The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 8. Aytouns Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers
As in most, if not in all, cases, the possession of the faculty of writing light verse was accompanied, in Aytoun, by no inconsiderable command of serious poetry. The style of his chief efforts, in this latter—ballad-romances of Scott’s type—has not retained much popularity; but no one whose taste in poetry is free from mere caprice, or mere prejudice, can deny unusual merit to The Island of the Scots and to more than one or two other passages of Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers. Still, Aytoun’s best work was, undoubtedly, of the comic or tragi-comic kind. Although Firmilian and the pilot-article on it in Blackwood at once attracted the popularity they deserved, and have received honourable mention from almost all critics and literary historians of competence who have mentioned them since, it may be doubted whether the full intrinsic and historical importance of the piece is now, or, indeed, has ever been, sufficiently recognised. In general scheme a rather close parody of Balder and A Life Drama, with an extra dose of melodrama in action, Firmilian not merely administers the castigation of laughter to these pieces and to their authors, not merely, in its burlesque of extravagant statement, phrase and conceit, reaches back to Bailey and to the Byronists, if not even to Byron himself, but positively anticipates spasmodic productions yet unborn. Even Maud not to appear till a year later, is galled in its weaker parts by this audacious and prophetic satire; so is some then unpublished work of Mrs. Browning. In fact, it would not be very difficult to make a chain of spasmodic instances up to the present day which cannot escape the mirror of Aytoun’s parody.