Austin’s critique originally appeared in Temple Bar, July 1869, xxvi, 457-74; it was reprinted, with very slight changes, in his Poetry of the Period (1870), the text of which is followed here. Austin’s leading idea is that the age made great poetry impossible. Most of the poets are compared unfavourably with Byron, a comparison leading Browning to allude to Austin in ‘Pacchiarotto’ as ‘Banjo-Byron’. In Under the Microscope Swinburne discusses Austin’s views (see Introduction, section IV).
In my essay on Mr. Browning I have shown how dissatisfaction with the poetry of Mr. Tennyson, as an exponent of the age, has driven even his once frantic admirers to hearken for yet another voice, and how, in their ignorance of what it is in Mr. Tennyson that fails to satisfy them, they have pitched upon Mr. Browning of all people to supply the omission. What Mr. Tennyson wanted, I said, was loftiness; what Mr. Browning possessed, I observed, was depth; and I added that, this distinction once made, it was obvious that the one could not possibly supplement the other, having no earthly affinity with it. But there exists another distinction between them, which, though in complete harmony with the one I have already drawn, sets the matter in another, and for my present purpose still more important, light. If I were asked to sum up the characteristics of Mr. Tennyson’s compositions in a single word, the word I should employ would be ‘feminine’, and if I had to do the same for Mr. Browning’s genius, the word inevitably selected would be ‘studious’. The pen of the latter is essentially the pen of a student; the muse of the former is essentially—I must not say the muse of a woman, for I should be rendering myself liable to misconception, but—a feminine muse. And in these two salient qualities they are unquestionably representative men, and typify two of the prominent tendencies of the time. We have just had, from a much revered source, an essay on the Subjection of Women; but I think it would not be