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II. Rainbow .
V. Bowstring . . .
shop F all literary reputations, that of
the Society Poet is probably enjoyed upon the most hazardous and uncertain of tenures. To be successful at all, he must win
the instant recognition of his immediate contemporaries; he must be in touch with the thought of his own generation; he must reflect its sentiments, chime with its humour, and satirise its manners ; and in proportion to the popularity of his productions with the public of his own day, will probably be the neglect with which they are treated by the public of a generation later. This neglect on the part of posterity is to some extent comprehensible, even reasonable, for the poem of manners is often nothing more than purely ephemeral in character, and indebted to accident for even its contemporary success, the measure of which is not to be relied upon as a fair criterion of its intrinsic excellence. Still posterity is apt to be careless and indiscriminating in its neglectfulness. True wit, true humour, true grace and refinement are qualities that should command something more than a fleeting popularity; but even where the public is content, on the strength of the critical verdict of a past generation, to admit that, beyond his fellows, So-and-So was graceful, humorous, and witty, it is often content to let the matter rest there, and not trouble itself with inquiring into the evidence upon which such verdict was founded. Our own century can count not a few poets of barren reputation, much admired, on the strength of old tradition, but very little read. George Canning's wit was, and is, proverbial. Most people have heard of the “Anti-Jacobin Review," and have some slight knowledge of the “Needy Knife-grinder ;” beyond that it would puzzle most people to supply any specific information as to anything that he wrote that justifies his reputation. Captain Charles Morris, of the First Life Guards and The Beefsteak Club, wrote enough verse (and very delightful verse it is) to fill a bulky volume, in addition to much more that for sufficient reasons was not re-published in volume form. Part of one line of one poem, “The sweet shady side of Pall Mall,” alone survives, apparently for the especial benefit of leader-writers in the daily papers. Winthrop Mackworth Praed, most precocious and most prolific of the poets of society, began his literary career as a schoolboy, and for twenty years flooded the periodical literature of his day with songs and satires, ballads and legends innumerable, all of which are forgotten. It is not quite fair, perhaps, to say all, for some half-dozen pieces at most survive, and have done duty with monotonous regularity, as representative specimens of his verse, in every volume of poetical selections of the Vers de Société order that has seen the light for the last quarter of a century. Thus, Praed's “Good Night to the Season” has become a wellknown poem ; it is witty, full of brilliant antithesis and word-play, a fairly typical example of Praed's style ; still it palls by too frequent repetition, and Praed did much work that is quite equal to it, and some that is even better, and better worth quoting. That Praed's contemporaries thought too highly of him is not, I think, open to question ; that he has, since his death, been unreasonably neglected is, at least, equally true. Of his earlier work much is very weak. Youthful poems, if noticeable for the precocity of their writers, are not usually remarkable for their strength or originality. In his more mature days he perpetrated a good deal of verse that is not much above the standard
of the “Keepsake” and “Book of Beauty,” in the pages of which polite publications one is quite content to let it rest undisturbed ; but beyond all this he wrote a great deal that deserves to live, and that, so far, has hardly had a fair chance of life given to it. In the first instance, Praed was himself responsible for the smothering of his offspring. He seems to have been very indifferent about the ultimate fate of his productions, or about the permanence of his own literary reputation. Everything that he wrote was contributed to periodicals; he never published a book of his own, nor apparently contemplated the collection of any of his poems into a volume, with the exception of some of his political squibs, which, in the last year of his life, he had printed for private circulation among friends. When he died, there was a scheme set on foot for collecting and publishing his poems, and the editorial work was entrusted to his early friend, the Rev. Derwent Coleridge. Four-and-twenty years after, Mrs. Praed being then dead also, the editor completed his labours, and the book was at length given to the world. Mr. Coleridge did his work only too well. Every fragment of childish verse, all the boyish contributions to the Etonian, every school exercise, every bit of inane, cut-and-dried sentimentality that could be hunted up and identified