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we accept as his the "Midnight" ascribed to him by Dowden, enough that either directly belongs or at any rate tends to Romanticism, for us to reckon Crabbe as one of those writers who, in the last period of Eighteenth-century poetic impulse, helped to consolidate the Romantic position. This he effected in a peculiar way: his earliest poetry was unobtrusively lyrical; his mature poetry more didactic, yet incorporating some excellently told episodes and detailed, convincing descriptions of Nature; and all his verse treated sympathetically the personal and emotional elements.
Cowper had much in common with Crabbe and played a somewhat similar part in Eighteenth-century literature. Both were moralists, though Cowper possessed a quaint and tricksy humour, which he let loose only too seldom; both loved Nature and generally interpreted it in the light of its relationship to men; both observed character very carefully and produced some of the best "portraits" in our literature; both practised severity and simplicity of composition; both frequently employed the heroic couplet. But Cowper belonged almost as much to the Classical as to the Romantic school : in general tenor he appeared as a Pope much less restricted by the canons of art and as in some ways typical of "the age of reason". It was by sympathy with man and nature that he passed beyond mere reason: "The Task" and "Tirocinium" (1785), "The Progress of Error", "Table Talk" and those other wearisome moral poems, these, excepting for numerous passages in "The Task" and occasional passages elsewhere, closely followed the Pope-tradition in subject and didacticism. In "The Task, however, he used blank verse and included many appreciative descriptions of Nature; "John Gilpin", deserving its tremendous success, broke away from Classicism by its apt galloping metre and by the natural verve of narrative; "Boadicea" was vigorous and graphic; "Yardley Oak" (written 1791) daringly used blank verse for what was practically an ode; the poem and the sonnet to Mary Unwin charmingly expressed a deep personal emotion. We feel almost aggrieved not to find more of Romantic poetry in Cowper, for in "The Task" he tells us that he deeply loved Nature and as a youth chanted her often.
Allied with him by virtue of his moral interpretation of Nature, John Scott, who died in 1783, pursued, rather more closely
than did Cowper, the more purely descriptive treatment of landscape and rural life instituted by Thomson. His publications in verse covered the years 1760-1782, but his most important poems came out during the last eight years of his life, "Amwell" in 1776 and the collected edition of his verse in the year before his death. He early indicated the line on which, with a gradual and decided increase in technical skill, he was to write verse throughout his career his first published pieces were entitled "Four Elegies, Descriptive and Moral", which corresponded closely with Thomson's four seasons; like his great predecessor, John Scott was truly "descriptive and moral", and he stressed now the one, now the other aspect. Nevertheless, he did not imitate Thomson slavishly he used a diction that was lighter and, though less vigorous, yet more natural. He genuinely loved Nature and succeeded in attractively presenting landscape; he observed her very closely and joyed in her varying moods and manifestations. To poetry that was at bottom, if rather tamely, Romantic, Scott added literary criticism that, overweighted only too often by "classical" prejudices, occasionally hinted freer and more vivid, more spontaneous composition.
In the year of Scott's death appeared a small volume of lyrics that announced or should have announced to the world, the rise of a new and brilliant star in the literary heavens. In 1783, Wiliam Blake brought out the "Poetical Sketches", which contained five or six pieces unsurpassed, as lyrics, by anything in his later volumes of short poems. It is true that neither the "Poetical Sketches" nor the two better known works, the "Songs of Innocence" and the "Songs of Experience" (published 1789 and 1794 respectively) met with anything like their due recognition; that critics did not, to reprove a negligent public, accord to them the praise they should have won for their unobtrusive glamour and their excellent technique; that it was not till the middle of the Nineteenth Century, when the Pre-Raphaelites set him up as a master both in art and in literature, that Blake came properly into his own. Yet some critics have made too much of these facts. It is extremely unlikely that three volumes or verse, issued within a period of twelve years (the "Songs of Innocence and Experience" pulished moreover in 1794 as a single work sumptuously-illustrated and sold-out before the author's death in 1827), three
volumes of the most exquisite poetry, containing no passages apt to offend the prudish and advancing no outlandish theories, three volumes possessing a considerable diversity of theme and offering very few pieces that need cause the reading public to think overmuch,-it is extremely unlikely that these poems should so far have missed attention as not to exert some influence on the Romantic poetry contemporary with and subsequent to their publication. These volumes were not well advertised, and so most "general readers” may not have heard of their appearance; but the critics and, either in their wake or before them, the poets--for it is part of the business and (let us hope) the pleasure of both to read the best contemporary verse-, must surely, in some instances at least, have learnt of this literary event. To parody the famous dictum enunciated by Gladstone: "You may elude all the reading public some of the time and some of the reading public all the time, but you can't elude all the reading public all the time". Blake printed few copies of these works, but books have a way of changing owners, being lent, or falling into the hands of the inquisitive the sparsity of these early copies affords no valid argument for anything approaching complete ignorance of Blake's poetry on the part of contemporaries. Moreover, the illustrated editions of his verse came to be sought-after by artists, and artists not only like to talk about literature, of which they often judge very ably, but also mix considerably with writers. It is hardly probable that these lovers of art, beginning no doubt with the discussion of Blake's illustrations, should have failed to pass on to enquiries as to what their literary friends and acquaintances thought of Blake's poetry. It is, in view of the important commissions that he received, impossible to argue plausibly that Blake was little known as an artist; and once grant that he was an arresting, though unassuming, figure in the artistic world, we can scarcely refuse to admit that he must also have been-not indeed in the limelight of the literary world (he was never that during his life), but-recognised by "the writing kind" and the cultured, and, unless England was during the years 1783-1827 totally different from what she had ever been before and has ever been since, probably looked-up-to by many. His work was known to Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lamb: the first-named spoke of the "Songs of Innocence and Experience" as the output of "great but undoubtedly insane genius", as one might have expec
ted he would; Coleridge and Lamb knew him personally and admired his work. If these men had come into contact, whether immediate or at second-hand, with Blake, why should not others have done the same?
