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3-269 (Raw)

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author,male,Deniehy, Daniel Henry,32 addressee
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Deniehy, 1884
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DE QUINCEY'S style is, I think, the most organically, the most essentially metaphoric in any literature. I mean metaphorical in a deep and broad sense, reaching to the innermost machinery by which all thinking processes are carried on, and to every verbal revelation made of the results. Metaphor, not always immediately perceptible, delicately defined at times, as the serrations in the moonlight shadows of a leaf, pervades the Opium Eater's style with the ubiquity of an electric principle. De Quincey not only thinks, but expresses himself in and by things. To use a word he himself once applied to Burke, he is the most schematising of prose writers. 
I think Heinrich Heine, of whom you speak so unkindly, Olga, had not only wit, humour, and intellectual power of rare order, but far more of the poetic faculty than all the later German poets, Uhland, Freiligrath, Schwab, et ces garçons là, put together. Can you, a woman and an accomplished Teutonic scholar, forget all the love-lays fresh and delicate as the pearls fashioned on the leaves of that myrtle by the shower which has just passed away into the dim, purple depths stretching within the arch of yonder rainbow - brief, but wild and sweet as the call of a bird in summer from the green vestibule of the woods - to be found in the Buch der Lieder, particularly in the Lyrische Intermezzo, Du bliebest mir treu am längsten, Wenn ich in deine augen seh, Die lotosblume ängstigt, and scores of others? His satire had the subtle edge and the nimble strength of flame. There was somewhat of Thackeray's man-of-the-world sense and judgment about him, but it flowed through an artistic temperament as beautiful and as fantastic as the scenery of a midsummer night's dream. Then, Olga, his criticism, "into the sap of his subject," in a few sentences. 
I met these critical passages only yesterday; the translation is not mine, but that of a Mr. John Stous Smith, an accomplished man, who took it into his head, some time ago, to write a book in Carlylese called "Mirabeau : A Life History":- "The rose-tint in the poems of Novalis is not the hue of health, but [166] the hectic of consumption; and the purple glow of Hoffman's phantasies is not the fire of genius but the flame of fever." And here is Heine piercing into the central idea of Cervantes in "Don Quixote," with the same subtlety and the same result as Coleridge:- "Has he in his tall, lean knight, represented Ideal Spirituality, and in the squat esquire, parodied Common Sense? Everywhere the latter cuts the more sorry figure; for Common Sense, with all its horde of thrifty proverbs, after all quietly fags along on its steady-going donkey in the rear of Spirituality; in spite of its clearer sight, must it and the ass share all the mishaps that so often befell the noble knight. Yes, Idea Spirituality is of such a potent dynamic nature, that Common Sense, with all its asses, must ever follow in its wake." And the Reisebilder, the finest perhaps of his prose writings, is full of profound observation and beauty, the style everywhere of as finished grace as the group on a Roman cameo. It is often alive with a humour that has that terrible motif of cynical pathos about it which trickles through Hamlet's talk to the skull of Yorick. 
Some of the best prose descriptions of forest scenery in our literature are poor Charles Reece Pemberton's sketches of Sherwood. Ladies draw woodland effects beautifully. There are delicious glimpses of landscape in the "Francesca Carrara" of poor Letitia Landon ("L. E. L.'s" prose had a hundred times over finer imaginative beauty than her poems); in Mrs. Howitt's prose fictions; and, if I recollect rightly, in Lady Fullerton's "Grantly Manor." But irrespective of the results of exquisite observation, there is in Pemberton's vigorous descriptions the moral element. You have the wild abounding sense of freedom and of joy of a great athletic spirit, who loved nature as the child its mother (always kind when everything else was cold), let loose in the woods among the silvery lady-birches, and the cool brown onyx lustre of the shadowed streams, and the aroma of the heather. Once in among the patriarchal trees, to quote his own words, "in twenty steps the world is quite shut out; you are in a strange, solemn, and old universe." 
Whately and Gilpin and Sir Uvedale Price work you in the [167] effects of a landscape elaborately. They describe with the minuteness of Van Huysum painting a bouquet. The poor way-worn wanderer, gigantic of soul without neglecting essential detail, dashes you off his sketches with the sprezzatura, careless but consummate of the master's hand. The genius loci is caught and bound for you in the croquis, while he remains unknown in the highly finished and gem-like miniature. "Walk down that sweep of undulation," says Charles, "like the mighty magnificent curve of a vast and green Atlantic billow, which by some omnipotent, some invisible hand has been suspended in its rolling and fixed thus as we see it." What a grand and free, what an honest, robust nature poor Pemberton's was. With its gigantic strength, the sad, yearning character of the man had a mighty shaft of tenderness, loving tenderness surpassing that of woman, always pouring through its recesses like some shy, lonely waterfall of the hills, fed by thunderstorms, and through gates of savage shattered pines, throwing its columns of iridescent glory and its music into the gloom of the ravines, unheard and unseen for ever! He loved children with a feminine love, and that man never lived that he feared. A thorough man he was, like Burns and my own dear friend Harpur. These are some stray verses of Pemberton's, more like the carol of a bird than anything that has been written since the matchless snatches of song in Shakespeare. 
