The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 20. Neale
The third of this group, Neale, was, also, a member of another—larger, in itself, but still very small—group of those curious and extremely beneficent writers of whom Edward FitzGerald is, perhaps, the chief, and who, without showing any great talent for original poetry, have an extraordinary faculty of translating or paraphrasing verse from other languages. His life, though not long, was, after he left Cambridge, almost entirely leisurely; and he devoted his whole leisure to hymnology and other ecclesiastical study and writing. His original verse has, perhaps, been sometimes too contemptuously spoken of; but, at its best, it is second-rate. Some of his translations are really marvellous—not merely as compositions, but when taken in close connection with their originals. Of the millions (the number is certainly not exaggerated) who, in the sixty or seventy years since its appearance, have known Jerusalem the Golden, probably not more than hundreds are really acquainted with its source, the De Contemptu Mundi of Bernard of Clugny or Morlaix, though the earlier publications of this by Flacius Illyricus and Polycarp Leyser were always more or less accessible to scholars; though archbishop Trench had included extracts of it in his Sacred Latin Poetry before Neale took it in hand; and though it has been several times printed since. Nobody accustomed to medieval Latin and capable of recognising poetry could fail to see the extraordinary beauty of the best parts of Bernard’s work. Its form, however—dactylic hexameters, unbroken except for the final spondee, with internal rime in each line and end rime for each couplet—though managed without the least effort and with wonderful effect, is not only rather difficult in itself and in Latin, but would, in English, not so much (as the stock-phrase goes) “court,” as ensure, disaster. Neale neither attempted the impossible by trying the metre itself nor endeavoured to come near it by employing anapaests or any English swinging measure. He boldly transposed the rhythm altogether into the shortened iambic “common measure” of seven, six, seven, six, rimed only on the shorter lines. And he got out of this a rhythmical effect which, though in mere scheme and prosodic analysis as different as possible from the Latin, provides, in English, a parallel if not an identical effect of panting and yearning music, with diction and imagery to match. As pieces of craftsmanship for the expert not less than as providing popular satisfaction for the multitude, Jerusalem the Golden and its companions have few equals. Nor was this Neale’s only, though it was his greatest, triumph. For others, we may be content with noting The day is past and over and Art thou weary, art thou languid, which show hardly less command of rhythm, languages and general atmosphere inspired by rather than simply taken from, the originals.