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in occasional repetition, in a blindness to the truth which underlies the French paradox that “the adjective is the enemy of the noun.” But the most vigilant of Mr. Watson's critics is Mr. Watson; and it is very conceivable that, if he found upon reflection that his earlier style had been too little epigrammatic, he would sedulously devote himself to epigram. Be this as it may, Mr. Watson's style has gained palpably in compact and polished force from the era of the epigrams. Three of them may be quoted here. The idea of the first is very characteristic of the author : it recurs in a more elaborate form in the eleventh stanza of the Ode to H. D. Traill :
The statue—Buonarroti said-doth wait,
The second is full of practical wisdom :
Think not thy wisdom can illume away
The third is called the Cathedral Spire ; and it is reminiscent of Lowell's famous panegyricon Gothic church-architecture, “still climbing, luring Fancy still to climb.”
It soars like hearts of hapless men who dare
To sue for gifts the gods refuse to allot;
Baffled for ever by they know not what.
In another of Mr. Watson's earlier works there is a passage still more strongly reminiscent of Lowell. The
one poet is writing of Wordsworth, the other of Washington. Mr. Watson says
Impassioned ? Ay, to the song's ecstatic core !
But far removed were clangour, storm and feud;
Of joy, and an impassioned quietude.
This balanced soul
Lowell is not in the first rank of Mr. Watson's favourites : in fact, he tersely declares that Lowell read too much to be a great critic, and wrote too much to be a great poet. Yet Mr. Watson himself has been an assiduous reader of good poetry, and it is partly upon reminiscent passages, such as those just quoted, that is based the criticism which affirms that Mr. Watson's genius is derivative.
Another and larger ground for the same criticism is his fondness for elegiac and epistolary forms of poetry, in which his theme is the genius of other poets, or their influence upon his own mind. This criticism was premature. Nevertheless, it was with a poem of the elegiac type that Mr. Watson first really gained the public ear. It was more than five years after the publication of the Epigrams, and in his thirty-second year, that a poem of some two hundred lines, from
which a verse has just been quoted, appeared in the National Review. Shortly afterwards, it was made the nucleus of a third small volume, which was published by Mr. Fisher Unwin, under the title of Wordsworth’s Grave, and Other Poems. The principal group of the “other poems” was a series of fourteen sonnets, written five years previously (March and April, 1885), upon subjects connected with General Gordon and the war in the Soudan. To this series was given the title Ver Tenebrosum. The little book soon went to a second edition. Mr. Grant Allen seized the occasion to write an article in the Fortnightly Review for Aug., 1891, entitled, “A Note on a New Poet.” Smaller poems from Mr. Watson's pen now appeared from time to time in the Spectator, the Illustrated London News, the Academy, and the Anti-Jacobin ; and in February, 1892, twenty-six of these minor pieces were added to the materials of the second edition of the existing book, to constitute a definitive volume of Poems, by William Watson. It was issued by Macmillan & Co., and was four times reprinted in little more than a year. Later editions have issued from the Bodley Head. Practically, it contains all the poet's work, from the Epigrams of 1884, to the death of Tennyson in October, 1892.
From this point Mr. Watson has enjoyed a national reputation. The years in which he was yet striving to be heard are past. No longer can he write with any just application to himself, the lines
Bitter the task, year by inglorious year,
But it is this epoch of strenuous cultivation and deferred success which is specially associated with Liverpool ; and it will be interesting to pause awhile at this point, and
consider the many references made to it by Mr. Watson in his works. Mr. Watson is always ready to confess his love for his native North. In his address to London (Lachr. Mus., p. 12), he says :
Yes, alien in thy midst am I,
Not of thy brood;
Of rougher mood :
'Mid thy loud hum,
That hurry by,
A far-sent sigh;
My feet have trod
Gropes towards God.
In the Ver Tenebrosum, in the sonnet on “The English Dead,” he does honour to General Earle, and announces himself to be a foster-son of Liverpool :
Honour to him, doomed splendidly to die,
In the prose essay on Edwin Waugh, the Lancashire laureate, the poet's sympathies enable him to see beneath the rough exterior of Lancashire manners and Lancashire character, into its real kindliness, its invincible commonsense, and its indomitable grit. “And she touches hands with the world,” he says, “ from the shores of the
Mersey.” May we not truly say that Mr. Watson, in his career, has displayed some of the best qualities of his adopted county, and that he also first touched hands with the greater world from these shores? We shall then understand the kindly affection with which, in the same essay, he commemorates not only the beauties of the Wirral landscape, but even the rough-and-tumble joys of the trippers at New Brighton.
Early maritime surroundings have left their strong record upon the imagery of Mr. Watson's mind. This is seen in the juvenile pieces already quoted, and is explicitly and repeatedly noted by the poet himself; as when in Ver Tenebrosum he describes the English race as
Born of my mother England's mighty womb,
Or when he writes to Austin Dobson, saying
Yes! urban is your Muse, and owns
At times, indeed, the sea so fills his vision that nature and sea become almost convertible terms (see the Epistle to N. A.) This fascination is naturally greatest at the . point nearest its origin, that is to say, in his earlier works. I have read Mr. Watson's works in chronological order ; and already before I was half through the Prince's Quest, the maritime cast of its imagery arrested my attention.