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GEORGE DARLEY-THE REV. EDWARD WILLIAM BARNARD.
UNRECOGNISED Poets! many, very many are there doubtless of the world's finest spirits, to whom these words may be truly applied; poets whom the world has not known, or has refused to acknowledge. If Wordsworth had died fifty years ago, after the "Excursion," after "Ruth," after the " Yew Trees," after the very finest of his shorter poems had been published, he would have been amongst the disowned. But he was strong of frame and of heart, vigorous and self-reliant; competence came to him early; moreover he dwelt in the healthy atmosphere of the northern hills, and heard no more of the critical onslaught than served to nerve hin for fresh battles. So he lived through the time of tribulation, and gathered from the natural effect of the reaction more of fame and praise than would have fallen to his share had he won his laurels without the long probation and the fierce contest which preceded his recognition as the "Great High Priest of all the Nine."
Men of less power and of less faith die of the trial. Of such was George Darley. Gifted certainly with high talents, and with the love of song, which to
enthusiastic youth seems the only real vocation, he offended his father, a wealthy alderman of Dublin, by devoting his whole existence to poetry, and found, when too late, that the fame for which he had sacrificed worldly fortune eluded his pursuit. It is impossible not to sympathise with such a trial; not to feel how severe must be the sufferings of a man conscious of no common power, who sees day by day the popularity for which he yearns won by far inferior spirits, and works which he despises passing through edition after edition, whilst his own writings are gathering dust upon the publisher's shelves, or sold as waste paper to the pastry-cook or the chandler. What wonder that the disenchanted poet should be transmuted into a cold and caustic critic, or that the disappointed man should withdraw into the narrowest limits of friendly society, a hermit in the centre of London!
To add to these griefs, Mr. Darley was afflicted by a natural infirmity not uncommon with men of high talent, and nervous and susceptible temperament. He stammered so much as to render conversation painful and difficult to himself, and distressing to his companions. The consciousness of this impediment (which he called his mask) increased its intensity, causing him to shrink from all unnecessary communications, except with the few to whom he was familiarly accustomed, and of whose appreciation he was sure. They seem to have esteemed him much.
I myself never saw him. But I suppose I owed to the too partial report of some of his own most valued friends the honour of being admitted amongst his correspondents. Much as I admired him, and sin
cerely grateful as I felt for his notice, I confess that these elaborate epistles frightened me not a little. Startling to receive, these epistles, resembling the choicest parts of the choicest orations, were terrible to answer; and as my theory as to letter-writing is that it should be like the easiest, most careless off-hand talk, and my practice full of blots and blunders, and of every sort of impertinence that a pen can by any chance commit, is apt to carry out my theory even to excess, I have no doubt but I often returned the compliment by startling my correspondent.
Besides these letters, Mr. Darley sent me a little volume called "Sylvia, or the May Queen," a dramatic pastoral full of lyrical beauty, a tragedy on the story of Thomas-à-Becket, of which the most original scene is one in which Richard is represented as a boy, a boy foreshowing the man, the playful, grand, and noble cub, in which we see the future lion; and an unpublished poem, called "Nepenthe," as different in appearance from the common run of books "printed for private distribution," which are usually models of typography, of paper, and of binding, as it is in subject and in composition. Never was so thorough an abnegation of all literary coxcombry as was exhibited in the outward form of this "Nepenthe," unless there may be some suspicion of affectation in the remarkable homeliness, not to say squalidness, of the strange little pamphlet as compared with the grace and refinement of the poetry. Printed with the most imperfect and broken types, upon a coarse discoloured paper, like that in which a country shopkeeper puts up his tea, with two dusky leaves of a still dingier hue, at least a size too small, for cover, and garnished at top
and bottom with a running margin in his own writing, such (resembling nothing but a street ballad or an old "broadside") is the singular disguise (ah, Mr. Darley might well have called that a mask!) of the striking poem of which I am about to offer an extract. There is no reading the whole, for there is an intoxication about it that turns one's brain. Such a poet could never have been popular. But he was a poet.
The first page is headed as follows, in Mr. Darley's hand-writing, "Seeking the panacea called Nepenthe,' the wanderer finds himself on the hill of Solitude."
Over a blooming land, untrod
By heavier foot than bird or bee
Whate'er its native unsunned hue,
No melody beneath the moon