Home  »  Volume XII: English THE ROMANTIC REVIVAL The Nineteenth Century, I  »  § 9. Winthrop Mackworth Praed

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

V. Lesser Poets, 1790–1837

§ 9. Winthrop Mackworth Praed

Merely as a serious poet, Praed holds a far lower place than Hood; in fact, with one doubtful exception, to be noticed presently, he has nothing at all to compare with The Haunted House or The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies, and not much to show with the shorter poems. Arminius escapes the bad side of mediocrity in one way and Josephine in another; but the best and, perhaps, the only distinguished thing Praed has done in this kind is the strange and beautiful Time’s Song,

  • O’er the level plains, where mountains meet me as I go,
  • unusual and effective alike in rhythm, in the phrase adroitly broken to suit the rhythmical movement, and in the economy of construction, detail and explanation, leading up to a kind of “the rest is silence.” But he never repeated this in a short poem, or expanded the method in a longer. The fact is that the ironic and humorous impulse, partly, no doubt, determined by Byronic influence at first, but diverging into ways not in the least like Byron’s was generally omnipresent and omnipotent with him, and almost invariably deflected his treatment into the sort of mixed mode which Southey had started in things like The Old Woman of Berkeley, and which Barham, a much older man than Praed, was to practice with signal success a little later. Not a few both of the Tales and of other pieces, from the schoolboy Gog onwards, have this hybrid character. But it produced at least one thing which is a masterpiece of its kind and which contrasts again most curiously with Hood’s tragicomedy. In this latter, The Desert Born, Miss Kilmansegg herself and the rest, the comic (even where there is positively tragic matter) always has the upper hand and, sometimes, burlesques the tragic itself. The Red Fisherman has, of course, a comic side or, rather, one may say, a comic outside or jacket to it; and it is full of excursions in themselves comical. But these are used almost in the manner in which Shakespeare uses similar devices, sometimes to set off that seriousness which, no doubt, is greater in him than in Praed. With Hood, the “finish,” as wine-tasters say, the flavour that is left in the mouth, is always comic unless he is wholly serious. The reader of The Red Fisherman, if he be a fit reader, laughs as he passes at
  • The water was as dark and rank
  • As ever a Company pumped,
  • and at the corporation banquet and the political jibes. But what he carries away with him, like the fisherman’s hook in the actual case, is the description of the pool, and the terrible angler, and the death-gasps of the knight and “the eyes of Mistress Shore.” Even the battle of hook and crook which just saves the abbot, though it is humorous, is not ludicrous; and these passionate touches, with the whole effect they produce, taken with Time’s Song, help the more purely comic verse, which we shall notice later, to show what a poet of the higher kind Praed might have been in addition to the lighter and gayer singer that he was.