression ill-suited to the language of beauty.
'The Golden Spurs' is a pleasing, and really poetical version of a fine
old Saxon tradition connected with the death of Edmund, King of East
Anglia. 'Margaret of Xebec' is a plaintive romance of the sea,
written with elegance and feeling. Several of the Scripture poems
are indicative of superior merit.
FOR THE YEAR 1850.
(No. 1169, March 23)
. . . . A Rhyming Chronicle of Incidents and Feelings, edited by
Edward Harston, M.A., Vicar of Tamworth.—In this Chronicle, we find
confidence in an excess. Some of the sweetest and most sacred
affections of the home-circle, those murmurings over the cradle, those
tears beside the grave, those momentary fantasies which to indifferent
spectators must seem merely so much foolishness—have been committed to
print with a trusting simplicity which sometimes looks like affectation
or callousness, when, in truth, it is neither the one nor the other.
We do not recollect to have seen the subject of personality in poetry
treated, according to any code of united tenderness and justice.
So far from this, the world has adopted favourites, made exceptions,
"blessed and banned" as its caprice dictated;—too cruelly anatomized
A.'s cry of misery,—too fulsomely accredited B.'s marketable raptures
over the pap-boat of "our youngest" or "my dear daughter's doll."
But the Vicar of Tamworth must not be kept waiting while we "charge" a
jury of tender-hearted but manly citizens, recalling inconsistencies of
former tribunals,—in order that some verdict may be given whereby the
law for future cases may be laid down. In the verses which Mr.
Harston has "edited" there are too much music and fancy to admit of our
hesitating. Mrs. Browning seems to have been here the model elect
of more than one poem, in choice of subject and form of metre, &c,—
though the writer does not command that quaint and fantasy-embossed
phraseology, which his original has derived from her commerce with the
antique poets. From the first poem in Mr. Harston's book, 'The
Tradition of the Golden Spurs,' we will gather two strophes of the song
of a river, to show with how tuneable a lyrist we have to deal.—
Listen to me,—
My waters in the upland pastures rise,
Fed by the earth and skies;
Thence tend and set to the wide-flowing sea;
And not a hill that lies
Along my course but seeth her green sides,
Far down my glassy tides.
Oh, long—aye, long, these scattered trees have stood,
And long this stretching wood.—
But I was old
Ere they did first their budding germs unfold,
Or the green acorns fell,
That into their great parent oaks did swell.
I was a river when the earth was young,
And from my source I sprung,
And danc'd with joyous cadence, clear and strong,
My lonely paths along;
Sweet melodies I sung
Ere there was ear of man to hearken to my song.
On my untrodden brink
From age to age the willows lean'd to drink;
Thick forests grew, the upland tracks to crown,
And crept like sunbeams down,
Through lapse of moving centuries gone by,
To me drawn slowly nigh!
I was a river then, and things from far
Conspir'd to give me beauty; clouds as white
As wings of swans across me took their flight.
I wore the image of the morning star
Upon my bosom! Yet to thee I sing
Of change and desolation—Time shall bring
A day of doom, a last, a closing strain
To all my music—hear it once again,
That, like a bird, must soon or late take wing,
O Saxon King!
In 'Margaret by the Mereside' we are detained by a picture, winning from
its truth, delicacy and geniality.—
Lying imbedded in the green champaign
That gives no shadows to thy silvery lace,
Set in the middle of a verdant plain,
Only the clouds their forms upon thee trace;
No stedfast hills on thee reflected rest,
Nor waver with the dimpling of thy breast.
O, silent Mere! about whose marges spring
Thick bulrushes, to hide the reed-bird's nest;
Where the shy ousel dips her glossy wing,
And, balanc'd in the water, takes her rest:
While, under bending leaves, all gem-array'd,
Bright dragon-flies lie panting in the shade.
Warm, stilly place,—the sun-dew loves thee well,
And the green sward conies creeping to thy brink;
And poor-man's-weather-glass, and pimpernel.
Lean down to thee their perfum'd heads, to drink;
And heavy with the weight of bees doth bend
White clover, and beneath thy wave descend.
Where does the scent of beanfields float so wide,
At intervals returning on the air,
As over mead and fen to thy lone side,
To lose itself among thy zephyrs rare,
With scents from hawthorn copse, and new-cut hay,
And blooming orchards lying far away?
Thou hast thy sabbaths, when a deeper calm
Descends upon thee, quiet Mere! and then
The sound of ringing bells, thy peace to charm,
From grey church towers comes far across the fen:
And the light sigh, where grass and waters meet,
Seems thy meek welcome to their visits sweet.
'Mimie's Grass-nest,' in its title and in its frame-work, is referable
to a model,—yet it contains passages to prove that the poet need copy
from none. A few verses from one of the legends told to humour the
fancy of a little girl have an old-world colour and romance, which
recall to us a favourite modern picture—Lessing's 'Knight beside the
Fountain,'—in the Frankfort Gallery.—
gentle Maiden walk'd alone within the deep green wood,
And there she spied a fair white dove by savage hawks
"Now come to me, thou hunted dove," the gentle maiden said,
"And find a shelter in my arms, to hide thy beauteous head."
The yellow belted bee
Was at work beneath the tree.
And the woodruffe nodded lightly on the bed!
Then spake the Prince, where low he lay beneath the beechen
"The maid that fain would save a bird will surely succour
He slowly turn'd his fainting limbs, and spake with mickle
And from his wounds the crimson blood came welling forth
And the cuckoo's note was clear,
With the belting of the deer,
And the cushats sang their madrigals again.
"Oh! for thy gentle pity's sake, I pray thee to me bring
A draught to quench my raging thirst from yonder forest
For truly I was here waylaid, and wounded, as ye see,
All by his treachery that is my deadly enemy!"
In the castle far away
Shone the mellow evening ray,
And the milky corn was green upon the lea.
She brought him water from the burn, and held it to his
She led him down to the hollow tree that in the deep well
She hied her away to her forest-home, and brought of her
She spread him a couch of the tufted heath, to pillow his
In the twilight beetles flew
Up against him—and the dew
Dimm'd the stars that watch'd by night above his bed.
"Now who be ye, so rudely lodg'd, with face so fair and
"My father is ranger of all the wild wood, and I am his only
She tended him so patiently, ten summer weeks and three,
Till the leaves were thick beneath her feet, when she came
By the castle far away
Did the lifted banner play.
And the russet corn was ripe upon the lea!
This snatch of romance will tempt more than one hand to turn to the page
at which we have stopped,—to see what comes next. A short
collection of scriptural verses follows this legend,—and lastly come the
family poems, to which allusion has been made.
To Miss Hollway (of Spilsby) my father wrote about her cousin Miss Jean
Ingelow's poems, A Rhyming Chronicle of Incidents and Feelings.
Many thanks for your very kind note. I have only just returned to
town, and found the Rhyming Chronicle. Your cousin must be
worth knowing: there are some very charming things in her book, at least
it seems so to me, tho' I do not pique myself on being much of a critic
at first sight, and I have really only skimmed a few pages. Yet I
think I may venture to pronounce that she need not be ashamed of
publishing them. Certain things I saw which I count abominations,
tho' I myself in younger days have been guilty of the same, and so was
Keats. I would sooner lose a pretty thought than enshrine it in
such rhymes as '"Eudora" "before her," "vista" "Sister." She will
get to hate them herself as she grows older, and it would be a pity that
she should let her book go forth with those cockneyisms. If the
book were not so good I should not care for these specs, but the critics
will pounce upon them, and excite prejudice. I declare I should
like to know her.
I have such a heap of correspondence to answer that I must
bid you good-bye. What the German lady says is very gratifying.
I shall perhaps see you again in the autumn. My best remembrances
to each and all of your circle.
Ever yours truly, A. TENNYSON.
P.S. Strange! that I did not see it. I turned to the
title-page, and find that the book is published. I fancied
it had only been printed. Forgive my hurry! Well, your
cousin will amend, perhaps, the errors I have mentioned, in her next
From Alfred Lord Tennyson: a memoire by his son (Hallam Tennyson)
Allerton and Dreux; or, the War of Opinion.
By the Author of a "Rhyming Chronicle."
Two Vols. London: Wertheira and Macintosh.
The "War of Opinion" ran very high in the town of Westport, where
Allerton and Dreux, two clergymen—the one of High Church and the other
of Low Church tendency—disputed the palm of superiority. After a
pamphlet war of some bitterness on either side, the two clergymen,
though still maintaining their antagonistic opinions, become the warmest
of friends. This intimacy is, however, broken off in consequence
of the refusal of Dreux to give his sister in marriage to Allerton on
account of his unorthodox principles. They are at length
reconciled, Allerton renouncing his errors, and both are united to the
objects of their affection. Such are the main features of this
work, though the story is enlivened by the introduction of several
characters of a lighter cast. Notwithstanding this, the work is
essentially religious, with a spirit of earnest piety and serious
feeling pervading throughout. The characters are all well-imagined
and clearly defined—those of Allerton and Dreux being especially
well-drawn, while, that of Marion is replete with all the deep feeling
and warm tenderness that mark the true woman. It is written in an
elegant yet unaffected style, and at times with a geniality and
quaintness of humour that are highly amusing. Certain members of
the religious community at Westport are thus happily hit off:―
"These (ladies) were among the first to declare themselves 'greatly
edified with dear Mr. Allerton's excellent discourses,' in proof of
which edification they always abstained from giving tea-parties on
Fridays—took care to attend service on every Saint's day—talked about
the Anglican branch of the holy Catholic Church—wore slight mourning
during Lent—spoke of the Reformation with a shake of the head—talked
with rapture of the ancient custom of confession, and hoped that
'privilege would soon be restored to us.'
"These ladies caricatured all Mr. Allerton's opinions, and caused him
infinite vexation. They were a set of retainers whom he would fain
have been rid of. They had a book-club of their own—most of the
books had decorated margins; and, to hear some of them talk, one might
have been led to suppose that they conceived the distinction between
them and their late friends, the evangelical party, to lie chiefly in
some such trivial peculiarities as dress, form, and fashion. They
had never troubled themselves much with the doctrines of either party:
consequently, when they apparently came over to Mr. Allerton's side,
they had no better way of deciding to 'which set' a clergyman belonged
than by observing whether he preached in his black gown; and of certain
people they would affirm that it was impossible they could be High
Church, because they had no fish on a Friday."
The author seems to be well-versed in the various points in
dispute between the parties above referred to, and manifests
considerable tact in the discussions between the two clergymen upon
their favourite dogmas. It is clear, from the general tenor of the
work, to which party the author inclines; but he, nevertheless, places
his opponents on such equal ground that we cannot accuse him of
partiality in advocating the one cause to the disadvantage of the other.
Jean Ingelow, Longman & Co.
THERE is a Strong tendency in human nature to set the bud above the rose full-blown.
