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perfect vision seems a pitiless and inscru- Portraits,' and of the lurid apparition, table Destiny. Why this divinely gifted Stanjan Bigg ; of the marvellous monobeing, whose soul seemed all goodness, logue, and the invocation without an and whose highest song would have been end ; of the resurrection of a Drama an inestimable gain to humanity, should which had never lived, to hold high jinks have been struck down again and again and feasting with a literary Mycerinus by blows so cruel, is a question which who was about to die. It was a period pricks the very core of that tormenting of poetic incandescence ; new suns, not conscience which is in us all. Ill-luck yet spherical, whirling out hourly before dogged his footsteps ; Sickness en- the public gaze, and vanishing instantly camped wherever he found a home. into space, to live on, however, in the His very goodness and gentleness seemed dusky chronology of the poetic astronoat times his bane. At an age when mer, Gilfillan. The day passed, the other men are revelling in mere exist- school vanished. Where is the school ence he was being taught that mere ex
now ? istence is torture. We have 'read of
“ Where are the snows of yesteryear ?" Christian martyrs, of all the fires through which they passed ; but surely no one Yet they who underrate that school know of them ever fought with such torment- little what real poetry is. It was a ing flames as did this patient poet, chaos, granted ; but a chaos capable, whose hourly cry was of the kindness under certain conditions, of being shaped and goodness of God. From first to into such creations as would put to last, no word of anger, no utterance of shame many makers of much of our fierce arraignment, passed his lips. modern verse. As it is, we may dis“ The best of men
cover in the writings of Sydney Dobell That e'er wore earth about him was a sufferer- and his circle solid lumps of pure poetic The first true Gentleman that ever lived." ore, of a quality scarcely discoverable
And like that “ best of men,” Sydney in modern literature this side of the Dobell troubled himself to make no com
Elizabethan period. plaint, but took the cup of sorrow and
Sydney Dobell was born at Crandrained it to the bitter dregs. Such a brook, in Kent, on April 5, 1824. Both record of such a life stops the cry on the
on the paternal and maternal side, he very lips of blasphemy, and makes us was descended from people remarkable ask ourselves if that life did not possess,
for their Christian virtues and strong direct from God, some benediction, religious instincts ; and from his earliest some comfort, unknown to us.
us. So it years he was regarded by his parents as must have been. “Looking up," as a
“Looking up," as a having a special and even apostolic on the subject has beautifully mission.” The story of his child-life, put it," he saw the heavens opened.'
indeed, is one of those sad records of These pathetic glimpses seemed comfort unnatural precocity, caused by a system enough.
of early forcing, which have of late years Doubtless to some readers of this become tolerably familiar to the public. magazine the very name of Sydney Do- He seems never to have been strong, bell is unfamiliar. To all students of
and his naturally feeble constitution was modern poetry it is of course more or undermined by habits of introspection. less known, as that of one of the chief
It is painfully touching now to read the leaders of the school of verse known by
extracts from his father's note-book, its enemies the Spasmodic.” With
With full of a quaint Puritan simplicity, and Philip James Bailey and Alexander an over-mastering spiritual faith. Here Smith, Dobell reigned for a lustrum, to is one : the great wonder and confusion of hon
“I used frequently to talk to him of how deest folk, who pinned their faith on Ten- lightful and blessed it would be if any child nyson's Gardener's Daughter' and would resolve to live as pure, virtuous, and Longfellow's ' Psalm of Life.'
holy a life, as dedicated to the will and serof reign was that of Gilfillan's Literary that if one could ever be found again who was
vice of God, as Jesus. I used to say to him
spotless and holy, it was with me a pleasing * Matthew Browne, in the Contemporary Re- speculation and hope that such a character view.
might, even in this life, be called as a special
instrument of our Heavenly Father for some world.” At the age of ten, he was an great purpose with His Church, or with the omnivorous reader, and the habit of Jews.'
