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I think the thing you call Renown,
The unsubstantial vapour
The sonnetteer a taper,-
The horseman leaves behind him;
Or if he does, they blind him.
I think that Love is like a play,
Where tears and smiles are blended,
Whose shine with shower is ended;
Like trade, exposed to losses,
And very full of crosses. It is easy to sneer at such philosophy, indeed, it is always easy to sneer-almost as easy as it is to be sneered at; but in spite of the lack of feeling throughout Praed's verse, a characteristic which is peculiarly prominent to us seeing that our later humourists have used pathos to so good effect in their work, yet there is a tenderness in his little character sketches which is almost inimitable. Take Quince, that most charming of Praed's “Every-day Character” sketches whom, with his wonderful power of antithetical allusion, he describes in such phrases as
He won the sympathies of all
By making puns, and making presents,
He kept his counsel, and his carriage,
And shrank from chancery suits—and marriage.
Warm was his double ale—and feelings;
That he was faultless in his dealings.
Or in the alleged pathetic ending,
I found him, at threescore and ten,
A single man, but bent quite double ; Personally, I feel that the older manner of humorous antithesis, by plays upon words, is not nearly so artistic as the plays upon meaning and spirit which shine through Praed's work. Take, as an example of the former, Shirley Brooks' famous “Theological Horology.” Speaking of
* Geneva, he says:
They can't produce a decent watch,
For Calvinists despise good works.
One cannot compare it, clever though it be, with such a stanza as this from the “ Belle of the Ball-room":
She sketched; the vale, the wood, the beach
Grew lovelier from her pencil's shading.
Young blossom in her boudoir fading;
She made the Catalini jealous;
For hours and hours to blow the bellows.
Now Edward Fitzgerald cared less for the epigram than for the spirit, for the symbol than for the sympathy. His verse has less elegance, but more heart, consequently he comes as the first faint streaks of the dawn of real light verse across the cold grey hills of rhyme. His women are of a nobler type than Praed's, for he is no misogynist, and though his descriptions be light and pleasing, they are never cynical.
“Because,” he says, “I think you'd rather twirl,
A waltz with me to guide you,
And coronet beside you!
Because I think you'd scarce refuse
To sew one on a button;
To dine on simple mutton!”
There are tones that will haunt us, though lonely
Our path be o'er mountain and sea,
When Memory ceases to be.
Though toilsome and steep be the way,
With a light that is fairer than day.
Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
And graceful deer reposing in the shades.
Home they brought her lap-dog dead,
Just run over by a fly;
• Won't there be a row, O my!”
Parody has the disadvantage of eternally ruining the respect in which a lyric is held. It is doubtful if the average man can read “ The burial of Sir John Moore" without a thought of Barham's witty imitation, or “The Raven,” without immediately calling to mind the innumerable parodies of that much abused poem, of which Henry Leigh’s is the best. Mr. Frankfort Moore seems to think that Tennyson's noble verses, “Crossing the Bar," have lost their sway by reason of over-quotation, but what little influence the demon of newspaper extraction may have left will probably be ruthlessly burned in the holocaust of parody.
Henry Leigh's parody on “We are Seven” is perfect
in its way
“How many apples have you had ? "
She answered, “Only seven!”
“ And are you sure you took no more,
My little maid ? ” quoth I;
But they were in a pie!” A similar remark applies to C. S. Calverley's charming imitation of Tennyson's "Brook." Mr. Lewis Carroll and Mr. Quiller Couch have also some excellent parodies and imitations. The last named writer has even parodied Bret Harte's "Heathen Chinee," and his imitations of Walt Whitman are wonderfully clever. As an example of his art, one verse in the alliterative style of one of our leading poets, is exquisite
The centuries kiss and commingle,
Cling, clasp, and are knit in a chain;
No two but demur to be twain,
Be bride of the boreal breast,
The east with the west.
Speaking of Calverley as a parodist leads us to a consideration of his general work as a humorous poet. It is an astonishing fact that Calverley is very little known among the general reading public. He is the classic poet of humour; his stanzas are perfect in style, and his diction is so easy that the old definition of light verse is most applicable to him-that it should be such as leads us to think that we ourselves could write similarly if we only were to try.
Extremes meet, especially those of spontaneity and slow working, and apparent spontaneity is frequently deceptive. So is it in Calverley's case. We must not fall into the grave error of thinking that, because it reads so easily and with such a fluent charm, it has cost the poet but little labour.
Herein we arrive at the philosophy of light verse. Calverley chose the commonest subjects of life for his themes. “Motherhood,” “ Tobacco," “For-ever" (a skit at the grammatical union of the two words), these are types of his subjects. This brightening of the commoner things of life, this idealisation of the utilitarian aspect, is what we owe to the despised humorous poets. It is not accomplished without a touch of pathos, nor without a suspicion, and oft-times more than a suspicion, of tenderness and love, but it invariably brings a warming of the heart for which epics and tragedies strive in vain.
Calverley's intense solemnity of tone increases the charm; that is the sadness of it. Like a good joker he smiles not at his own witticism ; another exemplification of the human regard for self-sacrifice. Take the following sermonette on Contentment
Friend, there be they on whom mishap
Or never or so rarely comes