Roger—What have we here?
Giles—There is everything under the sun set down
with some show of reason; they run atilt at the world,
and treat men and manners as familiar as an old hat.
Sir Roger—Think you they protest too much? I like
a matter disposed bravely, but—
Giles—Methinks they have a genial tongue. Will
you hear them?
Sir Roger—Well, an’ it be not too long I’ll
have some sack, and you read on.
most delightful volume of verse is James Whitcomb Riley's
Old-Fashioned Roses. In these days, when there is so
much artificial verse-making, it is refreshing to come
across such a collection of human and nature-blossoms.
Mr. Riley has a quaintness and pathos all his hown,
and also an earnestness of spirit that makes his verse
a part of his personality. He has a true insight into
child-life, and to him people and meadows and flowers
and bees are all brethren, only of a different variety.
The wind and the sun and the barefooted boys are his
boon companions. The following lines we quote at random
from the book:—
orchard lands of long ago!
O drowsy winds,
awake, and blow
blossoms back to me,
And all the
buds that used to be!
along the grassy ways
feet, and lift the haze
Of happy summer
from the trees;
the melody that slips
In lazy laughter
from the lips
much if any kiss
than the apple's is.
of the "South Wind and the Sun."
in arm they went together
of morning haze—
slopes of lawn.
is an excellent poem all through, and so is "The
Beetle," wherein he tells us how—
floods of musk,
booms a-down the glooms
bumps along the dusk.
the dialect pieces we miss "The Absence of Little
Wesley," one of his most beautiful human touches,
which appeared in The Century; but we greet with renewed
pleasure "Knee Deep in June" and "Nothin'
to Say," and the popular "Little Orphant Annie,"
and "The Frost on the Pumpkin." In "Knee
Deep in June" Mr. Riley's experience must be Canadian,
when he sings in Hoosier style of the fraudulent character
of the spring months:—
ain't never nothin' new!
me; and May—I
when June comes—clear my throat
honey! Rench my hair
In the dew!
me, and I'm to spare!
I'll git down
and waller there,
to you at that.
Riley has a true philosophy of life running like a brook
all through his verses, a philosophy of the best and
most durable kind, not found so much in books as in
the morning sun and the summer fields, it is a wisdom
of the toiling and suffering yet joyous many. In one
place he truly says:—
allus noticed grate success
Is mixed with
trouble more or less;
And it's the
man who does the best
more kicks than all the rest.
is a quaint, good-humored carelessness of fate running
through this thought, that takes the bitter sting out
of its only too evident truth. Among the sonnets, all
fine, and some very beautiful, we would prefer the tender
one called "When She Comes Home." America
has produced many talented men and women, and not a
few souls of real genius who have a revelation from
nature and humanity, but, among her singers who have
drunk at the pure springs, Mr. Riley is one of the most
sincere and natural. His voice is not for America alone;
wherever the genius of the English language is felt,
and his work is read, he will be acknowledged by the
hearts and intellects of the few as well as the many
to be a new and distinctive note in our literature.
has often been said that obscurity can go no further
than it has done in the poems of George Meredith; that
there is to be seen the perfect flower of the style
which in attempting to express thought or emotion ends
by hiding the intention as thoroughly as silence. This
seems to be a hard saying, and I would not like to agree
with it hastily, but there is excellent ground for the
charge. It would be impossible for anyone to read "Modern
Love" for the first time and understand it, or
for the second time. But there is a possibility of understanding
it, and I think it is well worth trying to compass.
It is hard to speak this way of poetry, which should
be of all things perfectly simple and straightforward;
but in the case of "Modern Love" it is quite
impossible to say anything else. At the outset Mr. Meredith
might be charged with having chosen an inartistic form
for the psychical drama which he had to present. The
divisions of the poem are sometimes dramatic as if written
by one of the characters, and sometimes critical as
if written by an observer. This is misleading at first
and results in intensifying the obscurity. When this
is conquered or even partially so, one is apt to be
carried away by an insight which is present in everything
Mr. Meredith writes and often by poetic beauty of a
striking kind. There is development in the sequence
of poems, and, although the steps are not always evident,
and although the purpose of certain of the poems does
not appeal with irresistible force, the story is told
and told with remarkable fulness and power. In the short
compass of eight hundred lines the emotions and thoughts
of two people during a certain crisis in their lives
are stated or hinted at. The gaps in the development
and the strange phrases in the lines leave the greatest
scope for ingenuity in interpretation, and it is a wonder
that some admirer such as Mr. Gallienni has not given
us a running commentary on the poem. To enjoy it thoroughly
one needs to have a subtle mind and acute perceptions.
