The Classical Essayists. - Blupete
Appreciating English Literature - London School of …
This period brought about almost as great a change in prose as it did in poetry, a fact that is frequently overlooked. That in tense individualism, already mentioned, is as evident in the chief prose writers as it is in the poets. The essay was no longer some thing that might have been written by a committee of sensible men, it was as personal and intimate as talk. So, too, criticism became frankly personal, and the only standard was the critic's own likes and dislikes. These Romantic prose writers expressed themselves first of all, and even their criticism was a chapter of autobiography. One result of this was a change in prose style. The i8th century prose style had been antithetical, balanced, impersonal. This standard style was by no means abandoned altogether (it exists to this day) and most of the quarterly re viewers used it, but all the more important prose writers (with the exception of Walter Savage Landor, who in his massive prose Imaginary Conversations, as in his exquisite epigrammatic verses, aimed at a classical balance, dignity and brevity of phrase) turned away from it to styles more personal, more highly coloured and musical, nearer to poetry. The most ambitious of all these prose colourists and musicians was Thomas De Quincey, who produced one masterpiece of autobiography and day-dream and elaborately notated prose, in his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, and then gently subsided into being a writer of learned and in genious articles for the magazines.
Appreciating English Literature
This can no longer be said of the remaining member of this trio of "Lake Poets," Robert Southey, who in his own time was regarded as their equal. Even those fellow poets, such as Byron and Shelley, who most bitterly resented Southey's defection from the Liberal cause would be astonished if they could learn how his reputation as a poet has declined. Southey's epics, notably Thalaba and The Curse of Kehama, seem now so many monuments of wasted effort and futile ambition. He was, how ever, a most industrious man and learned prose man too, writing an excellent style, and at least one volume of his, the Life of Nelson, has kept its place. Time has dealt a little more tenderly with the picturesque narrative poems of Sir Walter Scott, whose Lady of the Lake and the rest are still enjoyed by young readers, but it is as the author of one or two magnificent lyrics, such as Proud Maisie, that Scott keeps his place as a poet. Beside him may be set his fellow-countryman, James Hogg (The Ettrick Shepherd), who has never quite had full justice done him. And there are three other poets who for years were regarded as the foremost men of their time but have since dwindled into the authors of a few acceptable lyrics. These are Samuel Rogers (the least important), Thomas Campbell and Tom Moore. Byron and Shelley.Between these older men and the three younger poets, Byron, Shelley and Keats, who all died before they reached maturity, may be set the figure of a man who was greater as an influence than strictly as a writer. This was Leigh Hunt, who produced some pleasant verses, some good light essays and some really excellent criticism. His greatest work, however, was done as the inspiring friend of the younger poets, especially Shelley and Keats. Byron was not deeply influenced by any con temporary writer. Oddly enough, Byron, who became a European figure of Romance, was not at heart a Romantic poet at all, a fact that is now recognized. His most lasting work, apart from one or two poignant lyrics, has been in verse of a satirically descriptive order, found at its best in his Don Juan, in which his really strong masculine intellect, his witty impertinence and his rhetorical gusto have full scope. He wasand still remains- a symbolic figure of romantic rebellion, though he himself would have been the first to laugh at most of his fervent admirers.