We all feel it, and most of us give way to it. The promise folded in the bud makes such a childlike appeal; it stirs us more than the full, unfolded glory of the flower.
There is a glow and grace of novelty, a tenderness of dawn, an opening into the infinite, which make all that is known seem old and stale; all that is measured seem small and narrow by comparison.
Therefore, we are guarded, and desire not to exaggerate what we have found in the little book published under the title of 'Poems, by Jean Ingelow.'
But the new name undoubtedly belongs to a new poet, and this new volume will make the eyes of all lovers of poetry dance with a gladder light than if they had come upon a treasure-trove of gold.
Oftentimes has the "Lo here!" the "Lo there!" been raised; prophetic eyes have been set rolling in a frenzy that was not fine, and the new dawn of poetry has been announced in the East, when it was only a false and fading flush reflected from some great sunset sinking in the West. Yet here, we think, is the unmistakeable touch and breath of freshness: the clear early carol and dewy light.
Here is the presence of Genius which cannot easily be defined, but which makes itself surely felt in a glow of delight such as makes the old world young again.
Here is the power to fill common earthly facts with heavenly fire; a power to gladden wisely and to sadden nobly; to shake the heart, and bring that mist of tears into the eyes through which the spirit may catch its loftiest light.
The new singer comes quietly enough. —We are not carried away by the loudness of the music, nor dazzled by a glare of colour.
There is no mistaking of the vague for the vast,—the monstrous for the magnificent;— no heaping of the diamond-dust to try and make it balance the diamond.
We see no hectic flush, nor strain and collapse of spasm. All is healthy sound and sweet.
Indeed, some of the poetry has the strength of man's heart, the sweetness of woman's mouth.
The writer is not imitative. She has produced a volume not Tennysonian.
Of course she has read her contemporaries but has not been swayed this way and that by their influences.
She keeps her own personality, has her own style, and by the fullness of her own possession prevents other voices raising their echoes within her, which, as we all know, occurs most where tenements are most empty.
The first line arrested our attention:—
An empty sky, a world of heather.
—A perfect picture in a single line. Many a painter has tried hard to put that into a frame and failed.
The poem is called "Divided," and the old image whereby life is likened to a river was never used with more freshness, seldom touched with so new a beauty.
Two lovers walk beside the stream, hand-in-hand, and Nature smiles, the birds warble and the bonny beck sings; it is yet a mere babe in the arms of its two banks:—
Sing on! we sing in the glorious weather
Till one steps over the tiny strand,
So narrow, in sooth, that still together
On either brink we go hand in hand.
The beck grown wider, the hands must sever,
On either margin, our songs all done,
We move apart, while she singeth ever,
Taking the course of the stooping sun.
He prays "Come over"— I may not follow;
I cry "Return"—but he cannot come:
We speak, we laugh, but with voices hollow;
Our hands are hanging, our hearts are numb.
A little pain when the beck grows wider;
"Cross to me now—for her wavelets swell:"
"I may not cross "—and the voice beside her
Faintly reacheth, tho' heeded well.
No backward path; ah! no returning;
No second crossing that ripple's flow
"Come to me now, for the West is burning;
Come ere it darkens;"—"Ah, no! ah, no!"
Then cries of pain, and arms outreaching—
The beck grows wider and swift and deep:
Passionate words as of one beseeching—
The loud beck drowns them; we walk, we weep.
A braver swell, a swifter sliding;
The River hasteth, her banks recede:
Wing-like sails on her bosom gliding
Bear down the lily and drown the reed.
Stately prows are rising and bowing
(Shouts of mariners winnow the air),
And level sands for banks endowing
The tiny green ribbon that showed so fair.
While, O my heart! as white sails shiver,
And crowds are passing, and banks stretch wide,
How hard to follow, with lips that quiver,
That moving speck on the far-off side.
Farther, farther—I see it—I know it—
My eyes brim over, it melts away;
Only my heart to my heart shall show it
As I walk desolate day by day.
And yet I know past all doubting, truly—
A knowledge greater than grief can dim—
I know, as he loved, he will love me duly—
Yea better—e'en better than I love him.
And as I walk by the vast calm river,
The awful river so dread to see,
I say, "Thy breadth and thy depth for ever
Are bridged by his thoughts that cross to me."
This, we think, is very happily done. There is much pathetic poetry in the book, but no trait whatever of whining sentimentality.
Indeed, if the book had been dropped on our table in answer to what we were asking for, the other day, in the
Athenæum,—a little more of the blithe heart in our singers, a
little more cheeriness in our poetry,—it could not have been more
appropriate. Here is a specimen of the writer's lighter mood, from
some poems called 'Songs of Seven.' This represents a child aged
"seven times one," and her feeling of exultation:
There's no dew left on the daisies and clover,
There's no rain left in heaven:
I've said my "seven times" over and over,
Seven times one are seven.
I am old, so old, I call write a letter;
My Birthday Iessons are done;
The Iambs play always, [they know no better;
They are only one times one].
O Moon! in the night I have seen you sailing
And shining so round and low;
You were bright! ah bright! but your light is failing—
You are nothing now but a bow.
Yon Moon, have you done something wrong in heaven
That God has hidden your face?
I hope if you have you will be forgiven,
And shine again in your place.
O velvet bee, you're a dusty fellow,
You've powder'd your legs with gold!
O brave marsh marybuds, rich and yellow,
Give me your money to hold!
O columbine, open your folded wrapper,
Where two twin turtle-doves dwell!
O cuckoopoint, toll me the purple clapper
That hangs in your clear green bell!
And show me your nest with the young ones in it;
I will not steal them away:
I am old! you may trust me, linnet, linnet—
I am seven times one to-day.
That is charming in its naturalness. The reader will notice how much child character is evolved in a few lines!
This strikes us as, perhaps, the most remarkable thing in these new poems, the amount of personal character dramatically rendered.
We have had plenty of fine descriptive poetry; lots of splendid images heaped about a subject; but seldom do we meet with real, living, human brings who live their life and unfold their character while telling their story.
Here, however, it is so, and in a great range of variety. Hence it would be impossible to do justice to the poetry by a brief extract here and there, as may be done with some books.
You may pick the spangles from the coat of Harlequin Fancy, and they will shine as jewels of richness in the new setting; but not so when the genuine vesture of Imagination is worn by real shapes of humanity.
Our quotations cannot fairly and fully illustrate our observations; we must appeal to the book itself.
Three or four of these poems are perfect as an Idyll by Tennyson, but we cannot bring away a piece of the picture.
We can only refer to them, and take our samples elsewhere. But, let the reader turn to a poem called 'Supper at the Mill,' where, in the briefest way, we get a glimpse into three or four characters, sufficient to unfold the kind of natures and the lives they live.
The 'Reaping' is admirable from the youngster who wants a "little yellow duck to take to bed" up to the comfortable granny who looks at most, things, through her spectacles, from the farm-wife point of view.
The ballad of 'Lettice-White,' in this poem, is exquisite. The writer is not afraid of commonplace if it belongs to her picture.
She is rightly realistic; having the mind that expands in circles, not in straight lines; she includes the less with the greater, embraces her subject all round.
She is not afraid of the churn, the wash-tub and ironing-board. This reminds us, too, of the cheerful, mellow pastoralism of some of the poetry which breathes of soundest health and sunburnt beauty, simple life and country cheer; a nature, so to say, with much milk in it; a mellowness as of buttercups and fresh butter; the red gold of harvest-sheaves, and the rich light of harvest moons.
We cannot condense this into a quotation, but there is something of it in a poem entitled 'Looking over a Gate at a Pool in a Field':—
What change has made the pastures sweet
And reached the daisies at my feet,
And cloud that, wears a golden hem?
This lovely world, the hills, the sward—
They all look fresh, as if our Lord
But yesterday had finished them.
And here's the field with light aglow;
How fresh its boundary lime-trees show,
And how its wet leaves trembling shine!
Between their trunks come thro' to me
The morning sparkles of the sea
Below the level browsing line.
I see the pool more clear by half
Than pools where other waters laugh
Up at the breasts of Coot and rail.
There, as she passed it on her way,
I saw reflected yesterday
A maiden with a milking-pail.
There, neither slowly nor in haste,
One hand upon her slender waist,
The other lifted to her pail;
She, rosy in the morning light,
Among the water-daisies white,
Like some fair sloop appeared to sail.
Against, her ancles as she trod
The lucky butter-cups did nod.
I leaned upon the gate to see
The sweet thing looked, but did not speak;
A dimple, came in either cheek,
And all my heart was gone from me.
Then as I lingered on the gate,
And she came up like coming fate,
I saw my picture in her eyes—
Clear dancing eyes, more black than sloes,
Cheeks like the mountain pink that grows
Among white-headed majesties.
I said, "A tale was made of old
That I would fain to thee unfold:
Ah! let me—let me tell the tale."
But high she held her comely head;
"I cannot heed it now", she said,
"For carrying of the milking-pail."
She laughed. What good to make ado?
I held the gate and she came through,
And took her homeward path anon.
From the clear pool her face had fled;
It rested on my heart instead
Reflected when the maid was gone.
For hearts where wakened love doth lurk,
How fine, how blest a thing is work!
For work does good when reasons fail.
Good, yet my axe at every stroke
The echo of a name awoke—
Her name, is Mary Martindale.
I'm glad that echo was not heard.
Aright by other men; a bird
Known doubtless what his own notes tell;
And I know not, but I can say
I felt as shame-faced all that day
As if folks heard her name right well.
And when the west began to glow
I went—I could not choose but go,
To that same dairy on the hill;
And while sweet Mary moved about
Within, I came to her without,
And leaned upon the window-sill.
The garden border where I stood
Was sweet with pinks and southernwood.
I spoke—her answer seemed to fail:
I smelt the pinks—I could not see;
The dusk came down and sheltered me,
And in the dusk she heard my tale.
And what is left that I should tell?
I begged a kiss, I pleaded well:
The rosebud lips did long decline;
And yet I think, I think 'tis true,
That, leaned at last into the dew,
One little instant they were mine.
O life! how dear thou hast become:
She laughed at dawn and I was dumb,
But evening counsels best prevail.
Fair shine the blue that o'er her spreads,
Green be the pastures where she treads,
The maiden with the milking-pail.
Many will appreciate the grace of ease and charm of quiet belonging to poetry like this, after all the grand pyrotechnic displays we have had of late years.
This does not leave us smitten breathless with surprise, but satisfied, and breathing a clearer, ampler ether.
We also feel that here the victory is won without the writer crowding all her forces into the field, which gives a present pleasure and a future hope.
In a different style is 'The Wedding Song,'—full of vigour, and timed to the genuine lyrical leap of the soul into song.
