Selected Writings, Vol. 3, William Sharp

ROSETTI IN PROSE AND VERSE

THE most objective author is certain, somewhere or other throughout his writings, to afford at least a glimpse of self-portraiture to the reader-some illuminative "aside" which, whether as from the writer himself or uttered by some fictitious personage, is all-revealing. In a sense, certain poets are independent of biographies, which in some instances merely serve the purpose of anecdotal narratives. Shelley, Byron, Alfred de Musset, Leopardi, Omar Khayyam, Horace---in a lesser degree Keats, Heine, and Victor Hugo---stand revealed to us in their own writings. And pre-eminently to this order of poets does Rossetti belong. Not one of his biographers will lead us so deeply into his secret as he does himself. What any appreciative friend or critic may say of this writer's nature and temperament, we are fairly sure to find already plainly manifest in his own words. Herein lies one of the most attractive characteristics of the poetry of the author of The House of Life. In it we are brought face to face with a fascinating personality, a man who is not of the common order, a visionary yet no mere dreamer, a man born out of due time, and yet on the forefront of one of the chief intellectual movements of latter days ; an observer with exceptional capacities for action; a recluse, yet "a force of central fire descending consciously and unconsciously on many altars." His weaknesses, his shortcomings, as a poet, are as emphatic revelations as are his powers and excellences. Natures that run to excess are the richest.
While the poetry of Rossetti everywhere more or less strikingly reveals the man behind it, here and there we come across lines peculiarly suggestive. One such utter-ance is to be found among the hitherto un-published matter brought together in thecollected works. The prose sketch for a poem to be called The Orchard Pit cormmences thus: "Men tell me that sleep has many dreams but all my life I have dreamt one dream alone." This is as directly personal a statement as if it had occurred in an autobiography. Veritably, all his life Rossetti dreamt one dream. He was from the days of his boyhood onward haunted by the vision of Beauty ; the love of Beauty became a passion ; this passion became his very being:

This is that Lady Beauty, in whose praise
   Thy voice and hand spake still--long known to thee
       By flying hair and fluttering hem,---the beat
       Following her daily of thy heart and feet,
   How Passionately and irretrievably,
In what fond flight, how many ways and days !

