Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
Critical Introduction by Edmund W. Gosse
Bryan Waller Procter (Barry Cornwall) (17871874)
[Bryan Waller Procter was born in London Nov. 21, 1787. He was educated, with Byron, at Harrow; studied as a solicitor in the country; returned to London to live in 1807. His period of literary activity extended from 1815 to 1823. In 1832 he was made Metropolitan Commissioner of Lunacy, a post which he resigned in 1861. He died Oct. 4, 1874. His principal works, all published under the pseudonym of Barry Cornwall, are Dramatic Scenes, 1819; Marcian Colonna, 1820; A Sicilian Story, 1821; Mirandola, 1821; The Flood of Thessaly, 1823; English Songs, 1832.]
BARRY CORNWALL was a very fluent and accomplished artist in verse rather than what we usually understand by a poet. He had nothing bardic or prophetic in his nature, he was burdened with no special message to mankind, and he gave no sign of ever feeling very strongly on any particular point or occasion. The critic is curiously baffled in seeking for a poetical or personal individuality in his verse, for he never seems to be expressing anything in his own person. This negative quality forms the chief characteristic of his best work, his English Songs. All other known lyrists have either recorded in their songs their personal experiences in emotion, or they have so framed their verses as to seem to do so; Barry Cornwall alone has contrived to write songs of a purely and obviously impersonal and artificial kind, dealing dramatically with feelings which the poet does not himself pretend to experience. His fragments of drama are lyrical, his lyrics dramatic, and each class suffers somewhat from this intrusion into the domain of the other. We hardly do justice to the merit of verse which is so impartial as to become almost uninteresting, and Procter has suffered from his retiring modesty no less than other poets from their arrogance. His lyrics do not possess passion or real pathos or any very deep magic of melody, but he has written more songs that deserve the comparative praise of good than any other modern writer except Shelley and Tennyson. There is a sort of literary insincerity about Barry Cornwalls verse that found no counterpart in the beautiful character of Mr. Procter. We wonder at rapturous addresses to the ocean,
Im on the Sea! Im on the Sea!
I am where I would ever be,
from the landsman who could never, in the course of a long life, venture on the voyage from Dover to Calais, and at bursts of vinous enthusiasm from the most temperate of valetudinarians; but the poet would have defended his practice by his own curious theory that those songs are most natural which do not proceed from the author in person. Procters verse has been much admired and much neglected, and will never, in all probability, gain the ear of the public again to any great extent. His merits are more than considerable, but the mild lustrous beauty of his verse is scarcely vivid enough to attract much attention. There would be more to say about his writings if they were less faultless and refined.