Cartoon portraits and biographical sketches of men of the day/Frederick Locker
Poets of society are, perhaps, rarer than poets of any other sort. The subject of our cartoon, however, has earned a place in the estimation of lovers of poetry by the side of Praed, and a little in advance of Prior, not only in time, but in skill and taste. Mr. Locker was born in 1821. He is of an old Kentish family: his father, Edward Hawke Locker, was a Civil Commissioner of Greenwich Hospital, a warm patron of literature and art, and the founder of the naval gallery of Greenwich Hospital; he also published the lives of some of the most distinguished naval worthies, as well as a tour that he made in Spain with Earl Russell—his own sketches illustrating the volume. The grandfather of the poet was Captain W. Locker, R.N., under whom both Lord Nelson and Lord Collingwood served. The former was especially his old and attached friend. In one of the numerous letters from Lord Nelson to his grandfather, in the possession of Mr. Locker, Lord Nelson says: 'You were the first person to teach me how to board a Frenchman, by your conduct when in the Experiment. You said, "Lay a Frenchman close, and you will beat him."' Captain Locker died Lieutenant-Governor of Greenwich Hospital.
Mr. Frederick Locker married a sister of the late Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, by whom he has one daughter.Mr. Locker has at different times contributed original verse to the 'Times,' 'Pall-Mall Gazette,' 'Blackwood,' 'Cornhill,' 'Once a Week,' 'Punch,' the 'Owl,' 'Macmillan,' 'Good Words,' 'St. Pauls,' and other magazines. Writing to a friend, his experience makes him say: 'Do not despair. At first I had great difficulty in persuading editors to have anything to say to my verses. They were unanimous in declining them; but
A MELANCHOLY JESTER.
'I only wear the cap and bells,
And yet some tears are in my verses.
Thackeray believed in me, and used to say, "Never mind, Locker; our verse may be small beer, but at any rate it is the right tap." This encouraged me, and I wrote on; and when "Macmillan" refused "My Neighbour Rose," I sent it to "The Cornhill;" and when "Fraser" declined "A Nice Correspondent," I sent it to "St. Pauls." I could get no one to accept "My Grandmother." What used particularly to discourage me was, having my verses returned as not suitable, and then to see in the very next number of the magazine a poem that gave me the impression that it was the work of some relative of the editor perhaps—his grandmamma. I think, if I wrote now, the editors would be more amiable; but it is too late, and this is what may be called the irony of destiny.'
This may be so: it may be hard for a poet to find he has grown tired of writing just at the time when his verses are welcome everywhere; but the author of the exquisite little volume of 'London Lyrics' may safely rest on his laurels. Thackeray, seldom at fault in his literary criticisms, was quite right in this instance. The verses are anything but small beer. They are gems of the utmost polish and beauty. That they are appreciated, a fifth edition is of itself sufficient evidence. A writer in the 'Contemporary Review' for July, in an article on the genius of Prior, Praed, and Locker, makes the following remarks, which we should be wrong if we refrained from quoting. Let us premise that in 1867 Messrs. Moxon published a volume, edited by Mr. Locker, called 'Lyra Elegantiarum,' which was a collection of the best English vers de société. To this volume the editor contributed a charmingly written introduction, in which he set out at length the various qualifications indispensable to any poet's production of unimpeachable vers de société. Upon this preface the 'Contemporary' reviewer comments thus:
'Among the qualifications of a poet of society, the following may be insisted on as indispensable. He must before all things be a man of the world, educated up to a high level of contemporary culture, and gifted with that temper of mental health which, as Goethe says, can only be obtained by him who "lives in the universal way with multitudes of men." He must be privileged, either by right of birth or force of wit, to move in the "upper" circle of the social sphere, and will be the fitter for his office as its prophet, the more he is acquainted with the circles below it. That he must have a definite artistic bias, a "singing" faculty, or, as Mr. Locker phrases it, must " be more or less of a poet"—cela va sans dire. His next essential qualification is the gift of humour. No society can ever have existed in which youth and beauty, genius and experience, freely commingled, without the atmospheric element of humour, the incessant play of mental summer lightning, produced by the gentle collision of electrical natures. A flow of light humorous talk, rippling with banter, bubbling into jets of wit and satire, is notoriously the staple of "polite" conversation, and the brightest talkers are the most favoured guests. Lastly, and mainly for the same reason, he must be somewhat of an egotist; not only as any poet, if ever so little subjective, must be in becoming the self-conscious type of a class or race, but because the essence of polite conversation which he has to transfigure into art is never perfect unless the individuality of each participant be discernible in the amalgamated flavour of the whole.'
That Mr. Locker not only possesses all the essential qualifications indispensable in a poet of society of the first rank—whether we take his own estimate of what may be necessary or that of his reviewer—every cultivated reader knows. But widely as his 'London Lyrics' have been read, his poetry is no more likely to please as large a circle as the productions of Cowper, Pope, or Tennyson, than the verses of Prior or Praed are likely to do so.
We have spoken of Mr. Locker's verses as reflecting polish and culture in the highest degree; and, apropos of this, it is curious to note that he was almost as old a man when he began to write as Praed was when he left off writing. Though he is essentially the poet of the 'upper ten thousand,' to quote a hackneyed epithet, Mr. Locker's variety in his studies of life recommends him to all tastes.
Here is a poet, unrivalled in his particular line, who has only published verses that fill a couple of hundred pages. Would that all those other poets—true and sham—would follow his example! Yet by how few lines will any one of them be remembered by an ungrateful posterity! Tennyson said, some time since, to a friend: 'If I am remembered a hundred years hence by twenty lines I have written, I shall be a lucky man.' Mr. Locker has written twenty poems that will be remembered a hundred years hence; as long as style in verse-making is an object of study. Of their kind, his verses are perfect. Having said this, it is unnecessary to praise his ear for rhythm, his skill in rhyme, his taste, his culture, his observation, or the genius that moves to all.