Page images


ago, when the poet was just so much younger than he is now;
whilst neither this nor any other excuse is needed for these
lines, which resemble without imitating the lovely river-song
" Paracelsus :'

“ Then shall the river seem to call
Your name, and the slow quiet crawl
Between your eyelids like a swoon ;
And all the sounds at heat of noon,
And all the silence shall so sing
Your eyes asleep, as that no wing
Of bird in rustling by, no prone
Willow-branch on your hair, no drone
Droning about and past you-nought
May soon avail to rouse you, caught
With sleep through heat in the sun's light;
So good, though losing sound and sight,

You scarce would waken, if you might.” Excellent as much of the poetry which we have quoted and criticised seems to us to be, we do not ascribe to it the

very highest excellence. To make such a claim as this for a poem which has been published nearly twenty years, and which is still unknown to the “ general reader," must seem presumptuous, and unfortunately cannot be justified in the best way, for the poem is too long to be printed in this magazine. The poem we mean is “The Blessed Damozel,” by Mr. D. G. Rossetti. It may be known to some of our readers, for it has been handed about in London in manuscript copies. There are other poems by the same writer in “The Germ," and a romantic tale of mediæval Italian artist-life, which show in every line some traces of the qualities we are going to attempt to describe. We will merely premise, that Mr. Rossetti's great poetical power is no secret. His “Translations from the Early Italian Poets,” including one of the “ Vita Nuova,” are widely known and enjoyed. So far as we know, there is no poetical translation in any literature which has in the same degree all the merits that a mere translation can have, combined with a suggested similarity of tone which is magical. One can hardly help regretting that so much power should have been spent on rendering from a language in which at least half of the persons likely to be interested by the version could read the originals. However, the result is a very choice book, and one which if read through will give an adequate idea of the intellectual medium or atmosphere which Mr. Rossetti has re-created from the Italian Middle Ages. In those poems, ranging from the beginning of the 12th to the end of the 14th century, an attentive reader will find these elements of life and character :

1. A strong outwardness, or as some call it sensuousness, resulting, first in a keen sense of life, a hearty interest in that which exists outside of ourselves ; then in the love of beauty (buildings, pictures, pageants) without passion; then in passion, or the exclusive, self-tormenting love of beauty in persons :

2. An equally strong religious sentiment, tending to assume a merely gay or serene material embodiment, unless checked, as in the upper classes, by

3. Subtlety, as we must call it for want of a better word. This is that which gives interest to 1 and 2.

We mean by it ultimately, no doubt, some condition of the nerves depending on climate or race, but in manifestation it is the power of feeling or perceiving acutely, rapidly, and variously, together with the power of analysing a feeling or idea rapidly, and into many components.

The effect of this analytic subtlety, when carried to perfection by culture and inheritance, upon the outwardness of the Southern character, is to spiritualize it to such a degree that it cannot deserve the name of sensuousness; while at the same time it has the blessed property of keeping its hold on the world of earth, air, and flesh and blood, still. Nothing in Northern literature gives us any conception of the combined refinement and strength of Dante's passion for Beatrice.

The religious sentiment in combination with this quality which we call subtlety, generates all the beautiful child-like extravagances of mystical devotion; the Madonna of art and of the popular phantasy; the heavenly bridegroom of the convents; Angelico's orchestra of angels, and the rest of the lovely imagery of the Catholic imagination.

This Italian mediævalism then, with its aspirations, its intensity, its clear refined air of imagination,-in a word, this fine flower of mediævalism,-is what has inspired Mr. Rossetti and one or two other living artists. So far as The Germ” is concerned, Mr. Rossetti's

tale, “ Hand and Soul,” and the abovementioned poem, are truly exquisite embodiments of it.

This passage is from “ Hand and Soul :” —

“As Chiaro was in these thoughts, the fever encroached slowly on his veins, till he could sit no longer, and would have risen ; but suddenly he found awe within him, and held his head bowed without stirring. The warmth of the air was not shaken ; but there seemed a pulse in the light, and a living freshness, like rain. The silence was a painful music, that made the blood ache in his temples ; and he lifted his face and his deep eyes. A woman was present in his room, clad to the hands and feet with a green and grey raiment, fashioned to that time. . . . . She did not move closer towards him, but he felt her to be as much with him as his breath. He was like one who, scaling a great steepness, hears his own voice echoed in some place much higher than he can see, and the name of which is not known to him. As the woman stood, her speech was with Chiaro ; not, as it were, from her mouth, or in his ears, but distinctly between them.”

The woman was the painter's soul. The story is founded on the fact that Chiaro dell' Erma left a painting of a female figure like that described above, with the inscription : Manus animam pinxit.

