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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

VI. Lesser Poets of the Middle and Later Nineteenth Century

§ 34. Alfred Domett; W. J. Linton; W. B. Scott

Another small group of poets born before 1820, the youngest of whom was not Browning’s junior so far as years go, may be formed of three men, each of whom exercised other arts or professions besides poetry—Alfred Domett, William James Linton and William Bell Scott. Domett, as probably many people know who know nothing else about him, was the Waring of Browning’s vivid and grotesque poem. He fulfilled his poet’s apparent expectations of his doing something respectable by becoming prime minister of New Zealand. But, when he returned to England and published a long poem, Ranolf and Amohia, it must be confessed that not a few who eagerly read it as the long-expected work of “Waring” himself, experienced considerable disappointment, which has not been removed by subsequent perusal. Others praised it highly; and even Tennyson, who, though not as grudging as Wordsworth in his estimate of other poets, was not mealy-mouthed, granted it intellectual and imaginative subtlety and “power of delineating delicious scenery.” But he confessed that he found it difficult to read; and this it certainly is. The story fixes no hold on the immediate interest or the later memory; the characters are outlines only; and, though the descriptions are certainly often beautiful, they do not exactly charm and are frequently interrupted and spoilt by flatnesses of phrase like

  • Where they a small canoe had found
  • Which Amo settled they might take,
  • the last line of which would have been a triumph for the most disrespectful and audacious parodist of Wordsworth or of Crabbe. Before he went to the colonies, Domett had written minor verse of merit, some of which was published in Blackwood, with boisterous eulogy from Wilson. A Christmas Hymn with the refrain “Centuries ago” is the stock selection of these for praise. It has merit, but no consummateness.

    The other two, W. J. Linton and W. B. Scott, were artists as well as poets; and Linton had very much the advantage in both his professions. The excellence of his engravings is universally known; his skill in verse, translated and original, less so. Linton was essentially—in the original Greek, not in the modern, sense—an epigrammatist: that is to say, not a wit but a writer of short poems on definite subjects, finished off in a manner suggesting the arts of design as well as those of poetic expression. In perfection of these things—which may, of course, be called toys or trifles, and which are certainly miniatures—he yields only to Landor; and, while even his best things have not Landor’s supremacy when he is at his best, Linton avoids the austere jejuneness which characterises some of the greater writer’s trifles, and suffuses his own with more colour, shadow and light. Such apparently slight things as Epicurean and A Dream need no slight skill—as anybody who tries to imitate them will find.

    Of Linton’s at one time friend (for W. B. Scott had a habit of quarrelling, whether it was exercised in this instance or not), it is difficult to find anything more complimentary to say than that his verses, to use Browning’s words of something else, “intended greatly.” He put forward various theories of poetry; affected considerable contempt of others; and always, whether writing in a way somewhat like Hake or in a way somewhat like Rossetti, tried to be different and difficult. Unfortunately, he very seldom succeeded in being good; and, perhaps, never in being very good. His ballads really deserve the name (unjustly given in some other cases) of Wardour street work; his elaborate efforts in the greater ode are pretentious and hollow. A little prettiness in lyric and a little picturesqueness in sonnet he did, sometimes, reach; but, on the whole, his execution was emphatically a failure whatever may have been the merit of his aims and his theories.