Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
Critical Introduction by Charles L. Graves
William Makepeace Thackeray (18111863)
[William Makepeace Thackeray was born at Calcutta in 1811. Educated at Charterhouse and Cambridge, he studied art, travelled a good deal on the Continent, and contributed freely in prose and verse to various journals before achieving fame as a novelist. His great worksVanity Fair, Esmond, The Virginians, Pendennis, and The Newcomeswere all written between 1848 and 1860.]
THACKERAYS greatness rests on his novels, but his excursions in metre, though they represent a small portion of his literary baggage, run into thousands of lines and fill nearly three hundred pages of one of the miscellaneous volumes of his collected works. His connexion with Punch began in 1842 and established his fame as a humorist. Most of his contributions were in prose, but he wrote a good deal of excellent satirical and topical verse for Punch, including the Bow Street Ballads (1848) and the Battle of Limerick in the same year. Many of his best poems, however, are to be found scattered through his various prose writings, for he followed the example of Scott in using verse in his novels, stories, and sketches, in the form of decoration or interlude. Humour is the prevailing note; sometimes grim, as in the Chronicle of the Drum, the best of his ballads, but more often satirical and caustic; sometimes extravagant, as in the Lyra Hibernica. Charlotte might have been written by Canning. Peg of Limavaddy recalls Father Prout, and some of his pieces are frankly derivative, such as the spirited paraphrases of Béranger, Ronsard, Uhland, Chamisso, and Horace. He excelled also in vers de société and occasional poems with an undercurrent of seriousness or irony; indeed, there are few branches of light verse that he did not adorn save that of parody. Some of his topical verse hardly rose above the level of first-class journalism, and the Jeames and Pleeceman X ballads have lost their savour from the virtual extinction of the types depicted and dialect employed. But enough remains, apart from the general fame of the writer, to ensure him a distinguished position among Victorian writers of light verse.