his most salient excellence (to go directly to the core
of the matter) is an unerring taste. Now taste in abundance
may or may not be one of the characteristics of a true
poet. It is certainly one of the first characteristics
of every careful artist. Mr. John Davidson has it sparingly,
and yet much of his poetry is undoubtedly genuine. Mr.
William Watson has it in abundance, and yet his poetry
is nearly always uninteresting. Genius and taste have
really very little to do with each other, unless perhaps
we admit that if a man have taste enough, it amounts
to talent; and if he have talent enough, it amounts
to genius. Taste is that quality of mind which gives
worth to our judgments in matters of art; and he who
has it will bring to his own work as severe a criticism
as he does to the work of others. And there have been
geniuses without number to whom such a task was quite
impossible. Wordsworth and Byron and Whitman and Shelley-these
were great poets blessed with little taste. When the
spirit was upon them, they gave voice to burning utterances
from the heart of man; but they could no more distinguish
their good work from their bad than the wind can tell
a harp from a hair-comb. The critical faculty was never
theirs. On the other hand, in men like Landor, and Keats,
and Tennyson, and Arnold, and Longfellow taste is never
lacking. They may at times fall short of perfection,
but they could never be guilty of the solemn dulness
of Wordsworth at his worst or the occasional turgid
extravagance of Whitman. Milton, of course, was a prince
in taste and technique, our supreme artist in English
verse. Now it is a cultivated and unfailing taste which
has stood Dr. Mitchell in such good stead, and enabled
him to leave on his readers so graceful an impression.
You may read him from cover to cover without once being
annoyed by a jarring note or an incongruous turn. Given
the theme or the fancy, his taste enables him to treat
it in an appropriate way, smoothly and evenly to the
end. It saves him from blundering and ineffectual effort.
It makes his book a refreshing change after the slipshod,
helter-skelter affectations of too many of our sophomoric
Dr. Mitchell belongs distinctly, in quality if not in
years, to the golden age of American letters-the age
of Longfellow and Holmes, the time when scholarship
and manners and the instincts of the gentleman had not
been overborne in the turmoil of the writer's craft.
Many of Dr. Mitchell's subjects, too, especially his
Old-World dramas and ballads, are just those Longfellow
might have chosen: "Dominique de Gourgues,"
for instance, and "Herndon," and "The
Christ of the Snows," and "How the Cumberland
went Down." His few occasional poems recall the
style of Dr. Holmes, while several lyrics in the lighter
vein, like "The Quaker Lady" and "Forget-Me-Nots,"
are worthy of the Autocrat himself. In this connection
also one might quote a couple of polished stanzas from
"The Quaker Graveyard":
quiet length of days they come,
With scarce a change, to this
Of all life's loveliness they took
The thorn without the rose.
"While on the graves of drab and gray
The red and gold of autumn lie,
And wilful Nature decks the sod
In gentlest mockery."
workmanship as this and such freedom from effort proclaim
the conscientious artist, the taker of infinite pains,
the writer who thinks more of his art than of himself.
And on every page the reader will feel himself in the
company of an accomplished man of the world, who has
looked in the face of life without flinching, and found
it wholesome and fair. In the poems of nature, too,
such as "A Psalm of the Waters," "Elk
County," "Nipigon Lake" (all in the metre
of "Evangeline," sufficiently modified to
be disguised), there is a steady quietness of outlook,
a sobriety of thought and feeling, that many a young
versifier, who is now breaking his neck in a race for
originality, would do well to regard. To me the chief
pleasure of the book is that it is never feverish, nor
strained, nor affected, but always simple and clear
and of an even tenor; and one is thankful for once not
to feel the reviewer's temptation to use the phrase
yet it would be doing Dr. Mitchell an injustice to leave
the impression that he is tame or that he is no more
than a well-trained echo of Longfellow; for if one may
make a shrewd guess, he has been a constant admirer
of a greater poet than the author of "The Skeleton
in Armour" and "The Psalm of Life." I
mistake if there is nothing of Browning's potent influence
in these pages; not in their manner, indeed, so much
as in the subjects of some of the poems. There lingers
about them, different as they are in treatment, something
of his intense humanity and sturdy love of the dramatic.
In the opening of "The Swan Woman" the likeness
is marked, yet not too marked to be admirable.
of all the poems, the one which seems to me most individual
and memorable is "Responsibility," wherein
is related by the poet Attar El Din how the angels of
Affirmation and Denial struggled for his soul. At the
conclusion of the dispute,
Nekkir, the clerk of man's wrong,
'Great Solomon's self might be long
In judging this mad son of song.'
'Then I who am Attar El Din,
Cried, 'Surely no two shall agree
Thou mighty collector of sin,
Be advised: come with me to the Inn;
There are friends who shall witness for me-
Big-bellied, respectable, staunch,
One arm set a-crook on the haunch;
They will pour the red wine of advice,
And behold! ye shall know in a trice
How hopeless for wisdom to weigh
The song-words a poet may say.'
"Cried Moonkir, the clerk of good thought,
'Ah, where shall decision be sought?
Let us quit this crazed maker of song,
A confuser of right and of wrong,'
"'But first,' laughed I, Attar El Din,
'I am dry: leave my soul at the Inn.'"
such a conclusion as this there can be no more to say.