[Rock, James]. Literary Notice [Germ review]. Hastings and St. Leonard’s News 15 Feb. 1850, 4.

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The Germ: Thoughts towards Nature, in Poetry, Literature, and Art. No. 1. January 1850. London: Aylott and Jones.

Here we have an attempt to unite the Poetry of Art, with the "Art of Poetry." Such was our first impression; we must correct it, however, on one point. The writers and artists engaged in developing the "Germ" repudiate the idea of "art," in its primary sense, in reference to poetry. True poetry, according to them, must be simple, and natural, and artless; and they accordingly undertake to teach us to prattle prettiness by rule, and to sketch "nature" secundum artem.

The intentions and object of this new serial will be best shewn by an extract or two from its prospectus.

"This periodical will consist of original poems, stories to develope [sic] thought and principle, essays concerning Art and other subjects, and analytic review of current literature–particularly of Poetry. Each number will also contain an etching; the subject to be taken from the opening article of the month.

"The endeavour held in view throughout the writings on Art will be to encourage and enforce an entire adherence to the simplicity of nature; and also to direct attention, as an auxiliary medium, to the comparatively few works which Art has yet produced in this spirit. It need scarcely be added that the chief object of the etched designs will be to illustrate this aim practically, as far as the method of execution will permit; in which purpose they will be produced with the utmost care and completeness."

Such are its professions; now as to the manner their performance.

The current number opens with a poem, entitled "My Beautiful Lady,"–of which the first distich is,

"I love my lady, she is very fair,

Her brow is white and bound with simple hair."

This is simple and natural enough; but it is not at all simple and natural. We cannot apply both epithets to the third stanza, which runs thus:–

"As bliss of saints, when dreaming of large wings,

The bloom around her fancied presence flings,

  I feast and wile her absence, by

  Pressing her choice hand passionately–

  Imagining her sigh."

This appears tolerably transcendental for one who in the next lines can say

"My lady’s voice, altho’ so very mild,

Maketh me feel as strong wine would a child."

The frequent use of the very poetical word "very," imparts to certain portions of the poem an air which cannot be better described than by quoting another line:–

"So blank, so very tame."

And yet the piece contains a vein of truly poetic feeling.

This poem, which may be termed the key-note of the book, is followed by more in the same strain; to wit, a poem "Of my Lady in Death," "Dream Land," "My Sister’s Sleep;"–all aiming at a sort of dreamy simplicity, and reminding the reader of Dr. Knox’s classification in the dear old "Elegant Extracts" of "Sentimental, Lyrical, and Ludicrous," in one division.

The frequent mistiness, and the irreverent use of the name of the Deity, reveal the Teutonic source of the writer’s inspiration. There is, however, one little piece which is more truly natural, and which we shall presently extract.

Thus much for the Poetry, now for the Art of the "Germ."

The lines which the artist has chosen for the subject of his principal illustration (which, by the way, is beautifully etched), are

"This is why I thought weeds were beautiful;–

Because one day I saw my lady pull

  Some weeds up near a little brook,

  Which home most carefully she took,

  Then shut them in a book."

The etching which he has produced displays the lover and his "Beautiful Lady" in positions which seem to have been chosen for their awkwardness. She is kneeling by the side of the "little brook," gathering a weed with her left hand, and stretching out her right arm behind to her lover, who is grasping it with an air of intense eagerness or anxiety. Both figures are habited in mediæval costume. He, with long-toed boots, sword, and "wide-awake" hat; she in a single garment, resembling what, in some parts of the United Kingdom, is called a sark, totally devoid of ornament, even of the usual cincture; and surrounding nature is as prim as she is in a Dutch garden. The second sketch, illustrative of "My Lady in Death," is another evidence of mediæval inclinations and German inspiration. The literature consists of a closely-thought, but not very clearly-written, article on "The subject in Art;" a tale; and a review. These partake of the same character as the poetry and the art. All are more or less truthful–more or less misty–more or less tinged with

"Sweet sensibility! oh! la!

And all evince an air of intense earnestness. Whatever the hand has to do, it does it with its might. The poet observes common things–he sees poetry in them–he notes them with intense simplicity–he refines them–and at length the ideas which they generate fly off through the intense fervour of his imagination, to dream-land, in vaporous sublimation.

The artist selects one of the most suggestive of his author’s stanzas: he meditates–he muses–his thoughts are gone to dreamland also. The artist is a poet, but he is also an artist; he remembers this–he seizes his etching point, and fixes the creatures of his imagination in all the intensity of action, or passion, due to "High Art." He now remembers that he had a previous idea that art should copy the simplicity of nature; so to balance his exalted conception of the principal figures, he jots in two or three daisies, prim as ancient maidens; a circular grove of trees, trim as [a] box flower border; and lambs which suggest to the beholder the expressive monosyllable Bah!

