(Do you remember how Leigh Hunt Enraged you once by writing MY DEAR BYRON?) Books have their fates,--as mortals have who punt, And YOURS have entered on an age of iron. Critics there be who think your satire blunt, Your pathos, fudge; such perils must environ Poets who in their time were quite the rage, Though now there's not a soul to turn their page. Yes, there is much dispute about your worth, And much is said which you might like to know By modern poets here upon the earth, Where poets live, and love each other so; And, in Elysium, it may move your mirth To hear of bards that pitch your praises low, Though there be some that for your credit stickle, As--Glorious Mat,--and not inglorious Nichol.
(This kind of writing is my pet aversion, I hate the slang, I hate the personalities, I loathe the aimless, reckless, loose dispersion, Of every rhyme that in the singer's wallet is, I hate it as you hated the EXCURSION, But, while no man a hero to his valet is, The hero's still the model; I indite The kind of rhymes that Byron oft would write.)
There's a Swiss critic whom I cannot rhyme to, One Scherer, dry as sawdust, grim and prim. Of him there's much to say, if I had time to Concern myself in any wise with HIM. He seems to hate the heights he cannot climb to, He thinks your poetry a coxcomb's whim, A good deal of his sawdust he has spilt on Shakespeare, and Moliere, and you, and Milton.
Ay, much his temper is like Vivien's mood, Which found not Galahad pure, nor Lancelot brave; Cold as a hailstorm on an April wood, He buries poets in an icy grave, His Essays--he of the Genevan hood! Nothing so fine, but better doth he crave. So stupid and so solemn in his spite He dares to print that Moliere could not write!
Enough of these excursions; I was saying That half our English Bards are turned Reviewers, And Arnold was discussing and assaying The weight and value of that work of yours, Examining and testing it and weighing, And proved, the gems are pure, the gold endures. While Swinburne cries with an exceeding joy, The stones are paste, and half the gold, alloy.
In Byron, Arnold finds the greatest force, Poetic, in this later age of ours; His song, a torrent from a mountain source, Clear as the crystal, singing with the showers, Sweeps to the sea in unrestricted course Through banks o'erhung with rocks and sweet with flowers; None of your brooks that modestly meander, But swift as Awe along the Pass of Brander.
And when our century has clomb its crest, And backward gazes o'er the plains of Time, And counts its harvest, yours is still the best, The richest garner in the field of rhyme (The metaphoric mixture, 'tis comfest, Is all my own, and is not quite sublime). But fame's not yours alone; you must divide all The plums and pudding with the Bard of Rydal!
WORDSWORTH and BYRON, these the lordly names And these the gods to whom most incense burns. "Absurd!" cries Swinburne, and in anger flames, And in an AEschylean fury spurns With impious foot your altar, and exclaims And wreathes his laurels on the golden urns Where Coleridge's and Shelley's ashes lie, Deaf to the din and heedless of the cry.