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LITERARY NOTES

[From Our Special Correspondent.]

London, August 7-

King Death has been busy in literary circles this last fortnight. Following quickly on the loss of Mrs Ofiphant. comes that of another shining light of “Maga.” Sir John Skelton, and also of the famous poet and novelist Jean Ingelow. The latter’s name was almost a household word amongst reading folk a quarter of a century ago, but save in America her work seems to be little known or appreciated nowadays. Her poetry was of the ultra-sentimental order—a blend of Wordsworth and Tennyson, with most of the weaknesses of both. For example, ‘Supper at the Mill’—considered by some to be in Miss Ingelow’a happiest vein—is really an imitation (and not a specially felicitous one) of ‘The Miller’s Daughter.’ Nevertheless, as an eminent reviewer remarks, “ those of us who have been haunted by the lines Oh, ray lost love and my own, own love, And my love that loved mo so ' Is there never a chink in the worhl above, Where they listen for words from below ? will pardon some of the commonplace and over-strained sentiment that interferes with the harmony of the poem for the sake of this song.” Miss Ingelow’a best-known and most frequently-quoted poems are, of course, ‘The Brothers,’ the lovely ‘Divided,’ and the popular song ‘ When Sparrows Build.’' Readers curious enough to turn up the slim volume published in 1343 should not, however, overlook a striking ballad for recitation, entitled 1 High Tide.’ In connection with the publication of Jean Ingelow’s first poems, the ‘ Athemeum ’ tells an interesting story. It says that although this book was highly spoken of and admired, and the first edition was exhausted with reasonable promptitude, its publishers (Messrs Longman and Co.) were not prepared to follow it up by a second, and when Miss Ingelow, accompanied by her mother, went to propose that they should do so, they said that they did not consider it would be prudent to incur the risk. As Miss Ingelow, who was much disappointed, was leaving their establishment she passed in the doorway a man with a slip of paper in his hand, and two or three minutes afterwards was overtaken by a clerk, who came to say that Mr Longman would be much obliged if she would return to his office. She went back, and was told that the man whom she had met had come with an order for 500 copies of tier book. This, of course, necessitated the publicationof aneweditionto befollowed by many’ more editions, and henceforth Miss Ingelow had no more difficulties with publishers. Agood many people, I fancy, know Miss Ingelow’s novels even better than her poems. All four of them ran through ‘ Good Words ’ serially, and were afterwards published by Chatto and Windus, who issue two shilling editions of ‘ Off the Skelligs’ and ‘Fated to be Free.’ The one I like best is ‘Don John,’ which was written for the American “No Name” series, and had com.dderabie vogue in the States. It relates the adventures of two babies who were so successfully mixed up in their cradles that the parents could not distinguish which was which. One was the sou of wealthy people, aad the other of young Croesus’s foster mother, a bricklayers wife. The wealthy parents naturally adopted both boys, and watched eagerly for hereditary tendencies to solve the enigma. Unfortunately—if I remember aright—the lad they decide is their own turns out a had egg, whereas the other, “ Don John,” does exceedingly well. Anyhow, it is a ■very well told tale.

Sir John Skelton—known to readers of ‘ Blackwood ’ as “ Shirley ” —was the greatest living authority on Mary Queen of Scots, to the whitewashing of whom he devoted a large portion of ins literary life. lu t-his he was not particularly successful, Fronde, amongst other?, demoliMiLig most, of his ingenious theories, whilst Tuackeray declared he had been bewitched by Her Scottish Majesty from the other side of the Styx. When, however, you could eliminate this luckless lady from Sir John's mind he was a delightful conversationalist and writer. ‘Maitland of Lathingt'-n ’ and the two entertaining volumes of ‘ The Table Talk of Shirley ’ recently published are probably his beat-knewu boo!;?. Good judges aver that there is scarcely another biography extant

equal to the farmer, unless it be Sir John Scerling-Maxwcll’s ‘ Cloister Life of the Emperor Charles V.’ Possibly its very' romance detracts {rent its effect as a “solid” work in historical research. A nation which takes its pleasures sadly likes its heavy reading to be of an undeniable degree of heaviness. As in ‘ Maitland of Lethington,’ you arc given your history in a medium almost as romantic as ‘ Esmond.’ Sir John’s early ecsays, bound up in ‘ The Crookit Meg,’ are also models of good nervous English, clothing many happy thoughts and graceful fancies. One of the first to read Shirley’s essays was the R ; ght Hon. Benjamin Disraeli. That remarkable genius had au eye for pure English, though he himself never came to achieve it. He wrote - (as one has heard the story) to Skelton, asked him if he could not serve him

and so discharge the debt which he felt he owed the author of ‘ The Crookit Meg,’ and not long afterwards Skelton was made sccre-

tary to the old Board of Supervision. According to Grant Allen—with whom I

imagine W. E. Henley might differ—it was Sir John Skelton who discovered Stevenson. He went once to dine with the Stevensons, who were living close to him at Swanston, and took with him Principal Tulloch. From Shat dinner he returned with Louis’s first manuscripts under his arm, and hung over ■them with wonder and delight till the small hours. In the predictions which he mitered for the youthful author he did not foresee that the meeting would one day supply that author with a character, and that Shirley (rendered, it is true, a trifle less cynical and rather more idyllic) would figure in ‘War of llermiston’ as Lord Glenalmoud.