Nothing better was written about the bridal. It has a smack of heartiness quite akin to that kiss which echoed through all the land, from Gravesend to John o' Groats:—
Come up the broad river, the Thames, my Dane,
My Dane, with the beautiful eyes;
Thousands and thousands await thee full fain,
And talk of the wind and the skies.
Fear not from folk and from country to part,
O, I swear it is wisely done:
For (I said) I will bear me by thee, sweetheart,
As becometh my father's son.
Great London was shouting as I went down,
"She is worthy," I said, "of this;
What shall I give who have promised a crown?
O, first, I will give her a kiss."
So I kissed her and brought her, my Dane, my Dane,
Thro' the waving, wonderful crowd:
Thousands and thousands, they shouted amain,
Like mighty thunders and loud.
And they said, "He is young, the lad we love,
The heir of the Isles is young:
How we deem of his mother and one gone above,
Can neither be said nor sung.
Tie brings, us a pledge—he will do his part
With the best of his race and name:—
And I will, for I look to live, sweetheart,
As may suit with my mother's fame.
The High Tide on the coast of Lincolnshire in 1571 is the subject of a poem full of power and tenderness.
The story is related by an old mother, whose son's wife and babes were drowned.
It is done with such a sweet, Quakerly precision of manner, and such subtle touches of unconscious self-portraiture, that the old lady lives before us; and her repeated
A sweeter woman ne'er drew breath
Than my sonne's wife, Elizabeth,—
are something to brood over. But the power of the book culminates
in a poem called 'Honours'—notable for its self-questioning reach of
thought, its probing, of a wounded spirit, its striking out straight
towards the Cross of Christ for the balm of healing; and in the dramatic
poem entitled 'Brothers, and a Sermon.' In the latter, two
brothers, the elder of whom has just come into possession of his large heirdom, lie out on the reef of rocks, watching the "syle" come in, the star-fish creep, the mackerel shoot, the snow-white gulls sitting lovingly in social rings, twittering as they feed.
The elder brother grumbles at his hard lot, in being born to riches and robbed of his
birthright—work. The younger rails at him for his ingratitude.
To them comes an old fisherman, with his unfathomable simplicity of face.
He tells them how the Grace of Sunderland, was wrecked just below:—
The gale was high,
The sea was all a boiling froth,
And God Almighty's guns were going off,
And the land trembled.
When she took the ground,
She went to pieces like a lock of hay
Tossed from a pitchfork. Ere it cattle to that,
The Captain reeled on deck with two small things,
One in each arm—his little lad and lass.
Their hair was long and blew before his face,
Or else we thought he had been saved; he fell,
But held them fast. The crew, poor luckless souls!
The breakers licked them off; and some were crusht,
Some swallowed in the yeast, some flung up dead,
The dear breath beaten out of them: not one
Jumped from the wreck upon the reef to catch
The hands that strained to reach, but tumbled back
With eyes wide open. But the Captain lay
And clung—the only man alive. They prayed—
For God's sake, Captain, throw the children here!
And he threw one, a pretty two-years' child,
But the gale dashed him on the slippery verge,
And down he went. They say they heard him cry.
Then up he rose and took the other one,
And all our men reached out their hungry arms,
And cried out, "Throw her, throw her!" and he did:
He threw her right against the parson's breast,
And till at once a sea broke over them.
And they that saw it from the shore have said
It struck the wreck, and piecemeal scattered it,
Just as a woman might the lump of salt
That twixt her hands into the kneading-pan
She breaks and crumbles on her rising bread.
We hauled our men in: two of them were dead—
The sea had beaten them, their heads hung down;
Our parson's arms were empty, for the wave
Had torn away the pretty, pretty lamb;
We often see him stand beside her grave:
But 'twas no fault of his, no fault of his.
Thus introduced to the parson, and hearing the bells chiming for church, the brothers ask if the people attend service on week-evenings.
Aye, Sir, they count it mean to slay away,
He takes it so to heart. He's a rare man,
Our parson; half a head above us all.
So to the church the brothers go, and hear such a sermon as is seldom preached. The text is, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock"; and never has it been more pathetically enforced than by this grey-headed speaker, with his grand gruff voice, within hearing of the sound of that sea which keeps knocking for over at its cliffs for poor fishermen's and sailors' lives. We quote one episode:—
There was a poor old man
Who sat and listened to the raging sea,
And heard it thunder, lunging at the cliffs
As like to tear them down. He lay at night;
And "Lord have mercy on the lads," said he,
"That sailed at noon, tho' they be none of mine;
For when the gale gets up, and when the wind
Flings at the window, when it beats the roof,
And cuts the crest clean off the plunging wave,
And scatters it like feathers up the field,
Why then I think of my two lads: my lads
That would have worked and never let me want,
And never let me take the parish pay.
No, none of mine; my lads were drowned at sea—
My two-before the most of these were born.
I know how sharp that cuts, since my poor wife
Walked up and down, and still walked up and down,
And I walked after, and one could not hear
A word the other said for wind and sea
That raged and beat and thundered in the night—
The awfullest, the longest, lightest night
That ever parents had to spend. A moon
That shone like daylight on the breaking wave.
Ah, me! and other men have lost their lads,
And other women wiped their poor dead mouths,
And got them home and dried them in the house,
And seen the drift-wood lie along the coast,
That was a tidy boat but one day back,
And seen next tide the neighbours gather it
To lay it on their fires. Aye, I was strong
And able-bodied—loved my work;-but now
I am a useless hull: 'tis time I sunk;
I am in all men's way? I trouble them;
I am a trouble to myself: but yet
I feel for mariners o' stormy nights,
And feel for wives that watch ashore. Aye, aye,
If I had learning I would pray the Lord
To bring them in: but I'm no scholar, no;
Book learning is a world too hard for me:
But I make bold to say, ' O Lord, good Lord,
I am a broken-down, poor man, a fool
To speak to Thee: but in the Book 'tis writ,
As I hear say from others that can read,
How when Thou camest Thou didst love the sea,
And live with fisher-folk, whereby 'its sure
Thou knowest all the peril they go through,
And all their trouble.
As for me, good Lord,
I have no boat; I am too old, too old—
My lads are drowned; I buried my poor wife;
My little lasses died so long ago
That mostly I forget what they were like.
Thou knowest, Lord, they were such little ones;
I know they went to Thee, but I forget
Their faces, tho' I missed them sore. O Lord,
I was a strong man; I have drawn good food
And made good money out of Thy great sea:
But yet I cried for them at night; and now,
Altho' I be so old, I miss my lads,
And there be many folk this stormy night
Heavy with fear for theirs. Merciful Lord,
Comfort them; save their honest boys, their pride,
And let them hear next ebb the blessedest
Best sound—the boat keels grating on the sand.
I cannot pray with finer words, I know
Nothing: I have no learning, cannot learn—
Too old, too old. They say I want for nought,
I have the parish pay; but I am dull
Of hearing, and the fire scarce warms me thro'.
God save me, I have been a sinful man,
And save the lives of them that still can work,
For they are good to me; aye, good to me.
But, Lord, I am a trouble; and I sit
And I am lonesome, and the nights are few
That any think to come and draw a chair,
And sit in my poor place and talk awhile.
Why should they come, forsooth? Only the wind
Knocks at my door, O long and loud it knocks,
The only thing God made that has a Mind
To enter in."
Yea, thus the old man spake,
These were the last words of his aged mouth,
But One did knock. One came to sup with him:
I tell you that One knocked while it was dark.
What He said
In that poor place where He did talk awhile,
I cannot tell. But when the neighbours saw
The smile the old man passed away in, they said,
As he had woke and seen the face of Christ,
And with that rapturous smile held out his arms
To come to Him."
What we have quoted will show that here is another living poet; one in whom all men and women, rich and poor, have an interest.
Her range is larger than common; she can command the smile of humour and the tear of pathos.
We note with pleasure the more outward-looking spirit and richer objectivity of her poetry.
She has an earnestness of purpose and attention to business which are not to be turned aside for the usual lures of youthful fancy.
Her genuine insight goes right home in the many directions in which it turns.
She touches nature at many points; she writes with delightful ease.
And after all the commendation, the critic has no need to offer up that prayer of the old Scotch clergyman for his young friend, who was not particularly modest and whose better qualities he had been praising, with this
addendum,—"But, O Lord, please tak a brog and prod him weel and let the wind out of him!"
Volume 98, Issue 203, April 1864
JEAN INGELOW’ S POEMS.
Poems. By JEAN
Roberts Brothers. 1863,
has such a very odd look that one feels inclined, at first, to believe
it a pseudonyme. It sounds very much
like one of those names which a young author might choose for his
heroine after the fashion that came in with “Jane Eyre,” plain but not
vulgar, musical in an unpretending way, and attractive by a spice of
oddity to ears somewhat palled by the high-sounding titles that were
once the mode. A doubt about the name
might lead us to suspect that the sex also was a device.
If these poems are written by a woman,
they are remarkable for a certain firmness of thought and style; if by a
man, for sweetness and delicacy of sentiment. This
is already saying a great deal in their praise. Assuming
them to be the first productions of a young
woman, they are full of promise, for they have a simplicity that is very
uncommon in female verse-writing. It is
rather singular that women, who write letters with so much ease and
grace as to have almost a monopoly of writing them well, are apt to seek
originality in poetry in quaintness of phrase and overstraining of
sentiment. They seem to mistake
vehemence for force, and become harsh in endeavoring to escape the
control of that refinement of organization which gives to their
intellect its most charming quality. Mrs.
Browning, in some of her later poems, was as rugged and obscure as the
elder Edda, and Miss Rossetti seems to us in danger of throwing away a
really fine imagination by choosing to be whimsical when she might be
original. There is no falser axiom than
that which denies sex to mind.
The poems of Miss Ingelow,
like those of all young writers, show traces of the influence of the
prevailing school. There are tricks of
verse and turns of phrase which she has caught of Tennyson and Charles
Kingsley, and there is too much of that landscape-painting which applies
the principles of Pre-Raphaelitism to poetry, where they are out of
place, and gives all the particulars that can be found by an eye at
leisure instead of the few essential features into which a scene is
generalized by a mind under strong emotion. Miss
Ingelow, as young poets are wont, strives to say all that can be
said, rather than to leave out all but what
must be said. But making all the
allowances which an honest criticism should, there is quite enough in
her volume to give her a place among the better poets of the day.
