Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
Critical Introduction by Henry Austin Dobson
Winthrop Mackworth Praed (18021839)
[Winthrop Mackworth Praed was born in London on the 26th of July, 1802. He was educated at Eton, and Trinity College, Cambridge. He died on the 15th of July, 1839. His verses, contributed chiefly to periodicals such as the Etonian and Knights Quarterly Magazine, were not collected in this country until 1864, when they were published in two volumes, with a memoir by the Rev. Derwent Coleridge.]
IN a collection of short pieces,says Mr. Matthew Arnold in his preface to Wordsworths selected poems, the impression made by one piece requires to be continued and sustained by the piece following. The verses of Praed are in some sort an illustration of the justice of this remark. Had he himself prepared his book for the press he would doubtless have cancelled a good many poems which his representatives, naturally enough, hesitated to omit. But even the over-affluent character of his legacy to posterity has not much impaired his popularity, or influenced the critical estimate of his work. As a writer of society-verse in its exacter sense, Praed is justly acknowledged to be supreme. We say exacter sense, because it has of late become the fashion to apply this vague term in the vaguest possible way, so as indeed to include almost all verse but the highest and the lowest. This is manifestly a mistake. Society-verse, as Praed understood it, and as we understand it in Praed, treats almost exclusively of the votum, timor, ira, voluptas (and especially the voluptas) of that charmed circle of uncertain limits known conventionally as good society,those latter-day Athenians, who, in town and country, spend their time in telling or hearing some new thing, and whose graver and deeper impulses are subordinated to a code of artificial manners. Of these Praed is the laureate-elect; and the narrow world in which they move is the main haunt and region of his song. Now and again, it may be, he appears to quit it; but never in reality; and even when he seems to do so, like Landers shell remote from the sea, he still remembers its august abodes.
Praeds chief characteristics are his sparkling wit, the clearness and finish of his style, and the flexibility and unflagging vivacity of his rhythm. He is a master of epigram and antithesis, especially of the kind exemplified by the following couplets:
His defects are that he lacks sincerity and variety of theme,that his brilliancy at times becomes mere glitter, and his manner mechanical. His biographer assures us that his nature had a deeper and graver side than would be suspected from his habitual tone of sportive irony: it is incontestable, however, that the indications of this in his works are faint compared with those which we find in Thackeray and Hood. My own Araminta is an admirable example of his lightest style; the Vicar of his more pensive character-pieces; whilst in My little Cousins, which our space does not permit us to quote, there is a rarer vein of playful tenderness. In many of his charades he almost manages to raise those metrical pastimes to the dignity of poetry.