And like all lovers---those lovers, above all, who in the words of Mérimée, se passionnent pour la passion---he became a slave to this tyrant Love, this wonderful abstract Beauty, and in his enthralling, and even bewildering bondage, he again and again gropes vainly towards the living sunshine of reality, at times even losing himself in phantasmal obscurities. It is not that he can be accused of vagueness, mere nebulosity. Even when most subject to the poetic mania, his lines vibrate with the passionate emotion which inspires them ; but his inspiration is not unfrequently so remote fron, those emotional resources which affect the generality of mankind that be seems to have hearkened at the portals of some house of dreams, rather than to the more urgent whispers of the world of reality. And yet no greater injustice can be done-alike to the man and to the poet-than to say that he was a dreamer only. His was a nature too keenly susceptible to the urgency of life to surrender itself in brooding inaction. He dreamt one dream---he lived one dream---he worked with the pen of the poet and the brush of the painter towards the realisation of one dream; but, more than most men, life was to him a thing of ceaseless wonder and absorbing attraction. He had pre-eminently that wonder-faculty which is a characteristic of great poets. An eminent critic has written of him that where his true importance in the history of literature lies is in the fact that (or with Coleridge) Rossetti is the chief exponent of that renascence of wonder---the renascence of the temper of wonder, mystery, and awe---which is the most thrilling and momentous thing in the history of latter-day civilisation. But more than thirty years before Theodore Watts-Dunton wrote to this effect, Rossetti himself had written of "that indefinable sense of rest and wonder which, when childhood is once gone, poetry alone can recall."  To those minds, indeed, to whom Rossetti appeals most, just because of his exponency of this temper of wonder and mystery, he must take rank as one of the greatest English poets since Coleridge and Keats. With both the latter he had sympathies arising from sources deeper than appreciative admiration simply: he was at one with them in their power, their instinctive faculty rather, of looking at the qualities and apparent unrealities of life through the purely poetic atmosphere. Those possessed by the mania of poetry look forth upon the world through a transmuting mist: an indefinable glamour glorifies their vision. But with this supremely poetic temper, with this mystic glamour, Rossetti had certain faults of so radical a nature that no inconsiderable portion of his poetry suffered irremediably. The greatest colourist of modern times, he at one period of his artistic career found his colour-sense intoxicated, or, perhaps, he believed with Blake that "exuberance is beauty": and so in verse we find him at times revelling in an extravagant luxuriousness of diction calculated to cloy rather than to gratify. His verse became overloaded with gorgeous images, with ingenious combinations, with mere resonances. He delighted in the roll of a line, in the rhythmic strength of a decasyllabic verse, in the sonorous music of polysyllabic words, with an intensity of enjoyment which occasionally blinded him to the fact that the line had no essential relevancy, the verse nought save sound, thewords more sonority than suitability. He regarded Lord Tennyson as the greatest artist in verse in modern times, but he failed to see that one reason of this was the Laureate's simplicity of diction, his instinctive as well as cultivated preference for Saxon over Anglo-Latin words. There are poems of his, particularly certain sonnets, which contain lines almost in mongrel English: one sonnet, for example, commences with "Like multiform circumfluence manifold."
Again, through having---in his own words---long mentally cartooned a poem before committing it to paper, and through much brooding upon it, he frequently made his meaning obscure to his readers when to him it was as manifest as daylight. Partly from this, partly from an occasionally exaggerated aesthetic sense, he imprisoned the spirit of poetry in a network of words ; and this defect becomes most noticeable when he is dealing with facts of nature. It is a relief, after reading such poetic phraseology as

The embowered throstle's urgent wood-notes soar,

to turn to the unlaboured and impulsive strain of the Scottish singer :

The mavis sings fu blithely
On ilka leafy bough;

or to the English poet's:

Hark! where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops---at the bent spray's edge---
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture.

This inability to approach nature as a lover is in curious contradistinction to Rossetti's instinctive faculty for the apprehension of the beautiful. Scattered throughout his poetry there are many most exqusite descriptions, but these are scenic glimpses described by the painter rather than the poet. It is, of course, difficult to realise this when we come across some beautiful lines here and there in a poem; fascinating, haunting, suggestive lines, such as those, for instance, to be found in Rose Mary. But whenever we discover Rossetti making a direct transcript or study from nature, for its own sake, we are almost certain to discern the difference between the purely literary method and that of the nature-lover. Take, for example, the fine sonnet on Spring. The octave is admirable, and might have been written by Burroughs or Richard Jefferies in so far as vivid portrayal of nature is concerned ; but let us read the sestet :

Chill are the gusts, to which the pastures cower,
  And chill the current where the young reeds stand
  As green and close as the young wheat on land :
Yet here the cuckoo and the cuckoo-flower
Plight to the heart spring's perfect imminent hour
  Whose breath shall soothe you like your dear one's hand.

In the second tercet the poet lapses from nature into literary effect ; can we imagine Wordsworth or Burns, Keats or Shelley or Chaucer having written these lines? Even the simplicity of form and diction incidental to the ballad did not restrain Rossetti from passing in a single line from energetic and vivid directness to a remote and subtle conception entirely foreign to his artistic aim. In the stirring ballad of The White Ship---the personal record, it must be borne in mind, of Berold, a butcher of Rouen---we encounter at least one extraordinary incongruity:

                         The king was 'ware
Of a little boy with golden hair,
As bright as the golden poppy is
That the beach breeds for the surf to kiss.

