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100 years ago: Literary limitations

15 April 2009

April 16th, 1909.

THE DEATH of Algernon Charles Swinburne, which brings to an end the line of the Victorian poets, is an event which calls for some com­ment. We confess that we are not of those who believe that he will be judged worthy, in the estimation of posterity, to rank among the Im­mortals, and this for the best of reasons, that there is so little in his poetry that responds to the needs of the soul. Beauty of form, exquisite­ness of craftsmanship, resource in metrical variety, an astonishing mastery of words — all these Swin­burne possessed in a degree which has seldom been surpassed in any literature, but they are not in them­selves enough to place him on a level with the greatest singers. Of these, not a few have sung in measures almost uncouth, but their voices are still heard for the worth of what they sang. In a word, they left the world better for their having written than they found it. This is the test that, sooner or later, will have to be applied to Swinburne’s poetry, but at present the glamour of his diction is so strong that a clear judgment has yet to be formed.

WE MUCH regret to see the pro­gramme of the Shakspere Memorial Service which will be held on St George’s Day next in the Cathedral Church of Southwark. . . The recitation by the Poet Laureate of an ode to Shakspere’s birthday and address by Mr Forbes Robertson on Shakspere’s art are obviously better fitted for delivery in a secular build­ing. . . What with concerts in our Cath­edrals and great churches, lectures at Westminster Abbey on Tennyson’s In Memoriam, and now this forthcoming Shakspere com­mem­oration, we are in danger of losing all sense of the special sacred­ness of our places of worship.

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