Political verse is seldom likely to yield essentially poetic results. What can, for the most part, alone be expected from it is terse, vigorous, and memorable expression of passing opinion-felicitous condensation of the dogma and argument of the day from one point of view. Only where a broad, lurid colouring is furnished by historical struggles, or the bitterness of the passion, which clothes lyrical denunciations of national wrong, will political rhymes ever ascend into any region of the poetic. Then they appeal to feelings and imaginative sympathies common to all mankind. Herein lay, and will live for centuries, the verve and power of the Irish songs and ballads of the Nation - the best political poetry in the language. And [168] from kindred, though not strictly identical sources, Béranger drew that fusion so fascinating of patriot wrath and passion. (the sacra indignatio of Swift's epitaph), with his own ineffable graces of lyrical vogue la galère gaiety. The party politics of the hour can scarcely ever ascend above the temperature of the "squib." There is everywhere a narrowness as well as a practical hardness, a character of business warfare, and business tactics, about actual politics which keep them within the domain of the understanding. When not attacked by argument, they are only assailable by ridicule, clothed as that ridicule may be with the sparkling opulence of a fancy like Winthrop Praed's, or Moore's in The Twopenny Post-Bag. 
De Stendhal (Henri Beyle's) book De L'Amour is intended to be an exhaustive treatise on Love. The diagnosis of the passion in its earlier stages, though elaborate, is perhaps of necessity incomplete. One undescribed symptom of a nascent tendre occurs to me, which many will, possibly out of the fulness of their own experiences, recognise as worthy of tabulation in the schedules of Beyle's gaie science. When a glance, a tone, a gesture, or any little peculiarity of gait or bearing in a woman for whom you have no special regard, or perhaps casually meet, pleases because it recalls something not dissimilar in another, depend upon it that other is already on the marches of what is in old English termed your "fancy." 
Milton, you will perhaps recollect, in the Eikonoklastes, sarcastically quotes from the Eikon Basilike the words, "As the mice and rats overtook a German bishop." I am astonished to find so great a scholar as Mr. J. A. St. John remark of this in a foot-note, "I have been unable to discover the story here alluded to, which no doubt would have proved of a laughable character." And as a parallel, he writes from Herodotus the Egyptian account of the destruction of Sennacherib's army by field-mice. The story alluded to is no laughing matter at all. The tradition is that Hatto, Archbishop of Mentz, was devoured by rats at the beginning of the tenth century. According to some accounts, the catastrophe was [169] brought about by mice. The legend sets forth that at a time of great famine, Hatto shut up in a barn a number of poor people who had come to beg grain, and then set fire to the building, burning to death all within. His grace of Mentz was pleased to remark, after this intrepid experiment in political economy, that "poor people were like rats - good for nothing but to eat corn." "But God, the just avenger of the poor," says the pious legend, "did not long let this iniquity go unpunished!" Rats were sent, who at all times and in all places attended the most reverend prelate, with a pertinacity as dread and as dogged as that with which the same members of the domestic fauna favoured the Flemings of Hamelin in Robert Browning's ballad. The archbishop at length retired to a tower on an island in the Rhine as an asylum. But his enemies followed him thither, swimming the river and scaling and entering his harbour of refuge, and eventually devoured him piecemeal. 
Southey has a ballad on the subject. 
Notwithstanding the wilderness of verse on Eastern themes in English and the languages of Continental Europe, I know of only two instances where the patriarchal grandeur, simple but massive, and the wild pathos of the finer Oriental poems, have been rendered. In Matthew Arnold's noble "Sohrab and Rustum," you have the first of the two qualities. In Les Orientales of Victor Hugo, the lonesome primitive poetry of desert life alternately wrestles and weeps like the imprisoned night wind in the melancholy palm. 
What a tract of imaginative grandeur, lying away, dim, sublime, and gloomy, like the isle Hy Brasail of popular legend, Irish writers of poetry have left untouched in portions of the early religious history of Ireland; Lough Dearg, with so much of what is mightiest and most lasting in relation to the heart and soul floating dimly about it, is an instance. Calderon the Catholic saw into this region, for the poetic; but the Purgatoria del San Patricio, though Shelley dug the finest image in the Cenci from it, is only a scratch on the surface of an auriferous soil. 
[170] What a royal movement there is in Bossuet's sentences! Only a hand clothed with an episcopal glove, flashing with embroidery of jewels, could give gesture in keeping with the stately sweep and the aulic magnificence of his periods. He seemed born to preach only to congresses of princes. With the elegiac grandeurs of the funeral oration of Henrietta Maria of England still dimly floating about one's mind, as the echoes of the dying organ notes of some vesper miserere wander through the aisles of a darkening cathedral, how like the finger of Mephistopheles is History's, as she points to a picture (hung in an obscure corner of her gallery) of the widow of King Charles the Martyr beaten by her degraded paramour, Jermyn. She suffers, and history (with almost the fiend's chuckle) whispers, "Avec quelle grace vous le savez, messieurs," from that sentence of Bossuet's sermon, engraved upon every educated Frenchman's memory, as one of the most exquisite in his country's language. 
The amount in literature as well as life of respectable, learned lying, - lying with "a position," as the social phrase of the day goes, is positively frightful. You must get an idea of it when Lingard opens English history for you; or Dr. Maitland gives you, across whole mountain ranges and gullies of erudite falsehood, a glimpse of the actual state of mediaeval religion; when De Maistre calmly walks down and unlocks for the historical student the portals of the Spanish Inquisition, or Mr. Addison takes one into the torture-chamber of the hapless Templars, "the poor fellow-soldiers of Jesus Christ," and of the Temple of Solomon.