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

§ 51. John Addington Symonds

The notable poets born in the forties who can be noticed here are rather fewer in number than those of the previous decade, but they are of more uniform merit; and, once more, they introduce, as a group, new influences of the highest importance from a historical point of view. Almost all of them felt early, and most of them felt from the beginning of their poetical career, the great new impulse of the pre-Raphaelite movement, in development, in revolt, or in simple agreement or difference. In chronological order they include John Addington Symonds, Robert Buchanan, Frederic Myers, Gerard Hopkins, Andrew Lang and William Ernest Henley.

The defect of Symonds in verse is the same as that which is notable in his prose, and a variety of one which has been, and will be, noticed frequently among all his contemporaries, but it was more prejudicial in verse than elsewhere. In his principal prose work, The Renaissance in Italy, it certainly made itself felt; but the abundance of the subject matter and the obligation which every scholar (and Symonds was a scholar) feels to do his subject the fullest justice possible in mere information counterworks it to a considerable extent. The poet, of course, does justice to his subject, as he may, but he is less, if at all, under the control of pure fact. The result on Symonds was too often unfortunate. In his translations, the necessary attempt at fidelity acted sometimes as cold water to keep his ebullience down; in his original poems, it is almost always unrestrained. A similarity of title and title-suggestion (though there is no copying on the English poet’s part) makes Gautier’s La Chimère and Symonds’s Le jeune homme caressant sa Chimère worth comparing. Both have beauty; but that of the French verse is heightened by brevity, by discipline of phrase and (within even the narrow limits) by increasing concentration and final poignancy of feeling and expression; while the English steeps itself and washes itself out in endless lusciousness of fancy, and incurs the charge of what Keats called (and had, of all poets, the right to call and to condemn) mawkishness.