The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 63. Richard Middleton
Richard Middleton, latest born of all the writers who can be mentioned in this chapter, was only twenty-nine when he died; and he is said to have written little, if any, verse for some time before his death. The actual volume which contains what he did write (for the most part, if not wholly, reprinted from periodicals) has, no doubt, what may be called the exterior character of poetry. There is a good deal of especially Swinburnian pastiche in it, though, also, there is something that is not. But it may be said to present rather another catching, and, to some extent, condensing and uttering of the general poetic aura of the period, than any very strong idiosyncrasy. The searcher of the perilous ways of poetry can see behind him many Richard Middletons of former ages, each with that age’s differential chances. But, in most cases (not, of course, in all), they had later chances of showing their power if they had it. He had no such chance, and, apparently, might not have taken it if he had. He is not, in what he has actually left, an unequal poet; one may almost say, without paradox or unfairness, that it might have been better if he had been, as there would have been more chance of discovering where his strength lay. A good sense of form; a fair command of picturesque language; a decidedly “young” expatiation in sensuous imagery and fantasy; a still younger tendency to “shock”—these and other familiar things occur throughout his work. But their fermentation was not over; and a critical palate can hardly judge what was likely to have been the achieved flavour of the wine. As it is, it leaves (in this respect contrasting most unfavourably with Dowson’s) hardly any flavour at all or any reminiscence. The very name Cynara calls up the sad tune and burden of the celebration of her to anyone who has once heard it: that of Middleton’s Irene—though we have two poems about her—touches no chord at all.