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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

§ 35. Aubrey de Vere; Thomas Westwood; Charles Mackay

The most noteworthy of the poets who were born between Browning’s birth year and the ten years’ later date 1822 were Aytoun and Bailey, who have been already noticed in this chapter, and Matthew Arnold, who falls out of it. But there were others not negligible, especially Aubrey de Vere, Thomas Westwood and Charles Mackay, who were all born in 1814. The son of one verse-writer of merit and the brother of another, Aubrey de Vere possessed connections, different from those of blood, with two groups interesting, directly and indirectly, in literature. He was a personal disciple of Wordsworth and, perhaps, chief of all Wordsworthians pure and simple; and, also, he was one of the Anglican group who were not satisfied tendere in Latium, but who made the full voyage and found the waves irremeable. There may be something to attract, and should be nothing at all to repel, the true critical approach in any or all of these circumstances; but, when the critical judgment is directed solely to his work, its summing up cannot be wholly favourable. He wrote both longer and shorter poems; the former, on a considerable variety of subjects—preferably legendary, the legends being supplied by Irish early poetry, hagiology, the classics and so forth. They seldom fail to command respect and esteem; but, alas! they still seldomer transport—the one thing needful. Of all the numerous attempts to English in verse the famous epic duel of Cuchullain and Ferdia, De Vere’s, if the most elegant, is the flattest, the most devoid of local colour and temporal spirit; and his lyrics, though sometimes pretty, are never anything more.

Westwood was one of the members, though the youngest, or nearly so, of Charles Lamb’s circle; but he did not publish till much later and, in middle life, was a good deal occupied with business. His most ambitious thing, The Quest of the Sancgreall, is, unfortunately, post-Tennysonian in more senses than that of date. Latterly, he took much interest in the literature, as well as in the practice, of angling, and wrote some good fishing songs. Once, in the little piece called Springlets, he reached charm; in some others, he was near it.

Less polish but somewhat more vigour than is to be found in these writers characterised the verses of Charles Mackay—a long-lived and hard-working journalist and man-of-letters-of-all-work. A good deal of it is in the mixed vein of sentiment and what may be called “rollick,” which was popular in the second third of the century. The song O Ye Tears!, which was once a favourite, requires either more simplicity, or more art, or more of both, to make it capital; but that adjective may almost be applied to the Cholera Chant (quoted and justly praised by Kingsley in Alton Locke), and others of his lyrics are above the average. There are reasons for believing that if he had led that life of concentration on poetry which seems to be, if not quite universally, in a very large majority of cases, necessary to produce poetry in perfection, he might, like others mentioned in this chapter and the last of its kind, have been more than a lesser poet. But journalism and bookmaking, though they may favour the production of verse, are not usually favourable to the quality of poetry.