It is certainly not the Rouen butcher who speaks in the last line : but Rossetti, and Rossetti not at his best.
But if Rossetti has not magically interpreted external nature, if the literary instinct in him occasionally too markedly dominates the purely poetic, there is one point wherein he excels any contemporary writer. In the domain of the supernatural he is the sole worthy inheritor of Coleridge. This note of what is known as supernaturalism---this note of the mysterious, of the weird---is of modern emphasis; it is the sign of the projection of the soul, stifled witli the conventionalities and growing materialism of civilisation, into the region of romance. The romantic spirit is the wind that unfolds the loveliest efflorescence of the human mind. The great poets are of necessity romanticsts, for they are as Æohian harps to the breath of Poetry, which is sublimated romance. Lesser men are writers of poems, of verse. A man is not an artist because he paints pictures, a poet because he writes poems ; the maker, the inventor, the seer, he and he only is the poet, the artist. A wider gulf divides Pope and Keats than separates the pure Saxon and the pure Celt. And it is because Rossetti is the foremost figure in the latest renascence of romanticism that he ranks so high, that he is placed by many on a pedestal which to the majority of people, perhaps, seems a blasphemous usurpation of the high places of the popular gods. This wind of romance blew through every day of his life, whether in his hand he held the brush or the pen:

                                          To him bringing
Shapes from the invisible world, unearthly singing
From out the middle air.

But it was the vital essence of romance which permeated his nature, and no merely skin-deep or spurious romantic sentimentalism. I do not think that Rossetti (whose love for Keats equalled if it did not exceed that which he felt for Shakespeare and Coleridge) at all agreed with his favourite poet that:

             They shall be accounted Poet-kings
Who simply tell the most heart-easing things.

And he certainly used to indulge in kindly mockery of Keats' boyish and immature outcry :

O for an age so sheltered from annoy,
That I may never know how change the moons,
Or hear the voice of busy common-sense.