We must endeavour to give some idea of the "Blessed Damozel.” We will say at starting that one of the tests by which we should recognise the highest excellence in a poem is the complete melting together of the sense, the sound, and all the associations of the language, so as to produce one effect upon the imagination. This is something like what Mr. Arnold means by “natural magic.” It is, however, a quality of wholes as well as of parts. Thus this whole poem of the "Blessed Damozel” appears in the memory, if the mind just glances back at it without examination, sometimes a vase or vessel of a particular shape, sometimes as one musical note sounded by a contralto voice, sometimes as a musical cadence, and sometimes as a bluish-grey colour. The mind, at any rate, sums up all the impressions of whatever kind conveyed by the poem, and represents them to itself by a natural unity in one of the departments of the sensible imagination. But in order to produce this effect, a poem must have that one mysterious merit which we have attempted to describe just now, and very few poems have it. It is consistent with its having a great number of faults, which can be recognised separately. Here is a little poem of Mr. Rossetti's, from “ The Germ,” with at least three glaring faults of diction. But we doubt if these will be noticed, on the third time of reading, by a reader who, for instance, really loves Shelley. It is headed


“ The sea is in its listless chime:

Time's lapse it is, made audible

The murmur of the earth's large shell.
In a sad blueness beyond rhyme

It ends : sense, without thought, can pass

No stadium further. Since time was
This sound has told the lapse of time.
No stagnance that death wins—it hath

The mournfulness of ancient life,

Always enduring at dull strife.
As the world's heart of rest and wrath,

Its painful pulse is in the sands.

Last utterly, the whole sky stands,
Gray and not known, along its path."

Of the “Blessed Damozel,” this is the argument. A maiden in heaven, who has been there ten years, is watching for the soul of him whom she loved :

“ The blessed Damozel leaned out

From the gold bar of heaven;"
“ It was the terrace of God's house

That she was standing on-
By God built over the sheer depth

In which Space is begun ;
So high, that looking downward thence

She scarce could see the sun.
“ It lies from heaven across the flood

Of ether, as a bridge.
Beneath, the tides of day and night

With flame and blackness ridge
The void, as low as where this earth

Spins like a fretful midge.

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

From the fist hill of heaven she saw

Time, like a pulse, shake fierce

Through all the worlds.” This is the finely imagined scenery of the poem. Her soliloquy will not bear division. She draws a picture to herself of the exquisite life which she and her beloved will lead in Paradise when he comes, then gazes and listens, prays and weeps. The literary and artistic interest of “ The Germ” is properly the first fact to be taken into account in the history of preRaphaelitism. What of argument and statement of principle there is in it will come to be considered in another article, with the doctrines of Mr. Ruskin, and some account of the principal paintings exhibited by the school. The later literary history of the school involves an account of the “Oxford and Cambridge Magazine," and the early poems of Mr. Morris, who, in his " Jason,” furnishes an example of the inevitable re-entry into the renaissance, that is, the civilized sphere of thought.



By the Rev. PHILIP Magnus, B.Sc., B.A. (Lond.)

In a small back street, surrounded on three sides by important thoroughfares, a new building is being now erected which will be known as the University of London. For about thirty years this institution has had no other “local habitation” than a temporary lodging in Burlington House; and it might have continued to tenant the same furnished apartments, had not the want of accommodation which has lately been very seriously felt awakened the Government to the necessity of providing for the erection of a suitable building. There is no doubt that a university in London was originally considered an unmis. takeable anomaly—something wholly at variance with the commercial reputation of this great metropolis. Time has shown what benefits such an institution is capable of bestowing ; but the old prejudice still exists, and to this feeling may perhaps be ascribed the circumstance that the new university building is condemned for ever to the seclusion of Burlington Gardens. The University of London fortunately escaped the ignominy of sharing with Durham the honour of being represented in parliament; but the mere idea of such a mésalliance could never have occurred to a large number of statesmen had the university been generally regarded with due respect. But this is not even now the case ; public opinion has long ago decided that the University of London does not come under the same category as the older seats of learning, and the Times newspaper has so far endorsed this decision as to exclude from its “University Intelligence” all notices of the London University, consigning these to some waste and unseen corner of the journal.

Throughout Germany, in every capital city and in every large town, the university building is situated in one of the most important sites, and takes precedence over nearly every other edifice. The prominence given to the seat of learning represents the estimation in which knowledge itself is held by our Teutonic neighbours. We are often told that in Germany there is an aristocracy of learning-that a position in society depends far less on wealth or rank, than on natural abilities and sound scholarship. But this ascendancy of knowledge is more ideal than real. The Germans think that learning, like beauty, when

« PreviousContinue »