There is a genuine originality in her choice of subjects
and her conception of situations and motives. She
has a true eye for what is lovely and touching, both in the outward
world and the inward one of the emotions, and a fine instinct of the way
in which each reproduces itself in the other, giving or taking, as the
case may be, the hue of its own sentiment. Some
of her lyrics have the highest charm of feeling and measure; fresh and
full of unexpected turns, they have the freedom and simplicity, the
delightful nonchalance, of nursery rhymes, but such as are sung only by
the Muse over the cradles of her favorites. They
have that exhilarating want of purpose, that singing for mere singing’s
sake, that seemed to be lost since the day of
the Old Dramatists. Miss Ingelow raises
high expectations, which we have no doubt her maturer powers will fully
THE CONTINENTAL MONTHLY
ADELAIDE A. PROCTER AND JEAN
EXTREMES ever meet,
and our age, which is pre-eminently occupied with physical science and
material comfort and aggrandizement, is also eminently productive in
good poetry. There should be no antithesis between the words
physical science and poetry. The secrets of the
Universe, the ways of God’s working, are surely the highest poetry; but
the greater number of scientists have willed a divorce between the
material and the spiritual, and decry that very imaginative faculty
which, in the case of Kepler, bore such wonderful fruits for science.
Facts are very well, and induction is also well but science requires the
aid of the creative and divining imagination to order the details and
draw thence the broader and higher generalizations. Let us hope
that the good common sense of the incoming half-century will annul the
divorce, and again unite on a solid basis spheres that should never have
been so far sundered.
Meantime, we cannot but remark the number of good poems
meeting us on every hand, not only from writers known to fame, but also
from the living tombs of obscure country newspapers. We know it is
the fashion to deride such productions, and sneer at the ‘would-be
poets.’ Let critics speak the truth fearlessly, but let them never
prefer the glitter of a self-glorifying search for faults to the more
amiable but less piquant occupation of discovering solid thought,
earnest feeling, and poetic fancy. It is well to discourage
insipidity, impudent pretension, and every species of affectation; but
critics are, like authors, fallible, and not unfrequently present
glaring examples of the very faults they condemn. In any case
where the knife is needed, let it be used firmly but gently, that, while
the patient bleeds, he may feel the wound has been inflicted by no
unloving, cynical hand, but was really intended for his ultimate good.
Let the instrument be finely tempered, and neither coarse nor rough.
We can all recall a few cases where a rude treatment has effected a
cure, but only by draining the life blood of the victim, or by turning
every better human feeling into bitterness and corroding gall.
Words of blame intended to fall upon the hearts of the young, or of the
old, should always be spoken kindly, for we can never know how deeply
they may penetrate, what tender schemes for widowed mother, aspiring
brother, portionless sister, or starving wife and children they may
shatter. The public is a pretty keen judge, and will in most cases
drop works devoid of the immortal elements of genius. The critic
may point the way, but he need add no unnecessary stab to a downfall
sure and bitter.
This digression, however, has no bearing upon the honored
names heading this table, as both now have become ‘household words' in
our midst. Both are acknowledged as real poets, but how different
are they in style, and mode of thought! Jean Ingelow, as the more
brilliant, is the more general favorite,
Adelaide Procter having as yet scarcely received her due meed of
praise. Miss Ingelow exhibits an exuberant fancy, a luxurious
wealth of diction, and a generally fine poetic sense of form; her
thoughts are sound, and their dress new and glittering; but the volume
we have read is one to please the fancy and gratify the intellect rather
than touch the heart. The style is occasionally obscure and the
thought difficult to follow. Of course one can always find a
meaning, but one is not always sure of interpreting according to the
author’s intentions. This quality, found largely in the school of
Robert Browning, is one to be guarded against. Mrs. Browning
sometimes deals in such involutions, but her style is so evidently an
essential part of herself, that we rarely think of affectation in
connection with it. It is pleasanter to dream our own dreams, than
to follow any author into a tangled maze, whence we, and not he, must
furnish the clew for egress.
The ‘Songs of Seven’ and ‘The High Tide on the Coast of
Lincolnshire’ are truly fine poems, to us the most complete and
sustained in the entire collection. In ‘Requlescat in Pace,’ we
are carried so far away from the actualities of life that we scarcely
care whether the lover be dead or living. As in a fairy tale, we
read for the sake of curiosity, admiring sundry touches here and there,
but feeling nothing. Miss Ingelow’s rhythm is good, and her
The style of Adelaide Procter is singularly lucid and direct;
she has but little command of poetic ornament, and we rarely think of
her choice of words. Pathos, and a close, keen
representation of human experience, are her distinguishing
characteristics. She is a poet to read when the soul is wrung, and
longs for the solace of communion with a noble, tender, sympathetic
human heart. The very absence of ornament brings the thoughts and
feelings nearer to our needs. Her poems are evidently pictures of
real human souls, and not poetic imaginings of what human beings might
feel under such and such circumstances. There are many of Miss
Procter’s tales and shorter poems which bring tears to the eyes of all
who have really lived and sorrowed, and the more we read them, the more
do they come home to us. We feel as if we could take their author
into our heart of hearts, and make all the world love her as do we.
With her, brilliancy of imagery and description are replaced by a
sententiousness and concentration of expression that suddenly strike
home some truth perhaps well known, but little dwelt on. For
instance, in ‘A Legend of
Provence' we find:
‘Kind hearts are here; yet would the tenderest one
Have limits to its mercy: God has none.
And man’s forgiveness may be true and sweet,
But yet he stoops to give it. More complete
Is Love that lays forgiveness at thy feet,
And pleads with thee to raise it. Only Heaven
Means crowned, not vanquished, when it says,
Again, in ‘The Present:’
‘Noble things the great Past promised,
Holy dreams, both strange and new;
But the Present shall fulfil them,
What he promised she shall do.
‘She is wise with all his wisdom,
Living on his grave she stands,
On her brow she bears his laurels,
And his harvest in her hands.’
‘Links with Heaven‘
is a continued series of tender, original thoughts, expressed in the
same terse and striking, but simple manner. ‘Homeless,’
‘Light and Shade,’ are,
among the smaller poems, fine specimens of her distinguishing merits;
while of the longer, ‘Three
Evenings in a Life,’ ‘Philip
and Mildred,’ and ‘Homeward
Bound’ cannot fail to charm all who love to read a real pate from
the experience of humanity.
Both Jean Ingelow and Adelaide Procter are thoroughly
penetrated by profound religious convictions, the faith and charity of
the latter being especially vivid and pervading. The one has a
preponderance of the beautiful gift of a rich fancy, while to the other
was given in greater degree the power of the penetrative and sympathetic
imagination. The one, as we read, recalls to us a glittering heap
of precious, shining jewels; the other, the first cluster of spring
violets, wreaths of virginal lilies and midsummer roses, growths of
cypress sound to the core, rosemary, sage, and all healing herbs,
branches of scarlet maple leaves, and lovely wayside gentians, adorned
by the hand of the Great Artist, and blue as heaven itself.
But a little while ago, the Angel, Death, ‘who comes in love
and pity, and, to save our treasures claims them all,’ [ED.—Our
Dead, final stanza] bore away her pure soul along the ‘misty
pathway’ to everlasting peace and joy.
L. D. P.
LITTELL’S LIVING AGE.
JULY, AUGUST, SEPTEMBER,
JEAN INGELOW, THE POETESS.
“WILL you come and
call on Jean Ingelow?” said my hostess, one fine day. Of course I
would. So away we went along a shady lane, with the old oaks of
Holland Park on the one side and the ivy-crowned walls of Aubury House
on the other; for, though a part of London, Notting Hill is rich in
gardens, lawns, and parks, such as one sees only in England. Our
way led us by Kensington Palace, the residences of Addison, the Duke of
Argyle, Macaulay, and, better than all the rest to me, the house of
Thackeray. A low, long brick house, covered with ivy to the
chimney top; a sunny bit of lawn in front, trees and flowers all about,
and, though no longer haunted by the genial presence of its former
master, this unpretending place is to many eyes more attractive than any
palace in the land. I looked long and lovingly at it, feeling a
strong desire to enter its hospitably open door, recalling with ever
fresh delight the evening spent in listening to the lecture on Swift
long ago in America, and experiencing again the heavy sense of loss
which came to me with the tidings that the novelist whom I most loved
and admired would never write again. Leaving my tribute of
affection and respect in a look, a smile, and a sigh, I gathered a leaf
of ivy as a relic, and went on my way. Coming at last to a quiet
street, where all the houses were gay with window boxes full of flowers,
we reached Miss Ingelow’s. In the drawing-room we found the mother
of the poetess, a truly beautiful old lady, in widow’s cap and gown,
with the sweetest, serenest face I ever saw. Two daughters sat
with her, both older than I had fancied them to be, but both very
attractive women. Eliza looked as if she wrote the poetry, Jean
the prose—the former wore curls, had a delicate face, fine eyes, and
that indescribable something which suggests genius; the latter was
plain, rather stout, hair touched with gray, shy, yet cordial manners,
and a clear, straightforward glance, which I liked so much that I
forgave her on the spot for writing these dull stories.
Massey was with them, a dapper little man, with a large, tall head, and
very un-English manner. Being oppressed with “the mountainous me,”
he rather bored the company with “my poems, my plans, and my
publishers,” till Miss Eliza politely devoted herself to him, leaving my
friend to chat with the lovely old lady, and myself with Jean.
Both being bashful, and both labouring under the delusion that it was
proper to allude to each other’s works, we tried to exchange a few
compliments, blushed, hesitated, laughed, and wisely took refuge in a
safer subject. Jean had been abroad, so we pleasantly compared
notes, and I enjoyed the sound of a peculiarly musical voice, in which I
seemed to hear the breezy rhythm of some of her charming songs.
The ice which surrounds every Englishman and woman was beginning to
melt, when Massey disturbed me to ask what was thought of his books in
America. As I really had not the remotest idea, I said so; whereat
he looked blank, and fell upon Longfellow, who seems to be the only one
of our poets whom the English know or care about. The conversation
became general, and soon after it was necessary to leave, lest the
safety of the nation should be endangered by overstepping the fixed
limits of a morning call. Later I heard that Miss Ingelow was
extremely conservative, and was very indignant when a petition for
women's rights to vote was offered for her signature. A rampant
Radical told me this, and shook her handsome head pathetically over
Jean's narrowness; but when I heard that once a week several poor souls
dined comfortably in the pleasant home of the poetess, I forgave her
conservatism, and regretted that an unconquerable aversion to dinner
parties made me decline her invitation.—M. L. Alcott in the "Queen."
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
VOLUME XX. Issue 119.
A Story of Doom, and other Poems. By JEAN
INGELOW. Boston: Roberts Brothers.
PEOPLE who remember
things written as long ago as five years have a certain stiffness in their
tastes which disqualifies them for the enjoyment of much contemporaneous
achievement; and it is fortunate for the poets that it is the young who
make reputations. Miss Ingelow’s first volume, indeed, had something
in it that could please not only the inexperience of youth, for which
nothing like it existed, but even the knowledge of those arrived at the
interrogation-point in life, who felt that here there was a movement
toward originality in much familiar mannerism and uncertain purpose. If
there was not a vast deal for enjoyment, there was a reason for hope. It
was plain that the author’s gift was not a great one, but it was also
clear that she had a gift. She was a little tedious and diffuse; she was
often too long in reaching a point, and sometimes she never reached it at
all. But then she wrote “The High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire,” and
the “Songs of Seven,” and “Divided,”—none of them perfect poems, yet all
very good and fresh,—and showed a true feeling for nature, and some
knowledge of humanity as women see it. In this second volume, however, she
abandons her maturer admirers to their fate, and seeks the favor of the
young ladies and gentlemen who have begun to like verses since Mr.
