A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Thirty-eight
THE NINETIES

TO a younger reader becoming fully aware of his taste for poetry in the eighties of last century there were two major luminaries still in the heavens, if verging towards their declination. Browning died in 1889, Tennyson in 1892. Among such younger readers Browning stood at the moment rather higher in favour than his more widely acknowledged rival, if such a word is admissible. But there were other poets whose appeal was more insistent, indicated more clearly the direction in which they wished to move, the so-called pre- Raphaelite group with their doctrine of Art for Art's sake; a group whose influence was to be felt by poets so divergent as Kipling, and Wilde, and Yeats. And there were yet others for whom the influence of Wordsworth was transmitted, if modified, by the author of Empedocles on Etna ( 1852), whose collected poems had been issued in 1869 and whose death had preceded that of Browning by a year.

The Lachrymae Musarum in which William Watson bewailed the death of Tennyson attracted the attention of readers who had not remarked the Wordsworth's Grave of 1890; and in like manner the Shorter Poems of the same year awakened or quickened interest in the work of an older poet, Robert Bridges, already the author of a sonnet sequence, The Growth of Love ( 1876), and a poem, Eros and Psyche ( 1885), as well as a number of verse-dramas. Both poets were conscious and careful artists working in the classical tradition but with interesting differences of spirit and form. After a verse tale, The Prince's Quest ( 1880), quite in the manner of William Morris, Watson turned away from the drift of romantic modern poetry and revived, one might almost say, the ideal of the eighteenth century, "What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed." He shared Hazlitt's admiration of Akenside. His aim became to give expression in a large and felicitous manner, with careful attention to the fall of the accents and the correctness of the rhymes, to sentiments recognisable by and shared with large sections of the

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