« AnteriorContinuar »
sweeping criticism must, I think, have been a dear and excellent man, but narrow-a clerical tutor of my own college, who, when an epic poem called 'Nature a Parable' appeared, was said to have praised it highly, declaring it to be equal to the Paradise Lost as poetry, and much more orthodox!
The tempest of the Paris Revolution in February 1848 was heard of in New Zealand soon after I landed in the colony. What a time of boundless excitement for the young and unsteady was that year 1848! Battles in the streets of great cities-constitutions torn to rags-insurrection everywhere-resignations of crowns-Chartist meetings-wars changing the frontiers of States-Italy rising against Austria-Hungary striking for independence-Russia sending her legions across the Carpathians-Rome turned into a republic:-this was the sort of "foreign intelligence' that my friends at home expected to find, and usually did find, in their morning papers. Even I at the distance of half the globe, having steeped myself in French revolutionary literature before leaving England, watched for the tidings of those mighty events, and seemed to feel the reverberation of those shocks. My brother, to whom literature then and always meant more than politics, wrote two admirable sonnets on the Revolution in France. Yet, with banter irrepressible, in the thick of the wild hubbub, he addressed to Clough a letter with the superscription 'Citizen Clough, Oriel Lyceum, Oxford.' Clough, having resigned his tutorship at Oriel in April, went to Paris in May, and stayed there some weeks. His letters thence to Arthur Stanley, though of course they can only be regarded as those of an intelligent outsider, are extremely interesting." Meantime the internal revolt against all spiritual fetters did not cease to work. When shall I see you again?' he wrote to me. "Will you hire yourself out as a common labourer? I hope not, but one may do worse undoubtedly; 'tis at any rate honester than being a teacher of XXXIX Articles.' Of course neither as Tutor nor as Fellow was he, strictly speaking, bound to any such duty; but the fact of having been obliged to sign the said Articles as a condition of teaching in the University at all made him chafe against his academical position. In October 1848 he resigned his fellowship, and wrote to me soon afterwards that he was 'loose on the world,' but did not intend to seek any definite employment immediately. As he did not throw off his Master's gown, his proceedings made no difference to him at Oxford, and he was extremely jolly meantime, rejoicing in his emancipation.' In January 1849 he accepted the headship of University Hall, which had just been established in connexion with University College, Gower Street; but his work there could not commence till the following
Poems, &c. i. 121.
Still better, perhaps was the summary of the general impression left by his visit, which he sent to me in a letter written in July 1848 (ibid. 131).
October. Following out his desire of making further researches in the real human world before settling down to work, Clough went to Rome in April 1849, and remained there during the siege of the city by the French-saw their entry in July, and then went to Naples.
During this enforced residence at Rome his mind must have been in a wild, semi-chaotic state. He wrote many letters, chiefly to F. T. Palgrave, but also to myself and others; they tell nothing, however, of the thoughts that were surging within him. 'Instinct turns instinct out,' and impression impression. Rome disappoints him; at first he calls it 'rubbishy,' yet after a while he partly yields to its spell. He wrote here the Amours de Voyage, a long hexameter poem in five cantos, with lovely passages of elegiac verse scattered through it. The plot is very simple: Claude, the hero, meets at Rome, at the time of the siege, an English family, the Trevellyns, and becomes intimate with them. With Mary Trevellyn he falls in love, or at any rate becomes attached to her; she, sweet girl that she is, while guarding ever her maiden dignity and reserve, lets it appear that he would not woo her in vain. The siege ends; the Trevellyns leave Rome, intending to travel homewards by slow stages. Claude follows, thinking to overtake them at Milan or Como. But a number of small mishaps cause him to miss them; they proceed across the Alps to Lucerne; he, thinking that the Fates are against his love, and too dejected to struggle, returns to Florence and Rome, and renounces hope.
This melancholy conclusion was not relished by some of his best friends. A curious letter in answer to a friend whose name is not given (but who I think must have been Shairp) defends the inculpated conception of the poem in the strongest terms, while doubting as to the sufficiency of the execution. Emerson, too,10 reprimanded ' him strongly for the termination of the Amours de Voyage. Clough admits that he may be right, but maintains that he intended the poem to end in this way from the first. After all, if the Amours be read carefully, and the circumstances considered under which it was written, the fiasco of poor Claude's love is intelligible enough. Amidst falling thrones and the shock of warring nations, this gifted Englishman, if for the moment we may allow ourselves to identify Clough with Claude—the Hamlet of the nineteenth century-whose inner being, once strongly rooted in the old-world faith and hope, had also gone all a-wrack, and could find no answer to the invading, paralysing doubt, is unable to trust either himself or the woman whom he loves to be proof against change in a changing world. One of the strangest of his moods lands him in the conception that, but for the foreseen certainty that the marriage-tie could not bind 10 Ibid. p. 235.1
Poems, &c. i. 167.
Dipsychus, ii. 124. "Only for the moment, of course; for Clough could not possibly have acted as Claude acted.
for ever, that death must sooner or later set the prisoner free, no reasonable men would marry:
But for the funeral train which the bridegroom sees in the distance,
But how about the other party to the contract? All he has to say is that the women, God bless them; they don't think at all about it.' Yet he loves Mary Trevellyn well enough to make great efforts to join her, so that they may come to an understanding; but when these efforts are baffled, doubt comes victoriously back, and his enterprise, only half willed, ' loses the name of action.' Courage in him, he seems to see, is 'factitious,' love 'factitious,' all strength of resolve 'factitious-aspiration to the Absolute, the most factitious of all. Nay, as to her, 'Is she not changing herself-the old image would only delude me.' He feels himself a 'pitiful fool; he has allowed the tide to ebb that was bearing him on to marriage and a happy life; yet help himself he cannot.