Tennyson’s latest poems were written, and the old balladists and modern
poetical archaists ceased to be read. In fact, it is amazing to see how
this author, who had a talent of her own, has contentedly buried it, and
gone to counterfeiting the talents of others. The “Story of Doom” here
given is an unusually dreary copy of the unrealism of Mr. Tennyson’s
“Idyls of the King,” and makes the history of Noah more than ever
improbable; while “Laurance,” mimicking all the well-known effects and
smallest airs and movements of the laureate’s poems of rustic life, is
scarcely to be read without laughter. “Winstanley” presents an incident
that, if told in simple contemporary English, would have made a thrilling
ballad; but what with its quoth-he’s, brave skippers, good master mayors,
ladies gay, and red suns, it is factitious, and of the library only,—it
came from Percy’s “Reliques” and “The Ancient Mariner,” not from the
poet’s heart. It seems worthy of the sentimental purpose with which it was
written; but we doubt if any child in the National School in Dorsetshire
learned it by heart as his forefathers did the old ballads.
In pleasant contrast with its affectations is the beautiful little song
entitled “Apprenticed,” which the author tells us is in the old English
manner, but which
we find full of a young feeling and tenderness belonging to all time,
expressed in diction quite of our own. This, and that one of the Songs
with Preludes entitled “Wedlock,” seem to us the best, if not the only,
poems in the book. Miss Ingelow’s forte is not in single lines and
detachable passages, and her efforts are apt to be altogether successful
or unsuccessful. In the long rhyme called “Dreams that came True,” there
is but one inspired line, and that is merely descriptive,—
“In eddying rings the silence seemed to flow”
round him that waked suddenly from an awful dream. There is an inglorious
ease in the sarcasm, but we must express our regret that Miss Ingelow did
not leave this story in the prose which she says first received it.
We suppose we can scarcely call the reader’s attention to the
fact that certain faults of Miss Ingelow’s first book are exaggerated in
this. The rush of half-draped figures, and the pushing and crowding of
weak and unruly fancies, are too obviously unpleasant for comment. Perhaps
they are most unpleasant in the Song with a Prelude which opens with the
bewildering statement that
“Yon moorèd mackerel fleet
Hangs thick as a swarm of bees,
Or a clustering village street
Foundationless built on the seas.”
. . . . Monitions of the Unseen, and Poems of Love and Childhood,
the latest offering of Jean Ingelow to her admirers. The work will
excite, we think, a general feeling of disappointment, as indicating no
advance upon her previous efforts in song. There is a great deal
of tenderness in these recollections of early life, but the sadness that
pervades them becomes a monotone. In the longer poem with which
the book opens, the teaching is set forth in charming cadences and with
befitting dignity of expression the lyrics, upon which more careful
workmanship has been expended, have a finish that seems to have been
purchased, in some instances, in a loss of strength, and there is an
excess of response in them—of dreamful
quiet, of folding of the hands to sleep, as if they had been inspired of
poppy rather than of Hippocrene. But if they suggest no elevation
of her wonderful powers, they are such poems as no other woman in
England than Jean Ingelow might have written, and we recognise in her
here, as in her previous volumes, a poet always tender and true, whose
writings are calculated to make us better and purer, to enlarge our
sympathies and exalt our aims.
NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE
Vol. XLII., Dec.1870.
last volume of poems receives its name, Monitions of the Unseen
(Roberts Brothers), from the first and most considerable piece in the
book. We have read nothing from her pen which we like better.
It is a simple story of a faithful, overworked, disheartened curate
taught to look up and out, and see that his work, which seems all
useless, is not to be measured by its seen results, but by effects he
can but imperfectly imagine, much less fully perceive; and the issue of
the vision, in which some glimpses of the unseen world are vouchsafed to
him, is the resolution,
“I will trust in Him,
That He can hold His own; and I will take
His will above the work He sendeth me,
To be my chiefest good.”
It is the old, old story—old as the days of Abraham, of Joseph, of
Moses, and of the prophets—of the contrast between the visible and the
invisible, yet wrought out in a form that is fresh, if not absolutely
new, and with a poetic expression which is not always rhythmical, is
indeed often awkward and involved, and yet, withal, possesses beauties
which perhaps shine the brighter for the blemishes to which they are so
closely mated. It is a poem which will bear not only re-reading,
but much meditation; at least by all wearied, and sometimes discouraged,
Christian workers.—It may be a question with some readers whether Jean
Ingelow’s poems repay study. They certainly require it.
THE DESERET NEWS
19 February, 1873.
The following letter from Jean Ingelow to Mrs. Lucy Stone, of Boston will
be read with interest:
"Dear Madame: I have been long in the habit of receiving from America your
interesting paper, the Woman's Journal, and, as I do not know who
is the kind and courteous donor, I hope I may convey my thanks through
you, as one of the editors".
"I am glad of the information I derive from the Journal,
but I have not found time hitherto to give the whole subject of rights
such an amount of study as to make it wise to utter my crude thoughts
respecting them; other things appear to be given to me to do, and take
them up to the exclusion of what lies beyond.
"You have, I venture to think, more than one problem to work
out in America, on which in a great degree, depends the welfare of women.
In one of these I take a keen interest, and I hope to see you settle it
for yourselves and for us. I want you to discover how domestic work
is to be combined with high culture.
So long as household work is thought degrading (and nowhere
is this so much the case as in America), there can never be anything like
universal education; there must always be some who can work all their
lives because others will not at all. It is to be one of the great
things that you Americans, I believe, are raised up for, to teach this
world how this is to be done; but the teachers can never be those who are
poor; they must be those who are not obliged to work at all.
"How to make clear starching and ironing graceful and pretty
occupations (and such they were thought by our great-great-grand-mothers,)
how to keep a house clean, and to assist, even in a kitchen, without the
least sensed of being lowered, or the slightest personal deterioration,
might surely be managed if women gave their minds to it—if more delicate
machinery was invented for helping them, and if it could even be made the
fashion for all women, young or old, to pride themselves on their domestic
"I hope, if you can, you will convey my thanks to the lady
who sends me your paper and will believe that I take a deep interest in
everything which so sincerely aims at your good.
"I am, dear madam, very truly yours,
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY
Vol. XXXI., 1873.
novel, Off the Skelligs, we are told, makes as great a stir as Jane Eyre
did in its day, and is claimed to be the great work of fiction of the
present time, as if Middlemarch were not, and Turgénieff’s novels were
still buried in the original Russian. There is, as we all know, a certain
sort of praise which from its very warmth prepares the mind of the reader
for a very moderate enjoyment of its object; but this new novel, we hoped,
might well be good without deserving such loud-sounding admiration. The
story is told autobiographically by a young girl who begins the account of
her life with her earliest recollections. Passing over her infancy, we
find her sailing in her uncle’s yacht with him and her brother Tom. While
they are cruising about the Irish coast they are fortunate enough to save
some people from a burning ship; among them is one very grimy and scorched
man whom Dorothea, the heroine, mistakes for a common sailor, while in
reality he is of gentle blood, as she finds out when he attempts with his
blistered hand to hold a Greek Testament. His name is Brandon, and many
pages further on we find Dorothea staying with his family and his
step-family, Lou, Liz, and Valentine, who is sometimes called the “the oubit,” just as Mr. Brandon is known as “St. George,” over and above his
own name, which is Giles. Valentine is a rattle-pated hobble-dehoy, with
the fearful loquacity sometimes seen in lads of his age, although,
fortunately, it is generally held in subjection by their elders. Dorothea
has a certain admiration for Brandon, not unmingled with awe for his great
age,— he is almost thirty; but Valentine studies Greek with her, amuses
her by his nonsense, and finally asks her to marry him. She seems to think
that disposing of her life is as trifling a matter as the directing of an
empty envelope, and assents. In time, however, his wish to marry her grows
cold, he disappoints her at the last moment, and so she gently marries Mr.
Brandon instead, who has been in love with her all the time, but who, from
high mindedness, has been keeping out of the way, in order to give
Valentine a chance, and with this the story ends. Few, we fancy, would
claim that the merit of the novel lay in the construction. The story drags
fearfully; but it is in the alleged naturalness of talk and action that we
are bidden to find pleasure. Yet naturalness in itself is no more
interesting than a photograph, quoad photograph, is entertaining to the
eye. There is a naturalness which concerns itself with the representation
of agreeable or interesting scenes of human life and which is sufficient
to please even the surliest reader. Take, for instance, Miss Thackeray’s
charming story, Elizabeth. There we have a perfectly natural account of
the hopefulness, the little joys, the heart-racking agonies of a very
pleasing young girl told with unexcelled truth and simplicity. The
Initials,— again, is it not a model of natural drawing in its record of
the sayings and doings of the gracious heroine, her half-vulgar sister,
and the ever-blushing hero? Neither of these novels treats of frenzies of
passion, nor of improbable feelings and actions. They merely describe very
ordinary, every-day love-affairs; they are, so to speak, genre-pictures of
love-making; but is there a girl living, unless perhaps those whose taste
has been ruined by the strong waters of intenser novels, who does not
sympathize with the well-told troubles of these heroines? In these novels
there is plenty of naturalness, but it is naturalness applied to a
deserving subject, not displayed in the wearying gossip and badinage of an
extremely ordinary set of people. The paltriness of the subject of Off the Skelligs,—a girl and a boy, without an atom of love for one another,
preparing to marry and to go to New Zealand together,—the absence of any
passion in the characters, (not that they need be rolling their eyes about
and biting their nether lips, but they should have some other emotion than
the childish desire to ridicule one another,) the luke-warmness of all
their feelings, seem to us to make a picture as unattractive as it is
unnatural. The story is spun out with reports of all their long talks, as
if a painter who wanted to try to paint a picture of domestic life could
do nothing better than paint a panorama representing all the actions of a
family for a whole month. He might give us an accurate copy of their life,
but he would prove himself a poor artist.
Sep 30, 1875; pg. 4
"Fated to be Free" (3 vols, Tilney Brothers) is only the second novel
which Jean Ingelow has given us, and her readers will be tempted to wish it
had been prolonged, as was "Off the Skelligs," into four volumes, if only
for the sake of larger space over which to spread a certain most
tantalizing mystery. The literary merits
of this new book, from the pen of one of our sweetest singers, are far
above the standard reached by the annual tellers of stories for the
million. Its style is fresh and bright,
and sparkles with the oxygen drawn from a pure and bracing moral
atmosphere belonging to a region considerably above the altitude to which
the stray goose plume of lady novelists usually can bear them.
