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mirers, is the most significant modification introduced into the sonnet in the Victorian era. The example of the Italians and the Elizabethans has revived sonnet-sequences, and has gone far towards giving the form back to "the dainty hand of love," which has held many of the best quatorzains written in the last seventy-five years. Yet nature, though by no means so prominent as it was in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, is still a favorite theme in this, as in all other poetic forms.
With the great increase in the number of good modern sonnets, with the appreciation of those by the Elizabethans, Italians, French, and others, and with the passing of the eighteenth-century enthusiasm for Milton, his "Petrarchian stanzas" have lost the preeminence which they long enjoyed. Yet not a few of the bards who gild the lapse of time from Keats's day to our own either have taken fire from Milton's sonnets or have unconsciously modelled their own upon his. One of the earliest of these men, Sir Aubrey de Vere, dedicated his one hundred fifty-two quatorzains in 1842 to Wordsworth, "whose friendship," his son tells us, "he regarded as one of the chief honours of his later life," and whose influence is clearly seen in the subject-matter, spirit, and form of De Vere's own productions. Sir Aubrey "valued the sonnet the more because its austere brevity, its severity, and its majestic completeness fit it especially for the loftier themes of song." It is unnecessary to point out from whom this conception of the quatorzain was ultimately derived, or how well it is embodied in these lines:
Godfrey, first Christian Captain! Bohemond!
And steel clad limbs, the throne of Constantine
Pressed in the face of day, though thousands frowned!
These iron-rifted cliffs, that o'er the deep,
Wave-worn and thunder-scarred, enormous lower,
Stand like the work of some primeval Power,
Titan or Demiurgos, that would keep
Firm ward for ever o'er the bastioned steep
Of turret-crowned Beltard, or mightiest Moher.'
1 Memoir by the younger Sir Aubrey, in his edition of his father's sonnets, 1875, pp. xii-xiii. "For his earlier sonnets," adds the son, "he had found a model chiefly in the Italian poets, especially Petrarch and Filicaja"; but it is difficult to trace any evidence of these writers in the poems published, some of which were written as early as 1817. They are grouped under the heads, "Religious and Moral," "On Character and Events," "Descriptive," "Personal, Miscellaneous," "Historical," and "On the Lord's Prayer."
2 Ib. 58, 31: The Crusaders, no. 2; The Cliffs, no. 1.
The three hundred sonnets which the younger De Vere began to publish in 1842 are much like his father's, quite as good, and equally Miltonic:
Allies! I deem that vision fair and brave
Though dread which found in thee no dim-eyed seer.
Launched from the terrible North; while froze for fear
Wordsworth also left his mark on the numerous "toys of the Titans" composed by the corn-law poet, Ebenezer Elliott. These include a "cycle of revolutionary sonnets" fifty in number (The Year of Seeds, written in 1848), which attempted to improve on the rimescheme, the bipartite structure, and other features of the legitimate form. Elliott appeals in three places to Milton's usage, and seems to have been guided somewhat by it, though he lacks the condensation and power of the earlier poet. A few of his quatorzains recall those of Bowles.
It is an impressive but melancholy tribute to the wealth of good poetry contained in the nineteenth-century English sonnet that work of the noble, classic beauty of Sir John Hanmer's has been allowed to slip into an oblivion so deep that the Harvard Library copy of his sixty sonnets remained for nearly eighty years uncut. The quality of the poems may be judged from the following specimen, which is no better than many others, but in its lofty tone, its love of nature and of the past, its Petrarchan rime-scheme and general Miltonic cast, is typical of the entire volume:
I saw two Columns, by a southern shore;
Marking the moments' flight with tumbling roar.
1 To Thomas W. Allies (in Mediaeval Records, 1893, p. 253).
' In the first poem of the "cycle," and in the preface and one sonnet ("Why should the tiny harp") of Rhymed Rambles.
1 Sonnets (1840), no. vii.
None of the more eminent Victorians produced sonnets so closely akin to Milton's as are the twenty-five by Matthew Arnold. In spirit and in subject-matter these poems are much alike; all reveal the clear-eyed, resolute facing of life's problems, the fine breeding, restraint, and intellectuality of the fastidious scholar, dissatisfied with the life about him and yearning for the peace which his nature will not allow him to enjoy. The first eleven, however, are sharply distinguished from the later (Petrarchan) ones by their disregard for almost every law of the legitimate sonnet.1 Arnold's antipathy to Puritanism chilled the enthusiasm he would otherwise have had for the most classic of English poets, and much that seems Miltonic in his quatorzains, whether written early or late, is probably due to their author's love for Greek poetry. This may also account for such inversions of the word-order as
Was woe than Byron's woe more tragic far,
and for the pithy directness of such lines as
He saves the sheep, the goats he doth not save.
