The Dreaming Sex: Tales of Scientific Wonder and Dread by Victorian Women Writers

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For many years he held in this field a well nigh undisputed throne. For a time he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford. But his influence came mainly through a volume called "Essays in Criticism" , of which it is not too much to say that the paper entitled "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time," gave a new impulse to all students of books. Here and elsewhere Arnold emphasised the opinion that not only a fine artistic instinct but a vast amount of knowledge, admitting of comparisons, is necessary as the equipment of a critic.

Criticism he defined as "a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world. His appeal for the study of Celtic literature initiated and encouraged a revival of learning in Wales and in Ireland; and his books and essays on Education—for his main income for many years was derived from his salary as an Inspector of Schools—did much to further the cause which his brother-in-law, Mr W. Forster, began with the great Education Act of But it is as a poet, as Mr Swinburne foretold, that Matthew Arnold lives in literature.

It is strange to some of us to note how largely the bulk of his prose work has dropped out of the memory of the younger generation. The diligent collector possesses 20 some forty-five volumes of Mr Arnold's writings; but although there has been a cheap reprint of many of these, it is only by his collected poems that he is widely known to-day. Mr Swinburne, in the essay to which I have referred, tells of the joy with which, as a schoolboy, he came upon a copy of "Empedocles on Etna.

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It contained "Tristram and Iseult," "Stanzas in Memory of the Author of 'Obermann,'" and many now accepted favourites. A substantial recognition as a poet did not however fall to Matthew Arnold while he lived. His career is, indeed, a striking example of the fact that our views of contemporary literature require to be revised every decade.

Ten years ago everyone was discussing Matthew Arnold's views concerning Isaiah and St Paul, and the Nonconformists, whom he chaffed good-humouredly, have reconstructed many of their beliefs through a study of his works. People were excited by his views on education and by his views on literature, but not by his poetry. To-day his poetry is all of him that remains, and its charm is likely to soothe 21 the more strenuous minds among us for at least another generation, and perhaps for all time.

In "Thyrsis," a striking elegy on Arthur Hugh Clough , Arnold struck a note which has only Milton's "Lycidas" and Shelley's "Adonais" to call forth comparisons. Clough was not a Keats, but he was a more considerable personage than Milton's friend, and indeed he has been persistently underrated by many men of letters. Not indeed by all. He gained a Balliol scholarship, and went into residence in The coming years brought doubts and distractions, religious and political, and Clough parted from Oxford. His most famous poem, "The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich," was published in In he sailed to Boston in the same ship that carried Thackeray and Lowell.

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Emerson, who had met him in England, welcomed him there. Travelling through Europe for his health, he died of paralysis in Florence in The catalogue of great English poets of the period is completed with the names of Rossetti and Morris. Perhaps there is no more romantic figure in modern literature than Dante Gabriel Rossetti , although he has suffered cruelly from the biographer. His mother was a sister of the notorious Polidori, whose charlatanry is remembered wherever an interest in Lord Byron prevails.

The younger Rossetti had relatives—a brother, William Michael, who has written verses, criticisms, and a ponderous biography of Gabriel; and a sister, Maria Francesca Rossetti , whose "Shadow of Dante" makes good reading for admirers of the great Florentine, and, indeed, may be recommended to every English student of Dante. Another sister, Christina Georgina Rossetti , wrote many books. She will live by her "Goblin Market" , and by numerous short poems. Books of the type of "Called to be Saints" and "The Face of the Deep: A Commentary on the Revelation," have also won her much affection and admiration from religious sympathisers.

She was not responsible for "Maude" and "New Poems," inadequate works which her brother thought fit to publish after her death. They are practically worthless. Dante Rossetti was a considerable painter as well as a poet.

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Sir John Millais and Mr Holman Hunt speedily abandoned this position, and Rossetti himself was never a pre-Raphaelite in any real sense. The pre-Raphaelites issued in a journal under the editorship of Rossetti's brother, and to the Germ , as it was called, Rossetti contributed his poem, "The Blessed Damozel," and a story, "Hand and Soul.

One epoch in the life of Rossetti was his introduction to Mr Ruskin, and another was his first acquaintance with William Morris. Ruskin bought his pictures with characteristic generosity, and further assisted Rossetti to publish "The Early Italian Poets" , afterwards reprinted as "Dante and his Circle" William Morris introduced Rossetti to his Oxford friends, including Mr Swinburne, and to the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine , in which many of his finest poems were published. After his wife's death, from an overdose of laudanum in , Rossetti moved to Queen's House, Cheyne Walk, where for a time he 24 had for associates in payment of rent Mr Swinburne and Mr George Meredith, though the latter never actually lived in the house.

From that time to his death he published many important poems—ballads of singular power like "The White Ship," "The King's Tragedy," and "Sister Helen," and the many splendid sonnets of "The House of Life. Rossetti died at Birchington-on-Sea, and a simple tomb in the churchyard marks his grave. The name of William Morris closes the list of Victorian poets of the first rank. Morris was as versatile as Rossetti. He touched many branches of Art with remarkable success. Now he was designing wall-papers, and became a successful manufacturer in this branch of commerce: now he was indefatigable in printing notable books in English literature from a type which he had himself selected.

The wall-paper has given a new direction to the decoration of English houses, and the Kelmscott Press has added many beautiful books to our libraries, and given an impetus to a revival of taste in printing. This was but a part of Morris's life.