Miss Ingelow is a poet as well as as
novelist—a rare but not impossible union, and the happy admixture of the
two qualities makes the book one to be especially valued.
Although the story is interesting up to the point of
sensation, the interest is almost lost sight of in the amusement and
benefit to be derived. "Benefit" is
perhaps an unusual epithet to apply to a novel, but Miss Ingelow's readers
will admit that it is by no means out of place here, for nearly every page
has its clever aphorism, its epigrammatic truth made up into the smallest
possible compass, and gilded until it sparkles like a joke.
Here is a specimen taken from the first
chapter, in which we are at once given
the clue to the inner natures of the principal characters in the
story. It occurs in the description of
Laura Melcombe, one of those amiable,
well-meaning fools with which the world abounds, and whose
existence is a perpetual wonder and difficulty to people somewhat wiser
"She was of imagination all compact, but that is a very
unlucky case where there is weak judgement, little of no keenness of
observation, a treacherous memory, and a boundless longing for the good
things of life. Of all gifts, imagination,
being the greatest, is least worth having, unless it is well backed by
moral culture, or other intellectual qualities. It
is the crown of all thoughts and powers; but you cannot wear a crown
becomingly if you have no head (worth remembering) to put it on."
Laura is of that age only
uncertain to herself. She has long wished
to find a mate, and was quite ready to stoop to conquer.
The account of her making love to the
good-looking young plumber, and her curious shame at her own fancy, is
admirably given, for Miss Ingelow understands the strange inconsistencies
of the human heart, its paradoxical reasonings, and unexpected
conclusions. Miss Laura is, however, one
of the subsidiary personages of the book, and
has only been alluded to as an example how perfectly conceived and
carefully carried out even such a subordinate character as hers can be by
a passed master (or mistress) in the Joyeuse science.
The book opens with a powerful description
of an old manor-house and family, over whose head hangs the mysterious
blight of some unknown misfortune, crime or disgrace. No
one knows what it is that wraps the agèd
Madame Melcombe in its grey shade of silence and gloom. She
is profuse in her charities, of unblemished reputation, and strict in the
observance of her religions duties. Yet
trouble and sorrow attend her steps, and in the extreme of her old age she
is left almost alone, her fine family of boys having deserted her or come
to an untimely end. The picture of the
ruined garden, the gates of which had been
fastened up half a century before, and over whose wilderness of tangled
bloom the poor old lady keeps incessant watch and ward, is excellent,
and the reader can see, as he reads, the figure of the lonely
little boy, Madame Melcombe's great grandson, as
he watches a ball or a top which he has flung into the garden and so lost
for ever. In no part of the story is Miss
Ingelow more at home or happier than in her descriptions of child nature
and life. This peeps out in many of her
best-known poems, and in the present book it comes well to the front
over and over again. The children
are real children, too, and would be absolutely insupportable even to
think of if they were not provided with a large loft, called
''Parliament," where they can romp to their heart's content, and which
is invested with as many privileges as if it had
been Alsatia. The elements of the story
are tragical its the extreme, but, the crime, or disgrace, or
misfortune—whichever it may be, for the reader is never told in so many
words—is not permitted to overshadow the landscape and cause the people to
go heavily. This is one of the ways in
which Miss Ingelow shows her deep intuitive knowledge of the ways of human
life and human folk. The inner life may be
convulsed by some strange and unforeseen occurrence, but still the outer
routine goes on, meals are served, children play—all as though nothing had
stirred the surface. If a fault is to be
found with the construction of the story, it is that the reader fails to
see why the hapless Dorothea should be so
bandied about from brother to brother. It
is incredible that a young man like Valentine should desert his promised
bride at the very altar, that she should immediately console herself with
his elder brother, and that before they returned from their honeymoon
Valentine should veer round again and make his moan that he always loved
Dorothea, and considers himself badly used, inasmuch as she consoled
herself so quickly. It may be ever so true
to life, but it is unpleasing truth, and shows
that neither Dorothea nor Valentine had ever laid
to heart the old advice about being off with the old love before they were
on with the new. On the other hand,
nothing can be more original, more artful, or, it
must be added, more provoking than the way in which nothing is to told
decisively. The reader is left, just as he
would be in real life, to draw his own conclusion from the narration of
certain events. The brothers Daniel and
Augustus Melcombe are a delightful pair of old men. The
are agèd men
when we first catch sight of their stately white heads, as they stand
before their old mother, the weak nonagenarian,
who says, "You see my time may be getting short now." Yet
these grand old heads have been secretly bowed for half a century and more
beneath the knowledge of some act which has blighted the rooftree under
which it occurred.
HARPER’S NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE.
VOLUME LX., DECEMBER, 1879, TO MAY, 1880.
Sarah de Berenger. A Novel.
12mo, pp. 415. Boston: Roberts Brothers.
By JEAN INGELOW.
Nothing could be simpler or more realistic than the treatment of the
materials out of which Jean Ingelow has constructed the new novel which
she has named, after one of its most amusing secondary characters,
´Sarah de Berenger.´
It is the story of the heroic endurance and repressed love of a mother for
her two young and delicately nurtured daughters, whose father, after
having been cruel and false to their mother, had deserted them in their
infancy, had been convicted as a felon, and, as subsequent events reveal,
found been guilty of a more heinous crime than the one he was punished
for. In the daily and hourly apprehension of his release from
prison, and of his return to claim a competency which she had inherited,
and which she is devoting to her children’s nurture and education, and in
making provision for them in case she should die, and moved by the still
greater dread that the man she had learned to loathe and fear will
separate them from her, and drag them down to his atmosphere of shame and
crime, the mother takes an assumed name and bears an assumed relation to
the children, being known to them and to the world only as their nurse.
The necessity for the repression of her maternal instincts and
endearments, and the utter renunciation of the filial love that she yearns
for, which this relation to her children involves, and the perplexities,
trials, involvements, and anguish to which time mother is subjected from
constantly occurring accidents and incidents which threaten to reveal the
real facts, with all their shameful consequences to her darlings, are
worked up into a story of sustained pathos and tenderness, in which we see
how a resolute and loving woman can school herself to give up all things,
even her own children, for their sakes, and could die holding her secret
fast, not only unloved by them as their mother, but not known to them as
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY
VOLUME XLV., BOSTON, 1880.
Sarah de Berenger. A novel.
Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1879.
By JEAN INGELOW.
. . . . There are books, indeed, whose materials are excellent, which are
made worthless and woful simply by the indolence of their writers; but
there are a great many more in which the author naïvely
relies on his own fancied fascinations, on the indirect revelation of a
personality which is supremely self-interesting, to render attractive
themes altogether too slight and trite. Just now, to be sure, the
roman intime is not specially in fashion, and it had better, perhaps,
be resigned to the Latins who invented it. But when a writer who has
already won the affections of the public, and who has given abundant proof
upon other occasions of some dramatic ability, is willing to lay self
aside, and hunt the humble by-places of unrecorded fact for strange
characters and fates perturbed and implicated by sinister and incalculable
events, we have the second-best reason possible for expecting an
And this is precisely what Miss Ingelow has done in her
latest prose romance, ´Sarah de
Berenger.’ Her first, Off the Skelligs,
was a novel of conversation and character purely; the incidents, for the
most part, simple and domestic, the sentiment mild. In
Fated to be Free, still working with the same
commonplace materials, she sought to heighten their effect by introducing
a mystery,—a family secret, which the author herself respected so
profoundly that she could not quite make up her mind to disclose it even
at the end, and so its importance to the story was never made perfectly
clear. In her third attempt, she has proceeded in a much more
workman-like manner. She has discovered, or devised, a situation at
once extremely new and curious, and not absolutely improbable. An
English peasant woman, with an education somewhat above her rank in life,
and a soul very much so, marries an exceedingly bad man, a lame cobbler,
with a delicate, handsome face, who, after committing almost every crime
in the decalogue, is convicted of burglary and sentenced to penal
servitude for fourteen years. The woman—Hannah Dill by name—has an
infant girl born after the father’s conviction, and another not quite two
years old, and is left, of course, in abject poverty. But before she
has regained her strength after her confinement, she falls heir to a
little fortune from a far-away relative,—a thriving tradesman in a distant
town. It is enough to place herself and her children beyond the
reach of want, and she resolves that, at the cost of any sacrifice to
herself, she will so use this money as to place them, at least, beyond the
reach of shame. She therefore changes her own name and that of the
children, taking a homely one herself, and adopting for the little girls,
almost at random, the aristocratic De Berenger. She then quits the
region where her husband’s story was known, and appears at a quiet
watering-place on a distant part of the coast in the character of the
children’s nurse. She dresses and treats them in all respects like
the children of gentlefolks, who have been placed in her charge by parents
in some foreign land,—presumably India; and her extremely respectable
appearance and unremitting devotion to her little charges go far to
justify the extraordinary confidence which seems to have been reposed in
her. As time goes on, everything favors the success of her
self-abnegating stratagem. She falls in with bonafide De Berengers,
who are led by a singular succession of accidents to accept, and in some
sort adopt, the little waifs as connections of their family. The
rich and eccentric spinster for whom the book (mistakenly, we think) is
named having resolved, with a characteristic contempt of evidence, that
these are the children of a certain favorite nephew of her own, a
scapegrace who died under a cloud in India, proceeds to prefer them to all
her authentic heirs-at-law, and in the end bequeaths them her wealth.
The plot is really so very skilfully and up to a certain point strongly
made that, like an ingenious machine, it seems for a while to go of
itself, and to evolve strange incidents and complications without the
perceptible interference of the author’s hand. The children, who
have inherited the delicate personal beauty of their worthless father,
grow up, in the refined atmosphere of the rural rectory which becomes
their home, sweet-tempered, high-minded, and thorough-bred. The
mother, having first managed legally to transfer her little competence to
her girls, takes service in the same house, feeds her eyes upon their
ripening loveliness, her heart by humble cares for them, and never once
betrays her consanguinity. Just as they are blooming into early
womanhood, the father is released from prison, having served out his full
term. The wife tries for a time to keep herself hidden, but is at
last seen and recognized by her husband. He is apparently a reformed
man. The woman for whom he once forsook his wife is dead. He
has heard, and fully believes, that his legitimate children are also dead,
and his wife’s little legacy lost by an unfortunate investment; and she
tacitly allows these impressions, but considers it a matter both of
conscience and prudence to return to her husband,—quitting abruptly the
happy place of service where she had her darlings constantly under her
eye, and leaving there no clue to her whereabouts. From this point
the story moves faster, and constantly gains in power and pathos.