This poem, written in 1849, was not published till 1858, when the beautiful closing lines must have been added. Like Chaucer at the end of Troilus and Creseyde, the poet launches his 'litel book' upon the world, and bids it.
--if curious friends ask of thy rearing and age,
Say, 'I am flitting about many years, from brain unto brain of
But,' so finish the word, 'I was writ in a Roman chamber,
When from Janiculan heights thundered the cannon of France.'
At Naples, whither, as was said above, he went after leaving Rome, he wrote that terrible elegy, Easter Day. Strauss, the Hegelian critic, clad in an armour, seemingly of proof, of Pantheistic philosophy and cool all-questioning logic, had destroyed for him the faith in Christ overcoming death. An unutterable sadness is stamped on the lines which bid the believing women go to their homes and mind their daily tasks, the disciples return to their nets, because He is not risen.' Clough could not scoff like Voltaire, nor speak of such things lightly, like other Balliol men, his contemporaries. Nor does he let the matter stand there. None can say what was his precise meaning, but in the second 'Easter Day' he seems to half recant the cold and cruel theory of the first :
Though dead, not dead;
Not gone, though fled;
Not lost, though vanished;
In the great gospel and true creed
He is yet risen indeed ;
Christ is yet risen.
In October of this same same year, 1849, he was back in London
and beginning work at University Hall. Two years passed; then, towards the end of 1851, the principalship of a college at Sydney fell vacant; he stood for it unsuccessfully; but this became the occasion of his quitting University Hall.' No direct explanation is given; but we are told that he found himself expected to express agreement with the opinions of the new set among whom he had fallen;' which of course he could not do. He had spoken of 'intolerance,' as we have seen; he had also written to his sister (p. 119), As for the Unitarians, they're better than the other Dissenters, and that's all; but to go to their chapels-No!' Moreover the Amours de Voyage, though not published, had been freely shown about; if the authorities at the Hall had become acquainted with it, they would have felt uneasy, and might have been glad of a decent excuse to get rid of him.
In the autumn of 1850, before the work began again at University Hall, Clough went to Venice, and there wrote or commenced his extraordinary Faust-poem, the Dipsychus. Superficially it much resembles the work of Goethe; nevertheless, substantially, it is an entirely independent creation. Dipsychus is the hero of the blankverse dramatic poem which bears the same name. His mental conditions are much the same as those of Claude in the Amours, but he has braced himself up to the resolution to act, to give up waiting and wavering, and be a man amongst men. The 'Spirit' is his worldly self-his own common sense; ironical, sarcastic, and prudent. In Dipsychus himself there are two natures: the earlier idealistic, descending from boyhood and youth; the later pessimistic, inspired by the destructive logic of the time, and somewhat embittered by the blows of adverse fortune.
In May 1851, he sent me out a poem which is printed in his works as 'A London Idyll.' 'Let it remind you,' he wrote, 'of the ancient Kensington Gardens. Fresh from the oven it is, I assure you, tibi primo confisum.' It opened—
On grass, on gravel, in the sun,
Perhaps this seemed to him rather too realistic, and the fourth line was altered before publication to
A prentice and a maid—
at the cost of introducing something of tameness and vagueness. Or, perhaps, the serious philosophy of the third and following stanzas appeared to him to clash a little with the half-ludicrous ideas which the original opening might suggest. Few things more profound in
VOL. XLIII-No. 251
conception, or more perfect in workmanship, have been given to the nineteenth century than the following lines:
Th' high-titled cares of adult strife,
One other object, end, or use,
Ah! years may come, and years may bring
But will they bring another thing
In 1852, the hope of obtaining a post in the Education Department being temporarily frustrated by the resignation of the Liberal government, Clough went to America, and stayed at first with Emerson, who welcomed him with the greatest kindness to his house at Concord. Another kind and most faithful friend was Professor Charles Norton. But the climate did not agree with him; the terrible east winds, prevailing far on into the summer, made him ever the victim of a kind of rheumatic cold;' and when the offer of a post in the English Education Office was renewed in 1853, he accepted it, and the end of July in that year found him in London. He married Miss Blanche Smith, a relation of Miss Nightingale, in 1854.
I returned from parts Australian in the autumn of 1856, with a wife and three children. If I rightly remember, Clough was in Westmoreland in the early summer of 1857, and there we met again. I thought him a good deal changed; his cheek was paler than formerly, and his beautiful dark eyes less bright. But his kind smile was the same as ever, and had our paths lain near together in the years that followed, I think that-in spite of mental differences that had risen up between us-the old intimacy might have in a great measure revived. Then, however, and for several years afterwards, I was settled in Ireland, and had no other opportunities of meeting him than those afforded by rare visits to England. During one of these, he took me as a guest to the house of his father-in-law at Combe Hurst, and introduced me to his wife and child. Of another meeting some time in 1858, I think-I shall speak presently.
The tales which compose Mari Magno were written abroad, while he was travelling on sick-leave in 1861. Much in these poems reminds one of what he was in his period of power and conflict, but much is different. The thought is lucid; the expression generally admirable; the versification easy and musical; he is a 'raconteur' in the style of Crabbe at his best; yet all is pitched on a lower key.