In self-defence I must protest that I cannot see much untoward flippany in this fragment, but I have since learned that my auburn-haired friend's criticism on poetry is one that has ruled the whole history of English verse. We are bound to be so serious over it, that it is in danger of becoming a Liebig's extract of melancholia. The whole range of English verse represents a dull leaden monochrome, in which there are but few touches of brightening silver.

In spite of the Lord's Day Observance Society, we English are very sabbatarian in spirit-especially on week days. Sadness is one of our dearest pleasures. We are so afraid of smiling, that we have at least our Puritan ancestors have-invented a meaning for the word “joy,” twisting it to convey the idea of a heavenly rapture which kindly but firmly declines to manifest itself in a smile. As for laughter, that is of the world, the flesh and—not the Puritan ; it is the shriek of one on the brink of Inferno, so that we cannot think of Sir Wm. Davenant's remark in his preface to Gondibert, that “Bells should be put upon horses to make them carry their burdens more cheerfully,” without a Puritanic shudder.

All school books should be bound in black, as an outward and visible testimony to their inward and lugubrious contents. We cannot wonder that the English people look askance at light verse, when we consider the training to which they are subjected. After Humpty-dumpty has had its day, the child,—the lover of poetry in embryo-is introduced to " Mary had a little lamb.” It is a woful commencement, the story of a sad, a tearful estrangement. I forget the details, and I have not the courage to take down the mournful little volume, but I have a distinct recollection of the tears which fell on the book when I first spelled out the mysterious symbols, and I remember

how my heart sympathised with Mary,-& sympathy not untouched with pity for the other little sheep. Next comes that rollicking piece, “Casabianca." As our modern analytic critic would say, this is a poem with a purpose, the purpose being to teach the “ beautiful vice” of obedience. In this commercial age we shall have a poor chance of inculcating so estimable a-vice !-unless we can prove that it pays a little better than in the case of the unfortunate boy upon the deck. All he got for his pains-and they were terrible pains-was death, a result which he could have obtained in a much more direct, if somewhat less dramatic manner.

But the child is growing up in years, animal spirits are beginning to manifest themselves, and consequently they must be repressed; it is treated therefore to a rigorous course of “We are seven," “ The Wreck of the Hesperus," "Lucy Gray," and “The Graves of a Household.” To my mind the last named is Mrs. Hemans' masterpiece, it enumerates a funeral in each verse, a record which, it is sincerely hoped, still remains unbroken. About this time I imagine the child is likely to pay too much attention to life; to it death has no terrors, consequently we bring before its mind “The Soldier's Grave,” or “The Burial of Sir John Moore," and it looks on no poetry as complete unless it foreshadows the darkness of Tartarus, or the cold venomous waters of the Styx. Now the subject is mature; its mind, broadened and cultured by this course of poesy, is able to grasp to the full the precious lessons of “The Dream of Eugene Aram," “ Absalom," or “Little Jim." What wonder if the unfortunate little student looks upon verse with loathing !--what wonder if no poetry conveys a lesson to its heart unless it involve the shedding of tears, the spilling of blood, or at least, two funerals and a half.


The Greeks were wiser. Aristophanes, the comic poet, was crowned in the face of the people; Menander received a poetical prize, though he disgraced the whole world of humour by drowning himself because his rival Philemon was

successful. Plautus the Latin, snatched moments from busy toil in a bakery to put a few light verses together, and for five or six hundred years his comedies delighted the people, and in his lifetime he gained a position which no writer of his day could dispute with him.

It is strange that of all peoples the English should be so reluctant to appreciate these lighter touches. The Anglo-Saxon tongue is eminently suitable for those plays upon words and delicate fancies which go to make humour, yet the English light-verse writer is comparatively unknown, and humour, either old or new, is surprisingly neglected.

We are so much athirst for Purpose and Morals. Now-a-days, as Mr. Richard le Gallienne says, we want even stage-plays duly embittered with a moral, for we are afraid of enjoyment unless it have an undercurrent of preaching. The truly great poets—Campbell, Rogers, Crabbe and Moore, never bothered their heads about purpose. Poetry was their aim, and poetry alone. We have lost many little Paradises in our absorption with Paradise Lost and the mightier tomes, and who knows, in our neglect of the lighter poets, if we may not have missed many

truthful lessons which lie hidden in their sweetness, like little pungent powders in a mass of jam.

It is curious that we have but a small legacy of the lighter verse from the hands of women. Their harps are tuned to strains in the minor,—not a very different thing from minor strains, after all. They sit perennially by the waters of Babylon, they hang their harps on the willows, and they and their readers fall on weeping. One does not look to Eliza Cook for cheerfulness, or to Mrs. Hemans for flippancy; theirs is the harp of the angel Israfel-a harp of one string, and that a mournful one.

What the later Romans said of Plautus, the later English say of Hood; they object to his inveterate punning. Modern critics will quote, with approval, such à quatrain as the following from Mr. Stephens' Lapsus Calami, When mankind shall be delivered from the crash of magazines, And the inkstand shall be shivered into countless smithereens, And there stands a muzzled stripling, mute, beside a muzzled bore, Where the Rudyards cease from Kipling, and the Haggards ride no


Then they will condemn Hood, probably instancing so mild a venture in the art of punning as,

So Lucy ran up, and in ten seconds more,

Had questioned the stranger, and answered the door. The latter, they say, consists of nothing but plays on words; the former is delicious English humour.

But really the objection to Hood is somewhat unfair. He was the pioneer; moreover the advance on Hood which has been made by his modern rivals is not such as to invite one to join the present school of critics in their detestation of the old and their deification of the new.

Besides, Hood had a wonderful influence upon his successors. To accuse him of punning, and to forget some of his “gracefully-turned nonsense,” is to wilfully overlook some of his best work. Take, for instance, the “Story of the Broken Dish."

We gather flowers of every hue,

And fish in boats for fishes,
Build summer-houses painted blue,-

But life's as frail as dishes.

Walking about their groves of trees,

Blue bridges and blue rivers,
How little thought them two Chinese,

They'd both be smash'd to shivers.

The influence of such verse upon the succeeding writers is apparent. The art is indisputably higher than that whose boast is its plays upon words, and the writers who follow Hood grow out of his strained witticisms and fantastic puns. The spirit turns, too, rather towards society or social verse ; and of light poets of this class W. M. Praed stands pre-eminent. As I said of Plautus, and as must be said of most of these lighter poets, he was a man of action, immersed in the turmoil of daily business. It is curious that to discover the lighter touches in verse, we turn in vain to the professional poets,—if I may apply such an adjective to a poet. That is why I shall shortly claim for these men that their productions show a more intimate knowledge of the world, and of the men of the world, than do those of the serious poets. As William Cullen Bryant said to a poetic aspirant who submitted a poem on the skylark, but who had never seen or heard that warbler, “Let us beware of literary insincerity.”

Praed is an example of absolute sincerity. He took as his study-models the heroes of Belgravia and Mayfair. It is quite true, as the modern critics say, that he is too little sentimental, and here he is justly and unfavourably compared to Edward Fitzgerald. Yet Praed had, in common with most light verse writers, an earnest philosophy to teach, a philosophy none the less true because it came from a society poet, none the less pungent and piercing because from a satirist who, in his heart of hearts, loved the subjects of his apparent scorn. Witness the following stanzas,

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