verse-writing was growing steadily upon The seed thus sown by the zealous him. I know nothing more pitiful in parent bore fruit afterwards in a dis- literature than the story of his precocity, position of peculiar sweetness, yet ever in all its cruel and touching details. At conscious of the prerogatives and preju- twelve years of age he was sufficiently dices of a Christian warrior. Out of matured to fall in love, the object of his the many who are called Sydney Dobell passion being Emily Fordham, the lady believed himself specially chosen, if not who only nine years afterwards became to fulfil any divine mission “ with the his wife. By this time his father had Church or with the Jews," at least to removed to Cheltenham, and had set up preach and sing in the God-given mantle in business there. Sydney and the of fire which men call genius. In his rest of the children still remained at leading works, but especially in ‘ Balder,' home, and thus missed all the invigorathe preached genius-worship; of all ing influences of a public school ; for forms of hero-worship, devised by stu- the father belonged to the sect of Sepadents of German folios, the most hope- ratists, which holds as cardinal the docless and the most hope-destroying. trine of avoiding those who hold adverse, Thenceforward isolation became a hab- or different, religious views. it, introspection an intellectual duty. The account of that dreary life of With all his love for his fellow-men, and drudgery and over-work at Cheltenham all his deep sympathy with modern prog- may be sadly passed over ; it is a life ress, he lacked to the end a certain lite- not good to think of, and its few gleams rary robustness, which only comes to a of sunshine are too faint and feeble to man made fully conscious that Art and detain the reader long. From the date Literature are not Life itself, but only of his removal to Cheltenham he acted Life's humble handmaids. He was too as his father's clerk. The account of constantly overshadowed with his mis- the period extending from his twelfth sion. Fortunately, however, that very year to the date of his marriage is one mission became his only solace and of hard uncongenial toil, varied by scripcomfort, when his days of literary mar- ture-readings of doubtful edification, tyrdom came. He went to the stake and a passion morbid and almost pedanof criticism with a smile on his face, tic in the old-fashioned quaintness of its almost disarming his torturers and exe. moods. The biographer's record may cutioners.
form, as we are told, a one-sided and When Sydney was three years old, his painful picture," but we suspect that it father failed in business as a hide-mer- is a true one, truer, that is to say, than chant, and, removing to London, start- the idea in its author's memory of " light, ed as a wine-merchant. About this buoyant, various, and vigorous activity.' time," says the biographer, “Sydney The truth is, the parents of the poet was described as of very astonishing un- blundered in blindness, a blindness derstanding, as preferring mental diver- chiefly due to their remarkable religious sion to eating and drinking, and very in- belief. His father especially, despite ventive with tales.” Strange moods of all his kindness of heart, was strenuous sorrow and self-pity began to trouble to the verge of bigotry. One can scarcehis life at the age of four. At eight, it ly remark without a smile the inconsistwas recorded of him that he “ had never ency with which one who was “a publibeen known to tell an untruth." Froin can,” and by profession a vendor of conseven years of age he imitated the pa- vivial and intoxicating liquors, held ternal habit, and used "little pocket- aloof from the non-elect among his fellowbooks," to note down his ideas, his creatures. “ Business is not brisk," he bits of acquired knowledge, his simple wrote ; "I can't account for it, except, questions on spiritual subjects. For ex- as usual, in our retired life and habits.' ample : “Report of the Controversy of The idea of a sad-eyed Separatist dealPorter and Bagot. Mr. Porter main- ing in fiery ports and sherries, shutting tains that Jesus Christ lived in heaven out the world and yet lamenting when with God before the beginning of the “ business was not brisk,” is one of
those grim, cruel, heart-breaking jokes, Aristarchus of the poetic firmament, the in which Humanity is so rich, and of Rev. George Gilfillan. Gilfillan roundly which the pathetic art of the humorist hailed him as a poetic genius, and he, offers the only bearable solution.
not ungrateful, wrote : “If in afterAt the age of twenty, Sydney Dobell years I should ever be called 'Poet,' was married to an invalid like himself, you will know that my success is, in and one like himself of a strong Puritan some sort, your work.” Shortly after bias. The humorist must help us again, this, he went to London and interviewed if we are to escape a certain feeling of Mr. Carlyle. “We had a tough argunausea at the details of this courtshipment,” he wrote to Gilfillan, “whether and union, with its odd glimpses of per- it were better to have learned to make sonal yearning, its fervent sense of the shoes or to have written 'Sartor Resar
mission,” and its dreary scraps from tus.'' At the beginning of 1850 he the Old Testament. The young couple published the ‘Roman.' This was his settled down together in a little house at first great literary performance, and it Cheltenham ; and though for a time they was tolerably successful : that is to say, avoided all society and still adhered to it received a good deal of praise from the tenets of the elect, this was the be- the newspapers, and circulated in small ginning of a broader and a healthier life. editions among the general public. All might perhaps have been well, and The subject of this dramatic poem was the poet have cast quite away the cloud Italian liberty, and the work is full of of his early training, but for one of those the genius and prophecy of 1848. The cruel accidents which make life an in- leading character is one Vittorio Santo, scrutable puzzle. Just as Sydney Dobell a missionary of freedom, who (to quote was beginning to live, just as his mind the author's own argument) “ has gone was growing more robust, and his pow. out disguised as a monk to preach the ers more coherent and peaceful, he was cause of Italy, the overthrow of the Ausstruck by rheumatic fever, caught during trian domination, and the restoration of a temporary removal to a Devonshire a great Roman Republic." Santo, in the farmhouse. As if that were not enough, course of the poem, delivers a series of his wife, always frail, broke down almost splendid and almost prophetic sermons at the same time. From that time for- on the heroic life and the great heroic ward, the poet and his wife were fellow- cause. As an example of Dobell's earlier sufferers, each watching by turns over the and more rhetorical manner, I will tranattacks of the other. It may be said with- scribe the following powerful lines : out exaggeration, that neither enjoyed one day of thoroughly buoyant physical "I pray you listen how I loved my mother,
She loved me, health. Still, they had a certain pensive And you will weep with me. happiness, relieved in the husband's case
And fed my soul with light. Morning and by bursts of hectic excitement. By this time, when Dobell was four- Praying, I sent that soul into her eyes,
And knew what heaven was though I was a and-twenty years of age, the great wave
child. of '48 had risen and fallen, and its in- I grew in stature, and she grew in goodness. fluence was still felt in the hearts of I was a grave child ; looking on her taught me men.