In a word, Rossetti---so it invariably seemed to the present writer, at any rate---had too robust an intellect to imagine that science and poetry were fundamentally antagonistic. As an artist---in the narrow and common sens of the word---he was, however, at the opposite pole to that of Science: a fact which he at once admitted and approved. No poet was ever more anti-scientific than himself, but he had that deeper vision which recognised, even while it perhaps did not sympathise with, the greatness of the idea of unity underlying all things. With Keats, he would have preferred the world not to have known the woof and texture of the rainbow, so that when the wondrous bow appeared in the heavens it might be with all the mystery and awe of ancient days ; yet, withal, he would not have it relegated to "the dull catalogue of common things." The woof, the texture, might be explicable; the beauty, even the mystery of it, might be different in effect from that produced of old ; but, nevertheless,. mysterious and beautiful it must ever remain. Some accounts of Rossetti have represented the poet-painter as a morbid dreamer, a curse to himself and a burden to his friends; a hater of the common interests of mankind, a selfish devotee at the shrine of abstract Beauty, an enemy to the widening of man's intellectual horizon. Others, who knew him intimately, and saw him continuously through several years of his least propitious period---can only say that they found him none of these things. In sweetness of temper, in graciousness of manner, in healthy and energetic, if not very comprehensive sympathy with the little things of life, in ready interest in everything intellectual, in quick willingness to see the humorous aspect of things, in urgent sympathy with and desire to share vicariously the troubles of his friends, in deep and broad insight into the fundamental principles and subtlest beauties of art and poetry---in one and all of these they found him the opposite of what he has sometimes been portrayed. Of course, it is not to be denied that he dwelt in the shadow of a great melancholy ; that on occasions, when suffering from nervous prostration, and other effects of insomnia, he spoke, and even acted, like a man bereft of absolute moral control, and that a certain morbid sensitiveness created difficulties not always easy of explanation; but these were the incidental, and not the prevailing, aspects of his later life. The profound sadness which cast its gloom over him did not make itself perpetually evident. Melancholy, moreover, is the invariable shadow of high genius. Again, much of this extreme despondency was due to purely physical causes ; insomnia, unwitting excess in the use of chloral, the habits of a recluse, all conduced towards emphasising and perpetuating the inborn and poetic sentiment of melancholy. This was evident in the rapid transition whereby he would frequently pass from a mood of dire despondency into one of alert interest, his eyes glistening with keen appreciation, his mouth twitching sen tively. Friends would arrive on an afternoon (it would not "heighten the effect" to say "on a dull," or "gloomy," or "wintry" afternoon, for to summer and winter, gloomy and bright days, Rossetti was---save in so far as these interfered with or assisted him in the prosecution of his painting---mostly indifferent) and find him in the depths of fathomless despair. By dinner-time he would be in shallower seas of despondency an hour or so later he would be on the high-tide of conversational cheerfulness; and between the hours of ten and three---when he was at his best---many a jest and hearty laugh, keen criticism and pungent remark, recondite reminiscence and poetic quotation, would make the lurking blue devils depart altogether from the studio---to await their victim when, in the sleepless morning-hours, he should be alone once more with his sufferings and unquiet thoughts. Even in the last year of his life, when his resolute and dominant nature had become emasculated through the use of chloral, he would, not infrequently---by an imperious effort of the will---rally from a very hell of despairful despondency. In the firelit studio---from the walls of which gleamed fitfully the strange brooding eyes of some of those mystically beautiful women to whom he gave the names of Mnemosyne, Astarte Syriaca, Cassandra, Pandora, Proserpine : in the large gloomy bed-chamber, with its heavy hangings and haunting shadows: in the panelled sittingroom at Birchington, with the sea-wind moaning and shrieking round the house---in each, the present writer has seen Rossetti struggle like a drowning mariner with an overwhelming tide of deepest dejection, struggle manfully and triumph. Again, though he was no poet of nature, Nature at times had for him, too, her message , her solace.
One day, not very long before his death we stood together on the cliff at Birchington, looking seaward. The sky was a cloudless blue, and the emulation and exultation, of at least a score of larks was something wonderful to listen to the sweet seen of early spring everywhere prevailed, blent with the odour of the sea-wrack from below; the sea, of purple-shaded azure, was beautiful beyond words. At first I thought Rossetti was as heedless of his environment as he was in general; but in reply to some remark of mine he replied: "It is beautiful---the world, the life itself. I am glad I have lived I am glad I yet shall live." Insensibly thereafter his dejection lifted from off his spirit, and for the rest of that day and evening he was almost his old self again. Yet the shadow of death was even then upon him, and a weakness nigh intolerable. Those who knew him well have ever been convinced that his genius (which up to the end grew more intense and dominant, instead of diminishing) would have produced poems and pictures---poems more especially---equal to, if not surpassing, his highest published achievements. I always think of him as having died young.
Der Aberglaube ist die Poesie des Lebens, said Goethe; and if we translate this "over-belief," this "superstition," into "supernatural," we proclaim a fundamental truth. At the base of the highest imaginative poetry lies what we call the supernatural element. Among the poets of the Victorian era, there is none who has touched a higher note of imaginative supernaturalism than Rossetti. It is this quality which raises to its supreme level of imagination The King's Tragedy, a poem surcharged with the supernatural, as a thunder-cloud with electricity. More than any poet of our generation, Rossetti carried personification to excess. This particularity affords the most striking index to his spiritual nature, but it is often of weakness. Instances will crowd a source upon all students of his poems :---Memory, Death, Sleep, Oblivion, Youth, Love's Hour, Dead Hours, Vain Virtues, Lost Days, and so forth :

                                             Nay, why
Name the dead hours? I mind them well;
Their ghosts in many darkened doorways dwell
With desolate eyes to know them by.

*      *       *      *       *

Here doth memory sit
While hopes and aims, long lost with hey
Stand round her image side, by side.

*      *       *      *       *

One flame-winged brought a white-winged harp-player;
Then said my lady: "Thou art Passion of Love,
And this Love's worship."