Although a rich man, he was a vigorous lecturer on behalf of Socialism, and wrote many books, such as, for example: "The Dream of John Ball" , and "News from Nowhere" 25 , in support of his ideals. From the appearance of his "Defence of Guenevere" , and "Life and Death of Jason" , he was always publishing, and his translations from Homer, Virgil, and Scandinavian literature make a small library by themselves.

But a practical handbook to Victorian literature needs but to mention one of his books. The tales are told by twenty-four travellers who desire to find the earthly paradise, and the book opens as do the Canterbury Tales with a Prologue. The lyrical introduction is one of the most quotable things in our later literature:—.

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Lulled by the singer of an empty day. William Morris has not seldom been confused with a writer with whom he had nothing in common but the name. Sir Lewis Morris , a Welsh squire, and candidate for Parliament, has stood for convention as decisively as William Morris has stood against it.

His "Songs of Two Worlds" , and "Epic of Hades" , brought him a considerable popularity, which "A Vision of Saints," and later books have not been able to maintain. Another literary knight of our time who has secured a large share of public attention through his verse is Sir Edwin Arnold , whose "Light of Asia" interpreted to many the story of Buddha's career. A poem upon Christ and Christianity "The Light of the World," owed the fact of its smaller success to the greater familiarity of the public with its main incidents.

Sir Edwin Arnold has won other laurels as a traveller and as a journalist. Some of the best poetry of the era has been produced by writers whose principal achievements are in the realm of prose. Assuredly, the three most successful poems in Victorian literature, of that portion of it which is already passing into oblivion, are "Proverbial Philosophy," "Festus," and "Philip Van Artevelde. It is true that when it was first published, in , it was greeted by the Athenaeum as "a book not likely to please beyond the circle of a few minds as eccentric as the author's. It was translated into French, German, and many other tongues; its author was a popular hero, although of his later books, including "Ballads for the Times," "Raleigh, his Life and Death," and "Cithara," the very names are by this time forgotten.

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Of "Proverbial Philosophy" itself there are few enough copies in demand to-day, and it is difficult for us to place ourselves in the position of those who felt its charm. What to the early Victorian Era 28 was counted for wisdom, and piety, and even for beauty, counts to the present age for mere commonplace verbiage.

Tupper's name has taken a place in our language as the contemptuous synonym for a poetaster.

Its author, Philip James Bailey , wrote "Festus" in its first form, at the age of twenty, and it was published in The book was enlarged again and again, till it reached to three times its original length. It may be that this enlargement has had something to do with its fate. Even a more pronounced recognition accrued to the dramatic poems of Sir Henry Taylor , and more particularly to "Philip Van Artevelde" , which was described by the Quarterly Review as "the noblest effort in the true old taste of our English historical drama, that has been made for more than a century," and which attracted the keenest attention of all Sir Henry Taylor's contemporaries.

His entertaining "Autobiography" has told us that Taylor, who was an important official at the Colonial Office, knew all the famous men of his time. Women have occupied no small share in the literary history of the past sixty years, although 29 it is in fiction that their most enduring triumphs have been secured. Eliza Cook wrote for the most part the kind of verses which would now be rejected by the editor of the Poet's Corner of a provincial newspaper.

She would be little more than a vague memory, were it not for "The Old Arm-Chair"; but she has other claims to consideration. In the forties and the fifties Eliza Cook's Journal was one of the most prominent publications of the day, and it did much for the cause of literature and philanthropy. Jean Ingelow survived, as did Eliza Cook, to see her verse well-nigh forgotten, and yet it is stated that two hundred thousand copies of her poems have been sold in America alone. Miss Ingelow, who was born in Boston, Lincolnshire, and died in London, will live in anthologies by her ballad, "High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire," by a song in "Supper at the Mill," and by sundry short poems. A certain brighter and more humorous kind of verse had its beginnings with Thomas Hood and the author of "The Ingoldsby Legends. But 30 in addition to this he had an abundance of wit and drollery side by side with pathos and tenderness, which will always make a splendid tradition and a great inspiration.

Hood was a journalist. His prototype, Richard Harris Barham , was an Anglican clergyman. His pseudonym of Thomas Ingoldsby calls up memories of some of the quaintest and drollest verse ever written. Barham's once successful novel, "My Cousin Nicholas," is now all but forgotten.

A determination to say as little as possible concerning writers still young in years, though already famous, will make, it may be, my summary of Victorian poetry seem inadequate to many. Mr Traill, a discerning critic, has specified some hundred or more "minor poets" who flourish to-day! But 31 it cannot be doubted that the minor poet of our era, with his excellent technique, his deep feeling, and his high-minded impulsiveness, is separated by an immense gulf from the minor poet of an earlier period.

The Pyes and the Hayleys, who were famous in an age when criticism was less of an art, had little enough of the real poetical faculty. That faculty can scarcely be denied to the hundred or more of living bards who now claim the suffrages of the poetry-loving reader.

The Dreaming Sex: Tales of Scientific Wonder and Dread by Victorian Women Writers
The Dreaming Sex: Tales of Scientific Wonder and Dread by Victorian Women Writers
The Dreaming Sex: Tales of Scientific Wonder and Dread by Victorian Women Writers
The Dreaming Sex: Tales of Scientific Wonder and Dread by Victorian Women Writers
The Dreaming Sex: Tales of Scientific Wonder and Dread by Victorian Women Writers
The Dreaming Sex: Tales of Scientific Wonder and Dread by Victorian Women Writers
The Dreaming Sex: Tales of Scientific Wonder and Dread by Victorian Women Writers

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