The tale of the cobbler’s conversion in prison, the strange explanation
and agreement between husband and wife, the sad and stern reconcilement of
the injured woman, the curious association in her simple soul of a
mystical faith in the criminal’s “forgiveness” with an instinctive
shrinking, which deepens into intense aversion, whenever he inclines to
publish or parade his repentance,—all these are wonderfully well studied
and poetically portrayed. The pathos of the story, which becomes
extreme at its close, is very finely reserved. It is all in
situation, as it should be,—never in phraseology. The mother sees
her daughters, whom she had lifted up by her own self-annihilation, only
once again before she leaves them in the lot to which they were not born.
It is on the morning of the marriage of the elder and of her own death,
and even then she is recognized only as the fond old servant, and her true
story is never known.
There are some artistic faults in Miss Ingelow’s romance.
Sarah de Berenger herself must be pronounced a failure. She may very
well have existed, or even have been selected from life, but she is not
well “taken.” There are plenty of absurd people in the world, and no
end of inconsequent talk, but hers has not the ring of reality. The
right note is never quite reached. Miss Ingelow seems to have
reasoned that we have all known people queer and perverse enough to have
assisted, out of their mere wrong-headedness, the unnatural consummation
of her story; and so we have. But queer characters are like
extraordinary effects in nature,—it is extremely difficult to represent
them artistically. When a particularly quaint or glaring object is
introduced the whole picture must be toned up to it, or it remains a
helpless monstrosity. Miss Austen may possibly not have known this,
but she did it perfectly, in Mr. Collins, in Miss Bates, in all her
pre-eminently delightful fools, whose effect she subdued by such fine
gradations of folly in the minor characters. The other De Berengers
do not so subdue Sarah, and her crowning freak, whereby the poor mother is
enabled to complete and confirm her self-sacrifice, appears like a
preposterous invention. The story is also marred by much fragmentary
and futile discussion of the temperance question. It is not proven
that a novel with a purpose can be, under any circumstances, a first-rate
novel, but it is quite certain that he who would present his theories in a
dramatic form must have the one-sidedness of absolute conviction and be
impelled by overmastering zeal. Idle and impartial considerations
are only so much rubbish impeding the movement of the play. Just so
the question of pauper emigration was dragged into Off the Skelligs, and
dragged out again. It had no vital connection with the tale, and no
more had temperance with the tragedy of Hannah Dill.
And still Sarah de Berenger is a marked book, more than
ordinarily symmetrical and impressive. Indirectly, moreover, and
quite independently of the temperance tirades, it suggests thought—as the
work of so thoughtful and philanthropic a spirit could hardly fail to
do—on more than one doubtful problem of morals and sociology: whether
deception is ever justified by beneficent results,—for of course the first
and last word of any honorable man of affairs on such a performance as
poor Hannah’s would be that it was both virtually impossible and
unpardonably wrong; and again, is breeding really so much more than birth
that the Dill children could possibly, even under circumstances happy as
theirs became, have grown up into the dainty, tender, delicate-minded De
Miss Ingelow’s answer to the latter query is radically democratic.
THE OGDEN STANDARD EXAMINER
31 July, 1892.
A Popular English Poet.
Jean Ingelow, it may be said, is the most popular of the English poets.
She is a quiet, shy looking old lady of sixty-two [Ed.- seventy-two?]
years of age, and inhabits a pretty house in London, where those who take
the trouble to seek her out receive always a kind and cordial reception.
She has a very accurate mind and a horror of untidy or slipshod ways.
She works hard and finds her greatest relaxation in the study of botany.
Her kindness of heart has become proverbial, for three times a week she
gives what she calls a copyright dinner to twelve poor persons just
discharged from hospitals. Although not a frequent visitor to
fashionable drawing rooms, Miss Ingelow has an immense circle of friends.
She believes in hard work, and always says that perseverance is the better
part of genius. She is kind to many young authors, and keeps abreast
of modern literature in all its branches.
THE LIVING AGE.
VOL. CCXIV., 1897.
From The Academy.
(the Jean came from her Scottish mother, and the 'g' in the surname is a
soft one) was born in 1820 at Boston, in Lincoinshire. She has made music
out of Boston bells; more uniformly than Tennyson does Lincolnshire and
the East Coast appear and reappear in her poetry. Her father was a
banker, and afterwards moved to Ipswich. Banking and Evangelicalism have
conspicuously run together in certain well-known families; and they did in
hers. Almost Quaker-like some of her likings and aversions might be
called. She had no sympathy, for instance, with the warnote which nearly
every modern poet has awakened. Even Tennyson, for whom she had an
intense admiration, had no message for her there; and the younger poets,
who took Tommy Atkins for their hero, could never be hers. In all her
many poems not one line, not one word, will be found in justification,
still less in praise, of war. In “Kismet” the story of a boy’s longing
for freedom and the sea is given; and somebody once suggested to her that
she had helped perhaps to recruit the Navy. This suggestion meant only
horror for her, and she gave the verses a careful re-reading, intending,
if she thought that interpretation a possible one, to cancel the offending
stanza, or, if necessary, the whole poem. She not only hated evil, she
loved to do good. Her charities to the poor were unceasing.
Miss Ingelow’s first volume, “A Rhyming Chronicle of
Incidents and Feelings,” appeared anonymously in 1850. Then in 1863 came
the “Poems by Jean Ingelow,” which never paused till fourteen editions had
been sold, and which are selling, but less resolutely, to this day. Her
fame was made in a month. She was set to music, she was recited, she was
parodied by Calverley [ED.—Charles Stuart Calverley (1831–1884), poet
and lawyer], and brought out in an illustrated édition de luxe. From
Boston, not indeed in Lincolnshire, but in New England, she had hundreds
of letters and two newspaper notices to tell her that in America, even
more quickly than in England, she had made her mark on contemporary
sentiment. James Russell Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes were her
admirers. Even Tennyson was generous in his encomiums. Mr. Ruskin, whose
praise has always been precious to women, was at her feet. So that the
critic and the casual reader for once agreed together in their
appreciation. Of this quick and keen popularity there has been some
failure, no doubt, in later days. Her “Story of Doom, and other Poems,”
had a welcome only second to its predecessor; but the third series of
“Poems” had to make its way among a crowd of new competitors. Time,
however, will always right the slight injustice of reaction; and even at
this hour there is a sort of remorse of reconsideration among those who
have left Miss Ingelow’s poems neglected on their shelves these last ten
or twenty years. Their old beauty comes as a new surprise. Never hungry
for fame, she did not mourn over any signs of its decline.
She did a vast amount of prose-writings in the seventies—“Off
the Skelligs,” “Fated to be Free,” “Don John,” and “Sarah de Berenger.”
Other books of hers were: “Stories Told to a Child,” “Studies for
Stories,” and “Mopsa the Fairy.” She wrote with great facility; and she
did not alter or polish much in either prose or verse. Though influenced
in style by Coleridge, by Tennyson, by Wordsworth, she had her own
definite note, distinguishable by its simple freshness. She thought she
was meant to be “more original than the creature afterwards become;” but
that saying she applied, we imagine, to her life more than to her
literature. Among her intimate friends was Mr. Mundella, who survived her
only one day.
Very conventional were her surroundings when, after her
mother’s death, she moved from Holland Street to Holland Villas Road,
Kensington. The little house had a little garden; and, perhaps, the
greatest excitement in her later life was a garden-party of her own
giving. One of the last appearances of Mr. Locker-Lampson was in that
very garden one summer afternoon; and in that guest and hostess have
passed away types that are rapidly becoming extinct, delightful in
old-world courtesy, indulgent to the errors of days gone by, if a little
impatient to the moods of a generation younger than their own.
In accounting for the great popularity obtained by Miss
Ingelow, one has only to remember how often and how well she sang of the
sea: not the sea on which our warships and our mercantile navies ride
gloriously, but the sea we have known best in childhood, on which the
herring fleet puts forth in the evening. We think, indeed, that Miss
Ingelow will be longest remembered as the fisherman’s poet. No poet has
been more haunted by the roar of winter seas beneath the cliffs on which
the lights of the fishing village flit and flicker. No poet has so
persistently sung the dirges of those whom the sea has claimed. Take the
verses from the “Requiescat in Pace:”
It was three months and over since the
On the green downs at Cromer I sat to
see the view;
On an open space of herbage, where the
ling and fern
Betwixt the tall white lighthouse
old and the new.
Below me lay the wide sea, the scarlet sun
And he dyed the waste water, as with a
And he dyed the lighthouse towers; every
white wing swooping
Took his colours, and the cliffs did, and
Over grass came that strange flush, and
over ling and
Over flocks and sheep and lambs, and
And each filmy cloudlet crossing drifted
Torn from the folded wings of clouds,
It is significant that one of the very sweetest lyrical
passages in Miss Ingelow’s poetry has a terrible context. For the
milking-song that my “sonne’s wife, Elizabeth,” sings in “The High Tide on
the Coast of Lincolnshire” is the last her lips make before the tide, deaf
to the mad ringing of Boston church bells, sweeps over the pasture. This
is how Elizabeth sung:—
“Cusha! Cusha! Cusha !“ calling
Ere the early dews were falling,
Farre away I heard her song.
“Cusha! Cusha!” all along
Where the reedy Lindis floweth,
From the meads where melick groweth,
Faintly came her milking song—
“Cusha! Cusha! Cusha!” calling
“For the dews will soon be falling;
Leave your meadow grasses mellow,
Quit your cowslips, cowslips yellow;
Come uppe Whitefoot, come uppe Light-
Quit the stalks of parsley hollow,
Come up Jetty, rise and follow
From the clovers lift your head;
Come uppe Whitefoot, come uppe Light-
Come uppe Jetty, rise and follow,
Jetty, to the milking shed.”
Such verse is not great, but it is pleasant. Much of Miss
Ingelow’s poetry speaks from the heart; particularly is this true of the
verse which we will quote in conclusion:—
O my lost love, and my own, own love,
And my love that loved me so!
Is there never a chink in the world above
Where they listen for words from below?
Nay, I spoke once, and I grieved thee sore,
I remember all that I said,
And now thou wilt hear me no more—no
Till the sea gives up her dead.
THE LIVING AGE
VOL. CCXIV., 1897.
From the Athenæum.
A POETIC TRIO.
IT occurs to me that
now, when we have so recently lost the last of the three women whose names
were once so often linked together by the reading public—Dora Greenwell,
Christina Rossetti, and Jean Ingelow (I am naming them in the order in
which they died)—you might like to print some of the letters which passed
between them before they had met each other face to face, after which they
naturally became much more intimate. Their first meeting took place some
time not very long after the dates of the following letters. I must
premise that these ladies lived in the days when the cry, "Go spin, ye
jades, go spin!" was still not infrequently heard if a woman wished to
devote herself to any branch of art, and all three were anxious to show
that though they wrote poetry they were none the less proficient in the
usual womanly crafts.