The story of how ‘ Crossing the Bar’ came to be written will, I hear, be told in the forthcoming ‘Life and Letters of Tennyson.’ It is said that once when ill the poet’s nurse drew his attention to the fact that he had never perpetrated a hymn. Whereupon Tennyson wrote the little poem and showed it to her, asking whether she would call that a hymn. “It is indeed very beautiful,” was the reply. “You think so?” said the poet. “Then I will have it published.” With the exception of reprints there are hardly any new books appearing at present, nor will the trade wake up again till the middle of September. Jubilee year was fairly satisfactory to retailers during the spring, but directly the rejoicings set in people ceased to read, or ac least to buy, and booksellers in London have had the worst June and July ever known.

Mr and Mrs J. M. Barrie have gone to the Engadine for two months after first witnessing the copyright performance of ‘ The Little Minister ’ at the Haymnrket. When this dramatisation is tried in September Mr Cyril Maude, hitherto associated chiefly with clever studies of old men, will play Gavin and Winifred Emery Babbie. The disused graveyard of Sr. Mary-le-St.rand, so closely associated with Dickens’s ‘ Bleak House,’ and now used as a children’s playground, is soon to be disturbed. At the consistory court, held in the Wellington St. Paul’s Cathedral, recently, ap. was made to make a road through bursal ground, tho idea being to erect street, communicating cast and west Drury lane and Catherine street, be remembered that Dickens buried ” in this graveyard, and 'also the Kawdon, and Lady Dedlock. reminds me that the of ‘ Dombey ’ and ‘ David cow that George a the for Era Series ” Blackie and It appears also to be to get Phil May to illusEre non-copyright Dickens’s. ‘ Athenvum ’ a c 1 e ‘’Some Australian the recent lucubrations B. Paterson, I. B. O’Hara, Breretou, and Francis lacuna with caustic severity. The conthe reviewer would seem to be colonials can occasionally turn verse in ballad form they are the poetic instinct. He how difficult it seems to he for to escape a certain provinciality, out in various shape 3, but with-the of a fatality. The provinciality is

sometimes seen in a too defiant contempt of admitted models, a revolt against taste, at other times in a too slavish imitation of, perhaps, the host models. We get verse which is simply wild doggerel and verse which is merely tame conventionality, sentiments, or tooobvioqsly extravagant —the extremes, in short, of every bad manner. But it is rarely, indeed, that colonial verse comes to us with anything like a sincere poetry, or a sincerity which has anything poetic about it.

Some indubitably feeble isolated verses by Mr Kenna and Mr Le Gay Brereton are then given in proof of this. Mr Paterson’s ‘ Man From Snowy River’ naturally cauuot be dismissed quite so cavalierly, but even his “rattling ballads” arc condemned as wanting “really poetic suggestion.' 1 Incidentally Mr “ Boldrewood ” Brown gets a rub. Says this remorseless reviewer : In a brief and badly-written preface Rolf Boldrewood claims that Mr Paterson’s arc "the iiest bush ballads written since the death of Lindsay Gordon.” Very probably ; but is that, after all, saying that they are poetry. And if those good popular verses arc no more than good popular verses, can they ho expected to appeal to more than that rough-and-ready'audiencc which, whether sitting round a camp lire or hy the fire of a drawing room, is equally the audience to which good poetry does not appeal? It is sometimes forgotten that an obvious sentiment does not become less obvious because you attribute it to a bushranger, or that a copy of verses about some horses on a ranch is not necessarily any better, any nearer to poetry, than a copy of versos about the last Derby. But the ‘ Athemoum’s ’ most cutting allusions are reserved for poor Mr J. B. O’Hara, whose attempts to model his muse on Mr Swinburne meet with cruel derision. Only when he says “simple (and, to us, novel) thiuga simply ” can the reviewer stand him at all. Even then, despite fluency, good intentions, etc., etc., Mr O’Hara has not, he winds up, “ mastered the difference between poetising and writing poetry.”

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Bibliographic details

LITERARY NOTES, Issue 10430, 27 September 1897

Word Count
1,716

LITERARY NOTES Issue 10430, 27 September 1897

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