Page:Studies of a Biographer 4.djvu/66

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
52
STUDIES OF A BIOGRAPHER

Samson Agonistes with Southey's opening verses in Thalaba—'How beautiful is night'—and decides that Southey shows to advantage. Southey's verses are, of course, smoother: whether they show a greater mastery of versification is a question in which I fear to contradict so exquisite a judge. Yet Newman would surely have agreed that if Southey's versification in general could be compared to Milton's as fair specimens of the two periods, the obvious moral would be, not the improvement but the possible degradation of poetic dialect. A secret would seem to have been lost, and mere facility of handling to have taken the place of the marvellous instinct which created Milton's majestic harmonies. Perhaps, indeed, Newman only intended to say what may be more easily accepted. Southey, no doubt, writes like a thoroughly practised craftsman; he has all the technical skill that implies a trained sensibility without high genius, and avoids the occasional blunders, if he cannot approach the felicities, of Milton's splendid audacity.

Apart from such technical matters, Southey's poetry has attracted many readers on the moral side. Carlyle says that he recognised the 'piety, the gentle deep affection, the reverence for God