*      *       *      *     *

                                        Song, whose hair
Blew like a flame, and blossomed lihe, a wreath.

*      *       *      *       *

There the dreams are multitudes :
    Some that will not wait for sleep
Deep within the August woods.

*      *       *      *       *

Then, too, let all hopes of mine,
   All vain hopes by night and day,
Slowly at thy summoning sign
   Rise up pallid and obey.

In the two bulky volumes published by Messrs. Ellis and Scrutton---comprising in all more than a thousand pages---we have, to all intents, the complete life-work of great and Rossetti in literature. With his great and steadily growing fame and influence as a painter we have here nothing to do ; but I quote the emphatic opinion of an eminent critic: " These moral qualities, guiding an artistic temperament as exquisite as was ever bestowed on man, made him what he was, the greatest inventor of abstract beauty, both in form and colour, perhaps that the world has ever seen." Poems, translations, prose pieces critical papers, and various highly interesting memoranda-all are here. It is not an easy task for a brother to write critically and judicially of a brother, and no small credit is due to William Michael Rossetti for his prefatory remarks, at once impartial and adequate, reserved and appreciative. The additions which go to make these two volumes the "complete works" are variously valuable and are all interesting, though no one of them seems to the present writer so pre-eminently fine as to add materially to Rossetti's reputation.
Hand and Soul is familiar to most students of Rossetti. This beautiful prose fantasy or prose-poem appeared first in that exceedingly scarce magazine The Germ; it was afterwards reprinted in The Fortnightly Review, and finally had a limited private circulation in pamphlet form. Rossetti valued it highly, regarding it as important an imaginative achievement as any of his poems, with a few super-excellent exceptions. It was written at white heat between the hours of 2 A.M. and 7, one winter night (or morning) in December 1849, that is, when the author was only in his twenty-first year. It bears the evidence of this fervid emotional impulse in its absolutely sustained impressiveness, and its exquisite diction seems to have gained rather than to have lost by the breathless haste of the young visionary. But fine and nobly suggestive as Hand and Soul is, it is surpassed by the strange tale Saint Agnes of Intercession, to which so many readers will turn with vivid interest. The latter is more concrete, and thus more surely captivates the imaginative sympathy of the reader. Although a fragment in the sense that it is unfinished, it is not difficult to forecast the conclusion it would have reached had the author been enabled to complete it. Mr. William Rossetti thinks that it must have been begun before Hand and Soul, and worked upon at intervals. When making a transcript of it in 1870, Rossetti gave it its present title, but he does not seem, then or later, to have added much to the original reading. As it stands, the tale constitutes less than half of the projected whole. It is inferior to Hand and Soul in imperative spiritual significance, nor in style has it the same subtlety and curious beauty as the mystic record of Chiaro dell' Erma, but it is not less characteristically or ably written, and has---to use an expressive term---more grip. Apart from its literary, it has something of an autobiographical value---in the opening passages, at any rate.
The story is of a young artist upon whom is strangely forced the conviction of antenatal existence. Four hundred years ago he and the girl whom he loves as Buccio Angiolieri and Blanzifiore dall' Ambra, lived and suffered! Henceforward his life is as a dream. The tale ends abruptly, but we have a clue to the intended finale in an etching by Millais made in or about 1850, an etching which would have appeared in The Germ had that magazine not come to an untimely end. As Angiolieri painted his beloved Blanzifiore (as "Saint Agnes") during her mortal illness, so---in this etching---we see the hero of the story painting the portrait of his betrothed when upon her is the shadow of imminent death. It cannot, of course, be claimed that the central idea of this story is original : in its evolution it is entirely so. Both it and Hand and Soul owed something in point of style to Charles Wells's Stories after Nature. Wells had always a great attraction for Rossetti, and I have often wondered why the latter never painted a picture founded on some passage, in these practically unknown tales. The Maid of Provence was, I think, his favorite, and there are at least two scenes therein especially calculated to fascinate the poet-painter's imagination---one where the disguised heroine holds the torch for her own slaying; another as outlined in the following eminently Keatsian sentence, "as a wizard sitteth at a moonlight casement by a magic torch, knitting a vexed brow, and sweating at the discovery of some webbed problem of enchantment."
The Orchard Pit is nominally the prose-projection of a long poem; it is, in fact, a complete and impressive prose-poem. It is short, yet not only is it entitled to rank among the positive creative efforts of its author, but has, it may prove, a permanent impressiveness superior to either St. Agnes or Hand and Soul. The Doom of the Sirens, a finished outline---sketch for a lyrical tragedy, is of no literary value ; but The Cup of Water and Michael's Scott's Wooing, contain the living germs of poetry, and we realise how much we have lost from the nonfruition of these schemes. Of the literary papers---all more or less piéces d'occasion the longest is the collective one on Blake; the most literary, those on Dr. Gordon Hake's poems the most biographically interesting, that on The Stealthy School of Criticism.
The last is a reprint of Rossetti's reply in The Athenæum (1871) to the criticism on him by Robert Buchanan; its republication, at this date, seems to me a mistake. No man has ever made a franker admission of having been in the wrong, than has Buchanan---in whose latest volume, it may be added, there is a paper upon Rossetti full of the warmest appreciation and of generous praise. No sane critic, no reasonable reader of his poems, would now discern anything in the poetry of Rossetti calculated to support the charge of sensuality. Sensuous in the best sense Rossetti as a poet is; so in art are Titian and Tintoretto and Turner; so in poetry are Shakespeare and Milton. However, the honourableness of the word "sensuous" is likely to remain as enigmatic to our countrymen in general as the idea of republican fraternity. It would have been more dignified, and more politic, to have omitted from the Collected Works this wrathful and not very potent diatribe against the wanton but powerful attack of one who has long since laid down the lance and made loyal obeisance.
Among the "Sentences and Notes," picked out passim from my brother's note-book "---ranging from 1866 till towards the close of Rossetti's life---are various interesting and suggestive dicta; sometimes more interesting and suggestive than strictly original. This of poetry is good---"Poetry should seem to the hearer to have been always present to his thought, but never before heard"; and of great interest is this note concerning colours. "Thinking in what order I love colours, found the following :
   
