Oscar Wilde – A Bevy of Poet – TXT

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(Pall Mall Gazette, March 27, 1885.)

This spring the little singers are out before the little sparrows and have already begun chirruping. Here are four volumes already, and who knows how many more will be given to us before the laburnums blossom? The best-bound volume must, of course, have precedence. It is called Echoes of Memory, by Atherton Furlong, and is cased in creamy vellum and tied with ribbons of yellow silk. Mr. Furlong’s charm is the unsullied sweetness of his simplicity. Indeed, we can strongly recommend to the School-Board the Lines on the Old Town Pump as eminently suitable for recitation by children. Such a verse, for instance, as:

I hear the little children say
(For the tale will never die)
How the old pump flowed both night and day
When the brooks and the wells ran dry,

has all the ring of Macaulay in it, and is a form of poetry which cannot possibly harm anybody, even if translated into French. Any inaccurate ideas of the laws of nature which the children might get from the passage in question could easily be corrected afterwards by a lecture on Hydrostatics. The poem, however, which gives us most pleasure is the one called The Dear Old Knocker on the Door. It is appropriately illustrated by Mr. Tristram Ellis. We quote the concluding verses of the first and last stanzas:

Blithe voices then so dear
Send up their shouts once more,
Then sounds again on mem’ry’s ear
The dear old knocker on the door.
. . . . .
When mem’ry turns the key
Where time has placed my score,
Encased ’mid treasured thoughts must be
The dear old knocker on the door.

The cynic may mock at the subject of these verses, but we do not. Why not an ode on a knocker? Does not Victor Hugo’s tragedy of Lucrece Borgia turn on the defacement of a doorplate? Mr. Furlong must not be discouraged. Perhaps he will write poetry some day. If he does we would earnestly appeal to him to give up calling a cock ‘proud chanticleer.’ Few synonyms are so depressing.

Having been lured by the Circe of a white vellum binding into the region of the pump and doormat, we turn to a modest little volume by Mr. Bowling of St. John’s College, Cambridge, entitled Sagittulæ. And they are indeed delicate little arrows, for they are winged with the lightness of the lyric and barbed daintily with satire. Æsthesis and Athletes is a sweet idyll, and nothing can be more pathetic than the Tragedy of the XIX. Century, which tells of a luckless examiner condemned in his public capacity to pluck for her Little-go the girl graduate whom he privately adores. Girton seems to be having an important influence on the Cambridge school of poetry. We are not surprised. The Graces are the Graces always, even when they wear spectacles.

Then comes Tuberose and Meadowsweet, by Mr. Mark André Raffalovich. This is really a remarkable little volume, and contains many strange and beautiful poems. To say of these poems that they are unhealthy and bring with them the heavy odours of the hothouse is to point out neither their defect nor their merit, but their quality merely. And though Mr. Raffalovich is not a wonderful poet, still he is a subtle artist in poetry. Indeed, in his way he is a boyish master of curious music and of fantastic rhyme, and can strike on the lute of language so many lovely chords that it seems a pity he does not know how to pronounce the title of his book and the theme of his songs. For he insists on making ‘tuberose’ a trisyllable always, as if it were a potato blossom and not a flower shaped like a tiny trumpet of ivory. However, for the sake of his meadowsweet and his spring-green binding this must be forgiven him. And though he cannot pronounce ‘tuberose’ aright, at least he can sing of it exquisitely.

Finally we come to Sturm und Drang, the work of an anonymous writer. Opening the volume at hazard we come across these graceful lines:

How sweet to spend in this blue bay
The close of life’s disastrous day,
To watch the morn break faintly free
Across the greyness of the sea,
What time Memnonian music fills
The shadows of the dewy hills.

Well, here is the touch of a poet, and we pluck up heart and read on. The book is a curious but not inartistic combination of the mental attitude of Mr. Matthew Arnold with the style of Lord Tennyson. Sometimes, as in The Sicilian Hermit, we get merely the metre of Locksley Hall without its music, merely its fine madness and not its fine magic. Still, elsewhere there is good work, and Caliban in East London has a great deal of power in it, though we do not like the adjective ‘knockery’ even in a poem on Whitechapel.

On the whole, to those who watch the culture of the age, the most interesting thing in young poets is not so much what they invent as what masters they follow. A few years ago it was all Mr. Swinburne. That era has happily passed away. The mimicry of passion is the most intolerable of all poses. Now, it is all Lord Tennyson, and that is better. For a young writer can gain more from the study of a literary poet than from the study of a lyrist. He may become the pupil of the one, but he can never be anything but the slave of the other. And so we are glad to see in this volume direct and noble praise of him

* * * * *

Who plucked in English meadows flowers fair
As any that in unforgotten stave
Vied with the orient gold of Venus’ hair
Or fringed the murmur of the Ægean wave,

which are the fine words in which this anonymous poet pays his tribute to the Laureate.

(1) Echoes of Memory. By Atherton Furlong. (Field and Tuer.)

(2) Sagittulæ. By E. W. Bowling. (Longmans, Green and Co.)

(3) Tuberose and Meadowsweet. By Mark André Raffalovich. (David Bogue.)

(4) Sturm und Drang. (Elliot Stock.)

In reply to the review A Bevy of Poets the following letter was published in the Pall Mall Gazette on March 30, 1885, under the title of


SIR,—I am sorry not to be able to accept the graceful etymology of your reviewer who calls me to task for not knowing how to pronounce the title of my book Tuberose and Meadowsweet. I insist, he fancifully says, ‘on making “tuberose” a trisyllable always, as if it were a potato blossom and not a flower shaped like a tiny trumpet of ivory.’ Alas! tuberose is a trisyllable if properly derived from the Latin tuberosus, the lumpy flower, having nothing to do with roses or with trumpets of ivory in name any more than in nature. I am reminded by a great living poet that another correctly wrote:

Or as the moonlight fills the open sky
Struggling with darkness—as a tuberose
Peoples some Indian dell with scents which lie

Like clouds above the flower from which they rose.

In justice to Shelley, whose lines I quote, your readers will admit that I have good authority for making a trisyllable of tuberose.—I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

March 28.

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