The reviewer, too, has his own idea of simplicity, and the same resolute purpose. He can overlook the involutions and convolutions by which his author has contrived to torture our manly, straightforward English tongue into ricketty [sic] hexameters,

"Awkward to read, and to be understood not very easy,"

Provided the ideas which these "heroic" verses convey, are sufficiently simple, telling of a

"Capless and bonnetless maiden,

Bending with three-pronged fork in a garden uprooting potatoes,"

Or reciting the artistic canon that

"Scrubbing requires for true grace but frank and artistic handling

And the removal of slops, to be ornamentally treated."

Such is the "Nature" of the "Germ." We prefer something more natural.

The space is denied us that would be necessary to review the "Philosophy" of this periodical. We can only notice what appears to us the fundamental error into which its poet-artists and artist-poets have fallen.

Poetry and Art, though closely allied to each other, are essentially distinct. Both spring from the same feeling for the beautiful, and the same appreciation of the spiritual; but they are in themselves distinctly separate means by which the inner sensation may be outwardly expressed.

The poet, as a poet, may possibly ignore the sensuous and material; he may imagine the whole of nature to be but one great thought, and himself but an existence. Even if he so far regard himself in relation to the external as to express his sensations by speaking or writing, he will have yet little to do with the material: words are not entities, scarcely more than ideas, and writing is but the memoria technica of thoughts, the record of impressions. Thus, poetry, in its nature, is not of the earth, earthy.

Art, on the other hand, is of its very essence, objective. The artist, as an artist, cannot ignore the substantive and the material. He may keep under his body; he may nourish the poetic idea, and lose himself in spiritualism; but so long as he does so, he is not an artist. His vocation calls him to excite the sensations of others by his own objective representations. He cannot be a Quietist, if he would. He must impart–not merely receive. Action, and not the reception of impression alone, must mark his existence.

If, therefore, he would, through his works, excite truthful sensations, he must work naturally. He works by means of external nature, organic and inorganic–he has no other means: he cannot create. Nor can he, by his art alone, record the creatures of his imagination so as to be understood by others. He must, therefore, since he paints nature, submit to her requirements. He must paint her as she is. He must not distort her, nor give her his own colour. The simplicity of nature consists not in being clad in drab;–"motley" is her "only wear"–the simplicity of variety; and depth of sentiment is not best represented by exaggerated action.

The poet must conform to the same conditions, if he describe or make use of externals in his poetry–his license extends not to nature. With the figments of his own brain he may do as he pleases.

The projectors of the "Germ" appear to have confounded Poetry and Art; and, in attempting to consider them as essentially one, have done violence to both. The poet jots down his impressions as the artist does his daisies, and the reviewer looks at the artificially-constructed hexameter, as a proper "background" for simple ideas. The result of all this simplicity is a poetico-artistic Quakerism.

And now, let it not be thought that we wish to nip this effort "i’ the ‘Germ." So much genius, so much sensibility, as it displays, deserves better treatment. We have charity to hope better things of it, and faith to believe that its evident earnestness of purpose will eventually conduct it to a clearer apprehension of simplicity and truth.

We now give the promised extract. Save that it is perhaps a little too riant for a sunset scene, we like it as a true bit of nature. On or two faulty rhymes will be noticed; particularly one in which "slopes" is compelled to rhyme with "drops."

"A SKETCH FROM NATURE

"The air blows pure for twenty miles,

  Over this vacant countrié:

Over hill and wood and vale, it goeth,

  Over steeple, and stack, and tree:

And there’s not a bird on the wind but knoweth

  How sweet these meadows be.

"The swallows are flying beside the wood,

  And the corbies are hoarsely crying;

And the sun at the end of the earth hath stood,

And, thorough the hedge and over the road,

  On the grassy slope is lying:

And the sheep are taking their supper-food

  While yet the rays are dying.

"Sleepy shadows are filling the furrows,

  And giant-long shadows the trees are making;

And velvet soft are the woodland tufts,

And misty-gray the low-down crofts;

But the aspens there have gold-green tops,

  And the gold-green tops are shaking:

The spires are white in the sun’s last light;–

And yet a moment ere he drops,

Gazes the sun on the golden slopes.

"Two sheep, afar from fold,

  Are on the hill-side straying,

With backs all silver, breasts all gold;

  The merle is something saying,

Something very very sweet:–

  ’The day–the day–the day is done:’

There answereth a single bleat–

The air is cold, the sky is dimming,

And clouds are long like fishes swimming."

J. R.


This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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