Arthur Hugh Clough: The Critical Heritage

By Michael Thorpe | Go to book overview

52.

A. C. Swinburne, from ‘Social Verse’, the Forum

October 1891, 169-85

Reprinted in Studies in Prose and Poetry (London, 1894), 84-109, and in Complete Works, ed. Edmund Gosse and Thomas J. Wise, London, 1926, XV, 264-88.

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), who had in his early years admired the great Victorians, Tennyson, Browning and Arnold, later grew increasingly critical of them for their lack of passion, of the pagan touch. It was inevitable that one who had sung so feelingly of ‘the raptures and roses of vice’ should have been severe upon Clough also. The effect of this brilliant and, no doubt, very damaging fragment may be gauged by Saintsbury’s implicit reference to it in his A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (see No. 53). Swinburne was reviewing an anthology of social and occasional verse edited by Locker-Lampson.

…Even more out of place [than C. S. Calverley] in such good company [i.e. such as Peacock, Byron, Thackeray] is the weary and wearisome laureate of Oxonicules and Bostonicules, Mr. Lowell’s realized ideal and chosen representative of English poetry at its highest in the generation of Tennyson and Browning; whose message to his generation may be summed up as follows:


We’ve got no faith, and we don’t know what to do:
To think one can’t believe a creed because it isn’t true!

Literary history will hardly care to remember or to register the fact that there was a bad poet named Clough, whom his friends found it useless to puff: for the public, if dull, has not quite such a skull as belongs to believers in Clough.


Et certamen erat, Corydon cum Thyrside, parvum.1

1 Cf. Virgil, Eclogues VII, 16: ‘et certamen erat, Corydon cum Thyrside, magnum’. Arnold’s elegy upon Clough was entitled ‘Thyrsis’.

-340-

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