Miss Greenwell had challenged Miss Rossetti to produce a
creditable sample of skilled needlework. Dora Greenwell’s own Meisterstück
was a well-made workbag. This is Miss Rossetti’s letter acknowledging the
5, Upper Albany St., London, N. W.
31 December, 1863.
My Dear Miss Greenwell,—Your very kind gift reproaches me for so
late an acknowledgement, but indeed I have been so busy as to feel excused
for not having till now thanked you for it. Even now I have not made
myself acquainted with its contents, but I must soon do so, having just
succeeded in clearing off a small batch of work for the S. P. C. K.*
The last day of the year suggests more good wishes than I venture to
express to you. Thank you for the friendly welcome accorded to my
carte. I should be truly pleased to possess yours; but will not bore
you with too urgent a request, as probably so many persons are in my case.
What think you of Jean Ingelow, the wonderful poet? I have not yet
read the volume, but reviews with copious extracts have made me aware of a
new eminent name having risen among us. I want to know who she is,
what she is like, where she lives. All I have heard is an uncertain
rumour that she is aged twenty-one, is one of three sisters resident with
their mother. A proud mother I should think. If our dear
Scotts move away altogether from the North, I fear my prospect of making
your personal acquaintance must dwindle to the altogether vague.
Your kindness, however, has made us no strangers, even should we never
meet—or, rather, never meet here; for on of the last days of the year the
separations and meetings of time should not alone be thought of. Yours
Miss Ingelow must have been drawn into this competition very
soon after the date of this letter, for on 9th February she wrote—
6, Denmark Place, Hastings.
My Dear Miss Greenwell,—I have for some time been
anxious to write to you, both to thank you for your kind note and for the
poems you sent me. I like them much, and really think they are
likely to reach the class for which they were written. The poor men
here are all of the seafaring class, or I should have given those verses
away. Do you know that I have finished a bag for you? I shall
send it, I think by railway, for my brother is coming to-morrow as usual,
and he will convey it as far as London. The pattern is of my own
invention! Is the kettle-holder worked yet? I shall be proud
of it. When I next see Miss Rossetti I shall ask for proof that she
can do hemming and sewing. . . . It is a pleasure to me that you like
those little stories. They have not much in them, but it is an
amusement to me to write them; writing for children is so completely its
own reward; it obliges one to be simple and straightforward, and clears
away some of the mystical fancies in which one is apt to indulge, and
which are a mere luxury. They never do us any good, and I am often
humiliated by meeting with sensible fellow creatures who ask me what some
of them mean. . . .There has been so much leisure here that my new volume
is all but finished. It is, however, not to be printed yet. I am,
believe me, Very affectionately yours,
Miss Ingelow's workbag was a beautiful piece of
craftsmanship. Garlands of flowers, done from those to be found in
almost any pretty and well-cared-for garden, were wrought with narrow
china ribbon of all colours and shades and blending on a ground of black
cloth—no work of the kind could have been better executed. Here my
knowledge of this great sewing competition comes to an end. I have
even forgotten whether Miss Rossetti's piece of work was ever sent, but my
impression is that it was not.
* ED.—Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
Vol. 3, No. 10, December, 1897.
Jennette Atwater Street.
WHEN Tennyson died, when Morris and Stevenson,
Lowell and Holmes laid their pens down for the last time, there was such a
sense of activity arrested, of immediate loss, that we look even yet for
this to be made good to us. Far different, however, is the feeling
with regard to the English poetess recently deceased. Her death
seems rather the loss of an earlier generation who read her novels and
memorized her verse which the younger of us, to whom much richer treasures
of literature have fallen, have never cared to con or peruse. It is
partly because of the years that have elapsed since Miss Ingelow's period
of publication, partly because of her own extreme reticence in reference
to the facts of her life, that the public came almost to forget that this
winning poetess, though mute in song, was living with us still. Yet
by the large circle of friends to whom she had endeared herself as much by
her warm heart and quick sympathy as by her literary gifts, the death of
Jean Ingelow was most keenly felt. Until recent years when failing
health made seclusion necessary, her home was the resort of nearly every
writer of note, American as well as English. Many of the poor
profited, too, by the hospitality offered in the little house at
Kensington, for it was her habit for years to entertain semi-weekly, some
twelve indigent persons who had just left a London hospital. And so
it was, that living, rather than writing, a message of goodwill and
charity to all, she passed quietly out of the world which she had done her
part to make better.
It was not far from the sea she loved so well that Jean
Ingelow was born in 1820, in a large house on the outskirts of the English
Boston—the place was called Southend. At the back of the house was a
garden and then the river, where the swell of the tide, the sound of her
own steps on the wharves as the water washed against the piles afforded
her as a child the utmost delight, especially when the sun shone and the
water seen through the cracks was glittering below. Her nurse was a
sailor's widow, and as she talked constantly in the children's presence of
storms and wrecks, their earliest sense of tragedy came to be connected
with the sea. Little wonder, then, that in describing the sea, there
is always distinguishable a mournful note in Jean Ingelow's writing.
One anecdote that the author has related of her early
childhood well illustrates her nature. “I used to feel how dull it
must be for the pebbles in the causeway to be obliged to lie still and
only see what was round about. When I walked out with a little
basket for putting flowers in, I used sometimes to pick up a pebble or two
and carry them on to have a change; then at the furthest point of the
walk, turn them out, not doubting that they were pleased to have a new
view.” In these early days, she gives evidence also of sensitiveness
in the matter of cadence and rhyme, for at any sacrifice of sense she
would alter the hymns and verses taught her, to make the rhyme “go right.”
In short it would seem that the author's plaintive comment, “I was meant
to be more original than the creature I afterwards became,”—was not
without justification, as well as her warning thereby deduced, against too
regular teaching for children of tender age. When she concludes,
however, that with scriptural instruction, a mastery of the “three R's,”
possibly some knowledge of history, and a fair acquaintance with French,
the education of the average girl should be deemed complete, we are again
conscious of the gap between the views of her generation and those of
The child grew to womanhood in pleasant surroundings and in
an atmosphere of refinement and taste. Not being of precocious
genius, it was not until 1850 that she published her first volume of
verse, bearing the old-world title,—A Rhyming Chronicle of Incidents
and Feelings. This was issued anonymously and made no
impression. Her next volume in 1863,
Poems by Jean Ingelow,
brought immediate recognition, possibly because of the dearth of really
good English verse just at this time, but largely because of their
undeniable charm and quaint simplicity. In a month her fame was
made, and hundreds of letters, from the United States even more than from
the home-land, gave evidence of the warm and generous admiration of the
public. And this recognition came not only from the reading public
at large but from such men as Lowell, Tennyson, Holmes, and Ruskin.
The Story of Doom and Other Poems followed in 1867, but proved less
attractive, while her last publication in the sixties,
Mopsa the Fairy,
was a charming fantasy containing only occasional bits of poetry.
The seventies introduce Miss Ingelow to the public as a
novelist, Off the Skelligs appearing in 1872,
Fated to be Free
in 1875, Sarah de Berenger in 1880, and
Don John in 1881.
To complete the list, we add Stories Told to a Child, and
Studies for Stories the latter of which reveals the systematic way in
which Miss Ingelow set to work to write fiction.
As often happens with those who write easily, Miss Ingelow's
work wears the characteristics of improvisation;—generalization in
description of scenery and in delineation of sentiments and emotions;
genuine and sincere expression of thought marked alike by lack of
affectation and deep insight; freshness and spontaneity, but not always
force or polish. In her novels we grow impatient with the coy
development of the plot or its unsatisfactory solution. Fated to
be Free is illustrative of both these defects. The grave problem
of the relations between necessity and free will is here introduced and
Valentine in whom the action centres, though easy-going and inclined to
drift as circumstances urge, is placed in a position where he must
definitely accept or refuse an attractive inheritance, but one against
which his own father had warned him. Why the warning should have
been given and wherefore the consequence of Valentine's disregarding it
fell heavily upon his early years, even the reader is never privileged to
know, except by inference. Thus the book fails in dramatic effect
despite its decided charm of picturesqueness, its bright incidents of
mirthful, boisterous childhood, and its vivid delineation of
unostentatious English life.
In Sarah de Berenger, likewise, though we concede cleverness in
plot-conception, and still more in the skill which represents the pious
fraud of a mother assisted by many apparently trivial happenings,—yet the
self-sacrifice involved meets, after all, with rather doubtful success,
since, though the objects of it gain ease and comfort, the uncertainty
that in consequence surrounds their birth, gives rise to many disagreeable
conjectures. Through all of Miss Ingelow's novels we discern the
machinery at work in the progression of the story, which suggests
limitation in scope, lack of dramatic subtlety in interweaving separate
threads of narrative. Clean and wholesome, charming in their
domesticity and in the conscientious portrayal of the English home-loving
people, even sparkling at times in relating discussions between children
or the sparring among servants, Miss Ingelow's novels derive their chief
interest from the studies they present of commonplace and everyday folk
with their homely accessories and from the narration of those unexciting
events which come within the range of ordinary experience.
In her poetry, where she is at her best, Miss Ingelow has
been likened to Longfellow, though the comparison fails when applied at
all closely. Like Longfellow she most often narrates in verse and
the tendency to point a moral is frequently to be noticed. Yet her
range in story-telling is necessarily limited by her narrow experiences,
while Longfellow's scholarship and extensive travels gave at once a
variety to his diction and a diversity to his tales which are wanting to
the English poetess. Briefly, then, Miss Ingelow's popularity as a
singer is most due to the clear pathetic notes in which she voices the
moan of the sea, or the gentle sliding of the river seen far across
dappled meadows, or the dirge for the fisherman whom the sea has claimed
for its own. These are repeated again and again and in all of her
poems that we count the best,—“Requiescat in Pace,” “High Tide on the
Coast of Lincolnshire,” “Divided,” the mother's plaintive song in the
“Supper at the Mill,” and even in “Songs of Seven.” The other dominant
chord in her verse, that of quiet content and restful sympathy, is heard
in her “Songs with Preludes,” where we are told:
It is a comely fashion to be glad,
Joy is the grace we say to God;
or it rings pleasantly out in the sonnet called “Failure,” with the
quoting of which we take present leave of an author whose heart was ever
warm and whose word, if not always great, was ever gracious.
We are much bound to them that do succeed;
But, in a more pathetic sense, are bound
To such as fail. They all our loss expound;
They comfort us for work that will not speed,
And life―itself a failure. Ay, his deed,
Sweetest in story, who the dusk profound
Of Hades flooded with entrancing sound,
Music's own tears, was failure. Doth it read
Therefore the worse? Ah, no! so much, to dare,
He fronts the regnant Darkness on its throne.―
So much to do; impetuous even there,
He pours out love's disconsolate sweet moan―
He wins; but few for that his deed recall:
Its power is in the look which costs him all.