Lewes (1817-78), best known for his relationship with George Eliot and as the author of The Life and Works of Goethe, was also one of the most versatile critics of his time, his range including the drama, history, philosophy and numerous scientific subjects.
Certain books have an indirect interest, personal or historical, which renders them more attractive than many that are intrinsically better. The Poems of Arthur Clough, for example, claim but a very modest place as poems, but they are attractive as the writings of a man of sweet, sincere, sensitive nature, and of high culture. A poet he was not; neither by the grace of God, nor by the acquired cunning of ambitious culture, could he become a singer; and it is mere rhetorical evasion in his friendly biographer, to say that ‘Clough lived his poem instead of writing it. ’ Yet the feeling which prompted this evasion suggests the source of interest we feel in this volume; it is the intense conviction, produced in friends, of some supreme excellence which Clough might have achieved, ought to have achieved, but somehow did not. In a word, he was one of the prospectuses which never become works: one of that class whose unwritten poems, undemonstrated discoveries, or untested powers, are confidently announced as certain to carry everything before them, when they appear. Only they never do appear. Sometimes attempts are made; they fail, and the failure is ‘explained, ’ the attempts being repudiated as any real indication of the man’s genuine powers. ‘Under happier circumstances, ’ we are assured…as if the very seal and sign of genius were not precisely the regal superiority to circumstances, making them aids and ministers to success, instead of becoming their captive and slave!
We hear on many sides the freest scorn of all the imperfect workers who have at least done something; who have achieved some success, though not by faultless works; and this scorn is often uttered by men