1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Patmore, Coventry Kersey Dighton
PATMORE, COVENTRY KERSEY DIGHTON (1823-1896), English poet and critic, the eldest son of Peter George Patmore, himself an author, was born at Woodford in Essex, on the 23rd of July 1823. He was privately educated, being his father's intimate and constant companion, and derived from him his early literary enthusiasm. It was his first ambition to become an artist, and he showed much promise, being awarded the silver palette of the Society of Arts in 1838. In the following year he was sent to school in France, where he studied for six months, and began to write poetry. On his return his father contemplated the publication of some of these youthful poems; but in the meanwhile Coventry had evinced a passion for science and the poetry was set aside. He soon, however, returned to literary interests, moved towards them by the sudden success of Tennyson; and in 1844 he published a small volume of Poems, which was not without individuality, but marred by inequalities of workmanship. It was widely criticized, both in praise and blame; and Patmore, distressed at its reception, bought up the remainder of the edition and caused it to be destroyed. What chiefly wounded him was a cruel review in Blackwood, written in the worst style of unreasoning abuse; but the enthusiasm of private friends, together with their wiser criticism, did much to help him and to foster his talent. Indeed, the publication of this little volume bore immediate fruit in introducing its author to various men of letters, among whom was Dante Gabriel Rossetti, through whose offices Patmore became known to Holman Hunt, and was thus drawn into the eddies of the pre-Raphaelite movement, contributing his poem “The Seasons” to the Germ. At this time Patmore's father became involved in financial embarrassments; and in 1846 Monckton Milnes secured for the son an assistant-librarianship in the British Museum, a post which he occupied industriously for nineteen years, devoting his spare time to poetry. In 1847 he married Emily, daughter of Dr Andrews of Camberwell. At the Museum he was austere and remote among his companions, but was nevertheless instrumental in 1852 in starting the Volunteer movement. He wrote an important letter to The Times upon the subject, and stirred up much martial enthusiasm among his colleagues. In the next year he republished, in Tamerton Church Tower, the more successful pieces from the Poems of 1844, adding several new poems which showed distinct advance, both in conception and treatment; and in the following year (1854) appeared the first part of his best known poem, “The Angel in the House,” which was continued in “The Espousals” (1856), “Faithful for Ever” (1860), and “The Victories of Love” (1862). In 1862 he lost his wife, after a long and lingering illness, and shortly afterwards joined the Roman Catholic Church. In 1865 he married again, his second wife being Miss Marianne Byles, second daughter of James Byles of Bowden Hall, Gloucester; and a year later purchased an estate in East Grinstead, the history of which may be read in How I managed my Estate, published in 1886. In 1877 appeared The Unknown Eros, which unquestionably contains his finest work in poetry, and in the following year Amelia, his own favourite among his poems, together with an interesting, though by no means indisputable, essay on English Metrical Law. This departure into criticism he continued further in 1879 with a volume of papers, entitled Principle in Art, and again in 1893 with Religio poetae. Meanwhile his second wife died in 1880, and in the next year he married Miss Harriet Robson. In later years he lived at Lymington, where he died on the 26th of November 1896.
A collected edition of his poems appeared in two volumes in 1886, with a characteristic preface which might serve as the author's epitaph. “I have written little,” it runs; “but it is all my best; I have never spoken when I had nothing to say, nor spared time or labour to make my words true. I have respected posterity; and should there be a posterity which cares for letters, I dare to hope that it will respect me.” The obvious sincerity which underlies this statement, combined with a certain lack of humour which peers through its naïveté, points to two of the principal characteristics of Patmore's earlier poetry; characteristics which came to be almost unconsciously merged and harmonized as his style and his intention drew together into unity. In the higher flights, to which he arose as his practice in the art grew perfected, he is always noble and often sublime. His best work is found in the volume of odes called The Unknown Eros, which is full not only of passages but of entire poems in which exalted thought is expressed in poetry of the richest and most dignified melody. The animating spirit of love, moreover, has here deepened and intensified into a crystalline harmony of earthly passion with the love that is divine and transcending; the outward manifestation is regarded as a symbol of a sentiment at once eternal and quintessential. Spirituality informs his inspiration; the poetry is of the finest elements, glowing and alive. The magnificent piece in praise of winter, the solemn and beautiful cadences of “Departure,” and the homely but elevated pathos of “The Toys,” are in their various manners unsurpassed in English poetry for sublimity of thought and perfection of expression. Patmore is one of the few Victorian poets of whom it may confidently be predicted that the memory of his greater achievements will outlive all consideration of occasional lapses from taste and dignity. He wrote, at his best, in the grand manner, melody and thought according with perfection of expression, and his finest poems have that indefinable air of the inevitable which is after all the touchstone of the poetic quality. His son, Henry John Patmore (1860-1883), left a number of poems posthumously printed at Mr Daniell's Oxford Press, which show an unmistakable lyrical quality. (A. Wa.)
The standard life of Patmore is the Memoirs and Correspondence (1901), edited by Basil Champneys. See also E. W. Gosse, Coventry Patmore (1905, “Literary Lives” series), and an essay by Mrs Meynell prefixed to the selection (1905) in the “Muses Library.”