George Meredith: The Critical Heritage

By Ioan Willams | Go to book overview

68.

Alice Meynell, Merry England

i, August 1883

Alice Meynell (1847-1922), poet, journalist and essayist, formed friendships easily with elderly men of letters. She attracted the attention of Meredith in the early 1890s, received a presentation copy of The Amazing Marriage and began a friendship with him which caused Coventry Patmore—another admirer—some concern. Meredith reviewed her essays in National Review, August 1896.

Mr George Meredith has produced a volume—Poems and Lyrics of the Joy of the Earth—in which we hear the individual note, the separate voice, which is the first thing we listen for when a poet begins to sing. So long as the voice is personal and singular it does not need that the tune should be new. And Mr Meredith’s subjects are for the most part as familiar as showers and moonrise and the careering of the wind, and as fresh. There is no freshness so perfect as that of the familiarity of Nature; and with regard to the character of the note, too, it is clear that if all the poets were natural their voices would all be distinct as their faces. And Mr Meredith is fresh because he takes the natural initiative which is a man’s natural right; it is unnatural to belong to a school, unnatural to use and abuse the vocabulary which others have set in vogue. After the individuality of the note comes its quality— beautiful or not beautiful. Mr Meredith’s note is at times excessively beautiful, always interesting, and always significant.

There are no disheartening shortcomings or boundaries in these large and vigorous poems. If every poet must have one of two demerits —faults or limitations—Mr Meredith is to be congratulated on having faults, and not limitations. To our mind the possession of faults is preferable to that of limitations. At times he frees his reader’s thought, sets him above the poverties of time and place, and asks him, as Virgil asked Dante in an eternal world, ‘Che pensi’? ‘What thinkest thou’?

1Inferno, v, iii.

-253-

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