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Thomson; a note to be as gently echoed by Wordsworth in com. memoration of his own sweeter song and sadder end.
The mention of Wordsworth's name reminds me of another but a casual coincidence between the fortunes of that great poet's work and of this his lyric and elegiac predecessor's. In both cases the generally accepted masterpiece of their lyric labour seems to me by no means the poem genuinely acceptable as such. Mr. Arnold, with the helpful loyalty and sound discretion of a wise disciple, has noted as much in the case of Wordsworth; it is no less demonstrable a truth in the case of Collins. As surely as, for instance, the Ode to Duty is a work of greater perfection and more perfect greatness than that On the Intimations of Immortality, the Ode on the Passions is a work of less equal sustentation and purity of excellence than, for example, is the Ode to Evening. Yet of course its grace and vigour, its vivid and pliant dexterity of touch, are worthy of all their long inheritance of praise; and altogether it holds out admirably well to the happy and harmonious end; whereas the very Ode to Liberty, after an overture worthy of Milton's or of Handel's Agonistes, a prelude that peals as from beneath the triumphal hand of the thunder-bearer, steadily subsides through many noble but ever less and less noble verses, towards a final couplet showing not so much the flatness of failure as the prostration of collapse.
Living both in an age and after an age of critical poetry, Collins, always alien alike from the better and from the worse influences of his day, has shown at least as plentiful a lack of any slightest critical instinct or training as ever did any poet on record, in his epistle to Hanmer on that worthy knight's ‘inqualifiable' edition of Shakespeare. But his couplets, though incomparably inferior to Gray's, are generally spirited and competent as well as fluent and smooth.
The direct sincerity and purity of their positive and straightforward inspiration will always keep his poems fresh and sweet to the senses of all men. He was a solitary song-bird among many more or less excellent pipers and pianists. He could put more . spirit of colour into a single stroke, more breath of music into a single note, than could all the rest of his generation into all the labours of their lives. And the sweet name and the lucid memory of his genius could only pass away with all relics and all records of lyric poetry in England.
ALCERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE
ODE TO LIBERTY.
Who shall awake the Spartan fife,
The youths, whose locks divinely spreading,
At once the breath of fear and virtue shedding,
Shall sing the sword, in myrtles drest,
At wisdom's shrine awhile its flame concealing, (What place so fit to seal a deed renowned ?)
Till she her brightest lightnings round revealing,
It leaped in glory forth, and dealt her prompted wound!
O goddess, in that feeling hour,
When most its sounds would court thy ears,
Let not my shell's misguided power
How Rome, before thy weeping face,
When time his northern sons of spoil awoke,
And all the blended work of strength and grace,
With many a rude repeated stroke,
And many a barbarous yell, to thousand fragments broke
Yet, even where'er the least appeared,
They saw, by what escaped the storm,
In jealous Pisa's olive shade !
See small Marino joins the theme,
To sad Liguria's bleeding state.
Ah no! more pleased thy haunts I seek,
Beyond the measure vast of thought,
The Gaul, 'tis held of antique story,
No sea between, nor cliff sublime and hoary, He passed with unwet feet through all our land. To the blown Baltic then, they say,
The wild waves found another way,
Where Orcas howls, his wolfish mountains rounding; Till all the banded west at once 'gan rise,
A wide wild storm even nature's self confounding,
Withering her giant sons with strange uncouth surprise. This pillared earth so firm and wide,
By winds and inward labours torn, In thunders dread was pushed aside,
And down the shouldering billows borne.
And see, like gems, her laughing train,
The little isles on every side,
Mona, once hid from those who search the main,
And Wight who checks the westering tide,
For thee consenting heaven has each bestowed,
A fair attendant on her sovereign pride:
To thee this blest divorce she owed,
For thou hast made her vales thy loved, thy last abode.
Then too, 'tis said, an hoary pile,
Yet still, if truth those beams infuse,
Ye forms divine, ye laureat band,
Her let our sires and matrons hoar