"1. Pure light warm green. 2. Deep gold-colour. 3. Certain tints of grey. 4. Shadowy, or steel-blue. 5. Brown, with crimson tinge. 6. Scarlet."
To Volume II., that containing all Rossetti's admirable work in translation, the main addition, as already stated, is Henry the Leper---English version of the Suabian miracle-play Der Arme Heinrich. It was while still in his teens that he translated (besides Burger's Lenore, and a portion of the Nibelungenlied; neither, unfortunately, extant), Hartmann Von Auë's famous poem; so that those who might be inclined to think he had followed the lead of Longfellow, who re-adapted the original in his Golden Legend, will find that Rossetti had the start of the American poet by four or five years.
It is needless, at this late date, to emphasise the beauty and value of Rossetti's translations. None has surpassed him as an interpreter of Dante and the early Italian poets. In his versions not a breath of the volatile spirit of poetry escapes ; and for exquisite subtlety and ingenuity, there is nothing to excel his rendering of Villon's Dead Ladies. At times, when as a poet greatly superior to the writer whom he sought to interpret, he does the fortunate singer too much honour.
Concerning the poetical additions to the first volume a few words must be said. Several of these miscellaneous poems have "already appeared in some outlying form" ; of some others it must be admitted that they do not tend to add to the author's reputation ; while, again, there are a few which no lover of Rossetti's poetry would willingly lose. The longest of these new poems is A Trip to Belgium and France---in decasyllabic blank-verse as inefficiently as that of A Last Confession is worthily sustained. It is a traveller's diary in verse, somewhat in the manner of a wearied Wordsworth. There are one or two noteworthy lines, some good descriptive passages, occasional bathos, and a fair amount of execrable prose such as the passage beginning (p. 228), "Now, very likely he who did the job."
Among the several beautiful short pieces, mention should be made of During Music, lines which Shelley might have written; Near Brussels; and the haunting melancholy Autumn Song;

Know'st thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the heart feels a languid grief
    Laid on it for a covering,
    And how sleep seems a goodly thing
In autumn at the fall of the leaf.