Blake's poetry, of course, was unlike anything produced by other writers during his life-time, but, though that fact may have deterred authors from imitating his themes or endeavouring to capture his atmosphere, many poets must have envied the case and perfection of his phrasing and versification. His winsome lyrics must surely have challenged them to emulate his technique to equal his clarity, his verbal charm, his lovely melody. Some people have tried to explain away Blake's influence by asserting that he was ignored because he was, by most, considered mad. But does a reputation for eccentricity and even for insanity prevent a poet from being read? Such a poet will be examined through mere curiosity, and, if he have ability, he will sooner or later compel appreciation; he will excite wider and wider interest, and one will speak of him somewhat after this fashion: "Well, So-and-so may be mad, but by heavens he can write poetry!"
This defence will, to those who believe in Blake's contemporary influence, seem overstated, but naturally it has been made not to support them-a supererogatory proceeding-but to combat these who maintain that Blake exercised a negligible influence on the Romantic Movement.
What, then, was Blake's intrinsic contribution to English Romanticism? (Even if we had to conceive the possibility-the impossibility!--that our author should have had no imitators, one could thus still insist on his significance as a leading figure in the Romantic movement.) By his supreme lyrical gift he set a standard that has not been improved-on by any poet of the Nineteenth Century; his "Songs" and "Sketches" were genuine, straightforward lyrics and not disguised theses; all that he touched, he adorned with charm, grace, spontaneity, and with that inexplicable aura of a wondrous personality; he delighted by his thoughts, sentiments, and artistry; and though he seemed to recapture the quaintness and the daintiness of the best "Elizabethan" lyrics, he gave even to those poems in which he most ressembled such writers as Campion, the cachet of his peculiar genius. All his writings, and especially the lyrics, are pervaded with a distinctive, intriguing perfume; they find a
full response when they appeal, as they frequently do, to some of the most exquisite of our unexpressed feelings; they evoke delicate vistas of sentiment and reflection, some pieces have an air of otherworldliness, others subtilise everyday thoughts and feelings; all his poems are vitalised with the romance of the true and the beautiful.
Very different from Blake, and greatly inferior, Bowles yet had his importance in English Romanticism he formed a link between the early and the late Romantics. In 1789 he published "Fourteen Sonnets", his best achievement; though he wrote well on into the next century, he never produced any outstanding work after that first flash. The "Sonnets" charmed the youthful Wordsworth and Coleridge, and they found a ready echo in Lamb's verse. It would be going too far to say that Bowles set the two great poets on the Romantic highroad, but he undoubtedly expressed many of their tendencies and perhaps helped them to liberate their personalities from the more rationalistic of their Eighteenth-century beliefs (certainly Wordsworth was only slightly tending towards Romanticism in his earliest published verse); and we ought so take as in the main correct their statement of indebtedness to this gentle poet. The "Sonnets" chanted a pleasant melancholy and exhibited an appreciative regard for Nature: simple, personal, quietly lyrical, they resemble Russell's "Sonnets and Miscellaneous Poems", published the same year.
Wordsworth no doubt owed something to Bowles, but he showed it very little in the "Evening Walk" and "Descriptive Sketches", issued in 1793. There, as in much of his later work, he linked up with the moral interpreters of Nature, but, there, he displayed little of their subdued energy and almost nothing of the great lyrical power that he used to such advantage in the poems of 1800-1815; he described Nature in a toneless fashion. (It must be borne in mind that in later years Wordsworth considerably changed the original text of the "Descriptive Sketches".) Much more interesting was his tragedy "The Borderers", written 1795-6 in that, he made a decided advance in all respect's on the "Sketches", and betrayed many sympoms of the ferment working within him; his verse had acquired ease and vigour, his phrasing become graphic and picturesque; his characterisation heralded the manner of Coleridge in "Remorse" and "Zapolya" and, strangely enough,-if we consider how much