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poetry. They are not even promising. They are tedious, grotesque, inharmonious, dull. And yet they have a place in the Aldine edition of British poets.
No one would, of course, dream of classing Keble with Kirke White. Keble was a wise, able, devoted man, narrow-minded, no doubt, and timid in thought, if not in action. Not imaginative nor vivid, but intensely affectionate, dutiful, and reserved ; a lover of Nature, scenery, friends, children, reflection; somewhat melancholy, no doubt, and not growing in hopefulness as years went by—with little independence of thought or character ; but reverent, a lover of precedent, and authority, and things established. Altogether a wholesome, valuable man, like Telemachus in Tennyson's “ Ulysses," of a type of which Englishmen may be proud ; but not a man who can be called interesting or romantic in any degree ; even Mr. Lock, who has written his life in a lucid style, and with pious discretion, would admit that.
There is something eminently depressing about Keble's want of personal ambition ; no doubt, it was a triumph of grace over nature ; but one would have liked the triumph to have been a little more impressive. In the celebrated canvass for the Provostship of Oriel, where the decision of Newman and Pusey turned the scale, and gave it to Hawkins rather than Keble, it is
evident that Keble was not greatly disappointed ; he acquiesced too easily. In some men, this could almost be called indolence, but in Keble we may call it modesty. It argues, however, a certain want of fire, of intensity-and the same is the case with his writings.
Keble never lets himself go; he is always checking and controlling the impulse of song. And thus he spoke of his own poetry as a relief from graver thoughts : “ Poeticæ vis medica," the healing power of poetry, he called it; as something to which he could turn to distract and soothe him, but a trápegyov nevertheless, not the business of his life, not an overmastering impulse, an imperious need of self-expression. This did not lead to the careful chastening and correcting of his verse that one might expect. There have been poets, in whom the sense of perfection was very strong, like Gray, who worked rarely, slowly, painfully, producing a marvellous, jewelled masterpiece, wrought out touch by touch. But there was nothing of this about Keble ; he was copious, fluent, uncritical ; he was never fastidious, and allowed much to go out under his name which was quite unworthy of an able man; puerile, inelegant stuff ; no one, we may say, was ever capable of more extreme flatness than Keble reached in some of the poems in the Lyra Innocentium ; such as the compositions entitled “Irreverence in
Church," and “Disrespect to Elders," where it is asked that some good angel ay wait,“ With unseen scourge in hand, On the Church path, and by the low school door," in order to write in young hearts Thy reverend lore,"—very advisable, no doubt, but how suggestive of Bumble, and the charity children, and the rod of office! A sense of propriety, we will not say of humour, would have prevented such a bathos as this.
It is not, of course, contended that a sense of humour is, in the least, part of the outfit of a poet. Shelley had none, yet was rescued from bathos by enthusiasm. Wordsworth had none, and he wallowed in bathos. The sense of humour is merely negative in a poet; it does not give a poet sublimity, but it rescues him from puerility and absurdity. And so into both of these faults Keble not unfrequently fell. In the Lyra Innocentium and the miscellaneous poems are many very lamentable verses. In the Lyra indeed, there are few that are not lamentable. The fatal blight of the book is that it is occupied throughout, not with what one can learn from children, but with what one can teach them. It upholds an impossible and undesirable ideal for childhood--the ideal of the sainted infant, cheerful, high-principled, devout, obedient, but neither natural nor child-like. Keble was very fond of children, but only a
childless man could have constructed so false a picture. This false note vitiates the whole book ; we are conscious of an under-current of rebellion as we read it.
We realise that, after all, we do not want children to be such as Keble describes them. We do not wish them to be "prostrate in their sin and shame," as in the poem of “ Absolution "inEarly Encouragements.” And it is not poetry, whatever it may be, to tell a child that
The Sunday garment, glittering gay,
Even from the religious point of view, the book is pharisaical ; it tends to multiply offences, to create a fantastic and elaborate morbidity of conscience fatal to the natural simplicity of childhood, that should be so jealously guarded.
The following incident casts a curious light on Keble's taste. On a stray piece of paper still preserved in his writing are the following “ principles
in choosing and correcting hymns " !
(1) Always use "we" instead of “I," or nearly always.
(2) Insert as many touches of doctrine as may be.
(3) Under every head have at least one ancient or archaic hymn.
This is an interesting and characteristic frag
ment, because it illustrates so well Keble's intense dislike to the personal, the autobiographical element in poetry, that “self-revelation" which is so much in demand at present. Secondly, it shows that he laboured under a deep-seated error as to what was and what was not suitable material for poetical treatment. The second principle would be bad enough if it referred to composition, but when it deals with the correction of the hymns of other authors it is unpardonable. The third principle illustrates his reverence for antiquity and tradition.
We will now take the Christian Year and we will say at the outset that we do not propose to consider it, except incidentally, from the doctrinal and hortatory point of view. We must first remember that whatever be its merits and demerits, it is a book that has achieved a popularity of an absolutely phenomenal kind. It is a book that has been bought and read in England as Shakespeare, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and Robinson Crusoe, and
in Anierica as the works of E. P. Roe. it was in its forty-second edition, twenty-five years after its publication. In 1873, when the copyright expired, it had reached the 158th edition, and it is still in demand. years it took its place, with High Church people, by the side of the Bible and Prayer Book. It would be incredible, were it not true, that a book