And how the swift beat of the brain
Falters because it is in vain,
    In autunin at the fall of the leaf
    Knowest thou not? And how the chief
Of joys seems---not to suffer pain ?

Knowst thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the soul feels like a dried sheaf
    Bound up at length for harvesting,
    And how death seems a comely thing
In autumn at the fall of the leaf ?

For the rest, they are neither potent to add nor, detract from, any estimate of the value of Rossetti's work in poetry.
When all is said for and against the poetry of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, there remains this substantial basis for a permanent fame ; he has written the House of Life, one of the three great sonnet-sequences in our language; The Blessed Damozel, the most spiritual, most imaginative, most exquisitely beautiful sustained lyric of our time ; and The King's Tragedy, a poem of imaginative force and sheer poetic power, in itself sufficient to ensure for its author a lasting reputation. No one can read the last named without realising the high position of Rossetti as a poet, for it is of the universal order of poetry.
A popular poet in the sense of being a poet understood and loved by the average reading public I do not believe he will ever become ; but he is pre-eminently a poet for poets, for all lovers of fine literature as literature, and those for whom the veil of extreme refinement is as necessary for adequate enjoyment as to others it is only a cloudy mist, a hindrance. As the poet of The King's Tragedy he will have the wider and perhaps truer fame ; as the poet of The House of Life he will have an endless charm for the few whose ears are as delicately attuned to the music of verse as of instruments, and to whom his sometimes over-elaborate style will be a subtle and over permanent and satisfying attraction. Rossetti's cardinal fault as a poet, more especially as a sonnet-writer, is to become too literary ; he often strikes one as being unable to act on the poetic impulse as it comes, and rather to accept it and play with it as a cat does with a mouse. Many sonnets which would otherwise have taken very high rank are far too elaborately expressed, a not infrequent result being a rather wearisome obscurity. Nor had Rossetti much sympathy with or knowledge of nature. The outer world of things appealed to him but slightly, finding indeed as he did his world of imagination sufficient world most enchanted and ever present, and full of dreams, where Beauty sat enthroned, and where the present realities of the mind were of infinitely greater import than matters of deep significance to the many. "I do not wrap myself up in my own imaginings," he said to me once, "it is they that envelop me from the outer world whether I will or no." If this literary in contradistinction to more poetically impulsive treatment of his subjects is his cardinal fault, a powerful and magnetic imagination is his highest characteristic; and there are passages in The King's Tragedy and elsewhere which it would be difficult to find surpassed for mind imaginativeness and spiritual insight. The supernatural was as sympathetic to the genius of Rossetti as Greek mythology was to that of Keats.
Of Rossetti, may be aptly quoted that fine phrase in Cain : "Sorrow seems half of his immortality." And much as we may welcome the poets of the joy and the beauty of the world, it is not questionable that Sorrow has been a motive influence of incalculable value in the literature of all countries. But in Rossetti there is no mere wailing of grief. His is that serious sorrow, almost indefinite when hidden behind the laughter of children and the first beauty of spring, sternly grand when visible in the rresence of death and in the winter of our fair hopes. In his noblest poems, in the words of Mr. Walter Pater, " one seems to hear a really new kind of poetic utterance, with effects which have nothing else like them ; as there is nothing else, for instance, like the narrative of Jacob's Dream, or Blake's design of the Singing of the Morning Stays, or Addison's Nineteenth Psalm."

1887.

CONTENTS