One of the most significant and the worst conceits of the time is its conceit of poetry. The rhapsodies of scepticism, unbelieving thoughts, blasphemous words—the thoughts dark and hopeless, the words obscure and twisted into all manner of unnatural and pedantic shapes— the very metres employed showing a restless craving after something new, and in their happiest use falling harsh and rugged on the English ear: this is some account of a good deal of what goes by the name of poetry in England now.
There is a great deal of this sort of stuff in the ‘poems’ of Arthur Hugh Clough. Now the intellectual life of many of us has its period of doubt. There comes a time when the world seems a painful enigma— a labyrinth devoid of clue. In the mind of Arthur Clough this state was unhappily permanent: and there seems little reason to suppose that, had he lived longer, he would have escaped from it. Not only was he perplexed by ‘the riddle of the universe, ’ but by questions of practical life. His motto to the Amour de Voyage, — ‘Il doutait de tout, même de l’amour, ’ —furnishes the key to his nature. He was a poetical casuist. Amours de Voyage, the longest of his recent poems, relates in prolix hexameters how a loiterer in Italy met an English girl there, fancied himself in love with her, but was by no means sure of it; and finally, losing sight of her by the accidents of travel, gave her up with perfect calmness. Thus writes Claude, the hero, to his friend Eustace: —
After all, do I know that I really cared about her?
* * *
Do nothing more, good Eustace, I pray you. It only will vex me.
Take no measures. Indeed, should we meet, I could not be certain;
All might be changed, you know. Or perhaps there was nothing to be changed.
Really Miss Mary Trevellyn might think herself fortunate in escaping from so very indecisive a lover. Although Amours de Voyage contains some fine passages, the subject is quite unworthy of poetic