"I Remember," said Dryden, writing to Dennis, "I remember poor Nat Lee, who was then upon the verge of madness, jet made a sober and witty answer to a bad poet who told him, 'It was an easy thing to write like a madman.' 'No,' said he, ''tis a very difficult thing to write like a madman, but 'tis a very easy thing to write like a fool.'" Nevertheless, the difficult song of distraction is to be heard, a light high note, in English poetry throughout two centuries at least, and one English poet lately set that untethered lyric, the mad maid's song, flying again.
A revolt against the oppression of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries—the age of the rediscovery of death; against the crime of tragedies; against the tyranny of Italian example that had made the poets walk in one way of love, scorn, constancy, inconstancy—such a revolt may have caused this trolling of unconsciousness, this tune of innocence, and this carol of liberty, to be held so dear. "I heard a maid in Bedlam," runs the old song. High and low the poets tried for that note, and the singer was nearly always to be a maid and crazed for love. Except for the temporary insanity so indifferently worn by the soprano of the now deceased kind of Italian opera, and except that a recent French story plays with the flitting figure of a village girl robbed of her wits by woe (and this, too, is