Hemans' Passion

By Rudy, Jason R. | Studies in Romanticism, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Hemans' Passion


Rudy, Jason R., Studies in Romanticism


SENTIMENTAL SHE MAY HAVE BEEN, BUT FELICIA HEMANS' VICTORIAN CRITICS seemed most struck, and most impressed, by her consistent lack of passion. "She is no sibyl, tossed to and fro in the tempest of furious excitement," writes George Gilfillan in 1849, "but ever a 'deep, majestical, and high-souled woman'--the calm mistress of the highest and stormiest of her emotions." (1) William Michael Rossetti draws attention in 1878 to Hemans' keen sense of restraint, her "[a]ptitude and delicacy in versification, and a harmonious balance in the treatment of [her] subject." (2) And in his 1848 Female Poets of Great Britain, Frederic Rowton offers much the same:

   Diction, manner, sentiment, passion, and belief are in her as
   delicately rounded off as are the bones and muscles of the Medicean
   Venus. There is not a harsh or angular line in her whole mental
   contour. I do not know a violent, spasmodic, or contorted idea in
   all her writings; but every page is full of grace, harmony, and
   expressive glowing beauty. (3)

Hemans' contemporaries similarly noted the poet's reserve, as in Francis Jeffrey's important review of 1829:

   It is singularly sweet, elegant, and tender--touching, perhaps, and
   contemplative, rather than vehement and overpowering; and not only
   finished throughout with an exquisite delicacy, and even severity of
   execution, but informed with a purity and loftiness of feeling, and
   a certain sober and humble tone of indulgence and piety, which must
   satisfy all judgments, and allay the apprehensions of those who are
   most afraid of the passionate exaggerations of poetry. (4)

Not passion, then, but delicate versification; not "spasmodic" in style, but harmonious. Much important recent criticism has focused on what seems to be Hemans' gushing overflow of powerful feeling. (5) Less has been said about the peculiar tendency of Victorian and late-Romantic critics to praise Hemans specifically not for overflowing with powerful feeling. Along with Arthur Symons, nineteenth-century readers seem to have valued Hemans' "idealisation of the feelings" precisely insofar as it escapes "the grip of a strong thought or vital passion." (6)

We will consider shortly the specific mechanisms Hemans employs to restrain the passion of her verses. I want to suggest first, however, that in so restraining passion, Hemans participates in a movement gaining strength through the 1820s, an early manifestation of the confrontation Richard Hengist Horne elaborates in his 1844 New Spirit of the Age, the "poetical antagonisms" between reason and passion. (7) Hemans' formal and thematic restraint aligns her with conservative cultural critics of her time such as Thomas Love Peacock, who in 1820 disparages "the rant of unregulated passion, the whine of exaggerated feeling, and the cant of factitious sentiment." (8) Invectives inspired by the passionate works of Byron, Scott, and those who tried to imitate them swelled into broad cultural critiques demanding restraint. John Keble lays out one of the more influential of these arguments in 1827, gesturing to what would become the Tractarian doctrine of reserve and calling for "a sober standard of feeling." Keble warns of the "excitement" in modern poetry "sought after with a morbid eagerhess." (9) He later dilates on this view in his "Inaugural Oration" of 1832, the first of Keble's lectures as Professor of Poetry at Oxford: "the glorious art of Poetry [is] a kind of medicine divinely bestowed upon man: which gives healing relief to secret mental emotion, yet without detriment to modest reserve: and, while giving scope to enthusiasm, yet rules it with order and due control." That Keble delivered this lecture in the year of the great reform is by no means coincidental; Keble's anxiety regarding the fallout from political change translates into a theory of poetry resonant with the concerns of his conservative peers: "the functions of noble poetry and good citizenship," Keble affirms, are "closely intertwined. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Hemans' Passion
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.