Mr. Coventry Patmore . . . is the poet of love, but of that chastened and dignified love of marriage which has been much neglected by poets, whose preference for the prefatory chapter, the romance of love unfulfilled, the wooings and misadventures and disappointments of youth, has a certain natural justice and reason: while the other muse of love illegitimate and unpermitted, the "Passion" which is tragic and full of deadly risks and surprises, is to the greater number the most interesting study. This too is perhaps comprehensible enough; for the conflict of will and fate, the struggle which is mortal and involves despair, the rapture which is always keen with misery, have many elements which beguile the imagination. He who in the face of all ot these chooses the tempered and sober path of married life for the subject of his song, exercises a great self-denial, just as he does who paints duty and goodness in preference to all tumults of existence. That sky which most constantly embodies heaven is the least safe for the painter, and a perfect life is the hardest for the poet. The one has need of clouds, of threatening storms and darkness, to set forth anil enhance the equilibrium of the serene and lovely day; while to our human imaginations life that is without trouble is deficient in interest and leaves nothing to say. The happy have no history, as says one of the oldest of proverbs. Mr. Patmore has made the great venture of ignoring this, and woven all his beautiful garland of verses out of roses alone. He has risked his fame upon a story of sweet perfection, loveliness and truth, scarcely ruffled by a lover's doubts, and the faint and delicate difference between delight anticipated and delight attained. The result has been a very charming volume of smoothly flowing verse, and has given him a peculiar but distinct circlel among the poets of his generation. Later work has shown that in occasional verses, not so sustained or continued, on other but still cognate subjects, he command of other notes than these of the "Epithalmium;" but the Marriage Song will still and always be his chief distinction. The Donne che hanno intelletto d'amore are here indeed the true audience, those readers whom Dante, no troubadour, chose for his sonnets, and whose excellences were never more sweetly sung or with greater modesty and self restraint than by the author of the "Angel in the House." But it is almost needless to add that for strong effects or the high lights and shadows of passion this is not the place to come. It is a poetry suffused with the warmest sunshine, the light of happiness and household love. [448-50]
Oliphant, Margaret. The Victorian Age in English Literature. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1892.
Last updated 14 June 2004