"Who sins, once wash'd by the baptismal wave.”2
Yet it is hard to believe that the following sonnet, with its quiet, impressive conclusion, and the similarity of its opening question and general tone to the second poem that Milton addressed to Cyriack Skinner, did not derive something from the utterances of the resolute Puritan fallen upon evil days:
Who prop, thou ask'st, in these bad days, my mind? -
Saw The Wide Prospect, and the Asian Fen,
And Tmolus hill, and Smyrna bay, though blind.
Much he, whose friendship I not long since won,
That halting slave, who in Nicopolis
Taught Arrian, when Vespasian's brutal son
Clear'd Rome of what most shamed him. But be his
My special thanks, whose even-balanced soul,
From first youth tested up to extreme old age,
Business could not make dull, nor passion wild;
1 The Austerity of Poetry, which stands at the beginning of the later group, run-over line at the end of the octave and the turn comes at line twelve. Such sestet arrangements as c d de ce and c d ce de occur in the later sonnets, but none end with couplets.
2 A Picture at Newstead, 14; The Good Shepherd with the Kid, 1–5.
Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole;
Singer of sweet Colonus, and its child.1
In the first two volumes Tennyson published there are more sonnets than in all the rest combined; indeed, he never reprinted a number of the early ones. His comparative neglect of the form in later life was not due to a poor opinion of it, for his last quatorzains are more exalted than the first, and share, with Ulysses, the condensation and vigor which are none too prominent in his poetry. In these respects, in the intensity and nobility of the spirit that animates it, as well as in the dignity of its style, the following address to Montenegro ranks among the more notable of the Miltonic sonnets that have appeared since Wordsworth's day:
They rose to where their sovran eagle sails,
They kept their faith, their freedom, on the height,
Black ridges drew the cloud and brake the storm
Any one who is surprised to find Miltonic sonnets among Tennyson's poems will be startled to encounter them among the brilliantlyartificial and sensuously-exotic productions of Oscar Wilde's genius. It is a genuine shock to meet, a few pages after the luscious richness of the decadent Charmides, a sonnet to the austere Puritan poet, ending,
Dear God! is this the land
Which bare a triple empire in her hand
1 To a Friend. Cf. Milton,
What supports me, dost thou ask?
The conscience, friend, to have lost them overplied.
As Arnold had a high regard for Wordsworth, he may have been influenced by the sonnets of the lake poet, many of which are not unlike his own.
2 This was first published in the Nineteenth Century for May, 1877. In its Petrarchan rime-scheme and its preservation of the pause and turn between octave and sestet, it is typical of the later quatorzains and unlike most of the earlier ones, several of which disregard almost every rule of the form. Those entitled To Victor Hugo, Alexander, Buonaparte, and Poland (the last three written early) are also of the Miltonic-Wordsworthian variety.
Nor is this an isolated case; for on the opposite page is a sonnet On the
Rome! what a scroll of History thine has been;
Ruled the whole world for many an age's span:
The influence of Milton is to be seen in the quatorzains of Cardinal Newman, the Earl of Beaconsfield, James Russell Lowell and his fellow-countryman Washington Allston,1 in some of Swinburne's,' as well as in those of many other poets famous or forgotten. Nor should the noble sonnet on Milton by Ernest Myers, the best interpretation of the poet's character that we have in verse, be overlooked, or the work of other men still living. For if any one thinks that none but the dead have followed Milton he must have paid little heed to what was written during the recent war. One of the most striking features of this poetry, whether English or American, is the extent to which from the very beginning it made use of the sonnet. All the deepest, most intense feelings called forth by the struggle found a voice in the little instrument which in Milton's hands had become a trumpet. How direct, concentrated, and Miltonic many of the poems are, these lines To the Hun will show:
Not for the lust of conquest do we blame
The Light is not for thee. The war we wage
How long on bitter paths we shall delay,
Held by thy bruteship from the Gates of Good.'
It were folly to claim that every one who before or since 1914 has written sonnets of this kind was directly affected by the poet who
1 The thirteen sonnets of Allston — one of them to Coleridge, whom he knew intimately in Rome are appended to his Lectures on Art (ed. R. H. Dana, N. Y., 1850). Lowell's sonnet on Wendell Phillips has the Miltonic ring, as has Disraeli's on Wellington (printed in William Sharp's Sonnets of this Century, 1886, pp. 268-9).
? Particularly in some of his "Dirae” (Songs of Two Nations), which are notable for their directness and concentrated passion.
• George Sterling, in his Binding of the Beast (San Francisco, 1917).