a time of revolutions, To love the beautiful : and I had thoughts moral as well as political. Dobell, like
Of Paradise, when other men have hardly
Looked out of doors on earth. (Alas! alas ! many another, felt the earth tremble un
That I have also learned to look on earth der him ; watched and listened, as if for When other men see heaven.) I toiled, but the signs of a second Advent. Then, like others, he looked, across France, As I became more holy, she seemed holier ; towards Italy. Thus the 'Roman ' was
Even as when climbing mountain-tops the sky
Grows ampler, higher, purer as ye rise. planned ; thus he began to write for the Let me believe no more. No, do not ask me journals of advanced opinion. He had
He had How I repaid my mother. Othou saint, now a wine business of his own, and had That lookest on me day and night from hea. a pleasant country house on the Cotswold ven, Hills. Having published a portion of And smilest. I have given thee tears for tears,
Anguish for anguish, woe for woe. Forgive the Roman in Tait's Magazine, he was led to correspond with the then If in the spirit of ineffable penance
In words I waken up the guilt that sleeps,
fame it is ever likely to receive. What That pale, tear-blotted record which the angels remembered at this hour, when it is Keep of my sins. We left her. I and all The brothers that her milk had fed. We left pretty well forgotten : her
“ You have written about Rome as I would, And strange dark robbers with unwonted
had I been born a poet. And what you did
write flows from the soul, the all-loving, the Abused her ! bound her ! pillaged her ! pro- all-embracing, the prophet-soul. It is the only
faned her! Bound her clasped hands, and gagged the
true source of real inspiration." trembling lips
Meantime the air was full of other That pray'd for her lost children. And we voices. Carlyle was croaking and proph
stood And she knelt to us, and we saw her kneel,
esying, with a strong Dumfriesshire And looked upon her coldly and denied her ! accent. Bailey had amazed the world
with 'Festus,' a colossal ConversationYou are my brothers. And my mother was alist, by the side of whom his quite clerYours. And each man amongst you day by ical and feebly genteel Devil seemed a
day Takes bowing, the same price that sold my derful Pie of 'Literary Portraits,' con
pigmy. Gilfillan had opened his wonmother, And does not blush. Her name is Rome. taining more swarms of poetical blackLook round
birds than the world knew how to listen And see those features which the sun himself
to. Mazzini was eloquent in reviews, Can hardly leave for fondness. Look upon Her mountain bosom, where the very sky
George Dawson was stumping the provBeholds with passion ; and with the last proud inces and converting the bourgeoisie. Imperial sorrow of dejected empire
“ The world was waiting for that trumpetShe wraps the purple round her outraged
To which Humanity should rise at last And even in fetters cannot be a slave.
