"Glenaveril, or The Metamorphoses":
by the Earl of Lytton, "Owen Meredith,"
 New York:D. Appleton and Company.
It is a little unfortunate for
Lord Lytton that the measure, and at times the
method, of his new poem inevitably recall "Don
Juan." The defiant jauntiness of Byron does
not offend, even when it appears most incongruous
with its matter, because it has always a meaning—is
always representative either of a mood or of an
attempt to disguise a mood. But the like attitude
in Lytton strikes one as a pose. Byron’s jauntiness
was an idiosyncrasy, which Lytton, for effect,
has borrowed of him. Passages in "Glenaveril,"
which to one ignorant of Don Juan would seem racy
and taking, lose most of their relish when the
flavour is perceived to be not fresh. A diminished
Byronic note is plainly detected in
motto (learn it, young aspirant
To freedom!) is Memento.
Death’s a tyrant;
in the clever saying that
is not man’s brother
As woman woman’s sister: her vocation
Begins where ends his aid,—with consolation.
is Dr. Holland, I think, who has said "Fish
is good, but fishy
is always bad." Sometimes, again, this Byronic
off-handedness loses all trace of its origin,
and degenerates into a spasmodic attempt at the
colloquial and the familiar. Lord Lytton can dramatically
present the thought and speech of his own class,
but in speaking for the lower classes he is at
Müller, Sir, Martha Müller, as you see,
Hearty and hale; and,
God be thanked for this,
A spinster, Grundbesitzerin,
Residence, Stuttgard,—age, Sir, forty-seven.’
the six books of "Glenaveril" the passages
to which the above censures will apply are not
few; it must be said, however, that they grow
more infrequent as the tale progresses, and the
poet becomes more faithfully himself as the interest
of his story deepens upon him. Nevertheless, he
has not been able to refrain from introducing
a shipwreck midway the narrative, and thus again
suggesting fatal comparisons. This shipwreck is
a spirited piece of work, more than overreaching
a fine height, both in expression and imagination.
The following stanza, with its impressive concluding
line, is a fair instance:—
next wild moment he, in turn, was gazing
From the swift upswell
down upon the ship;
And for awhile, now sinking and now raising
Its victims, with alternate
heave and dip,
The awful see-saw played. At times the dazing
Levin in livid gashes
seemed to rip
The storm’s heart open, and then all again
Was one wide roaring
darkness lashed with rain.
bring in contact with this line from Byron’s shipwreck,
and how the passage pales and becomes common:—
first one universal shriek there rushed,
Louder than the
loud ocean, like a crash
Of echoing thunder; and then all was hushed,
Save the wild wind,
and the remorseless dash
Of billows; but at intervals there gushed,
Accompanied with a convulsive
A solitary shriek, the bubbling cry
Of some strong swimmer in his agony.
drawing of comparisons may be objected to as cheap
and ungracious sort of criticism, but Lord Lytton’s
plain invitation must excuse it. When all is said,
however, it must be confessed that marked originality
is the last excellence to have been anticipated
in the verse of "Owen Meredith," whose
early work, the brilliant but superficial and
slovenly "Lucille," furnished the world
with a fit measure of his genius. No more in "Glenaveril"
than in his previous poems need we look for great
strength and simplicity of passion, or for those
little fragments of speech which serve men for
a revelation. Once or twice, in the old days,
he struck such a note as this:—
tone, a touch,
A little look, may be so much!
The little glance across the crowd,
None else can read, wherein there lies
A life of love at once avowed,—
The embrace of pining eyes.
So little more had made earth heaven,
That hope to help us was not given.
the directness and sincerity of this is scarcely
even repeated in Lytton’s work. Other qualities
there are in abundance. "Glenaveril"
is full of quotable things, like
great is the capacity
For adaptation that discreetly dwells
In all imperishable principles.
is not lacking in forcible protest, such as this
land, beware! The storm may break
On thee thyself, when skies seem most serene,
And find thee friendless, as thy friends have
it contains such lively portraitures as this of
rising yonder, from firm lips unlocks
Words like chained buildings
chafing for release?
What front pugnacious! Doth he rise to box?
The saints be thanked, your
natural fears may cease!
Tho’ fierce of heart as Sefton’s fighting cocks,
His creed is Penn’s, and his
Those sturdy fists may not assault your nose,
And words must vent the instinctive wish for
are passages of eloquent and elevated description,
particularly in Book III., which also contains
the finely told legend of "Marietta’s Needle,"
and the swift and appalling scene of "The
Catastrophe." There are bits also of very
tender colour and delicate sentiment, culminating
in that exquisite allegory of the quest of Love,
told by Cordelia in Book V., with its creed that
thirst which loving cannot slake.
view of the varied poetic riches to be found between
the covers of "Glenaveril," it is disappointing
to have to confess it not a great poem. It is
undeniably, however, a good story well told, interesting
to a high degree, fresh in conception, if not
in execution, and bathed in a poetic atmosphere.
Versatility of talent the whole work displays.
The highest poetic power, the interpretive, is
not found therein.