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I then began to notice this preponderance more particularly, and found that, in nine consecutive pages (48-56), there was not one in which the sea in some of its aspects was not conspicuously mentioned.
Passionate lover of nature as he is, the charms of territorial landscape did not come home to him at first :
I dwelt where Nature but prattled familiar language, Trite the theme and the word, prose of the hedges and lanes.
It was his visits to the English Lakes which kindled this new enthusiasm, as he has well told us in Lakeland Once More:
Region separate, sacred, of mere, and of ghyll, and of mountain,
The same lines are interesting for their attempt to reproduce the so-called elegiac (alternate hexameter and pentameter) metre in English.
Mr. Watson has told us very freely what have been the sources of his inspiration, both in nature and in literature. Perhaps if he had not been quite so frank, the critics would not have been in such a hurry to proclaim that his genius was derivative. But the information which he gives us is very much in point here. It is contained chiefly in the poetical epistle To Edward Douden and in the Apologia. In the former the poet speaks first of the influence of Shelley, and then of that of Keats on his “young days of fervid poesy.” Going on to speak of Wordsworth, he says
The first voice, then the second, in their turns
I hardly think the critics have taken sufficient notice of the penultimate line of this passage. To my mind it fixes Mr. Watson's place in English poetry as no critic has yet done. His place is in that Puritan succession of which Milton and Wordsworth are the pre-eminent members. This is to be seen sometimes, even at an external view. The sonnets on Gordon and on The Purple East come in the direct line of literary descent from Milton's “ Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints," and from Wordsworth’s “ Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour."
But the inwardness of this identity is felt when we read the Apologia. In no light sense had Mr. Watson already described himself, in the Ode to Traill, as “vowed and dedicated bard”; and now he proceeds
I, too, with constant heart,
Ev'n of the purer nuptials of the soul;
Such moments, are they not the peaks of life ?
Returning from this digression to take up the thread of Mr. Watson's work, we note that the success of Wordsworth's Grave was by no means accidental. Among the minor pieces added to the Poems in 1892, was an elegy of fourteen stanzas, written in Laleham churchyard, Aug. 18, 1890. Its subject was hardly less congenial than that of Wordsworth ; for of all the poets who have been actually contemporary with him, Matthew Arnold is the one with whom Mr. Watson shews the greatest affinity. The fanciful interview with Dr. Johnson, in the Excursions in Criticism, concludes with a fine panegyric from the pen of the beatified doctor on that beautiful threnody, in which Arnold bewailed the death of Clough. And Mr. Watson's mourning for Arnold is, in a simpler strain, hardly less perfect. It possesses, what elegiac compositions too often lack, the charm of light as well as shade :
Rather, it may be, over-much
Too grandly free,
But he preserved from chance control
Brooked no disguise ;
Not on the prize.
With those Elect he shall survive
To work their will.
And ye, the baffled many, who,
Of calm renown,-
Great is the facile conqueror;
With blood and sweat,
Is greater yet.
It thus happened that when Tennyson died, on the 6th October, 1892, there was already an English poet marked out by previous achievement as specially fitted to sing his requiem. Of all the tributes laid by many bards upon the tomb of the late laureate, the finest undoubtedly was Mr. Watson's poem, Lachrymæ Musarum,—the Muses' tears. It was published by Macmillan & Co., in the month following Tennyson's death, and gave its title to a new volume containing a number of other poems. Of these, that on the centenary of Shelley's birth, 4th August, 1892, is elegiac also. I quote the eleven lines which form the opening movement of the elegy on Tennyson :
Low, like another's, lies the laurelled head :
When Tennyson died, Mr. Watson was engaged upon the tiny volume, comprising twenty-nine 8-line stanzas in all, called the Eloping Angels. But the production of the Lachrymæ Musarum, followed by an untimely malady which afflicted Mr. Watson during the ensuing winter seems to have delayed the publication of this little work until March, 1893. It then appeared under new auspices, being issued, as all Mr. Watson's works have since been, from the Bodley Head. The earlier copyrights have also been acquired by the same establishment; and, simultaneously with the Eloping Angels, an edition of the Prince's Quest was issued, new in typography, though otherwise unaltered. A prose volume, called Excursions in Criticism, was also compiled from Mr. Watson's contributions to the National Review, the Spectator, the Illustrated London News, the Academy, the Bookman, and Atalanta.