In Whitman's Hand


About this Item

Title: Modern English Poets

Creators: Walt Whitman, Anonymous

Annotation Date: After December 1, 1851

Base Document Citation: Anonymous, "Modern English Poets," American Whig Review (December 1851).

Whitman Archive ID: mid.00006

Source: Middlebury College Library, Special Collections. Transcribed from digital images of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the marginalia and annotations, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Lauren Grewe, Nicole Gray, and Matt Cohen


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Bells & Pomegranates, Robert Browning
Casa Guidi Windows, Elizabeth Barrett Brown[illegible]

1851The Dallas Letter.

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the reputation of their authors. Those who turn aside from the grand current of events to undertake the salvation or the destruction of the country by the propogation of startling issues, will continue to be cast up, from time to time, high and dry upon the beach, to learn at their leisure, that those who would lead public opinion must be content to go with it until they are not only assured of the superior wisdom of their own foresight, but that they have force enough to divert it into a new channel.

The surest method of promoting union is to fix the attention upon some prospective good, and to labor to reach it. It has been wisely said, that the principle of friendly cooperation lies in a common interest in the pursuit of a common good. It is well enough to probe a wound to ascertain its nature and extent, but the probing is no part of the cure, and if unskilfully attempted, may serve to make the bad still worse.

We have as a nation a work to accomplish, to which if we bend all our energies, there need be no fear of discord among us. Unity of heart and mind is requisite to the accomplishment of the task, which is no less than the renovation of the condition of human society.

Europe is in a sad state. Absolutism is more terrible to-day than ever before; while, on the other hand, libety is more indispensable for man. The ambition of crowned heads is less carefully disguised by the vacant-featured mask of diplomacy, and looks directly to its mark. A czar or an emperor may well burn with ambitious desire to add to his dominions such slaves as the men who wield the intellectual and moral power of the age. The pride of a Corsican soldier took fire at such a thought, and well nigh accomplished its most ambitious aspirations.

It was vastly easier, centuries ago, to wrest power from the hands of kings, than at the present day. Until royalty learned what a Cromwell could do, it treated popular tumult with contempt, though with severity. But that notable example, followed by still more instructive lessons, has taught absolutism that there is no sympathy between it and the ideas of popular liberty. The artful disguise which for a time served to conceal its hostility to popular liberty, by representing the design of European politics to be the preservation of an equipoise of power, is now thrown off, and open and avowed war is waged upon all constitutional limitations of royal power. Poland is absorbed; Hungary is stripped of its constitution; Prussia has the alternative of revolution or despotism; Germany is kept in a state of fermentation, as ignorant as the rest of the world of what are her constitutional rights, and who are her real masters. Even Turkey— alas for Europe!—has too much humanity for the oppressed, for the security of the European powers. Italy—softly Italy has departed; resurrection, not revolution, is the only hope for her. What shall be said of France? She presents the paradox of elective absolutism arm in arm with rampant democracy. Some dreary night, one or the other will be found strangled. When that day comes, the guillotine or the bayonet will have prevailed.

There remains one other European power, seated upon what must one day have been the easternmost projection of the American continent, but, by some hankering after the society of royalty, betrayed into bad company, which entertains manly ideas of popular liberty. That great power has until just now been altogether taken up with the exhibition of a gigantic Punch, and with the practical philosophy of the Hong merchants. But there is hope that her mighty arm will be lifted over the lofty crests of the oppressors, for her true-hearted people have received with sympathy and fellowship a noble exile.

That exile will soon be in our midst, and will be received as an ambassador, not from the oppressed of Hungary alone, but of all Europe. What may be the issue of the future is with Heaven alone to know; but the aspects of the present forebode the advent of events that will demand of us perfect and indissoluble unity, nerve and patriotism. For the rest, with the power and security which these will bring us, we may rest hopeful and assured of the triumph of right in whatever struggle gathers in the eventful future.

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[D]ec. 1856—Aurora Leigh, a new poem
by Mrs. Browning—

462Modern English Poets.December,


MR. AND MRS. BROWNING are psychological curiosities. Independently of the singular fact of the two of the greatest poetical minds of the day being "united in the holy bonds of matrimony," there are many peculiar traits connected with their history which render them possibly the most interesting married couple on record. Both shrouded as it were from the world, and dedicated to the service of Apollo almost from their very cradle, they, like young Hannibal, have given themselves up to that worship which, though requiring a native genius, is yet more generally determined by some particular accident. In order to render their idiosyncrasy the more intelligible, we shall briefly allude to their personal history, and as a matter of course commence with the lady.

Miss Elizabeth Barrett Barrett is the daughter of a gentleman of moderate fortune, and was born in London in 1812. Being of fragile health and slender frame, she was unable to partake of those amusements to which young ladies of her class in life are predisposed. While her friends sought the ball and the concert-room, the youthful poetess retired to her chamber, and studied Greek, Latin, and other Lady Jane Grey accomplishments. As early as her tenth year, she had written some verses of singular merit, even at that age displaying that peculiar style of thought and expression which have made her the most original poetess in the English language. Her first attempts at verse were given to the Athenaeum without any signature, or indeed even initial, and excited great curiosity from their remarkable phraseology. We question if any poet of so youthful an age ever so completely exhibited the complete Minervaism as the youthful Elizabeth. A few years afterwards appeared her translation of Eschylus's "Prometheus Vinctus," which may challenge comparison with any translation of the day: indeed it may be pronounced unique, not only on account of its fidelity, but also by reason of its force and point. We merely give one specimen to prove our assertion:

"Behold with throe on throe,
How wasted, by this woe,
I wrestle down the myriad years of Time!
Behold how fast around me
The New Kind of the happy ones sublime
Has flung the chain he forged, has shamed and bound me!
Woe, woe, to-day's woe, and the coming morrow's
I cover with one groan. And where is found me A limit to these sorrows!
And yet what word do I say? I have foreknown
Clearly all things that should be; nothing done
Comes sudden to my soul; and I must bear
What is ordained with patience, being aware
Necessity doth front the universe
With an invincible gesture."

The two last lines are certainly of an order for which we must, with Mr. Willis's permission, invent a word, and call Browningesque; for we question if, till Miss Barrett wrote, so singular a position were ever put, like a straight waistcoat, upon the universe.

We will quote only one more verse of this really marvellous translation:

"I know that Zeus is stern;
I know he metes his justice by his will;
And yet I also know his soul shall learn
More softness when once broken by this ill!
That, curbing his unconquerable wrath,
He shall rush on in fear, to meet with me,
Who rush to meet with him in agony,
To issues of harmonious covenant."

We have in this the germ of much of Mrs. Browning's poetry; for, without harping too much upon one string—for her lyre is fully strung—we may yet observe that very much of her music is set in one key, which at times gives a monotony to her verse which really belongs more to its sound than its sense. In the latter point of view, she is undoubtedly the most peculiar of all the female poets of England. But her mannerism is in word, not thought. There is also a provoking fact about her, which lends her the less excuse for the tortuous style of her

*Sordello, Bells, and Pomegranates, &c. By Robert Browning. Casa Guidi's Windows. By Elizabeth Barrett Browning.


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