The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

VI. Lesser Poets of the Middle and Later Nineteenth Century

§ 13. C. S. Calverley

We may close this survey of lighter nineteenth-century verse with notice of three or, perhaps, four most remarkable “university wits.” Of the first three, one belonged wholly to Oxford, one wholly to Cambridge and a third—the eldest, as a matter of fact, and the most widely known—to both. This was Charles Stuart Calverley (born Blayds), a man who, in consequence of a disastrous accident, suffered severely for years and died in middle age; who, in consequence, partly, of this, did not do much work; but who made the initials C. S. C., by which he was usually known, early familiar and, to the present day, famous for the expression in verse of a scholarly wit unsurpassed in its own kind. Comparing notes with younger readers one may pretty well assure oneself that the intense enjoyment caused to the undergraduate mind by Fly Leaves, in 1866, was not a mere matter of contemporary partiality and congruity; while Calverley’s translations from Greek and Latin yield to none in fidelity or in finish. He has, perhaps, attracted most popular attention as a parodist; and not very wise exception has been taken to the “bitterness” of his exercise in this kind on Browning. Better balanced judgment will see in it, as in all Calverley’s work in parody, nothing but fair play if not, also, positive good nature. Scarcely the most extravagant line but could be paralleled from Browning’s actual work somewhere or other.

Nor did this most scholarly of humorous poets and least pedantic of scholars require the canvas of an original on which to embroider his thoughts and fancies; for many of his best things are quite original themselves. He had eminently the faculty of giving to a word a ludicrous aspect, by unobtrusive pun or otherwise, or of getting a secondary comic effect from a simple phrase, as in

  • The ladies following in the van
  • of one of his lightest things and
  • We’re not as tabbies are
  • in his noble apology for tobacco. His considerable critical faculty was inadequately, but clearly, shown in his Remains; he was a student of the theory of verse, as well as a skilled practitioner in it; and it is evident that, with better luck, he might have produced a great bulk of valuable work in various kinds.