The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

V. Lesser Poets, 1790–1837

§ 11. George Darley

Of these, the eldest was George Darley, who, as mentioned above, anticipated the others by nearly a decade. Darley is a poet ill to recommend to any but those who, either by nature or by study or by both, are initiate in at least the outer mysteries of poetry; and even some adepts cannot stomach his most ambitious work, the plays Becket and Ethelstan. Some physical and some mental disabilities seem to have combined to alloy and hamper his idiosyncrasy. He was an incurable stammerer, and could not, like Lamb, turn this blemish to his own or other people’s favour. He was “a great arithmetician” and, though the one kind of “numbers” certainly does not interfere with the enjoyment of the other, Mathesis, except under the mantle of Urania, has not fostered many poets. Lastly, he was a considerable, and a rather harsh, critic after the ugly “strip-and-whip” fashion of his time; and, though some may say that it would have been better if he had criticised his own work more, there seems to have been a conflict in him of the poetical and critical natures. Even his lyrical gift, acknowledged by the best judges among his contemporaries and successors to be extraordinary and constantly shown in The Errors of Ecstacie, in the verse scattered about the prose Labours of Idleness and elsewhere, in the pastoral drama Sylvia and in the wonderful outburst of his masterpiece Nepenthe, too seldom takes the clear, pure, finished form which, sooner or later, assures a permanent place. It is often, and in Nepenthe most of all, unintelligible to those who demand a definite and fairly obvious meaning translatably expressed; it sometimes (the crowning instance is the loathsome rubbish, for one fears no softer phrase will do, of the Dwerga part in Becket, on which the author obstinately prided himself) shows gross lapses of taste; it has, more frequently still, illblended sentiment and grotesque; and, sometimes, it suffers from that rather fatal fluency which seems especially to beset Irish poets. But, ever and anon, come splendid bursts. Those who can dive in poetic whirlpools will find the gold cups oftenest in Nepenthe itself and, sometimes, in The Errors of Ecstacie, which, while it came long before Bailey’s Festus and longer before Dobell’s Balder and Alexander Smith’s Life Drama, contains something of the essence of all three in five and thirty merciful pages. Those, on the other hand, who want poetic sweetmeats all ready for consumption in a separate and at once accessible form, have only to turn the pages of Sylvia, where the lyrics obligingly stand out, or to go straight to the minor poems. The once immensely popular I’ve been roaming may strike most people now as only a sample of the “Mooreish melody”; and, though pretty, is not supremely so. But the equally well-known It is not Beauty I demand (which, in its Carolinity, deceived the very elect in the person of Francis Turner Palgrave) is quite a different thing; The Enchanted Lyre, The Maiden’s Grave are not mere banjo music, and Sylvia, though much of its main stuff is of very little worth, is spangled all over with most delightful snatches of lyric.