I have no room to quote many of the curious observations
that are scattered through the poems, but here are a
have a care of natures that are mute!
They punish you in acts. Their steps are brief.
Imagination is the charioteer
That, in default of better, drives the hogs.
47th section is a rarely lovely piece of work, charged
with meaning and full of pathos, and the lines that
close the 50th section will serve as an example of how
felicitous Mr. Meredith's expression may sometimes be:—
tragic hints here see what evermore
as yonder midnight ocean's force
like rampant hosts of warrior horse,
To throw that faint, thin line upon the shore.
Sage Enamored and the Honest Lady" is less difficult,
although it would probably prove quite as unnatractive
to a reader looking for a pastime. But, while these
poems are not upon the surface attractive, they are
capable of giving a rare pleasure, and are full of unique
and profitable philosophy. As I said before, they are
often beautiful, and, although they cannot be said to
represent the greatness of Mr. Meredith's genius which
is supreme in his novels, yet they are not unworthy
if any our wealthy men wished to do their country a
patriotic service, I do not think that they could find
a better way of putting their wish into effect than
by starting a magazine. A country only reaches full
national consciousness when it has developed a literature.
Our literature is yet to make, and the literary impulse
in the present age, especially in America, appears to
seek its first outlet in the magazine. It is very difficult
for young Canadians to gain access to the great magazines
of the United States. There are only four or five of
them, and these can publish only a very limited quantity
of matter each month. We may be sure that a nation of
65,000,000 will produce enough writers to supply this
without any assistance from the neighboring nation of
5,000,000. Such English literature as we already have
in Canada shows an extraordinary large proportion of
verse. This is simply due to the fact that the literary
impulse amongst us has not yet received any general
stimulus. In any country where so wide literary activity
exists, those few persons whom the imaginative impulse
possesses so strongly that they must write will naturally
write in verse. It seems to be the primitive germinal
method of expression. When the intellect of a nation
first becomes conscious of the beauty and mystery of
the life around it, that consciousness has in it a religious
quality which utters itself most fitly in poetry. This
fact is not as discernible now as it was in ruder days,
but it still holds good in a certain degree. The various
forms of prose literature, fiction, criticism, etc.,
are an after growth, appearing with the rapid propagation
of the creative impulse. There can be no doubt that
a great deal of talent for every kind of writing lies
dormant in the youth of Canada simply for the want of
some attractive and stimulating vehicle of publication.
We can have no literature of any consequence where there
is no interested public, no publishing facilities, no
journals or magazines, to whose pages it is a matter
of profit and pride to win admission. But when these
are found we shall have plenty of literature, I believe
the best on the continent. However, many things will
be changed by that time, and it is hard to predict what
will happen. Much could be done now to draw out the
naturally abundant talent of our people by the establishment
and endowment of a great and attractive magazine. Swarms
of writers would appear, and the intellectual ferment
and competition aroused, together with the growth of
an ever more searching process of criticism, would bring
the best to the front and urge them to the attainment
of an excellence which would otherwise be completely
beyond their power. I know that our country is yet hardly
out of its pioneer stage. It is necessarily engaged
in money-getting and homebuilding as yet, and we cannot
expect much attention to art or literature. These must
come with a generation of money already got and houses
already founded, a generation of people having time
to read and riches wherewith to buy. Yet, I think we
are approaching near to the turning point, to a season
of awakening creative consciousness in which such an
experiment as the establishing of a powerful magazine
might perform for us the midwife's task and place us
in possession of a new-born literature. A year or so
ago half a dozen San Francisco millionaires subscribed
$20,000 each and started a magazine called The Californian.
It was established for the purpose of bringing out the
literary talent of the Pacific coast, and those who
have seen numbers of this publication will probably
agree with me that it is not very much of a magazine
after all. If half a dozen of our wealthy men would
put together the same sum I believe we could soon place
upon the market an infinitely better one.
I lay in prison like St. Paul,
two guards that both were grim and stout,
All day they sat by me and held me thrall;
The one was
named Regret, the other Doubt.
And through the twilight of that hopeless close
an angel shining suddenly
That took me by the hand, and, as I rose,
grew soft and slipped away from me.
The doors gave back and swung without a sound,
of some magic flower unfurled.
I followed, treading o'er enchanted ground,
and a kindlier world.
The master of that black and bolted keep
Thou knowest is Life; the angel's name is Sleep.