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A student of poetry must be cold-blooded who has not loved Her always ! Loved, not a glimpse of her whole heavenly self here and there, but every lineament! Why, then, have I put off trying to fix the delightful, fleeting vision till the end? Where earlier could I have lodged the strange intruder into a body of verse, with that single, unclassable exception—notwithstanding even Music's Duelharmonious and self-consistent? No explanation of Her birth is forthcoming; no suggestion of a kindly, blushing Waller-Cowley 'ghost' working under Crashaw's name. Only, there She is ! There her portrait hangs in a frame of gay, most innocently, exquisitely, saucy wit, not unbefitting, yet somehow perplexingly unexpected, as proceeding from the shy scholar, the most spiritual, except one, of singers on the banks of England's Helicon! A surprise, a paradox, with nothing further, I suppose, to be said about it than that paradoxes and surprises are, after all, incidental to genius.
The English Poems of Richard Crashaw, ed. W. B. Turnbull. John Russell Smith, 1858.
1 Quem Vidistis, Pastores ? A Hymn of the Nativity, sung by the Shepherds.
· On the Glorious Assumption of Our Blessed Lady.
HENRY VAUGHAN, SILURIST
Two centuries of oblivion, and half one of semi-recognition ! A harsh fate to have befallen as sweet and pure a singer as the whole Stuart period produced. The reception of works spread over a long poetical career was not, in Vaughan's own lifetime, enthusiastic. A few neighbours of discernment, such as the matchless Orinda', and the learned Dr. Thomas Powell, admired; the public was cold. He could not believe that it would be inveterately and innocently unmindful. He was convinced of the right of his art to reverence. Poets had ever
like the nymphs, their pleasing themes-
Hallow the place. For himself, he had faith that his verse could glorify his own native Usk :
When I am laid to rest hard by thy streams,
As shall redeem thee from oblivious night.1 He was prepared for 'entailes of povertie', the doom of song; for posthumous malice', even for intervals of neglect';2 certainly not for two centuries of utter forgetfulness of his existence, whether for good or ill. I can myself understand that for his Cavaliers he was too grave,
and too much of a Churchman for Puritans, to whom otherwise his piety should have commended him. Yet the extreme of the neglect remains to me an extraordinary phenomenon of literary history. Even since he was, as it were, discovered a generation ago, the appreciation, if ardent, has been confined to a circle comparatively narrow. His genius is still too much regarded as in the nature of a curiosity.
The cause is not to be found in the direction of his fancy to one specific, and not generally popular, class of topics. Unequal in degree of excellence, like all writers of his, perhaps of every, age, he never sinks, whatever the subject, to mediocrity. The rhythm is constantly harmonious ; the diction, with a phrase now and then provincial or obsolete, is the English of one ' born to it', as, according to his twin brother Thomas he was not.3 In secular poetry, profane, as it used foolishly to be called, in the Olor Iscanus and Thalia Rediviva, he strikes divine strings, and each often delightfully. As a translator he reproduces the spirit of the master with wonderful flexibility and intelligence. Juvenal's declamation, and, yet more, Ovid's complaints of exile lose little of their freshness in his renderings. In original verse the flame playing about his love lyrics is ever bright, though, as he justly boasts, only in its own innocence.
Never, indeed, had bard less reason than he to be penitent for every publish'd vanity'.4 Dates have to be remembered. Fida's magnanimous inventory to her Lysimachus of the young Medusa's maiden charms-a legion of witcheries -doubtless shows some seventeenth-century luxuriance. So, too, while the poet had a fine eye for physical phenomena, for a passing shower, or the daily wonder of dawn, he is not to be blamed for regarding external nature as a depen
dency of humanity. In his view, a star shone upon our earth, not by the law of its own being, but from inquisitiveness about the doings of Man. Similarly, in Stuart days, he must not be set down as a reformed rake for a tender retrospect of his youth's 'merry mad mirth of full cups at the Globe Tavern, of 'royall, witty sacke', endowing the soul with brighter suns', and 'dreams poeticall’5 His very real humour was no overflow from an inner reservoir of coarseness, any more than it hid spite at destiny for overdoing the internal equipment of poets, and 'beggaring' them 'outwardly'. The grimness—seldom far removed from the gaiety—occasionally deepening into horror, as in the Charnel-house 6_issued from no remorse, we may be sure, at the recollection of ancient excesses.
Such as it is, the secular verse is indisputably virtuous, and has, in addition, much positive charm. I could not, however, claim for Henry Vaughan in its right any distinct place among English poets. He might have been fitfully remembered as are Habington, Denham, Davenant, or possibly, he might, without a serious imputation upon national intelligence, not have been. His true line he found in sacred poetry. This dedication of his Muse had in it nothing revolutionary. It is far less astonishing than for Donne to have re-awaked in Izaak Walton's Hagiology. A very serious self must always have existed inside the author of the Charnel-house. Whatever the exact dates of the several contents of Thalia Rediviva, the Eclipse testifies to a spirit as pious as sanctifies the Silex Scintillans :
Thy anger I could kiss, and will ;
But 0 Thy grief, Thy grief, doth kill.? I am disposed to be sceptical of the carousals at the Globe; to think that the reveller gazed oftener up at the starry ceiling than into the bowl. At any rate, before he was
thirty he had turned his meditations, his whole heart and soul, entirely Heavenwards. The Silex Scintillans has its variety, its diversities, like the mundane poems. The symbolism and tortuousness of wit, habitual to seventeenthcentury hymnology, will now and again irritate, as in The Proffer, instead of elevating. Frequently, even in some of the noblest pieces, a beautiful opening is lost in a tedious and strained conclusion. Though he never needs, as some, to scourge his natural piety, to blow it into a white heat, from doubt of its spontaneity, we often feel that he is on his guard against being too much of a poet, against the use of religious fervour as an incentive to imagination. But when he leaves his love, gratitude, and awe to their proper province of emotions craving expression, and his poet's instinct to its rightful liberty as voice to express and interpret, I feel inclined to indulge in praise which I know must sound hyperbolical.
A warm glow of faith in a higher world, both of past and future, far from dulling, quickens, his imagination. It awakens him to previsions anticipating Wordsworth’s :
Nine months Thy hands are fashioning us,
And many years—alas !
Concerning Thee, must pass :
A feather, or a shell,
The best of us excel.
Within our first fair bed,
For ev'ry foot to tread ! 8 Beings from above are ever communing with him on the wooded banks of Usk :