Out of a thousand graves, and claim its Look on the world's best glory and worst
It was a period of prodigious ideas. The ‘Roman’ is full of this kind of fer- Every literary work was macrocosmic vor, and is maintained throughout at a and colossal. Every poet, under his fine temperature of poetic eloquence. own little forcing glass, reared a Great Its effect on the ardent youth of its gen- Poem-a sort of prodigious pumpkin eration must have been considerable. which ended in utter unwieldiness and Perhaps now, when the stormy sea of wateriness. No sort of preparation Italian politics has settled down, it may was necessary either for the throne or be lawful to ask oneself how much reali. the laurel. Kings of men, king-hating, ty there was in the battle-songs and sprang to full mental light, like fungi, in poems that accompanied or preluded a night. Quiet tax-paying people, awakthe tempest. It is quite conceivable, at ing in bed, heard the Chivalry of Labor least, that a man may sing very wildly passing, with hollow music of fife and about “Italy' and * Rome" and drum. But it was a grand time for all “ Freedom" without any definite idea the talents. Woman was awaking to a of what he means, and without any sense of her mission. Charlotte Brontë particular feeling for human nature in was ready with the prose-poem of the the concrete. This was not the case century, Mrs. Browning was touching with Dobell ; every syllable of his state- notes of human pathos which reached to ly song came right out of his heart. For every factory in the world. Compared this Christian warrior, like many an- with our present dead swoon of Poetry, other, was just a little too fond of ap- a swoon scarcely relieved at all by the peals to the sword ; just a little too apt occasional smelling-salts of strong æsto pose as “an Englishman" and a thetics, it was a rich and golden time. lover of freedom. He who began with It had its Dickens, to make every home the sonorous cadence of the Roman' happy with the gospel of plum-pudding ; wrote, in his latter moods, the wild its Tennyson, to sing beautiful songs of piece of gabble called 'England's Day.' the middle-class ideal, and the comfortThe Roman,' however, remains a fine able clerical sentiment; its Thackeray, and fervid poem, worthy of thrice the to relieve the passionate, overcharged
human heart with the prick of cynicism victory is in the orgies of a naked Dance and the moisture of self-pity. To be of Death. born at such a time was in itself (to par- Be all that as it may, those were hapody the familiar expression) a liberal ed- py times for Sydney Dobell
. In one ucation. We who live now may well brief period of literary activity, he wrote bewail the generation which preceded nearly all the works which are now asus. Some of the old deities still linger sociated with his name. To this period with us, but only " in idiocy of god- belongs his masterly review of Currer head,” nodding on their mighty seats. Bell,' a model of what such criticism The clamor has died away. The utter should be. The review led to a corresterility of passion and the hopeless stag- spondence of singular interest between nation of sentiment nowadays may be Miss Brontë and Dobell. “You think guessed when some little clique can set chiefly of what is to be done and won in up Gautier in a niche : Gautier, that life," wrote Charlotte ; “I, what is to hairdresser's dummy of a stylist, with be suffered. .... If ever we meet, you his complexion of hectic pink and waxen must regard me as a grave sort of elder white, his well-oiled wig, and his in- sister.' By this period the fountain of communicable scent of the barber's Charlotte Brontë's genius was dry ; she shop. What an apotheosis! After the knew it, though the world thought otherprophecies of '48; after the music of wise, and hence her despair. She had the awakening heart of Man ; after lived her life, and put it all into one Emerson and the newly risen moon of immortal book. So she sat, a veiled latter Platonism, shining tenderly on a figure, by the side of the urn called world of vacant thrones !
Jane Eyre.' The shadow of Death Just as the human soul was most ex- was already upon her face. pectant, just as the Revolution of '48 Dobell now began to move about the had made itself felt wherever the world. He went to Switzerland, and thoughts of men were free, the Sullen on his return he was very busy with his Tyrant, tired of the tame eagle dodge, second poem, Balder.'
' Balder.' While laboring perpetrated his coup d'état, stabbed thus he first heard of Alexander Smith, France to the heart with his assassin's and having read some of the new poet's dagger, and mounted livid to his throne passages in the Eclectic Review, wrote upon her bleeding breast. It is very thus to Gilfillan : “But has he (Smith) piteous to read, in Dobell's biography not published already, either in newspaand elsewhere, of the utter folly which pers or periodicals? Curiously enough, recognised in this moody, moping, and I have the strongest impression of seeing graceless ruffian a veritable Saviour of the best images before, and I am seldom Society. The great woman-poet of the mistaken in these remembrances. period hailed him holy, and her great This was ominous, of course, of what husband approved her worship. Dobell afterwards took place, when the notohad doubts, not many, of Napoleon's rious charge of plagiarism was made consecration. But Robert Browning against Smith in the Athenæum. Shortand Sydney Dobell both lived to recog- ly afterwards he became personally acnise in the lesser Napoleon, not only the quainted with Smith, and learned to assassin of France political and social, love him well. He was now himself, but the destroyer of literary manhood all however, to reap the bitters of adverse over the world. Twenty years of the criticism in the publication of his poem Second Empire, twenty years of a fester- of Balder. In this extraordinary work, ing sore which contaminated all the civ- the leading actors are only a poet and ilisation of the earth, were destined to his wife, a doctor, an artist, and a serfollow. We reap the result still, in a vant. It may be admitted at once that society given over to luxury and to the general treatment verges on the ridicgold ; in a journalism that has lost its ulous, but the work contains passages manhood, and is supported on a system of unequalled beauty and sublimity. of indecent exposure and blackmail ; in The public reviews were adverse, and a literature whose first word is flippancy, even personal friends shook their heads whose last word is prurience, and whose in deprecation. At the time of publica